I count myself blessed that I was able to wander about in empty fields in my neighborhood as I was growing up – sit among grasses, follow the grasshoppers, collect bouquets of daisies, buttercups, and Queen Anne’s lace for my mom, strip the seeds off the yellow dock into my pail to make “coffee.”
I had forgotten a lot by the time I started my formal herbal studies in my late fifties. On our first field walks, the plants looked indistinguishably green to me. Over time I learned to observe smooth and wavy and notched leaf margins, the arrangement of leaves on stems, the patterns of veins, the colors and sometimes fuzz on the underside of leaves. I smelled and tasted. I started to pay attention to which plants seemed to like to grow near one another – like poison ivy and its antidote jewelweed. This was one adult way of becoming friends with the plants.
Science was another – the complex chemistry of each specie, how to extract and then dose the desired mix of constituents, how different bodies may respond to the same medicine.
Yet always there remains mystery: green plants turn the sun’s energy into food and medicines for us.
Yes, this is called photosynthesis, and there is a chemical equation for it. Still, it is a mystery. The plants’ variety, beauty, colors and countless healing gifts are mysteries. Just like the hearts and gifts of our human friends.
Some of these phytonutrients have affinities for certain kinds of tissues in the body, and can be selected to nourish, soothe, tone and repair those particular tissues. Others interact with hormones, immune cells, and neurotransmitters to foster balanced communication between cells.
It is my deep prayer that we never entirely solve these mysteries nor come to the end of praising them.
A Hymn to the Plants
from the Rig Veda*
Plants, which as receptacles of light were
born three ages before the Gods, I honor
your myriad colors and your seven hundred natures.
A hundred, oh Mothers, are your natures
and a thousand are your growths.
May you of a hundred powers make whole what has been hurt.
Plants, as Mothers, as Goddesses, I address you.
May I gain the energy, the light, the sustenance, your soul,
you who are the human being.
Where the herbs are gathered together like kings in an assembly,
there the doctor is called a sage, who destroys evil, and averts disease.
As they fell from Heaven, the plants said,
“The living soul we pervade, that man will suffer no harm.”
The herbs which are in the kingdom of the Moon,
manifold with a hundred eyes,
I take you as the best of them, for the fulfillment of wishes, as peace to the heart.
The plants which are queens of the Soma,
spread over all the Earth, generated by the Lord of prayer,
may your energy combine within this herb.
*Translated by David Frawley in Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, 1989