Our personal worlds have been physically reduced to a much smaller radius than most of us have ever experienced. This has altered our perception of our surroundings, and it has personally made me highly aware of the natural world I am greeted by when I leave my home: We are constantly surrounded by such diverse beings that all carry their own traits and characteristics and are inviting us to connect and discover.

Words by Sophia Schwan, photos by Stephanie Pfaender

By seeing the plant world as fellow citizens of our earthly home, we can shift our perceptions and enter a whole new world of relationships and emotions that are reciprocated. We can begin learning or rather re-learning an ancient language, one that is subtle, gentle and only requires us to listen and open our hearts. 

Since the beginnings of human existence, there has been a seemingly unbreakable bond, one of co-dependency, reverence and respect between humans and plants – a beautiful equilibrium, which is now teetering dangerously as a whole. Some humans still hold this ancient knowledge, notably the numerous indigenous groups spread across the globe, who have been fighting fiercely to maintain the strength of this bond. Its strands lie buried within all of us, only waiting to be woven back together. 

In the following story, Idun, Narumi and Tash invite us into their personal journeys of becoming herbalists, feminists, wildcrafters, foragers and witches, and share with us how they have learned to speak the sacred language of life.

Idun / Idun Hansen
Herbalist and Photographer 

What sparked your desire to work with nature and its many gifts?
In a broader sense, my foundations for a very personal relationship with nature were formed during my upbringing. My parents have had a very loving and deep connection with plants and the natural world throughout my life, and their way of relating to the natural world formed me in many ways. As a young child, I have memories of making friends with plants and flowers, talking to and playing together with them. I think this early experience of deep belonging and these intense feelings of joy, of being safe and utterly welcome as I am instilled a desire to learn more, educate myself and develop a conscious co-existence with plants. In my early twenties, an interest in medicinal plants was sparked, specifically in adaptogens.

These can support the body’s ability to cope with different kinds of stress. At the time, I struggled with a lot of physical and emotional stress, which paved the way for my journey of studying herbal medicine and becoming a certified herbalist. Working with herbs and teaching herbalism became a healing process for me. I realised that I really had something to give in this field and the joy of inspiring other people in discovering the plant world became deeply touching and empowering.

Which plants in particular guide you as a herbalist and individual?
They are many, but currently, there are a few that feel particularly dear to my heart. These are stinging nettle, valerian, pine, wild pansy, rose and elderberry. I find nettle immensely strong, resilient and her willingness to live and be herself is fierce. I find nettle tea incredible, and it often gives me energy, clarity and inspiration. I like the grounding quality she has, and she has been a loyal ally to me for years now.

Valerian is another favourite. She is the first herb whose healing gifts I experienced as a child. I was often given valerian root-tincture to combat anxiety and find rest for the night. This formed a heartfelt connection with this plant. It is always delightful to see her leaves in spring and her pink abundance of flowers blooming later in the summer. I thank her for how she helped me as a child and how she continues to soothe and keep me company when I am anxious and need her earthly beauty. I also love that she is so grand in her expressions and contrasts, with her proud clusters of beautiful pink flowers and then the fragrance of her roots that many would call pungent. It is as if she incorporates both the beautiful and the ugly.

Finally, pine is another significant plant, one with that I have a deeper emotional than medicinal relationship. When I grew up, my family would often take short trips to specific pine trees, usually older ones. We went there just to say hello, see how they were doing and enjoy some food with them in the forest or by the water. As a child, this made a strong impression on me. I often feel gratitude and a sense of being held when I see an old pine tree. It reminds me of home, knowing myself and being upright in my own power and inner knowing.

Practising herbalism is rooted in ancient wisdom, indigenous botany and a deep connection to the natural world. How have you been able to hone your skills and intuition concerning these three aspects?
My journey with plant medicine and being a herbalist is a journey into the past to the birth of a connection, trust and friendship with life. During the years, I have sometimes felt resistance to the work as a herbalist because it includes surrendering to who I truly am, with all the light and shadows of my person, and accepting an invitation to dive deeper. This is not always easy, and the process requires its own measure of time. In a world where economy and productivity are at the centre of our society’s awareness and focus, it is challenging to give herbalism and plant relationships the space and time needed. I am still searching for my personal balance, but I am grateful for the journey and all it has to offer.

Ever since I completed my education as a herbalist, I have aimed to pass on how to practically make plant medicine, administer it, and build a relationship with nature and the plants we ask for help. How we interact and build a relationship with the natural world has become more focused in recent years. It is of the utmost importance that we as humans begin to reconnect and deepen our relationship with the world that we are a part of. When we learn someone’s name, we start to care for them; when we know someone’s life cycle, we recognise all their forms and moods throughout all the seasons. When we know the land and the landscape, we can sense it, and a relationship full of reciprocity is formed in our everyday lives. This is possible everywhere, also in a city.

