(Note: this entry was really published on September 16, 2013. I’m placing it here for purposes of searchability.)
Frazzled and irritable from work and fighting city traffic, I park in a rough gravel lot at a trailhead in Forest Park and look around. The trail is an old logging road, now closed to vehicular traffice and frequented by dog-walkers and runners. This is hardly serene wilderness: the trail winds along the edge of a wooded slope, but so does a well-travelled road. The sound of car tires echoes through the trees.
But. After the glare and heat of summer sun on the road, the shade of the forest washes over me and I feel immediately soothed, like I’ve stepped into a cool shower. I realizd I’ve been practically holding my breath, tensing my whole body. I take a deep breath, stretch a little, and start up the trail.
Two or three steps along, a flash of orange in the sea of green catches my attention, and I focus on a tiny, orchid-like blossom floating under the leaves of a waist-high plant. I’m captivated by the way the almost blue-green leaves seem so cool, soothing and watery, while the blossoms are like little flames.
After my walk, I search the internet until I find a name for the mystery plant: Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. Upon further reading I learn that the leaves of Jewelweed provide relief in all kinds of skin irritations, including the itching and burning of poison ivy. How appropriate, then, that I will always associate this plant with that wash of relief I felt upon first stepping onto the trail in Forest Park. Here again is a lovely example of the way the energy of a plant works in similar ways at both the physical and metaphysical levels–and also of the way we can intuit some of those energies if we are paying attention.
When deciding how I might work with a plant for magic or spiritual healing, I usually begin with considering how the plant makes me feel. Just looking at a plant evokes feelings: smelling and touching the plant intensify those feelings. If we remember how the plant makes us feel, when we reach a place where we need that feeling, we know where to find it.
And there’s one more thing. When we learn about plants by meeting them where they grow, we’re no longer able to view them merely as medicine or ingredients for spells. We see them as living beings, we see their beauty and personality. They become friends and allies instead of commodities. And we find even more reasons to honor them, and to work to protect them. Which brings us more deeply into alignment with our values as people who revere nature.
So maybe this post isn’t just about Jewelweed. It’s about walking our path–literally. It’s the best way I know to really connect with the spirit of nature.