Natalie Rousseau is a yoga instructor and wildcrafter with a deep connection to plants and the natural world around her. Based in Pemberton, British Columbia, Natalie teaches many workshops both online and in person through her business Living Yoga. I first met Natalie in the spring at The Art of Wildland Medicine Crafting workshop that she hosted with Yarrow and Angela Willard of Harmonic Arts. It was a magical weekend of plants, medicine crafting, yoga and connection. Natalie brought a beautiful energy to the weekend and the yoga practice really grounded the learning and brought a unity to the group. While Natalie’s main role in the weekend was to help facilitate the workshop and lead the yoga, I knew that she had an interesting story around food and plants that I was curious to know more about.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, this last year has been a year of soul searching, of digging deep. A search to bring greater clarity to the work that I am here to do and to connect on a deeper level with myself. I felt so inspired that weekend being around the plants and people using plants in such a powerful and meaningful way. Yarrow, Angela and Natalie all taught with such passion and joy and were so clearly living out their purpose. Experiencing this created an even greater longing in me to do the same. It was during one of the group meditations that Natalie was leading that the tears just started to fall as I had a beautiful vision of myself on a healing journey where I travelled and met with people using food and plants as a tool for well being and healing. I felt so supported in that moment. I came to interpret this vision as a series where I would engage in cooking, growing, foraging, and wildcrafting with others and through these connections and exchanges of knowledge and wisdom I would take something away from each experience and incorporate it into my own wellness practice and way of being in the world. I have always been interested in people’s stories and how others connect with food and the world around them. I am drawn to rituals, ceremony and the sharing of knowledge. I know I want to share these stories with others and in turn continue on my path of healing.
Knowing Natalie a bit better, what inspires me most about her is her profound connection to herself, her environment, the rhythms of the natural world and her deep commitment to a life of self-care. She has a passion for learning and living that inspires and promotes a path of wellness that deeply nourishes the individual. She so beautifully weaves self-care into every aspect of life from how she carries out her work to creating nourishing foods and medicines for her family and the community around her. She inspires me to tune in more closely with my own body and inner guidance and to really pay attention to the natural world and the rhythms of nature. It was such a pleasure to connect with Natalie in her garden and watch as she harvested and crafted a beautiful herbal tea of skullcap, anise hyssop, mint, chamomile, oatstraw, and calendula flowers. I have since been brewing all kinds of cold infused teas to cool and calm in this hot weather. Please continue on to my interview with Natalie below where she shares some of her story around food and wildcrafting.
Interview with Natalie
How does your work as a yoga instructor influence your relationship with food and the way you physically nourish your body?
I think that one of the benefits of a regular yoga practice is that it brings you into a more refined relationship with your body, and by that I mean it can increase sensitivity and awareness. Many people find that when they begin to practice yoga they also become more aware of how they are nourishing their bodies in other ways. My own healing journey actually began with an interest in food as medicine. This curiosity regarding wellness led me to discover other modalities such as yoga and meditation. I consider each of these to be key areas of my sadhana or personal practice, and they support each other. Whether I am sitting in meditation, moving through a yoga sequence, or preparing a meal for my family I consider myself engaged in some form of nourishing practice.
How has your relationship with food evolved over time?
My mother loved to cook and included me in that work from a young age. My grandmother was also an important figure in my relationship with food as I spent a lot of time with her growing up and she has always had a passion for high quality ingredients. I have so many fond memories of shopping at farmers markets with her, sourcing out the freshest foods we could find to make our meals with. However, despite this early influence, I still found myself in a complicated relationship with food once I hit my teen years. Like many young women I was confused about my body and unfortunately this led me into some fairly disordered eating patterns for many years. Luckily my early appreciation for food and for cooking re-surfaced as an interest in learning about healing diets around the age of 19. I became fascinated by macrobiotics, Ayurveda, and herbalism. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the ways in which I could use food to support physical, mental, and emotional health and this continues to be an area of deep fascination for me to this day.
You have a strong connection to the wisdom of nature and the rhythms of the earth and moon. How did your love of plants and nature come to be?
