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Plant Lore: Magic or Myth?

I love the word "lore." It feels magical and mystical to me. When I hear the term, I immediately want to gather my loved ones and get cozy by the light of a fire to share stories. It makes me want to be still, lean in, and listen.


Lore is defined as a body of knowledge or tradition passed down among members of a culture, usually orally. In other words, it is knowledge gained in any particular community through the act of storytelling. It's what puts the lore in "folklore."


"Plant lore" is simply the stories we share of our relationship to, and experiences with, plants. Humans have relied on plants for our species' very survival for millennia, and this dependence most certainly led our ancestors to develop a deep and sacred relationship with plant folk. 


Recognizing the significance of their role in our health and well-being, plants became an integral part of life in those days, making our experiences with them very much worthy of sharing. You can imagine how plant lore back then was so much more than mere "stories"; it was sacred knowledge we shared with our children to ensure their survival. And naturally, plant lore has greatly influenced many aspects of our lives, even today, including cuisine, medicine, and religion. 


adore learning about the historical uses of plants. I especially love reading about their origins and who came to use them first, and for what purposes. To gain insight into how plants were used medicinally for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by our predecessors simply enthralls me. 


There is such rich history to be found in the folktales passed down through the generations. The stories told of the interaction between plants and people capture my imagination and transport me to a distant era, filling me with curiosity and wonderment at how life must have been in those days. How I would love to become a time traveller, pull up a seat around the fire, and immerse myself in such lore!


There is a feeling I can't quite describe - the power these stories hold - that gives me a greater sense of belonging. When I hear them, I feel more connected to my ancestors and to my surroundings. Life has more meaning. Yet there is also a tinge of sadness, I have to admit; a sense of something having been lost. The deep respect and connection we once had with plants and the natural world fill me with a longing to return to those ways. 


It leaves me wondering: how different would our world be today if the reverence we once had for the land and its many offerings had not been severed? In the race to advance our species, what have we lost that can't be found? What can still be found that hasn't yet been lost?


Today, ancient traditions and cultural stories surrounding how plants were once used give us insight into their healing nature and provide us with a starting point for conducting research and clinical trials. As modern technology advances, we now have the power to dive deep into the chemistry of herbs, and with that comes the desire to prove or challenge a plant's traditional uses. In other words, we want to know if these plants live up to their folk tales. 


Lacking the modern medical advantages that we have today, I can't help but wonder how our ancestors were so accurate in their intuitions and experiences with plants as medicine? Time and time again, it seems that our advances in technology are only just now uncovering what has been known all along. I find it fascinating that many of our modern medicines originate from plants traditionally used by indigenous cultures. Below are some interesting tidbits to share with you. Did you know that:


  • aspirin originated from the willow tree (source)
  • some of our most prevalent cancer drugs were derived from the bark of the pacific yew tree (source)
  • 40% of our current western pharmaceuticals are derived from plants that people have used for centuries (source)
  • 80% of the world's population still relies on traditional uses of plant medicine for their primary health care system (source)
  • fossil records date the human use of plants as medicines at least to the Middle Paleolithic age, some 60,000 years ago (source)
  • it is thought that only 1% of plant species have been screened for potential pharmaceutical applications (source)


So although there are undoubtedly tremendous advantages to modern technology, and in some ways, we have come so far, I think it's also important to point out that there is still much to learn. Plants bear secrets that continue to elude science, and many remain shrouded in mystery.


So now we must ask ourselves: do we have to wait for "proof" from science that an herb does what people have known/thought/claimed for centuries? It's an interesting question with no clear right or wrong answer. It's simply a matter of determining where our faith lies. Of course it's nice when science proves an herb does what the people have claimed it does for centuries, but do we have to have that proof? The question is yours to answer.


Once upon a time, we had such a profound connection with the natural world around us that I can't help but intuit that there was/is an unquantifiable element at play that will forever remain elusive to science. I suspect there is a particular magic embedded deep within the DNA of plants that would blow our tiny human brains if we were privy to that kind of knowledge. But what do I know?


For me, there is and always will be a romantic notion that plant lore bears not only truth but also something that I can not quite put my finger on. How did our ancestors know so much? How do we know so little? Will we ever find our way back to the old ways, to a time when the land beneath our feet was sacred, and the gifts from Mother Nature were recognized and honoured? Though I do not have the answers for you, dear reader, I know that my heart is inspired. I have faith in the magic of plant lore.

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