Swanie has presence and strength, she is an American at heart, having spent the first thirty years of her life in the United States, although she is German. Firstly I feel she is one of the sisters in a certain lineage of plant-women, she was very close to Juliette de Bairacli Levy at the end of her life and this was the first thing that bought us together. Just before meeting Swanie, my mum had died, literally a matter of days before. During the week she was dying I found myself drawn to looking at the video about Juliette’s life on internet, partly as a distraction and partly as inspiration. I had already seen it but this time it touched a deep, inner thread. I was totally inspired by this snippet of a woman who learnt about plants from the gypsies and treated animals with her simple, no messing approach all her life. I also felt some connections, I had travelled with the gypsies in France and lived in rural, Mediterranean Europe for all my adult life, I also decided that this was the type of elderly lady I wanted to be…..a crone role model!
My own mother was dying and although my relationship with her was like many ‘mother/daughter’ relationships, that is to say, not always smooth, I will always be grateful for the love and care she gave me. Seeing the video about Juliette at this intense time in my life, however struck a chord related to my true lineage, plant healers or dare I say witches….yes I dare!
So, whilst talking to Swanie, I didn’t know why but I could literally ‘feel’ Juliette’s presence, I said this to her and she then started to explain, how they had been very close during the later years of Juliette’s life and Juliette had even lived at Swanie’s farm……magical links were awakening. Swanie put a small leather pouch around my neck with precious things in it, including some things that had belonged to Juliette. I spent the week teaching with this pouch around my neck…..Juliette’s name was bought up by many of us that week and it definitely felt like she was somehow with us.
So, although I have only known Swanie for a season, it feels like we are related through the plants, through the healing path. When she told me she was holding a seminar at her farm with Matthew Wood this summer, I knew that I would be there.
I drove here from France with my youngest son Kiran. Swanie’s farm is an amazing place, full of animals, which is to be expected. Swanie Simon is Germany’s top and foremost herbal practitioner for dogs and animals. Swanie has been breeding and treating dogs for thirty years and has been working from her farm for the last ten years and she is highly specialised to dogs – treatment and nutrition.
I thought the easiest way to write about Swanie’s work and practice as an herbalist for animals was to interview her, so please find below our conversation that we had during the week I spent at her farm this summer;
Cathy: what got you interested animals?
Swanie: Since I could walk, I followed every dog anywhere, I differentiated between my two sets of grandparents by the name of each of their dogs. I wasn’t allowed a dog myself, but I had a cat named Bangs. I would catch lost dogs and bring them home. Unluckily for me my parent’s were as good at finding the dog’s owners as I was at catching the dogs.
My love of animals led me to read as much as I could about them, and I finally got my first dog at the age of fourteen. I was known in my neighbourhood for my love and knowledge about them, people would say, ‘Ask Swanie” if someone had a question regarding a dog or wanted to know if they should take their dog to the vets or not.
I learnt about dog and animal care however I could. For example, I met a woman who did iridology on horses at a party in Texas and spent the whole evening and next day following her around. I worked as a professional dog trainer at the age of 20 and was already feeding the kennel breeding dogs a natural raw food diet. I also worked as a dog groomer, basically any job where I could be in contact with dogs and other animals.
Cathy: What got you into herbalism for animals?
Swanie: In the mid 80’s, someone who new I was interested in dog nutrition gave me Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s book, „The Herbal Handbook for the Dog“. To tell you the truth I didn’t read it as I wasn’t much interested in herbs. Then one day I was flying to a big dog show in Germany and had forgotten to buy a book to read on the flight (this was pre iPad days), so I grabbed Juliette’s book off the shelf, thinking „better than nothing“. Well, I read it from cover to cover twice on that plane journey! I was fascinated by her writing about nutrition and vaccines, so I thought there must be something to all this „herb stuff“. From this point on I learned as much as I possibly could about herbs, I have tried out nearly every recipe in Juliette’s books, and they all work really well.
Cathy: Tell me about how you set up your business and practice here in Germany.
Swanie: In 1991, I moved to Germany and continued my learning, work and passion with animals. People would still come to me for advice. I got my first computer in about 1996 and found that the method with which I fed my dogs had a name and had become a movement – B.A.R.F. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food). Finally there was information about dog nutrition!
I had a job at the time on a computer hotline in the evening shift, and we didn’t have much to do from 20:00-24:00. The computer guys showed me how to write a webpage and I wrote about my dogs and the way I fed them and healed them and topics like over-vaccination. The website got immediate attention as it was the only one in German language about these topics at that time. People started calling me for advice, so I decided to start what was called then an E- group, the idea behind the e-group was to answer a question once and everyone could read it rather than having to answer the same question a hundred times. Today the e-group I started is a forum – the largest holistic group for dogs in Germany with over 15000 members.
