An author’s enviable conundrum

Local author and herbalist Beverley Gray has an enviable conundrum. Where will she put the six awards she's won for her book, The Boreal Herbal, Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North.

Local author and herbalist Beverley Gray has an enviable conundrum. Where will she put the six awards she’s won for her book, The Boreal Herbal, Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North.

“What most authors do is put these awards on their books, but there’s too many,” said Gray.

Gray won the Gold Grand Prize for best design and Gold for overall design at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards where she was also a finalist in the Science/Nature category.

If she adds the awards to the front cover of the book, they will change the appearance.

“It’s about the energy of the space. I love the cover,” she said, adding that she will probably find a different location for them.

Her book also won Gold at the Nautilus Book Awards, a Silver Independent Publishers Book Award and a Silver Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association .

Gray’s loyalty to the integrity of the book has made it a Canadian bestseller. Nearly 10,000 copies have sold and a third printing is imminent.

She has been in the herbal business for 18 years and has operated the Aroma Borealis Herb Shop in Whitehorse for more that 14 of those years.

After studying with Dominion Herbal College, she attended Douglas College to learn aromatherapy. She has attended numerous workshops and training courses with highly respected instructors, mainly in the United States.

“But I had a real knack for it. I got it right away,” she said. “I’m a working herbalist.

“It’s just something I love doing; I’m really passionate about. I’ve never lost my passion for plants. Medicinal and edible herbs have been my teaching. You know that’s where my teaching comes from.”

As a child, she would immediately go into the woods whenever her family moved to a new location, which was often as she was a military brat.

“I have a real affinity for plants,” she said.

Gray is an internationally-recognized herbalist and a sought-after speaker.

She taught at University of British Columbia’s Botanical Gardens and has been a guest speaker at Banyen Books and Sound in Vancouver, as well as at The Big Carrot and Richter’s Herb seed company in Toronto.

This year she is scheduled to speak at the Montana Herb Gathering, Medicine Making, Sacred Spirit Plant Healing and Herb Walk in Montana and at Rae Dunphy Aromatics in Calgary.

She will also conduct a two-day herbal workshop in New Hazelton, B.C., and facilitate several workshops in Whitehorse.

As a journalist, she contributes to Alive Magazine and writes a column for Yukon, North of Ordinary.

People kept telling her there was a need for a Canadian herbal book because most are American and based on coastal plants, southern plants and interior plants.

“So it was the first of its kind, this kind of northern herbal. Canadians are really appreciating it,” she said.

She wanted to communicate the benefits of herbal medicine and wild foods to other people. She decided this book was the best way to do that.

“Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine. It’s the people’s food,” she said.

“I would hate for something to happen to me and not be able to share what I know. That’s where I come from. I come from the herbs, the plants. That’s my roots. I had to write this book first before I could move on to anything else.”

She estimates that 80 per cent of the knowledge she’s gained is from working with the plants and herbs. She hopes her book will help people go out and experience what it suggests.

“I’m a working herbalist. You listen to what the plants are telling you just by observation, by touch, smell, taste.

“Your senses are really turned on when you work as an herbalist,” she said.

For a dozen years, she gathered photographs, pressed plants and wrote profiles of most of the species found in the book. It took another two years of writing to complete it.

What began as a project intended to be 50,000 words ended up as a 440-page, 120,000-word, reference book.

“The biggest complaint I get is that when people are lying in bed reading it, it gets too heavy,” she laughed.

This authoritative volume is well laid out and user-friendly with useful information on commonly found plants, including their medicinal and nutritional values.

The text is a collaborative effort between Gray, some friends and other herbalism experts.

The late Gwich’in elder, Ruth Welsh, wrote the foreword to the book.

“She was a great teacher and a really good friend,” Gray said. “I really miss her. I’m glad that some of her words will live on through this work.”

Author Robert Rogers (The Fungal Pharmacy) wrote the reference section.

“He’s like a walking encyclopedia of boreal herbal plants. Robert contributed the chemistry part of the book because chemistry is not my forte. He’s quite experienced with chemistry,” she said.

Steve Johnson of Alaskan Essences provided the information for the flower essences portion.

Gray stuck to writing what she knows best – the medicinal and edible plant information.

The botanical illustrations and descriptions are from the National Research Council.

A botanist has made them user-friendly.

The common name of each plant is followed by the scientific name, the Vuntut Gwitchin name where possible and its etymology. Diagrams help to identify each species.

Detailed photography by Cathie Archbould, Fritz Mueller and others enhance the beauty and functionality of the pages.

A series of charts aids the reader in locating the herbs and plants they seek.

One section of the book contains medicinal preparations; another has some tasty recipes.

CCI Press of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute from the University of Alberta co-published and peer-reviewed the manuscript.

Gray is an environmental activist and hopes the book will help people get out and experience nature.

“I think that when people know what’s growing around them they’re more apt to want to protect that,” she said.

Her belief is that the more people who grow their own food and gather their own medicine, the more they will be connected to their roots.

“I used to have a belief that it was every community that needed a herbalist, but now I have a belief that every household needs a herbalist.”

For her, that means someone to help with minor things like a cough or cold, minor cuts, knowing what nutrients are in which plants and providing preventative advice.

Interestingly, Gray’s great-great grandfather was a herbalist. He is best known for a blend called Mitchell’s Genuine Balsam.

Truly, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.