The region’s abundant plant life supports not just a modest business for a Turner Valley entrepreneur, but an opportunity to teach traditional skills to children worldwide.
With a handful of herbs and a desire to educate, Alyse VanRamele, founder of home-based business The Wild Stuff, spent three months in Turkey last spring teaching youngsters skills from foraging to making traditional medicine.
“There’s a huge shift of people going back to nature or wanting to go back to basics and live a simpler, more sustainable life,” she said. “It’s about cultivating traditional skills to help keep these skills alive and help people get back to easier ways of life and connect back to nature.”
VanRamele recently launched The Wild Stuff Goes Global, a non-profit educational program that cultivates a worldwide sharing, teaching and learning community focused on bringing primitive skills, survival skills and herbal medicine to children.
“In the last year working with other crafters, we learned there’s a big calling to learn about these skills,” she said. “There’s a lot of people teaching this everywhere around the world. It’s a beautiful thing when we can open our horizons and be educated on ways of life other than our own.”
For 31-year-old VanRamele, children are the key.
“Nowadays our youth are so disconnected from the natural world and really connected to their phones and computers that I feel a lot of them are losing their self-awareness and environmental awareness,” she said. “I thought if there’s a way to teach kids at a very young age how cool nature is or how important it is to get connected back to our roots, it would be fantastic.”
While travelling northern Turkey last spring, VanRamele partnered with four traditional crafters to host three workshops for children at a farm in the province of Duzce. The group taught primitive skills in wild medicine and medicinal plants, traditional leatherwork, bush-craft and survival, traditional knife and blacksmithing and wilderness cooking to about 35 children at each of the three workshops.
“They’re all traditional crafts that we used 2,000 to 200 years ago,” she said.
VanRamele spent the remainder of her time immersing herself in the Turkish culture.
“I stayed with some traditional Turkish families and learned a lot about their culture and their way of life, small-town living, gardens and basic life stuff,” she said.
“That was a beautiful experience.”
Through that experience, VanRamele honed and polished her own skills while developing a new appreciation for a different way of life, which she plans to integrate into her current modern lifestyle.
VanRamele is planning a similar adventure in the Netherlands this spring, with the goal of hosting one global project a year. She said the trips are made possible through sponsors, donations and hosts.
“It’s about visiting other countries and facilitating educational experiences for people in that country,” she said. “I want to build little hubs all over the world where people can come learn with us and share with us with The Wild Stuff Goes Global ambassadors that are sharing the same beliefs in preserving traditional skills and connecting people back to nature.”
VanRamele’s love of nature began as a youngster while playing in creeks and wooded areas in Turner Valley.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve had a huge connection with nature,” she said. “Nature was my friend. It was home. I always envisioned life in the forest would be easier than whatever life I was living that moment.”
In her teen years, VanRamele was diagnosed with a chronic bladder disease that resulted in debilitating pain. When western medicine wasn’t working to ease the pain, she sought out different methods through holistic healing including Reiki, meditation, stress management and herbs.
“When certain herbs started to work for me I did more research and was bombarded by a whole new world,” she said. “Through treating myself with herbs and learning as much as I could, I just started dabbling in creating things for myself.”
VanRamele began with teas, and then branched out to salves, balms, ointments and tinctures.
Soon, she was meeting herbalists, naturopaths and people living off the land or working with the land, inspiring her to continue learning and make more.
Four years ago, VanRamele’s ointments, salves and other products took shape as a hobby business.
“I was learning more about the plants and how to use and
process them while making a little bit of money on the side,” she said. “I was mostly experimenting with teas, balms and tinctures.”
VanRamele spends spring and summer foraging medicinal plants before processing them and extracting their medicinal properties to make a line of products that treats joint pain, inflamed muscles, sprains and strains. She also makes skin-care products like lip balm.
“I’m foraging from those first sprouts in the spring to when there’s a foot of snow on the ground in the fall,” she said. “In the fall and winter months I make products that sustain us for the winter months.”
While in the outdoors, VanRamele is keenly aware of not only the plants growing in the Foothills, but their purposes from season to season.
“What’s growing in each season is connected to what humans might need,” she said.
For instance, in the fall and winter VanRamele forages for golden rod, a tall plant topped with a yellow cone of flowers.
“Some people think they get allergies from this plant, but golden rod is an antihistamine that grows next to ragweed, which is the one giving people the trouble,” she said. “Nature is so smart that it will give us what we need to move through the season. You only learn that through being in nature all the time and witnessing the changes.”
Another plant that grows in abundance, despite the colder temperatures, is rose hips, which is rich in Vitamin C, she said.
“They are sprouting right around that cold and flu season when you might be lacking Vitamin C,” she said. “I use it for jellies and jams, tea and face serum. Vitamin C is excellent for the vitality of our weathered skin.”
The way VanRamele forages is just as important as what she’s foraging.
“When I forage I do so in the most ethical ways, meaning I’m mindful of the ecosystem around, how my foraging may impact it and those who use the same plants as me,” she said. “Whatever I don’t forage I grow organically in my medicinal garden beds.”
To further her education about plants and their purposes, VanRamele enrolled in a two-year practical herbalist diploma program at Wild Rose College of Natural Healing.
“It gave me a better understanding of what I was working with and the scale and the scope of knowledge and work that goes into such a thing,” she said.
VanRamele collaborates regularly with people in health and wellness circles, which prompted the idea of hosting collaborative workshops locally.
“I try to work with other crafters who have those same ideas or values and facilitate workshops or educational talks,” she said. “I’m really impressed with the amount of people that want to collaborate or help holistic healers work together and share knowledge and heal people in a holistic natural state.”
Among her supporters is the Swedish company Fjallraven, which hosts monthly The Wild Stuff pop-up educational talks by VanRamele in its Banff store.
“They believe in sustainability and getting people out into nature and leaving no trace, understanding nature, respecting nature,” she said. “I talk about The Wild Stuff and sometimes we’ll go on a plant walk and identify different plants and their uses.”
The holistic wellness community is booming worldwide, as well as right here in the Foothills, said VanRamele.
“It’s definitely a trend to be on the more natural side of things,” she said. “People are learning more about natural products and they’re having an interest in where their products are coming from and how sustainable they are. I love being a part of that and creating products that are foraged locally and ethically, using all organic and local products.”
As a result, wild-crafted goods are more readily available in today’s world, VanRamele said.
“I’m happy to see that because it means people can get these products everywhere and they’re ethically done,” she said. “I support other herbalists and other wild crafters.”
To learn more about The Wild Stuff go to the-wild-stuff.com. VanRamele’s products are sold at Bohemia in Black Diamond.