Justine Gens is a herbalist and forager who is deeply connected to the natural world. Born in France, but working now in the UK in and around Oxfordshire, she runs foraging walks and wildcrafting classes to bring people closer to nature. We spoke to Justine about her work and her tattoo collection.
What inspired you to train as a herbalist and pursue the work you do now?
Herbalism has been running in my family for generations, my main inspiration being my grandfather, he was a healer. I have always known that I wanted to work outside, I used to be a mountain guide. From there I decided to travel around the world to take on big hikes. I learnt so much more about the endless resources of medicine Nature could provide.
Have you always had a connection to the natural world?
I have always been the outdoors kid for sure, even though I come from Dunkirk, an industrial town. The beach might not be the most appealing because of the lovely factory sight you get from there, but you would be surprised how incredible the dunes are there. Miles and miles of sand til you reach Belgium.
What are the main benefits you see when people take up foraging and spend more time within nature?
What advice would you give to people wanting to get involved with nature and foraging in their local area?
Try and make it a weekly practice, go out and observe plants through the seasons, notice the smallest fungi around. Familiarise yourself with the different shades of green and other colours, all the shapes.
Have you always wanted to be tattooed, and did you plan many of your pieces?
For sure, I have always wanted to be covered. Again, it's a thing in my family. As per planning, I am a very spontaneous person, maybe a bit too much sometimes. I guess some are a bit more planned though than others, but I can't say I have ever had a clear vision of what I wanted to look like, it's a changing notion for me.
Has your love of the natural world inspired any of your tattoos?
Absolutely, I have nature inspired tattoos everywhere.
Do your tattoos have any meaning to you?
I have a few little handpoke tattoos that have much more meaning than some great piece I paid for. Also I do love a matching tattoo so I've got a few of those. One is even with my mum.
Have you ever faced any negative responses from people because of your tattoos?
It has happened but it's much rarer than the positive ones. It has never caused me any trouble for work anyway, but I do feel like the UK is pretty alright with tattoos. It might be a different story in France but I am not even sure, I've been away from France for a long time now.
You can see what Justine gets up to on her Instagram @ma.roemca