In this episode, Amy sits down with community herbalist and the co-director of Seed, Soil and Spirit School, Shabina Lafleur-Ganji to talk about “Reclaiming Ancestral Knowledge for Collective Liberation”. Together we dive into the cultivation of plants and the cultivation of relationships. From healing to hexing, roses to weeds, food to medicine, rooting and uprooting, migration vs diaspora vs colonization, Shabina listens to the complex stories that plants tell. Amy asks: What can we learn from plants that we can’t learn from people?
Shabina is a community herbalist and the co-director of Seed, Soil and Spirit School. She has been involved in healing justice work and movements for liberation for over a decade. She works to uplift Indigenous medical sciences and supports people in accessing their traditional knowledge.
Shabina is a graduate of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practioner and Acupuncture program at Humber College, Living Earth School of Herbalism, and the School of Ayurveda and Panchakarma in Kerala. She has studied alongside herbalists such as Dr. Nadine Ijaz Ph.D., Janette Cormier R.Ac. RH and Scott Reid.
An online 8-month hands-on herbal course for Black, Indigenous, racialized & allied people who love plants and healing justice.
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Intro: You aren't being a proper [00:01:00] woman, therefore you must be a
witch. Be a witch. Be a witch. Be a witch. Be a witch. Be a witch. Be a witch.
Be a witch. Be a witch. Be a witch. You must be a witch.
Amy: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Missing Witches podcast.
Welcome to our coven and welcome, seed bearer, Shabina Lafleur Gangji, thank
you so much for sitting down with me today. I'm so excited to learn much, much
more about all of your amazing projects, but I wanna put it in your hands, in
your words. Can you take a second to introduce yourself to our listeners?
Shabina: Hi everyone.
So my name is Shabina. I'm a community herbalist. I've been, learning and
practicing, I keep, you know, I keep saying it's been like 12 years, but I think
now it's been significantly longer maybe 15, and a community organizer. I've
been using plants and and herbs as a way to, sort of help support movements for
I run a school alongside my coconspirator, Stephanie Morningstar called Seed,
Soil and Spirit School. It's a school primarily by and for, racialized folks, but
open to everybody. We talk a lot about land stewardship and community herbalism and legacies of plant medicine. I think I would say like just a general
plant nerd. In Toronto.
Amy: Yes, you're, you're outta Guelph, right? And yeah, you have a farm there?
Shabina: You know, okay, so it's a, that's a good question. We've been sort of
working on it slowly. So in our first year, we worked with a bunch of families to
grow a bunch of stuff during the pandemic. Which was great and fun. And, last
year I actually took a little bit of a break mostly because I just popped out a kid.
Amy: Fair, totally fair. [00:03:00]
Shabina: But this year I think we're, sort of laying down the foundation to do
like a proper community consultation. You know, just work with everybody to
make sure that it's like a, it's a half acre space and we're really hoping to build
like an outdoor classroom.
Sort of like be a bridge between, like various racialized communities, and to
really create a co-creative space for cross-cultural connection around plant
medicines, traditional foods and all those things. So we're really hoping to get
the ball rolling and, it's coming slowly, but it's, you know, I think with any
work, that is done to build the foundation, probably it takes a long time.
Amy: Yes. I think something that, you know, The forest and humans definitely
have in common is that we require diversity and [00:04:00] biodiversity. So I
love that like both of those notions of diversity are coming into your practice.
Shabina: Yeah, absolutely. We need to know how to get along.
Amy: One of your taglines, I think it's from your website. It might be from
Seed, Soil, and Spirit, and we will get into Seed, Soil and Spirit. Listeners,
you're gonna be so excited about this. One of your taglines is "Reclaiming
ancestral knowledge for collective liberation". Now, I mean, I want a t-shirt that
says that, but can you maybe like expand it past a bumper sticker into like what
you were thinking?
Or how you feel about that statement?
Shabina: I mean, that's a really good question. I think, you know, funny
enough, I don't even think I thought about it that hard when I wrote it down.
But, when I think about it more and more, it really sets in and I think, as people
who have been historically or currently [00:05:00] forcibly displaced, much of
like what's happened aside from our severance from land is our severance from
culture, plant medicine, communities, ways of being, et cetera. Right? And I
think, being able to learn about those things and to dig into it, can sort of, unveil
or unearth all, these legacies of how we've lived with the land.
And also, with each other. I think sometimes when we think about history,
sometimes we look at it through rose-colored glasses and I keep talking to other
people about it, is when we think traditional, sometimes we actually think about
it in this way that's romanticized. But sometimes when we actually dig into
those ugly histories or we dig into those a little bit deeper into, how certain
practices came to be.
Something a little bit deeper than before, white people came along, in our
histories, we often find that we actually have much more complex histories with
one [00:06:00] another, as racialized people. And I think, part of that, uprooting
is being able to really look at ourselves and look at where we've come from and
where we're going.
