Talking With Plants – by Kiva Rose – Part 2 (of 2): Plant Revelations & Miscommunications

by Kiva Rose on March 19th, 2009
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Talking With Plants
by Kiva Rose

Part 2 (of 2): Plant Revelations & Miscommunications


That we take plant words in through our nose or our skin or our eyes or our tongue instead of our ears does not make their language less subtle. or sophisticated, or less filled with meaning.
-Stephen Buhner

The truth is that if we’re only listening for words – for language in human terms – then we’re barely listening at all! The world speaks to us in the ancient tongue of touch and color, texture and fragrance, through taste and breath and every part of our senses. Listening through our whole body teaches to be open to the world and each other in a whole new way and with a depth and subtlety that even the best words cannot begin to approach. All of nature communicates on this level, eternally engaged and intensely aware. We humans have pursued the allure of the linear mind and categorizable information and in the process, often abandoned the instinctual (and primary) intelligence of the body. Certainly both forms of learning are useful, but to underestimate the value of physical, tactile understanding is to undermine our relationship to the greater whole. The mind works best when integrated as a co-operative part of the body rather than designated the dictator of an artificial hierarchy of organs. Remembering and awakening the often submerged senses of the body requires patience and dedication for many of us, but the rewards are great. Knowing ourselves as living, vital parts of the natural world provides a visceral, bone-deep sense of self-knowledge and belonging in a larger family.

For those of us whose work is to facilitate healing with the help of the plants, speaking with them takes on a whole new level of significance and challenge. In the wordless language of the plants is also encoded the particular medicine that herb holds for human being. To discover and understand that language in a practical and thorough way is the work of a lifetime. Still, the common sense basics can be learned by any child. Most of know that bitter greens stimulate the release of gastric juices and encourage efficient action by the liver. In the same manner, many people are familiar with the use of common kitchen spices in food to increase circulation and digestion, or that just the scent of a flowering rose is enough to lift the spirits and invoke a sense of sensuality and relaxation. While these are simplistic examples, they are very much in keeping with the basis of how healers from many cultures speak with the plants every day.

The properties and personality of each herb is discernible through its taste, scent, appearance, fragrance, and even its habitat and relationship with surrounding flora and fauna. Dreams and intuition often play an important part the plant-healer relationship, but the foundation is built on a profoundly physical awareness of self and medicine. Learning when to use what herb for what person and when isn’t simply a process of memorizing information or hit and miss experimentation, but rather a complex and lyrical language revealed to those who cultivate a lifelong intimacy with the green world.

Besides what they may seem to impart about us or itself personally, on another level all plants – and indeed all elements of the natural world – are to one degree or another active transmitters of and conduits to the Anima… to the memories and intentions, knowings and implorings of the inspirited living earth.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plants also speak to us through our intuitive and emotional senses. While we may be expecting or waiting for instruction in English, the plants impart to us through impressions and feelings. Depending on the species, its native ecology and our receptivity, the intensity and complexity of the communications may vary a great deal. Most often, they are subtle in nature and require our focus and attentiveness to be discernible. Understanding the real meaning of these impressions requires practice and discernment as well as an understanding of the contextual whole. We may think that we hear that a plant is good to eat and then find out different from a field guide or another person more familiar with the local flora. It’s imperative then, that we use all our senses and understandings to perceive what we’re really being told rather than risking the possibility of misinterpreting through narrow vision. The stronger our affinity and the more intensely we cultivate intimacy with the plant world, the more clearly we will recognize and make use of their gifts.

Plants tend to relate to each other and the world as tribes of species, and through the plant world as a whole rather than on the highly individuated basis humans are more familiar (and comfortable) with. The great benefit of this is that all plants are integrally connected to the ancient wisdom of their type, and of all flora and of the earth as a whole in an immediate and accessible way. When we’re able to reinstate our own natural connection to them, we also have greater access to the collective consciousness, with its vast store of information and ways of knowing.

Cherokee herbalist David Winston aptly illustrates both the dangers and benefits of listening to the plants on this intuitive level through the teaching stories he uses in his Talking Leaves class. In one case, a man who had just attended a workshop on communicating with plants was convinced that the plant he was sitting with was telling him that it was safe to eat as much of it as he wanted, and he was in the process of eating several leaves when David happened by. He recognized the plant as a strong neurotoxin and attempted to warn the enthusiastic forager, but the man insisted the plant had told him to go ahead, and paramedics had to be called later that night to save the man’s life from severe poisoning. In a contrasting case, David was working with a woman suffering from immanent kidney failure, he had tried many remedies with limited success and the woman continued to decline. One day he felt distinctly called to treat her with Stinging Nettle, not the leaves as he had tried before but a tincture made from the seeds. Remarkably, it appeared to have restored full kidney function to the woman as well as many other similar cases that followed. It is now a primary remedy for renal failure by a growing percentage of herbalists and has also been affirmed by certain scientific studies. What made the difference from one instance to the other was the level of discernment, and it can sometimes require years of practice and measuring the results before we trust our intuition as the primary or sole means of evaluation. What I recommend is listening with all of the senses from touch to instinct and intuition while also weighing in research and the advice of those most experienced with a particular plant.

And whether we are confident about this less tangible level of communication or not, it is important to remember that the plants speak to us from every direction, through the air we breathe, in the taste of the food we eat, on the scent of a spring breeze, through the feel of cotton or linen cloth and from all around us. From forest and desert, garden and field, meadow and river, the flowers and trees sing the song they have known since long before the first human stepped upon the earth and will likely continue long after we have been taken back into the dirt we sprang from. In their wild melody is the wisdom and healing of every age and place. In the soft mutter of seeds and the deep hum of trees is the language we were each born to understand. Run your fingers across the furrows of bark and root, and begin to listen.


This essay by Kiva Rose will be appearing along with an Interview with herbalist Susun Weed, in the upcoming issue of Susan Meeker Lowry’s wonderful home-published magazine Gaian Voices.  As a gift to our blog readers, she has offered to send a free copy to anyone requesting.  Please include $2.00 to cover postage.  If you know of a group or church where they could be distributed or sold, please contact Susan for quantities:
Susan Meeker-Lowry
132 Fish Street
Fryeburg, Maine 04037
or e-mail:

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Categories: Botanical Medicine, Wild Plants & Traditional Healingways

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