Animism has made me much more aware of my relationship with plants. In particular, it’s helped me to become aware of how I interact with plants and how I relate to them.
I remember being on a plant identification course last year, where we had to go out and forage plants. We were making a meal and also some medicinal tinctures. We all split up with a general “shopping list” of things to collect in the surrounding woodland.
Among other things, I had to bring in some violets. I felt awful about harvesting them. They were so tiny, and it seemed such a shame to pluck their flowers.
Rather than just plowing down the footpath, picking every violet in my way, I decided to send out a message: “Please, violets,” I asked, “if you’re happy to be picked, please catch my attention. And if you don’t want to be picked, please help me to not see you.” And then I collected what I needed.
Since then, this has been my standard request when harvesting plants and flowers. A few weeks ago I went out to get some mugwort. I paused by each mugwort plant, and asked if it was okay with me clipping off a branch or two. “Yes, but don’t take too much,” one plant warned me.
I’ve been schooled in sustainable methods of foraging: not taking too much from one plant, one path, or one area. But to me, it goes beyond that. As a plant communicator, I feel like it’s my duty to get consent.
How does each plant feel about being harvested? When I’m collecting things at such a small scale, I need to feel confident that the plants are okay with what I’m doing. Does each one want to be foraged? Is it okay? If so, I go ahead. If not, I move on.
Our society is becoming increasingly concerned about consent in human relations. The European GDPR laws that went into effect a couple of years ago are a prime example of this. But what about getting consent from the other beings we inhabit this planet with?
Consent can be defined as permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. So when I forage some wild garlic, mushrooms, or berries, I ask permission before simply taking what I want. These are living plants. If we believe in animism, it’s not a big stretch to think about getting their consent before harvesting a part of them.
Just as important as consent is gratitude: giving thanks when we harvest or forage plants. It’s become a habit for me to give thanks after I cut a stem or pick a flower. This is simply part of the dialogue that I have with the plants.
May I, please? Thank you. This is basic courtesy among humans that we’re all taught as children. But how often do we remember to say these things to plants?
I was recently on an advanced bushcraft course at the same school. Again, we were taught about sustainable harvesting of trees for wood—what types of trees to harvest, and where. Sawing down an entire (small) tree, however, felt like a much bigger responsibility than picking a tiny violet. I asked permission, and was granted it. And then I gave thanks for the wood I had taken.
This simple act of asking permission or getting consent, and then showing gratitude, has radically changed my relationship with plants. I’m not barging in and taking from them, like a human who thinks she’s somehow above these natural things. I don’t take what I think I’m entitled to. Instead, I’m engaging with them as an equal.
I’m showing respect for their lives, their parts. Respect for them as individuals. Respect for their sovereignty.
Whether or not you’re experienced in plant communication, you can try this for yourself. Ask a question, then feel for the response. You may hear their words in your mind, or you may simply get a feeling in your body: it’s either okay or it’s not.
The next time you go out foraging, let the plants know what you’re up to, what your plans are. If you’re looking to forage some flowers, try asking the plants who are willing to be harvested to make themselves obvious to you. Ask the plants who don’t want to be harvested to help you to not see them, so your attention is drawn elsewhere.
Then ask for consent before collecting the plants or plant parts. Make sure it’s okay. Feel for their response in your body if you can’t hear their words.
Finally, give gratitude. They have given their lives, or parts of themselves, to you. This is worth your words of thanks.
None of this has to be done aloud. If you’re not alone on the trail, you can have this interaction in your mind. But I encourage you to give it a try, and see how it transforms your own relationship with plants.
For me, it’s led to a much deeper, more connected feeling to the plant world.
Holly Worton is a podcaster and author of nine books who helps people get to know themselves better through connecting with Nature, so they can feel happier and more fulfilled. Holly enjoys spending time outdoors, walking long-distance trails and exploring Britain’s sacred sites. She is a member of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids.