By Lindsay Napolitano
In a world of mediated experiences and mediated environments, it can be easy to forget that we are people of the earth, derived and fashioned from the same carbon and and hydrogen as the soil, the plants, and the astral bodies of far flung planets. Incomplete organisms that have evolved in inextricable relationship with the plant world, and cease to exist in isolation. In the scope of our planetary history, there was a time not long ago when human beings moved across the landscape according to the seasons. The sun, wind, rains, plants, and animal migrations in cyclical connection forged a compass to locate ourselves in our world. Their sacred language so essential and heavy with meaning, it formed the foundation for all human culture to be built upon. From the forty-fifth floor looking down it can be difficult to recall the root of humanity; hum, connected to the latin humus, meaning, of the earth.
I’m gazing out the window at a snow covered landscape under a grey sky, and there are moments when the clouds part, and the world takes on a golden hue before quickly diffusing into the grey again. With each passing pulsation of light my heart swells and lifts in involuntary accordance. Spring is on the horizon, just days ahead of the equinox, and there are deep, forgotten, parts of my being that are awakening and enlivening in tandem with the shift in seasons. It feels like a sudden quickening of sorts in the spirit, but also the body. The increase in daylight sets off a cascade of physiological processes that stimulate the metabolism and literally result in increased energy levels. At the same time, a profusion of green emerges across the natural world as bitter and sour weeds like dandelion, chicory, docks, and sorrels begin to flush. These plants stimulate and support the liver as it “springs” into action, changing the way it metabolizes fats and sugars in accordance to seasonal changes. On the other side of the year, around the autumnal equinox, the decrease in sunlight will signal diametrical changes in the body. Insulin resistance will increase and the liver will begin to increase fat production in preparation for the coming winter. The flush of dark berries harvested and stored in late summer contain flavonoids that will prove useful as one enters an elevated inflammatory state during the darkest and coldest part of the year. There is a rhythm and a balancing implicit to our dance with the plant world across the seasons.
It is a relationship that has evolved over impossible expanses of time. It is the opposite of a new, synthetic wonderdrug hastily derived in an isolated lab and quickly delivered to market. It is slow medicine, derived over millennia in concert with all creation, as each season of sun and wind and rain unfolded to inspire a new genetic expression. The therapeutically “active” chemical compounds found in medicinal plants are actually secondary metabolites that are expressed explicitly in plants when they are in relationship with other energetic and physical phenomena. The “stressors” of exposure to sun, heat, cold, herbivores, and microorganisms inspire a new set of chemical expressions by the plant, and these medicinal compounds are considered its immunological defense. Which is another way of saying, the medicine song of a plant is the same tune that resonates and inspires healing within us.
And so here, we tend the garden in accord with all creation. We intervene as little as possible when a summer drought arrives and allow the active volatile oils within the plants to swell. We resist overreaction when an insect population focuses on an herbaceous stand, knowing that those plants will in response increase their production of bitter alkaloids, and chemically signal surrounding stands to do the same. It is the natural ebb and flow of relationship, the giving and the taking, and all the emergent properties that develop in response to dynamic interaction. Wild medicine, medicine infused with relationship and interconnection, is the strongest medicine because of its gentle harmony.
We join in sacred relationship with the plant world when we warm up with a cup of tea blended with the right herbs to send blood flowing to our periphery in winter. When we sip a sour tonic infused with plants to stimulate our liver and lymphatic system in early spring. When we delight in a tart wild berry picked off the bramble in high summer, or delivered in an immune stimulating elixir in late fall. This is gentle medicine in accordance with the seasons to help our bodies navigate the shifting energetics of spring, summer, fall, and winter. It is a way of being that connects us to the environment out of which we were created.