from Chapter 2
THE SHAMAN’S DIET: LISTENING TO THE PLANTS
When the spirit accepts the dieter and the dieter has the will, the spirit will grant him energy. The path to knowledge opens and the healing can take place.
--GUILLERMO AREVALO, AMAZONIAN SHAMAN
This chapter will open you further to the spirit of the plants through a process known as the shaman’s diet. This body of practices involves certain actions and restrictions on the behavior of the shaman-to-be so he (or she) can learn from his plant ally how to use it for healing, and how to strengthen himself physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
One of the great revelations (and comforts) that we can experience while working with plants in this way is that we are not separate from the natural world at all; we are all connected. Here, we have included a few exercises to enable you to work deeply with your plant allies and experience more of this connection for yourself.
A few obvious comments first:
1. Work with plants that grow locally.
The healing needs of the various cultures will differ from one another. Sometimes this is a matter of climate and other physical factors. Wherever we are, though, shamans tell us that the Creator knows and has met our healing needs and so local plants will always be stronger and more appropriate in our diets and cures.
2. There is power in every part of a plant.
Nothing need be discarded and we can learn from each flower, root, leaf, or fragment of bark. Even common plants (or so-called weeds) have spiritual and medicinal properties. Choose the plant that calls to you, irrespective of its status in the Western world.
3. The process of selecting a plant to diet is intuitive and emotional, not rational and cerebral.
Your choice might result from many factors--the color or scent of a plant can be meaningful to you, or perhaps there was a flower you loved as a child and would like to know more about now.
How to Diet
As our example, let’s take rosemary. Its distinctive scent is invigorating and stimulating, and maybe that sense of revitalization is a quality you want in your life. You feel that dieting this plant would help and you are drawn to it emotionally.
If you now “tune in” to or research this plant, you discover that rosemary has long been known as a blood and nervous system stimulant. Oil of rosemary is used in salves to treat rheumatism, nervous headaches, muscular aches, and sprains, and when added to baths it helps tone the skin. Your research shows that your emotional perceptions were right. So you decide to diet it.
Make Friends with the Plant
First, spend some time simply being with the plant. Look at it, noting its shape and colors, run your hands through its leaves, feel how smooth the body of each one is, but how sharp the tip, like a needle ready to inject its health-giving properties. Inhale its scent as you visualize its stimulating and purifying qualities entering your body. Be playful and invite the plant to become your friend and teacher.
Gather the Plant
Before you pick any part of a plant, tune in to it again and it will tell you the best time for gathering it. Night gathering tends to infuse a plant with gentler and more “feminine” moon energy, for example, whereas picking at midday will mean it is charged with powerful and “masculine” sun energy. By the same token, gathering early in the growing season will give you a subtle, “adolescent” energy which is not yet fully developed (but that may be exactly what you want), while picking toward the end of the season--in the plant’s “old age,” as it were--will mean a plant filled with wisdom but whose energy is now returning to the soil as it begins its winter hibernation. There will always be an optimal time to gather, according to your needs, and the plant itself will reveal this.
Once you have taken what you need, air-dry the leaves, which you can then store in a moisture-sealed glass jar. Once they are dry, the active ingredients in the leaves will also be released more easily into water or alcohol.
Prepare the Plant
There a number of ways to prepare a plant, as we have seen. The easiest is to make an infusion. This is simply a tea made by steeping the leaves in freshly boiled water for ten minutes. As a guideline, use about an ounce (around 30 grams) of dried plant to two cups of boiled water, which will provide three doses of plant infusion.
Another method is to make a macerado, or tincture. Here, you macerate the leaves and stems in alcohol.
Whichever you choose, remember that your intention is always the most important ingredient, so hold in mind your purpose for dieting the plant as you go through each stage of preparation. In this way, you reach out to the spirit of the plant and inform it of your needs.
Diet the Plant
Each morning before breakfast, take a half cup of the infusion or, if you have made a macerado, a half shot glass (about three teaspoons). Do the same in the evening.
After a week or so, you may start to find your life taking on some of the qualities of the plant itself. In the case of our example, as rosemary is stimulating, you might find that there is more going on around you, or that you have more “get up and go.”
As you maintain your practice, there will come a moment when you sense the plant actively reaching out to you. At that moment you will know that the plant is your ally--the door will be open for you to learn its ways, how it will help you, and how it can guide your deeper journey into the plant world.