Science, Story and Spirit
The Science, Story and Spirit of Herbalism
Reflections on Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
In December when the world is white and brown I hunkered down with a literary breath of fresh air. Braiding Sweetgrass fills the senses with the smell of forest peat and sounds of maple sap dripping in the spring. This book is a treasure for every plant person, a celebration of nature’s gifts and a reminder of the fragile balance between humans and nature.
In the preface Robin Wall Kimmerer defines the strands of a sweetgrass braid as representations of science, story and spirit. This struck a chord within me as the summary of a strong holistic plant medicine practice. When herbal medicine is approached with this trinity for both plant and person a more powerful match is made.
Undeniably, scientific knowledge is required to practice herbalism. One needs to familiarize themselves with anatomy and physiology of the human body as well as the constituents of the plants and their purposes in order to make recommendations to restore balance to an ailing body.
While we are shaped by our stories, our pasts, our lifestyles and patterns of health so too have the plants carried their story in their genes. From the origin of the particular species of plant and their adaptations, to how a plant ended up in our gardens compose the pages of each plants story. How has this plant been shaped by the environmental factors it has encountered? What makes this plant an individual? As herbalists we also consider the story of customary uses of particular plants to guide our decisions for restoring balance within our bodies.
With the science and story of our clients and plants in mind one might think our assessment is complete and a successful plant person match can be made. However, each plant and person interface differently- this is where spirit comes into play. A person may be suffering from depression and be experiencing other symptoms stemming from a depressed state of functioning. While western medicine may prescribe an anti-depressant and a myriad of other drugs to relieve the symptoms , an experienced holistic practitioner may recognize the root of imbalance stemming from past trauma or sadness. For example, when one is suffering form grief a wounded heart can indeed be a piece of the puzzle causing imbalance in other systems. When our spirits are out of balance so too is our physical body. When we are acquainted with the spirit of the plants around us for example, rose to heal a wounded heart, we can better match our medicines to our people.
When we acknowledge the complexity of plants as cohabitants of our world the gifts they offer us through their stories, science and spirit can be appreciated for their true strength and kindness.