Plant Spirit Healing: A Guide to Working with Plant Consciousness by Pam Montgomery. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company; 2008. Paperback; 222 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-59143-077-3. $16.00.
With a title like the one Pam Montgomery has chosen, an open-minded reader is a prerequisite. Written in her straightforward, personal style, Montgomery lays out her truth in this guide to the “triple spiral path of healing,” which engages the heart, soul, and spirit of not only humans, but of plants. The whole book, including the fascinating mirror-image color photographs by Linda Law, is a kaleidoscopic journey.
It is interesting to read why Montgomery opted to choose the word spirit over the word energy in the title of the book. Using the word energy could have lent credibility, since so-called “energy medicine” is now a category being researched by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health. Montgomery says that, after much reflection, she chose the word spiritual because “energy in scientific terms refers to the ability of a physical system to do mechanical work…it has only been recently that energy as a force existing in a unified field has been discussed, and, even though the word spirit has not entered scientists’ vocabulary, it is on the verge of recognition in connection to this life force.”
Pioneering semantics is nothing new to Montgomery. Her first book, Partner Earth: A Spiritual Ecology (Destiny Books, 1997), was one of the first titles to use the term spiritual ecology. Now that term is more ubiquitous in this time of concern for the global climate, though it has been primarily employed by religious-affiliated organizations to cement the idea that sacred work includes taking good care of the planet. Montgomery clearly differentiates her brand of spirit from organized religion.
Montgomery liberally uses the works of others in short quotes and other references, drawing from a wide array of experts—some expected, such as well-known physicist James Lovelock, author of the ground-shaking Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, and others less known or fading from memory. Montgomery’s reminding readers of the late Swedish painter and activist Monica Sjoo and the late Romanian writer and historian Mircea Elaide, who wrote what is considered a foundational text on shamanism in 1951, adds admirable quality to the book. One of the newer scientific researchers noted in this book is Anthony Trewavas, a leader in plant neurobiology, a field that is dispelling the notion that plants are passive entities. This research is showing that plants are actually actively engaged in life comparative to animals. Montgomery also cites her herbal contemporaries, including Rosita Arvigo, Susun Weed, and Matthew Wood. The substantial and well-written foreword, titled “Reclaiming the Invisible,” is by provocative herbal author Stephen Harrod Buhner.
Plant Spirit Healing is divided into 3 sections that take the reader through the theoretical framework, practical application, and finally, summaries of 10 specific plants. Chapters open with one of the author’s journal entries dated over the past several years. Each passage refers to a time and a place on her land in the verdant hills of Danby, Vermont and frames the teaching offered in that chapter. The words she shares from her diary stem from her direct personal awareness of a place; perhaps along the stony creek that tumbles down Marble Mountain, following moose tracks or wild turkeys, or huffing up Eagle’s Nest Trail. She writes simply, in conversation with the reader, about how these places, the plants, animals, rocks and water, time of day and celestial events, affect and move her. These entries introduce the ideas conveyed in the chapter and solidify the idea that direct interaction and relationship with nature is core to plant spirit healing.
Key to everything, Montgomery emphasizes direct experience as the teacher. She refers to personal experiences she has had with clients and students to help readers understand the tenet of each chapter. In Chapter Nine, titled “Healing Oneself, Others, and the Planet with Plant Spirits,” she tells a story about a student ill with Lyme disease who responded to a year of plant spirit healing by saying, “It’s not like Lyme disease is miraculously whisked away. It’s that I take up more of the space and there’s no room for Lyme disease.”
Readers may experience a thread of mystery running throughout the text about how to best use the plants for healing. Montgomery encourages readers to experiment with techniques. The chapter on foundational healing modalities opens with a journal entry about the uniqueness of each falling snowflake. Likewise, “There are many ways to give the healing gifts of a plant spirit to another,” Montgomery says. This chapter specifically discusses formalized modalities of healing that the author has employed, including 5-element Chinese medicine, the chakra system, and the medicine wheel. But Montgomery writes, “I urge you to explore deeply the ones that speak to you… the healing comes through your co-creative partnership with the plant spirits. The most important aspect of Plant Spirit Healing is your relationship to the plants….”
