Community Exchange hosted in Ireland on Community Herbalism and Health Sovereignty in Europe

GDF co-director Emily Caruso with editing and photos by Louisa Aarrass

In late 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, GDF co-director Emily Caruso and her teacher Nikki Darrell, who runs The Plant Medicine School in Ireland, began a dialogue about the importance of re-rooting health in our communities, in our relationships with the land, and in our collective healing heritage. They discussed how disempowering the situation that arose during the pandemic was for them and their communities, and how little control people realised they have over their health and wellbeing. They also shared their inspiration about the growing number of initiatives that promote community-based health sovereignty  and the reclaiming of people’s relationships with nature’s healing allies.

This is how the Community Exchange on Community Herbalism and Health Sovereignty in Europe was born. GDF hosted community exchanges offer a space for mutual learning, sharing of experiences and networking. In this case these exchanges were among (trainee and veteran) herbalists and community organisers, with the aim of supporting and growing the regional movement for community-based health empowerment. 

GDF and The Plant Medicine School invited an initial group of 27 community-based herbalists from all over the region to participate in an online and an in-person event: we held 6 online meetings between March and August 2022, followed by a 4-day in-person event in Ireland from the 21st to the 25th of September 2022, bringing together a vibrant community of plant medicine loving practitioners from all over Europe. 

When we met in-person in Ireland, we delved into embodied nature connection practices and shared how our cultures, roots and heritage influence how we understand bodies, healing and relationships with plants. During our time together we had workshops held by different members throughout the day, covering topics and themes close to us. 

Eleni and Anna held a workshop centering on engaging the local community that delved into how to set up a community-based initiative that is engaged and embedded within communities. Conversations were supported with a creative collective art making activity: envisioning a speculative event for your target audience and designing a poster for its opening day.

We deepened our exploration of decolonising herbal practice. Maymana and Elsie led grounding exercises and discussions initiated by sharing our profound relationships to the natural spaces and herbs around us.

We learned more about one another through sharing a herb native to the place where we were born, native to the place where we live now and the herbal practices that guided us as we grew up.

We described our dreams for our community-based initiatives and shared how we could support each other, as well as other practitioners throughout the region, to realise them collectively. Edyta and Nat held a conversation and exchange around building your dream. We discussed how to start or continue building our community-based initiative, as well as how to seek help, places we could be stuck on and the thorny bits.

The results of the Exchange have far exceeded our expectations. The most concrete result is the decision to establish a formal organisation – the European Community Herbal Organisation (ECHO) – which will be established as a cooperative, registered in Ireland as of 2023. ECHO will be open to all community-based herbalists in Europe who seek to engage with practitioners and people with similar passions. They will be invited to become part of a proactive group of grassroots herbal health practitioners and community organisers dedicated to healing and socio-ecological wellbeing.

The group is also in the process of drafting, or nearing publication, of open-source toolkits to support communities as they re-root themselves in nature for health and wellbeing. One of them is a toolkit on nature resonance practices that can be used for personal practice as well as for facilitating collective practice in a community setting. The other toolkit on community-based herbal initiatives gathers the wisdom of our participants on how to dream our visions into reality; deal with everyday practicalities such as funding, operations, and herbal garden management; and engage our communities in collective healing work. Other toolkits – the first of many! – that members of the group are now developing include ones on matrescence, herbal first aid, social and environmental sustainability in herbal practice, and marketing herbal cosmetics. 

We’re grateful to see that GEN and ECHO members have already begun collaborating after meeting each other through the Community Exchange. Rita Roquette and Mariam Garcia met in Portugal to develop an essential toolkit on first aid a couple months after connecting in Ireland during our exchange.

GEN members, Rita and Mariam, meeting in Portugal to work on a first aid toolkit after being connected by the community exchange.

Besides these material outcomes, the most important consequence of this series of exchanges is the close bond and strong sense of mutual support and responsibility fashioned by the collective over the course of the 6 months. We all feel buoyed by our connections, inspired and supported to continue dreaming our visions into reality, and motivated to contribute to global transformations through our local, grounded work, reconnecting people with nature.


Stay tuned for our upcoming Community Herbalism and Health Sovereignty toolkits. For more information about the European Community Herbal Organisation (ECHO) send an email to