Beloved American herbalist, educator, and environmental activist Cascade Anderson Geller died on Herb Day, May 4, 2013, at age 59. She died at her home in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by her family and loved ones, after a few months of illness.
The news of her passing was “like a big tsunami of grief rocking the green world,” said longtime friend Rosemary Gladstar. The large herbal social networking community was flooded for days with posts of loss, memories, gratitude, and loving tribute to a modern American herbal legend.
Cascade had been a full-time working herbalist, teacher, mother, wife, homemaker, wild-crafter, medicine maker, world traveler, eco-tour leader, and citizen-earth activist since the early 1970s. She was “one of the first generation of herbalists to rejuvenate herbalism in the 70’s during a time when it had been almost entirely pushed to the recesses in the US.”1
She was a graduate of the Dominion Herbal College in Vancouver, BC, but her herbal roots began in Southern Appalachia where, from an early age, she picked herbs and wild foods with her family. “You don’t need to use too many herbs. My great grandmother, who used only a handful of plants on a regular basis, was a very good Herbalist,” she once wrote.2
Cascade’s teachers and mentors were some of the herb world’s great herbalists: Ella Birzneck, Norma Meyers, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, Bernard Jensen, and Rosita Arvigo. Since 1994, she studied with Equadorian ethnobotanist Rocio Alarcon. But with her very earthy, down-home, back-to-the-land values, Cascade once said: “Of all the teachers I have had in my life, some of the most important are the common people who live close to the Earth. Living and working with them in their homes and on their land provided me with the most important education.”
She was a founding member of the Everett House Healing Center (now Commonweal) in Portland and associate professor and department chair of botanical medicine at the National College of Naturopathic (now Natural) Medicine (NCNM) from 1979-1992.
According to a tribute to Cascade from the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians, many members of which were her former students, “Cascade’s passion for plant medicine ignited generations of NCNM students to cherish it as she did. She was awarded the prestigious NCNM Teacher of the Year in 1985. In 2012, NCNM awarded Cascade a Doctor of Laws degree for her lifetime of contributions to the field of botanical education.”3
Cascade served on the faculties of Bastyr University, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, and the California School of Herbal Studies. Fellow Bastyr teacher Jared Zeff, ND, LAc, wrote: “Cascade was a woman of high integrity as well as gentle competence. As I write this, I am watching my dogwood blossoms fall like a pink snow, their season ended. Cascade was a rare gift to the learning of many young naturopaths.”4
Additionally, Cascade was a consultant for the American Herb Association in its formative years, and she was on the United Plant Savers (UpS) Advisory Board since its inception in 1990. In Planting the Future, UpS’s collaborative compendium on at-risk North American herbs, she authored a chapter on lobelia (Lobelia inflata, Campanulaceae). Cascade also founded or co-founded two food co-ops and an herb store, as well as four political and social activism groups as she worked to protect parks, preserve public lands, and protest against toxic herbicides.
Speaking to Cascade’s social and political activism, her family wrote:
“Cascade’s research skills translated well to her work as a civil and environmental activist. She spoke after much study in a direct and honest manner. She enjoyed many days in the [Portland] city archives with other community activists, discovering one clue after another in uncovering the facts to help save the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs. She loved a challenge and gave herself over to researching and writing the application that put Mt. Tabor Park on the National Historic Registry. Cascade’s love of history coupled with her belief in honest and transparent government made her a formidable watchdog and guardian of those things that she held dear.”5
As friend and fellow herbalist and educator Autumn Summers recalled:
“Cascade was one of the most tenacious and fiercest advocates for the earth. She worked tirelessly in her neighborhood in Portland against unnecessary herbicide spraying on Mt. Tabor and was a guidepost about the direction of herbalism in the US. Once she chose to investigate and learn about an issue, whether it has herbal, political, or environmental, watch out — as she would leave no stone unturned in her quest for understanding and truth, and then she would bring it all back to the community to share and discuss. She was a woman who did not mince words, and she always held to her convictions.”
