The Illustrated Herbiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Bewitching Botanicals
The bus rolled through the Irish countryside, pulling over from time to time so the driver could shout a greeting to a gentleman corralling sheep off the road or a woman parking her car a few blocks from the next station stop.
What I remember now, more than a dozen years later, is the vibrancy of the green that surrounded us. The air seemed to shimmer with it, the color refracting and multiplying.
I had come to Ireland to study plants, apprenticing myself to a traditional healer and herbalist for a year’s span. I was to live in her house, help with the gardens and medicine making, sit with her as clients came to call, and, through osmosis, learn a calling that has always been as much an art as a science.
Back home in the States we focused on the science. We justified using “alternative medicine” by pointing to properly conducted studies with statistically significant control groups. We could make the sensuous beauty of a rose as dry and antiseptic as an aspirin tablet . . . and feel justified in doing so because it gained a modicum of acceptance, albeit grudging, for this age-old healing practice.
But in the emerald swath of Ireland’s center, near the Hill of Uisneach (said to be the umbilicus of the island), I learned the art of botanical medicine and the magic of coming into communion with the plant world. And that has changed everything for me.
I want to gift you this sense of connection.
Connection with the plant world may seem a small thing, but once you step into it you’ll realize it is profound and playful, granular and encompassing. Whether this is a first step on your journey into the green world or a reminder of magic you’ve come to know deeply, I hope this book, this herbiary, ignites your imagination, your passion, and your love for living in deep connection with the earth.
“Apprenticed to a medicine woman” sounds terribly romantic. Indeed, at times it was terrible, and at times it was romantic. Sometimes it was mystical, but most often it was simply lonely.
Living in the middle of cow pastures with no car, an hour’s walk from town, leads to introspection, experimentation, and a lot of listening — to the wind, to the birds, and to the plants.
I ended up studying herbalism after the Manhattan medical community scratched their collective heads and said, “You’re obviously sick but we don’t know why.” After seven years of reading and experimenting on my own, I landed in Ireland, living and learning from a woman who was by turns a scientist, a witch, a gardener, and a detective.
I was continually flabbergasted that this was my life. And yet I was finding more wisdom in this little house set among the Irish cattle fields than I’d found in three years of graduate school, which, though it filled my head with information, left me feeling strangely flat.
I spent evenings taking advantage of my teacher’s prodigious library, reading and studying in the manner I’d mastered at the university. During the day I dug in the dirt, drank teas that tasted like salad (or the dirt I’d just been digging in!), and learned to use my nose to tell plantain tincture from nettle vinegar. One of my teacher’s favorite games was to take the caps off dozens of bottles of essential oils and leave me to sniff out which cap went on which bottle.
This was somatic learning at its finest. My body began to know all sorts of things and in the evening my brain would turn to the books to catch up. This odd sort of “knowing” went against everything I’d been taught and enculturated to believe, and often it left me at war with myself as my heart and my head tried to learn to coexist.
I’ll confess: I meant to keep my distance. I meant to learn the medicine of the plants without dipping into the “woo-woo” and hippy skirts. But learning with my senses, instead of through the power of my intellect, moved me incrementally into my right brain — my intuitive brain.
What you hold in your hands is the fruit of that slow transition from left brain to right. Each plant’s description is woven with a warp of modern knowledge and a weft of ancient wisdom. Or perhaps a more apt description is a double helix, the modern and ancient twined together on a cellular level.
Personal experience is a profound teacher. The lessons I learned through my nose and my tongue, my hands and my heart, trump anything I’ve read in a book. And yet, miraculously and affirmatively, the book learning almost always supports the somatic experience and so science explains what we have known all along.
|August 12, 2018
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