In my experience with plants as both a grower and an herbalist, I have seen firsthand the healing power of plants time and time again and it never ceases to amaze me. The vigor and vibrancy of plants is magical. They are one of the greatest life forces on earth and inherently hold the key to health. Plants nourish our bodies.
Numen: The Nature of Plants, a film by Brook Hollow Productions, an association with United Plant Savers, is a cornucopia of intuitive wisdom, science based knowledge, and exuberant passion and reverence for plants around the world dedicated to and in memory of the late Bill Mitchell, Co-founder of Bastyr University. The film opens with plant close ups and stunning time lapse photography of plants throughout their growing cycles, their intrinsic eye catching patterns and their symbiotic relationships with pollinators. Numen is defined as the spirit believed to by animists to inhabit natural objects. The film describes that we sense this force the most abundantly through plants.
I immediately visualized of the life cycle of the sunflower. When you close your eyes and imagine one sunflower seed in the palm of your hands, you notice the shape, the size, the texture, the color, the pattern and striations. Imagine placing it in soil and seeing the sprout cracking out of its shell. The roots push their way down into the rich dark earth at the same time the sprout forms a stem and cotyledons appear like magic. The stem stretches for the sun and begins to grow wider and taller. Leaves form and the stout square stem burrows strong roots into the earth. Soft rains fall. The stem grows and grows and new leaves form. The bud forms. The leaves once protecting the fragile bud begin to fold back, exposing the inward facing petals to the sunlight. The sunflowers tight bud slowly begins to blossom- a process which can occur within just a few hours. The bloom opens wide, fully embracing the life force energy of the sun, even turning with the sun. The sunflower proudly displays its inherent sacred geometry, the Fibonacci spiral. As it is meant to, it fulfills the very essence of its being, welcoming pollinators to drink its sweet nectar in the mutually beneficial relationship that is pollination. The sunflower-whose petals capture the very essence of the sun itself and whose sight is stunning against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, whose company is pleasant as it dances in the gentle breeze throughout changing seasons. As it fulfills the very nature of its purposeful life cycle, seeds form and become food for humans, small animals and birds alike.
Numen describes the intelligent and intuitive characteristics each plant intrinsically holds. Indeed the animated life force is recognizable in plants, if we take the time to notice their beauty and magic. Their shapes, sizes, colors, textures, heights- all vastly different characteristics which allow for their unique distinguishing factors. Similarly to personality and character traits recognized in a friend hidden amongst a crowd of people a unique laugh, the color of their hair, their vibrant eyes, and their smile distinguishes them amongst the masses. Identifying and getting to know plants can be seen in the same light. Recognizing a plant just as you would a friend is an excellent way to delve into the vast art of plant medicine, foraging, gardening and plant science.
The film immediately dives into some of the most quintessential concepts of humans in relationship to plants. When considering the most fundamental building block of life on earth: Kenny Ausubel, founder of Bioneers eloquently makes a critical point that” the history of humanity is the history of our relationship to plants.” Dr. Tieraona Low Dog points out the simple yet precise fact that “all people historically and today have relied on plants for their food, medicine and clothing.” Dr. Rocio Alarcon, an Ethno botanist is fascinated by the notion that “humans have been living approximately only five million years; agriculture has been around for only 10,000 years; plants have been around for 400 million years. You can imagine the evolution of these plants to have these incredible rich properties”
Rosemary Gladstar, world renowned author and herbalist explains how “herbalism is oldest system of healing used on the planet; plants are our teachers and we have evolved in relation to them; everything at the base of the food chain comes from plants. Plants were here long before humans and we have evolved in relationship to them” Dr. Hellen Oketch, Chief Scientist at Herb Pharm points out that “plants are the only organism that are able to transmit the energy from the source (the sun) into a form that can be used by humans and also states that t some of biochemistry found in plants is similar to some of the biochemistry found in humans.” Herbalist and healer Raylene Ha’aleelea Kawaiae’a, believes that “plants are our ancestors, our elders and that we should treat our elders well and respect them dearly because they have wisdom to share with us.” Bill Mitchell, ND and Co-founder of Bastyr University, concludes that “Our