These articles are about the spiritual and medicinal uses of some of the plants we commonly use.
As always, please use a healthy dose of common sense and always seek medical treatment for any ailment. What has worked for others may not work for you.
- List of Plants
- Basics of Plant Spirituality
- Spiritual Healing with Plants
- Working with Plant Spirits
- Plant Totems
- Plant Symbols
- Source Material
Since humans shifted away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture, we began to gradually take plants for granted. Over time, we lost our respect for them, even though everything we are is because of plants from the air we breathe to the food we eat.
The gods have not forgotten about the plants and have continued their relationship with the plant spirits. Many deities have strong relationships with plants; Oya loves the eggplant, Mary Magdalene has long been associated with roses and any child of Apollo had darn well better have a large supply of bay leaves available.
A lot has been written about the spiritual and medicinal uses of plants. All of this material comes from somebody’s point of view and it is important to remember that what worked for someone else, may not work for you. Hyssop is a great personal example. Many sources say that the Orishas love hyssop and it’s this great sacred plant that blesses everything it touches. Well that’s all fine and good except that I’ve never felt a connection to hyssop and have never had the urge to use it in any form. Do I believe the sources or my own personal experience? Personal experience should win out every time.
Plants are complicated. Some magickal sources like to drill plants down to a single element or a few key words for uses. This is great for editing but the truth is that you generally can’t place plants easily into a couple of artificial categories. For example, chili peppers are strongly associated with fire but they also contain a lot of water in their flesh, which becomes more prominent when you remove the heat (aka a Bell Pepper). While I have included elemental information, consider it to be a starting point, not the end of the conversation. Take any information with a grain of salt and use your personal experience to give you clues to the deeper truth.
Using plants for spiritual healing is an effective method of healing wounds on the soul or karmic level. This type of healing requires you to contact the consciousness of the plant(s) so that they in turn can heal a person’s spirit. This is more complicated than just casting a normal magickal spell. This is also different then the modern “Allopathic” herbalism that is popular.
So, why the differences? Let me illustrate. Let say that my next door neighbor shows up on my doorstep with an upset stomach because she ate some bad Mexican food last night. I boil some water and then mix chamomile, lavender, peppermint and a dash of cinnamon together, let it steep for 5 minutes, and then add some honey. I probably won’t even pray over the cup because all 3 of the herbs have alkaloids in them that are quite wonderful at soothing the stomach plus the lavender and cinnamon are antibacterial. The honey not only sweetens the mixture but it also soothes the stomach. I make her drink 2 cups and she starts to feel better. This is what most modern herbalism is about.
Now, let say I have a second friend who has the stomach flu. She doesn’t have a lot of money and she needs to keep working. I tell her to make the same tea mixture up that I gave friend #1 and I tell her before she drinks it to place her hands over the cup and pray to Oshun. The herbs have physical components to help her feel better and Oshun is really great at soothing digestive problems and will work with the herbs and the cinnamon to help friend #2 feel better. I tell her to drink 2 cups morning, noon and night and she should start to feel better shortly. This would fall under magickal herb use.
Okay, so later on friend #3 shows up at my doorstep. She just had a huge fight with her husband of 6 years in which he informed her that he is leaving her for another woman. Not only is she devastated, but she is also nauseous and is having trouble keeping her lunch down. Okay, now we need to pull out all the stops. I start heating her up some water. As I put the chamomile, the lavender and the peppermint into the cup, I pray to Osain to help me contact the spirits of chamomile, lavender, and peppermint. I ask chamomile to heal to my friend’s heart, I ask lavender to bring peace to my friends soul and I ask peppermint to help clear my friend’s mind so that she can see in time that she will be better off without that piece of shit husband of hers. As I add the cinnamon and honey, I ask Oshun to lighten up my friend’s spirit so that she can face the things she now has to do (separation paperwork, property division, custody issues, etc.) and to help her find a good lawyer (who will help my friend gets what she deserves and will make that bastard pay). I make her drink 2 cups, everyday for the next five days, and she starts to feel better. Now, this is spiritual healing.
Plants can help us heal our spirits and our bodies. Besides working with the Orisha Osain, you can also do this by accessing the plants directly. Instead of going through the spirit of chamomile, you can use the energy of a specific chamomile plant. For example, an acquaintance of mine had a very sick puppy and I was able to channel the energy of a basil plant growing out on my porch to heal the dog. However, the plant died 2 days later. I don’t recommend doing this type of healing unless you are dealing with strong plants, namely trees. Next time you find yourself upset, go out and huge a tree. I find it particularly useful to stand with my back to the tree. Trees are fantastic for grounding unwanted energy or settling a restless spirit. While you don’t have to go through Osain to do this (because it is a one-on-one relationship and the tree is physically present), you may find it more effective if you do.
