Hanna Denison is the improbable combination of fairy, goddess, witch, wise woman and flower child. Though her craft is witchy and wild, her magic is all for the good - making powerful flower tinctures and plant medicines to heal both body and soul. Bright with the sweetest laughter and smile you'll ever see, Hanna practices a kind of magic that is a unique combination of modern science and ancient ceremony, which not only heals, but exemplifies a model of a beautiful and conscientious lifestyle so often swept away in the bustle of the modern world. Hanna took a break from her gardens and potions to talk with us about her practice and philosophy. Her explanation of her unique perspective of plants and the earth and experience as an herbalist is worth a listen and, if you're lucky, her personalized flower tinctures are definitely worth a delicious taste for immediate world-changing benefits.
Story and Interview by Miwa Sakamoto
Where are you from?
I am from the small town of Jericho, nestled deep in the state of Vermont. A glorious place.
Did you have a garden there? What is your first memory of gardening?
My dad always had a green thumb so in the summer months we would have an epic vegetable garden that was beautifully surrounded by all sorts of flowers and herbs, which my mother handled. This lead to my first summer job at an organic farm where I worked my way up from cutting grass and washing buckets, to all the fun stuff - planting, picking, weeding, harvesting, making flower arrangements... getting dirty.
Did you always know you wanted to be involved with plants and the earth?
It's something that I think I've know on a deeper level, even when I took a turn down the film world for a while, but greater forces have guided me back.
What is the connection between plants, medicine and humans?
Plants give us life, they give us food and they give us medicine. All they do is give. When you remember your original roots and can see how its all connected, how we’re all connected you can understand the symbolic relationship. If you can understand that, you see your part in it. When you work with the plants medicinally the power of the medicine is the spirit. Not to mention the incredible nutrient density, detoxing abilities, wound healing, immune modulating, fungus and parasite killing, skin/brain/hair/nails strengthening… I could go on forever. They also show us what they do; they wear symbols of their medicine. For instance, plants good for the heart can look like the circulatory system or be heart-shaped. I’m always just left in awe by the power and strength of the herbs and explode with gratitude that they would share their medicine. When working with a plant for a while I even feel like I start to embody its qualities - become the plant. Its wild.
That’s incredible…. and so magical! This understanding of plants and medicine seems to be based much more on observation and intuition that modern medicine. Can you talk about your understanding of the differences between Western Medicine and Ancient Plant Medicine?
When a person becomes ill they generate symptoms: cough, fever, skin irritation, etc.… no matter what book you’re speaking from these are signals from the body that something is going on. In most cases Western Medicine would treat the cough, and it could go away, but two weeks later you might be right back where you started needing another quick fix pill. When practicing in wise woman tradition, everything is greater than the sum of its parts. Things are treated holistically and the disease is instead really an opportunity for healing. It’s a signal, clueing us in that something’s wrong and needs our attention. A lot of that comes from intuition. Let me also be frank and say sometimes it is just a cough and all that’s needed is some herbal cough syrup, but the method in which this is pursued is intuitive. And not to be confused, there is a definite place for western medicine. I’m in total respect of the knowledge and incredible progress we’ve made using these tactics. I believe the synergy of the two worlds is where the future lies. Mixing western technology with herbal medicine and a holistic, intuitive viewpoint.
That’s really beautiful, can you tell us more about the inspiration for Brut’s first collection?
You’ll see a lot of late 50’s surfer girl prints by way of 90’s silhouettes. The current collection we are working on is very inspired by primary colors and basic shapes. We have taken a lot of inspiration from Calder mobiles and our upcoming photoshoot is inspired by the game Twister. Within each collection, the garments are named after sculptors and architects.
Western Medicine tends to emphasize its speed - what role do you see timeplaying in the process of healing?
Healing with the plants can be a slow process; they work cumulatively and therefore are really noticed over time. This method of healing isn’t quick and it isn’t always easy. It asks for a lot of responsibility on the individual’s part. I think however, because of this, something truly beautiful happens in the process. The patient understands they hold the power to heal themselves.
It seems like you understand plant medicine more like a collaborative effort of art or a dance - what other art forms are you interested in?
I enjoy all kinds of art. One of my favorite painters is Edward Hopper; also I love impressionism, or anything abstract with de-saturated colors. I studied set design and film production so I’ve always had a soft spot for a good movie or great art direction.Music is the air I breathe. Interesting architectural or garden designs get me going. Shape, color, lines, passion, emotion, symmetry, simplicity, details. The smallest touches make the biggest difference.
