“The plants have long been our teachers and healers. The Cherokee and Creek understood this long ago. It was said among them that the plants took pity on the suffering of their offspring, the human beings, and that each plant offered up a remedy to heal one of the diseases of humankind.” 1
We know that plants have been used as medicine for about 60,000 years. History also tells us that thousands of herbalists were burned at the stake, persecuted by religions that insisted all healing must come from God and His ministers.
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Millions of humans are currently on the road of awakening, expanding awareness and sense of self beyond the separate ego-identified purgatory our species has struggled within for centuries. We look to meditation and prayer, going within for illumination and comfort. The truly wise also connect with our ancestors. Not monkeys but plants, bacteria, the microorganisms that combined in a billion inventive forms to create the beasts and foliage and, yes, we humans too.
Plants and herbs are essential to our survival. “Herbalism is based on relationship — relationship between plant and human, plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means taking part in an ecological cycle. This offers us the opportunity consciously to be present in the living, vital world of which we are part; to invite wholeness and our world into our lives through awareness of the remedies being used. The herbs can link us into the broader context of planetary wholeness, so that whilst they are doing their physiological / medical job, we can do ours and build an awareness of the links and mutual relationships.” 2
“Biophilia” is defined by author Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book by that name as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” Another definition is “the love of life or living systems.” Just as we ignore and neglect our elderly and can soon forget our deceased, we’ve alienated ourselves from the wholeness of life and our relationships with the billions of organisms that surround us and, indeed, comprise our physical bodies. They are our kin and we owe our existence to the unknown and distant ancestors who somehow concocted the physicality of who we are. We, elite humans who have self appointed ourselves as the supreme species on the planet, might argue about God, about how humans are exceptional among all living creatures, imbued with a spiritual essence, an awareness not possessed by any others.
Without even needing to be cynical, one might ask for proof. What have we done with this Divine gift then? Human activity contributes to the extinction of 150–200 species every day. Plants, insects, birds and mammals… they are all at increasing risk, extincting at a rate estimated to be 1,000 times the natural rate. Dramatic? Yes. To find anything similar in history we have to go back 65 million years to the vanishing of the dinosaurs. They once ruled the world. Now, humans do. Will we suffer the same fate? Of might we heed the spirit of this compelling wish from Richard Jefferies:
“I wish that the men now serving the great polished wheels, and works in iron and steel and brass, could somehow be spared an hour to sit under this ancient oak in Thardover South Wood, and come to know from the actual touch of its rugged bark that the past is living now, that Time is no older, that Nature still exists as full as ever,… That they might gather to themselves some of the leaves – mental and spiritual leaves – of the ancient forest, feeling nearer to the truth and soul, as it were, that lives on in it. They would feel as if they had got back to their original existence, and had become themselves.” 3
This is where we live. This is who we are. Not separate but one, one in an experience, not a theory. “The earth is ever more than the earth, more than the upper and the lower field, the tree and the hill… It is this earth which is the true inheritance of man, his link with his human past, the source of his religion, ritual and song, the kingdom without whose splendor he lapses from his mysterious estate of man to a baser world which is without the other virtue and the other integrity of the animal. True humanity is no inherent right but an achievement; and only through the earth may we be as one with all who have been and all who are yet to be, sharers and partakers of the mystery of living, reaching to the full of human peace and the full of human joy.” 4
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1. Stephen Harrod Buhner, from The Lost Language of Plants, page 228
2. Wendell Berry, from The Unsettling of America
3. Richard Jefferies, from Tongues in Trees by Kaplin
4. Henry Beston, from Herbs and the Earth