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Late Herbalist Michael Moore’s Life and Legacy Celebrated at Conference

By Shelley Torgove, Holly Ferguson, Donna Chesner, and Courtney Cavaliere

The late herbalist, author, and teacher Michael Moore was a man who was brilliant in many ways. There has never been and will possibly never be another botanical medicine teacher like him.

Michael, who passed away at the age of 68 in February of 2009, taught hundreds of students about plant medicine, many of whom have gone on to practice or teach herbal medicine. Many of these students, as well as friends and colleagues, recently gathered together to honor his life and work and to remember his spirit.

The conference “Michael Moore and American Herbalism” was held April 17-19, 2009, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico with around 200 dedicated plant lovers and friends of Michael in attendance. Who could have chosen a more appropriately named town for a gathering of all who loved Michael? Throughout the event, a common theme quickly emerged: herbalists must band together and assist one another, and great strength can come from such mutual support.

Some of the highlights of the conference include the following:

  • The documentary Just an Old Fashioned Herbalist, by Jessie Emerson, premiered before conference attendees, some of whom openly wept during the viewing. Created to honor Michael Moore, the documentary contains footage of Michael collecting herbs, preparing tinctures, and teaching about herb use, as well as interviews with Michael and with people who knew him well. The documentary gives viewers a glimpse of Michael’s personality, humor, and wisdom. It also provides viewers with the opportunity to learn of Michael’s introduction to the herbal scene, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and his views on the importance of cultural background, folklore, ecological responsibility, etc., via his own words. The film further showcases images of the Southwest and its plants, and it incorporates Michael’s musical compositions throughout the film. (The DVD may be purchased for $30 by contacting Emerson at

  • Daniel Gagnon (owner of Herbs, Etc.), Amanda McQuade Crawford (a teacher and author), Mark Blumenthal (executive director of the American Botanical Council), Phyllis Hogan (ethnobotanist and owner of Winter Sun Trading Co.), and Shelley Torgove (practitioner and owner of Apothecary Tinctura) led a discussion on “The Future of American Herbalism.” The discussion primarily raised ideas on how herbalists can band together and help each other. It addressed the topic of how herbalists with small businesses—people near and dear to Michael’s heart—can adjust to regulations such as the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and survive within the larger herbal industry. Mitch Coven, owner of Vitality Works, graciously offered to assemble information on GMPs and provide guidance on how these regulations could be implemented by small manufacturers, which could be an invaluable resource for the community.

  • Adam Seller, director of the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine and one of Michael’s former students, gave a presentation on the historical roots of Michael’s contributions to herbal medicine. He noted that Michael brought the clinical insight of the Eclectic medical practitioners of the late 19th and early 20th centuries into the current era, enlarging and updating John Scudder’s application of Darwinian epistemology to modern herbal medicine in ways that respected and incorporated some of the richness of traditional biological knowledge of indigenous Southwestern cultures. He believed that Michael’s work set the stage for a generation of American herbalists to respect indigenous knowledge and to acknowledge culturally-held intellectual property rights.

  • Shawn Sigstedt, a conservation biologist and ethnobotanist who learned from the Navajo and was mentored by Michael Moore, led the workshop “Stalking the Wild Osha.” He began his presentation by declaring, “For 30 years, my whole world has been circling around 1 plant.” Sigstedt has been instrumental in growing and conserving osha (Ligusticum porteri, Apiaceae), which is also a plant that Michael Moore helped to make popular and protect. Sigstedt explained that osha is an evolutionary bottleneck. The plant does not readily reproduce by seed, even though each plant drops up to 300 seeds per year. He explained that osha must be collected in such a way that botanists replant the rootcrown with 6 inches of the root intact. Sigstedt instructed attendees to embrace our invaluable plant medicines in order to preserve them.

  • Gabriel Howearth, one of Michael’s old friends, presented at the conference despite having recently suffered serious health problems that left him confined to a wheelchair. A great seedsman, botanist, and master gardener, Howearth spoke of the importance of caring for the Earth. He advised attendees to think long-term rather than only about tomorrow, and he said that they needed to be “moving mountains, not anthills.” He stressed that—like Michael Moore—people are able to effect great changes within their lifetimes, and he encouraged attendees to band together to create change.

In addition to such presentations, attendees were given the opportunity to mingle and, in some cases, reconnect with friends and classmates during herb walks, social events, and between workshops. Not only did these gatherings allow attendees to openly reminisce with one another about Michael Moore, but they often led to engaging discussions of herbal, health, and other topics.

A full list of the conference’s presentations and activities is available at: