Research & Writing

Skin, Dirt & Leaves: Herbcraft & the Senses

After the blizzard of last week, the snow is melting and us Northwesters are finally and frantically busting out of our houses. I was especially excited to see what branches had fallen, and was particularly hoping that Cottonwood would bestow some blessings onto me. So I drove out to the wildlife refuge and walked around a bit. And I soon became dizzy and giddy by finding many fallen Cottonwood branches and boughs. I started plucking the fragrant, sticky and tender buds. After a while, my fingers were coated in brown resin and propolis. It brought me back to the importance of touching plants—the sanctity of touch between life forms. I wonder how I would feel to the trees I interact with, how they sense me…and how my touch might help them.

There are so many dimensions of our connection and relationship with our ecological communities. So many physical forms that this symbiosis takes: We ingest local food for nourishment and local plants to maintain health; Nurture and tend the land. There’s another subtle, deep and very alluring dimension to our relationship with Nature and her other life forms: its touch and texture.

Think about how many of your senses are engaged when you’re IDing a tree. Or harvesting nettle tops, calendula flowers or dandelion roots. You’re attention is brought to subtle shifts in colors, odors, temperature, texture. You engage corporeal and nonordinary senses–things you don’t necessarily use when running errands and working at a desk. Engaging these subtle senses expands our selves and strengthens our connection with ecological community.

As a species, we evolved this way: touching leaves, digging roots, gathering berries, being with people, laughing and stirring soup. Sunlight. Barefeet. Since the industrial revolution, human environments have deviated from natural ones. Instead of touching bark, we’re touching plastic. Instead of walking through forests, we’re sitting in offices.

I think about this when I’m out searching for a particular tree, garbling leaves and smelling the poplar buds. This is what makes this work really beautiful and nourishing to the soul. There’s nothing like skin-leaf contact, foot-earth connection. (In fact, Ryan Drum wrote an article on the micronutrients that are ingested by touching leaves. It’s a good read.)

Through our organoleptic senses, we also learn more about these plants than what’s written in books. (For anyone interested in learning how to use your senses to learn about plants, I highly recommend Kiva’s course on Herbal Energetics.)

So pay special notice to how you’re touching plants, how you’re feeling the electricity of the Earth through your feet, how you connect with life through your skin and Spirit. Mind the textures, temperatures and subtleties.

I’ll end this with something my friend Rebecca of King’s Road Apothecary posted yesterday:

This is your friendly daily reminder to get your feet onto the earth, barefoot if possible. Wiggle your toes and maybe even get some dirt on your feet. And then, while you’re at it, take a deep breath and let the earth soak into your body. *nodnod* It’s worth dirty toes, I promise.

About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.


  • rebecca
    January 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I love this, Renee… so true. So beautifully written, too.

  • Dana Tate
    January 25, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Awesome post, dear Renee! 🙂


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