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by Alex Williams October 31, 2021
For our Bioregional Herbalism & Medicine Making Course, we do blind tea tastings each month to immerse ourselves in the energetics and actions of a particular plant, without attempting to name or define the plant, we let the plant speak for itself!
Oftentimes we come to 'know' a particular plant. Chamomile is good for this, feverfew is good for that. We begin to pigeonhole these alive and complex beings into categories that, while often telling us quite a lot about what a plant has to offer, severely limits what else the plant is offering us in addition to the unique manner in which the herb offers its virtues.
This month, on the precipice of Samhain itself, we immersed ourselves in Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis / Betonica officinalis).
This plant is considered an analgesic nervine that helps to relax tension in the musculature. It has a traditional use as a remedy in the Middle Ages for demon possession, and dark magic, and has a more contemporary use for 'persons who have had unwanted alien abduction experiences' according to Matthew Wood.
Needless to say, I love this herb, and thought it would be a fun one to explore and create a container of protection during this season of Samhain as the veils between worlds are quite porous.
BUT, most of us weren't aware of these traditional uses. We were simply sitting with tea, and a lack of known associations, allowing the herb to play freely upon our senses and within our bodies.
The image to the right is our cute little drawing of what we were feeling.
As we sat with the herb (for around 1-2 hours), slowly taking in the aroma and flavor, we felt a myriad of sensations and movement.
Some words we gave to the experience of the herb: warming, toning, relaxing, 'quieting', mildly psychoactive, focusing, a more 'porous awareness', meditative, circulatory, buttery, melty, viscous, flowy, safe, grounding, anchoring.
Nicole felt a somewhat moistening effect, and we all noted the viscosity of the herb, much fuller mouthfeel than expected given the aroma. We felt the herb was circulatory, but when comparing it to our last herb we blind tea tasted (Yarrow), we felt that it was circulatory in a slightly different manner. We felt more wavelike movements throughout our body, slow and viscous like butter, or like the undulating movements of a jellyfish.
I felt a profound sense of safety after sitting with the herb for some time, but also a sense of strength. An extreme relaxation the verged into the territory of mild psychoactivity.
We related the feeling and evocations of this herb to two cards of the Major Arcana: The Empress and Strength.
After about an hour and a half of sitting with the herb, I revealed who the herb was and we referred to a couple resources which profoundly reflected our experience sitting with Wood Betony.
I highly recommend this practice at home, even if you can't go in blind, just allowing yourself to relate to each plant you work with one-on-one, and deeply:
Plants are like people in the sense that when we spend time with one plant at a time, we are able to forge a more intimate connection with that plant. This is why I encourage learning about herbs as simples—drinking a tea of just one herb, or tasting a single plant tincture—at least as long as you need to begin forging your relationship with a particular plant. By simplifying the interaction, we can focus on the plant that is right in front of us and tune more deeply into its virtues and complexities as an individual being.
“I began spending several hours a day deepening my relationship with different plants. Sometimes I sat quietly with a plant. Sometimes I kept an image and feeling of the plant in my mind as I carried out other tasks in my daily schedule.
As I spent weeks, and often months, with each plant, I came to be able to distinguish one “feeling tone” from another. I worked with this for over a year until I could distill the essence of each feeling tone into usable knowledge. That is, I learned what essential elements lay at the heart of the feeling tone, those things that gave it its distinct emotional flavor, different from all others.Each species and each plant within a species possesses a distinct energy or life essence that I experience internally as a feeling. These feelings are much subtler than the more readily identifiable emotions of anger, grief, joy, and fear. They represent a wide spectrum of emotional shadings, each distinctly representative of a particular plant or species.” - Stephen Buhner, Sacred Plant Medicine
Take the time to dive in deeply and really get to know the characteristics of one plant at a time—and not just what you learn in books, but how you observe and relate to a plant in nature and how you experience a plant by spending time with it or taking it into your body. Over time, you will slowly deepen your relationship and build your understanding of each plant, and begin to amass a deep body of knowledge of the plants you relate to. And this knowledge will not simply be abstract, but embodied.
Like the few of us who engaged in this blind tea tasting, we now have a real, intensified, embodied experience of the herb, rather than just an abstract idea based upon words on a page. Learning herbalism, like all learning, is embodied, so don't lean too heavily on the books, because the plants are already talking to you, if you'll just listen.
If you are interested in learning more about herbalism from the perspective of the body oriented in the heart, check out our in-person / online hybrid Bioregional Herbalism Course. Enrollment for the 2022 session is open through March 2022.
post photo by cam sand
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