You know, for many of us we have these prophecies of us coming together, and
this is, these are prophetic times. These are times where we, we know in our
cultures our various cultures. This is our do or die. We're at a crossroads and we
all, to a certain degree have these stories and I think being able to look at where
we've come, to see where we are, gives us a huge amount of context about how
we relate to plants, how we relate to each other, and how we might be able to
come together in a way that honors those legacies, and does justice to them.
Amy: So what can we learn from plants that we can't learn from other people?
Shabina: You [00:07:00] know, I was actually just talking to one of my
colleagues and friends, Ayo Ngozi and she was talking about, you know, leading
some workshops about, sound and taste and meditation, all these things, in
terms of her as being a person who is, severed from herbal traditions through
the trans-Atlantic slave trade, sometimes those answers of being able to like
look back are, significantly more difficult, right?
You don't necessarily have like Um, someone to tell you, you know, this is
exactly where you're from. So that work, I mean, in that example of course, but
for a lot of people can be, we might not find exact, answers to the questions that we have. And I think that's sometimes through these acts of just sitting and
listening to ourselves, listening to the plants, [00:08:00] we find those answers
and you know, I think they our kin. At the end of the day, they have been with
us through and through generationally, right? I always have this, clear memory
of, you know, I'm such a frazzled person sometimes, and I was making all these
tinctures and as per usual, like every year I forget to label a few of them, you
know? And I remember this, very clear memory of trying to, like, looking at
three bottles and having no idea what was going on. So I just opened one up and
smelt it, and all of a sudden, like this image came to me and I knew right away I
was like, this is turmeric. Like you don't even, I don't have to try this. I didn't
even consciously think of the smell.
It was just this imagery that came up right away. Right? And I think these ways
of knowing that, show us the way, our clear teachers. And part of what we do at
our [00:09:00] school is that the students each get a pack of herbs a month. And
we kind of like give them like basic guidelines of how to sit with the plant and
sort of try to understand its medicine. Everybody has their journal and, and they
don't know what the plant is. They just feel it out and, and from there, it's
beautiful, it's beautiful.
You, hear all these stories of, what they think the plant might be good for or
how they felt, but then also the images that come to them and the histories, the
legacies. And they don't even necessarily know what plant it is, but when you
actually find out and then they are able to dig into their lineages, it's right there.
Those images, those visions, those feelings, those are all part of what that plant
is trying to convey to us. And I think that that is just a tiny little door to open
into a much deeper realm of [00:10:00] understanding.
And of knowing generationally, right? So I think, you know, plants have been
with us since the dawn, right? And these stories, are there and we can access
them. It's just being able to listen in a different way, I think sometimes.
Amy: Yes, I didn't grow up with a lot of plants, so I'm sort of an adult learner
when it comes to these things.
But, I've heard herbalist say that herbalism is like a form of storytelling or is
akin to storytelling. Can you kind of, listeners, I'm making a grand hand gesture.
You know, when I can't think of the word, I just make a big hand gesture. Can
you talk about this relationship between herbalism and storytelling and, how
they are the same if so?
Shabina: Of course, of course. Okay, so I am a clinical herbalist. I studied
western herbalism, then [00:11:00] eventually Ayurvedic medicine, which is,
my family on my father's side from India, and then eventually traditional
Chinese medicine. Because I mean, when you look at Ayurvedic medicine in
Chinese medicine, basically the same, the same thing I would say, with a few
minor differences. But really, the medicine and the similarities speak to the
migration of people and knowledge between the two areas. I think even just that
alone, like I've told you, right? When we start to practice certain things we can
sort of dig in a little bit deeper. When was this formula, and when is this
classical formula? When does it come up in history?
And what's actually happening? What's going on? When did, when did my
people start using this herb? Like this herb isn't from this area, what happened?
And I think these are the questions that I love, love, love digging into, because,
it tells us a lot and it's [00:12:00] often the histories that aren't really put forward
to the, you know, the ones that people like acknowledge all the time, but they're
I mean, you know, even, I remember digging sort of like into, sort of like herbal
TCM treatments for opioid withdrawal and looking at the formulas, right? And
when we look at, when those formulas came about, we look at, okay, well the
British are coming into China and trying to make some money, right?
nd they're not able to have that same imperial footing into the country as they
were in some other countries. So their way of trying to brutalize the country
looks completely different. And so, bringing in masses and masses of opium
right into the country, teams up with my own history, as somebody with Indian
roots, because that opium is being grown in India.
And then brought into China. And at a certain [00:13:00] point you see about
almost, about 30% of the male population is then becoming opium dependent at
this point in time. And so these formulas, these formulations start to emerge
from this period. And so, It's like all these histories and legacies of resistance
are, interwoven into these formulas. Which, I mean, as a practitioner you can
just use them. But when you dig into the legacies of them, it tells a whole other
story. You know?
