Interacting with plants in the real world

I have loved plants for a very long time. When I was little, my first interest in herbalism was sparked by a book my aunt gave me for Christmas, Once Upon a Time in a Meadow. I still remember how completely enchanted I was when the six little cousins in the story rescued a trapped rabbit and healed him with their herbal first aid kit. The idea of being able to heal with what you find growing outside was like magic to me.


But a funny thing happened as I pursued my interest in herbalism. As I got into my 30’s, I realized that my knowledge was largely divorced from the natural world – which seems impossible when you’re talking about knowledge of something that comes out of the soil. Nevertheless, it was. There was a huge divide between the dried herbs I used (and what I read about them) and the real world of herbs.

For instance, I had not seen many of the herbs I worked with in their natural habitat. I didn’t know what mullein or plantain looked like. I’d only seen them in their dried, chopped form. (And pictures of plants in books don’t always end up in my permanent memory files.) And sure, I could tell you some of the benefits of goldenseal or marshmallow, but I had no idea what their infusions felt like, how they tasted, how they looked.

Luckily, as you grow and change and set new intentions for yourself, the universe loves to help you out. As my desire to know herbs more intimately grew, I started to notice information coming my way that would immediately translate into a real-world experience.

For example, I was reading a blog two years ago in which the blogger wrote about plantain – where it grows (in the backyard!), what it looks like. I had a little niggling feeling in the back of my mind, but I pushed it away until later that day, when I went out to mow the lawn. There is a patch of weeds in my backyard that has aggressively choked out the grass in that area and that has always been a bear to mow. As I looked at those long, thin leaves, it hit me: It was plantain! I literally fell down to my knees to break off a piece and smell it and to have a closer look at it. Plantain, that little miracle herb, was masquerading as the annoying weed patch in my back yard! Magic!

About a year later, I began to develop a love affair with mullein. This happens a lot – I’ll find an herb trying to catch my attention via books and the internet. And so I’ll buy some of whatever it is and start making teas with it. Mullein definitely wanted my attention, not so long ago, and I bought some dried mullein for the first time, marveling at its pretty color and fuzzy leaves. I started adding it to my tea on a semi-regular basis. And then one day, while walking my dog past some empty lots, I had a sudden realization as powerful as when I recognized the plantain in my backyard. All the sage green, fuzzy, yellow-flowered “weeds” peppering the lots were actually mullein!

As crazy as this may sound, these experiences (and several others like them) have convinced me that plants are just like the rest of us – alive with energy, and filled with the desire to interact with other living beings. Perhaps you have a dog like mine who comes to you when you cry, in an effort to comfort or protect you. In their own way, plants are no different. When you need them, they will make themselves known to you and can similarly offer what you need at that time in your life.

This is the most amazing part of herbalism to me – this interaction with plants. It becomes tangible as the years go by. I can think of dozens of times when I have been “introduced” to a new plant out in the real world and the energy from those experiences is almost as exciting and invigorating as falling in love. It is a genuine feeling of being guided, as well as a feeling of “conversation” in a way that seems impossible to the logical mind.

What kinds of experiences have you had with herbs or other plants?

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6 thoughts on “Interacting with plants in the real world

  1. I have the same love of mullein. This summer, I was out with two experienced biologists on my first day at a new job working for a non profit organisation. We were starting our inventory of wetland species, when along the train tracks we came upon some beautiful mullein specimens. I was so surprised when the biologists I was working with had no clue what it was (“it’s a weed”), let alone what it was capable of doing! Filling them in on the magic of mullein made my day. And, bonus, I’m sure validated their decisions in hiring unexperienced me for the summer!

    • @Krystal: Yay! Go, girl! I think it’s so funny how we consider so many powerful herbs to be just weeds. That’s what we’ve been taught. But they aren’t weeds, they are medicine! :)

  2. Oh my goodness…. I love love LOVE love this post!!!!! I feel like I could right a book in response! But I’ll keep it brief for now. I too have had these experiences with plants and even though I started off my herbal education in clinical herbalism, there was still a sense to me that the plants were something more. As my personal beliefs changed and evolved to allow me to be open to that something more a whole amazing world unfolded and still is. I have over the past four to five years begun to get to know plants and herbs in a whole new way, adding another layer to my knowledge and relationship with plants that is, for me, so much more fulfilling than a strictly clinical approach. It is indeed magical. Now when I want to go deeper I sit in meditation with these wonderful beings and am amazed at the interaction and depth of relationship and knowledge that is possible. It is beautiful and precious.

    • @Maurie: I, too, am amazed by this process of getting to know plants. I think that’s a hugely ignored part of the natural world. We all recognize animals and the connections we make with them, but I don’t think many people see and understand the relationships we could have with plants. Maurie, if you ever want to do a guest post, let me know! :)

  3. For the life of me I never saw this come up in my feed so am just reading it now! Great post :) When I think of my earliest memories of herbs, I actually think of Ayla the healer in “Clan of the Cave Bear” and all the herbs that Jean Auel discussed. While I grow them for culinary use myself, I remember being hugely relieved in Australia when I got sunburned while WWOOF’ing and being able to cut off a piece of aloe to treat my red skin :)

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