By Stephanie Hazel, Clinical Herbalist
I’ve been using the word empowerment, a lot. And talking about how how can we empower people to really take care of their own health and take that power back. It’s around empowering people to take charge, but also inspiring people to develop a deep relationship to their own body, to their organs, to their functional systems, to the plants that can be their friends, and to the earth.
All of these things are part of the same system of relationships. If we can understand ourselves as being in relationship to plants, in relationship to earth, in relationship to body, we suddenly have a place in the world again.
Herbal medicine can be an amazing way to start to rebuild these relationships. To engage with these plants. that are our friends, that are here magically, amazingly, that produce all of these different complex chemicals that seem to make no sense from the plants’ perspective, but have amazing effects on our bodies- what a gift!
To develop a cultivated relationship and sense of connection is a really important step in our healing of body, mind and soul.
Connection Through Ritual
If we think of herbal medicine as a path to develop stronger relationships with our bodies, with the earth, then it is also a gateway into ceremony and ritual. It gives nourishment on a really deep level, in a part of yourself that needs to feel connected to something bigger and more powerful than just your own desires and problems.
Having a ritualistic relationship with plants allows us to develop this sense of connection, something bigger than ourselves. It allows us to have a 2-way relationship with the earth, rather than just a relationship that is really dominant, that’s all about taking from the earth. Even if you are someone who is more ecologically minded, our society is structured in a way that we’re just taking, taking, taking.
Through ritual, there’s a sense of reciprocity or mutualism. Whether its a simple as lighting a candle, or thanking the plants in your garden for being there. Or something as simple as sitting down and saying a prayer of thanks to the plant while you’re making your herbal medicine or making your tea. By doing so, you begin to create a relationship, you begin to be at least aware of what you are taking, and giving back in a small way. You get a sense of connection, and with that, you claim a sense of place.
When you’re looking at starting to develop a practice of ritual with herbs, the key is to start small. For me, a ritual is our intention made tangible. So whenever you’re going to do a ritual, it’s really important to be clear about the intention behind the ritual, and how can you symbolise that intention.
Smudging is a really great example–and you don’t have to white sage–even though it comes from the beautiful Native American tradition, you can use plants that grow in your local area, dried gum leaves, some rosemary from your garden. Going out and harvesting herbs is a great way to start that relationship.
When you come back with whatever you’re using — whether its sage, or palo santo, or herbs you’ve collected, just take a moment and sit. Often with smudging our intention is to create a clear and sacred space- so really think about that. You’re using symbolism of fire and smoke. That is almost universally about transformation and purification. Focus on that symbol, and really ask with your heart for that plant to do what it is that you would like it to do. Give it space, and give it gratitude.
Give an image, visualize an image of the space being vibrant and shining with clear energy and thank the plant, thank that smoke so much, the fire and the earth for doing that. It’s the most basic way of doing ritual- just intention, symbolism and presence.
Another way that we can start to bring ritual into our lives if we want to cultivate a deeper sense of relationship with the earth, is in the preparation of herbal medicine.
Whether it’s a tincture or a tea or drying some herbs from your own garden – really pay attention and be mindful with what you’re doing. Take a little moment, go and sit down, maybe light a candle if you want. Just have a moment where you thank the plants for doing what they’re doing for you.
So if I make a marshmallow and slippery elm tea for a leaky gut, I sit in the garden, hold it in my hands, and offer an image of a really healthy gut, and thank it with so much gratitude. Speaking and connecting with the plants like this is how to build a feeling of connection, of being in a relationship.
And these little acts bring more magic into the world.