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Radical Botany: Skillshare - Plants as Medicine and Pacific Ninebarks

Plants have been used to change human wellbeing for millions of years. Many cultures around the world use plant medicine to help reconnect to the multidimensional web of life. As we move toward a artifical mechanized world we are losing the connection to this wellbeing. Knowing the healing plants can bring us to balance. If we will.
Pacific Ninebarks
Pacific Ninebarks

"The ultimate role of ethnobotany lies not in the identification of new natural
products for the benefit of the modern world, but rather in the illumination of
a profoundly different way of living in relationship to nature." -Wade Davis"


In the time before humans became separated from the living earth, plants were an essential ingredient in human wellness. Our bodies and the plants were viewed as energetic manifestations of the same spirit. Humans could be healed if they would match their primary energy to that of the plant. Disease on the other hand, was regarded as a falling away from cosmic order and a spiritual affliction.

In those early times, healing represented the attempt to realign an individual with social context and the cosmic order. Plants used in this way represent mediators between the psycho-spiritual planes and the earthly reality. Their physical properties were and are often considered of secondary importance in the healing ritual. In traditional healing it is through the power of the ritual that plants are transformed into therapeutic agents.
We humans have evolved with plants over millions of years. And, except for genetically modified plants our cellular structures and DNA have experienced the same evolution, stressors, and mutations.

It has only been in the last 100 years that modified chemical compounds and substances, recreated in labs, and prepared to "treat" a symptom have been given to humans as medicine. So great is the propaganda about these dangerous chemicals and so addictive, humans put them into their bodies in spite of the fact that they have proven to cause negative radical changes to the body, mind and spirit. These changes have proven to be life threatening and ecologically threatening. These chemical "medicines" are a threat to all life on earth. They are found in all eco systems and are part of the cause of the mass extinction of 100's of species and thousands of humans every year.
There I have said it. This is what is true to me. For those of you using these chemicals, I am not trying to offend you. But, I challenge you to take a more holistic, synergetic look at what you ingest. Because what you ingest will flow out to the planet and the web of life. And, we are creating a chemical soup of destruction. I challenge you to learn plant medicine and take control of your own wellbeing.

As I said before, humans and plants have had a symbiotic and synergistic relationship for millions of years. We humans have had many cycles where we used wisdom to guide our lives and many cycles of war, destruction and ignorance. During these times of destruction, we destroy each other, the planet and the wise ones.

We have had short lived cycles of destruction, like the dark ages where we mass murdered nine million healer women in Europe. And we have a longer cycle where a great cleansing comes at the end of it.
This time we live in now is called The Kali uga or the Age of Confusion by the Hindu and the Hopi call this time the "Koyaanisqatsi", which means "world out of balance...a state of life that calls for another way." We are at the end of a 25,000 year cycle that calls for us to wake up and not allow ourselves to be mind-melded with the corporate consumer mindlessness.
Even in these ages of ignorance and adoration of the mind, some humans came forward to keep teaching us the correct relationship between plants and human healing.


For millions of years humans learned that we are not only the physical bodies we live in, but first and foremost we are energy. Vibrating energy connected to all systems of vibrating energy across the planet and our universe. With that truth in mind, healing had to happen on an energy level first for the body to be brought to wellness. Systems of oppression such as religions and other forms of the patriarchy tried to corrupt this knowledge by telling the masses that sin caused illness. Humans were told that they could not know their own bodies or minds and that only an "expert" or priest could bring about healing. The direct relationship between plant and human was cut off. During these dark ages (that continue today) humans were taught that nature was evil and had to be controlled, processed and broken down to raw chemical process. We are told that to talk to the plants directly is a form of spiritualism and ignorance. All knowledge of how to communicate with the plant has been removed from medicine, food, and community.

But the truth is that as long as the human is out of sync on a vibrational level, no amount of pills, operations or chemical therapies will heal the human. Because humans are body, mind and spirit living in a web of life. This holistic view of healing must be re-adopted for us to heal.
In The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav the author brought together Buddhist monks and scientist (physicists) to explore physics and life. According to Zukav, the Buddhist view is that "each object is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact is everything else" or according to Mahayana Buddhism, physical reality "is based upon the interdependence of all things." This is common view of shamanism, nature-based non-contaminated cultures. It is the core belief of such great plant healers as Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), and Samuel Hahnemann (homeopathy) and Dr. Edward Bach (Bach Flower Remedies.

