Connecting With Our Plant Allies

connecting

One of the most common emails I get (besides “Who are you and where do you come up with the names behind your products?! Zombie bait, what?!”) are ones that ask me about my path of becoming an herbologist and how to start working with herbs. I wrote about 10 ways to start your herbal studies, but I wanted to focus more in-depth on a subject central to the craft of the herbologist – cultivating our relationship with the plant medicine.

As I suggested in the previous post about herbal studies, I recommend starting with one herb. You do not have to work exclusively with only one herb, but choose to work with one herb consistently for an entire year. You should, though, spend at least some time working only with that herb in order to understand its full complexity. You may choose to work with an herb that you already feel a resonance with or something that you spot growing down the street from you. You may dream of an herb, study a plant that has a long history of significant use within your culture or choose an herb that may have a beneficial impact on a particular health imbalance. The importance of working with one herb regularly for an extended length of time is manifold:

  • Many herbs are best able to impart their healing qualities over the long term when used consistently in small doses.
  • Just as it takes time to build meaningful relationships with humyns, so too does it take time to build honest relationships with plants.
  • If you are able to grow or find the herb in the wild, observing its physical journey through the year provides us with many lessons about its medicinal uses and magickal gifts.
  • Finally, commitment is an excellent skill to be practiced by the herbologist.

In my own practice, both personal and professional, I work with a handful of herbs at a time, and while I enjoy a complex tea blend or a raw cacao concoction with multiple herbs dancing in wild harmony, when I am learning about a plant or dealing with a chronic health imbalance, I generally stick to one or two herbs. We are in the midst of an herb revival within North America, as well as many other parts of the western world, and that means that there is an abundance of information and access to a wide array of plant medicine. I tend to think that we will learn more about ourselves and the plant medicine we are interacting with if we treat our practice with the rhythm of a slow, regular tea time conversation as opposed to a social media aggregate of endless stream of herbs shuffling through our lives at a rapid pace.[1]

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It is pleasurable and useful to recognize the affects of individual plant medicines on our mind, body, and spirit. Working with one or two herbs at a time allows for greater clarity and distinction between the subtleties of difference between herbs with similar healing qualities. Moving steadily in our relationship with plant medicines, we begin to build our knowledge of the energetic signatures of herbs along with their physical qualities. These energetic signatures combined with their physical qualities is one reason why one herb will be so successful for Person A, but seem to have little affect for Person B in a similar situation. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) are all remedies for migraines, for example, but each have unique energy signatures that affect our physical, emotional, and mental systems differently.

As you begin working with a chosen plant medicine (whether you chose them or they chose you), I offer the following considerations for your journey together, based on the idea of recognition, engagement, and kinship.

Recognition

  • Recognize your needs.
    • What our your needs, wants, and desires in your relationship with the plant medicine?
    • Are you seeking a cure or kinship?
    • Recognize the plant’s needs.
      • What are the needs, wants, and desires of the plant both within and apart from the relationship you are seeking from it?
        • If you are growing the herb, what are its growing needs? How is it sustainably harvested and/or wildcrafted?
        • Create a supportive environment for the plant to express itself to you.
        • Be able to identify the physical and energetic characteristics of the plant as it grows, how it tastes, smells, and feels.

Engagement

  • We must be accountable to our interdependence with the plant world and how we engage plant medicine is a reflection of our understanding of our interdependence.
  • Maintain a willingness to experience the world from the plant’s perspective. In turn we are better able to empathize with those we serve as herbologists and healers.
  • Engage with your plant ally every day, every night, whether greeting them in your garden, meditating with them, using them as internal or external medicine, and/or some other practice.
    • Learn about the historical, mythological, and modern uses of the plant medicine.
    • Sing sacred songs, draw, write poetry, dance, and engage in pleasurable experiences with your plant.
    • How do you and the plant make medicine?
      • When you harvest the herb, when do you do it, where do you do it, and how do you do it? When you purchase it, how do you do it, and from whom?
      • Try creating different types of medicines – from teas to tinctures – with the plant.

Kinship

  • As you work with a plant ally, you become accountable to one another.
    • How do you remain honest with yourself and your plant ally on your healing journey?
    • How do you create sustainable structures of healing whether through the principles of permaculture, mindful wildcrafting, social justice organizing or similar practices of interconnectedness?
    • How do you honor the medicine of your plant ally?
      • Perhaps as a herbologist, storyteller, medicine-maker, teacher, ritual-facilitator, rabble-rouser, or heart-opener?

