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Plant Magic: And Also, St. John's Wort

I'm sappy about plants.

I may act like a science-brain person on the outside, but on the inside, I do this because I believe in plant magic. I think that anyone who has ever spent real time in the meadows and the woods has to feel the same on some level. Today’s post is about that magic, and about how you too can become a touchy feely plant person.

A couple weeks ago, I was up at camp with my husband, new baby, and stepkiddos to spend the weekend with my in-laws. Camp is Clayton, NY, a beautiful and funky little marina town on the 1000 Islands in Northern NY. While I was there, my mother-in-law asked me to go through her flower beds and let her know what was a weed and what wasn’t. She has asked me to do this in the past and I always laugh because for me, the weeds tend to be way more interesting than whatever was planted there on purpose. But I wanted to help, and was happy to give her the facts of the situation so she could decide what she wanted to do with the beds.

So I went to investigate. In the beds there were some fabulous “weeds” growing wild: nettle, motherwort, shepherd’s purse and St. John’s wort. This was a jackpot. No one just has this stuff lying around their flower beds. I have a motherwort patch in my garden already but the St. John’s wort I have never cultivated, just gathered in the wild. So of course, me being me, I dug up the St. John’s wort and the motherwort and gently placed them in the Dollar Store flower pots my mother-in-law bought for me, added some extra dirt, watered them, and put them in the back of my husband’s Jeep with our stroller.

St. John’s wort doesn’t transplant well. It has a reputation of dying pretty quick when you dig

it up and move it, and you’re a saint yourself if you manage to grow it from seed. I have failed at both many times before. But I figured, where else was it going to go? My mother-in-law didn’t want it so the most I could do was offer it a good home and see if felt I was worthy. So once I got home, I went to the garden and planted both St. John’s wort plants next to my stepdaughter’s bush bean plants. I didn’t really have anywhere else to put them. I also didn’t have a lot of faith that they were going to survive – the little flowers that were starting to poke out on one of the plants were already looking wilty.

That was a Monday. The next day, I decided it would be fun to switch purses and use my bright orange one for a while. I haven’t switched purses in ages but it had randomly (or maybe not so randomly) popped into my head the night before how fun it would be to use this particular bag.

In the bottom of the bag was a Blue Vervain and St. John’s Wort tincture.

Believing in plant magic, I took it as a sign, and I took the tincture.

On the following Wednesday, our family had some issues come up with mean kids being mean and we dealt with the effects of bullying on my stepdaughter. I must admit, I flew into a rage, which is not usually like me, but I get protective of all my kids, step or otherwise. To cool off, I walked to our community garden beds to sit with the plants.

The first thing I noticed when I got there was that the bigger of the two St. John’s wort plants, the one that had started to flower but had still been looking wilty the day before when I checked them, had pushed those flowers right straight back up in the air. Wilty no more, despite the fact that I was quite certain these plants weren’t going to make it. So I sat in the dirt, covered in tears, burning with anger, crying next to the St. John’s wort.

And then it hit me.

Nothing of this was by accident. What did it want to say to me?

Plants are funny things. You think you know their minds and their temperaments but I personally am often proved wrong when I actually sit and listen.

St. John’s wort, as many of you know, is a plant that is used often for depression. It is in the category of plants that I call “the brightening flowers”: it’s a happy plant, that looks happy when you look at it. I feel the same way about calendula, hibiscus and a bunch of other herbs as well, but St. John’s wort literally glistens with glee in the sun. It is a testament to joy. And because of that, it is an herb that I use to help those who are struggling to overcome – to find their joy, and to find the strength and inspiration to rise up out of pain, whether emotional or physical.

That’s what my stepdaughter really needed. She didn’t need me flying off the handle, she needed me to be there to tell her that there is still light when painful things happen, and that no one had the right to take her happiness away from her. That others may hurt us sometimes, but that joy is still possible. She needed to know that all wasn’t lost. She needed hope.

I told you this was going to be a sappy post.

And as I sat and watched the St. Johns wort find a way to push up its flowers after being pulled out of the ground, I realized that I needed to get up, go home, and hug my stepdaughter. So that’s what I did. And that rage was gone.

That was Wednesday.

Then, on Thursday evening, that same stepdaughter went to garden and pulled out my St. John’s Wort plants.

It wasn’t her fault. She thought they were weeds (seems to be a theme, huh). I had told her to go and weed her cucumbers, but she saw two strange plants hanging out in her bean bed so she pulled those up too.

Friday morning, around 6:30, I had a thought strike me that it was going to be incredibly hot and I should stop by the garden on the way to work to water everything. I have never once done that – stopped at the garden to water on my way to work. Never. But something told me I needed to that day.

I walked into my garden and almost had a heart attack. Where were my St. John’s wort plants?! Then I saw them, laying neatly on the gravel next to the bean bed, roots completely intact, green parts still bright.

Flowers still pushing straight up.

I replanted them in the soil, watered them like crazy and took a photo to show my stepdaughter so we wouldn’t have this situation again.

If I hadn’t gone to the garden that morning, they would have died in the 90 degree sun.

Once a plant talks to you four times, its not a coincidence anymore. Besides, there are no coincidences in their world.

One thing that I started noticing when I was still a student was that once you realize a plant is calling you to ally-ship, not only do you listen, but you understand that there is a reason for that. There is a need for that plant in your life and its trying to tell you that. I have noticed since these interactions that every client I have worked with has had a need for St. John’s Wort. I started taking it daily because for whatever reason, I'm supposed to right now. I am not exactly sure what that reason is yet – but its there. Its for me to be patient and listen.

Its also, of course, the Summer Solstice right now, Litha for witchies like me. St. John’s wort has always had masculine energy to me, and Litha is a masculine time. The high sun has always been male in its personifications, and the bright, fiery flowers of this herb look like little suns and bloom right around this time. So of course its now that it reaches out. There are no coincidences.

Ok, sappy section over. For now. We’ll circle back.

A little more about St John’s Wort. It is used for both emotional and physical pain – as one of our best nervines, it lifts and brightens. Its energetics are slightly warm and slightly moist (oily), and it wraps its lovin’ arms around you like a bear hug. It also cradles the nerves themselves, being of immense support with pain syndromes of all kinds. But I find where St. John’s wort is of special use is when there is emotional sadness brought on by years of chronic pain. What a hope to have in our toolbox.

That’s where my little teaser ends – if you do want to learn more about St. John’s wort, this whole experience has encouraged me to change our monthly materia medica schedule and we will now be focusing on this herb for our June class (Blue Vervain will be July instead). Feel free to use the “classes” tab to find out more on how to join us for our monthly materia medica classes 😊

Before I wrap up here, I want to again reiterate as I often do that herbal medicine is not something you can just do with your brain. If you want to get to know the plants enough to be able to help others with them, you have to ally with them in a meaningful way. This takes not only listening and paying attention, but it takes time. Slow time. The kind of time that isn’t particularly “productive”.

Go and sit with the plants. Any plant. Do it now.

You don’t need to have a garden or a yard. You can spend time with the plants on a sidewalk (can you say dandelion and plantain) or behind a school or in a park. But sit with the plants. Build real ally-ship that depends on your relationship being a two way street – them communicating with you just as much as you taking from them.

If it feels weird and you don’t know where to start, that’s ok. For a while, the first couple times you try, just bring a book or a journal or your dog. Just be. It will be awkward at first, but learning to open these channels will keep them open when a plant does in fact feel like a chat. And you'll know when it happens.

And it will be true magic.

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