Children And The Magic Of Plants

It’s been a beautiful and full spring. In addition to teaching my Wise Child program, I’ve served as a teacher at the Heartstone Children’s Program (a nature-inspired Waldorf school for 4-6 year olds). Each day we spend time playing on the farm where our programs meet. The kids will nibble on all manner of plants (with the farmers’ blessing!)–herbs, broccoli florets, kale leaves, sour sorrel, roses, and more.  They especially graze on the sorrel and fennel! Watching the kids play with and amidst the plants and casually taste them, I’m convinced that every young child program should have an herb and vegetable garden specially for them!

Here are just a few images from this spring.

Tasting Johnny-Jump Ups - photo by Jane
Tasting Johnny-Jump Ups – photo by Jane


We gathered and tasted Johnny-Jump Ups (violets) after reading the Herb Fairies book about Violet. I find the demulcent, gently sweet taste reminiscent of Marshmallow root.

Sorrel is a favorite plant with the kids - photo by Jane
Gathering Sorrel – photo by Jane

Sorrel is a favorite plant with the kids!

At the farm: What an amazing place for kids to pass the day! - photo by Jane
The farm – photo by Jane

What an amazing place for kids to learn and play!

The day was wet with spring rain ... yet these two  kids were enthralled by the willow catkins. Enchanting! - photo by Jane
Enchanted by Willow – photo by Jane

The day was wet with spring rain … yet these two kids were enthralled by the willow catkins. Enchanting!

Entering The Garden

We’ve just completed our second week of the Wise Child Learning Program. We’re delighted and grateful to have the organic medicinal garden of Sister Sage Herbs as one area where we work, learn, and play!

I like to start sessions (when they take place in fine weather) with what I call a “greenfire”. Basically, it’s a circle created by the kids (and/or adults when present!) and myself with stones or sticks, leaves or flowers, etc. or all of the above! from the natural world. The “greenfire” serves as our imaginative and centering fire during our time in that place.

Here is our first greenfire:

Our first "greenfire"

We’ve taken time beginning to get acquainted with the herbs in the garden. I was delighted to discover one of my favorite herbs in abundance, Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.).

Evening Primrose - one of my favorite herbs!

During our first week, we compared and contrasted plant “lookalikes”. Here are Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, grown in the garden) and Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea, a common wild chamomile on the dirt roads nearby.

Chamomile (growing) and Pineapple Weed (in her hand)

We have each chosen a new plant friend to get to know deeply this year, and whose area we will give extra-special care (weeding, etc.!)

I chose this one–or perhaps I might say, it chose me! Every time I walk even a little close to it, I find my clothes and hair coated in in its “cockleburrs”, its seed-heads with their stiff hairs and hooked ends.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)- sometimes called "Cockleburr" or "Sticklewort" with good reason!

We’ve each created three-line poems inspired by our new plant friends. Look for a “Lesson Plan” in the near future about how to do this process!

We created poems about our new plant friends

An ongoing project this year is add to our “Weather Trees” — drawings we made today of a leafless tree. Each day we’ll color in a leaf to represent the weather. Today’s leaf was inspired by the morning fog that dispersed to sunshine.

Both in the garden and in other areas of the surrounding land are ripe raspberries. We can’t help but enjoy some!

Ripe Raspberries always beckon!

That’s just a snippet of our time in the garden, and of our day!

Blue Corn Mother

Happy Solstice!  Here in the Pacific Northwest, today and yesterday have been a lovely, expansive, sun-filled.  The rest of June has been rainy!

I’ve been playing with foods today, and considering how food can be our medicine both nutritionally and (of course) by way of nourishing our spirits as well.  As I peeled back the corn husks of the semi-local corn (our first of the season) I was struck again by the unique green spirit that is corn.  Specifically the viriditas that is what I’ve come to regard as the Corn Mother.  In my hands, the corn partially husked was the Corn Mother herself.

I have felt connected with corn since I first successfully grew it (not always easy to do in the Pacific Northwest!).  I celebrated by posing my small wire-strung harp in their midst:

A Harp In The Corn - photo by Jane Valencia

But it wasn’t until my friend Chantel Thurman commissioned me to create some art work for her tamale business (ah, she creates heavenly, soul-nourishing tamales!) that I truly began to enter the wondrous music that is the Corn Mother — in particular, Blue Corn Mother. Listening to Chantel speak about Blue Corn Mother — and about her relationship with the other animals and plants that she wanted to evoke (and even invoke) in the art and in her business, led me down a path with those creatures as well.

