Medicine Gardening: Remembering The Wisdom of Plants

“What medicine do you have for me?” This was the question we each asked as our group of six women sat with the large patch of three-foot-tall, purple-blue asters in the Acorn School Medicine Garden. It was a warm October morning and the asters shifted in the breeze, making gentle circles above our heads and welcoming our attention. It was the last class of the season, and we had each grown familiar with asking this question and allowing answers to come.

Nine months earlier at the start of the Medicine Garden program, this practice of learning directly from the plants hadn’t felt so natural to the participants. Rather it felt downright weird. Crazy even. It is possible, however, to reestablish this very natural human-plant connection, to redevelop this innate ability we are all born with.

We started by sitting in a circle and asking a simpler question, “What is medicine? What does that word mean to you?”

What is medicine?

My American Heritage Dictionary lists several possibilities for the the meaning of the word medicine:

  • The science of diagnosing, treating, or preventing disease and injury to the body or mind.
  • An agent, such as a drug, used to treat disease or injury.
  • Something that is unpleasant but necessary or unavoidable.
  • Shamanistic practices or beliefs, especially among Native Americans; something such as a rite, believed to control natural or supernatural powers.

You may have noticed that the word healing is completely lacking here. This may reflect modern medicine’s focus on managing diseases by treating symptoms. Personally, I want my medicines to heal. I want them to change me so much that dis-ease disappears and health reappears.

The last definition above, referring to shamanic practices, shows an ignorance of shamanism. I know no shamans who profess to “control natural or supernatural powers.” Build relationship with them, yes. Intercede with them on behalf of clients, yes. Control them, no. 

This leaves the door wide open for us to re-imagine and develop new answers to this question, “What is medicine?” 

What are your answers?

I think of medicine as almost synonymous with healing. Any substance, practice, or thought pattern that reweaves the matrix of body or mind (body and mind) toward wholeness and full health can be considered medicine. This means that medicine is specific to each person and each situation – and it’s constantly evolving. As a child, a kiss from my mom and a bandaid worked wonders to soothe and heal many wounds. As an adult today, my homemade salve filled with plant love is what does the trick. Soothing music works for me when I’m feeling anxious. For my husband, the rhythms of chopping firewood are a better medicine. Different things are medicine for each individual, and it can change over time.

For those with strong faith, prayer is medicine. For someone with a science and chemistry background, pharmaceuticals are medicine. For those who feel their kinship with the world, ceremonies of reconnection and reciprocity are medicine.

Medicine is something that we each have the power to create. Almost anything can become medicine (can create healing and health) for someone at some time. While the substances created by the drug corporations may sometimes be effective, they need not be our only choice of medicines; nor our first choice.

There are two ideas here that I want to follow: 

  • First, inherent in our creative abilities is the power to give healing power to any substance or event. This is the Placebo Effect. 
  • Second, when we consciously engage in creating medicine, the depth of healing and extent of healing are unbounded.

Placebos are medicines that you make.

A placebo is a harmless substance such as a sugar pill that causes healing because the person taking it believes the pill is powerful. The placebo effect hinges on two things: the beliefs installed in our subconscious minds and the power of stories to sway our understanding and experience. I talk about this in The Living Earth Handbook:

“Medical science has recognized the strong power of stories for centuries and has many documented cases of patients getting better when given a placebo – a sugar pill or other benign substance that has been dressed up by a story and is masquerading as something more potent. 

Developments in neuroimaging now allow scientists to track the effects of an injection, be it a real drug or a placebo containing only a saline solution. They have found that a saline solution that is presented to the patient as a potent drug in the fight against Parkinson’s is just as capable of increasing dopamine production in their brain as is the actual drug. A placebo creates real effects, not just imagined ones. The Placebo Effect is so prevalent and powerful that drug manufacturers must demonstrate in their drug trials that their medicine is more effective than a ‘mere’ placebo.

Dr. Bruce Moseley is a surgeon who performed a placebo-controlled arthroscopic knee surgery trial on a group of ten patients in 1994. Both the group receiving real surgery and the group that received fake surgery recovered the function of their knees – and those in the placebo surgery group retained those improvements even after they learned which group they had been in. According to a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, a similar placebo-controlled surgery study was performed in Finland with similar results. When people believe in the power of either a substance or an event to do good in their bodies, the body is able to heal itself.”

Placebos are efficient. They cause the body’s own healing chemistries and energies to become active and create well-being.

The only drawback to placebos is that they operate through our subconscious minds. You can’t consciously decide that a sugar pill will heal your arthritis and have that happen if your subconscious mind knows that sugar won’t help.

