Plant medicine offers a unique opportunity to restore Earth to health – all while reconnecting humans with one another and nature. 

What is Plant Medicine?

Humans are facing an unprecedented challenge. According to the United Nations, we have less than a decade to address potentially irreversible damage to planet Earth.  Some options are out of reach for most people. While other options are accessible to practically everyone. One of those options includes learning to work with and honour plants in a more traditional sense. 

How old is the concept of Plant Medicine?

The concept of Plant Medicine is as old as the human species. In fact, it’s likely older. Animals innately know which plants to eat when their stomachs are upset (think of a dog eating grass), while biomes grow in collaboration with the flora and fauna occupying the habitat. 

Plant Medicine, as a human concept, was largely conveyed orally. It relied wholly on the animistic belief that all plants hold their own unique spirit. This belief played a critical role in human relationships with plants for millenia. In more recent years, during colonial periods and with the advent of pharmaceutical medicine, Plant Medicine became outlawed or passé.

Sharing Resources: Nature’s Greatest Lesson

For many moons, the noble plants that heal present the opportunity to heal their environment and the beings therein, laid low and stayed quiet. While we humans ignored the value of plants to focus on allopathic medicine, the plants continued to commune amongst themselves, sending roots deep into the earth and building boundless networks with other organisms. Together they sent messages in the form of reverberations, around the globe. 

Perhaps you’ve read about the immense mycelium networks that allow forests to communicate. Fungi and trees form a close, long-term relationship where the trees share food with the fungi, and the fungi finds and absorbs nutrients from the soil to give back to the tree. 

Humans turned a blind eye on these nurturing relationships in order to focus on a new kind of progress and productivity. Yet plants paid no heed: they continued to thrive as best they could in a changing global habitat. It’s as if they were holding on for humans to realize their potential, to return to the rhythms of nature to heal their bodies, minds and souls. 

What role can Plant Medicine play in human health?

We’re at a very important moment in history. Since the 1970s, the human population has perpetrated a phenomenon called ‘ecological overshoot’: when human demand exceeds the regenerative capacity of a natural ecosystem. It would take 1.7 Earths to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste.

Learning to honour and work with plants can play a significant role in shifting human health, including interpersonal relationship. We have a unique opportunity to restore Earth to health – all while reconnecting us with one another and nature. 

Growing plants is a communal effort. Even if just one person plants and harvests a plant, whole communities benefit. Plant roots reduce erosion, allowing for greater soil health and water retention.  Whether planted in a balcony garden or a yard, plants provide clean air and waste recycling during the process of photosynthesis. Plants provide bees with pollen for their honey, and to support the regeneration of plant life. Plants provide beetles with the decaying matter that replenishes the soil. And plants provide beautiful, intriguing vistas we can enjoy with our uniquely human perspective. 

Plants Key to Biodiversity

Evidently, plants are a significant contributor to diversity on Earth. 

Plant Medicine provides an opportunity to secure a good and equitable quality of life for generations to come.  For the most part, the global population is utterly consumed by rushing to work, struggling to make ends meet. People are frequently separated from their families and communities, and have little opportunity to experience the simple joys. Including being in nature, or enjoying the simple beauty of plants. Medicinal Plant - Nicotina Rustica

According to the Polyvagal Theory, humans require context, choice and connection to achieve safety in their lives. Plants play a significant role in this process. By offering the opportunity to understand and connect with the nature, humans can learn experientially about the regenerative capacities (and limits) of Earth. In the context of nature, plants present the choice: to create the conditions for a fertile garden, or to create the conditions for a quick harvest. This can teach a lot about how difficult it is to grow food – and nourish populations in a sustainable way. 

Plants are also vital teachers about interpersonal connection. When we understand the complexity and care it takes to nourish plants, we  can make a commitment to reconnect with one another. Sharing our gardens, the fruit of our gardens, or caring for our plants can be a precious gift. The visual landscape of a garden can create cues of safety and joy; carrot tops can signal an upcoming bounty of food, while a butterfly garden sends signals of goodwill to passers-by. Plus, it’s a really lovely to look at. 

Plant Medicine and mental health

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that stories on ‘Plant Medicine’ are shifting away from the lessons and healings we can achieve from working with plants. More and more, popular news stories focus on the benefits of working with entheogenic plants. 

