Learning to Love Plants

An excerpt from Atava Garcia Swiecicki’s The Curanderx Toolkit on opening our minds and hearts to the plant world. 

Plants tell their stories not by what they say, but by what they do.
—Robin Wall Kimmerer

It is hard to describe the feelings of fondness, love, and gratitude I have for the plant beings in my life. As humans, we are used to feeling love and affection for other human beings. For many, this love can extend to our animal friends as well. Yet how can we learn to love a plant?

Plants differ more from us than do animals, so developing a relationship with them requires more subtlety. Plants do not have eyes or ears or hearts. They do not move around like humans, animals, insects, and birds. Plants are sessile, which means that they are permanently rooted in one place.

For humans who have been separated from their Indigenous consciousness, it may be easy to assume that since plants do not share common characteristics with the animal kindom, they lack intelligence. (I prefer the word kindom to the standard kingdom because it doesn’t impart a patriarchal and hierarchical bias.) However, quite the opposite is true. Plants are extremely intelligent. They not only share with us the same five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, but they actually possess fifteen more senses!

We can learn to love plants simply by spending time with them. As healers, we build our connection to plants as we begin to consciously interact with them. As we take walks in nature, as we tend to our gardens, as we cook or make medicine with plants, over time our relationship to plants will blossom (pun intended!).

The more I learn about plants and the more I strengthen my relationships with them, the more I am convinced that they possess unconditional love for us humans. Despite all the harm human beings have inflicted on the earth, plants are still here to nurture and support us. Plants give us food, clothing, and shelter. The herbal medicines of the plant world help our bodies stay healthy and heal us when we’ve been sick or injured. Herbs can help us relax and sleep, and they can also give us energy when we’re feeling depleted. They can bring calm when we are feeling stressed, and they can lift our spirits when we are depressed. Herbs are very effective in treating trauma, which in curanderismo we call susto. They can help call the soul back into the body. Herbs comfort us when we are suffering from heartbreak or loss. Herbs assist and support us human beings in all stages of life, from birth to death.

As human beings, we carry the memory of plants in our DNA. All of our ancestors have been interacting with plants for countless generations. Our ancestors used plants for food, shelter, and clothing; in ceremony; and for medicine. Before our ancestors could go to a drugstore to buy aspirin for a headache, they learned to identify which plants growing around them could be helpful in relieving pain. The genetic memory of our plantcestors lives in our bones and blood.

Take a moment to pause and think about the ways plants have supported your life. Is your home built from trees? Is your clothing made of cotton? What is on your dinner plate? What is in your medicine chest? What plants are growing in your garden or in your neighborhood? Do you have a favorite tree you like to visit? Is there a place in nature that brings you a sense of peace and calm?

As we open our minds and hearts to the plant world, we begin to recognize all that they give us each day, unconditionally. As we take in the generous gifts from the plant kindom, it is natural to begin to feel care and to love them. You don’t have to work hard at it!

In Atava Garcia Swiecicki’s The Curanderx Toolkit she graciously offers thirteen medicinal chapters that each spotlight community healers who illuminate the heart of ancestrally rooted rituals, relationships, and recipes. This book is a gift to all curanderx on their path. It is full of wisdom, meditation, and guidance to remembering ancestral traditions and wellness ways of life. Through the voices of elders we receive original instructions on how to build right relations with plants and the earth. Swiecicki beautifully weaves her journey of growing with her garden while providing scientific and spiritual knowledge of the plants.

Susy Zepeda, author of Queering Mesoamerican Diasporas: Remembering Xicana Indígena Ancestries