I also began – at the request of other dog owners – making my herbal formulas for other people and decided to complete a naturopathy course to gain a certificate as a naturopath for animals. The course did not really teach me anything, it was trying to put herbs and natural healing into an allopathic framework, but I had my certification and I carried on learning about herbs. I learned mostly reading books by well known herbalists such as Matthew Wood, who’s approach I really like and by applying them to practical experience with animals. I didn’t have any money to pay for herbal classes and didn’t like the very allopathic approach to herbs of German herbal schools, so becoming self taught was a necessity. One of the things that taught me alot was actually working with the plants. I wildcrafted, grew herbs, made my own medicines and learned from the plants themselves. I still very much believe that working first hand with the plants is one of the best ways to learn about them and to this day I teach classes in this way.
I began to commercialise my herbal formulas and sell them alongside natural supplements for dogs and cats. My business now has a good turnover which has permitted me to continue my herbal studies by attending courses by visiting International herbalists in Europe. I have had the priviledge to learn from Matt Wood, Cathy Skipper, Michael Moore, Rosemary Gladstar and others, either through seminars or distance learning.
In 1997, I also put my seminar scripts about nutrition and vaccines together into small booklets, these booklets are now little books which have been best sellers in Germany for the last 6 years. I have now written three books and am in the process of writing another two.
I started my animal practice eighteen years ago and had a lot of problems at first with hate mail, law suits, people trying to close me down….there was so much pressure, I actually closed the practice down eight years ago. I opened it up again three years ago and as I am well known in Germany now, the processed food industry individuals, angry vets and such seem to leave me alone.
Cathy: What form is your work taking today?
Swanie: I started teaching more seriously a year ago and offered my first herbal webinar for animals this year, which sold out in a matter of days and has been alot of fun. I am no longer teaching live seminars unless the people organising it give the entire proceeds to animal rescue organisations.
Cathy: Can you tell me about your implication with animal rescue?
Swanie: In 2004 my forum raised money for an animal shelter in Suceava Romania because of a particularly heartwrenching story. I went to Romania to check out the situation before we handed over the large sum of money because things are often misleading there, with people trying to profit from the suffering of animals. The story checked out and I founded a Romanian Rescue organisation called Bruno Pet. Today I am only a silent member but continue to suppoet them financially. I also support a dog shelter in Crete and M.A.I.N. (Medical Animals in Need) in the USA.
Cathy: can you describe the way you work?
Swanie: One of the main ways I work is with my own ecclectic mix of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and western herbal practice. I am actually very well trained to humans because I mostly take classes for humans, as they are more in depth and generally better. My specialty is adapting the information to animals. The only specific literature available when I began learning were Juliette’s books. Today there are many books about animal herbal medicine but few good courses. The really good courses are reserved for vets, so I cannot attend them. I make all my own medicines, salves, soaps, hydrosols etc.. I also conitnue to wild craft and grow herbs in my gardens.
These words from Juliette have always resonated with me and still do:
“Your garden is your teacher and your friend”
Cathy: How do you see your work developing in the future?
Swanie: I am very concerned about the medical and pharmaceutical organisations wanting to regulate and control herbal medicine entirely. I think they would love it if people were prohibited from even gathering and growing herbs, I find this worrysome. I would like to get back to simple, traditional herbalism with ease of treatment and teach people how to make their own medicines. I sometimes give seeds to my patients of the plants their animals need and tell them to grow them, in this way I am helping them to become autonomous and start making their own medicines. They also learn that plant quite well by growing, harvesting and processing the plant. I would love to see a simple herbalist in every household.
Swanie’s farm is an amazing place, it is in island to itself and the time I spent here I felt as if I was in a healing space that could have been anywhere on the planet, not necessarily Germany. During Matt Wood’s course, classes were held under the large chestnut tree in the courtyard. The accommodation is great, modern and well equipped, the views and surrounding countryside are bucolic with valleys, woods, streams and fields – it is an ideal place for intensive herb courses.
I found it amazing that word hadn’t got round that Matt Wood was teaching here this summer, lucky for us as the class was small and intimate but sad for those who could have benefited from this great week.
Swanie will be putting on other classes in the future with visiting English-speaking herbalists and I am sure i we will be hearing more about Swanie and her herbal work with animals in the States too.
The area that she lives in in Germany is beautiful, the nearby woods are some of the most beautiful I have seen in Europe for a long time.