Image by Steven Foster
A Conversation with Claudia Ford, Phd
I am thrilled to share this recording of my conversation with Claudia Ford about her research following the stories of the plants into historical archives and the implications of what she discovered for decolonizing herbal medicine and ethnobotany.
In 2018 I attended Claudia Ford’s workshop at the New England Women’s Herb Conference. Claudia stood before the overflowing class and began: “It is the taste of my mother’s hair that I remember first,” she read, “Many moons ago, yet it remains indelibly firm and sleek in my mouth. Like cedar, it smells as smoky as the morning breath in our hut.” And she continued, reading her writing of the story of Skywoman falling from the sky.
The workshop held our attention as Claudia spoke about the ways historical trauma becomes embodied in the depth of our feelings, deep in our genes. She led us on a guided journey to explore that trauma in our own lives, guiding us to a plant that might offer a message or some solace. We shared our experience in small groups and then, in closing, Claudia skillfully wove our individual experiences into a larger conversation about stories and history, about the places where connections can be made, and what plants can offer.
Those are my memories of the workshop, I imagine the actual details differ for each woman there. More than the content, I remember how skillfully Claudia held that circle of women, how she created a space in which we could explore both differences and connections in a way that was larger than any individual story. She is an incredibly gifted teacher.
I read Claudia’s dissertation and research articles with the same rapt attention she inspired in me at the workshop. I am equally impressed with the rigor and detail of her historical research into the uses of cotton roots and seeds to induce abortions by slaves in the American South and, in turn, by the uses of black haw by plantation owners and white physicians to prevent miscarriages and abortions. Through stories she uncovered, Claudia explores themes about traditional ecological knowledge and migration, a sense of the sacred, the impact of politics, economics and colonization in ethnobotanical history, and much more.
In her research, Claudia found that it was difficult to find original authors who weren’t white men. She tried, as she described it, “to interpret the silence in the archive,” to ask what was missing from those stories. And now, in her writing, teaching and public speaking, she works to lift up the voices and lives of the people whose stories weren’t told.
Some of the questions we discuss in this webinar include:
- Where did Claudia discover these stories and how did the plants lead her on that journey?
- Why is knowing this history important? What is the role of stories in creating a space for missing or silent voices?
- What do these stories about medicinal plant uses by midwives on plantations show us both about crossing boundaries and the limits of crossing boundaries?
This is part of the ABC-SHP Ethnobotany Webinar Series.
Additional Work by Claudia Ford
Claudia J. Ford’s keynote presentation during “Biodynamics, Indigeneity, and Social Justice” at the 2018 North American Biodynamic Conference.
- “Sharing Knowledge of Caulophyllum thalictroides (blue cohosh): Ethnobotany, Race, and Women’s Reproductive Health in American History,” Journal American Herbalist Guild, Volume 18/Number 1/Spring 2020 (Volume 18, Number 1).
This article is available for free as a sample download from the JAHG site.
- Ford, C. 2020. Watering the Gardens of the Grandmother of Plants. TEA: The Ethnobotanical Assembly, 6.
The indigenous elder whom Claudia refers to in our conversation who spoke of changing language from “using” plants is Duncan Grady
Duncan Grady’s professional experience includes over 20 years of post secondary education and 36 years of psychotherapy in addictions, trauma, death and dying. He has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and a Doctorate of Ministry. He is an elder of the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society, West Kootenays, BC. He currently co-leads retreats, works with communities impacted by lateral violence and provides training and consultation using western and non-western approaches to health, well-being, spirituality, trauma, dying and death. During the past year he has gone to communities in BC and Alberta to assist health care teams experiencing the overwhelm of working with suicide, fentanyl overdose and death. This work has primarily been with care providers who provide services, but has also included community presentations as well.
Dr. Claudia Ford has enjoyed a career in international management, development, and women’s health spanning three decades and all continents. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Environmental Studies and is on the faculty of State University of New York, Potsdam. She teaches ethnobotany, indigenous knowledge, gender studies, international business, environmental justice, and environmental literature in classrooms and workshops. Dr. Ford is a visual artist and writer, and she serves on the boards of directors of the Soul Fire Farm Institute – committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system; and the Biodynamic Association – awakening and enlivening co-creative relationships between humans and the earth, transforming the practice and culture of agriculture to renew the vitality of the earth, the integrity of our food, and the health and wholeness of our communities.