"Rather than recognizing the role of germ theory of disease, defective organs and/or tissue, and other known and demonstrable sources of disease, Bach thought that of illness as the result of "a contradiction between the purposes of the soul and the personality's point of view." This internal war, according to Bach, leads to negative moods and energy blocking, which causes a lack of "harmony," thus leading to physical diseases."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bach
""Disease will never be cured or eradicated by present materialistic methods, for the simple reason that disease in its origin is not material . . . Disease is in essence the result of conflict between the Soul and Mind and will never be eradicated except by spiritual and mental effort."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bach

The Bach flower remedies heal from an energy level of the human body. This idea that human are energetic beings is not welcomed by western medicine. It is the basis for traditional healing methods taught around the world. Because it is not shown on TV, westerners pretend that it is not an important mode of healing and therefore not real."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bach
Bach postulated that plants and especially flowers have energetic substance that affects the emotional level of human existence. He found that he could capture these healing qualities and create flower essences.

I carry a bottle of Bach's Rescue remedy with me everywhere. This combination remedy is useful for emotional trauma or just feeling overwhelmed with the changes that are taking place in the world right now. As a social worker I often meet people who experiencing crisis. I make sure I have strong energetic boundaries, but I also use the Rescue Remedy to calm myself after a more intense encounter.

I use the Bach Flower remedies on my cats also. They are both now 20 years old and I have help sustain them through many healing crises by first treating the emotional part of their spirits.


Shamanism is the earth's oldest method of healing.

"Shamanism teaches that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit, and that we are joined with the earth and all life via our spiritual in interconnectedness. Just as quantum physics describes a field of energy that connects all of life, shamans also speak of a web of life that connects everything." Shamanic Journeying - Sandra Ingerman

Shamans are found around the world and are an intricate part of community. Shamans are taught skills passed down from generation to generation. They travel between the energy dimensions that exist around our own materialistic world to speak to the energies of plants, animals, trees insects, birds, fish, reptiles and rocks, as well as spirits of the elements of earth, air, water, and fire. Shamans are taught intuitive skills and these skills allow them to "tune into" plants and humans.
Shamans and plant energy.

Shamans speak directly to the plants and they listen even more attentively. Shamans may ingest a plant meant to heal another, opening to the plant spirit for direction. This shamanistic view of plant healing is spreading across the world as humans understand how we are interconnected.
Many western herbalists have adopted shamanistic methods of working with the healing plants as the western way of healing has mostly failed us.

cat•a•lyst (k t l- st)n.
1. Chemistry A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.
2. One that precipitates a process or event, especially without being involved in or changed by the consequences.

In many societies plants are believed to embody a spirit, which can be addressed, and if treated right, is drawn into the physical body of the plant by means of ritual, thus rendering it medicinally potent. However, in many traditions the healer then consumes the medicine, not the patient. The healer becomes a catalyst for healing and is not changed by the use of the plant themselves. The healer ritualistically assimilates the healing power of the plant, and thus can affect the healing.
Many plants also work as catalysts. They cannot be "tested" scientifically for potency or results because each person has somewhat different results. Some plants lose their healing abilities because of the way they are harvested or grown. Plants such as St. John's Wort are best used fresh and from a person's geographical area. St. John's Wort works as a catalyst for finding internal "wellbeing". It is used to treat deep seated depression and soul disconnect. It was never meant to deaden ones emotions.

Modern medicine is judged by its active principals - those chemicals that are considered removable from the plant, and synthesized into pharmaceuticals. This is the present day materialistic view of how medicine works on the human body.

The modern pharma model views the human body as a machine in which organs and body parts can be removed from the whole and replaced without affecting the whole. Medicine is inserted into the human body machine in biochemical formulations to affect an isolated symptom. The long term affect of this type of healing is that humans are becoming sicker, far removed from community, and psychically removed from the living earth. Psychic and spiritual imbalance is not addressed.

A major block to accessing "pure" plant healing is that many of the biochemical pharmaceuticals are ending up in our drinking water, rivers, streams, land and air. We are all being subjected to artificial biochemicals. Many of these altered biochemicals combine to negatively affect our bodies and minds in ways that cannot be understood at this time. And, if the body and mind is altered, connection to our spirit, the living earth and our helpful allies is also lost.
Chinese herbalism, Western herbalism, Ayurvedic practices, Aromatherapy, flower essence remedies and others are steadily gaining acceptance among the mainstream.

Traditional healing views the human body as a whole system that is connected to the living earth and biosystem as well as energy levels that surround us. What we do to one, we do to all.
As knowledge of plant medicine spreads so are unethical harvesting practices spreading. Word is spread of a favorable healing due to a certain plant, whole societies spring up around the plant, it becomes valuable and then the plant and land disappear due to over harvesting.

