An Indigenous Language of Plants

This Saturday, July 16, I will be leading a workshop that is foundational to having a deeper connection to the plant world. It opens up the plant world like an encyclopedia of Sign for those looking to glean information directly from observation, and it enables us to be that much more capable when doing plant attunements.

I learned the basics of the Language of Plants through my study and training in Cherokee plant medicine decades ago, but it is one of those endeavors that needs to be practiced in order to get good at it.  This language, of which the European Doctrine of Signatures is a vestigial example, has been known and utilized by virtually every culture throughout (and before) human history.  I firmly believe that this ability is embedded in our DNA, and it is certainly a birthright for anyone and everyone to experience. Our connection to the green world is deeper than we know. The more we can embody these teachings and practices, the richer our experience will be, and the more and faster we will remember..  

The Physical Language as Parts of Speech

Plants tell us so much through what we can observe from our physical senses and intellect. A plant’s shape, color, aroma, taste, unique physical characteristics, habitat, and the other plants it chooses to live near gives us enough information to have a working knowledge of the plant’s medicinal value. Of course, it is wise to corroborate and confirm with known sources, but it is amazing, how time after time, what we deduce from a plant’s physical characteristics is right on the money. And when color, taste, aroma and other physical characteristics align with one another, then it is almost a certainty that the plant will have such medicinal properties.

Each of what our physical senses picks up from a plant is like a part of speech. Some parts of speech are more fundamentally important than others. For instance, I can make a clear sentence out of two words as long as one is a noun and the other a verb: “Plants grow.” “Food nourishes.” Other parts of speech, like adjectives and adverbs, are absolutely essential, but more for embellishment. Language would be dull and bare if we only had nouns and verbs in our vocabulary. .

Plants work the same way. Some physical characteristics are more telling of a plant’s virtues than others. It is a known fact that human beings rely mostly on their sense of sight. It is also a known fact that we can easily be fooled by our vision, such as the case with optical illusions. The same is true for a plant’s color. Although it is usually the most striking part of a plant, I would relegate color more to the importance level of adjectives or adverbs. It tells us a lot, but not as much and not as accurately as what we can glean from a plant’s aroma and taste. These two physical characteristics are far more telling of a plant’s medicinal activity than color.

What Color tells us about a Plant

Still, color tells us a lot. Different colors relate to different organ-systems. It is best if the color we are observing is the part of the plant that is medicinal, but it is not always the case. Red Root Sage is named after its strikingly rich red roots, and the root is one of China’s best female reproductive herbs. The bright red fruits of red raspberry are striking and alluring, but it is the raspberry leaf that is considered a premier female reproductive tonic. In broad strokes, the color of a plant can often help us to quickly hone in on a plant’s medicinal uses.

Red and pink colors often have activity related to blood-lymph, cardiovascular system, and/or female reproductive system. Examples: blossoms of echinacea and burdock are red, and both are superior lymph tonic blood purifiers. Motherwort flowers are a pinkish red, and motherwort herb is one of our best cardiotonics and female tonics medicines.  

Spilanthes flower buttons (s. oleracea)

Yellow and Orange colors often have activity associated with digestion, liver, gallbladder and pancreatic function. The bright orange of calendula blossoms hint at its usefulness as a liver remedy. The yellow flowers of dandelion speak to its usefulness as a broad-spectrum digestion and liver tonic, but it is the root and leaf that are most useful in this area. The red and yellow flower buttons of spilanthes is doubly telling: spilanthes is both a blood-lymph cleanser and a serviceable digestive tonic.

White and light green color is often associated with mucous membrane, the function and flow of water in the body, and again, the health of lymph. Mucous membranes include the respiratory system, the genito-urinary tract, and the gastrointestinal tract. The white roots of marshmallow and the bark of slippery elm speak to their effectiveness as healing remedies for irritated mucous membranes. The delicate white flowers of chickweed and cleavers speak to their affinity for aiding free flow of water metabolism and keeping our lymph clean. The pale green leaves of mullein are considered whitish, and mullein leaf is among the best lung tonics I know.

Black, very dark green and
very dark red (going toward black) often have association with the kidneys (from both the Western point of view and the broader Chinese point of view) and bladder, The dark green leafy plants are often rich in minerals, and minerals have influence over kidney function and healthy water metabolism. The same goes for the dark green of sea vegetables, like bladderwrack. Schisandra is one of the premier Chinese kidney herbs, and its berries when dried are a deep dark red.    

Blues and violet color is often associated with the mind and nervous system. Many of the calmative nervine plants have blue or violet somewhere in their coloration, such as the flowers of skullcap, blue vervain, and the blue streak coloration in psilocybin mushroom (okay, so I am stretching here and including the fungus kingdom). Indian pipe, a premier herb for treating pain and anxiety, is ghostly white in the wild, but when tinctured, immediately turns the darkest purple imaginable.

This is just a sampling of the richness, depth and diversity of information available to us through the coloration of a plant. More later on other physical characteristics like aroma, taste, and habitat.

Opening to the Wisdom of the Plant World outdoor class this Saturday, July 16

If you want to learn about this and more in the beautiful setting of Clearpath Medicine Gardens at the peak of summer fullness, then Opening to the Wisdom of the Plant World: An Indigenous Language of Plants, is the class for you. The class is this coming Saturday, July 16, from 9:30-3:30. The cost for a full day is $75, and by day’s end you will have a working knowledge and the tools necessary for a lifetime’s worth of exploration and fun. You will be well on your way to being adept at understanding the physical language of plants, and it will be the necessary foundation for helping to make Plant Attunements (direct plant communication) that much more informative and amazing.
Bring lunch, a snack and hydration. For more information, visit the calendar. To pre-register, contact

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