Want Plant Mojo? Come To Your Senses!

I passed several hours today with the Vashon Wilderness Program.

With the particular clan with which I wandered, the theme of the day was Sensory Awareness. We engaged in a series of games and activies designed to bring us to our senses. You might try them yourself and/or with your family and friends! These activities have everything to do with opening our senses to the nature and wisdom of plants!
Here are a couple that we did.

Blindfold Walk
This morning, our clan paired up, one child (or adult) blindfolded, with another child (or adult) leading him or her. Then swapping. I love this activity! For me (when blindfolded), I experience a disorienting series of moments where I get used to my partner’s style, and decide I can trust him or her. Then my feet start really experiencing the ground, and my hearing goes wide, and I’m feeling the salal or other shrubs brush against me, and adjusting accordingly. The child usually urges me to speed up, and the fun begins! That’s another layer of trust–to take longer, quicker strides on what must be open paths (though I don’t know it!). My mind will attempt to “locate” where I am, but ultimately, I surrender to the experience, to my guide’s hand in mind, to her occasional words: “Slow down … step up, here … Stop, now duck your head. Lower. Go forward …”

And, in time, I remove my blindfold, and find myself laughing–senses blown wide open, and child’s delight bursting in my veins!

It’s great to have a partner in this activity, and you can certainly do this with a group of kids, or in a co-op, or wherever. Most of the time the kids are quite watchful and gentle in guiding each other. Sometimes, kids who love to rough-house together, or with a particular adult, might be less gentle and more trickster-ish. So it’s good to have a responsible adult monitoring what’s going on, or make sure that kids who might be tempted to be crazy with each other aren’t paired together. Just depends on your good sense!

Blindfold Smelling, Touching, & Tasting

You don’t need to have blindfolds, but blindfolds help signal to the kids that they’re doing something different. With everyone blindfolded (and if some kids don’t want to be blindfolded, that’s ok), hold a bag of an herb, or seaweed, or
food, or whatever and let each person sniff it. Try to hold off guesses until everyone has had a good smell of whatever-it-is. If it’s edible, you can allow tasting.

Today Cyndi O’Brien, the Clan instructor (and program director), passed a bag of dried calendula petals, and a bag of seawrack pieces (a kind of seaweed), one of dried lavender, and one of bits of beeswax (heavenly smell, but tasted of just wax!).

So, to lead this activity, you could chose four plants or related natural things (like beeswax, for instance!) for folks to smell, touch, and possibly taste, and then have everyone guess what they’ve just experienced. With newcomers to the activity, make the smells and tastes welcoming! The plants, etc. don’t all have to be sweet, just familiar.

With more adventurous or experienced-with-herbs folks, you could bring in more challenging smells and tastes. Do I need to mention to also exercise appropriate cautions? Considerations include plants that might instigate allergic reactions, potentially toxic plants, and just-say-no-to-wild-mushrooms. I’m sure you can come up with your own list of cautions. Feel free to note them below!

As a “next level” experience, you could try to have folks try to describe the taste they are experiencing. Is it sweet, salty, sour? Is it spicy? Bitter? Aromatic? Do you have another description for the taste?

And, for that matter, what is happening in your mouth as you taste the plant? What is the effect that the plant has having on you as you taste it? Is your mouth drying up, filling up with water? Do you feel a sharp sensation? A zingy sensation? Heat or a sense of coolness?

Yet another level of experience might be to explore in your body you might “feel” the plant. This can seem very much of an intuitive exercise. Where do you feel your attention being drawn to in your body? To your face, your head? Your heart or chest? Your abdomen? Any specific place within?

And, if you were to make a wild guess about how the plant might help you, what do you imagine? What area of the body or organs or aspect of the body do you think the plant helps?

I will expand on these variations in later posts. Just know that a simple experience of a plant with one’s eyes closed and senses wide-open leads to an amazing learning journey with that plant!

Spring In The Forest

I thought I’d share a few photos of what’s springing up in our forest.

This is Snowdrop (Galanthus). Not native to America, as far as I know, but sure growing in sweeps in our woods! In Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies Of The Winter, The lovely Snowdrop is the first to herald the spring soon to come.

Snowdrops In The Forest – photo by Jane
Snowdrop Fairy art by Cicely Mary Barker

The Song Of The Snowdrop Fairy

Deep sleep the winter,
Cold, wet and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait the world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The Fair Maids of February
Stand in the snow!

I cannot tell you how much the Flower Fairies (the original books as well as their spin-offs) have inspired several girls I know to learn about herbs!

If you love fairies and flowers, or have kids in your life who do, you might want to take a look at those books.  In our house these are favorites (full disclosure — we are a Powells Bookstore partner):

Flower Fairies Of The Spring
by Cicely Mary BarkerHardcover


Here are a few other herbs coming up just now.  Someday I’ll have to draw these fairies!  I have a feeling they won’t be very Victorian … we do live in the Pacific Northwest, in the 21st century …!

Cleavers (aka Bedstraw) – photo by Jane
Nettle – photo by Jane

I’m harvesting both Nettle and Cleavers to make vinegars, tinctures, and to dry for teas/infusions. I’ll write more about their qualities another time!

Improvisational Cooking ~ Play With Your Plants!

It’s still chill and damp here on our island in the Pacific Northwest, but spring is more apparent everyday.  I can’t help but pluck off leaves of my friends in greeting!  That may sound very strange, but Dandelion, Nettles, Cleavers, and Indian Plum don’t seem to mind.

As I taste my friends in hello, the light bitterness of the young Dandelion leaf, the sharp cucumber of the Indian plum leaf, the dark, earthy mineral nature of Nettle, my mind darts to the next meal I’m to prepare.  At this time of year I go crazy-happy coming up with ways to infuse our family’s parade of meals with my spring friends.

My family is not as adventurous with plants as I am, so I go into stealth-mode when I bring in the forest greens as a spring tonic zing.  Not that I lie or try to hide the plants.  I just realize that chopping up the herbs I’ve just gathered and infusing them in half a jar of just boiled water might be the more “easy-to-digest” way (so to speak) that my family might enjoy the greens.  I’m making a chicken noodle soup tonight, but as part of the soup base I’ll be squeezing those greens in a while, to make sure as much goodness as possible goes into the infusion.  Then I’ll strain the liquid to add to my soup at the end of its cooking time.

Will my family accept this zip of green-spirit vitality in their chicken noodle soup?  My guess is yes — if I’ve intuited “just enough”.

Next time I might puree the greens and mix them in, seeing if I can take our plant adventure further.

But today I’ll play it light, and gauge the response.

Bon apetit!

How will you play with plants today?