Each of us will engage our herbal practice with different insights, experiences, and personal skills that shape every aspect of our lives and relationships. As an herbologist, with my experiences as a Pagan, queer, feminist, multi-racial, tea-loving womyn living in the United States with the myriad of privileges I have and lack access to, my relationships with my plant allies is rooted in these experiences – a foundation of legacy and futuredreaming. The process of working with plant medicines is about learning the ways that I may help facilitate healing between plant and people and creature, but also is about my own personal journey and how I relate to the world within and around me.

I hope that your own journey with the plants of our ocean planet is sweet, challenging, ecstatic, luminous, and balancing, and that you grow in your own wild and greening healing energy.

Be well, clever friends!

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[1] Can we take a moment to imagine the Twitter account or Tumblr of some of our favorite plant medicines? Hawthorn will always be posting the latest heart-warming video about puppies, while Cacao keeps posting an endless stream of abstract party photos involving a lot of nudity, and Elder’s stream would be sorta spooky, badass, and intriguing.

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The Magical Herbs of Harry Potter : Pottermore Apothecary

Diagon Alley of Pottermore

You may have noticed that around the Apothecary, mundanity is taken on faith, while magic is all very real.  Continuing in our exploration of the magic of herbs (see our first post on the Magical Herbs of Harry Potter here), we now take a visit of Diagon Alley in the virtual world of Pottermore to peruse the shelves of the local apothecary.   In addition to Unicorn Hair and Horklump Juice you’ll find a few more familiar but just as mystical and powerful herbs such as Valerian Sprigs and Infusion of Wormwood.

So just what do these herbs do? (more…)

The Clarifying Beat: Eucalyptus

from botanical.com

The dancing trees of the Eucalyptus are unmistakeable in their form and scent.  As medicine the Eucalpytus tree, specifically its essential oils and leaves, has been used as a plant of healing and purification for a very significant part of our humyn history.  The tree is said to guard against all forms of illness and the leaves are useful when placed in the body of a healing poppet.  Hand a branch of Eucalyptus above one who is afflicted with illness to bring about a speedy recovery.  Wear the pods of the Eucalyptus as charms of protection.

Whenever I think of Eucalyptus I think of koala bears (more on that later), but more importantly, dancing.  The grace of a windswept dancer curling their toes against dust of earth and stars.  Extending their breath along the lines of their arms, the straightness of their spine, the sturdiness of their thighs.  Much of Eucalyptus’ powers lie in its ability to center and call us back to our inner beating rhythm.  As a remedy, Eucalyptus is useful for those of us who are seeking our true rhythm beyond the drudgery of schedules that keep us distracted from our passions, our desires, and our calling(s) in life.  So many folks are seeking “the best new thing” whether it be the newest diet, a popular exercise regime, the latest spiritual practice, and with so much noise the resounding beat of our own healer remains unnoticed and, at worst, ignored.  Along comes the dancing trees of the Eucalyptus, who clears our visions, strengthens our breath, and with its fragrant sharpness helps set us on a path of authentic renewal and adventure.
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I, Courage: Borage

John Gerard, a popular herbalist of the 16th and 17th century (and becoming popular again on Facebook), provides us with the translation of wonderful maxim of Borage which was said to be recited by Roman soldiers preparing for contests of strength:

Ego borago gaudia semper ago.
I, Borage, always bring courage.

The blue flower of the courageous Borage was embroidered onto the clothing on knights going off to battle to protect them and strengthen their resolve and worn in buttonholes to the same effect.  Spike the tea of the one who you wish to propose to you with Borage to infuse them with the courage to finally ask.  Known also as  Cool-tankard, the flowers were used in drinks for their cooling effect before ice was a widely available and used commodity.  A tea will induce psychic powers as well as improve one’s outlook in life.

Borage can be, in many ways, the “shining armor” we need to assume our warriorhood, reclaim our lives, and our sense of self.  For those who are suffering nervous exhaustion, especially “menopausal women who are overworked and totally exhausted,” but any person who seems to be suffering from adrenal burnout and is emotionally spent will benefit from Borage.(1)  Borage has an uplifting and lightening affect that is a wonderful remedy for despondency and those who might say often, “I just can’t take it anymore” but aren’t entirely sure who “I” is or what it is they can’t take.  Borage is an  herbal ally that strengthens the will and the knowing of self, reinforcing crumbling boundary walls and infusing the spirit with the brilliant hope that comes from uninhibited courage.
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The Warrior + The Healer: Yarrow

botanical.com

Beware the Devil’s Nettle and all its accompanying glamouries – it knows well the art of divination, the charms of love, and has an affinity for blood.  The common name, Yarrow, is from the Old English gearwe which is thought to be derived from heiros, further linking Yarrow to the art of magick.  Placed over the eyes, Yarrow promotes clairvoyance, and Deb Soule recommends putting the herb in sachets to help connect with the green world.