Plants such as Salvia Divinorum are said to possess spirit altering energies. This plant is only grown in a certain part of Mexico. Villagers must hide their crops from eco-tourists and those seeking a "high" from the plant. Turf wars have erupted.

A much better plan for Cascadians would be to learn the medicinal plants of our area and use them sparingly and with respect. There are thousands of plants that will bring us to balance growing all around us. Learning the plants respectfully and with much discipline does not sound like much fun for Westerners prone to look for a quick fix and a quick high. However, we must act together to protect our natural world.

There are plenty of opportunities to experience the healing qualities of the plants that grow all around us.

Here is a ritual that I use for working with the plants.

When I feel unbalanced in my body, mind or spirit I go to a quiet place. I meditate, pray and ask for direction. I read through my plant books looking for special plants. Sometimes I have dreams about a plant. Then I go out to where the wild areas are around me. I have several places I go to find healing plants. My favorite places are in the Coast Range of Oregon. I also go to the foothills of the Cascades and to the High Desert of Oregon and Washington for special plants. I often go alone because I want to listen and be in the moment. I allow myself to follow water and energy like the wind in the trees. I follow the songs and chirping of a bird. I allow myself to be alert and aware of my surroundings. I sing and then I listen.

I find specimens of plants that are in a healthy community. I take just a little of each community. I use a cutting tool so as not to pull on the plant. Many plants can be cut and rooted in water. I have been able to propagate some plants around my home.

The most powerful plants for healing are found in the wild. This is the main place I go to look for medicine, although I grow a few plants to have near me. I also take my sketch book with me and spend some time sketching and observing the plant. I write about the other plants that live nearby. I observe soil type and moisture. I look to see how wildlife interacts with the plant. I write this all down so I can access this knowledge later.

I learned what plants will help my two old cats by watching what they choose in the forest. When we were younger we lived in the coast range. At that time my cats would go into the forest every morning for a walk. They would nibble on small herbs along the forest path. I would pick these plants and identify them. I still go and collect the plants and offer them to my cats... that are now almost 20 years old.

Physocarpus capitatus (Pursh) Kuntze
Pacific Ninebark; Rosaceae

This plant is very unusual. It was called Ninebark because it was believed to have nine layers of shredding bark on the stem. It is found all over the valleys and Coast Range of Cascadia. It is found in moist areas along streams and lowland marshes and wet areas. It can grow to be a dense deciduous shrub growing to 1 to 2.5 meters tall. The bark is slightly reddish and cracking. In the summer the shrub covered with a white flower that pollinators and hummingbirds love. In the Autumn it provides berries for birds and wildlife.

It is considered an essential healing plant that saved the lives of thousands of indigenous people during the epidemics of the 1800's in Cascadia. This plant works as a catalyst when combined with other plants and was used to treat measles, gonorrhea and boils, it was used as antidote to poisoning, a laxative, a decoction of bark was used as a wash or soaking solution for rheumatic pain. It is used as an emetic or purgative. Many of the medicinal preparations or "recipes" that included Pacific Ninebark were kept secret by the first peoples of Cascadia.

The plant was used to make wooden spoons, arrows and children's toys.

The plant was a major healing herb for the Nuu-chah-hulth, Cowichan, Nuxalk, coast Salish and Kwakwaka'wakw as well as the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island.

It was used to prepare other plant medicine for use. It was and is a major catalyst plant. It had qualities when mixed with other plants, caused major changes in medicines. It is said that when the plant is grown in a garden, that new species of pollinators and birds will show up. The plant brings change.

The brown dye in the plant was used in weavings and cedar bark baskets.

This last spring I went out along streams to harvest Hookers Willow. I was going to build a live Willow trellis for my garden peas. I found some growing along the Luckimute River and also was able to harvest some Pacific Ninebark that grew alongside it. I placed the Willow and Pacific Ninebark in a tub of water and both sprouted roots very easily.

The Pacific Ninebark can be planted in the yard in a moist area of the yard in spring. The plant will bring hummingbirds, bees of all types and other pollinators.


1. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, Pojar and McKinnon, Lone Pine Publishing, 2004
2. Ethnobotany - University of Michigan  http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Physocarpus+capitatus
3. Wikipedia -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physocarpus_capitatus
4. NRCS: USDA Plants Profile Physocarpus capitatus, [1], OR,WA,ID,CA [2], CA: [3]
5. Wiki - Dr. Edward Bach -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bach

6. Shamanic Journeying - a beginner's guide, Sandra Ingerman, Sounds True, Inc. Boulder Colorado, 2004, 2008.

homepage: homepage: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/radicalbotany/