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An interview with Jessi Bloom of Creating Sanctuary and Everyday Sanctuary

by Timber Press on January 15, 2019

in Design, Gardening

“Mental health is often stigmatized, yet it is so prevalent in our culture—and some of the most challenging symptoms we struggle with can be eased by simple plant medicines and rituals. I wanted to share what I thought could be useful for people as a self-care resource.” —Jessi Bloom

You are a best-selling author, award-winning ecological landscape designer, speaker, and the founder and owner of N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Services. What first inspired you to go into permaculture and landscape design?

There were many things that guided me, and this may sound cliché, but I followed my heart.  There was no advisor or direct path in academia, other than my own passion. One thing led to another, and the journey keeps unfolding. I was a rather wild child, spending much of my time in the woods, and I always had a deep connection to the earth. I was also raised in a family with several religions, and that upbringing led me to appreciate all of creation with a sacred reverence, as well as planning for challenging times ahead for humanity. In a sense, I think I’ve always wanted to share the beauty and spirit of nature, along with our ability to create ecologically harmonious spaces to live in and steward.

Tell us about your background in herbal medicine and plant traditions.

I’ve been learning about plant medicine since I was a young girl, being mostly drawn to their sacred uses. As my horticulture career shifted and developed over the years, I have had numerous teachers, from many different lineages and from many different cultures around the world. Some of what I learned has been self-taught using my favorite teacher’s research, trying to use the plants I grew or foraged—which I believe makes the best medicine. One of my favorite herbalist teachers is Rosemary Gladstar, who has numerous books and programs that make herbalism accessible to anyone interested in learning. After all, plants are the people’s medicine, and I think it’s our birthright to learn and stay connected to plants as our allies.

Walk us through the first inspiration for Creating Sanctuary.

In writing Practical Permaculture with Dave Boehnlien, which largely focuses on land design, I saw a huge need for more “people care.” Permaculture largely focuses on the earth but often misses the boat on the other two ethics. Without taking care of ourselves we can’t easily take care of the earth or others. Burnout is common among people I’ve met over the years who were doing good work.

From a more personal standpoint, a big part of this book’s journey began when I made the choice to work on healing after being diagnosed with PTSD. Mental health is often stigmatized, yet it is so prevalent in our culture—and some of the most challenging symptoms we struggle with can be eased by simple plant medicines and rituals. I wanted to share what I thought could be useful for people as a self-care resource.

What was your writing processes like?

Much like the design process for landscapes, I start with gathering information, then look at the bigger patterns before moving into details. At times I can be very rigid and that doesn’t always serve the process, because it is easy to get hung up on details early on when it is best to work in the flow. Some days (or months rather) I’d be buried under stacks of books about plant medicine gathering details about plants, while other days I’d spend taking photographs of plants and gardens.

Overall I compare the whole process to having a baby—it is super fun in the beginning playing with the possibilities of creating a new life—but towards the end, making sure things are just right, can be extremely stressful.

Did you face any major challenges while working on the book?

I think writing this book was very difficult for a number of reasons. During the process, several people in my life passed on—one right after another. I felt challenged to move through the grief when I struggled some days more than others. I also dove deep into PTSD healing work, which was as fascinating as it was impossible. As a single mom, running a business, and traveling to teach, I have to plan well in advance as much as possible to create space and time to do the work.

While you were developing the 50 sacred plant profiles for the book, what surprised you the most?

This was probably my favorite part of research for the book. I loved diving deep into the history of each plant to discover how beloved they have been over the course of human history and throughout all civilizations. There is enough information to write a whole book on each plant!

A few noteworthy tidbits:

  • A ginko tree survived the Hiroshima bombing when nothing else did—talk about resiliency!
  • Herbal medicine research is largely absent in the US, but prevalent in Europe and around the world.  Not a coincidence in my opinion.
  • Many traditions with plants were similar across the globe thousands of years ago—before the mail and internet existed to share info—people knew how to use plants.

Self-care and herbal medicine are part of mainstream conversations about health more and more. What daily ritual would you suggest for those new to plant-based wellness?

Making a personalized tea would be my suggestion, because it is simple and accessible. This is probably easy for someone who already drinks tea, but I like to start by asking myself, What do I need right now? If I’m anxious, a tea that calms my nervous system will do wonders. Or if I have trouble sleeping, there are a lot of plants eager to help! A morning gratitude ritual is also a helpful practice to get your day started.

How have your home gardening strategies changed since working on Creating Sanctuary?

The biggest shift I had during the process of writing the book was that weeding became so much more of an ethical choice to make. I remembered the first day I struggled as I tended to my garden selecting which plants got pulled and thinking all plants are useful. But the ones that did ended up in the compost eventually feed the soil again. I really started to understand how gardening is such a reflection of our standards of beauty, and often our need to be in control.

What is the most recent addition to your garden?

I’ve spent the last four years developing my garden, and now I can just relax and enjoy it for the most part. Besides annual edibles, it is designed to be self-sustaining. Sometimes, it is good to take a break—the garden doesn’t mind, and will take good care of itself. This growing season, I will be playing with plants that push the edge with our climate zone which is getting warmer. I have two olives trees doing great with the mild winter we are having.

What’s next for you?

I have some exciting seeds planted in Redmond, WA on preserved farm land that my company is leasing. We want to give back to people and the land by creating what is similar to a “care-farm” mode, where we can teach ecological skills and grow food and medicine with an emphasis on healing the earth and people. It feels like things are coming full circle with this project.


Jessi Bloom is a best-selling author, award-winning ecological landscape designer, and speaker. She owns N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Services, based in the Pacific Northwest, which is known as an innovator and leader in the field of permaculture, sustainable landscape design, construction, and land management. Her work has been recognized by government agencies and industry organizations and makes headlines in national media. She lives near Seattle with her two sons on their permaculture homestead, which is full of functional gardens and rescue animals.


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