Don’t Eat That! and Other Lessons from The Illustrated Herbiary

My first experience of plant medicine was through taste. 

I drank tea and took tincture— sometimes for years— before I met the plant from which the medicine was made. This oral fixation was so ingrained that when a teacher said to me “you need to work with foxglove,” I blanched and scolded her for suggesting I take a poisonous plant.

She looked at me dryly: “I said work with not ingest” she chided.

The truth is we’re “working with” plants all the time:

Plants have a unique relationship with us humans because they do something that neither animals nor minerals (nor fairies or unicorns, for that matter!) can do: they enable our breath.

It’s a simple cycle: plants exhale oxygen, which we inhale; we exhale carbon dioxide, which they inhale.

Their exhale, our inhale. Our inhale, their exhale.

An invisible dance, a necessary exchange.

The first thing we do upon arriving in this world is inhale and through that in-breath we come into our first contact with the plants and the green world.

Another word for inhalation is inspiration.

Ultimately that’s the magic of plant medicine: it inspires you to look at your life through a different lens, so you can tap into the collective unconscious as well as your own intuition and self-knowing.

I kept this in mind as I created The Illustrated Herbiary. In many cases, the exercises which go along with each botanical help you explore the energy of the plant, allowing you to work with the plant’s essence without ingesting and even if it doesn’t live near you.

But there are a few rituals which call for some special supplies. If you want to have it all on hand, so no matter which plant you pick you have what you need, here’s your supply list:

Need some other suggestions for working with plants? Here are 14 ideas for getting to know a new-to-you botanical (without ingesting!):

  • If you have a garden or a container, plant it!
  • Find the plant in your neighborhood or in the wild.
  • Observe the plant through the seasons.
  • Sit with it and notice where your mind wanders or what your body feels.
  • Make a dream pillow from the plant’s leaves or flowers.
  • Take a foot bath with the plant.
  • If it has essential oil, get some and smell; notice what you think and feel.
  • Make or buy a flower essence which you can use as a pillow spray or face mist.
  • Buy or make incense.
  • Sketch the plant.
  • Do a free-writing dialogue with the plant. (Don’t over think it; just keep your pen moving!)
  • Meditate while holding a bit of the plant.
  • Invite the plant into your dreams.

And, of course, use The Illustrated Herbiary plant divination cards!

On Herbiary owner Maia Toll's blog:

  • You Belong to a World More Magical than You Realize: What if you belong to a world more magical than you realize? What if the land is sentient and the stones have stories to tell?
  • Life Changing Books According to YOU!: Want some great reading recommendations? Check out this list of life changing authors and tales.
  • The Lost Language: An Unpublished Excerpt from The Illustrated Herbiary!: Native tales tell us we used to understand the language of nature. How can we learn this language once again and return to knowing ourselves?
  • Talking to Stones and Healing Ancestral Wounds: Ancestral healing helps you honor the past and not recreate it; it's in the present that this healing is possible. What ghosts will you lay to rest?