Earth Day: On Plants and Their “USES”

Home > Earth Day: On Plants and Their “USES”

In celebration of Earth Day: the following is a reflection on a common relationship many of us humans may have with plants.

It may be human nature or a cultural thing; whatever it is I’ve tried to stop doing it for a few years now. The “thing” being us humans thinking in terms of plants as to “what they are good for.”

As in someone asking, “what’s good for [insert offending affliction]?” or if I mention a plant the first thing that’s often asked is “what’s it good for?” Wow. Imagine if someone spoke that way about you?

It is quite plausible that plants could get along just fine without us. There is enough evidence from a human perspective* that there is an eons-long dance between plants and insects and other creatures: a give-and-take-and-adapt-and-take-and-give-and-rinse-and- repeat relationship.

*Rant: We think we know so much but are so limited by our perceptions and senses and “instruments.” We’re often wrong–some scientists know this, but it is hard to break and overcome models of thinking, especially when they seep into pop culture. Take Freud, for example, whose modes of thought have been debunked but persist in the zeitgeist. Will we humans ever fully understand what is going on? Probably not, and that’s okay.

Following are a few wise words that have influenced my way of being, practicing and teaching. I hope they resonate with you too.

jim mcdonald shared the following quotation, from the wise Christopher Hedley, during one of his amazing classes. It made me stop saying how I “USE” a plant or its components and instead acknowledge how I may “WORK WITH” a plant. A paradigm shift indeed.

The ‘virtues’ of a herb are its strengths and qualities; its inner potency, expressions of its vital spirit and of the way it is in the world. The way a herb is in the world will inform it of the way to be in your body. We prefer this term to the more modern ‘uses’. Herbs do not have uses. They have themselves and their own purposes.”

–Christopher Hedley

Here is the mind-set shift: We work with plants. Plants belong to themselves.

Another encounter was in the still-room of Clare and Max Licher of Phibee Aromatics. It speaks for itself:

I took this photo while visiting Phibee Aromatics.

Plants: “doing the work of the world.” I wish I could be more like a plant.

Then there is a beautiful passage in the preface of JJ Pursell’s book “The Herbal Apothecary.” I wish I could find the lineage of the story…regardless of that, it speaks volumes. I cannot reproduce it here but will briefly share the crux and a quotation:

We all lived together as one: humans, animals, rocks, water, wind, insects: everything that was on Earth. One day, a man killed a bear. You can imagine what anger, hurt and confusion ensued. Everyone eventually came to conference. Almost everyone agreed to kill the man in retribution. In opposition were the plant people who went to “wise old Ginseng” for advice. Ginseng went to meditate for three days and came back with the following:

“…We the plant people must help [humans], for they are naive and, like children, need healing and guidance. From this day forth, plants will offer themselves to [humans] in hopes of creating balance in their health by healing them.”

Plants, in their wisdom, “do the work of the world” whilst offering themselves to humans as they realize our foolish nature.

As noted earlier: I wish I was more like a plant.

Angelica growing near raised beds. (21APR2020)

Note: This post was originally published on April 22, 2020.

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