Pay Attention – Observation

The Second point made in Gail Faith Edwards article titled ‘The Ten Fold Path to Becoming a Community Herbalist’ is Observation…

Pay Attention – Observation

One of the ways I have used to illustrate the importance of observation to a student (home schooled or herbal student) is to take them into the field, hand them a notebook, a pencil, a bottle of water, and tell them to sit. Once they find a place that is comfortable for them, away from any other people, I then mark off a one foot square area of the earth before them and tell them to write down everything they think they see, hear, smell, feel, sense or observe happening in that space for an hour. They can include a sketch if they want, take samples of what they find (a leaf, a pebble, a piece of trash), or try anything they want to be creative in their documentation….but do not leave, do not look at passers-by, do not talk to anyone else during the exercise!

Inevitably when I compare the note taking the first time this is tried to the fast notes I take at the beginning of this exercise much is missed, things are neglected or thought inconsequential….our lists are very different. I have been asked “So! An ant walked through, so what!?!” and “Yeah there is some trash here, but I thought you wanted blah, blah, blah!”

Once the connection is made in their heads, you can send them home with a 12 month assignment. The student (try this yourself!) should find a one foot square patch of land, that will be available all year round; a place where they are unlikely to be disturbed. Mark this space in a semi permanent way. Now spend an hour looking, observing, noting, and drawing the space. Then next month, on the same date, go to the spot, and do it again. Repeat this process for at least a 12 month period…see the changes through the seasons, notice how the plants change (both the individual plant and which ones come and go).

This experience will help later when a Plant Ally is picked and observation is one of the tools employed through your time of learning with your ally. This skill of observation can also prevent problems. My mother in law is 75 years old, she overheard my husband and I talking about Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock. She told me that I was crazy…Queen Anne’s lace didn’t have a small deep maroon or purplish flower in the center, she had looked at it all her life and never seen this one little detail!

Observation is also a skill used when keeping accurate notes when making herbal concoctions. To have accuracy and success time after time, precise observation and note taking must be employed! When utilizing an herb for the first time, you are taking someone else’s experience as truth, but you can prove or disprove this trust through observation! Not everything works on everyone in the same manner, we are all different….some may be able to use a calendula salve for eczema and another may develop a contact dermatitis from its use! By keeping detailed notes on not only the herb, but also the person seeking healing we can track down the whys of these things.

What do you see?

What do you see?


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