I have always felt my best when out in the wilds. As a child I spent a lot of time on family farms in rural Quebec, or running around the University Endownment Lands near our home in Vancouver. I can still remember playing games with my friends in which I pretended to be the Medicine Woman, mixing up medicines with berries and leaves. As a young woman I also spent a number of years living off grid, which gave me a deep connection to natures rythms and their effects on my body and mind. As a result of all this I have consciously chosen to live in smaller communities so that I can have daily access to wild spaces. It is the most important form of medicine for me.
How have plants played a role in your health journey?
They are my food, my medicine and my teachers. To me wellness encompasses so much more than my physical health. To be well I must be in relationship to the natural world around me and that means being able observe the way the plants and trees in my environment are changing with each season. The plants are continually offering up wisdom about how I can be in better relationship to myself and to the living world.
In what place do you feel the strongest connection to nature and to yourself?
All wild places feed me. However I have a special affinity for landscapes that include mountains and river valleys- which is why I love Pemberton so much.
As a wildcrafter, you are often making medicines and teas. How does working with this ancient practice help you to trust your own intuition and inner wisdom?
Wildcrafting is something I have been practicing since I was a child, when I was first taught to forage for wild mushrooms by my German uncle. But despite the fact that I have been doing it for so long I still consider myself an absolute beginner and I stick to gathering plants that I know well , or that I have learned about from my teachers. I use intuition and inner wisdom to guide me in observing the world around me, helping me to notice which plants are growing in my neighborhood and then learning as much as I can about them to discern whether or not those plants are meant to be medicine for me. But I am not quick to pick things until I am sure that I need them. I have always thought of wildcrafting as an oral wisdom tradition, and even though I have many books that can help me to ID plants in the wild, I still prefer to learn from living teachers who have a long relationship with the plants and the environment they grow in.
What does self-love look like to you? What self-care practices are important to you?
Self love is self care to me, and I practice this in many ways. In truth everything can be a practice of self care and I certainly look at most things I do in a day as an opportunity to practice. I work for myself so the way that I manage my boundaries between my work and family life is a very definite practice of self care. Doing yoga, practicing meditation, cooking nourishing food- these are all acts of self care, as is spending time outside, learning about plants, and making medicines for myself and my community. I have chosen a very specific lifestyle for myself because of the fact that I don’t want self care to feel like something that is separate from the way that I live my daily life.
What has been the impact of growing a vegetable and herb garden for the first time this summer?
So much learning!! I have absolutely loved being able to walk down to the garden and gather fresh greens and vegetables for my dinner each day, and to be able to grow some of the medicinal herbs I love has been very special for me. However gardening, and garden design, is an art form in itself and I have so much to learn. Many of the things I planted are already too large for the space I have given them so there will be a whole lot of re-organizing again this fall. Im excited about this new adventure in learning and can already tell I will need a much larger herb garden one day soon.
What is your favourite season in the kitchen and why?
Oh gosh that is such a hard question as I love every season for what it offers. I love the spring as there is so much to gather as a wildcrafter and it is always so exciting to see the world waking up again. I love the summer for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. And I love the fall and winter for the joy of slow cooking and all the rich dishes that we enjoy eating as a family. Honestly, I love every season!
Home kitchens are foundational to health and wellbeing. How do you use food as a tool for wellbeing in your daily life?
Appreciation for good food is something that is completely woven into our family life and is an integral part of the way in which we choose to support our health and wellbeing. This starts with the pleasure we take in buying foods from farms in our area, getting to know the local farmers, and now being able to grow some of our own vegetables. It extends into the joy of crafting food and medicine from these ingredients, and knowing that we can care for ourselves well. All of our favourite rituals revolve around food in some way. These rituals include taking the time to savour our morning coffee together before the day begins, sitting down for family meals so that we can talk while we enjoy our food, raising specially crafted herbal cocktails in cheer on special ocassions, sipping herbal tea before bed or soaking in an herb infused bath on a cold night. My husband and son work outside the home, whereas much of my work is done at the kitchen table. Throughout the day I am continually breaking up my computer work with garden tending, food prep, medicine making and tea drinking. Food and plant medicines are a constant part of my daily routine and kitchen sadhana is one of the most important practices of self care I engage in, as well as something that I love to share with my family.
Natalie has many wonderful workshops coming up this fall and ongoing online classes. Be sure to check out her website!