Plants have likely been used as a healing agent by humans for as long as we have existed. This notion is supported by the remains of medicinal plants like ephedra and cannabis, believed to be in excess of 60,000 years old, discovered in archaeological excavations. Shamanism, which is still practiced in some parts of the world but was more prevalent among earlier cultures, employed plants to heal all sorts of ailments. Even with advances in modern medicine, many people in many cultures still use plants like lavender and echinacea to alleviate stress and anxiety and boost their immune system.
These plants, among others, have natural healing properties and can be used in teas, essential oil diffusers, or ingested in tablet or capsule form. The practice of plant spirit medicine, however, takes the healing properties of plants a step further. This practice centers on a greater spiritual relationship with plants to complement their holistic healing benefits.
Spiritual Relationship with Plants
Plant spirit medicine is an alternative, holistic healing technique that was popularized by writers and practitioners such as Eliot Cowan. Cowan is versed in the tradition of healing practiced by the indigenous Huichol people of Mexico, and is the author of Plant Spirit Medicine: A Journey into the Healing Wisdom of Plants (1996). In the book, he explores the use of ancient herbal healing practices used by Huichol shaman Don Guadalupe Gonzales Rios, among other healers.
For Cowan, the key difference between plant spirit medicine and plant medicine is in its application. Plant medicine generally refers to the chemistry of plants that have the capability to alter the human body’s biochemistry. In essence, they are viewed as non-living beings and regarded solely for their chemical properties. Conversely, plant spirit medicine looks at plants as intelligent living beings that can facilitate healing through spiritual relationships.
Developing These Relationships
In order to receive desired results from plant spirit medicine, both the healer and the person to whom the treatment is being applied need to be in tune with the plant as a highly aware being deserving of respect. To that end, the healer must ask the plant for permission to use it for his or her intended purpose. According to Cowan, this common respectful exchange has become limited to human-to-human interaction in the modern world. Ancient wisdom, he contends, suggests it should also be applied to other elements of the earth.
“All the aspects of nature, certainly including plants, are spiritual beings who are aware, have intelligence and feelings,” he said during a 2017 interview. “If you’re asking them for something and receiving something from them, you’re blessed to give something back to stay on good terms. It’s a matter of good manners.”
Cowan, who has also taught the practice of plant spirit medicine, would often spend time with students developing and nurturing relationships with plants to understand their respective healing capabilities and medicinal qualities. Many plant species have existed longer than human beings, and approaching them with interest and respect might allow individuals to glean valuable information for healing and other applications.
How It’s Applied to Healing
Rather than being applied to treat specific illnesses or symptoms, plant spirit medicine targets and seeks to correct underlying imbalances in an individual. Practitioners treat patients based on the notion that their symptoms are messengers for these imbalances and, upon determining the source of this imbalance, call upon the spirit of the plants for their healing properties. Plant spirit medicine, then, doesn’t diagnose or treat symptoms, but alleviation of symptoms is often a byproduct of its application to restore imbalances.
The process of applying plant spirit medicine begins with an in-depth intake procedure through which the practitioner gathers information about the patient’s health and personal history. During this judgement-free procedure, which can take upwards of two hours, the practitioner seeks to obtain all relevant information that might be in part contributing to the underlying imbalance. Upon selecting the plant the healer feels is appropriate for their patient, they call upon its healing presence and press the plant with their hands onto the body of the patient.
Plants with Natural Healing Properties
Beyond the spiritual element, many plants have natural healing properties and can be used to complement a health and wellness routine. Plants like gingko, turmeric, and flax seed have all undergone extensive research and have been proven to be safe and effective in controlling various health risks.
Studies have shown that gingko, for example, may improve overall brain health and reduce the rate of cognitive decline for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It has also been suggested as beneficial for bone and eye health as well as depression and anxiety. Flax seed, meanwhile, may help regulate blood pressure, prevent colon cancer, and reduce obesity. Other plants proven to have health benefits include tea tree (used as oil), grapeseed, chamomile, kava, and ashwagandha.