If you hang out with an herbalist for long enough, you’ll likely be exhorted to “get to know” a plant.
Some people might find that phrase a bit funny. “I can get to know about a plant,” they might say, “but to get to know a plant directly — what could that mean?”
Well, most herbalists I know mean just what they say: go sit down with a plant, introduce yourself, and get to know it.
Plants are lovely people to know.
And spring is a great time to get to know them.
Here’s how to introduce yourself:
1. Find a plant.
2. Sit down with it.
3. Pay attention.
Use all your senses.
First, notice where it’s growing. (Sun or shade? Wet or dry? Hard soil or soft?)
Then notice who it’s growing with. (Which plants are next to it? Above it? Below it? How does it relate to these plants?)
Now notice the plant itself.
How is it growing? (Is it tall or short? Stiff or flexible? Does it climb or creep? Reach for the sun or hide in the shade?)
Look at the plant. Does it grab your attention or blend in? What color is it? (Is that color pale or intense? If it has more than one color, which parts of the plant have which colors?)
Touch the plant. Is it warm or cool? Smooth or rough? Tough or delicate? Are the tissues thick or thin? Moist or dry?
Smell the plant. What does it smell like? Is the smell sweet or spicy or sharp or bitter or sour or rotten or minty or refreshing or something else?
If you’ve identified the plant, and you know it’s not toxic, taste the plant. What does it taste like? Close your eyes and hold it in your mouth. What does it remind you of?
Now listen to the plant. No, I haven’t lost my mind. Let all that information sink in and listen carefully. What kind of person is this plant?
People around the world have always understood plants as personalities. Think of the Elder Mother, for instance. (If you want a really wild example of working with plants as personalities, check out Susun Weed’s herbal Healing Wise.)
If you know a plant intimately, you understand it as a whole, with all its quirks, and you know how to work with it. An herb’s attributes can’t be reduced to a list of qualities and categories. (Those categories are just silly shorthand anyway — who can say that cleavers and redroot work the same way, though they both fall in the “lymphatic” category?)
The bottom line: What’s in books — even good books — is just hearsay.
Go know a plant!
(This was supposed to be my entry for the April Blog Party, but as you can see, I got to it rather late. Sigh. My life should be less busy in the coming weeks and months, so have no fear, I shall again blog properly!)