“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.
We depend on plants for our wellbeing and livelihood. From food to medicine to shelter and clothing, fuel and even ceremony, plants have been the key to our physical and spiritual survival since we first started existing and in fact, co-existing with them. In this way, plants are our ancestors and our lives and myths and ceremonies and stories are so closely intertwined with the plant world that it is, in fact, impossible to separate the two.
So what do we mean when we say plant spirit medicine? We are acknowledging that humans are not alone in possessing a spirit. In fact, spirit animates every being and living thing here on Earth and each plant has its own personality and every family has a community identity.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in plant medicine. It is clear that as we become more disconnected as humans to our natural environment and ecology, there is a longing to return to the natural world for healing and wholeness. There is a longing to connect with the spirit of the natural world and reclaim what is, in fact, our birthright and natural state of being.
It may seem like a new age pursuit to sit and meditate with plants in order to find a deeper connection but this practice, as any indigenous person might tell you, is as old as our existence itself. Humans knew the spirit of the plant firsthand by being in such close proximity and by observing and co-evolving in a mutually beneficial fashion. Ask any indigenous community how they knew what to do with a certain plant and you will hear “the plant told us”. It is only in our modern age that we feel the need to scientifically prove what we already intuitively know; that plants contain chemical constituents that have amazing healing powers. Up until the advent of modern medicine about 100 years ago, our ancestors depended on plants for their food and medicine. It was only relatively recently that we have become “plant blind”. Can you identify and name 10 plants that grow around you? If you can, well done. You are few and far between. Most of us can easily name 10 car models but not 10 plants. This is unfortunate for so many reasons, not least because we disregard and even obliterate the free food and medicine that grows in our own backyard. So where do we begin?
There is a stranger at your door
A good place to begin, as indicated, is in your own backyard. What plants are growing around you? Nevermind the name of the plant and what it does (more on that later) but what does the plant look like? What do the leaves look like? What does the stem look like? What color is its flower? Is it one flower or many? How does the plant feel? Does it elicit any feelings of joy? Love? Is it thorny and eliciting a sensation of boundaries? Is it enticing? Your first call to action is to sit with the plants that grow near you and observe.
A stranger is only a stranger because no introductions have been made. A plant will reveal itself to you but the more open you are, the more open the plant will be in return. Do not take for granted that your livelihood depends on the plant but that very plant can survive just fine without you. As is customary when meeting someone for the first time, introduce yourself to your new plant friend(s). Say your name and share a bit about yourself. State your intention for being there and watch how your relationship with the plant deepens.
You will hear herbalists say that the best way to get to know the plant world is to familiarize yourself really really well with 1 to 10 plants. You can read books and try to memorize everything there is to know about every plant but this can and will become overwhelming. Soon you will realize that most plants have many many herbal actions. So which one to use when? This is really a question of experience and the best way to gain experience is to get to know a few plants really well. Know everything there is to know about them. Smell them, taste them, make them into weak infusions, strong infusions, and even stronger infusions. Notice how they make you feel and what doses are most effective. Observe them throughout the seasons, when they bloom and when they set seed and die off, making room for new life. What do they resemble and where do you feel them in your body? Sleep with them under your pillow and see how they show up in your dreams. You will never forget a plant that you have become this intimate with and once you learn its name, you will be well versed in the power of that plant.
Relationships take work
Now that you have introduced yourself to the plants that are growing in your vicinity and perhaps even sat with them, meditated with them and developed a relationship, how do you keep your connection to plants going? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. As you will soon discover, there are so many different ways to connect with plants and this relationship really is deeply personal. So whether you are starting a garden, or camping in the forest, or hiking along nature trails, just remember to do so mindfully and when the moment is just right, you might even hear their voices, familiar and knowing, urging you to keep going.