Certain experiences stay with us for a lifetime, no matter how old we are. This story takes me back to a time where my encounter with two unassuming native plants was particularly visceral.
When I was much younger, my siblings and I loved spending time in the countryside of my native Flanders, walking, picking wildflowers, building dens in the woods. One particular day, I must have been about eleven years old, we were cycling next to an abandoned railway, when I somehow managed to come off my bike, diving full body into a large patch of nettles! Needless to say, it was a shock to the system. My skin felt like it had caught fire, and my nerve endings were signalling pain on high alert. My legs and arms went bright red, itchy, and then weirdly numb. It was scary and intense. With the help of my sister, I somehow managed to get back on my bicycle, and we made our way home.
My grandmother was visiting our home that day. Upon seeing my predicament and teary face, she went straight into the garden to fetch the leaves of an unknown-to-me herb. She used her nails to release the plant’s juices, added some spit, and squeezed everything together into a little ball. She then continued to gently rub this over my sore limbs. And then the magic happened, as it so often did when my grandmother was around. Within ten minutes the pain had eased substantially, and that ‘nervy’ feeling had pretty much gone. She then told me the little plant was Weegbree, which is known in the British Isles as Plantain.
I was in awe, and in that instant I felt a deep ‘in the gut’ knowing, like an ancestral memory. Of course, I was only eleven at the time, so after this lightbulb moment, I went back outside to play. The moment had gone, and I soon forgot the experience.
Many years later I studied both Nettle and Plantain in detail and found out about the fascinating science, empirical uses, and folklore behind their herbal actions. Such powerful medicine in contrast to their underdog reputation.I laughed when I learned that people actually whipped themselves with nettle branches to relieve arthritic pains. I felt their experience from remembering my very own encounter!
When I started to fully integrate the modern insights of plant medicine with the ancient knowledge of my ancestors, my own herbal practice deepened. I started seeing real and lasting results for myself and my patients. Don’t worry though, I don’t whip people with nettles – I have an arsenal of wonderful lotions and potions instead!