It’s been over twenty years since I began my journey with shamanic herbalism and the wise woman tradition. I have always had the plants in my life in one way of another. Even as a small child, I would venture into the park near my house with my best friend and we would play amongst the cedars and rhododendrons. I ate my first wild plant when I was just four years old. My friend told me to eat this plant growing near some moss-covered steps. It was Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana. We called it “sours”. I began my career as a school teacher in my early twenties and always grew a garden with my students. The plants were doing their work with me even then, but it wasn’t until my early forties that I discovered that I was an herbalist all along.
I began a series of classes with EagleSong Gardener at Ravercroft Garden and we were to choose a plant ally for the time we were in the class. I chose nettle and nettle changed me. I began to grow restless in my little classroom as a teacher and my eyes wandered to the window and I wondered what was outside. Nettle activated a cellular memory in me that I am an herbalist. I quit my job as a teacher after twenty years and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do yet.
I remember the first time I drank nettle infusion. EagleSong had asked us to name what we tasted. I am sure she was wondering if it tasted salty or pungent or bitter etc, but I said, “Ecstasy” And to this day, some twenty plus years later, nettle still tastes ecstatic to me. A doorway opened for me into a world I had within me that I could only access through the nettle gateway.
My next journey was to go to New York and live with Susun Weed for six weeks at her farm. I chose Garlic Mustard, Alliaria officianalis, as my plant ally there. This plant, though when you research it you will find mostly info about it being invasive/noxious, was a beautiful ally for me while apprenticing with Susun. This plant told me that she is a mind altering plant. I loved it in salad and made vinegar with it.
During my first years of developing myself as an herbalist, I chose a plant ally every year. As I gathered “my plants” I noticed that more plants spoke to me and I began to bring these plants into my life by growing them and spending time in the places where they grew wild. The wild roses taught me about love and beauty. Apple taught me to love myself. Wild violet taught me about releasing sadness and embracing joy. Self heal taught me to be humble. Plantain taught me that one plant could heal everything. St. Joan’s Wort taught me to focus on my true nature. Dandelion taught me to be a witch. And red dock, Rumex obstusifolius, especially lately, has been teaching me to be deeply rooted and to express my most quirky and yet flourishing self into the world.
Creating an Alliance with the Plant World
If you are beginning your journey of learning about the healing ways of the plants, this is a great way to begin. And even if you are a well seasoned herbalist, gardener and plant enthusiast, exploring these simple rituals of choosing a plant ally and spending time with it daily can change the way that you see the world.
Choosing a Plant Ally:
- Choose a plant for one year with which to build a relationship. This is a plant that grows near you, that is an ordinary plant and that you can spend time with everyday.
- Visit your plant ally everyday. Below are a few different way you can experience the compassionate nature of this plant.
How do I choose? You may know immediately which plant to choose. If you have several in mind, ask the plants themselves which one would like to be your plant ally this year. Choosing is a powerful act.
Benefits and reasons for choosing a plant ally:
- You will develop intimacy with this plant, getting to know it very, very well.
- You will discover how using one plant at a time for healing is quite beneficial.
- This is an initiation into connecting with the green world. It is a type of subtle ritual. It is a type of communication with the plants that tells them you are serious about your decision to learn.
- You will begin a shamanic connection with the plants and you will develop a relationship with the plant that is not unlike a human relationship.
Shamanic Listening Exercise for connecting with your plant ally:
- Go outside on the land where your chosen plant is growing. Imagine that the breath you are breathing in is the breath of this plant and as you breathe out, offer your breath to the plant. Do this for seven breaths. Ask the plant, “What have you for me?” And listen. Offer gratitude when this is complete.
- You may wish to record your experiences with your plant ally. You can keep track of the wisdom offered. You can write this wisdom down. And you can also draw or paint your experience. Can you think of other ways of expressing the wisdom given?
Receiving a Song from Your Plant Ally:
- Song are sometimes given by the plants. Go out to where your chosen plant ally is growing. Breathe with your plant ally for at least seven breaths as described above. And now, distract yourself from the plant, don’t focus on the idea of the plant giving you a song, just be there and breathe. See what happens.
May you discover a deep intimacy with life through an alliance with the plant world.
May it be in Beauty.