And even for me I love the history. I love the history of migrations of plants.
You know, we talk about different herbs that are used in Ayurvedic medicines
since thousands of years, but we look at them and they're originally from
Ethiopia, so what is that migration of plants? How does that tell a story? And
even then from China to, from India to China and back and forth, all of these, these formulas, these plants, they tell a story of something that's goes much
further back than what we have right now.
I mean, I think sometimes we talk [00:14:00] about our relationship as
racialized people as BIPOC, or, you know, White, non-white. We're only
scratching the surface to the last 500 years. But plants tell us a much deeper
history. And so I just, I love that like plants are storytellers and even still, like so
many of our stories of plants are so similar.
We look at things like rose. Rose grows all across the globe, but our teachings
around it are so similar. Our stories, our ways of knowing the plant, they
overlap throughout, right? Whether that's from Turtle Island to North Africa to,
you know, India, throughout the Middle East, et cetera. Like these stories of
roses, they always speak to the heart.
They always speak to this beauty of Rose. It's gorgeous, it's beautiful, but it's,
you know, they are storytellers and they're storytellers in so many different
ways. And I think it's the practice of [00:15:00] herbalism in developing,
intimate relationships with these plants is unearthing those stories and those
stories can tell us so much.
Amy: Yeah, they found an unearthed, a Neanderthal grave. They, being, you
know, archeologists and scientists, unearthed in Neanderthal grave that had
flowers in it.
Amy: And I just kind of ruminate on that sometimes that like our relationship
with flowers, plants, of course, you know, we eat them and flowers, you know,
but just as like an emotional messenger flowers, it's amazing.
Shabina: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's beautiful.
Amy: It's so beautiful. I want to ask you, how did you get into herbalism? Did
you have a, like a childhood relationship with plants? Is it something that you've
just, you know, sort of [00:16:00] professionalized, but it's always been you.
Shabina: Um,well, you know, my parents like never really, were super into the
Western medical system for a variety of reasons, but, you know, one of them
being like, my grandmother on my mom's side was like hardcore, like really
into cupping and plants and had her own like set of traditions around how to do
things. Which is so similar to my other side actually. I have some family members that have studied Aurvedic medicine. I like loved the Harry Potter
books. I was like, I don't know about this world, but I think the Herbology
classes sound great.
Then I remember, actually one day I was like hitchhiking after high school was
done. I like had done one year of university and it was like, I can't do this. I
don't even know [00:17:00] what the hell you guys are talking about. Like, I
remember there's like this like clear conversation. It was like people were
arguing what was the most important, frontline resistance or academics?
And I was like, um, why is this an argument? Like, I have to leave now. And,
you know, no dissing academics, but you know. And I think particularly certain
people from, communities that, whose knowledge has been like completely
attacked are doing great work within academia.
But this in particular was a group full of white people. But I remember leaving
after that and being like, I'm just gonna travel. I was 18 at the time, and I was,
you know, drinking on the side of the water. And then all of a sudden my
friend's like arm blew up to like twice the [00:18:00] size and turned purple.
And I was like, oh, ooh, what's going on? And, we ended up like going to a
friend's house that I hardly knew, and she put some comfrey leaf on it and it was
back to normal the next day, which like kind of blew my mind. And I think it
was at that point that I was like, you know what, this is amazing.
And, you know, as somebody who's been sort of, I would say, dicked around by
the medical system when I was younger, a lot. The concept of being able to like,
have sovereignty over what happens to me and my body, a say in what happens,
how to be able to treat it, was really important.
So yeah, I started taking classes eventually, soon after, and I just stuck with it.
Amy: So on the subject of school, let's get into Seed, [00:19:00] Soil, and
Spirit. First of all, I love this title for a school because I really think these are
three necessary components. We often leave out the spirit part, but not in this
circle, in the world at large.
We, we leave out the spirit part. So, multi-part question. What is it? What do
you do there? Why did you start it and why was the inclusion of the word spirit
important to you in the naming? I can repeat parts of the question later.
Shabina: That was perfect. Thank you. Well, first, I will say that I will not take
credit for the name.
I started the school alongside, Stephanie Morningstar. Her and I sort of started it
by fluke you could say, it was the winter of 2020 and we thought to ourselves,
why don't we just host like a once a month, kind of get together. I [00:20:00]
was growing herbs in Toronto at the time, and sort of this was a space that we
could use. It had some picnic tables, so I thought, why not? Right?
And so we did a call out. We were gonna get some students, and then lo and
behold COVID happens. Totally unexpected to a certain degree. I was actually
in a class and my professor was an epidemiologist, so to a certain degree I kind
of expected it after a certain point.
I really got the inside scoop. But anyways, point is that we ended up by moving
online, we thought, okay, well, you know, maybe we can just teach it online.
