Wellness Wednesday: Plant Medicines & Ancestral Healing
by Rebekah Elkerton
The Earth is the most powerful healer we can know. The plants available to us can nourish our bodies in countless ways and restore our health in times of sickness or injury. Medicinal plants kept our ancestors alive, and often healthier than many people today. Yet, much of the knowledge surrounding these plants has been suppressed in favour of western healing modalities that are foreign to our bodies as Indigenous people. We have long known natural methods for counteracting both physical ailments and spiritual blocks, and through Indigenous led cultivation, harvesting, and use of plants we can create much needed change to how we relate to our own wellbeing. Reviving land-centric healing and connectivity is key to decolonizing the mind, body, and collective consciousness.
On a personal level I am deeply grateful for the ways in which medicinal plants have healed me time and time again throughout my life. Whether it was my mother’s aloe plant that soothed a childhood burn after I was careless around the stove, or the multi-ingredient natural teas my university boyfriend made for me when I was sick in bed with a seasonal flu, the remedies were fast and effective. In both instances we knew exactly where the plants used were grown, providing a deeper sense of connection with the medicine itself. This type of knowing offers a sense of safety, with full awareness of what is being put into our bodies, as well as a feeling of responsibility to care for the plants we are growing ourselves and harvest responsibly those growing wildly. This type of personal relationship with land based medicines is a source of empowerment as we come to know how to care for ourselves and community members in challenging times.
Through colonization many of our traditional ways of knowing and caring for ourselves have been silenced or lost. Indigenous people have been stigmatized for their knowledge of the land and our divergence from imposed systems of western medicines and beliefs about healthcare. Systematic practices have been put in place to disempower Indigenous people by separating them from the land, ultimately releasing the land for settler use. Due to attempted forced assimilation to foreign healthcare practices and ways of life, many Indigenous people have kept their preference for plant based healing quiet when interacting with non-Indigenous service providers. The hush hush nature of our practices stems directly as a response to policies that deemed Indigenous knowledge as hookey and harmful, supposedly justifying the division of Indigenous families as well as the poor treatment of Indigenous people in the healthcare system. As a result many Indigenous people carry intergenerational trauma that impacts the health of our relationship to land, self-identification, and traditional teachings.
Our ancestors acknowledged the Earth for all that it provides. When medicines were removed many Indigenous people were taught to make an offering to that place as a way of showing gratitude. Our harvesting practices prioritize the generations to come, with long-term community sustainability and health in mind. We know that medicine and food are necessary for all community members to thrive and that this is an ongoing cycle that we are responsible for. As elder community members pass down these practices we all become part of the ancestral line of knowledge keepers about our land-base. This ancestral connection empowers us in our identities and role within our communities, as well as keeping us on track to be our healthiest selves.
Through trial and error our ancestors uncovered the attributes of local plants and the exact quantities for safe use. Understanding the interconnectedness between humans and the world around us, it is natural that the land would have everything we need to heal our bodies and nourish our hearts and minds. The emotional healing available through psychoactive plants has been a topic of interest for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in recent years. As the world changes, we’re seeing more conversations about the use of these plants for emotional release, deepened self-awareness, and spiritual exploration. Many are intrigued by the notion that psychoactive plants are useful in uncovering the unconscious mind. Collectively, introspection has been forced upon all of us during the events within the past couple years. Whether micro-dosing during day-to-day tasks or seeking out healing ceremonies that use psychoactive plants, more people are integrating plant medicine into their wellness practices.
Through plant medicine the greater population is introduced to new avenues for gaining a deeper sense of connection with the world around us, often nudging those who partake to think beyond the self and detach from the identifiers we box ourselves into. Many are uncovering a more profound sense connection, releasing buried or carried traumas. Plant medicine may offer answers to those seeking awareness beyond what has been presented to us, with hopes for lasting change toward a better life.
In Indigenous communities, these medicines are part of a larger system of knowing that extends farther than the individualized healing journeys that draw so many to their use. In many communities, the medicines that alter cognitive states are part of ceremonial practices that reflect back to us our oneness with the land and spiritual connectedness to all that was and all that is to come. Knowledge about these plants is exchanged through intergenerational bonding practices and community members may have a role in the procedures leading up to and following these ceremonies. We value the qualities of the plants we have been gifted in our home territories, and our relationship with plant medicine is not one of spiritual tourism but rather something that is rooted in ancestral knowing and community wellness.
Our ancestral knowledge of the land runs deep and it's beautiful to see the reclamation of plant based healing practices and the exchange of knowledge about how the Earth may heal us. While Indigenous healing methods may be a hot topic for many, our communities have long faced stigma about land-based practices and traditional ways of knowing. In order for plant medicine to continue to be utilized in healthy ways, Indigenous knowledge must be treated as valuable and integral to ongoing sustainability. Moving forward, decolonizing healthcare through a wholistic, land-centered and culture-based approach is the next step for reclaiming our relationship to self, health, and the collective.
cover image by Alice Mourou