I share the artwork for you in this post, to inspire you to befriend the green spirit — the unique life of every living thing. If a particular plant or insect or animal or …(fill in the blank!) … no matter how large or small, captures your eye, it undoubtedly has something precious to reveal to you.

Children know all this already. For a child who has some connection with the outdoors (city or country) it is just part of life.  At least for a time.

May we all return to that time-place in our hearts when we knew that a certain plant or tree, stone or star or animal, to be the friend we needed most in that moment of meeting.

Blue Corn Mother Tamales - art by Jane Valencia

Showing Up With A Plant Teacher

Several months ago I decided to apprentice myself to a plant.  In this case, it is a particular Hawthorn in our “front yard” (an area of the farm close to the road).  I didn’t have a list of logical reasons for choosing this particular Hawthorn, just a sense that if I was to take my herbal learning to its next level, I needed to commit to listening and being–with every cell and ounce of myself–with a particular plant.  For various reasons Hawthorn spoke to me.  I’m not sure why I was drawn to this particular one, except that I can get to it quickly.

So, each day I can, I show up.   At first I nibbled a hawthorn berry at each visit–my version of Holy Communion, I suppose.  I engaged in my various Sit Spot routines (opening my senses, thanksgiving).  These days, I just connect with my heart, sensing its beating, feeling grateful (Hawthorn offers nourishing heart medicine on all levels).  I sit here, am curious.  Sometimes I sing.  Now I nibble on any edible plant I see around the feet of Hawthorn — tiny Cleavers, new Dandelion, a bit of grass, Blackberry leaf.  And I find that Hawthorn — a tree that generously produces glorious little (edible) flowers in spring, and all those red dry berries in fall, is coated with a generous amount of lichen in winter.  I nibble on the lichen, too, a survival food.

Hawthorn In Winter - photo by Jane Valencia
Hawthorn In Winter - photo by Jane Valencia

When one commits to a plant, magic truly happens.  I’m finding myself absorbing Hawthorn’s calm, beautiful being.  It’s changing how I respond to my children when I would normally get urgent or exasperated.  I (at least this morning) responded more like a tree.  Loving, present, with a deep focus and openness.  I didn’t try to be like Hawthorn.  I just felt (today at least) that I didn’t need to try to not respond in my usual fashion.  I just felt differently.

Ever since I listened to herbalist, poet, and activist, Sean Donahue‘s interview on HerbMentor Radio in which Sean described his practice of gifting Hawthorn (an ally of his as well) with milk and honey, just as his Celtic ancestors did, so I too have been doing so each morning.

This morning at Hawthorn I decided on the subject of the next Paloma And Wings (my kids herbal comic).  As I nibbled a Hawthorn berry, I suddenly realized that instead of spitting out the pit I would take the pit indoors and attempt to start it.  I had a vision of planting Hawthorn–and other herbs–at my other Sit Spot, a tangled place where dead trees were shoved aside some years ago, and where Elder, Red Alder, Birch, and Canadian Thistle are growing in wild profusion.   I might tend that garden.

When you ally with a plant, engaging in a conversation with nature and spirit on many levels, and seeing through the eyes of the plant (and it seeing through you) little urges drop into your being.  This is how gardens grow.  This is how you grow in ways that are bright and true to your deepest soul.

When we open to being in relationship with nature, to engaging in silence and story, our truest self blossoms.  We know it is authentic–who we really are.  And it becomes all the more astonishing and exciting when we begin to create together.

We grownups may end up being surprised.  A child, when nourished to be outdoors, will discover these friendships naturally.  These days the challenge is to give our children plenty of opportunity to be outside, and inspire their curiosity and connection.  Yes, we can send them to a nature program (I encourage you to find one that practices what’s known as coyote mentoring.  I’ll humbly note here that Wise Child Learning is grounded in these practices!), but, honestly, the very best is to get outside ourselves, unearth our own benuine curiosity and sense of wonder.  To apprentice ourselves to the Dandelion or the Chickadee or the twirling cloud.

What wise, alive nature awakens when you unearth your own singular, expressive, expansive connection with just one tree, or herb, or stone?  What do you begin to discover about your — and your children’s — birthright as a human animal on this bright gem of a planet, Earth?