Alana House is a community herbalist, birth and death doula, and founder of the apothecary Buck Naked Plant Medicine. She has studied plant medicine, herbalism, and energetic healing for well over a decade. Her formal education is in Health and Wellness promotion with an emphasis on women’s health and sexuality, nutrition, and alternative healing.
I spoke with Alana about how plants enchanted her from a young age, working with the cycles of the moon, aiding people through birth and death, and more in this interview.
What got you started on the path of herbalism?
I have had a deep connection to plants since I was a very young girl, always dreaming in plants and hearing their subtle language. I grew up on the island of Maui, which is flush with medicine, so it was really easy to access and form the connections. I had a simple book about making essences, salves, and simple tinctures, which inspired my imagination and play time to make "potions" which were actually functional.
There was a small upstairs Chinese Medicine shop called The Dragons Den in Makawao, HI that we spent a lot of time in growing up. It was packed to the brim with every kind of medicine you can imagine, including stones and medallions. It was literally my favorite place. Anytime I earned or was gifted money, I would want to spend it there. I was always buying new special medicines and treasures. The woman (I can't remember her name) was so kind and patient with me, and loved how gentle and careful I was within the shop. Her and my mom would talk about the systems of the body and herbal actions while I dreamed away of one day having my own space like that. That shop definitely sparked something special within me.
When I became pregnant with my daughter in 2009, I had a desire to dive deeper into my connection to herbs. I began taking classes and reading a ton of books. I planted the seed for my business by making herbal baby powder and salve and selling them at a local tailgate market and at a small children's shop. Both my business and product line bloomed.
What draws you specifically to women's health and wellness?
The simple answer is because I am a woman and mother. The more complicated reason is that studying about and practicing this has helped me to connect more truthfully with my own issues.
When I was a young woman I developed a terrible kidney infection overnight while camping. When I returned back into town, I knew that it was beyond my abilities and that I needed antibiotics. I wasn't established with a medical practice, so I went to the one nearest to me. I was seen by a male doctor, who ended up doing what I felt was a rather rough and unnecessary pelvic exam on me. He made me feel terrible for neglecting my own health by letting my kidney infection get to that point, not listening to me explain, and belittling my connection with my own body. I left the office crying and feeling terrible. It lit a fire in my heart to learn all that I could.
Tell us about being a birth and death doula. What calls you to being a guide for people through those two unbelievably significant life experiences? What role do herbal remedies play in those practices?
Birth and death are the most potent transitions of a persons life. It is an incredible honor to hold space during those times.
I have always been drawn to and fascinated by both, realizing that one cannot exist without the other.
Watching women in their power while giving life is purely magic. I am like a moth to light. I started school to become a midwife in my early twenties, but realized that the lack of sleep that comes along with working in the birth world would not be doable for me. So supporting women as a doula has been a nice, and less intense, way to be in the midst of the magic.
My grandmother was the most important woman in my life. When she got closer to the end of her time and told me that she wanted to pass away at home with me there to support and take care of her, it was a tremendous honor. I had seen the unfolding of death in my uncle Bear, but was not involved in the actual care. There was much to learn, and I wanted to dive in with my full self. Watching her slowly slip away and eventually reach the moment of departure from this realm was one of the most significant spiritual actualizations I have encountered.
Herbs are a nice way of supporting those transitions. They are subtle yet profound.
For birth, herbs are especially helpful for stalled labor and for postpartum care.
For death, energetic remedies and topical pain relief oils and balms are wonderful advocates.
Tell us about your connection to the cycles of the moon, and how they help guide your work.
Oh the moon, how she sings to me.
It's difficult to explain how my connection to the moon affects my practice without sounding too woo. Most of it is pretty intuitive, and dreamy, but I have some practical reasons too.
The energy of the new moon is lighter, more inward. It is a good time to start medicine that is for the inner systems of the body, things that you want to nourish and stay within.
The moon phases also affect my harvesting practices. When harvesting from trees, it is best to harvest during the time leading up to, of on the new moon, because the sap is flowing back towards the roots, so you will do less damage to the trees. Same goes for roots - if you harvest during this time, you will have much more potent roots.
The energy of the full moon is outward and expansive. Creating medicine during this time is good for conditions you want to expel or release from the body and spirit.
When harvesting, it is best to harvest plants that you use the aerial parts of (leaves, stems, berries, flowers) during the time leading up to and on the full moon. The plant's vital life force travels outward during that time.
I really prefer to strain my medicines during the full moon, because it feels like the plants give themselves more freely during that time.
Where does Buck Naked Plant Medicine source its plants?
I source my plants from various places. Most are either grown organically in my garden or ethically wild harvested. I live on many acres of medicine filled woods surrounded by national forest that is only accessible from our property. I also have some local and isolated spots in various places surrounding Asheville. For things that I cannot grow or harvest surrounding my home, I get from friends who live in the tropics, or small sustainable businesses and farms. Zack Woods Herb Farm is a really great company. I also buy some dried herbs and seeds from our small local food co-op, which has a beautiful and well stocked room full of bulk herbs.
For those who are interested in harvesting there own herbs, there are a few things to note when harvesting from the wild: Don't harvest from parks, roadways, or places that could have environmental waste or farm runoff. Many plants are bio-accumulators, so you will be turning those poisons into medicine. A good rule what harvesting from safe wild places is to take no more than 10% of any plant you harvest, This ensures that the plants have a good opportunity to reseed themselves. Don't take plants if you do not need them. And the biggest of them all: make sure you properly identify the plants you are harvesting. I recommend at least 3 reliable sources. Many plants have lookalikes that could be potentially toxic.