Plants are multidimensional beings. Their roots reach into the soil (earth) to pull up water and nutrients. They take in carbon dioxide and respire oxygen (air). They capture the energy from the sun (fire) and use that energy to make sugars. Plants are the basis for all higher level organisms. They created the elemental oxygen we breathe and they provide the food that the global food web is built upon. For most of human history, plants were the only source of food, clothing, shelter, and medicines. Modern “civilization” however treats plants as either resources to be exploited or weeds that must be eradicated. Earth-centered traditions understand that life on this planet would not exist without plants.
Plants contain a vast number of phytochemicals. Evolutionary biologists believe that those phytochemicals are simply the result of millions of years of plants trying to out compete their neighbors. Some of those chemicals are beneficial to humans, some are harmful and many depend on dosage. Modern scientific theory sees plants as containers of chemicals and chemical reactions. Earth-centered traditions however believe that plants have spirits, as do all other living things on our planet. Each of these spirits is in turn connected to higher level consciousness. Many practitioners believe that just as human beings are spiritually part of a web of ancestors, saints, angels and deities, so are plants connected with elemental beings and higher order intelligences. In Scotland’s Findhorn Garden, these higher order intelligences are called devas and landscape angels.
The belief in plant spirits is found in many traditions and cultures. Often, plant spirit workers will communicate with the plant spirits directly before using the plants for healings. Individual plants should be approached with respect before attempting to use that plant’s medicine. A healer might sing, chant or drum to the plants before and or during the harvest of plants. This gives the healer access to the spiritual aspects of the plants and allows for deeper level of healing. Relying only on the effects of the phytochemicals may achieve healing of physical symptoms but connecting to the plant spirit can achieve soul level healing.
Much in the same way that many Earth-centered traditions believe that each person or tribe has a predestined relationship with specific animals; some believe that the same type of relationship exists in the green kingdom. For example, there are four plants ( corn, beans, squash, and tobacco) that the Navajo or Diné hold to be especially sacred to their tribe.
Shamans often develop relationships with sacred plants, called entheogens. They use entheogens, like ayahuasca, peyote, and the San Pedro cactus, in religious ceremonies such as initiations, healings, receiving messages from the divine, or traveling to other planes of existence.
In our spiritual practice, we have found that each individual has a predestined relationship to four totem plants and a higher level “master” plant. The four totem plants are the crowning plant, which rules the intellect and governs the self, the heart plant, which rules the personality and governs our interactions with others, and the yin and yang plants, which are a cool and a hot plant, respectively, and rule thought and action. Our yin and yang plants balance our personalities. If a person is right handed, then the yin plant will sit at the left hand and the yang plant will set at the right. If a person is left handed, then the placement is reversed.
Each individual also has a predestined relationship with a master plant. This plant gives a person access to the higher levels of consciousness. It is possible that a person may connect with more than one master plant however there is at least one that each person has in their personal totem constellation. Accessing one’s master plant allows a person to strengthen their own relationship with the divine. Often, these master plants are considered to be entheogens. We have found that when a person is connected with their master plant, the person undergoes a profound spiritual change.
Ally plants are plants that an individual or group develops relationships with along the way. You may choose to intentionally work with a plant, or you may inherit the plant from your ancestors. For example, your favorite grandmother loved lavender. After she passes, you have an emotional connection to lavender. In your heart the memory of your grandmother and the smell of lavender are intertwined. When you need comfort, the smell of lavender takes you to an emotion place of comfort.
You might also have plant allies because of your genetic heritage. For instance, E. is Hawaiian and loves poi, the paste made from the Taro root which was a staple to the ancient Hawaiians. I love Hawaii, I love everything about Hawaii but poi to me tastes like wallpaper paste. E. on the other hand can’t get enough of the stuff. Because of his genetic heritage, he probably has a link to that plant that I simply don’t have.
Plant shamans may develop an intentional relationship with a plant through a “diet”. The diet is when a shaman specifically concentrates on one plant. The shaman will work with that plant, meditate with it and consume it. During this period, the shaman may also restrict the consumption of other things like spicy foods, salt, or sweets. Upon successful completion of the diet, the plant is now considered an ally and can be called for healings and spiritual workings.
Besides using my own experiences and the some of the stories I have heard from others, I have used the following sources in my plant articles:
Andrews, Ted Nature-Speak:Signs, Omens & Messages in Nature. Dragonhawk Publishing
Castleman, Michael The Healing Herbs: The Ultimate Guide to the Curative Power of Nature’s Medicines. Bantam Books
Cowan, Eliot Plant Spirit Medicine. Swan Raven & Co
Cunningham, Scott Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publishing
Davidow, Joie Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. Simon & Schuster
Heaven, Ross et al. Plant Spirit Shamanism Destiny Books
Mabey, Richard The New Age Herbalist Collier Books
Moore, Michael Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West. Museum of New Mexico Press
Moore, Michael Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press
Tierra, Michael The Spirit of the Herbs: A Guide to the Herbal Tarot. US Games Systems
Tull, Delena Edible & Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest. University of Texas Press
Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants. Random House