The Multidimensional Properties of Plants, from Stalk to Spirit
A Clinical Herbalist helps us rē•think what we thought we knew about plants.
Once-criminalized plants like psilocybin and cannabis are being rē-deemed for their healing potential. Yet for hundreds of years, before Western science provided its clinical stamp of approval, herbalism has been practiced in shamanism and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These traditions show that plant medicine is much more than drinking a medicinal mushroom brew, popping an adaptogen, or taking a reishi supplement for wellness. The cultures behind them offer context, including a less human-centric world-view.
Just as individual wellness is composed of different dimensions (i.e., body, mind, and spirit), Adriana Ayales, Clinical Herbalist and owner at Anima Mundi Apothecary, points out that plant medicine espouses a healing relationship that is more communal at its core. The healing process extends to the community, environment, and the delicate universal ecosystem in which we reside as cohabitants. From this holistic vantage point, plants and herbs are so much more than simply allies in our healing; they themselves are beings with unique intelligence and messages to be shared. “This is the science of curanderismo or shamanism,” says Ayales. “Plants in many indigenous cultures worldwide were greatly understood, far beyond just medicinal [properties].”
Before founding her brand, Ayales studied Central and South American tribal-style herbalism and worked with plant medicine teachers in Costa Rica, the Amazon, and Stateside in California. Below, she reveals more about the multidimensional properties of plants, from stalk to spirit.
rē•thinking The Plantas Maestras, or Master Plants
“From a young age, I’ve seen medicine people speak about plants like friends, noting all the intricacies with great detail on their medicinal, spiritual, and emotional properties,” Ayales says. She explains that in shamanism, plants are spoken about in great detail for their personalities and characters — in the same way you might describe an actual person or spirit. Shamanism teaches that plants possess their own form of descriptive mythology that helps to define the archetypal roles they fulfill, complete with stories that help to explain and convey more information about the metaphysical reasons behind their physical and spiritual healing benefits.
They also fall into different categories that help to explain their myriad roles within the tradition. “Plantas maestras, or master plants, are often used ceremonially and speak to us through dreams, visions, and intuition, in addition to their healing properties,” Ayales says. “Often people mistake them as only psychoactive plants, but it encompasses many healing and profound [effects due to how they appear to uplevel our consciousness when ingested].”
Bobinsana, for one, which is also known as sirenita, appears in dreams as a mermaid. Ayales notes it is used to heal the spiritual heart, aiding in resolving grief, pain, and past trauma. For transgenerational trauma that is passed down ancestrally, however, she might reach for Chuchuasi. Known for being a psycho-spiritual tonic in the alleviation of stored emotional blocks, the so-called “trembling bark” is also helpful for arthritic and rheumatic conditions.
The metaphysical lineage does not always translate directly into explaining a plant’s physical medicinal properties. But oftentimes, it does in a beautiful display of synastry. Ayales points out that Hawthorn is a scientifically substantiated medicinal for cardiovascular health, promoting circulation and blood flow through the coronary artery and tending to the spiritual heart center. “Spiritually, it has also greatly helped those healing from heartbreak, grief from sudden accidents or deaths, and assisting us in the giving and receiving of love.”
How Anima Mundi Makes Plant Medicine Accessible
Ayales’ line of herbals, Anima Mundi, makes some of her favorite blends accessible to all. For skincare fans, there is a popular Collagen Booster formula that boosts the body’s collagen production with nutrient- and mineral-dense plants that are known to be skin and bone tonics. This can be taken year-round and works best with consistency.
But thinking more seasonally, Ayales points out that the Northern Hemisphere experiences less light during the Fall and Winter. So if you tend to fall victim to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), particularly during this extra-severe winter, she recommends her Happiness Tonic. The Happiness Powder is a prebiotic-rich superfood powder that she compares to an herbal coffee alternative. “It contains gut-loving plants such as burdock, chicory, dandelion root, and mood-boosting allies such as Rhodiola, mucuna, maca, and more,” Ayales explains of the adaptogen-rich blend. Yet another popular pick during cold and flu season is their Black Elderberry syrup. “This is chock full of adaptogenic mushrooms, such as Cordyceps, Maitake, and shiitake, which are renowned antivirals that assist respiratory health,” she says. “It’s wonderful whenever you feel that your immune system might be compromised.”
Finally, for spiritual seekers, Ayales recommends their Blue Lotus offering. “This [plant] was well-loved by many ancient cultures, such as the Ancient Egyptians and the Maya. It is a revered ally for meditation as well as lucid dreaming and has the ability to bring one into alignment with the higher self,” she explains.
Choosing an Elixir vs. Tonic vs. Superherbs
As a clinical herbalist, Ayales assesses your intake form before concocting your ideal remedy. She begins by connecting to your underlying emotional energy and tracing its expression to the physical, viewing physical symptoms in terms of imbalances. “Since the emotions directly transcribe to the physical body, this is a very useful way to interpret the organs’ health and match them to the right therapies and herbs to [facilitate] wholeness,” she says.
When choosing your own plant medicine, it also helps to understand the terminology. “An elixir is an herbal formulation very similar to a cordial or a medicinal syrup,” Ayales says. “Typically, you will find something sweet such as honey, simple syrup, or in our case, organic vegetable glycerin.” She adds that these tend to be more flavorful and make fantastic additions as cocktail or mocktail mixers.
Next, she describes a tonic as a stronger concentrate of herbs extracted from organic cane spirits. “This section usually encompasses standardized extracts or traditional tinctures,” Ayales explains. “Both options are potent, and we often use a 2:1 or 3:1 plant-to-liquid ratio for our formulations.” They are less viscous in consistency than an elixir but also come in a bottle.
Their final supplement offerings are superherbs, consisting of a single herb or herbal mixes in powder form. “Some are fresh plant powders, some are extract powders like our mushrooms, to optimize absorption and potency,” she says. You can even opt for their Dream Tea, a nighttime tea beverage to support the nervous system, aid in your quality of sleep, and is known to inspire magical dreams.
Understanding Plants as Cohabitants
Perhaps the key to better understanding the plant kingdom is to disconnect their assigned value from their function to us as humans. Instead, learning about their individual characteristics helps to recognize their inherent value. Ayales even created an oracle deck that was born of herbal astrology, honoring the ancient tradition of utilizing astrology to use planetary movements to understand healing and diagnostics better. With so many traditions informing the mythology and practices surrounding the plant archetypes, it helps to explain why the longstanding relationship between our two species is such a powerful form of relief for so many.