This reciprocal perspective on herbalism and plants makes my heart beat and my eyes fill with tears. We must engage in a mutual relationship with all that is sustaining us as humans. I feel that consciously using all our senses is a beautiful gateway to a new connection; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching/feeling, together with our hearts and intuition, give us abundant opportunities to experience plants and the natural world. Maybe it begins with calling a plant by its name, then learning what it can be used for medicinally and making medicine with it. For me, moments of magic occur when I visit the plant in its natural environment, spend some time with it, learn to know it with my senses and communicate with it as a being of its own.

What are your core principles in practising your work in a way that is regenerative rather than extractive?
When I give herbalism courses, my main desire is to give people the basic knowledge of how to make their own plant medicine and start exploring the plants around them. These are the necessary tools to being self-sufficient, such as making an ointment, decoction or tincture for their own use. The world of herbalism is so diverse and multi-faceted that the introduction should be practical and accessible. I want my students to first rely on their own relationship to medicinal plants and create their own experiences, rather than depending on their teacher.

I am also continuously accessing what I really need when it comes to harvesting plants. Giving thanks and practising reciprocity are integral to my work. Sometimes I take a moment to talk to and feel the plants, sometimes I give something in return, and sometimes I make sure to deepen my knowledge about them. I also try to continuously educate myself about ecosystems, botany and biology, to know the challenges and crises regarding biodiversity, forest protection, and ecology. This also gives me new perspectives on herbalism. Medicinal plants are not here to be used by us primarily, but they are part of an intricate and fragile web of ecosystems, of which we are equally a part. This joins us together.

The world we have constructed is predominantly driven by competition rather than collaboration. Do you feel that you can take on a different approach as a herbalist, and if so, how?
I strongly feel this competitive stream in our society, and sometimes it is not easy to remove myself from it, also in my work as a herbalist. What really helps me is returning to the basics and immersing myself in the plant world by going for walks without harvesting and just taking pictures or thinking about what I can do with them. Competition often has to do with a fear of not being seen, accepted, or not being enough. I am trying to be aware of that and remind myself that whatever I do in herbalism is a mutual and unique collaboration between certain plants and myself. Therefore, I can never give the same as someone else doing similar work. That is very relaxing and inspiring. I find plants to be such great teachers in self-acceptance and self-love, and after spending some time in connection with them, the idea of competition often fades away.

On another level, I find it essential and very empowering to find other herbalists to collaborate with. My experience is when we get to know each other and see each other’s gifts in the field of plant wisdom, I learn so much from others and see where I am with my own knowledge. One experience I had when I collaborated with a herbalist colleague was that it was the two of us. Then there was her knowledge and relationship to plants and my expertise and connections. In our collaboration, I felt as if it was four spaces that were present and collaborated. That felt very much like the opposite of competition.

What you create grounds and aids those who take your medicines. How enmeshed is your work in your community?
Since I have just moved away from Berlin (after four years there) and back to my hometown, Järvsö in Sweden, this question is not so easily answered. In Berlin, I felt the herbalism movement was very alive and it took me into many different directions and adventures, with so many interesting people.

As I am now back in Sweden, I feel excited to see how my work will develop here from now on. I want to keep inspiring people to make their own plant medicines and deepen their connection with plants by giving herbal courses. New and different projects could develop here – like an educational herbal garden. I will take some time to settle, enjoy the summer, be open and curious about my next steps as a herbalist and what kind of work this place and community are longing for.

How do you think you can challenge existing societal structures with your work?
The most powerful impact I can have at this time is to show people that the plant world is right here with us, all around us. And to give the gift of perspective – that when we see a pine tree, a rose or a dandelion, they look back at us. Wherever we go, there are plants, and most often medicinal plants. When we truly see them and feel them, we start to form a unique relationship with them, and that care can change our lives, our society, and how we treat the world we live in.

Narumi / Eros and Botany
Herbalist and Ancestral, Postcolonial & Queer Feminist

What sparked your desire to work with nature and its many gifts?
I was raised in the countryside in South Italy, where agriculture, foraging and plant medicine are part of our daily life. Since I was a child, I would pick daisies, chamomile, asparagus, wild oregano, wild arugula, etc., and integrate them into my food and teas. When I moved out of Italy, I lost touch with the practice but rediscovered it while recovering from cervical dysplasia and cancer. Herbal medicine has helped me heal physically and emotionally, and ever since then, I have devoted myself to sharing this healing practice with as many people as possible.

