I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person. I wasn’t born in the Amazon jungle or in a tribe of Native Americans on the Great Plains. But there is an idea that originated in many of these ancient cultures that has struck a chord within me: The Plant Ally. I had heard of this term before but it didn’t resonate with me until I listened to an interview with a Brazilian herbal healer. She spoke of asking her plant allies for their assistance in curing one of the villagers’ sick children. She prayed to her plants for protection against the incurable disease the young one suffered from, the same disease that had taken all the other siblings already. This child survived and the healer almost overnight became bigger than Michael Jackson (in her country anyway).
My growth the past few years has brought countless other similar stories to my attention. At one time I would have dismissed it as “some crazy jungle hippie talking to her herbs” and moved on. But the way this woman spoke about her plants hit me from an angle I never looked at before. She spoke as if this plant was a friend helping her move on Saturday. A friend you pick up from the airport after watching their house and feeding their cat. The more I thought about this old idea and the feelings this woman shared in the interview, the less crazy it sounded to me. We all have plant allies. We just don’t acknowledge them as such.
In springtime we all feel the buzz of new life. The grass greens up while the trees start growing leaves and flowers. Tulips pop up from their hibernation and add color to the landscape. Everywhere you turn there’s fresh, new plant growth and it puts a little skip in our step. It makes us feel good. It energizes us by just witnessing everything come alive after a long, cold winter.
Summer arrives and the plants ramp up into high gear its harvests for us to enjoy. Cherries and Peaches start showing up at the farmers markets and grocery stores, and we race down there with our mouths watering. Maybe your own garden is what you look forward to like myself. Picking those first strawberries of the season and eating them up before you can get inside to wash them off. Eating fresh watermelon and cantaloupe during the fourth of July. Waiting patiently for those first ears of corn to be picked and enjoyed. All the joy and excitement that accompanies the bounty of summer on top of the beneficial nutrients and vitamins you receive is more than enough to be thankful for.
Fall creeps in and we drink more teas as the air cools to a crisp. You feel a cold coming on and you eat some raw garlic or swallow Echinacea tablets to help fight it. You pull the carrots and potatoes from the ground and add them to the stew that slow cooks all day, filling the house with its fragrances. Pumpkins are ready during this time, and not just for carving but baking as well. Who goes through Thanksgiving without a Pumpkin pie?
We get joy and comfort, and a whole range of other emotions throughout the year from our plant allies. Studies have shown that touching house plants or spending time gardening can be calming and relieve the anxiety and stress that our plastic, material world creates. Many of our medicines have their origins from plant chemistries, or still contain parts of them in the medicine themselves. Metamucil is marketed as a multi-health fiber that helps lower cholesterol, promotes digestive health and “maintains healthy blood sugar levels”. It does this with only a few ingredients: Sucrose, Psyllium Husk, Citric Acid, Natural and artificial orange flavor, and Yellow 6. So basically its sugar, preservatives, flavoring, coloring and plant material (Psyllium), but without the plant in this mixture you would have nothing useful.
If you look at the latest science and not just the corporate influenced government standards, a plant based diet is gaining strong ground as the best diet for overall health. If you look at the antibiotic-resistant bacterial crises we are racing towards, we can look to plants that have strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties as a possible savior. Everywhere you look there are plants assisting us with ailments and illnesses, keeping us fed and nourished as well as comforting and energizing us with their presence. But what do we do in return?
If anyone in our life did so many of these good things we would do something to repay our thanks. We would want to show our appreciation. Even if our dog does well we give him a treat. But since plants don’t have faces or speak English we sort of just take without asking or use without a thank you. That isn’t being an ally, that’s being an overlord. If you garden then providing a space for them to grow is a big step towards being an ally. You do a little for them; they do a little for you. It’s a two-way street. Many tribal cultures have ceremonies asking for protection from their plant allies or pray for permission to go hunting in the jungle for food, though most of us in the west see this as silly since plants don’t have a brain.
Do a little research on Cleve Backster, who in 1966 discovered with a polygraph that plants respond electrochemically to our emotions or intentions, and you may start to question what’s possible. Even the show “Mythbusters” proved this response when they just imagined setting the plant subject on fire and the polygraph needle went wild.
Like I said before, I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t feel there is some plant spirit that I need to pray to for healing. But if they are sensitive to negative feelings then maybe they are sensitive to positive feelings as well. What would it hurt to give a little ‘tip of the cap’ to my Chamomile as I pass by it on the way inside the house? What would it hurt if I mentally thanked my potatoes for feeding me and my family while pulling them from the ground? Appreciating something doesn’t take anything more than just acknowledging how good the world is to have them in it.
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