Where the body is concerned, the subconscious mind is preeminent. Without its agreement, even the most powerful chemotherapies can’t cure cancer. With its agreement, the simplest of ceremonies can prime the body’s chemistries and energies bring the dying back to health. Healing lies in the domain of what is outside our conscious control and yet inside our awareness. It is rooted in our deepest beliefs about our relationships to the things around us. What you perceive/believe to be powerful enough to heal you, becomes so.

Can we alter our subconscious beliefs? Dr Joe Dispenza, author of You are the Placebo and Becoming Supernatural, regularly demonstrates in his workshops that we can. To do so we need to access the slower brainwave states called alpha and theta. It also helps to bring the electromagnetic waves of our hearts into patterns of coherence. This coherent state of consciousness also happens to ease access into our connection to plants and other living beings. When we are connected into our subconscious operating system while simultaneously engaging with the natural world, our ability to make medicine is at its most potent. The healing that placebo medicine can bring comes because our body’s cells become more able to organize and work together. They become more coherent. The potential is always there; it just needs a catalyst.

Placebos are the catalyst that gives the mind permission to reorder the chemistry of the body. Placebos allow us to change our relationship with ourselves.

The Western medical model is built on an assumption of separation: you are seen as separate from everything outside the boundary of your skin.; your mind is seen as separate from your body. You were taught to experience yourself in this way. Yet everyday experience tells us this isn’t true. From the air outside whose oxygen becomes us, to the very real feelings we experience when witnessing someone else’s joys or sorrows, no life is separate and independent. Our boundaries are permeable.

Quantum physics demonstrates that the tiniest of particles (electrons and photons) can become entangled and remain connected even at great distances. Tickle one entangled photon and its mate will wiggle too at the exact same moment – even if they are now miles away from each other. The particles in your body are just as capable of connection. You too are entangled with the world around you.

When we alter our perception from one of separation to one of connection, we alter our relationship with everything around us.  There is leverage in this perception and experience of connection; leverage that we can use to create healing medicines. One of my goals in the Medicine Garden Program is to remind us how to take advantage of that leverage. By using our consciousness in making medicine, we can create both substances and experiences that wash away dis-ease and create instead the healing capacities that lie dormant within our body-minds. We can make our own placebos, our own catalysts for well-being.

We begin through connection and entanglement with the plants, with soil, and with water.

On the day we sat with the Asters, I was feeling a bit out of sync with myself. As I sat with the plant, admiring her cheeriness, touching her fine-veined leaves, smelling and then tasting the flower petals, I felt my chest relaxing. My breath opened up and deepened. Closing my eyes and feeling into our shared entanglement, I noticed again the cheery exuberance of the asters blooming in late October. My mind translated the sensations/communication/vibrations coming from the Asters: “We are here, seeming out of sync with the seasons perhaps, but so necessary to the bees and insects as we offer our late season pollens. Late bloomers are necessary. Relax. Enjoy. Go with your flow, even if it’s outside the ‘normal’ flow.”

As we sat in a circle afterward, describing to each other our experiences with the Asters, some common themes emerged: opening in the chest and lungs, clarity of thinking, a sense of calmness and peace with the pace of unfolding in our individual lives. Some individual notes were sounded as well, divergent experiences that added to the whole, creating a full description of the many possible actions offered by Aster on the human body and energy systems. The Aster’s ease extended into our discussion. It felt completely natural to learn directly from a plant – a living being embedded in nature’s intelligent network and entangled in the holographic field, a being offering access not only to information but to the integrated form of that: wisdom.

Later in the day during our medicine-making hour, I reconnected with the asters and asked permission to use them. Receiving that, I also asked for advice on how to best use them for myself. I felt inspired to pick the flowers and immerse them in a mix of honey and vinegar, making a deliciously sweet and sour blend called an oxymel. Throughout this winter that bottle of medicine has been a source of reconnection and healing. Just noticing it and breathing deeply, I am reminded of that day in the garden and my entanglement with Aster is rekindled. If I’m feeling particularly out-of-sorts taking a dropperful and then pausing to notice my body’s response allows Aster the space to work with me again, nudging me toward ease and clarity.

Plants are a living library growing all around us; if you need help remembering how to work with  and use that library, consider joining us in the Medicine Garden. The Spring Intensive begins on March 27th.

*For more perspectives on the value of connecting with the plant world, check out this panel discussion at the 2019 Bioneers Conference.

*For more information on the 2020 Acorn School Medicine Garden Program, click here.

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