Which plants in particular guide you as a herbalist and individual?
I have a profound relationship with oats. Oats would grow everywhere around my home, and as children, we would pick the oat tops and throw them at each other, which would always end with us having to get rid of the oat tops sticking to our clothes. When I did not know the healing properties of oats, all I would do was play with the ears and run my hands through them while I was walking by. Milky oats have become one of my closest plant allies; they have supported me in my mental health journey. They have helped me rise back from my darkest moments of grief, anxiety and depression, and through my diagnosis of OCD and journey of managing it. I now recommend oats as medicine to everybody. Especially in this fast-paced world, oats are profound healers of the nervous system!

Practising herbalism is rooted in ancient wisdom, indigenous botany and a deep connection to the natural world. How have you been able to hone your skills and intuition concerning these three aspects?
I have always been a nature child. I grew up in the sunny countryside of Puglia, climbing trees barefoot. From a young age, I knew the different types of plants and trees growing in my area. I knew which flowers were medicinal, I knew when to harvest and when to sow seeds, as my dad would teach me all the ancestral knowledge that had been passed down in our family. When I started learning more about ethnobotanicals and about endemic plants in Germany, a new world opened itself up to me. Finally, in Berlin, I would see the medicinal potential at every crack in the sidewalk, around the trees, and in the parks. Deepening my herbal knowledge has opened my eyes and allowed me to see even more beauty and purpose in the natural world around me. As a result, I have organically become even more devoted to nature and plant spirit medicine.

What are your core principles in practising your work in a way that is regenerative rather than extractive?
I work primarily with plant spirit medicine, calling in the spirit guides to support my healing journey. I always advocate for working with as many plants as possible from one’s own ancestry, to not culturally appropriate rituals and ceremonies around specific plants. In this way, one is not extracting from other’s Mori and cultures but reconnecting with one’s own. When I forage, I make sure the natural space and the plants welcome me as a forager, making sure I take only what I need. I do not touch the elder plants, and I leave some gifts for the earth, like grains. When working with plants, they must be met with reverence for their immense healing (and killing) capacities. Their service to us is reciprocated by leaving most of it for the pollinators, leaving offerings and sending gratitude.

The world we have constructed is predominantly driven by competition rather than collaboration. Do you feel that you can take on a different approach as a herbalist, and if so, how?
Unfortunately, there will always be competition in this capitalistic world derived from feelings of not being enough and insecurity. I have seen herbalists compete, and in those instances, I remind myself that herbalism is a community practice, orally passed down and in service of everyone. None of us owns recipes, knowledge on plants, or plants themselves. We are a part and a vessel of nature’s wisdom. As such, we can only collaborate and share our own experiences to elevate each other and aid more embodiment and connection to ourselves.

What you create grounds and aids those who take your medicines. How enmeshed is your work in your community, and what kind of other projects has this brought to life?
I have created a project called Eros and Botany to create a safer framework for BIPOC and queer people to explore plant medicine in relation to their sexuality and sensuality. I started with making healing botanical crafts and I’ve recently began offering educational workshops on the role of plant medicine in the experience of pleasure and the infinite unfolding of sexuality. So many people from marginalised communities have gathered and have opened their hearts to me, and I have seen a diverse network of folks building around my work, which makes me feel blessed and even more devoted to the work I do. Throughout my career, I have created an intricate and inter-supportive web of herbalists, womb workers, ritualists and s*x workers with whom I am collaborating on a project that I will be launching in August.

How do you think you can challenge existing societal structures with your work?
I have started sharing my knowledge of plant medicine to push the boundaries of societal structures. As a scholar of Area Studies, I have a broad academic understanding of colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy and the ripples of white supremacy in the different communities and areas of our lives. Therefore, I felt it was necessary to imbue my work and approach to spirituality and herbalism with post-colonial and queer feminist notions. I focus on decolonising the concept of sexuality, decolonising our approach to nature and plants in order to reconnect to the Mori and rituals we have forgotten and ultimately to free ourselves from oppressive structures.

Tash / Avant Garden
Herbalist, Hedgewitch, Nature Activist and Artist

What sparked your desire to work with nature and its many gifts?
The desire and spark were always there. It was influential in me as a child, growing up as a bushbaby in the forests of Australia, where I learned to make potions and brews, learning from elders of the land and communicating with the plants. At some point, I rebelled and rejected my alternative up-bring, which took me on many life adventures, twists and turns, but at some point, I heard the plants calling my name to come back and work in my true calling. Learning and working deeply with nature, teaching others how to reconnect with the beauty of nature that surrounds us and healing humans with the help of my plant allies is my essence.

Which plants in particular guide you as a herbalist and individual?
I have a special relationship with every plant I encounter, I may not deepen it with each plant straight away, but they all guide me in some way or another. I look at every plant as an individual, with different natures, characters, vibrations. Plants are like friends, so deepening a relationship with one takes time and is guided by my inner world, what is needed, and what is asked of me presently.

