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Botanic Bonanza

Robert Scheer

Woman's Beast Friend: Herbalist Jeanine Pollak admires the rich depths of a wildcrafted concoction called 'Beast Juice.'

For this Santa Cruz wildcrafter, appreciating the gifts of nature is much more than a walk in the woods

By Christina Waters

Jeanine Pollack is on a first-name basis with most of the useful plants of the Central California coast. And if you take part in any number of the walks, workshops and outdoor foraging treks she offers through her business--Botanic Adventures--she'll make sure you also know your way around the herbal kingdom. Pollak has studied and taught about the edible and medicinal uses of local plants and herbs for almost 19 years, and for the past six years she has offered an intensive foray into herbology that spans the three months of summer.

Crediting a "high-powered biology class" she took in her final year of high school, Pollak has made botanical lore her life's work. "I got intrigued with all the different uses--chamomile for this, catnip for that," she recalls of her Los Angeles youth. Moving to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC, Pollak joined an herb retreat with Michael Tierra that catalyzed her interests and talents. With sensitized eyes, she began seeing useful and edible herbs and plants everywhere. She's more than happy to pass on that kind of life-enhancing sensitivity.

For eight Sundays, starting this weekend (July 14) and continuing through Sept. 15, Pollak will take a small group of students on field trips to some of the most gorgeous places in the area--Carmel Valley, Pescadero, Big Sur. The inquiring minds in her charge not only can surround themselves with the essentials of making their own (wildcrafting) soaps, shampoos, tinctures, salads and cold remedies, but stretch their spirits and bodies as well.

"We also take one walk in the Soquel Hills. My house borders the creek and we'll explore various bioregions here, as well as focus on my own herb garden," she explains. "I teach people how to make herbal condiments, like oils and vinegars, as well as to identify and use edible flowers." Students get acquainted with the first-aid and cosmetic uses of botanical items like sage, lemon balm and chickweed.

What drives Pollak--besides a healthy appreciation for sensory bombardment--is her belief that "it's possible for people to have a better level of health than they do. ... We make cordials, linaments, salves, tinctures," Pollak offers. In many ways, it's a back-to-the-future sort of herbal know-how that Botanic Adventures supplies.

With more education about the healthful properties and uses of plants and herbs, the herbalist believes that people can arm themselves with preventatives to illness. "I'm very big on teaching people how to make their own stuff. It's incredibly cheap." And it's fun, according to those who've attended Pollak's intensive workshops in the fabled garden at Big Sur's Esalen retreat. "My goals are to have fun--these plants are colorful and appealing on a sensual level--and to educate people to take care of themselves."

Pollak offers a wide range of classes. A specialist in the role of herbs in women's health, Pollak also offers Wednesday evening classes (July 17-August 7) focusing on botanical approaches to women's health concerns. The eight Sunday "Professional Studies in Herbal Medicine" offers field trips and intensive classes on herbal pharmacology, aromatherapy and nutrition. Limited to five students, the course covers three months, costs $350 per series, and includes handouts, recipes, products and herbal refreshments. On August 14, Pollak and wildcrafter Kami McBride team up for "A Day in the Esalen Garden" ($95 fee includes recipes, products and use of Esalen tubs).

"I'm here to help people notice the subtle differences among plants, in their gardens as well as in the wild," Pollak says. Botanic Adventures is committed to "accessing what's outside your own front doorstep." For more info, call Jeanine Pollak at 479-9270.

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From the July 11-17, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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