by Ashley Litecky Elenbaas, MS, RH(AHG)
Plant spirits are tricky. Like catching fireflies, their magic quickly fades once you try to place them in a bottle, jar, or pocket (we all make mistakes). So, how do we catch this elusive spirit of a plant? Are there ways to coerce the plant spirits into our medicines so they can perform their magic in our bodies and in our spaces?
The good news is there are! Here are some fantastic ways to respectfully harness plant spirits into safe and usable forms and the methods and practices that I have found over the years to work best. As with all medicine and plant gathering, be sure you know your plants. These formulas will work best for the aerial parts of a plant which includes the flowers, leaves, and the above ground parts. If you are new at this I recommend starting with familiar culinary plants like basil, peppermint, rosemary and thyme. All have delightful spirits that will work well in each of these preparations.
Here are two crucial tips necessary for catching plant spirits:
Firstly, and most importantly, consider your approach. If you go straight at a plant with a sharp pair of scissors and a lifted eyebrow, chances are the plant spirit will vanish. Sometimes they disappear into their roots, other times they jump to another plant. When approaching a plant be relaxed, soft, and pretend like you have a little secret that you are going to share with them. Plant spirits LOVE secrets.
Then, once you are close enough, kneel down, gently take the plant into your hands, start to tell them a story or fun secret from the human world and then gingerly transfer them into a container of your choice. Even if you are collecting herbs in a basket, you can keep the spirits around by keeping them entertained as you gather and walk.
Once you have gathered the plant, with the spirit intact, here are 5 ways to preserve your plant spirits:
Make A Spirit Vinegar – This is a very simple and easy way to transfer the spirit of your plants into a very usable and palatable form. My favorite is apple cider vinegar, raw and organic if available. To do this, use your hands and gently tear your plant into smaller pieces. Try singing a song, humming a melody, and work quickly and sweetly. Fill about ½ of your container with the plant material and then use your apple cider vinegar to fill the container to the top! Place in a shady nook or cupboard for a few weeks. Then strain the plant material out, donate it back to the earth, and your plant spirit infused vinegar on salads, stir-fries or as a daily supplement!
Bundle it up – You like hugs, right? Well plants do too! Consider making an herb bundle with your spirit infused plants. These can later be used as decoration for altars, wall art, or burned as an herbal smudge ceremonially. My favorite plants for bundles are mugwort, peppermint, sage, sweet grass, and lavender. To make an herb bundle, gather your plants into even bunches and trim the bottoms so the base is flat. Use hemp, thick red thread (spirits love the color red!), or twine and begin to wrap them from the bottom. Once you have wrapped them 10-12 times at the base, cradle the bundle in your hand holding the leaves together and begin to wrap upward diagonally. Once you reach the top wrap diagonally downward so that you cross each thread and make an X. It is also a good idea to hum or sing while doing this process. Then, hang your bundles upside down in a well ventilated space for a few weeks until they dry.
Soak the Spirit in Spirits – Nothing preserves the spirits of plants like alcohol! Plus I have to think that the little plant sprites like the buzz as they relax and let their spirits flow into the fluids around them. If you can get organic grape alcohol, this is my favorite -- or you can also use Everclear grain alcohol. Aim for 190 –proof alcohol if possible, and if that is not available then you can use 150 or 100-proof vodka. To infuse your plants gently tear them into smaller pieces while singing or humming and place them in a glass jar with a good fitting lid. If possible fill the jar all the way to the top leaving an inch at the top. Then pour your alcohol over the top and press the plant material down gently until it is completely submerged. Cap and thank your plant spirits for their cooperation and let them know they are in for a fun ride! Place in a shady nook or cupboard for 21 -28 days (a full lunar cycle is best) and then strain and compost/offer the plant material back to the earth. There are many ways to use these spirits depending on the plant you chose. You can add a splash to a fruity cocktail, place a few drops on your tongue for a plant pick-me-up, or mix with water and add it to a spritzer bottle with a few drops of essential oil as a plant spirit spray.
Invite Them In – A great way to bring the spirit of plants, especially flowers into your life, is to place them in a jar or vase in your home. You will still gather the plants as recommended above and simply place them somewhere in your home where they can soak in conversations, laughter, mealtime smells, and human secrets. This is also a wonderful way to get them to share their secrets with you. Here is a great article on how to gather and arrange wildflower bouquets.
Make a Flower Essence – The cool thing about making flower essences is that you often don’t even have to pick the plant you're using to make the essence. A wonderful way to make a flower essence is to go out with a glass bowl of spring or filtered water in the morning around 9 am and find a willing plant in flower. Look for an upright head and in a plant that has an abundance of energy to share. Then, tip the plant head soaking the flower head in the water without breaking the stem and sit for an hour to three hours while thanking the plant for sharing its essence with the water. You can also gather the flowers from the stems, removing them from the plant and place them in the water bowl of water. In both cases, sit with the flowers and let the rising energy of the sun draw out the spirit of the plant. Once you see the petals begin to fade use a clean chopstick or a thick piece of grass to remove the flowers (don’t use your fingers) and look for tiny vibrant bubbles in the water. Then pour this essence into a jar or dropper bottle and add a splash of brandy to help preserve it. This is your mother essence and can be used according to the energetic principles of the plant. To learn more, click here.
Ashley Litecky Elenbaas is a Clinical Herbalist and owner of Sky House Yoga, a donation-based wellness collective in Silver Spring, Maryland. www.skyhouseyoga.com