Gina Woods | Tahoe’s plant whisperer

Gina Woods gathering manzanita blossoms. | Courtesy Woods Apothecary

The plants are whispering and Gina Woods can hear them speak. Plants heal us, nourish us and support us. They can be made into tea, salves and medicines and served at meals. And when we surround ourselves with them, studies show they improve our mood, enhance productivity, concentration and creativity. Plants absorb toxins in the air and produce oxygen.

“We live in a food forest. It’s all around us. We have to be stewards of the land. … Our landscape is harsh but forgiving. We have gooseberries, currents, chokecherries, wild chestnuts and manzanita berries all around us.”

— Gina Woods

Woods, an herbalist, forager and owner of Woods Apothecary in South Lake Tahoe, offers classes in bio-regional medicine, takes people on field medicine walks, teaches about permaculture and mushroom foraging, and helps people to trust their connection with nature. I first heard about Woods while on a Forest Bathing hike with Felix Brosch. He made tea for our hike with plants he and Woods had foraged.

Woods grew up in both Italy and California.

Read about Priya’s adventures foraging for gooseberries. 
Read about Forest Bathing.

“I remember going out with my grandmother into the Italian countryside gathering berries, plants and herbs for meals and teas,” she said.

Rose hips | Keith Ovelman

It was these roots that solidified her love for plants and the natural world. While following the Grateful Dead Band around the country, Woods came across a newspaper ad for a herbalist school. She was interested in the healing arts and alternative health. She attended massage school and California School of Herbal Studies. It was duringthis time she studied with iconic herbalists, James Green and Rosemary Gladwell.

“I got to meet the elders of herbalism. I did a work exchange and lived on campus and worked the land for six years,” she said.

Rose hip syrup in the making. | Keith Ovelman

She then moved to Maui and lived on an ashram where she taught yoga, meditation and how to incorporate plants and herbs into people’s lives.

“Plants talk to me,” explained Woods. “It’s one of the ways I connect with a place. I look to the plants. I develop a relationship with the plants and the place.”

Woods came to Tahoe for a botanical field trip and moved to South Lake Tahoe soon after.

“We live in a food forest. It’s all around us. We have to be stewards of the land. In South Lake Tahoe near Cold Creek, there are many plants that grow in our harsh environment. Our landscape is harsh but forgiving. We have gooseberries, currents, chokecherries, wild chestnuts and manzanita berries all around us, “ she said. “You can make cider from the berries. You can make tea and syrup from the fir tips. Rose hips are plentiful and make great syrup and jams. Both are high in Vitamin C. Plants have antioxidants and minerals.”

It’s important to have a guide to teach how to identify plants that are edible and those that are not. Woods helps people with a tactile experience of plants utilizing all of the senses while on her botanical forays into the forest.

“Every microclimate in Tahoe has different species. Where we live is a virtual medicine chest. We have everything we need. Plants have innate wisdom,” she said.

I mentioned the mullein growing in my yard. Woods said that maybe I needed lung support and the young leaves were good for tea to help the respiratory system.

Woods will offer a mushroom foraging class at the end of October — depending on when the rains occur — as well as classes in medicine making and kitchen herbals.

“I let the plants lead. They lead individuals on their path to connecting to the plants,” said Woods, who also makes soup blends, medicines, tinctures and formulas.

When we step out into nature and breathe in the air, we become one with the plants and the natural world around us. They are life giving and sustain us. Take a walk with Woods she will help you understand what the plants are offering. |

Rose Hip Syrup
Courtesy Gina Woods, Woods Apothecary

8 oz. rose hips
4 C water

Harvest and clean 8 ounces of fresh rose hips. Simmer in clean water for 1 hour on low heat. Cool and strain with a jelly press or squeeze with cheesecloth.

Measure remaining liquid and add equal parts sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and boil on low for 15 minutes. Bottle and store in refrigerator for up to one year.

Rose Hip Syrup is high in Vitamin C and aids in reducing cold and flu and supports immune system function. Use on pancakes, french toast, tea and herbal cocktails.