PETOSKEY — Growing up surrounded by nature in Northern Michigan, all her life Sierra Bigham had an affection for plants.
As a teen, Bigham became interested in the healing benefits of plant medicine. She began to gather the ecology in her environment for in-home remedies. At 16, Bigham graduated high school early and moved to Hawaii to live off the beaten path.
“I was living completely off the grid, no water, no running electricity, I’m sleeping right on the earth,” Bigham said.
“It’s just really dove into connecting with the plants because they were my only neighbors. I was also just really fascinated with learning about them in a deeper way than just their constituents and folk uses,” Bigham said.
Bigham moved back to Northern Michigan in 2012. A few years later she created Bear Earth Herbals, a company selling homemade tea and balms from local plants. In 2018, Bigham bought a farm in Kingsley where she operates her herbal business that includes services like educational workshops.
As part of the lifelong learning series presented by North Central Michigan College, two Foraging for Herbs workshops will take place in October. From 3-5 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 3 and 7, Bigham will lead a walk in the woods to forage for herbs. She will teach participants how to find, preserve, and use herbs in everyday life.
Foraging is not as demanding as it may sound. Many of the plants identified in the workshop are common for instance, dandelions, oak trees, white pine, or sumac.
“I think it’s really better for everybody taking the class if we’re talking about plants they might have growing outside their door, rather than having to really search for them,” said Bigham.
One example of a useful herb participants may find around Northern Michigan is the raspberry leaf. According to Bigham, raspberry leaves can be harvested throughout the year.
“Picked raspberry leaves can be put into the bottom of a paper grocery bag about two inches thick to dry them. Make sure to shake that bag and hang it in a dry place in the house. After a couple of weeks, the leaves are dry,” Bigham explained.
The dried leaves can be used for tea. Place a few in the bottom of a glass, pour hot water over them, wait 15 minutes then strain.
“(Raspberry leaves) are one of my most favorite to use. They are really high in vitamin C and vitamin A. It’s like a passive fitness program for the muscles and the body, toning to all of the muscle tissues. It’s also wonderful for women’s reproductive health,” Bigham said.
Bigham said the flavor of the tea equates to a black or green tea, but not so bitter.
In the October workshops, participants will be focusing on identifying roots and barks. There will also be discussion on fall tree identification, plant families, energetics and herbs, how to store herbs over the winter and how to harvest sustainably.
Maartje Nolan, corporate and community education coordinator at North Central Michigan College said this workshop will run a bit smaller due to CDC requirements, accommodating up to 20 people total.
Registration for the event costs $30. The location of the walk will be emailed to patrons once registered. To register visit www.ncmclifelonglearning.com or call (231) 348-6613. To learn more about other individual workshops hosted by Bigham visit www.bearearthherbals.com.