Though I generally try to shy away from overly romantic notions, gathering herbs in their wild habitat nourishes my soul in ways that I cannot adequately explain in words. And I know that I am far from alone in this feeling. There is something very meditative and calming about engaging with nature and removing ourselves from the trappings of modern society. The sounds of insects, birds, breezes and rushing waters replace the sounds of mobile device notifications, televisions and vehicles. The rhythm of identifying, inspecting and collecting each herb takes the place of racing thoughts and monkey-brained machinations. Is that a violet tucked under that fern? Can I get to that mugwort on the other stream bank without getting too wet? Can I harvest just enough elderflower now so that there will still be plenty of berries come fall?
The forest is a mosaic of medicine, slowly revealing the botanical bounty hidden in the canopy, tucked away in the understory and peeking out from the shaded meadows. Follow a trail through the woods, and you’ll observe a scene not unlike an impressionist painting—shades of green and earthy brown, dappled with delicate whites, pinks and purples all painted with nature’s feathery brushstrokes. A calm and patient eye will soon see that this place of quiet and peace is a botanical wonderland of lichens, leaves, needles, berries, bark and roots offering gentle healing and nourishment.
Explore the woods and find medicine around every bend in the trail. Reach into the canopy and gather the citrusy lime green fir tips in spring for a fragrant respiratory ally. Keep your eyes to the ground as you enter the dappled sun of the meadow to discover sweet little self heal, known for its restorative and protective actions on the skin, hidden in the grassy areas between the trees each summer. Dig deep into the earth at the forest’s edge come fall to collect the luminous yellow roots of Oregon grape, whose roots are one of nature’s most profound medicines for the liver. Dust aside the winter snows to trim a few fragrant cedar boughs for the clean, clear sense that the graceful tree evokes.
Herbal medicine is about more than just “this herb is good for this complaint or organ.” Herbs offer a broad range of medicinal use, and they invite us to engage more with our minds and bodies and, very much so, with the earth.