WOODBURY — The life of well-known herbalist Annie McCleary is being celebrated after she died from pancreatic cancer Tuesday morning.
McCleary was a key figure in the herbalist community in Vermont. She was 71.
Larken Bunce, executive director of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, said McCleary ran a few important herbal businesses and created a community over many decades. For the past several years, McCleary was running the Wisdom of the Herbs School in Woodbury.
Bunce said McCleary was one of the first people in the state to sell tinctures — plant extracts — at local co-ops.
“She was one of our first local herbal businesses,” Bunce said.
She said McCleary’s teaching was foundational in getting people educated on and familiar with wild edibles. Bunce said McCleary taught people how to connect with the landscape.
While McCleary was known to herbalists outside the state, Bunce said she was committed to educating those living in Vermont about edible and medicinal plants. Bunce said education is important these days especially given the challenges seen in this economic climate.
“There’s a lack of access to health care for many people. Even if we have access to health care, there are some limitations in terms of wellness and preventive care in the system. Herbalism in general is very localized. … It’s very important so we can take care of ourselves and our communities, our neighbors. I think that’s a lot of what (McCleary) was about,” she said.
Bunce said McCleary was community-minded, thoughtful and loving while also being direct and keeping people honest.
“There’s a space in the community that she will always hold. And she’ll keep teaching us from where she is now,” Bunce said.
Shona R. MacDougall runs Earth Rhythm Herbal out of Middlesex. MacDougall said McCleary was a wonderful woman.
She said McCleary knew more about the local plants than anyone she’s ever met in the area.
“You could walk through the woods with her and she would identify every herb on every plant that you could see. Whether it had medicinal use or food use, or wasn’t known for those types of uses. She was just a powerhouse of a woman. A wonderful spiritual leader,” MacDougall said.
Besides focusing on the medicinal use and food use of plants, she said the spiritual aspect of herbalism was important to McCleary. She said that’s a part of herbalism that’s often missed today.
“Herbs come from a traditional background of healing and a lot of the traditions utilize spiritual energetic aspects of herbalism,” MacDougall said.
She said McCleary was a strong advocate for things she believed in, whether it directly impacted her or not.
“And we need people like that on the planet today. We need people to act in that fashion,” she said.
Jess Ann Rubin made a post on Facebook talking about McCleary’s death. The post, in which Rubin calls McCleary “a gem of a human being” has been shared 50 times as of Wednesday afternoon. She called McCleary a friend, mentor, teacher, elder and colleague.
“Last time I saw her, I felt as if I was in the presence of an earth queen, Queen of the fairies, ambassador of plants: elegant, wise, honoring sanctuary. Now we will prepare her body to place into the earth she so loved and tended over which in time we will plant a pollinator garden at her request,” Rubin wrote in part.