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pay attention – observe. concentrate.
posted on Sunday, November 28th 2010 10:43 am

(this is part 2 of a 10-part series, a life’s journey to become an herbalist observing gail faith edward’s article on the subject. you can find part 1 here.)

gail’s second step in her ten-fold path is to pay attention, observe and concentrate. she says:

I have lived on this ridge-top herb farm for over thirty years. The thing about living in one place for a long time is that you get to notice things. And you have plenty of time and activity behind you to base observations on. It takes a long time to notice some things; like how plants move naturally across a field, on their own, over a thirty year span. Or the length of time it took your usnea tincture to turn orange the last few times you made it. Observation is one of the most important skills of an herbalist. Whether you are or aspire to be a wildgatherer and medicine maker, a clinical herbalist or herbal nutritionist, whatever your particular herbal path is, you will need to develop keen observation skills. How do you do that? By paying attention.

An herbalist must pay constant attention to life. All of life and life processes. One way to do that is by tending a garden over many years. Goethe said that he spent his whole life in the garden and thus discovered the entire world. Start seeds and watch them grow. Welcome the same plant stands back year after year. Notice everything about your plants in every season. Notice their effects on people, animals, insects, other plants, the soil, the air. Visit your garden often, taking time to breath deeply, smell deeply, see deeply, listen deeply, relax deeply. Breathe from your heart. Watch the bees and butterflies, feel the breeze.”

although i’ve only been on this farmette for 6 years, i have observed more activity and changes with the flora than i probably have a lifetime of living at any other place. i have observed the plants moving slowly across the garden as well as plants that completely moved to the other side of our property and start growing where they never existed before as well as plants disappear completely from the landscape.

this year, i learned there are at least 3 wild varieties of rose growing on our property simply by taking regular walks that i didn’t bother to do in the past. i observed that the multiflora rose blooms sooner than the rugosa rose and the 3rd unidentified rose. i’ve watched small elder plants mature enough to start producing fruits, my own st. john’s wort completely disappear from my garden and jewelweed slowly creeping closer onto our property.

i’ve also noticed different growth patterns and plants emerging sooner than usual or later than usual. i got to see my peony plant bloom for the first time since i’ve lived here. also, nettles appeared for the first time after hopefully searching for them over the past 6 years. this year they flourished as if they had always grown there.

it is amazing to see plants coming and going, moving and filling in spaces. it is said the medicine comes to you when you need it most. i hope to continue observing these plants as they come and go in my life and learn all i can from them.

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