Which I don't really think either of us knew what we were getting into at the
time. So, we kind of lost our marbles for a couple years trying to run it.
It's been a huge learning curve, but really I think the goal of the space has been
to one, pass on our [00:21:00] skills. I think, you know, the two of us have
obviously been doing this work for a significant amount of time. I think we
calculated it out to like 35 years together. Right, and wanting to pass that on, but
also like support our communities.
Both of us have kind of taken Western herb classes and I think found it maybe
traumatic. Traumatizing, you know, just the level of like appropriation and
retelling of histories. Just the lack of seeing ourselves, represented in any of the
work. We really wanted to be able to offer something else.
Instead of just constantly getting mad at what was there, just building what we
want to build for our communities, and provide that resource and that space to
sort of dig in a little bit deeper, right? There's so much potential in being able to
[00:22:00] have these conversations, so much beauty. But when you can't really
get further than scratching the surface, there's so much that gets left, that gets
And so really we wanted to be able to open that container and have that space.
And so since 2020, we've had about, just under 250 students. Which is kind of
significant. We started with, nothing, no money, no nothing, just pure love. We
didn't even pay ourselves for the first year. And, you know, thank God for those
We taught classes on energetics of herbs some medicine making stuff, plant ID
stuff. A lot of stuff linking sort of energetics to plants that grow here. So for a
lot of people who are, you know, diasporic people who don't [00:23:00]
necessarily have access to their traditional plants and herbs, being able to use
the concepts of how we use them to the plants that grow here.
Right? Because our legacies are always migrating. We're, you know, we have,
for me anyways, my people have been migrating for the last, you know, a
thousand years. And so moving is nothing new, but it's being able to use these
ideas to reconnect to our ways of being. And sort of like uplift a lot of the
histories and legacies of indigenous folks here.
Just being able to sort of bridge that, those communities, indigenous, black and
diaspora communities together to be able to have those conversations, to be able
to sort of be that bridge, be that container, because. You know, a lot of people
are wondering how best to come together. And really, I don't think we have
those answers, but we have tools to bring ourselves together with these plants,
with these ways of being. And so, that's really the [00:24:00] container we
wanted to create for ourselves.
And in 2022, we decided to take a little break, and get some resources to really
build what we wanted to build in a more sustainable way. And so we're really
thinking big now, which is great. We've been working, on a program, called
Wild Foraging in Right Relationship: Don't Just Take, Take Care.
And so essentially the ideas that, you know, so much of the conversation around
foraging happens on like a binary, right? On one side is like this concept that
you need to be responsible, you can't take anything. On the other side it's just
take what you want or take 10%, you know? And I don't think either of them is
really rooted in the traditional knowledge around these plants, right?
I feel like indigenous communities have been saying since the dawn of time that
their relationships are interwoven [00:25:00] with plants. You know, humans
can help build their support plant populations and plant populations help
support humans. It's that relationship of interdependence. But the ways in which
we talk about foraging and being with plants don't often reflect that within a
western herbal framework.
And so really what we're trying to build is, is a program that's sort of, brings
together people to be able to figure that out. And so we're working with an
advisory committee right now. It's amazing, Joe Pitawanakwat, Linda Black
Elk, Ayo Ngozi and Mandana Boushee and then myself and Steph and our
To really build that container of co-creation, which has been amazing. And then
we're rebuilding our herbal immersion program as well. So, you know, adding
more modules around medicine making, formulating. All these things, to be
able to sort of like fill the gaps in what exists right now. We [00:26:00] don't
want to recreate the wheel, but we do want to, sort of like serve in a way that
really speaks to the needs of our communities right now. So be really hands-on,
be really useful and answer those questions. I think every single time we've
posted the programs, people are like, I don't know. Should I be? Should I be
even touching these plants or should I be engaging with wild plants?
Should I be, you know, and people have all these questions and a lot of, it's so
theoretical, but I think. When we talk about traditional medicine, even the
concept of tradition makes it something of the past. And I think really what we
need to do is bring it into the future and bring it into a really embodied practice.
And so really that's our goal with these programs, is to be able to incorporate
this knowledge, this way of being into daily life. And to root it in reciprocity for
Shabina: For the original people, [00:27:00] for displaced people, for the land,
you know, all of those things. So,
Amy: Yeah, certainly. I mean, it benefits capitalism and colonialism for us to
be, capitalism especially, for us to be alienated from nature. You know, I know a
lot of people and, and for a time this was also me, who were terrified at even the
notion of foraging. Like the woods is trying to kill me. But really, the woods
have been keeping people alive since there have been people.
Right? Vandana Shiva said something along the lines of, "Where is the line
between the civilization and the wild? It's colonial thinking to say that there is
Shabina: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's it. Right? And, I think as people who
have been severed from that, those traditions, there is this fear, this fear that
you're gonna fuck it up or this fear that, you know, like [00:28:00] it can be
dangerous or this fear that you don't know and that that's a really real thing.
You need to dig into that. Absolutely. Like for me anyways, like I know I wanna
be responsible and I don't actually know how to do that. And I think
acknowledging that from the get-go is number one. That means we need to dig
in. That means we need to figure out how to do that, how to lay the foundation.
And, you know, it's tricky. Like for me as a settler, I need to figure out what
responsibility means. How do I uplift the original people here in a way that I
can learn, but that I'm not just taking? And I think there's no easy answer to be
able to figure that out. But at the end of the day, we know that people, the
original people here are asking, are demanding, are saying, you know. We have
this responsibility to care for the land and settler colonialism is standing in the
way of that. So on all levels, we need to be able to support that. [00:29:00]
Whether that's, you know, working at a school and uplifting that or on the front
lines, but we need to be able to do that because the reality is that severance is
what's screwing everything up right now.
Right? We can't let colonialism and that legacy guide the next, hundred years.
Because we're not gonna be here for that. How do we, reintegrate or, how do we
heal from that fracture?
Amy: I have been in touch with Mandana Boushee who, you know, I think she
signed off her email with something like, Utopic Future Seeds, and I'm like, I'm
I'm using it forever. This notion of Utopic Future Seeds.
Shabina: Absolutely. No, she's amazing. She's hilarious and so brilliant. And I mean, it's right, right? Like it is the future. We can't, we have to look back, but
we also have to look forward. Like, we're about to get [00:30:00] screwed if we,
don't take this seriously.
Right? The more we can stop looking at it as, you know, the original people
used to do this, or we as a people used to do this. Like, no, like this is the reality
of what needs to happen in the next like five, 10 years. Like, and if we don't like
what's gonna happen, right?
Shabina: On all levels.
Amy: On all levels.
I think we've been really dancing around this, and you've sort of answered this
question already in a hundred different ways, but tell me about this specific
relationship or how you view this specific relationship between plants and
liberation, or maybe a different way of asking that as like, how can our listeners
cultivate this relationship between plants and liberation?
Shabina: For most of us, our histories of liberation have always incorporated
plants. We don't really have that without that. I mean, any story we dig into
[00:31:00] about sovereignty, about our ability to resist imperialism and
colonization has always tied in plants, whether that's when we're sick, whether
that's poisoning or oppressors, whether that's like being able to survive in the
middle of a rocky mountain, like, I don't know about you, but for me, my
ancestors hid out in the mountains for 200 years. Avoiding complete
annihilation by just being able to grow plants on the side of mountains. Right?
And that's, a really beautiful and real example.
But the thing is, obviously we're not gonna, I'm not gonna do that right now, but
they've been there for us. They are our food, they are our medicine. You know?
I think, I know people, there's often this binary that happens between Western
medicine and herbal medicine, when actually the reality is that western
medicine actually comes from herbal medicine. Or, traditional or indigenous,
[00:32:00] systems of science.
When we look at preventative care, when we look at community resilience,
when we look at all these things, and more and more research is coming out
about like the need for us to have a varying diet of traditional foods and all that
to say that, you know, at the end of the day, like the plants that grow around us
help us, right?
And when we can eat them or we can use them as medicine, then we become,
more resilient as people, we become healthier. And so, there's that, but there's
also, for forever people have been able to fight off their oppressors with plants.
You know, like a really clear example of that is like the Haitian revolution and
being able to literally poison slaveholders, right?
I mean, that's pretty fucking badass. But then that all around, right? Like
people's legacies [00:33:00] of ceremony with plants. All of those things have
been huge tools in keeping people grounded in like armed struggles. In fights
for liberation, I think, you know, day-to-day it's about connection.
Being able to build relationship with these plants. I think something that
happens on the internet is like plants get dwindled down to like this, like five
top herbs for your lungs, or everybody drink some elderberry, which, you know,
I have my own thoughts about that. But at the end of the day, we need to be able
to dig in a little bit deeper, right?
Like, and even if we're in a city or something like that, it's just about seeing
what's around us and what's not around us, right? What are we seeing here?
What is in the ground? What is it a reflection of? Why are these medicines
here? What are they trying to tell us about the land? What are they trying to tell
us about our bodies?
You know, medicines often come where they need to be, right? You know, in
cities or in situations [00:34:00] where there's a huge amount of like, let's say,
overbearing. There's a lot of different ways to like see this, but whether that's
like toxins or buildup of what I might call dampness or what, you know, foods
that tend to contribute to like diabetes and stuff like that, there's a ton of herbs
that are particularly great for those issues just around us growing in abundance.
And we might look at, you know, this super food or that, but at the end of the
day, the answers in front of us right there. And so those, plants tell us stories,
but then also the lack of certain plants or the lack of, you know, the dwindling
populations of certain plants also tell us a story. Right?
And I think just being able to dig into what's going on in the soil, what's
happening, what plants are doing really well, and what plants are having a really
rough time, and what, what does that tell us? And just even answering those
questions, even if it takes a long time. Cause sometimes it's hard to come up
with the answer.
We just [00:35:00] begin to peel away at the layers of what's happening. And I
think just that is a liberatory thing because we need to be able to figure that out.
We, are a reflection of the ecosystem and we mirror what's happening, and so
it's sort of being able to pull a mirror up at ourselves.
Amy: I was just writing down, we are a reflection of the ecosystem and
certainly we are a large part of it, a larger part of it than we probably should be.
But I love that you bring this like binary, smashing notion to herbalism, first of
all, that we can learn from what's there, but also from what's not there. So if we
live in urban environments, we can notice where plants are missing. But also, you know, the herbalist as healer, you've kind of shot the binary out of that too,
because we're also talking that the herbalist as Hexter, as poisoner.
I love this like holistic, again, [00:36:00] this non-binary approach that you
have to dealing with plans.
Shabina: But it's true though. Like even I remember, like digging into the, just
coming back to like what's not there. Just something that is coming up for me is
thinking about garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is kind of everywhere here.
And oftentimes people's response to it is to be able to pull it out en mass and
you know, whether or not they make pesto or just throw it in the dump is kind of
irrelevant a lot of the time. It's just this act of taking it up and considering that to
be like an anti-colonial act when that's not really done in relationship with the
original people here.
These are often settler run projects with the idea that they're repopulating native
populations of plants. But actually recently I dug into sort of research around
what happens after that initial stage of being able to pull the garlic mustard up
and what they're finding is that it actually [00:37:00] doesn't increase the
populations of native plants at all.
Which is hilarious because to me, that that just goes to show, right? Like it takes
much more than that to be able to support those populations of plants. Native
plants need their people. The people have always been there for them. You
know, the concept that, forests and landscapes prior to colonization.
You know, I know people will say this all the time, but that the concept that
these places weren't, you know, an art in of themselves or weren't very skillfully
cultivated, is absurd, right? And so we always see this right? With organizations
or land trust that are rooted in concepts of conservation that don't actually
directly, you know, involve indigenous people aren't directly led by indigenous
This, concept that humans need to get off, and then nature will [00:38:00] heal
itself, will just take away this like quote unquote invasive plant and somehow
the native plants will somehow just thrive. And that's, that's actually bullshit.
That actually does not happen. Right? And that plants are actually smarter than
we think, I think, and have their own thing going on.
But that also, People who have known this land for, you know, since time
immemorial, actually know way more than whatever the fuck is going on over there. Right? And so being able to just like look beyond, just like the concept of
what's missing, you know, what is here in abundance? Is this a problem?
Like, are these plants that are so proliferous here that are not native to here.
Simply looking at them as a problem, whereas digging into, why are they here?
What happened? You know, a lot of these plants are here because there's like a
huge amount of toxicity in the soil. So what are they doing to that toxicity, you
And I think, there's so [00:39:00] much more to dig into when it comes to that
Amy: Yeah, I don't have a source for this because it just came into my memory.
But I remember reading this story that these colonial settlers came to the
Americas and they were, you know, it's a miracle land where all the edible fruits
are just lining all the paths. As if this wasn't like thousands of years of
cultivation and, but in a different way.
It was cultivation in a way that was so, I'll use the word foreign cuz it's like
literal and, you know, figurative this way of cultivating was so foreign to them
that they didn't even recognize as cultivation.
Shabina: Even like the packaging on plants, like on vegetables sometimes is
like "farmed". I'm like, of course it was. Like what, what do you mean?
Of course it's farmed!
I think, you know, in the last 200 years, you know, and even more, but we've
[00:40:00] had this like huge imperialist sort of presence across the world and,
and a lot of it sort of like, forced or subjugated people into specific ways of
growing food and, and that healing from that hasn't really happened to a certain,
the degree that we need.
Right? I think about, you know, I, was just talking to a friend about like the, the
spice trade and like even tea, like in India, the concept of how these things were
grown before was completely different to what we see now. And that even now
to this day, that system hasn't really healed from that imperialism, that
colonization at all.
It just replicated itself with our own people. And I think we need to figure that
out. This concept of being able to like decolonize or, or reassess the ways in which we did things needs to, come back. Because of course, it's a [00:41:00]
system born out of trauma.
And to address it on all ends, you know, as herbalist, that's so much of what we
do, right? Is to be able to support people with that reality. And I think on all
levels and all systems, that's absolutely the response, right? We, we need to deal
Amy: Yeah, I love this notion of herbalism, as harm reduction, as trauma
therapy. In addition, you know, we think of it like your friend whose arm
exploded, and then you put the poultice of leaves on the arm and then the arm
reduces. But like we also have these emotional, intellectual losses of health, let's
Amy: And herbalism can help that too.
Shabina: Absolutely, because it's not just like, it helps us on a physical level,
but oftentimes we're working with plants that are [00:42:00] from our lineages,
and that connection helps us, I think on a, deeper spiritual level, right? Like
from that severance, we are able to reconnect with what has helped us along the
way, you know, and that is invaluable.
Amy: I think that it's also kind of the answer to the question of why? Why you
needed or felt that you needed to include the word spirit in with the soil and the
Shabina: Absolutely. Absolutely. We can't, we see projects, we see things that
happen that are not rooted in our systems of kinship and our systems of, you
know, connection to the land that build up and then fall apart. You know? And
it's really about bringing that integrity, that understanding, that we are connected
and that we need to be able to uplift each other. I can't screw you over, I can't screw over this plant. I [00:43:00] can't just rip and take out what I want or like screw over your community because at the end of the day, that's gonna harm all of us, right? We need to work from a place of integrity, and of being able to see the care and the reciprocity between all of us to be able to uplift and do that real work. Whatever, lineage or whatever system of spirituality or religion or whatever that is, that you're working from, at the end of the day, like it's the same shit.
Like we need to be able to hold each other. Which is, you know, a lot more
difficult than it sounds sometimes, but it's the reality of where we are. We know
that we're connected.
Amy: I just know that our listeners are gonna absolutely fall in love with you as
I have in this conversation. So please, can you tell them, first of all, if they're
scared of plants for whatever reason, what might be like a good way to dip their
toe into the water?
Let's start [00:44:00] there.
Shabina: I mean, I think just like getting to know a really simple plant, just
start with one. I think some people have this idea of like, you know, capital H
herbalism, you know, like herbalism trademark or whatever. But I think at the
end of the day, it's like, It's about just developing that relationship, whether
that's a dandylion or plantain leaf or whatever's growing in abundance near you
that's used as medicine that you know isn't gonna like harm you.
Like, I think it's just about, you know, dandylion, if you have a tea that's not
gonna kill you, and just sit with it, taste it, you know, put it in a salad, you
know, and I think just sit with it, see how it feels, see how it tastes. What does
that tell you about it? How did you feel after, and you know, maybe read a thing
even if you don't remember almost anything of what you read. You're going to
hold onto maybe one [00:45:00] word, and I think that's fine. I remember my
first like herbal class, you could say that I took. I had like all these notes and I
was like, I need to remember all this. And I felt like a failure for not, but at the
end of the day, I think I remembered like two, three words and I remembered
the name of the plant.
And just, okay, no, this one is like more like a bitter herb and bitter supports,
you know, the production of bile from the liver. Okay, that's what I've got. This
one is like smells sweet and is calming. Great! Like that's good. Like stick with
that, you know? And as long as you have like a tiny little bit, and you are gonna
keep building on it.
We have generations to come to bring this stuff back. Right. And and the more
you kind of immerse yourself within it, the easier it is to understand. Um, it's
just little by little and you know, even at this point, like. Shit, you can get
dandylion at the grocery store these days, you know? But like if you're out in a
field or whatever, like you can grab [00:46:00] that too.
As long as you think there's like no dog shit on it. Like go for it. You know?
And I think that there's this thing where herbal medicine is a science, and that's
absolutely true. And there's like the herbs that cross over between like food and
medicine, and I think those are great herbs to start with.
Like raspberries, raspberry leaf, you know, food is medicine. Even just
understanding the concepts of food, it's easy to dig in. I just, I think it's one of
those things, it's like one of those doors that you open and once you start to
open it all comes in. But it, it's just that little act of opening the first little bit that
can open and it, it's just a matter of putting yourself in there.
You don't have to be scared. These are foods.
Amy: I am so happy that you brought the humble dandelion into this circle, into
this conversation because one, like you said, you [00:47:00] can eat every single
part of it is from root to bloom. It's not gonna hurt you. And they are
everywhere. You don't have to go to like a special, you know, at least in, you
know, the country that we live in, they're everywhere.
Amy: And also we can relate to them. Because even though they're so useful
and so beautiful, our society has decided that they need to be terminated out of
all existence. You know, like even to the point, and I've written about this
before, where like I'm sort of rewilding a lot of the, the space that I have.
And so that means, you know, letting dandelions grow. And then I have to
contend with like, are my neighbors going to be mad at me if some of my dandy
line floofs, contaminate their perfectly manicured lawn? It's like a real thing. So
like symbolically and practically and nutritionally. All of [00:48:00] the Seed,
Soil, Spirit, all of these things, we can find those lessons in the humble
Thank you so much for bringing her to this conversation.
Shabina: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it's like, it's so funny because the
amount of dandelion that's imported is absurd. You know?
