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Posts Tagged ‘doctrine of signatures’

One of the first things I was told when I arrived was that there are bears where I am staying. I’ve never been any good at keeping my emotions from displaying themselves on my face and whatever expression I was wearing after hearing about the bears seemed to scream that I needed some reassurance. “Oh, no the bears are actually scared of people. Really. They are not the fierce kind, they are just interested in the compost.” Um. Ok.

Well it was too late to turn back. My family and I had traveled eight hours to Conway, New Hampshire to work on the farm of The World Fellowship Center for two weeks. The desire to get my hands in the earth and learn more about food and farming far outweighed my fear of bears.


My longing to get my hands dirty started coming to the fore during my last year as an herbal apprentice with Robin Rose Bennett. Robin emphasizes the importance of learning about the plants by seeing them in their natural environments. Knowing that mullein thrives in rocky soil can help you figure out that it can clear hard, dry conditions in your body. Seeing how deeply resilient dandelions are might clue you in that a part of their medicine helps to energize and strengthen our bodies so that we can grow under any circumstances.

Beloved herbalist and midwife Tioma Allison taught me that this way of learning about the healing medicines of plants is part of The Doctrine of  Signatures. She and Robin both encouraged me to look closely at a plant, sit with it and consider the shape and texture of the leaves, the hair (or lack thereof) on the stalks, the colors of the fruit, the appearance of the flowers–everything can offer information about the plants if we are willing to observe them and listen. And if there ever was a place to observe and listen to plants, it is where they grow. So visiting the plants became important to me.

After I spent a season managing two local farmers’ markets, my need to get closer to the earth became irrepressible. At the markets I could barely recognize some of my favorite foods sometimes! Food came in colors and shapes I’d never seen in the supermarket.  I was amazed by the huge difference in taste between a vegetable picked six hours earlier in a town two hours away and one picked in a city across the country–or in a town way across the ocean. The flavor of farm fresh food made me want to see how things grew and play a role (however small) in nurturing that growth.

So here I am almost two weeks later in rural New Hampshire harvesting mustard greens, radishes, and snap peas; planting scallions, chard, kohlrabi and pulling lots of my favorite medicinal plants out of the ground ( I’ve learned that an herbalist’s dream is often a farmer’s nightmare). I’ve petted a pig named Sassafras, milked a goat named Merry, tasted pine resin, and taken multiple rides in the back of an ancient green Ford pick up truck.

I’ve also fallen in love with The World Fellowship Center, the beauty of the people this place attracts,  and the dedication of the Center’s Directors to environmentalism, peace and social justice. I am starting to feel as though I have found another place my soul can call home. And no, I haven’t seen any bears yet…let’s keep our fingers crossed on that one.

What are you growing this summer?

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