As herbalists and plant workers we are always looking to the context of the plant to give us clues as to where it can best ally with us in body, soul and spirit. Whether a plant is shade grown, tolerates salty air or prefers to cling tenaciously to cliffside cracks, all helps determine its medicinal value. Plants are in constant and thorough communication with their surroundings: unable to move they have no choice but to develop relationship with their place. Wildharvesting or growing our own plants, we can see exactly where they came from; their companions, their environmental challenges, their growth cycles and general joie de vivre. If we engage with them in their natural spot we receive medicine not only from them, but from those they associate with. Place is important. Very few of us would choose to harvest a salad purslane from cracked tarmac in a parking lot: we may appreciate and value its pioneering and healing strength, but we would look to another place to find our supper.
I use the word ‘place’ with deliberation. In our society we often associate one’s place with a certain social strata or confines, but if we lift our perception we can appreciate place in the same way a plant does. Where do we thrive, what conditions do we need to grow? People and plants are incredibly adaptable: a ginger grown in an apartment block window ledge, or a cactus coddled through winter by the drying effects of central heating will survive and probably produce, much in the same way that we, far from our ‘roots’, can live. Yet we are each of us from a place, and of a place. How do we connect?
This is the theme of next June’s Storytelling and Herbalism Retreat in Scotland. Through exploration of local medicinal plants and their folkloric and medicinal uses we shall delve into the history and story of the landscape. With storytelling we shall unfold into that landscape and in finding ourselves in connection we shall explore what it means to belong to a landscape, and thus to place. Between personal and traditional stories and time for introspection and reflection we deepen our relationship to the elemental nature around us. It’s when we feel ourselves in connection with Nature we can determine our place in her ample embrace.
set me down gently where the wild things grow
give me space and time and
i shall grow roots, spread out filaments of my mycorrhzial self reaching out and into my neighbours, my soil mates.
this dark moist earth shall hold us, this dirt that took eons in the making shall house and feed us,
and we shall drop our selves into it in loving it back.
the same bee that visits you shall visit me
and make honey of both our best selves,
we shall share the rain, the morning dew, the wet splashed sundrops
breathing air together, the same air
you let me know what predators approach and i will keep watch on the other side, together
we shall endure the aphid
we shall grow and die and be reborn in this place and we shall change it forever by our meeting
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ancel Mitchell was born and raised in Scotland and has lived in England, the US and currently lives in Costa Rica. Her deep connection to nature and sense of place feeds her creativity and curiosity which push her ever deeper into exploring the natural environment. A waldorf educator for over 20 years, Ancel delights in bringing new and different perspectives into her teaching, making her classes rich, fresh and fun. Bouyed along by a sense of magic and an ability to consciously listen she holds space for story: “Stories hold us, they rock us to sleep in their arms, they allow us to venture forth into territory we fear, they have our back when the terrain gets rough. Through story we can meet ourselves anywhere, we can find ourselves at home anywhere. Stories connect our inner and outer selves, they are our two way bridge to nature, and home.”
Ancel teaches plant ally and western herbalism on Sacred Warrior Costa Rican retreats. When she’s not teaching she’s enjoying working with plants and animals, making medicines and chocolate and enjoying her farm.