The last chapter is on the individual herbs, titled “Plant Allies.” The introduction reminds readers that it is the mingling of energies from a relationship between plant and human on a heart, soul, and spirit level that allows true healing and that this relationship will be different for everyone. While products such as teas, tinctures, oils, incenses, and flower essences have their place, Montgomery says, “Remember, you are the author of your own experience, making you an authority.” The 10 herbs listed as plant allies include mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, Asteraceae), which, among other uses, is held to be the “all in one” for alignment of the spinal cord. Sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum, Lamiaceae) is the author’s indispensable ally, and an infused body oil is made by soaking the leaves for 6 weeks. Other herbs include dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae), calendula (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Clusiaceae), hawthorn (Crataegus spp., Rosaceae), angelica (Angelica archangelica, Apiaceae), agrimony (Agrimonia pilosa, Rosaceae), rose (Rosa spp., Rosaceae), and surprisingly, birthroot (Trillium erectum, Melanthiaceae), which has been used for parturition. Contemporary herbalists are in general agreement that trilliums should not be harvested, nor sold on the marketplace. The United Plant Savers organization lists it as “At Risk,” and the US Department of Agriculture lists it as threatened or endangered in some eastern states. Granted, there is no suggestion to harvest the plant, and all of the stories shared about it seem to indicate that it was only the energy that was being tapped. Nonetheless, it is cause for wonder why mention was not given of its threatened existence.
The book has an index and a bibliography, which are useful to readers interested in exploring more about some of the fascinating people and topics that are touched upon in the text.
Montgomery thoroughly acknowledges the wisdom inherent in indigenous cultures and how this is a natural progression of an intrinsic connection with nature. Indeed, her book seems to be designed as a guide to accessing the “indigenous soul,” as she calls it. That Plant Spirit Healing is a top seller for its publishers signals that not only is it written in an accessible way, but that the modern audience resonates with the idea that people and plants share root and bough. While the perennial quest to maintain humans at the pinnacle of creation continues to dominate scientific and religious endeavors, further experimentation continues to mount evidence that life forms are more similar than different. Modern science and indigenous knowledge and belief grow closer, and the popularity of books like Montgomery’s contribute to the open-mindedness of the general population. This attitude slowly but surely affects public policy that funds scientific research.
Like her previous book, this new one adds to a growing body of herbal literature that reaches beyond “this for that” or identification guidebooks. Herbalists and others who have a relationship with the doctrine of vitalism can be expected to find much appeal in Montgomery’s book. Contrarily, those connecting more with the evidence-based doctrine that currently captivates healthcare regulatory bodies worldwide will surely find much to criticize. In this camp will be those concerned that books like this cast an illegitimate pale on the herbal field, taking it further from conventional acceptance. Even as these different orientations divide herbalists, one thing is certain: politics and science have trended back toward the acknowledgement that the relationship between the human species and nature is powerful. Now, emphasis on this relationship is a dominant political and market force as focus turns to planetary health. In addition, there is agreement that each individual’s relationship to nature, reflected by lifestyle and specific decisions, have powerful effects on the planet and personal health.
Pam Montgomery has offered her view of how to live better on the planet. Her voice contributes to a long, contentious conversation mitigated too often by greedy, commercial interests. She cuts to the chase when she says, “We are committed to the earth, the green beings, and the water, treating them as if they are relatives….” Perhaps it is only by cultivating a relationship of deep knowing with the earth, as that of a close relative, that we can bring authenticity to the concepts of green and sustainable. After all, “He who knows nothing, loves nothing,” the notorious 16th century physician known as Paracelsus supposedly said.
Montgomery takes her place among other out-spoken Vermonters, such as the highly influential godfather of environmentalism, George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882). In Man and Nature, written in 1864, he came to the same conclusion as Montgomery when he wrote, “All nature is linked together with invisible bonds and every organic creature, however low, however feeble, however dependent, is necessary to the well-being of some other.”
—Cascade Anderson Geller, Herbalist, Portland, OR