It is early morning. You have risen with the birds on this glorious spring day, and feel invigorated with the rays of sunshine peering through the leafy green. Your eyes take note of cobwebs between blades of grass and branches still awash with glistening water droplets. The earth smells fresh beneath your feet. You feel more alive, connected, and observant.
You are building relationship with the stretch of land on which you wander. Each plant that you set your eyes upon today, tomorrow you will sense its almost imperceptible change from yesterday. You will recognize the minutia of transformation, the build up to great change.
These small hellos: to the newly leafing Trillium, protecting its one flower bud within its still-folded triad of leaves, or to the courageous Coltsfoot bursting yellow before its leaves appear; matter. They will not be seen the same way again tomorrow. These small moments of noticing hold strong significance. It is this appreciation of color, form and scent that advise the herbalist that this moment is the time for harvest.
An herbalist seeks vitality. She searches for the form of the plant in its fullest abundance. The succulent root in spring, just before the leaf and flower emerge, or in autumn, when the leaves have died back and returned their nutrients back to the root stock. The ripest fruit in summer, plump and firm, and not yet fermented. The boldest flower in spring, expressing its joyful self to the face of the sun, just after opening and just after the dew has parted. The softest new leaves, tender and bright.
We humans know these moments of giving attention with delight. The acknowledgement of these moments is inherent within our nature. With our patient, happy observation of what we Love, we say with some part of our hearts that we are here, present, building relationship with the green world.
And so, the art of herbalism is the transforming of this observation of Love and delight for the Plants into medicine for the People. It is this deep relationship that brings the healing into the processed form of the plant – perhaps dried as tea, perhaps ground to powder and encapsulated, perhaps tinctured in brandy and tucked into a bottle. Yet the vitality in the plant at the moment of harvest: snipping, picking, digging is dependent on our heart’s awareness of the strength and fullness of the plant.
Such care and respect, such as gardeners have for their vegetables and mother’s for their babes, is the core of the healing power available through the plants. Before a harvest, the herbalist tells the plant why he needs its medicine (for someone who might have an irritable, dry cough this coming winter, for example.) He asks if he may harvest the necessary part to support this medicinal action and waits for a response (a gentle breeze? a buzzing bee? the knocking of a woodpecker in assent? in any case, there is an internal knowing of yes or no.) He offers the gift of a prayer, a song, a poem, tobacco, in thanks. And then solemnly and with great joy and appreciation, harvests only what he needs.
When we take time to be still, to rest our eyes on a leaf, a flower, someone we Love, and we behold what and who we are seeing, a sweet space for transformation opens. This is the art and medicine available to us through observation with delight.