Andover herbalist Darlene Akers prepares to teach a class on wild plants at her Dragonfly Healing Nest shop. (Submitted photo)

Darlene Akers, a community herbalist who lives in Andover, holds Apothecary Thursday classes twice a month in her shop, Dragonfly Healing Nest. At the Nest, which is located above her husband’s family business — Akers Ski cross-country skiing store — she teaches within a healing circle of students about plants and creating herbal teas, medicines, household cleansers and more. For her classes she uses an assortment of wild plants that can be found in backyards and the Maine woods, including white pine, dandelion and plantain.

Andover herbalist Darlene Akers offers her prayers to the rose water before her students arrive for their circle time. (Submitted photo)

Name: Darlene Akers

Age: 50 years young in July

Hometown: Andover

When and how did you first become interested in plants? My connection with the plants began at an early age.  I never really felt like I fit in, but when I was sitting in a field of wild strawberries I did, I felt whole and part of something bigger than myself. My grandfather was an avid gardener, as is my mom, so the green thumb and love for the plants runs in my family. Later in life my journey with the plants became a passion that grows deeper every day. From fertility challenges, to learning about Arvigo Maya abdominal massage, to a not-planned conventional birth. This all brought me to seek my connection with the plants as a lifelong journey and beyond (as a) way to heal my body, mind and soul.

Does your family share your interest and help you with gardening and caring for plants? My daughter, Ella, is 12 years old and she loves and is connected to the plants. She works with me on occasion making medicine, gardening and exploring nature. My husband loves nature and offers support for my passion and work with the plants. We are stewards to 13 acres of land, along the West Branch of the Ellis River. We plan to designate the land as a botanical sanctuary.

What is your title or do you have one? Herbalist? Apothecary? I don’t claim to be a doctor, nor can I under the law, so it is hard to say I have a title. I recently said to someone that I don’t have letters after my name, but I am plant and spirit certified. I call myself a community herbalist, because I am here to serve my community to the best of my ability in educating them about herbs and how they can become a part of their household and their families’ health.

What are some wild Maine plants that anyone could pick to use for teas or salves? Oh, so many wonderful plants grow in Maine as our wild green friends: plantain, dandelion, pine, self heal. I have been talking with Sandee (Gordon) at Good Karma (Cafe in Rumford) and we are working on a series at her health food store to teach about these wild green friends one Saturday a month. I am thinking of calling the series “Weeds to Know, Herbs to Grow.”

What’s a typical Apothecary Thursday event like at your shop? Apothecary Thursdays are held twice a month at the Nest, which is a space above the Akers Ski retail store in Andover and part of the herb shoppe. We gather in a circle and explore topics from ayurveda to herbs for cholesterol. We make medicine, research about plants and share in our common interest in a healthy mind, body and spirit.

“A voice for the plants one circle at a time,” is written on your Facebook page. What do you mean by that? As Rosemary Gladstar — who is considered by many the godmother of herbalism — says: “They all want to be talked about, see into the magic.” She is an author of many herbal books, the founder of United Plant Savers, Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Botanical Sanctuary, and the New England Herbal Conference. I resonate with her words and her teachings. I often feel this from the plants that I work with and I have made a promise to them that I will be their voice and share their wonder, beauty, medicine and magic to anyone that is ready to open their hearts to the plants.

Another statement on your Facebook page is a quote from United Plant Savers: “If you listen they will teach you.” What can plants teach us and how do we listen to them? We listen by opening our hearts, asking permission, sitting quietly as an observer and allowing ourselves to be observed. We open our intuition and receive messages from the plants. A sensation, a word comes to mind, you see something while sitting with the plants. There are many ways to listen and many things they have to teach us. We have to set our minds down and open our hearts to their language.

What are some things we can do to help plants and to protect them? Be an ethical wildcrafter, educate yourself and others on the United Plant Savers’ at-risk and to-watch lists. Also (learn about) the endangered plants list within your state. Replant the plants on these lists in your gardens or woodlands. If you know an area is being developed, ask permission to move the plants that may be destroyed in this process.

How do plants help us? This could be a book in itself, but I would say plants help us connect with the earth. They offer us groundedness, connection, a sense of place. Plants provide nutrients for our bodies and we need the plants to breathe.

How can working with or caring for plants help someone? The plants can heal their heart and nourish their body and soul.

What kind of plants could we forage in the winter months in Maine, and what kinds of things could we do with them? Pine: Nibble on the needles; make tea with the needles and twigs; foot soak with the needles and essential oil of pine; infuse the needles, twigs and resin in oil (and) make a  salve with the infused oil; infuse the needles in honey and/or vinegar.

So, what kinds of things do you have in your herb shop? The herb shop has a range of items, from products that are made at the Nest, to herbal gifts and healing stones. The Nest also has a bulk herb wall with organic herbs, from ashwaganda to yarrow available, along with medicine-making supplies, from beeswax to bottles to cheesecloth and more. In the spring and summer I have medicinal plants for sale.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite plants? Ah, that is a hard one to answer. To play favorites . . . now that is tricky. To name a favorite is like leaving someone out of the circle or the game. I have many favorites and no leasts. All plants have a place and a purpose, even poison ivy; he is the protector of disturbed land. I would have to say it depends on the time of year and the plant that I work with (the most) during that season. Dandelions and friends in the spring, rose and friends in the summer, goldenrod and friends in the fall, and pine and friends in the winter. Rosemary is one of the first herbs I grew successfully, and both my mom and grandmother love this green friend.

If I don’t have a green thumb but would like to have a plant or two, what plants would you recommend? Marigolds and basil to start. Both are easy to grow and both offer amazing medicine for mind, body and spirit!

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