by Dana O’Driscoll, author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Sustainable Practice.
One of the most formidable challenges that those practicing nature-based spirituality experience today is living in a time when that which we hold most sacred, the living earth, is under direct threat from human action. In my experience as the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, we often ask a common question: how do we live in this world, hold it sacred, and do something that helps us meaningfully and directly engage with the challenges we face? How does this work interweave with a spiritual path and the magic we work?
In Sacred Actions, I take this question up directly by exploring the relationship between our outer actions, designed to heal the earth and lessen our own impact upon the land, with cultivating a sense of sacred and spiritual practice in everyday life. Sacred action can be any action that helps lessen our impact on the earth, allowing us to be a force of good in the world and engage in care for others and the earth.
One of the areas that we can work to cultivate sacred actions in is in the spaces right around and outside our homes. With over 40 million acres of lawns in the United States and with lawns being a significant source of carbon emissions, fossil fuel consumption, and pesticide use, the lawn is an excellent space to think about re-connecting with nature, cultivating a new set of magical practices, and engaging in sacred action. So now, let’s delve into the magic of three common plants found in most lawns in temperate regions of the world and how we might use them.
These three plants are commonly found in many places in the world and should be fairly easy for you to find once you know what you are looking for:
Chickweed (Stellaria Media): Chickweed is a magical, wonderful plant that grows abundantly in many locations around the world—in most temperate regions, you can find her in lawns, on the edges of gardens, along paths, and more. Chickweed is a top-rate edible and medicinal plant. If we look closely at the chickweed, we can see that she reflects protection itself through her green “bracts” (look like green petals) and offer a pentacle. Chickweed is used frequently as a first-aid herb. Chickweed can be used as a first-aid plant to aid with scrapes, burns, stings, cuts, and abrasions. Chickweed often grows in small patches on the edges of gardens, walkways, and in lawns. It likes soil that was recently disturbed. You can find it in late winter and early spring and it can quickly grow. It features flowers with a clear pentacle: ten delicate petals with five bracts in a clear star-shape. It has small leaves on vines that only grow a few inches from the ground. The leaves feature a pointed tip and are either tear-dropped or egg-shaped.
Plantain (Plantago Major, Plantago Laceloata): Plantain is another extremely potent medicinal plant that can be used for a variety of herbal applications and is one of the most abundant medicinal plants in the world. Her most common use is as a first-aid herb, where a fresh poultice of a plantain leaf can be used to extract a sting from a bee sting or a variety of other first aid and internal uses. Plantain grows in lawns and can easily spread, handling foot traffic, mowing, and soil compression. Each plant grows from a basal point and forms a rosette of leaves, reaching outward. The underside of its leaves has clear veins that grow parallel. Out of the center of the plant, the seed stalk, long and thin, grows. There are several common varieties of plantain.
Heal All (Prunella vulgaris): Heal all is a third medicinal and edible plant commonly found in lawns and along edges throughout the world. This plant has several folk names including all heal, heal all, woundwort, and heart of the earth, and as the name suggests, is an excellent medicinal plant. It is also a nice “pot herb”, that is, an herb to put in salads, soups, and stir fry. Heal all grows from 3-12 inches. It has lance-shaped leaves with serration that grow opposite of each other, reddish square stems, and a beautiful flowering head (the shape of a thumb) with tiny purple flowers that bloom at places along the head.
Regardless of how abundant and common they may be, it is important to treat these plants with reverence and respect, harvesting them ethically. Pay attention to how abundant these plants are where you plan to harvest. These three are extremely abundant plants, found commonly in lawns and grassy areas throughout temperate Europe and North America. Still, you do not want to overharvest one of these plants—give them opportunity to grow and thrive. When you are ready to harvest, first ask permission from the plant. This can be a simple question, where you ask and wait for a feeling that you can harvest (or use a divination system, like a pendulum, for a simple yes/no answer). If you are told “yes”, harvest no more than 20% of any plant and offer your gratitude. If you receive a “no”, honor that request and move onto a different patch of plants. Be aware that you do not want to harvest any plants from places where a lawn is sprayed or chemically treated. The more that people can learn about the value of these plants, the more pressure we can exert to end chemical spraying, which would benefit all life.
