I learned A LOT in herb school, sometimes there was so much information that I thought my head would actually explode, but there is one simple thing I feel you must learn before you can even consider being an herbalist. You have to develop a relationship with the plants you work with. Developing that is what turns it into an art; you wouldn’t call a house painter a muralist or a bricklayer an architect so I hope you wouldn’t call someone who puts plants into useful little categories an herbalist.
Fostering that relationship is easier and harder than it looks. When I take kids into the garden I always tell them, “Talk to the plants. Tell them what is bothering you. They listen.” They usually giggle or crinkle their noses, I live for those moments and hope they think of me as the magical, loony plant lady…it’s what I want to be when I grow up. I tell them that because that is exactly what my grandma told me as a little girl, she said they grew better when they knew they were loved. Now, saying these things to kids is cute and fun, but I must admit I haven’t been very good at practicing what I preach. For years I tried to talk to my plants only to feel silly and frustrated at how one sided it all seemed. That frustration persists, but I’ve definitely made great strides in the last six months.
My family runs an immigration law office so I am very familiar with the struggles that go on in that population. One of the things people often express is how they are looked down upon and made to feel stupid for not speaking English (even on the border of Mexico). I realized that was exactly what I was doing to plants! I was feeling silly because I assumed they were unintelligent and I was wasting my time, but the reality is that I just didn’t know how to speak their language. I think I am beginning to figure that out. Here are some of the things I am doing to better communicate with plants:
1-Plant them from seed! See how long it takes for them to sprout and what areas they like best. Take joy in noticing the nuances.
2-Touch, taste, and smell them.
3- Feed them compost. Give the dirt around them a little massage.
4-Direct love at them. When I am gardening I tell the plants I love them without saying anything. I think they get the message.
5-When they get sick give them extra attention. Cut off the dead leaves, give plant food, address bugs.
6-Sit with them. You don’t have to say anything, just sit with the plant and get to know it. How does it make you feel? This is very similar to being with a person. Often you forget what they say, but you rarely forget how they make you feel (isn’t that a quote by someone famous?).
I’m sure there are a million more ways to learn the language of the plants, but those have been working for me and are relatively simple. The other day I took a picture of Rock Rose and I swear it was posing for the camera! Maybe we are beginning to understand one another after all.