DNA contains so much material from the plant world. A lot of the DNA, the memory comes from the very origins of life. When life was evolving, most of the green material found in the ocean consisted of Omega 3 oils, the chloroplasts, Omega 3 oils which seem to be the fundamental oil of the universe. The body still needs omega 3 oils as they are the substrate to many chemical reactions. So we are connected to the beginning to life itself.” Matthew Wood, clinical herbalists states that “in the 19th century, herbalism was really part of the marrow of American society and was deeply entrenched and explained that 90 percent of the population knew how to treat themselves with herbs.” The film describes how in the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s in North America, you could walk into any drugstore in America and could buy hundreds of herbal products, especially liquid herbal extracts. Ausubel explains that “ many major natural medicine traditions going back, are all founded in these basic principles that nature is the source of healing” He goes on to explain a divergence, a conflict in medical philosophy between the natural medicine school and the conventional (allopathic) schools of medicine directly affected the future of healthcare in the U.S. and around the world. What was once considered health care quickly became sickcare. Ed Smith explains how “natural medicine began to die out as folk medicine after the second world war because people were enthralled with new science and technology and craved to be modern and how we are moving into a new era.” Rosemary Gladstar notices that less than one hundred years ago, herbal medicine was antiquated and pushed pills instead of herbal medicine and vitamins over fruits and vegetables. She explains that this new found modern medicine claimed to end disease and unfortunately influenced an entire generation to turn to western medicine and completely dismiss thousands of years of herbal plant medicine.
The disconnection has developed out of the fact that we began to not know where our food and medicine comes from and in turned the mindset developed that we are separate from nature. The sad effects of this massive disconnect is that we are now are seeing a rise in chronic illnesses. The disconnect has moved us farther and farther away from fresh air, clean water, healthy soil, safe food and ultimately our historic source for health and wellness-plants. Ausubel points out that “the huge toxicity directly related to drilling oil and all of the thousands of chemicals produced as derivatives are now poisoning the entire web of life, ourselves included. The whole idea of ecological medicine embodies that we are connected to the ecosystems around us and that we can only really be healthy when the land and the water around us are also healthy and if they are not, then it’s going to show up in our physical well being.” Author Mark Shapiro points out that a myriad of affects that have been researched and are documented. He points out the Center for Disease Control surveyed a group of random Americans and found that average American has 148 chemicals in their bloodstreams. Dr. Martha Herbert, Asst. Professor of Neurology at Harvard University states that these chemicals are “Wreaking havoc at the molecular level and then that cascades up to the cellular and organism and ecosystem level” The film goes on to explain the detrimental effects humans have caused throughout the last century but also provides hope in offering practical solutions that all of us are capable of being a part of. I have yet to see a film that sums it up as clearly.
With all this knowledge about the current state of the environment, the world, we are faced with a personal decision. There is a severe dilemma… We must choose a healthier way for the future of the planet. We must make smarter choices about our food, choices about medicine. We must make decisions that will improve the quality of our lives, not decisions which will contribute to our demise. The solutions: limit the use of plastics, shop local, buy local, adopt a diet in which 70 percent includes vegetables including dark leafy greens, a colorful array of fruits and vegetables, use fresh herbs in your daily diet; avoid big box stores, walk instead of drive, grow your own food and medicine, share your knowledge with your friends and neighbors, don’t use toxic cleaners; reduce, reuse and recycle. The larger lesson is to make a conscious effort in our daily lives to understand the interconnectedness and symbiotic relationships occurring all around us- between people and the earth, people and people, and plants, people and animals, , plants and animals and all the connections in between and to implement ways of honoring these connections in our daily lives. It is up to every single one of us to make small changes and adapt for the greater good. Holding reverence for the very thing that brings nourishment to almost all life… plants is the one thing that will truly open our eyes and hearts to healing ourselves and healing the earth.
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