Once you’ve found and harvested these delightful spring plants, you can do any number of medicinal, culinary, and magical activities with them. I offer three such activities:
Medicinal Use: Backyard Healing Salve
To make a backyard healing salve, gather several handfuls of any (or all) of these three plants. Allow them to wilt on the counter overnight. The next day, cover them with a good quality olive oil and turn the burner on the lowest setting. You want the plants to infuse into the hot oil, but do not allow the oil to get hot enough to crisp or burn the plants. After 3-4 hours, strain out all of the plant matter using a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Return the oil to the heat and stir in 2-3 tablespoons of shredded beeswax until it is melted. Put a spoon in the freezer for 5 minutes and then pull it out, and drip a small amount of your oil mixture onto the spoon. It will harden and you will see what consistency your finished salve is. If you want, add more beeswax for a thicker salve. Once you are happy with the consistency, add a few drops of essential oil of your choice (optional) and then pour into small jars or tins. This healing salve is safe for use on animals, children, or yourself and it is shelf-stable for a year or more. It draws stings and dirt out of wounds, helps heal wounds faster, and is useful for all manner of cuts, scrapes, burns, and abrasions.
Culinary Use: Chickweed Pesto
To make a delightful spring culinary treat, gather up 3 cups of fresh chickweed and add 1/2 cup walnuts, pine nuts, hemp seeds, or sunflower seeds; 2-4 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, 1/3 cup olive oil and ¼ cup parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast (for a vegan version). Add ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. If it seems too thin, you can add more nuts or chickweed. If it is too thick, add a bit more olive oil. This pesto makes a delightful addition to grilled vegetables and meats, as a dipping oil blend, on sandwiches, or as a drizzle over salads. It can also be frozen for up to a year.
Magical Use: Backyard Blessing and Protection Blend
You can draw upon the magical powers of these three plants to create a local and sustainable offering for other magical or spiritual work. Visit each of the plants and ask for their permission to be used in this way (as described above). If you receive it, harvest some of each of the plants. Allow them to dry out on a counter or use a dehydrator to fully dry the plants. After they are dry, place them in a large bowl and begin to break up the plants into smaller pieces. You can say, sing, or chant:
All heal for gratitude
Plantain for blessing
Chickweed for protection
May these three herbs every guide my path.
As you mix, feel free to direct other energy into the bowl. You can drum, sing, dance, or do energy work to add your own connection to these plants. This offering blend can be left in wild places, at shrines, when you harvest other plants, or in any other spiritual work that is appropriate. You can also use this blend to mark the four quarters or for other use in ritual settings.
This post has offered three tools that reach to the heart of what sacred action is all about.
By learning more about plants growing right outside our doors, we can enter into a sacred relationship with them and work to shift our own lawncare practices towards those that support all life. By creating our own offering blends and foods foraged right from naturally abundant and common plants, we can learn about how to engage in reciprocation with the living earth. We also lessen our impact on the earth by creating sustainable methods to replace food, medicine, and ritual tools that require fossil fuels to ship and distribute and that could have hidden other practices (overharvesting, chemical growing, labor issues, land use issues, etc). Further, these three plants are very easy to identify and share with others. In teaching foraging and wild foods for many years, I discovered these three plants are like a gateway to learning about other sustainable practices. If someone realizes that there are many wild medicines and wild edibles in their yard, they aren’t going to spray their yard with weed killer—and they may teach these plants to others. This reduces the overall pesticide use and encourages others to see nature as something full of wonder and magic.
While perhaps learning about three backyard plants seems like a small thing, every small step is a meaningful part of the path of sacred action. What I’ve offered in this post is only a small slice of the magic and medicine of these three plants — they have a host of other uses that you can explore. Other common yard plants like yellow dock, yarrow, dandelion, red clover, white Dutch clover, dead nettle, and ground ivy; each of these likewise offer so much to us. If you are excited about the possibilities of these plants and want to learn more, in my book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Sustainable Practice I explore many other ways of moving beyond a typical lawn and cultivating sacred spaces, gardens, bee and butterfly sanctuaries, and much more.
Dana O’Driscoll has been a practicing animist druid for more than 15 years and currently serves as the Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is also a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She writes at The Druid’s Garden blog and is the creator of Tarot of Trees. Dana is a certified permaculture designer and teacher; she has taught sustainable-living courses and wild-food foraging in her local community and in university settings. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends.