The air inside the Gaia house smelled herbal and fresh, with an unknown scent that was both reinvigorating and calming, as people from Mills and Oakland community members listened attentively to local herbalist Elokin Orton-Cheung.
Orton-Cheung, who uses both they/them and she/her pronouns, came to the Mills community on Nov. 16, to discuss ways to work with herbs and form a healing symbiotic relationship. She stressed how plants are easy to maintain and offer great health benefits geared toward easing stress, fear and anxiety with plant-based remedies.
In 2011, Orton-Cheung had a football sized cyst on her ovary, and her recovery process was what catalyzed her entry into herbalism. She founded Shooting Star Botanicals in Oakland, and now teaches classes and offers herbal consultations.
“I’ve always been interested in plants, but after my own health experience, I wanted to ensure that people get quality and affordable healthcare and be able to care for [themselves],” Orton-Cheung said.
Alisha Strater, manager of the Mills Community Farm and teacher of the new class Farming and Food Justice, contacted Orton-Cheung to share knowledge of herbs with the Mills community.
“I really appreciate that Elokin is both an activist and a grower,” Strater said.
Orton-Cheung’s presentation introduced eight plants that are easy to grow and maintain, are low cost and offer medicinal properties, including methods for making basic tinctures, teas and something she called “spirit medicine” with some of the plants. “Spirit medicine” includes things like meditating with the plants, and working with one plant consistently over time.
Sophia Cook-Phillips, a sophomore who attended the event, liked how Orton-Cheung tailored the event to college students.
“All the information was incredibly useful and accessible,” Cook-Phillips said. “I took her other class, and she mentioned both times that it’s also our duty to give back.”
One of the main points of Orton-Cheung’s presentation was the type of relationship that she as an herbalist tries to cultivate with each plant. She emphasized the importance of developing a symbiotic relationship with the plants – caring for them as they care for you. Orton-Cheung also listed both physical and spiritual benefits in her presentation as she finds that herbal medicine is not just to “fix” problems, but to heal them.
“I think herbs are all about relationships,” Orton-Cheung said. “In the healthcare industry, we are often given a pill, so with plants you can go much deeper and grow them.”
However, she recognizes the benefits of the healthcare industry, and appreciates the different things that each option offers. She also approached herbology with an activist perspective, something Strater agrees with.
“It’s about agency,” Strater said. “We have been colonized to believe that outside systems will fix us when we’re sick…we as a culture, have lost awareness of how important [herbs are].”
At the end of her presentation, Orton-Cheung passed around various flower essences to customize Epson salts for a foot soak or bath salt package. Each flower essence has a different medicinal benefit, from easing stress in the stomach to restoring energy.
For now, Strater plans on implementing Elokin’s ideas at the farm in the coming semester, possibly setting up herbal events for Mills to participate in.