Women’s relationship with plants stretches back to the beginning of humankind. Most of us know that women invented agriculture and became the first healers.
I come from a family of women who all had gardens, but no one grew herbs. It interests me in retrospect how I turned to these healing plants. I first used them for culinary purposes as a young mother; but as I approached midlife (mid –thirties) I began to gather herbs for medicinal purposes. I realize now that I made this shift just as I began to embrace the goddess and the Earth body as my mother and turned inward to healing myself. The two were definitely connected. It is the Body of the Earth that is capable of healing our broken souls and bodies; and some wise unconscious part of me knew that.
Paul Stamets, mycologist (mushroom expert) and author states that plants that live in a particular habitat develop their own immune systems. I never really thought about herbs, plants, and trees working together to create immunity to certain diseases in one area until I learned something about mycelium, the fungus that creates a massive web beneath our feet attaching plants to one another; trees, plants, and herbs that exchange nutrients through their root systems/mycelium also have antiviral and anti bacterial properties. Our first antibiotic, penicillin, came from mold.
When I first started using herbs medicinally it seemed important that I gather them from around my house, or in nearby fields and forest. After reading Paul’s declaration I realized that using an herb from my woods or garden was probably going to be more effective in treating a problem I have because I am already living in a habitat that is sensitized to any potential health problems that might arise with respect to its inhabitants including me, and because I am in direct relationship with my land and the body of the goddess in a very intimate way. An “Ah –Ha” moment.
I have been reading a lot about the invisible mycelial net that stretches across every continent underground and under the sea. Without fungus, no life could have arisen on land because plants had no roots; the fungus provided them. The two had a symbiotic relationship. Today, the soil, composed of trillions of miles of mycelium in which all plants grow have antiviral, antibacterial, properties etc., as already mentioned, that make the plants powerful healers. Today this fungal web supports all life and is constantly learning, adapting, and changing. I think of this living breathing net as the skin and mind of the goddess.
Personally, choosing which herbs to use seems to depend upon my personal relationships with them. Some plants seemed to resonate with me more than others and it was those plants I continue to be drawn to. I used my intuition and other senses to make these decisions even while the doubter drones on. Eventually, the positive results of my use of a particular herb shuts the annoying voice up.
When I studied medicinal plants in the Amazon I learned that these Indigenous people, like me, used the plants that grew naturally in the areas they inhabited and they too made their decisions based on having personal relationships with certain plants, some of which spoke to them. Each healer had an individual garden located in the area in which s/he lived, on the edge of the community. Healers in other villages that were located further up the Amazonian tributaries (some were days away by dugout) treated the same ailments using the plants that grew there; some were the same, others were different. All treatments seemed to work, which baffled me until I learned that herbs grown in a specific area would probably benefit the people who lived in direct relationship with that particular piece of land even if they were different.
What united me to people of the Amazon, Indigenous peoples, and other country folk like me was that all of us were in reciprocal relationships with plants and a particular place, something many folks in this transient western culture don’t ever experience. I wonder if this isn’t part of the reason we can continue to decimate the earth – a lack of belonging to place? I know lots of people who ‘own’ houses and property but never develop a reciprocal relationship with their land; instead they use it for their own purposes. And without reciprocity in relationship does a person remains rootless. Soul-less? Goddess – less?
I love my little house, but it was built on land that claimed me the first time I set foot on it in the fog and rain. The visceral sense of belonging slammed through me, leaving me stunned almost senseless. When I came to I can still remember the sounds of water drawing me towards the brook and the red buck with his velvet antlers….
I have a deeply personal relationship with the earth as a whole but ‘my land’ contains me; I am wed to the goddess – to the forests, fields, ponds, and mountains here in Maine.
Just now I am awash in the scarlet, wine, and magenta flowers of bee balm, an herb that seemed to ‘choose’ me as soon as I planted a few shoots of it the first year I lived here. I watched it spread through my entire flower garden eventually spilling over the edges to grow wild around the house.
Hummingbirds love the flowers and presently I must have at least 50 hummingbirds that are happily extracting flower nectar from dawn to dusk. Of all my pollinators, Bee balm seems to draw in the most bees and butterflies at this time of year (July and August)… I always keep a flower or two in the house and I love to walk around crushing a leaf or two to release Bee balm’s scent (it belongs to the mint family).
I collect Bee balm leaves to include in the ‘sun tea’ I make, dry others for winter use. I also use the leaves to relieve the itches caused by bug bites. All parts of the plants are edible but I rarely eat the flowers; they are simply too beautiful! If I develop a cold I use the infused leaves to keep nasal passages open. Inhaling the leaves will help with respiratory illness. Studies of its anti -bacterial, anti-mycotic, and anti-inflammatory properties demonstrate that Bee balm inhibits microorganism growth and is superior to hydrocortisone when used in combination with vitamin B6.
Lately, I have been suffering from stomach upset, probably stress related, and plan to gather some Bee balm leaves to steep in hot tea to relieve the nausea from this gastric pain. While gathering the pungent herb l will pick a flower or two while giving thanks to the goddess for her bountiful healing remedies.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.