What else inspires you right now?
People. Music. My cat. A great outfit. My friends and fellow wise women. People I work with, everything, it all inspires me.
Speaking of outfits... what do you like to wear?
All my favorite clothing is from thrift or vintage stores. The name of the game is functional fashion. I love clothes and making outfits, but it all stems from functionality and comfort. I like fabric that feels soft on my skin and breathes well. I love gardening in dresses. Known to rock the stocking. Favorite pieces are definitely boots and hats, may be slightly obsessed. My dad just gave me a few of his old hats when I was back east for the holidays and I came home with some seriously awesome fedoras and sun hats. I also have this one pair of red cowboy boots that are vintage. It was magic when I found them. I walked into the store and there they were staring at me, my exact size, 20 bucks. Deal of the century. I wear them almost every day.
Back to the plants, in your opinion what makes a good garden?
A good garden is particular to who is sustaining it. When I design a garden I always ask what the person wants out of it. Do they want to be only an observer or an active participant? Obviously everyone wants their garden to be pretty, but for that to happen the right design for all parties (plants and people) must be taken into consideration. Bottom line, a good garden has a healthy relationship between environment, grower, plants, and water. It’s about balancing the difference variables and adapting within those contexts.
There is so much that you can do in terms of food, medicine, teas, tincturesand decoration with plants, what do you like to do with your harvests? Care to share a recipe?
Currently I am having a blast experimenting with flower essences. It's springtime and the flowers are in bloom, singing to be made medicine. Flower essences are the energetic imprint of the flower. Using either the sun or the moon, the flower vibrationally impregnates spring water with its frequency. Medicinally these are used to heal more on an emotional level. The last one I made was a couple new moons ago with beautiful jasmine flower. This was infused with rose quartz, amethyst, and smokey quartz. The medicine: Abundance. Fresh beginnings. Healing of the heart. Unconditional love.
What projects are you working on right now?
Currently, I do some work on an AMAZING urban farm growing for a restaurant downtown. There's also some independent garden design work, just finished a project for a drought tolerant garden in the marina. I also do flower arrangements for Superba Food and Bread once a week. And, I make lots of plant medicine and study herbalism through Gaia School of Healing and will be finished in less than a month!
You have so much going on, but at the heart of it all is nature - do you find that gardens are useful methods of building and evolving community?
That is a fantastic question. A garden creates a relationship between humans and nature. The sheer sense of accomplishment one gets from building a garden and enjoying its beauty stirs something inside. It reminds us the importance of our environment and the connection and responsibility we have to it. In city atmospheres something very cool is beginning to happen. Due to lack of space people are being creative and building communal plots or using rooftops where shared gardens are created. This instills an immediate sense of community within that space and also demonstrates how resourceful we can be with a little effort. I believe these actions and small movements are generating an evolution within people, reminding us of the innate connection to we have to the plants (and each other). This is important because in terms of agriculture, we are in danger. Things have gone to far to fix, instead we must re-write the system together.
Do you jam out to music when you garden? What kind?
OF COURSE I DO. One of my fondest memories of musical plant euphoria was in my own backyard. I was working on the little ally way behind my house, constructing it into a garden space blasting David Bowie. It was ecstasy. I love gardening to the blues or any rock and roll, I’m a huge David Byrne fan. One of my favorite albums is with him and Brian Eno ‘Everything that happens will happen today.’ Amazing. I’ll get a little fresh sometimes and jam with The Cool Kids; I love the album The Bake Sale. I’m also super into producers Tipper and Spoonbill. Sometimes I sway with My Morning Jacket. Even Beyoncé’s been known to jump in the mix. It really depends on my mood and that’s what I love about music, there’s always something.
What’s your idea of happiness?
Being content in the moment, and knowing I’m on my path. Fully letting go and trusting in divine alignment.
What rituals and practices do you do to start off the day?
My schedule is so nuts right now that every day starts differently, but I have certain rituals and practices that I do. At night I look in my witch's cabinet and decide which plants I want to take with me the next day, this will come from feeling. Intuition or sometimes my pendulum. I then make an infusion blend to use the next day. Another ritual is to sit with the plants in meditation; this is when I really receive messages from their spirits about what and how to use the medicine.
Do you believe in magic?