Some plants I have a fleeting but intense relationship with, almost like a fling. With others, it takes time, sometimes years, to get to know them. For some, it can be a superficial, fleeting glance – we know of each other, but the time is not suitable to go further. Then there are those with whom I immediately fall in love as well as those that I have always been connected to; ones that were always present, guiding and protecting me.

When embarking on plant spirit journeys, I have found that I engage in a sort of dance with a plant, moving closer, embracing and being totally immersed in each other. Once I start to experiment, play and develop medicines, I find that what happens is that months or even a year later, this plant is needed for healing either myself, a family member, a friend, a client or needed for a specific project. It is almost as if the tree, the flower, and the roots know that I will require their help before I do. So, in a way, it is a form of reciprocity.

Practising herbalism is rooted in ancient wisdom, indigenous botany and a deep connection to the natural world. How have you been able to hone your skills and intuition concerning these three aspects?
To listen, learn, and use all my senses when I am with the plants, fungi, mosses, trees, and to see nature in her completeness. To understand that we are not separate, but all interconnected is how I work to hone my skills and intuition. I take my knowledge from the plants themselves. The more I am with them, converse with them and play with them, the deeper my practise evolves.

What are your core principles in practising your work in a way that is regenerative rather than extractive?
The core principles in my work are to respect and give thanks for the beautiful medicines the earth offers us, the tasty food she grows for us and the stunning complex ecosystems we live in.

When wildcrafting the plants for the medicines I make, it is crucial to follow the rules of nature. Take care to listen and learn, following the seasons, the ebb and flow of nature – understanding that we are in their space and respecting their ways is vital.

I have written about this subject in “Wildcrafting/foraging practices, respecting nature and the act of reciprocity!”:

“When you walk through this world of ours, remember the plants can live without us, but we cannot live without them. Give them the respect they deserve. Learn the way of the land, learn the way of nature before you enter the wild to forage. They will never complain when they are picked too much, they will always love you unconditionally. We, as humans, must learn how to respect them and how to listen to their whispers.

So, if you are going to enter the forest, the parks, the places where they are at home, respect their ways. Respect their space. Learn the ways of foraging to protect them. Put them first and not yourself. Do not approach this practice with a modern mindset, but instead approach it from the heart, listening to the ways of nature with all your senses.

When foraging for plants and reciprocity: Respect the plant and the land. Never take the first or last. Only take what you will use. Never take when there is not enough and leave enough for all other living beings. Always leave it looking as though nothing was taken and as though no one was there. Give thanks for what you have received, and always be 150% sure of identification!”

The world we have constructed is predominantly driven by competition rather than collaboration. Do you feel that you can take on a different approach as a herbalist, and if so, how?
The first thing people need to remember is that herbalists were traditionally quite solitary people, and it still is a solitary art in many ways. I guess you could say we collaborate with the plants. I know that I understand so much more when I am out there in the forests, wildcrafting herbs, or in my laboratory creating potions. In those moments, I am interconnected and not just collaborating with the plants. I understand what is asked of me via the plants to help the community and collective.

In saying that, I love to collaborate with anyone and everyone. If we turned to and watched nature more, our modern society would learn how to grow by collaborating with our surroundings. When we share our experiences and knowledge through collaboration, we as humans grow, expand, and become a more loving society.

My personal connection with herbalism is the plants themselves. They have the knowledge from living on this earth for such a long time. When I pick rose petals, for example, I hear and feel my ancestors through that plant. Just as the plants communicate with me, so did they with my ancestors.

What you create grounds and aids those who take your medicines. How enmeshed is your work in your community?
My community and environment are a big inspiration to me. They have bought to life diverse projects, ranging from social community initiatives to interactive art installations.

How do you think you can challenge existing societal structures with your work?
I think herbalism has been challenging societal structures since Christianity became dominant in the global North, but particularly in early modernity when women were burned for practising their craft, chastised for helping others heal, and forced into hiding for being plant mediums.

Offering the plants to people, allowing the plants to bring healing in different ways, allows healing to happen from within – which will help challenge existing ideas of societal structures. I aim to bring forth the beauty of nature, offering a glimpse into the life we could all live if we just learned to respect and accept each other. I am a herbalist and a nature activist. The natural world has no voice in our world, and it needs us to help fight the ever-growing battle to co-exist. If we turn to nature, we will be able to change from within and ultimately change our outer structures.

Team Credits:

Stephanie Pfaender

Concept & Styling
Sophia Schwan

Art Direction & Layout
Dörte de Jesus

Hair & Makeup
Eva Dieckhoff

Photo Assistent
Philipp Köhler

Floral Designs
Holla Botanics

Herbalists and Wildcrafters:
Tash (Avant Garden), Narumi (Eros and Botany) and Idun Hansen