Columbines School

  • News & Events:

    Our Instructors and Staff:

    Howie Brounstein has taught botany, herbalism, and wildcrafting extensively for decades, including at such herbal establishments as the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. He is the co-owner and a primary instructor of the Columbines School of Botanical Studies and has a clinical practice in Eugene, Oregon. He is well known for his brilliant in depth teaching style and his passionate love of plants.

    Leah Kays Leah is a 2006 graduate of Columbines School of Botanical Studies and has been involved with the school since. She is an herbalist, botanist, and bartender from Portland, Oregon who has moved from a substitute teacher to a full time Columbines instructor.

  • First Year Apprenticeship Program

    39th Annual 2023 First Year Apprenticeship Field Program

    Northwest Herbs, Global Concepts

    Forest Floor

    First Year Apprentices study approximately 20 plants in depth. These herbs serve as an accessible medicine chest and a basis for further learning. By locating, harvesting, and processing these roots, barks, leaves, flowers, and seeds students learn a wide variety of techniques and ecosystems. This program covers hundreds of medicinal, edible, and poisonous plants that we don’t harvest. Apprentices gain the knowledge to identify, wildcraft, and use these plants safely, although they are not studied in depth.

    Upon completion of the Apprenticeship, you will be able to identify, locate, harvest, process, and use unfamiliar plants outside of the class setting. These skills will apply throughout the world beyond the Pacific Northwest.

    Topics Covered

    • Botanical Terminology
    • Plant Identification Through Keys: Practice is the only way to master this skill.
    • Plant Identification Through Field Characteristics: Certain plants are identifiable without a key by their unique markings.
    • Family Identification: We will cover the major plant families of the Northwest. This is a very useful plant identifying skill.
    • Plant Pressing: This will be an optional activity.
    • Ecosystem Identification
    • Locating Stands of Herbs: Our program is unique in that we focus heavily on teaching the skill of finding your own populations.
    • Tending and Propagating Stands of Herbs
    • Wildcrafting: We will explore values and techniques for different types of harvesting.
    • Herb Quality
    • Transporting Fresh Herbs
    • Cleaning and Processing Herbs: This is an essential part of plant harvesting. We will use all the plants collected by the class. Apprentices will keep a complete selection of herbs.
    • Food and Spice Plants: We will have the opportunity to sample many wild foods.
    • Poisonous Plants: For safety, we will learn to identify plants that are poisonous or of unknown edibility that may be mistaken for useful plants.
    • Herbal Preparations: We will discuss poultices, teas, tinctures, oils, salves, facial astringents, lozenges, and more. We will make many herbal preparations in the field with fresh herbs. Apprentices keep a complete selection.
    • Forest Ecology
    • Threatened, Endangered, Rare, Sensitive, “To Watch” and “At Risk” Plants and Ecosystems
    • Indigenous Connections: Learning about the original caretakers of the land, their history, and contemporary situations.

    You Must Want To

    • Commit yourself to work hard. You cannot break field trip appointments, and must reasonably plan to finish the Apprenticeship.
    • Learn plant identification through keys and field characteristics.
    • Learn our wildcrafting methods, including a high regard for the local ecosystems and the continuation of the local populations (stands). This includes gathering nothing but garbage during field trips without permission.
    • Locate your own personal stands of medicinal and food plants.

    What to Expect

    Field trips focus on identifying, locating, and tending stands of herbs. We will harvest and process some medicinal herbs and stop along the way to enjoy food and spice plants.

    We will leave Eugene between 8:00 and 8:30 AM. We will return at dark (approximately 7-8 PM). Do not make appointments for after the field trips, as you may wish to remain in the woods longer for hot springs, swimming, changing flat tires, and other unforeseen exciting experiences. Pack a good lunch and an extra meal. Once the class starts, there may not be bathroom facilities. Bad weather will not stop us from taking these trips.

    Class sizes are small with generally six apprentices per field trip. With two teachers on each trip we can provide individual attention. We teach through the oral tradition of repetition. Class participation is required.

    We encourage and arrange carpooling. Drivers will receive a per trip maintenance reimbursement from the school for wear and tear on their vehicles. The gas expense is shared with the passengers in the car.

    There will be one weekend and one weekday group per week, each identical in material. Apprentices will be able to schedule one of these days even with a weekend job or Monday to Friday 9 to 5 employment. The lecture schedule is arranged around the fieldwork.

    Elephants Head, Pedicularis groenlandica

    If you miss three field trips in the Spring Term, you can not continue as an apprentice. One cancellation without notice (no show) on a field trip is grounds for expulsion. Please turn off cell phones and recording devices. Do not bring dogs, llamas, friends, or a rushed attitude on field trips.

    This Apprenticeship requires commitment and many hours of driving. It is exciting and rewarding in many ways; however, it is also hard work, and is not for everyone.

    Overnight trips are similar to one day trips, but with a
    closer feeling for the earth. We will go to some remote and powerful places. We
    will use the botanical and ecological skills learned in the Spring Term to
    locate and harvest medicinal and food plants. We generally car camp.

    Upon Completion of the First Year Apprenticeship Program

    Apprentices come from diverse backgrounds and take this course for a variety of reasons. They are health professionals, botanists, students, herbalists, survivalists, and folks who know nothing about plants or nature but want to. What you take with you from this Apprenticeship depends on what you’re looking for and what you put into it.

    We will award a Certificate of Completion to those students who successfully attend 80% of field classes and lectures during both the Spring and Summer Terms. You will not be able to use this to start practicing naturopathy or diagnosing and prescribing. This is not a skill easily obtained in a few month’s study.

    Low Elevation Meadow

    This Apprenticeship has been used for biology or botany credits in State Universities and High Schools. Arrangements need to be made by you with your school. Some apprentices have secured botanical jobs from the US Forest Service and other public and private agencies. College requirements are often waived in entry level positions in lieu of the experience of the Apprenticeship.

    Anyone seeking to become a naturopathic health practitioner needs to know where plant medicines come from (not the health food store) and develop personal associations with the plants they prescribe. Most naturopathic schools lack wildcrafting courses. This Apprenticeship is an ideal first year introduction to herbal medicine.

    Not everyone will become clinical herbalists, naturopaths, botanists, or disappear into the forests to live on wild foods. Most continue to harvest and make yearly batches of extracts for themselves and their families. However, everyone will define their relationship with nature in a way that will last a lifetime.

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