Amy: That is! We eradicate it and then we import it. Thank you, capitalism.
Shabina: Like for us anyways, like, as like in our medicine we use dandelion.
In Chinese medicine we use dandelion. All these systems of medicine
throughout, the world, use dandelion, so much of it. You know, our people come
to this country and obviously are often relegated to like apartment buildings
and, you know, housing projects and stuff like that.
And, suddenly we don't have our patch that we normally like harvest from and
so it's like [00:49:00] so silly, all this dandelion is getting ripped out.
Meanwhile, we're like shipping dandelion from like the motherland back to here
and it's like what? Why?
And so, yeah, no, absolutely. And I think obviously more and more, you know,
people are having this like no mow May or something where they're like trying
not to mow their lawns. But I think more and more I'm hoping that it becomes
more the norm. Like I remember when I was younger, My parents let you know,
our lawn kind of do whatever it was doing.
And you know, with the city bylaw came and that was that, the end, right? And
so I think now you see more and more where people aren't, getting called for,
letting things grow as they should. And so, you know, hopefully, in the next 10
years we'll actually see a really different situation, especially as things become a
little bit more dire.
I'm sure [00:50:00] that the line of what's considered acceptable will continue to
migrate to something a little bit more reasonable.
Amy: Well, that's a Utopic Future Seed, if I ever heard one. I truly hope that
you're right. Well, I feel like we're at a crossroad, but I'm so glad that people
like you and your collective are bringing these issues to the forefront.
And even just like, you know, to use a sort of olden phrase, the consciousness
raising. The actual raising of our consciousness to notice plants when they're
there, notice plants when they're not there and like learn something from both of
Amy: Oh, you are such a dandelion. Thank you so much for sitting down with
me. I can't wait to follow your journey. I think you said the school, is the school like on hiatus right now? Are you taking students for next year? What's the deal?
Shabina: Yeah, so right now we've got like a few, [00:51:00] webinars up.
Yeah, right now what do we have up? We've got one on the migration of knowledge out of, North Africa to Asia, a course on that.
One around the influence of traditional practices to Turtle Island and the
practices of displaced Africans through the slave trade and their influence on
like Western medicine.
Then another class with Wendy Makoon Geniusz, about how to work, how to
unearth our oral traditions within families, and working with elders in our
communities. So help us to do that. And just sort of a step-by-step guide.
We should have some more webinars up pretty soon. Then, for our bigger
programs, [00:52:00] we're, we're gonna have that up in 2023 and we're really
hoping to do it in a way that is, wicked.
Amy: Yeah! In a really big way. So yeah, sometimes we have to take a moment
if we're gonna do something really fucking big.
Amy: Listeners, if you are as super excited about Shabina's work as I am,
please, please, follow Seed, Soil and Spirit, and how else can our listeners
follow you or get in touch with you or join the school?
What's the website? Let's say all those things. We'll put them in the show notes
too, listeners as always. But if you're listening right now and you're like so itchy
as I imagine you would be to get in touch with Shabina, what's the best way?
Shabina: So our website is seedsoilspirit.com. And we've got like a mailing list
for our programs and keep you updated that way when they do become
available. And then we also are [00:53:00] on Instagram, at seedsoilspirit. So
we post there sometimes, we even have like job postings and opportunities,
volunteer opportunities, all sorts of things like that. So, definitely that's like a
really good place to get updated about stuff.
Amy: Do you have any like bumper sticker of a parting message for the
universe that you want to, to share before we spiral out?
Shabina: I just think that we have like a huge task ahead of us and I am really
excited to see how we can build with one another to co-create the future we
wanna see. So, you know, if you feel like drawn to reaching out to us or you
know, feel inspired by our work and wanna uplift what we're working on or you
know, whatever it is, then feel free to get in touch.
Like we, are so humbled by the support and the sort of [00:54:00] environment,
of co-creation we've, built together with ourselves and other schools and other
programs, other community groups, other organizing crews, you know? And I
think just the more we can be in touch about what we're doing, the better.
And so, you know, I'd love to hear what you guys are up to. Um, and just, you
know, sending love to everybody, pouring their heart and soul into what needs
to get done.
Amy: Your excitement about the subject is contagious. I know once again that
everyone who's listening is gonna be really excited about what you're talking
So thank you again, Shabina Lafleur Gangji for sitting down with us, and
blessed fucking be.
Shabina: Thank you for having me.
Outro: Be a witch, you must be a witch.
Risa: The Missing Witches Podcast is created by Risa Dickens and Amy Torok
with insight and support from the coven at [00:55:00] patreon.com/Missing
Witches. Amy and Risa are the co-authors of Missing Witches, Reclaiming True
Histories of Feminist Magic, which is available now wherever you get your
books or audio books and of New Moon Magic 13 Anti-capitalist Tools for
Resistance and Re-enchantment.
Coming fall 2023.