Lately I’ve been listening a lot to the plants and remembering what it’s like to be in direct communication with the living world around me. This feels like an old muscle, one that I didn’t use much until I became an herbalist, but a muscle that is connected to an instinct that I have always felt from within myself.
The plants are interacting all around us and can be profound teachers if we slow down enough to listen and make the effort to recognize them as people, as sacred in their being-ness with their own purposes and reasons for being here.
Speaking with the plants is really quite simple - you just have to put yourself in their presence and create enough space (without judgment) to receive what they want to share. This could mean drinking some tea and noticing how it feels in your body, sitting with the Dandelions growing in the concrete outside while you daydream, or walking through a park or natural area while paying attention to the plants around you.
I’ve been spending my fall season working and studying as an intern at the Herb Pharm. This program has been intensive, with 32 hours a week of farm labor and ~15-20 hours a week of classes. We've been studying various body systems, plant communication, medicine making, herbal energetics and more - we’re learning a lot. The land where we are living is gorgeous, we’re staying on the farm itself in Williams, Oregon surrounded by ancient mountains and towering trees and thriving webs of mycelium.
The view from the front yard of the intern house at the Herb Pharm, where I sit and write this post
One of ways this program has most shaped me is by introducing me, in person, to dozens of plant allies. Herbs about whom I’d read and studied, herbs about whom I have written in blog posts, herbs with whom I have interacted after they’ve been dried and cut and sifted, but herbs whom I had never seen alive, growing from the earth.
Blue Vervain, Ashwagandha, Black Cohosh, Passionflower, Gotu Kola, Spilanthes, the list goes on and on. There is so much vitality and wisdom that comes from the plants directly, lessons that you could never get from reading about them in a book.
The plants serve as profound teachers for surviving and living in harmony on this earth. I'm really exciting by the opportunity for relationship if we take the time to really get to know our favorite plants as people in their own ways.
The plants are wise and the plants are ancient - they’ve been here much longer than humans have and can teach us a lot about co-surviving on this planet we share together. Most of them can harvest sunlight and turn it into energy. They are tenacious beings - growing in varied and often extreme environments (like the Whitebark Pines growing up to the near top of Mt. Hood).
A view of Mt. Hood in the summer with Whitebark Pines growing right up to the timberline
Modern life has so many of us all scrambled up - rushing around under significant pressures that are incredibly taxing to our nervous systems and entire beings. It’s hard for a lot of us to access green spaces regularly, much of the air we breath is polluted, our foods and waters are full of toxins, our cultures are racist, sexist, homophobic. These are products of a confused people - many of us have forgotten that we are of the land, humbly standing alongside all of the other beings who exist here, many of them more-than-human.
We have chosen extraction over collaboration, selfish individuality over collective wellbeing. And we are killing ourselves because of it - climate change is a real threat to us all. The plants included. And they know quite a bit about what it takes to survive here on this planet. The plants love us - we have evolved in tandem with each other.
Dandelions are one of my favorite examples of this - no matter how much energy we spend trying to poison them, these hearty beings full of medicine will pop up through cracks in the cement, on waste piles and in disturbed areas all over.
Many of our herbal allies thrive in disturbed areas, thrive in areas impacted by humans. They follow us around the globe and want to stay close with us. We would do well to listen to them - there is great potential for collaborating with the plant world to facilitate healing, interconnectedness, humility, growth, rest and regeneration.
How to Speak with Plants
One of the simplest, more accessible ways to commune with plants is by brewing a cup (or pot) of a single tea (just one herb) and creating a quiet environment to drink it.
Here’s a loose process you could follow, although there are many ways to go about this so do whatever feels most comfortable and intuitive for you.
It can help to introduce yourself to the plant and share that you’re interested in listening to whatever the herb in your tea would like to share.
Then, sip your tea and sit quietly while you pay attention to what comes through your body, mind and emotional space.
Anything can have meaning here, from a twinge in your belly to a seemingly distracted thought - pay close attention to whatever comes up, even if it doesn’t quite make sense.
It can also help to keep a journal nearby to jot down whatever you observe in the process.
The more you do this, the more comfortable it will become and the easier it will be for you to pick up on messages from the plants. Have patience with yourself and enjoy the process.
This process can work with plants in many forms beyond tea:
Sit with live plants in a garden, park or in the wild
Eat the plants as food
Take tinctures, flower essences, vinegars etc.
Draw/embroider/paint pictures of your favorite plants
The choices are endless and the plants love creativity
The point is to bring a plant’s energy into your life with the intention of listening to what they have to say and creating a container where you’re able to pick up on the subtle messages that may come through.
I even do this when I write many of my materia medica posts about herbs - I’ll brew a simple tea of the herb, sit near a living plant if I can, state my intentions and ask for their partnership in sharing information about their virtues and powers. Connecting a right-brain way of intuitively listening to the plants with a left-brain focus on research can bring a really integrated understanding of a plant's virtues and ways of being.
Humans and plants have a long and symbiotic history collaborating to survive on this planet. Tuning into a non-linear, image and emotion-based consciousness can feel kind of funky when we’re so practiced at living in our left brains, but it is a way of being that comes from deep within us and is available to us all.
The most important thing is to surround yourself with plants and have the intention of being in communication with them. Whether you do that through the food you eat, the medicines you consume, or the places where you spend time, building a relationship with the plants around us and allowing them to show up as teachers is a powerful way to engage with the world.