By Katherine Ziff
Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world
– John Muir
Where I grow plant spirits may safely play
– Asimina triloba
What inspires care for Earth’s medicinal plants? How can we encourage a relational connection with nature that might lead to plant conservation? The plants themselves offer this to us in the form of flower essences. I learned this first from Asimina triloba, North American pawpaw.
Twelve years ago we had recently moved from the bustle of town to a quiet spot at the edge of some woods that extend out from Wayne National Forest in the hills of Appalachian Ohio. Early in our first September there I was heading to work and, glancing over at the ground between my studio and a stand of trees, was momentarily dumbfounded. My first thought was “It has rained stones in the night.” Looking closer, I saw the “stones” were fruits and realized I now had a pawpaw patch to tend. This stand of pawpaws has been a research laboratory, a teacher, and a gateway to learning from other flowers.
Seeking to know these gangly trees that were growing with such enthusiasm via sprouts and runners from an old “mother” tree (Moore, 2015), I sat with and observed and eventually made a flower essence from pawpaw’s early spring flowers, which start out pale chartreuse and end up a deep magenta. Next, I set out to learn the properties of the North American pawpaw flower essence, which is listed in just one of the various flower essence compendia and repertories available and is described there as “…a catalyst for assimilating all nutrients into the system” (Gurudas, 1983). One day I announced to the pawpaws trees themselves that I was ready to learn more about their flower essence. Eventually and with the help of William Bloom’s (1986) translation of folklore about fairies and nature spirits into contemporary terms, I learned that Asimina triloba flower essence supports digestion of ideas into balanced creative manifestation free from the effects of impatience, anger, and hostility. In this way, pawpaw flower essence lays a foundation for a relational connection with nature, for actions free from these ill effects are more likely to be congruent with the wellbeing of nature and supportive of the lives of plants.1
Other flower essences from Eastern U.S. forests support a relational approach to plants. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) reminds us of our connection with the forest (Woodland Essence, 2019). White fawn lily (Erythronium albidum) carries the deep feminine creativity and balanced grace of nature as it exists in Southeast Ohio (Ziff, 2019).
In a bioregion far from Ohio–the Sierra Nevada mountain peaks–grow flowers the essences from which align us with nature. Researched and documented by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz (2008), these are the “Green” flower essences of their Range of Light collection. Green bells of Ireland (Molluccella laevis) flower essence brings awareness of and ability to work with the elemental world of Nature. Green rein orchid (Plantanthera sparsiflora) supports the ability to feel the life force of the earth and heart consciousness as a pathway to ecological consciousness, and green gentian (Nicotiana alata) brings human heart alignment with the breathing pulse of the earth and the ability to care for all life here on our planet. Green gentian (Frasera speciosa) supports courageous soul alignment with the living being of earth, and green rose (Rosa chinensis viridiflora) offers compassion as a doorway of connection to all living beings.
Flower essences offer a powerful array of support for a balanced relationship with nature. It has been suggested to me, half in jest, that they could be sprayed through Earth’s atmosphere or added to our public water supply!
But, ethical considerations aside, flower essences are not like fluoride or crop dusting. They do their work best at the individual level, developing relational connections with nature one person at a time.
1 A further perception from Pawpaw: “Where I grow, plant spirits may safely play”. Years later, at the United Plant Savers 25th anniversary celebration, I heard Rosemary Gladstar tell the story of The Magic Pawpaw Moment in the founding of the UpS Botanical Sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio and then read about it in The Big Herbs (Strauss, 2014).
Bloom, W. (1986). Devas, fairies and angels: A modern approach. Glastonbury, England: Gothic Image Publications.
Gurudas (1983). Flower essences. Albuquerque, NM: Brotherhood of Life, Inc.
Kaminski, P. & Katz, R. (2008). Range of Light: Celebrating the soul of the Sierras. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Services.
Moore, A. (2015). Pawpaw: In search of America’s forgotten fruit. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Strauss, P. (2014). The big herbs. Gambier, OH: XOXOX Press.
Ziff, K. (2019). Southeast Ohio collection of flower essences. Athens, Ohio: Briarwood Studios Flower Essences.
Woodland Essence (2010). At-risk essences collection: Wild Ginger flower essence. Retrieved from https://woodlandessence.com/products/wild-ginger-asarum-canadense
Katherine Ziff is a flower essence practitioner and maker in Athens, Ohio. She is the author of Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape published by Ohio University Press. Katherine was a United Plant Services Deep Ecology Artist Fellow in 2017 and continues to teach about flower essences in the UpS Medicinal Plant Conservation Certificate Program.