This year, I commenced my journey with the plants. It’s been a long time coming, perhaps lifetimes… and so, here I am on this path, not learning, but remembering.
Each month I travel to Ireland to stay with my Aunt Gina (officially my Mother’s cousin – their mothers were sisters). Gina’s mother married an American, and after a childhood spent at schools across Europe, Gina’s family settled on the West Coast… jump forward a few years and we find Gina in swinging San Francisco, where her love affair with plant medicine and magic started. Gina became part of the new-wave of Herbalists in Northern California, following the wisdom of dear Crone and Grandmother of plant medicine, Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Gina’s teacher was the prolific “Godmother of American Herbalism”, Rosemary Gladstar, who Gina later followed teaching at the California School of Herbal Studies until she established her own school, The Oregon School of Herbal Studies in 1992. Since then, Gina’s 30 year journey with herbs has continued. She returned to her matrilineal name (McGarry), and native isle, where she now resides, and runs her school “Brighids Academy of Healing Arts”.
My mother and Gina never saw one another as children, or adults, until they re-connected about 7 years ago. But it was only 2 years ago, when I finally picked up Gina’s book, Brighid’s Healing which had been sitting on my shelf, unopened. I realised that this woman was a keeper of wisdom, and she was connected to me by the blood-red thread of my woman line. I realised that I needed to make contact with Gina, and eventually, last winter, following our South America Adventure, I returned home with a deep yearning to connect with my native land. Having worked in gardens of Chile, Bolivia and Brazil, it was time for me to explore my own back garden, and so my relationship with plants and their magic was seeded.
Through this blog I hope to share some of the wisdom I glean in my time with my teachers, Gina and the plants…
On a personal level, developing my relationship with plants feels like the most natural way to explore my passions… I have worked closely with the human body for over 14 years. I am in a constant state of awe at its deep intelligence and knowing, its ability to perform miracles and communicate profound wisdom… the plants present to me as a bridge between body and earth a channel for insight, an invitation to explore the world and ourselves on a deeper level. They, like the body, can be our teachers. The grace and ease with which the plants interact with our bodies, and our souls; moving together like old lovers, or with the familiarity of a mother with her child… This is what interests me.
The sensuality of plant medicine ignites another passion for me. The way we interact with the plants relies on taste, touch, smell and colour. The doctrine of signatures gives us delicate clues, in the shape of a flower or the texture of a leaf. Herbs communicate through the senses. In this sense, there is only truth.
Overarching this all is the ethical aspect of Herbalism. Here is an art which fundamentally requires us to be deep ecologists; to understand the intricacies of the web of life, and to honour it as sacred… Herbs are the people’s medicine. They are the plants that grow in the hedgerows, the woods, the fields… Plants are wild, and in this civilized time, the plants can help us to re-connect; to re-wild ourselves, and remember who we really are. Plant medicine can cross all social and cultural divides. The plants empower us, and let us know that we don’t need to rely on a dysfunctional, ‘civilized’ system for help; the plants show us that this knowledge is innate, that we already know how thrive. We can live, heal and sustain ourselves and all beings on this planet through our relationship with plants. As they breathe out, so we breathe in. We are one.