Cascade traveled worldwide exploring, learning, teaching, foraging, and sharing herbal knowledge and her unique experience of the natural world. Having trekked the Himalayas extensively in the 1960s, later in her teaching years she took advanced herb students on memorable treks to Ecuador, the Amazon basin, Southern France, and Greece. “Cascade was a great adventurer and at an early age she made a commitment to see the world travelling with intensity and purpose,” noted a family tribute.5
Cascade’s herb-walks, which can be viewed online in videos, were especially memorable. “Most of the important things I don’t put into writing. I am more an oral teacher, more so than a writing teacher,” she said.1 When asked by close friend aromatherapist and herbalist Mindy Green why she had not written more, Cascade replied, “By the time it’s published, I would have learned so much more about it!”
Cascade was a speaker, teacher, extraordinary storyteller, and attendee of many of the American herb conferences held during the last 40 years. After she passed on Herb Day 2013, memorials, tributes, and dedications were held in her honor at the 11th Annual International Herb Symposium, the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, the Breitenbush Herb Retreat, and many more, including local Portland gatherings.
She will be deeply missed by many as a friend and one of the most fundamental American herbalists of our time. Many students, friends, and fellow herbalists commented on her passing.
Jane Boswell, her very close friend and fellow herbalist, wrote:
“Cascade had a truly unwavering dedication to all living things. She lived and taught with the utmost integrity, always keeping in mind the seventh generation. Fueled by her curious, far thinking mind, she was always questioning, embracing the many possibilities in any situation. Her scope was broad and her insights deep. Cascade was sad to leave this planet, but once she realized that was her path, she embraced death as she did life, with full commitment and the highest integrity. Her teachings will go on in all of us and we will be better people because of knowing and loving Cascade!”
Rosemary Gladstar, so often the voice and heart of American herbalism, wrote:
“One of the things I always found so amazing about Cascade was her ability to see through things, beyond the obvious. She had a huge vision of how things should be, and fought endlessly towards that end, whether it was through her teachings, her advocacy work for the plants and nature, or her one-on-one work with people through her herbal practice. But in the midst of that grand vision, she was so totally personal, seldom failing to turn her full attention to the person in front of her and responding in depth to whatever the need, question or request might be. She could be ferocious like a Mother Bear when she felt what she loved was threatened, but I’ve seldom meant anyone as kind and compassionate. Her most important contributions to the herbal community were, and continue to be, her passionate message to us all to think for ourselves, to think big and out of the box, even if its a nice green fuzzy box. Always a step ahead, she taught about ‘Herbalists at a Crossroads’ and ‘Giving Voice — Creating Social and Political Change within the Herbal Community’ in her attempt to shed light on issues she felt were most important, especially for the future of herbalists. Who will teach this now, with the same depth, compassion, wisdom and humor? I’m not sure...perhaps one of those bright brave savvy youngsters who sat at her feet, listening and learning from Cascade.”
The American Botanical Council’s founder and executive director Mark Blumenthal wrote in an ABC Member Advisory, “Cascade’s passing is like a huge hole being torn in the fabric of the American herbalist community. I don’t know how it can be repaired.”6
Cascade is survived by her husband Elliott, her son Lance, and her daughter Ayla.
—Lynda E. LeMole
- Mother Earth News website. On the Trail with Cascade — Dandelion (video). Available at: www.youtube.com/watch?a&feature=youtu.be&v=oagYgj1aU3c. Accessed October 16, 2013.
- Geller CA. All Time Favorite Herbs From a Herbalist’s Medicine Chest. LewRockwell.com. Available at: www.lewrockwell.com/2009/10/cascade-anderson-geller/all-time-favorite-herbs-from-a-herbalists-medicine-chest/. Accessed October 16, 2013.
- Schales B. A Tribute To Cascade Anderson Geller. Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians website. Available at: www.oanp.org/news/128480/. Accessed October 16, 2013.
- Weeks J. Herbalist Cascade Anderson (Geller) honored in her death. Available at: www.integrativepractitioner.com/article.aspx?id=19656. Accessed October 16, 2013
- Cascade Anderson-Geller Family Memorial tribute, Ross Mountain, Corbett, OR, June 8, 2013.
- Anon. American Herbal Community Mourns Death of Cascade Anderson Geller [member advisory]. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council; May 7, 2013.