Connecting With Our Plant Allies

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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 Longest Night: Herbs for the Winter Solstice Season

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The wheel of the year turns deeper into the dark, bringing us to the longest night of winter.  The Winter Solstice is both a time of honoring the reflective gift of solitude and the distant promise of the seed sparking to life.  With this spirit we invite herbs into our practice that root our dreams into reality as well as warm us with the inner fire of the sun’s promised return.

So put on the kettle, prepare your charm, and welcome in the winter!

PINE Pinus sp.
Evergreens are sacred trees and remain green throughout cold seasons when other trees lay bare.  The needles of the Pine tree can be made into a tea and is an excellent source of vitamin C (more vitamin C, in fact, than citrus fruits such as lemons and grapefruit!).  Drink Pine tea throughout the day to clear up congestion and excess mucus.

ROSEMARY Rosmarinus officinalis
Warming Rosemary gives us the gift of a dry, Mediterranean heat in the long dark days of winter.  After a bought of sickness or a round of the blues, drink Rosemary tea to restore your body’s inner warmth and fire for life. Rosemary is very restorative to all of our blood organs such as the liver, heart, spleen, and kidneys, bringing back balance after a period of fatigue.  It is also helpful for a dispelling the winter fog from a dull mind.

VALERIAN Valeriana officinalis
A root of water and earth, Valerian is gently sedating, helping us to fully settle into the Season of Slowing Down.  Restlessness, insomnia, nervous stomach, and tension, dissolve with the use of Valerian.  My favorite way to take Valerian is as a glycerite, but it can also be enjoyed as a tea (even though we use the root, it should not be decocted since that would destroy its delicate volatile oils).  Mix Valerian with other herbs such as Mugwort, Anise, and Peppermint to create a potent brew for inducing visionary dreams.

yule dala winter solstice

CHAMOMILE Matricaria recutita
A classic herb for stomach upset, nausea, and indigestion, Chamomile also supports a sense of peace and cheerfulness in the body through its nervine qualities.  Chamomile flowers are miniature suns and can be used in bath, steams, teas or made into an herbal oil to uplift the spirit, calm the cranky, and center wayward energy.  I think a jar full of Chamomile flowers is a pleasant sun-honoring addition to the home altar.

I also find Flower + Gem Essences to be beneficial at any time of the year!  The following are excellent deep winter wonders:

SAGE Flower Essence
The Winter Solstice is the cusp between the signs of Sagittarius and Capricorn – Sage is a plant of Sagittarius and its ruling planet Jupiter.  As a flower essence, Sage has an initiatory quality to it, helping us to ease through life transitions.  It is an excellent rite of passage herb and provides release to stagnating emotions.  For the season of the Winter Solstice, Sage helps us to express our deepest kept secrets in ways that bring us joy.

sage winter solstice yuleSage Salvia officinalis

OAK Flower Essence
As the Wheel of the Year turns from the Holly to the powers of the Oak, the energies of Capricorn begin to shine.  A tree of Saturn (which rules Capricorn), Oak is a great flower essence for those folks who struggle on even though they are exhausted – they put on a happy and courageous face, hiding their feelings, and never complaining in hopes of not being seen as weak.  While they appear tireless, they have only become rigid in a state of constant stress brought on by a need to achieve the next thing on their list.  An excellent remedy for Capricorns who tend to burn the candle from both ends (you know who you are).  Oak helps us know our limits and be kinder to ourselves by realizing that taking time to rest is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of intelligent strength.

HEMATITE Gem Essence
A reflective mirror of night, Hematite is grounding and centering during the hustle of winter holidays.  Hematite is also a very protective Essence and helps folks feel shielded from fears, especially those of the “lurking in the dark” sort of insecurities, teaching us that it is not the dark we fear, for darkness is beautiful and necessary, but what we perceive to dwell within the shadows.

Be well and drink deep the darkness for after the Winter Solstice the days begin to grow longer as we prepare for the burst of spring!  

Create your own delicious + fully enchanted recipes for the winter with The Winter Apothecary!

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Hematite Gem Essence is available in our Apothecary along with other fully enchanted herbal remedies for the wintertide.

Iron & Amazons

As has been shown in previous posts, we love Medicinal Vinegars and all their benefits for our bodies and taste buds.  It is with great pleasure that we introduce our two newest products in the Apothecary: TOUGH AS NAILS Iron Vinegar & Amazon Brew!  Not only do Medicinal Vinegars make us feel good, but they make us feel kick-ass!  Join us in our tough-enough brigade!

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