WORDS: KATE WEINER
IMAGES: BRITTANY DUCHAM
Brittany Ducham of Spellbound Herbals is a passionate community herbalist whose work powerfully interweaves the personal and political. Her potions, teas, and homemade zines are antidotes to our mainstream culture of disconnection and colonization. Herewith, the rad Brittany shares with Loam what experiences fuel her work as an herbalist, the contradictions she's encountering as she seeks to nourish her passion project, and her recipe for embodying hope in her everyday. Her interview has been deeply inspiring to me (choosing just a couple of pull quotes wasn't easy when I wanted to italicize everything!) and I know you'll find in her sage words the wisdom to deepen your own connection to self & soil. Dig in, loamy loves!
What drew you to work as a herbalist?
I grew up in punk/diy communities in Florida, and in my early twenties became introduced to anarchist values. A rejection of hateful institutions, reverence for the earth as a living being, a need for critical thought and questioning, a desire for self-reliance, interconnectedness, accessibility, agency, a reclamation of our food + healing systems, decolonization, inclusiveness, direct action, intersectional feminism, reciprocity—all of these concepts shaped who I am and continue to inform my work. I am motivated by gaining tools to build a better world. Everyday I continue to learn and it is an honor to count the plants as teachers. I am drawn to the work of an herbalist because it ignites hope inside me. Herbalism remedies so much of what I find problematic in our time. My practice with herbs has become a point of intersection for all my passions.
Plants are the real teachers. They encourage us to slow down, to be flexible, to blossom, to root, to grow at our own pace, to thrive when the odds are against us.
All my life I have wanted to be of service to those I hold dear. I used to think that meant giving people advice whenever they opened up. I was such a problem solver (still am, but now I channel that into design work and medicine formulation) but I’ve learned over time that people want to be heard and seen, not fixed. I love talking to people about their joys and struggles. I love creating space for people to share, I love facilitating conversations. I work to encourage people to embrace who they are, to heal, to have boundaries and ask for what they need and fight for a more vibrant world for all of us. I find that my work with plants, my work as an herbalist, often facilities these conversations, or at least provides the tools needed to navigate the complexities we face. Plants are the real teachers. They encourage us to slow down, to be flexible, to blossom, to root, to grow at our own pace, to thrive when the odds are against us. I’m drawn to this wisdom, and wish to share it.
What experiences feed your soul and fuel your herbal practice?
Connection. Connection with plants + the land through wandering, harvesting + medicine making, with the moon and stars, with people, with self-defined beauty, with myself through solitude, movement, reflection and tarot. Cooking meals with friends, a ritual bath, engaging in deep conversations, the resiliency of the human heart, sitting in a meadow of pedicularis, a garden grown by a loved one, laughing at the absurdity of existence, listening to a podcast, hills of sagebrush at sunrise, writing to express a feeling. Lately, all these acts feed + fuel me.
One of my favorite movies is Before Sunrise and I love the scene where Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are talking and her character says something like, “if there’s any kind of god, it doesn’t exist somewhere out there or inside us, it exists in the little space in between two people trying to connect. If there’s any type of magic in this world, it’s in the attempt to understand someone sharing something.” I’ve always loved that. I don’t spend much time contemplating the divine, or god, but I do think an awful lot about connection, belonging and everyday magic. I feel so strongly that connection feeds us, it is a deep yearning and motivator in us all. There is so much overwhelm and isolation, and I think to connect to yourself, to your surroundings, to story is a curative. I try to pay attention to what makes me feel connected, less overwhelmed and less alone. These experiences, rituals, little spaces of in between, are the magic that feed me.
How do you want to nurture Spellbound Herbals in the coming year?
Spellbound, like my life, is in flux while I uproot, pulled to new landscapes by plant teachings and dear friends. I left Denver in March and have been surrendering to uncertainty since. In this time of in-between, I nurture Spellbound by staying open to what can be. I am dreaming up new potions and not allowing my fears or comparisons to create the dominate narrative for how I show up in the world. I’m doing work to clarify my vision and listening without judgment to what surfaces. I nurture this project by making medicines with the intention to know the plants, to know the land. I play and experiment. I nurture this project with curiosity, with subversive optimism, with a determination to decolonize, and an understanding that I’m going to be vulnerable, make mistakes and keep showing up.
I nurture [Spellbound] with curiosity, with subversive optimism, with a determination to decolonize, and an understanding that I’m going to be vulnerable, make mistakes and keep showing up.
I tend to not worry much about making a profit with Spellbound, as I have always relied on another source of income. Very recently, I began shifting how I relate to money, trying to separate it from capitalism, or at least come to terms with it, and am hoping to make more of a living from this passion project / side hustle. I struggle with profiting off of herbs, so healing how I think about money, and moving forward with integrity, is some seriously important work that I am nurturing right now.
Spellbound has always been a very small, intimate project that is informed by the plants around me, the topics that I want to write about + share and the need that I experience in my communities. But it’s also been informed by my complicated feelings surrounding money, ownership, consumerism, business and success. Mainly, that if I succeed and make a living, a profit off of this work, that I am part of the problem or benefiting from a system I do not agree with. It’s interesting to dissect. I think a lot of folks struggle with these inner dilemmas. How do you thrive in a system you wish to destroy?
In the coming year, I know I need to nurture a sustainable approach for this work. I believe in my skills, my time and the value of what I do. I want to reach more people. I see nurturing Spellbound Herbals as a vital activity and a life-long conversation between myself, plants and people.
How do you embody hope in your everyday life?
I recently reread Hope In The Dark by Rebecca Solnit and I appreciate how she describes hope, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
“It is an axe you break down doors with”— this line creates a visceral giddiness in me. All the Aries in my chart does a dance. Aries, as a fire sign, are about action and in particular - we’re the ram after all - have this determination to break down barriers. We head butt our way through adversity. We’re this youthful sign, the first in the zodiac, and we carry this fresh optimism, this innovation and courage to charge ahead. We want change, and we’re willing to act. In this way, I embody hope by sparking conversation that are difficult to have, by questioning our indoctrination. By stepping into myself and being seen as emotional and sensitive, by being tender, intuitive and vulnerable.
I nurture my relationships as best I can, knowing that the future I want to build would be nothing without those I care for.
In June I took an abortion doula course through Colorado Doula Project. I want to continue to take a stand for reproductive justice and be their for folks when they may not have much support or access. I know this work will take shape when I move to Georgia, and I imagine that the need for this work will become more important in years to come. I try to support small farms when I buy herbs, I wildcraft ethically and with reverence for the plant and ecosystem it calls home. I nurture my relationships as best I can, knowing that the future I want to build would be nothing without those I care for. I feed myself nourishing foods, and try to be gentle with myself during times of stress when all I want to eat is chocolate. I have autoimmunity so to feed myself well and stay on top of my herbal practice is giving myself to the future.