Posted to Subscribers on 21 October 2008


Dear Subscribers,

In late 1979, I moved from the Big Island of Hawaii to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Not having experienced winter in a long time, I casually said to my landlady that when I was a bit more settled, I would help her cut down all the dead trees in the yard.  She was a quite famous authoress and said, "You dumb Hawaiian, wait 'til spring."  People come from all over the world to experience the magic of Santa Fe.  One of the usual comments was, "What beautiful colors."  I still had those Hawaiian eyes.  I didn't see any hibiscus or bougainvillas or even plumerias.  It took a long time to see the colors in the desert.

In Hawaii, we used fresh herbs.  Kahunas had taught me to talk to the plants and explain the problems and to see if any of the plants cared to help.  Among all those growing in a grove or high mountain forest, there would always be a sympathetic plant that did not mind surrendering its gifts to a needy human.  The kahunas told me to wait for a response from the plants and never to take more than was needed.  When people in Santa Fe heard of my interests, they urged me to visit a local herb shop.  I nearly burst into tears when I saw shelf after shelf of dried herbs in jars.  I couldn't believe anyone had grabbed up so many plants and stuffed them into glass bottles. 

After I was a little settled and becoming increasingly enthusiastic about my new community, my mother came to visit.  I showed her all the beautiful discoveries I had made and one evening, she very quietly said, "You are starting to look like your friends, all those dessicated desert rats, not much prettier than those herbs in bottles."  I think it was the strangest and most bizarre remark ever to have fallen from her mouth.  She absolutely maintained that life was shriveling up and preserving it through dessication was no way to grow old much less remain attractive.  Obviously, some comments are harder to forget than others.

Gabriel Howearth

So, when you were asking all your questions in emails about Gabriel, I tried to think of how on earth to explain who Gabriel is.  There are flat-footed answers:  Gabriel Howearth is a botanist who specializes in preservation of native species.  He was a co-founder of Seeds of Change, along with one of my former students and now quite famous film producer, author, and the wits behind the Bioneers, Kenny Ausubel.  We all go back a long time.

After the Bioneers Conference in 2000, I got a phone call from Horst Rechelbacher asking me to come up to Wisconsin and meet two farmers from Baja California.  That is a long story, but seeing Gabriel again, under such unusual circumstances, was a transformative experience for me.  On the way to the Minneapolis Airport, I realized that Gabriel could spot genetically modified plants at an enormous distance, like an eagle flying high, but he was looking horizontally.  At a time when I needed to be packing up to move out of my home, Kitzia and Gabriel stayed with me for about three weeks.  I studied all their pictures of their land in LaRibera, Baja California.  Basically, they transformed a desert with a few cacti to a tropical paradise with over 4000 species of plants, all in a matter of months!  According to most estimates, Baja only has 2700 different species of plants, but Gabriel brought plants from other parts of the world to provide alternative habitats for species that are in danger of extinction due to the expansion of human civilization into formerly pristine and often virgin territory.


As I indicated, Gabriel mentored me into an awareness of the need for biodiversity and preservation.  You might say that he goes a step beyond "sustainable" because he plans for contingencies and makes sure that plants have multiple habitats so that if anything happens in one area, there are viable plants elsewhere that can be used to replant.

In commercial terms, you might look at this the way vintners or potato farmers view blights.  At various times in history, crops have been wiped out and then lands have been replanted with imports from colonies that grew their plants from the original sources.  However, with herbs, the emphasis is on countless species, some of which are not yet appreciated by science.

Think of it.  Name three immune boosting herbs.  Okay, you have astragalus, echinacea, and come on, what's the third?  You see, it is not that easy, but there are at least 2500 plants named in ethnobotanical sources that are anticancer and even more that are immune enhancing.  Our scientists want to synthetize half a dozen of these and refer to everything else as weeds.  There are herbalists who walk in front of bulldozers to rescue precious bloodroot and goldenseal before developers massacre our medicine chests.  There are people planting hundreds of acres in the most remote areas they can access just to make sure that after the madness of the present times, there will be a way to recreate life on Earth.

Gabriel has consulted with countless people, very rich people who see their activities as a kind of philanthropy and very humble people who simply need to eat.  Then, there are people like myself who make demands on the plant world for medicine for you and others but who do not always do our parts to make sure there will be enough for future generations.  Gabriel is the one who is taking on this responsibility and he does it with immense spiritual grace.

After he and Kitzia left, my house felt very empty but I had to pack and vacate.  It was nearly Thanksgiving and I went to visit my best friend and then just drove.  What I saw as I went from one end of the country to the other were ADM rail cars and silos for thousands of miles.  I was in shock.  I realized I lived in a bubble.  I spent 20 years of my life in Hawaii and 21 in New Mexico.  I had never really seen the vast bread basket of this country.  It made me sick. 

Archer Daniel Midlands

I remembered that PBS documentary to which I have referred in previous emails, the one in which Pamela Harriman said that Archer Daniel Midlands has more access to the White House than anyone on Earth and that it owns both political parties.  I stopped for meals.  The water tasted disgusting.  I couldn't find anything wholesome to eat and even the rice tasted like chlorine.  The water in hotels smelled of chlorine, the sheets smelled of chlorine, and I began thinking of patients who had contacted me over the years.  I tried to remember where each person lived and by the time I got to St. Louis and saw the bridge, I realized no can be well in heartland of America unless they take extraordinary measures to overcome their environments.

I got to Asheville, North Carolina, and while sitting in a nice Thai restaurant with one of my former students, my eyes were burning.  She said, "If it bothers you now, wait 'til August."  I turned around and headed west again.  There was a little town in the Smoky Mountains with a Cherokee Museum.  I was very curious but once more, tears streamed down my face because I realized what an advanced Earth ethic the people had and how severely displaced they were.  Barely able to see through my tears, a shaman appeared out of nowhere and was talking.  It was a laser, a laser shaman.  I was immediately intrigued because this high technology was in such a small place, but the shaman explained how the animals were angry with humans for killing them so they decided to make people sick as revenge.  The plants had a counsel to discuss whether to side with the animals or people.  They were so full of compassion that even though they believed people were not acting properly, they would still offer themselves as medicine.

I had a lot of time to think while driving.  My little car was a bit crowded:  two big dogs and seven birds, a notebook computer, and one suitcase.  On the border of Illinois, there was a visitor's center and miniature museum with an example of what a wetland is.  Illinois has lost 90% of its presettlement wetlands.


So, this is my story of how I became a passionate environmentalist and how Gabriel's understanding awakened me to the need to be proactive.

In a few paragraphs, this all sounds easy, way too easy, but go back a few years. In the early 90s, a man came into my clinic and said he was going to buy acreage all over the world.  He wanted me to list illnesses and the main herbs used to treat those illnesses.  AIDS was top on the list because, at that time, we had every reason to believe that it would spread as easily as herpes and that it would not remain a disease affecting primarily male homosexuals.  So, I said, "Well, astragalus would probably be the first herb to plant."  He wrote out a check for $1000 and told me to give it to the first person who sourced viable seeds or plants.  Believe it or not, it was many months before an enterprising student of mine located a plant and began propagating it.  She got the check, of course, nice reward for her effort.

Nothing of this magnitude starts without foresight, effort, and lots of walking the talk.  So, when Kitzia told me Gabriel was in the hospital, I had a panic attack and then went into a place of deep peace and surrender in which I realized the Universe is not going to waste the opportunity to use such a reliable steward.  Like I said, I rarely ask for your help, but there 4000 species of plants requiring care and some very faithful Earth Stewards who need some help.

Thanks for listening,


Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2008







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Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2010

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