Matthew Wood puts is succinctly when describing those who might be aided by the healing powers of Yarrow: “The Wounded Warrior, the Wounded Healer.” (1)  For those folks who serve on the front line in their lives, who are often the first in and the last out in any endeavor, and who are prone to ignore health needs until they are lying flat on their backs.  A particularly good remedy for the healers among us who have difficultly following their own recommendations of vital living, healing and resting.  Yarrow is for the ones who appear strongest and are often the most sensitive and bruised – they won’t let you know, but when they do the pain can seem immense and unraveling.  Yarrow is an everyday tonic with the skills of a crisis manager and can help those who feel they must always be the strongest to express their vulnerabilities in ways that restore true fortitude.

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Boundary-marker, boundary-breaker: Hawthorn

Hawthorn from botanical.com

Hawthorn Craetagus monogyna gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “haw” meaning hedge or enclosure and is used as such in parts of the world like the UK to mark the boundaries of fields.  Known simply at times as “thorn,” Hawthorn is one of the sacred trees of Celtic folklore that along with Oak and  Ash, help mortals to see the Good Folk.  Hawthorn is both a charm of fertility and chastity (quite a permeable boundary there) – place it in a bouquet for a fertile union and beneath the bed to make it less so. The Hawthorn hedge is a sacred plant of May, used to decorate May Poles, though is must be carefully harvested so as not to anger the Gods to whom it is so sacred.  Witches were sometimes called “hedgeriders” invoking their ability to ride the hedge from the fields of humankind to the fields of faery.

For times when someone feels misplaced and disconnected because their heart has squeezed shut, aching from the pain of disappointment, grief and change.  For those who have lost touch with the desire of the heart when life challenges us with unexpected outcomes. They fidget, are anxious, have trouble sleeping, and may even experience heart palpitations as they close off from the pain rather than engage in the process of transformation.  It’s as if they’ve been thrown up in the air and can’t seem to find their way back down, left only to fall, feeling disoriented and so they close up to try and protect themselves from the impact.  Hawthorn might be the green ally to help them fall in love, not fear. (more…)

Quicken the Mind: Peppermint

Peppermint from iloveherbs.net

The crisp and recognizable scent of Peppermint Mentha Piperita brings money to those who carry its leaves and protection to the traveler.  Use Peppermint as an incense or floorwash to purify and energize a space. Tuck the leaves beneath your pillow to enhance dreams and visions or wear them about your neck to increase focus and drive.  Peppermint in the garden brings success to all endeavors.  The genus name of Peppermint, Mentha, is after that of a Greek nymph named Minthe, who after an affair with Pluto was turned to the Peppermint plant we know today by a jealous Persephone.  Or at least that is one version of the story… (more…)

Remembering Wholeness: Rosemary

botanical.com

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis is known for remembrance and to keep the spirit youthful. Keep it under your bed to protect against bad dreams, hang it above doors and porches to deter thieves. Rosemary planted by the front door shows that the women run the home as well as their fortune. Clears spaces of harmful energies through its purifying vibrations and happy song. Watch closely the Rosemary bush, for you might just spot the Good Folk hidden amongst its branches.

Rosemary is the herb for those who look as though they need the dry, hot heat of the Mediterranean to restore their vitality and bring a healthy color to the skin. For those who feel stuck, might have poor circulation, and a general lack of energy and enthusiasm – life seems a bit grey, a bit bitter. The glow of Rosemary relieves the chilliness of body and spirit, bringing warmth and movement to the heart and mind.
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Holy Herb of the West: Yerba Santa

flowersociety.org

The sweet tasting Yerba Santa is said to enhance beauty and be useful in spells of glamoury and illusion. In addition to its ability to magickally alter the appearance of clever sorcerers, Yerba Santa is said to protect the wearer from illness and disease when worn around the neck.  Place it on your altar as a sacred offering.  Call them Bear’s Weed, Holy Herb, Mountain Balm or Tar Weed there are many more ways than wearing our purple-flowered friend about our neck to improve our health.

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The Magical Herbs of Harry Potter

Polyjuice Potion from harrypotter.wikia.com

There is no lack of love for Harry Potter at the Apothecary and with the first of the two last movies coming out this week, we thought we would explore the herbal side of Harry Potter world.  Making potions is a common activity amongst the students at Hogwarts (with some being more talented than others) and there are many unusual ingredients in their brews – but many are quite mundane! (more…)