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What’s the real deal behind using herbs as plant medicine

By Boyuan Gao

As a BMW (a busy-modern-woman), I’m constantly getting myself into a work tizzy and then needing a “fix it” to bring me back to my equilibrium. I’m not talking about hard drugs, alcohol, or anything of the sort I’m talking about herbal remedies, Juice Press binges, and lots of sage in my bedroom. 

The pitfall of using herbs allopathically: 

Using herbs like kava-kava, burdock, or CBD to calm my nerves and restore my adrenals is cool and all, but it’s also not sustainable. I’m not saying that the herbs themselves aren’t effective, it’s how I’m using them that isn’t effective. I’m interacting with plant medicine in the same way that I take an Advil to knock out my headache or cramps. I don’t have to think about them, letting me get back to my busy, important, modern life. Ew, as I’m reading myself write this. 

But alas, this is exactly what I do. I go to Shake Shack and get a delicious, juicy burger, with those crinkle fries that don’t taste like anything. Then I run to a juice shop and douse myself with chlorophyll drops or some variety of nutrient-rich goodies so I don’t feel as bad. This is similar to how I’ll get into a silly tiff with my dad over the holidays. Then I sage all around the bedroom to clear out his “bad vibes”, instead of restraining myself from overreacting. In case you didn’t know, white sage and palo santo are on the watch list of plants that are in danger of becoming extinct if they continue to be overharvested. I blame BMWs like myself (living in the West), who have fallen into the commodification of sacred practices. Maybe you can relate. If you’ve never thought about this before, perfect, now’s the time. 

Mindfulness with plant allies:

Hey listen, I’m guilty as charged. I’m not here to condemn anyone for doing what I just described myself. However, it’s time to begin interacting with these practices much differently, safely, and healthily. We have to be aware of the former, in order to attune to the latter. 

Know the source of your plant medicines:

Did you get a really cheap deal on CBD from some busted and sketchy website? Does your supplier have full transparency on farming practices and the use of pesticides and additives? Do you know the company’s stance on paying fair wages? In the case of CBD and THC products, what’s the company’s stance on mass incarceration and racial equity? The product could be organic, but the company might participate in wild unethical practices. These things will all have an impact on you, physically, mentally and spiritually. Don’t think they won’t.

  • If your plant was harvested with integrity, those who harvested the plant will have asked the plant for permission first, to mitigate mutual harm. A plant that wasn’t asked proper permission, maybe angered, and therefore there might be consequences involved by you taking it. 
herbs as plant medicine

Let’s now establish a few simple rituals to be present to the gifts of this medicine:

According to the prolific herbalist, former pro-boxer, environmental activist (and dear friend) Vanessa Chakour, the ability to work with plants as “allies” aids more in our absorption of their medicines, than if we just took them without full consciousness. That makes a whole lot of sense, as these plants are from the living, and each has its own consciousness. I’ll credit Vanessa here (and her lineage of teachers) in few practices that lead to deepened consciousness and partnership with these plants: 

Using herbs and plants intentionally:

  • Close your eyes for a short meditation to create an intention with your plant ally. This doesn’t have to be a long process. It’s more about settling into the present moment and not hastily taking the medicine without consciousness. 
  • Thank the plant medicine for their partnership.
  • Show a simple gesture of gratitude. You can speak it out loud if that feels right. You can provide some sort of offering. This is open to your interpretation and can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. You might think this is silly, but by using your intuition to guide, it shows a symbol of your partnership vs. you just taking without giving back. Think of it as how you’d like to be treated in any partnership. 
  • Once you engage with the plant: through ingestion, smoking, brewing it into a tea, or whatever form applies to you, take another conscious moment and experience it. How did you feel before? How do you feel now?

This is important to help you slow down and align with what the plant is providing. Approach your practice mindfully, rather than impatiently and presumptuously demanding that it fix your ails. This is a lesson to be humble. 

To all of my BMWs out there, or BMMs (busy-modern-men), or BMGNP (busy-modern-gender-neutral-peoples) out there hear this message. Next time you are using plants to heal, take a moment of mindfulness and remember to show respect and gratitude to these wonderful allies. 

Until next time!

boyuan gao
Boyuan is a Western Massachusetts based cultural strategist and equity designer. Her career has spanned organizations impacting youth development, juvenile justice, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, environmental justice, music journalism, digital media, technology and women’s entrepreneurship, with roles ranging from founder, editor-in-chief, marketer, community organizer, facilitator and more.
Boyuan is the cofounder of Project Inkblot, a Design for Diversity™ consultancy, which partners with companies to create equitable products, services, content, and experiences. Their portfolio includes clients like Rent the Runway, Etsy, SS+K, WeWork and Housing Works. She is also an executive producer and creator of Fit the Description, a docu-series exploring the nuances of race, identity and policing.

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