With ongoing delays in accessing healthcare providers in our province, it appears many Manitobans are searching out other options to improve their health. 

Registered herbalist and clinician Dana Wood opened the Spirit of the Boreal Botanicals six years ago, and she reports a significant increase in traffic at her clinic, especially during the past two years. 

She says many people are struggling to get appointments with doctors and specialists. 

“And the only thing they can do is go to Emergency (Department) for help if the Emergency is still open at those places,” Wood says. “So, I am definitely seeing an increase in volumes of people coming for help because they don't know where else to turn.” 

Wood was the guest speaker at the Steinbach and Area Garden Club meeting this month. She says in the few days following that meeting, several people from Steinbach have come to her clinic in Beausejour, looking for plant-based medicine to improve their health.

Dana Wood speaks from a podium with a screen behind her that shows a slide of plant health benefits.Dana Wood speaks at the Steinbach and Area Garden Club meeting held in September at the Mennonite Heritage Village.

 “Plant-based medicine was the first medicine,” she says. “I don't like to call it alternative.” 

Wood says there are many plants that grow locally that can be harvested for consumption. 

“With regards to dandelion root, I do believe it is the most underappreciated plant around,” she says. “We all consider it a pest or weed in our beautiful yards and people can't wait to get rid of them. It's been ingrained into us that it's a weed, it's a noxious weed.” 

However, Wood says the dandelion plant has many beneficial properties to improve the health of liver and gallbladder, among other things. 

“It's chock full of vitamins and minerals so a lot of people will eat the green leafy dandelions in their salad, the flowers... some people make wine out of the flowers but all really, really healthy for you,” she says. “So, I encourage people to take a look at the benefits of the dandelion instead of spraying to get rid of them for aesthetics.” 

Fireweed is another locally grown plant with medicinal properties, she adds. 

“It's a weed and lots of people don't want to see it around,” Wood says. “But there are benefits to that as well, absolutely. Fireweed... again, you can use all parts of the plant. It's super beneficial. You'll drive by and see miles of the purple flowers along the side of the highway and again, it's another underappreciated plant that we have so much of, right in our backyard, that we're not making use of.” 

She says more people are learning about the health benefits of consuming various plants, such as fireweed, because of the roadblocks in accessing the health care system. 

“The roots we use mostly like anti-inflammatory,” Wood explains. “For male prostate health, we use the leaves and end stock. Basically, all parts of the plant are anti-inflammatory and mostly for male prostate issues. And then the flowers, the beautiful flowers can be used for jelly, you can make fireweed jelly. A lot of people have been turning to that and it tastes wonderful.” 

With many wild plants being sought after, Wood adds a note of caution when it comes to harvesting. 

“If you're going to be using plants from the wild for your own health, you must be certain of the identification,” she says. “There are a lot of very, very poisonous, deadly plants in Manitoba that can be confused by the untrained eye.” 

She suggests taking a book along that includes photographs of plants to help with accurate identification. And asks for people to be respectful with harvesting any plant. 

“We're not in this to be making money and there's a lot of people that are out there to strip clear areas for cash purposes. I believe the medicine is there for everybody to use and we got to continue being respectful, making offerings, thanking the earth for providing the medicine for us, and always making sure to leave some of the plant material behind so that it continues to grow so that our generations and future generations can make use of the medicine that we have available.”

Dana Wood stands beside an employee inside her clinic.The Spirit of the Boreal Botanicals in Beausejour is one of Manitoba's largest herbal dispensaries.

 Wood has not always been an herbalist. For more than 20 years, she worked as an engineering technologist and research scientist for large companies. 

“Unfortunately, I had a teenage daughter who developed cancer, Ewing sarcoma cancer, which is similar to what Terry Fox had,” Wood says. “She had her leg amputated, she ended up going through two years of chemotherapy and unfortunately, she passed away. The side effects from two years of medication and the recurring cancer, it was all of those factors.” 

While grieving her loss, Wood spent time at her cabin. 

“I had not studied herbal medicine at this point, I had a background in biochemistry.  It was two months after and I was grieving in the bush, and this plant was bright and green in the middle of October,” she recalls. “And it was like, ‘I need to study this plant and I don't know why.’” 

Wood came across a clinical trial in the United Kingdom where this club moss, lycopodium, was used to determine efficacy as a treatment for cancer. 

“That was my moment,” she says. “That I needed to go into herbal medicine.” 

So, Wood returned to school and received her diploma in herbal medicine. 

“I left my job at Manitoba Hydro, and I've been on this path for six years,” she says with a smile. “And I am on the right path. I couldn't be happier with what I'm doing. If I can help one person a week, I am very satisfied.”