We humans are not the only ones who rely on plants for food and medicine. All the animals and insects of the world are herbalists, too! They look to The Plants for food, shelter, medicine, and so much more.
The magical thing about being an herbalist today is that we can learn about the plants from other herbalists, including all our cousins, the animals and insects who share this planet with us. There are two primary ways to approach it.
Learn Herbalism by Connecting with An Animal Type
Matthew Wood teaches a system of herbalism that connects humans with an animal type, like Bear or Wolf or Snake. This system is rooted in Native American tradition, and is all about recognizing the connections or similiarities between one specific human and one or more of our cousins. Someone who is a Bear type, for instance, is likely to be heavy-set or have a larger frame, be comfortable alone and in groups, have an independent mindset in general, do best on an omniverous diet heavy on the vegetables and omitting dairy altogether, have a need for more sleep when the days are shorter, and may be an active dreamer.
A Wolf type, for instance, is more likely to have a leaner, more athleletic build, be far more comfortable with a group and needs to understand the social heirarchy, does well on a keto-type diet that includes meat, and sleeps more lightly and may need naps to feel energized. A Wolf type of person is more likely to do well working closely with a team while a Bear type is more likely to do well working solo on a team, so semi-independent but still connected with a group somewhat. Using this system, you can choose the best herbs for whatever you’re working on changing by looking at the plant medicines and allies those animals often choose, then opting to work with them yourself.
Learn Herbalism by Observing How The Plants Interact with Animals and Insects
The second way to approach deepening your connection and understanding of plant mediciens and magics is to spend time observing who and what works with those plants. For instance, you might notice that bears tend to like blackberry. A lot, actually. What has Blackberry done about that? Developed some pretty serious thorns. Those thorns don’t stop Bears from eating Blackberries, but they do slow them down. The medicine Blackberry teaches is to slow down so you can digest properly.
By contrast, you can look at Rose, which also has thorns. Bears aren’t terribly interested in eating roses, but Deer sure are. Deer like to move slowly in their eating habits already; they are browsers. Their lesson is in being choosey. Rose’s thorns are all about taking time to choose carefully and wisely, a lesson Deer also teaches. This second method asks you to look at the relationship from both sides and recognize how the two are interacting and why.
Which Approach Works Best?
Both approaches to understanding Plant medicines and Plant magics offer a lot of insights into how those medicines and magics work, and truly the two overlap a lot. If you’re working with a health condition, the first method of seeing yourself as an animal type then looking at which herbs work best with that animal type may be the easiest to use. Matthew Wood and others have created some really good resources for working with that system.
If you’re working with transformation that’s less about bodily health, a more magical approach may be helpful. That’s where the second approach can really help. The second approach is more focused on recognizing the cause and effect for how things came to be. It’s really like the basis for many mythical and creation stories. Blackberry as minding his own business when Bear came along and gobbled down all his berries, stomping about Blackberry’s entire patch and crushing many of his relations. Blackberry got angry and armed himself with load and loads of sharp thorns…taking care to leave the very ends of his stems open so that his bird friends could still perch and delicately tease each berry from it’s throne then carry it and its seeds off to new parts. When Bear came along again, he was forced to slow down and think carefully about the berries he was eating, which helped him with his digestion and protected Blackberry’s kin from being trampled. That could be a creation story for how Blackberry got his thorns, and it could be a perfect description of the situation you’re facing.
Let’s say you’re struggling with a co-worker who bumbles into your territory and makes a huge mess regularly. The fall-out is that your part of the project is being delayed and you’re catching the heat for not getting your stuff done. Blackberry’s approach might be helpful. Arming yourself with some Blackberry medicine, like a good blackberry tea, may help you slow down before you lose your cool and yell at your co-worker. Better yet, sharing a cup of blackberry tea with your co-worker may get them to slow down and talk through the changes they desire – in otherwords to slow down and fully digest the goals before jumping into huge changes that could prevent you both from reaching the end successfully.
Gather Notes to Deepen Your Understanding
As you learn about the plants, make notes on the animals who tend to interact with them. You can note, for example, that cows and horses tend to get ill from eating Saint John’s Wort or that Bees really love Spearmint flowers. Any time you come across information on the animals or insects that like or dislike the herbs you’re learning about, note that. Note, too, which essential oils are helpful or harmful to various animals as a part of your studies. When you’re in the field or garden, note which animals or insects are terrorizing the herbs and which ones are terrorized by those herbs. You can also read about which types of insects are problematic for plants or that plants repel in gardening books and online.
With those notes in-hand, make some space to sit and think about how the herb you’re working with connects with other animals and insects. What does each type of interaction say about the plant’s powers? How do features, like thorns and essential oils and toxins or fibers in the plant, shape the interaction that plant has with other creatures? Looking at how the plant interacts with others can give you some insights not just into how you can use it in your magickal practice but also into how you can use it as medicine for body-mind-spirit.