In my dream last night, I was walking with an old friend. We were making our way through overgrown meadows, along a stream that drained a big pond. A thicket of small trees and sumac came up on the left, and my friend walked in, all of a sudden very excited. He called to me to follow. He was looking for a plant he'd seen there, one he wanted to show me, one he was thrilled to have found. In that state of semi-lucidity so often encountered in dreams, I though to myself "ooh, a plant dream. This is going to be good." I got a little excited too. He pulled some brush aside, and there, in moist rich soil a few feet from the stream, was a tiny burdock plant. I remember looking at him like "you've got to be kidding me."
He proceeded to tell me all about how he'd been waiting so long for burdock to return to this land, how wonderful and special a plant it is, how it digs deep magic out of the hardest places, how it brings just the right kind of moisture to the skin. I wasn't too impressed, but I indulged him - after all, he was an old friend I hadn't seen in a long, long time, and he was apparently talking about an old friend of his that he hadn't seen in a long, long time either...
When I woke up, I spent a good while solidifying this dream in my mind. Because, in the end, I actually think it's a pretty good reminder for me. Yes, it's important to remember that even our more "common", weedy herbs are useful and deserve attention. But what lingered most in my early-morning consciousness was the feeling, just the raw feeling, that the burdock baby had projected when my friend approached it with so much love and reverence. How it beamed when it heard him speak the words describing its virtues. I wondered how other burdocks might feel when, maligned by dairy farmers, they are burnt, beaten, and otherwise berated.
The herbalist's role in the ecology is that of a connector. We often focus on how we help people in need - reconnecting them to nature, to old friends, to missing pieces. But what of the other side of the link? Many talk about how important it is to offer thanks to the plants we use, to approach them with my friend's reverence and respect, to ensure that they remain abundant (for more on this work, please see United Plant Savers if you haven't already). But although I often approach plants with the attitude that I am a grateful recipient of their power and wisdom, I also have to remember that they get a lot out of our work with them, too. Some, like burdock or plantain, yarrow or red clover, love us so much that when we leave, they start to weaken and disappear too. Herbalists are connectors that bring life and love to both sides of the human-plant relationship. It's an age-old tale.
It reminds me of a little piece I wrote a long time ago. I dug it out this morning (hand-written stuff needs to be hand-searched). Forgive the poor poetry - it represents an honest sentiment.
Herbal medicine is like the seasons, true -
disperse, heat, harvest, crystallize -
but what the plants prefer is the analogy
to see the human point of view. They want to feel
as much as we do
and I believe we heal their souls: we send their seed
to fertile land, black and well-tilled,
rich and smelling of deep loam;
we call their spirits out, in the glades
where, wild, they whistle through the wood;
we prepare them,
moving their breath to effect good.
In all this, we wonder at how well
the herb has fit into the whole design:
like this, like that, Nature and our Essence
seem to map each others' paths. This wonder
keeps us strong, and there is no greater cure for our kind.
But where we admire the content, a flower
holds the structure dear: it gains strength
from being compared, related, applied and synergized:
the course to herbal medicine is clear!