Updated: Aug 1
Plants are our ancestors. They lived on earth millions of years before homo sapiens. We evolved from plants.
Plants always have been essential for the evolution of the human species. They provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe. Since time immemorial plants have given us food, shelter, clothing, medicine and beauty.
Throughout history, plants have supported people through times of crisis. Plants have aided people during times of pandemics, war, famine, enslavement, and genocide. People have carried seeds of cherished plants across oceans and continents and often at great risk.
Today as we face the global Covid-19 pandemic, interest in plant medicine is growing. Our medical system is overwhelmed and unable to reach or serve many, so people are turning to herbal medicine for support.
Unfortunately, during this crisis herbal medicine has become another commodity to stockpile or hoard. In a short time, many key antiviral and immune support herbal medicines disappeared from the store shelves.
What happens when we cannot find the herbal medicines we need at the stores? What happens in the next pandemic, earthquake or disaster caused by climate chaos?
The key is building relationships with plants. We must decolonize our way of thinking about plants. They are not objects or commodities. Plants are our relatives. They are our elders. They are living beings with vast intelligence and capabilities.
Even though many of us have forgotten how to be in a right relationship with our plant relatives, they continue to offer themselves to us as food, medicine and shelter. Plants support us human beings in spite of all the harm we have done to the environment and to Mother Earth. For me, this is an example of unconditional love that the plants offer us.
How do we build a relationship with plants? Start by noticing the plants around you: the flowers, the trees, the shrubs and even the weeds. These plants are your neighbors and potentially your allies. What is growing around you abundantly? What plants catch your eye when you are out on a walk? Watch them bud, leaf, flower and fruit. Greet the plants growing around you. Introduce yourself. Make an offering to them.
If you don’t have access to a garden or park you can start by looking in your kitchen cabinet. Humble, ordinary vegetables like onions and garlic have powerful medicinal properties. All culinary spices are also medicinal herbs: oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, chili, turmeric, ginger, cumin, basil, and countless more.
How do we find our herbal allies? Usually our herbal allies are already with us, we just need to pay attention. What plants are growing nearby? It may be the tree in your front yard or a weed in the sidewalk. What spices are in your cabinet? What vegetables are in your kitchen? What plants were used by your family and your ancestors? What flowers are you attracted to? What herbal tea makes your body feel relaxed and happy?
We all have herbal allies. Our herbal allies are like our best friends in the plant world, they are the plants that we take time to really get to know. Often our herbal allies call out to us when we need their medicine. Our intuition tells us that we need to drink nettle tea, take a bath with jasmine flowers, or eat more garlic. We go deep with our herbal allies and they go deep with us.
How can we engage with our herbal allies? An excellent way if you have access to a garden, is to grow your ally. If you don’t have your own garden, find a local community garden to support. Many herbs also grow well in pots on patios or in window sills.
If your herbal ally is growing around you, take time to sit with it. Observe and listen. In herb school, we call this a plant meditation. Plants do communicate with us but their language is subtle. We need to slow down and get quiet enough to hear. They communicate by the way they taste and how they make your body feel. Plants can also communicate with words, feelings, images and sounds.
We build relationships with our herbal allies by making all kinds of medicine with them. Try making tea, tincture, oil, salve or vinegar. Bathe with you ally. Dream with it.
Create a reciprocal relationship with your herbal ally. Learn to give back. Offer your ally prayers, songs, and your gratitude. Nurture your ally if you are growing it. Ask you ally what it needs from you in exchange. The answer I often hear is that the plants simply want our love and gratitude.
When a crisis hits, our allies can be there for us. They support us like an old friend. They are familiar to us and they help us to feel grounded. Since we already have a relationship with them, we don’t need to spend hours researching about them. We don’t need to worry if they will work. The cells in our bodies already recognize our allies. When we grow herbs in our gardens we know they will be there for us even in times of shortage. Many herbs grow so abundantly that we will have plenty to share with our family, neighbors and community.
Our herbal allies support our resilience. There are certain herbs that have special properties to support us during times of stress. In herbal medicine we call these plants adaptogens and nervines. Adaptogens help us to be more resilient when facing all kinds of stress. There are many different adaptogens from different herbal traditions. Two adaptogens that grow well here in the Bay Area are ashwagandha and tulsi, which both come from the tradition of Ayurveda.
Nervines are tonics to our nervous system and are excellent herbal allies in times of stress. Nervines can help relieve stress, anxiety and muscle tension. Some nervines help to quiet mind chatter, some uplift us when we are depressed, and others help us sleep. Many nervines grow easily in the Bay, including lemon balm, passionflower, wild oat, and skullcap.
However, I believe that any herb that is our ally can and will support our resilience. It does not have to be an adaptogen or a nervine. It can be something as ordinary as a lemon, a bulb or garlic or ginger root. A Mexican curandera named Doña Chucha once said that all plants are here to help us. She said you could pray to a blade of grass and it would help you out with what you need.
The relationship we have to our plant allies is most important. If you have built a relationship with a plant, you will already know how to work with it. You will have trust and faith in your ally since you have experienced its support many times before. And most importantly, your ally will already know you!
Perhaps in times of crisis like this, we will learn even more about our allies. Many people are finding deep comfort from plants right now during this pandemic. Amid the chaos and challenge of this crisis I believe that the plants are communicating their message of support more loudly and to more people.
My garden is the place where I find solace and peace. The plants in my garden are green, lush and full of vitality. They help me connect to the bigger picture of nature and the cosmos.
My prayer is that we can use this moment to restore our sacred relationship to plants, animals, to the earth, and to one another. May our relationships to plants support our resilience. May plant medicine reach all those who need it the most.
Thank you dear herbal allies!
Who is your herbal ally? How are you building your relationship to it? How is your ally supporting you during this challenging time?