Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Of People and Plants by Chanchal Cabrera

Since time immemorial herbs and plants have been assigned magical and mystical properties and have offered balm to those who were suffering. Their chemical properties have been applied as medicines and still form the basis of modern pharmaceutical science. Their energetic properties are applied for psychic or soul healing.

There is an instinctive attraction of people to plants – whether a bouquet of flowers, a lovely park, a path through the woods or our own gardens – and this attraction is the basis for the practice of horticulture therapy. We are drawn to plants; we feel better when we have exposure to plants; we use plants to mark all the important occasions through our lives. Births and deaths, weddings and anniversaries have been marked with flowers for thousands of years, as witness the ancient Persian burial chambers with many seeds and plant remains. Kings and Queens since the ancient Egyptians have been anointed on ascending to the throne. Even Elizabeth II was ritualistically anointed with neroli, rose, cinnamon, jasmine, benzoin, musk, civet and ambergris in sesame oil on her coronation as have all English monarchs for hundreds of years. The Victorians created a whole language of flowers whereby the contents of a bouquet or corsage could display ones intent towards a sweetheart or a suitor. Today we give roses to our lovers, we put flowers on a grave and we take plants to people in hospital. Plants and people have evolved over the millennia, side by side, sharing air and water and even sharing DNA.

Medicine men, shamans and elders in (so-called) primitive cultures around world, when asked how the first people knew which plants to pick, consistently answer that the plants told them so. Their relationship to the plant world is so intimate that they can hear what the plants have to say about their uses and dangers. Ancient Egyptians wrapped their mummies in cloths soaked in oil of Myrrh and Frankincense. This would not only preserve their bodies very well, but it was believed to ease their ascent to the higher plains of existence. Ancient Celts named the letters of the alphabet after trees so that reciting the alphabet meant listing birch, rowan, alder and willow. Some Celtic tribes also gave tree names to the months or seasons, pointing to a deep symbiotic inter-relationship with Nature and their landscape.

For most of us today, surrounded by development and a man-made landscape, Nature is something we glimpse through the car windows as we crawl along in rush hour traffic, or maybe if we are lucky it is a park where we can spend our lunch hour in the summer. We may try to get to the beach on the weekend but for the most part we are cut off, alienated and isolated from Nature. Horticulture Therapy presents an opportunity for individuals and communities to overcome this tragic loss. Everyone can participate, regardless of mental or physical ability, anything from digging new vegetable beds to sitting in the sun enjoying the flowers.

Horticulture Therapy provides an opportunity to reconnect soul and soil.

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