The thing that fascinated me most about herbalism when I first began to study the healing plants was how incredibly grassroots it could be. It simply blew my mind that the weeds growing outside my door could cure what ails me. The chickweed, dandelion and plantain in my yard, and further a field the elder, goldenrod, and yarrow were all growing abundantly, waiting for me to recognise the gifts they had to offer. Yet, the more I delved into my studies, the more I became confused and overwhelmed with the sheer number of medicinal plants. How could one remember it all? And then there were the different herbal traditions, Chinese and Ayurveda not only have long histories in herbalism, but have also become increasingly popular in the U.S. For a while I tried to incorporate these other traditions into my studies with their many herbs from far away lands, but over time something felt not quite right to me.
Years ago I heard Susun Weed suggest that we learn the plants one at a time, slowly, over the course of their life cycle. This is a different kind of study, not from books, but from the living plants themselves. When we sit with the plants, observe them, get to know them, they become more for us than a bunch of useful facts. They become our friends. We begin to recognise them at every stage, to see how they change, to notice where they like to grow and in what patterns. They become part of the landscape, and slowly, we become part of that landscape with them.
This crystallized for me several years ago when I had been working with the plants for a while and decided to ask for an ally, a plant whose spirit would help to guide me on my path. I went to sleep with the intention of receiving a dream from my ally. Although I don't often remember my dreams, this night I awoke with a clear and vivid memory. It was mullein, tall and stately, who came to me with a message, so simple and yet so clear..."when we do not use the plants growing around us, but instead seek those from far away lands, our local plants feel like orphans." My gosh! I cannot tell you how this dream has affected my practice since that night. Now longer was this an intellectual question, or even an economical one. I needed to use the living plants around me because that is what they are there for. Yes, they are there for other reasons as well (I'm not totally egocentric). The plants play many roles in the environment, but the healing plants are not just here to heal the earth, but to heal us. And why not? Are we not part of the earth, part of the environment, even if we do everything we can to pretend we are not?
And there is a different kind of healing to be experienced when we turn to the living plants. It is the magical healing to be found in the garden and forest, the soul healing that only Nature can give. When we spend time connecting to our environment, and then take it a step further to come to the understanding that the environment is also connecting with us, that there is an exchange going on, this something we cannot get from a bottle of tincture on a store shelf. It grounds us to a place on the earth, it imbues us with the feel of the landscape, and we begin to feel whole in a way we had not before.
There is a growing movement toward bioregionalism among herbalists today. This is so lovely to me, not just because my own heart has led me to practice this way, but because it is such a beautiful vision...the very many herbalists practicing in the varied landscape, each getting to know the unique and beautiful plants growing in their environments. This will keep herbalism alive and rich and living more than the biggest collection of dusty herbals from centuries past. This has life.
It has been fascinating for me to discover that when I take this approach, I most always find that everything I need is right here waiting for me. From my garden, to the surrounding fields, to the rolling wooded hills, there is to be found not too far away just what I need. And when my medicine comes from the earth beneath my feet, when I can reach down and give thanks, my medicine is that much stronger.
And yours will be too.