By Tim Lawrence
One of the questions that I want to explore over the year is….
How can plants heal us?
For me this is a broad and open question in the sense that it is not limited to plants that we consume as food and/or medicine or to Sunday afternoon walks or allotmenteering. I have a sense that plants have more to offer than leisure and consumption.
A key element in my exploration of ‘How can plants heal us?’ is doing a year-long course called Wild Medicine with Rhizome Community Herbal Clinic .
Every month a small group of us meet for the weekend to learn about wild plant medicine. The learning is primarily experiential. Each month we go and explore different habitats according to what is in season, for example:
· Spring flowers on commons and meadows along the Cotswolds
· Bitters found in hedgerows and around allotments in and around Bristol
· Resins, barks, sap and pine cones in the Forest of Dean
· Seaweeds, coastal and moorlands plants in North Devon
The learning process involves finding specific plants and then observing them and their habitat; getting to know them in situ. This usually involves consuming a small amount of the plant as well, whether in tea, tincture (alcohol), or raw. As a group we then share and compare our observations before a short teaching based on inherited knowledge and wisdom about the plant and its qualities. This is typically augmented by a practical session making medicine and considering wider lessons about the plant’s family, type or actions (e.g. aromatic, astringent, diuretic etc.,) and habitat.
Inbetween weekends, we are encouraged to spend time with one or two plants, taking it regularly, foraging, and processing it - building a relationship with the plant. We all have different reactions and responses to different plants, so part of the journey is (using anthropocentric terms) to discover plant allies or more simply to make friends….
This may sound a bit odd. I was used to a medical or clinical model of professional diagnosis and prescription based on a bio-mechanical cause and effect of both disease-damage and medicine.
Yet, do any of us really function in such a mechanical way?
This clinical approach is certainly a valid and valuable part of the story. In my experience, plant medicine brings an approach to healing and treatment that can be more subtle, complex and relational. It seems to me that medicine affects us mentally, emotionally and socially as well as bio-mechanically, this is often only acknowledged somewhat negatively as ‘side effects’.
It makes sense, if this is the case, to find medicine that has good side effects all round, where possible.
I have made a few friends that I feel like this about: Crampbark, St John’s wort, Solomon’s seal, and Agrimony. Maybe I can tell you about them more sometime.
What can plants teach us about healing?
Are supportive relationships, sense of belonging, trust, calm and beautiful environment, balanced emotions and thoughts key aspects of healing as well as the bio-mechanical aspect?
It has long struck me that the way and place in which we are treated/seek healing also matters. Care and context are part of any cure (a la Patch Adams, the Robin William’s film).
In asking ‘How can plants heal us?’ and engaging in seasonal foraging and medicine making, I am coming to appreciate that plants and their habitats offer so many aspects of what we look for and need in order to nourish, nurture and heal ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and relationally.
Indeed, they are challenging my understanding of what health and healing are and can be.