Entheogenic plants contain psychoactive substances that induce visionary experiences in ritual or religious contexts. These contexts are often culturally specific. For instance, Ayahuasca has been used as a visionary and healing tool by a variety of peoples in South America and Brazil. Peyote has been used as a sacrament in Mexico and southern parts of the US. Psilocybin has been used in Mexico and Guatemala, Egypt and Iran (and likely in far more locales) to achieve knowledge death and to achieve otherworldly states.  Datura has been used throughout Asia and the Americas to achieve spiritual states. Iboga originated in Africa, where it was prized for its healing and visionary capacities. 

Simply put: cultures around the world have relied on psychedelic plant medicine for millennia for spiritual and religious purposes. 

Re-emergence of Entheogenic Plants

Now, after decades of repression and disdain, there’s a re-emerging interest in entheogenic plants. These plants present significant healing opportunities in populations that are increasing depressed, isolated and desperate for change. 

Since the 1990s, a renewed interest in human psychedelic research  has facilitated clinical trials of psilocybin for depressive symptoms, MDMA for treatment of PTSD and Ketamine for cluster headaches. While only one of these psychedelics grows naturally in plant form, the renewed interest in the possibilities for these medicines as an alternative to longer-term pharmacological intervention offers a promising alternative to existing forms of treatment and care. 

To be sure, entheogenic plants are potent teachers who deserve deep respect. Any plant grown for ceremonial purposes presents an opportunity for great change and growth. They can also present the opportunity for fragmentation. If you aren’t ready to see what the plant medicine offers, emotional chaos can ensue. 

Careful preparation for, and integration of, plant medicine use is equally as important as creating a comfortable and safe setting for consumption of the medicinal plants. Ideally, preparation, consumption and integration is guided by a deeply trained leader who operates in integrity with both the plant and human ethics. 

When used as an antidote for mental health concerns, entheogenic plant medicine requires serious consideration and selection of the right guide for your needs.

Plant Teachers: Offer us so many (silent) lessons

That is why all plants must be treated with great respect. Not just those plants that can change your mind. All plants in the natural world. 

Plant Medicine isn’t just about growing or consuming plants for better health, or to achieve a new perspective. Plants are the most poignant teacher about life and death. 

Growth seems to be the only option these days. Economic growth, business growth, personal growth.

But what about death?

Death Re-Imagined: A Source of Regeneration

Medicinal Fungi - Lion's Mane

Death is maligned. It’s treated as the conquistador, who steals and pillages without thought for the affected nations. 

In the plant world, death is the most regenerative property. The death of a plant frees up space for new, fresh growth. Decaying plant debris provides the fertilizer to culture new plant growth. 

These lessons aren’t just applicable in the forest or field. They provide guidance about living and dying, and the opportunity for sweet release. These lessons, however, don’t come naturally to most modern humans. We’re busy living, busy earning, busy surviving.

So, how can we appreciate the cycles of life and death? 

By learning from our most natural teachers: plants.

We can slowly and subtly shift our way of seeing the natural world by learning with plants. We can come to appreciate the cycles of life and death in our lives. By letting things that no longer serve us go, we can make space for fresh, new ideas and patterns. 

When learning with a herbal remedy or vegetable, the process of life and death is slow, gradual and measured. As you nurture your plant, you learn that leaves will die. The plant may live on, but parts of it may require mindful trimming for the whole plant to thrive. It’s a beautiful metaphor for how we live.

When consuming entheogenic plants, the process of death can be quite sudden – even alarming. The integration process – and the process of rebirth – requires great care, deep nurturing and plenty of patience and compassion. 

Finding a human teacher to learn about plants

Learning to listen to plants, and to honour the cycles of life and death, can feel strange. The mere idea of listening to a plant can feel foreign, even absurd after years of conventional education that maximizes time for classroom education and minimizes experiential learning. 

Without this experiential knowledge, the natural world (and our economies!) would descend into darkness.

Guided teaching is key to understanding plant medicine. Working with a teacher, either in a group or one-on-one, to learn to work with plants, is an invaluable experience. A stable, supportive space provides education about the benefits of plants, both in cultivation and personal use, and can trigger an evolution in personal awareness.

This is the way forward: personal growth to achieve re-connection to community. Think back to the forest: each tree produces glucose, and feeds the fungi. The fungi, in return, provide a stable environment in which the trees may thrive. Individuals nurturing individuals. 

This is just the same as finding a teacher with whom you can learn about plants. This person is not your guru, but a valuable resource that provides a renewed confidence in the alchemy of nature. After all, the transformation nature of plants has simply been overlooked, not entirely forgotten!

Honoring the Plant Teachers

Whether working with medicinal herbal plants, vegetables or entheogenic plants, the process requires consideration and planning. To learn more about plant medicine, get in touch! I have so many ideas, so many thoughts to share on the topic. I’d love to hear from you.