• Calyx

Rediscovering Viriditas: Why Herbalism Needs Wildtending

There is a feeling you get when you’re processing freshly gathered herbs. The life in those plants is still so very present. It is the viriditas, the power of green, which Hildeguard von Bingen, the German visionary abbess and physician discussed. That life-power that is so evident when you are out in wild landscapes remains present in that herb. A careful wildcrafter works to preserve the viriditas.

Recently I was working with Galium, sifting through a freshly wild harvested bundle in preparation for drying. It was one of those moments where, even though I had gone through the motions a thousand times, something clicked. My hands wrist-deep in this bundle of Cleavers, I imagined all of the people this medicine could touch. This thought was one I had had many times throughout the years of making medicine, but this time it was different. The integration of knowledge is marked by the awareness of information on all levels; I didn’t just think it - I knew it. Experiences like these are valuable; they are formative. The alchemists believe that the Mercury, or the Spirit, is the life force that connects all living things together. The Mercurial Spirit, or Vital Force, is not bound by time or space. Neither is the imagination. Awareness of subtle imaginings and intuitions, of feelings experienced in the perceptive heart, is the oldest and most profound way of attaining wisdom and knowledge. Inspiration is the heart processing and integrating information. We have fled from intuitive practice in our modern world of reductionist and empiricist thinking, yet it was practiced by all the great historical figures that have formed our basis for modern science. The great physicians were all astrologists, the pharmacologists all botanists, the scientists all philosophers.

Modern herbalism has been subjected to commoditization and reductionism. The modern worldview sees humans as separate from nature, as something that exists outside of the ecosystem at large. It is this worldview that has led to a watering down of herbalism. When Hildegard von Bingen spoke of viriditis, she was referring not merely to the ability for plants to heal people, but of the reflection of the intrinsic ability to heal and grow present in humans and all lifeforms. Her approach to healing was simple and brilliant: treat the body as a garden. This was not a purely analogous approach- it is a very literal one that views suggests that through tending and nourishment and adjustments to the elements which you expose it to, the body is able to thrive. It acknowledges the human body as a moving part of a greater ecosystem as well as the innate intelligence that is responsible for healing, growth, and transformation. <