Plants are integral to our lives. They provide us with oxygen, food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and so much more. Plants are a direct link between ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
In our current system of global capitalism, we’re encouraged to overlook the plants that are on our plates or in our skin care. But even when corporations try to hide the fields that ingredients come from, that connection is still there.
When we pay attention to plant connections, we feel more connected to the Earth, animals, and other people, too. We can’t solve the complex issues of global supply chains just by noticing the plants in our lives—but we can begin to change our relationships with them. Instead of just consuming plants, we can start to see them as our relatives.
We Have Always Been Connected To Plants
The idea of plants as kin is not new. Indigenous peoples around the world have long held reverence and respect for the plants we cohabitate with. In many cultures, certain plants are seen not only as sources of nourishment or livelihood, but also as ancestors.
Plant-human relationships have existed for thousands of years, but colonialism, capitalism, and climate change have uprooted and taken many of them out of context. When people are forced to move away from their ancestral homelands, banned from using their sacred plants in rituals, or incentivized to grow large monoculture crops for profit, we begin to lose our plant connections.
When we lose our connection to plants, we lose our connection to culture. We become disconnected from our heritage, our sense of place and belonging. That loss can manifest as hunger, displacement, or generational trauma. But plants offer a pathway towards healing. By reclaiming plant and land-based foodways, crafts, and spiritual practices, we’re actively repairing those connections.
As we wrote in our Legacy of Plants blog; “Humans have an ancestral relationship with plants. Through understanding their history, we can better understand our own history. A history of oppression and extraction—but also one of land stewardship, community, and connection.”
Plants Are Grounding
When we notice plants, we are brought into the present moment. They keep us in tune with the seasons, rooting us in place and time.
I’ve noticed that plants tend to give us what we need at almost the exact right time. Spring greens and herbaceous vegetables like radish and mint pop up just when our bodies begin to crave the taste of freshness after a winter of warm and heavy foods. Juicy fruits ripen in the height of summer, offering coolness and hydration on hot days. When the air goes dry in autumn, rosehips are ready to be harvested and brewed into a tea that soothes our skin from within. In the darkest days of winter when our immunity is low, orange and lemon trees glow with sunshine-colored fruits full of vitamin-c.
Plants can bring us hope and comfort in the midst of seasonal shifts and times of upheaval or change. We receive soothing, healing, and regeneration from edible medicinal plants. Even just touching or smelling plants can bring us mental clarity and release stress.
For me, plants offer a bright spot in a time of climate crisis and pandemic recession. When I notice acorns falling from the oak trees in my neighborhood, I momentarily forget about my anxiety over wildfire season and ash-laden skies. When I find green and thriving willows down by the river, the heat of a record-breaking summer day suddenly doesn’t feel so scorching. Even as our climate shifts rapidly around us, plants continue to adapt, exist, and care for us.
Plants herald the changing of the seasons and give us nourishment when we need it most. Their existence connects us to the past, present, and future.
Plants Connect Us To Each Other
“Every time I eat anything that’s even a little bit foraged, it’s a connection to past as much as it’s a connection to place. There’s something really cool about partaking in a practice that you know other people have done for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years before you. It makes me feel like I’m a piece of the environment’s puzzle.”—Alexis Nikole (@blackforager) in an interview for Thrillist
I’m both a cook and a gardener, so food and plants play a huge role in the ways that I connect with others. When I want to take care of someone or be their friend, I invite them over for a home-cooked meal or gift them a plant that I grew from seed. When I want to feel connected to my Chinese heritage, I eat tofu, ginger, and green onions. When I celebrate Passover with my partner, our Seder plate is defined by the bitter herbs, sweet apples, and fresh greens that symbolize the journey of the Jewish people.
For Hindus, turmeric is used in daily life as well as in birth, death, and marriage traditions. In Mexico, marigolds decorate altars and help guide souls during Día de Los Muertos festivities. In Ethiopia, roasting beans and drinking coffee during the Bunna ceremony is a daily occurrence that’s been practiced for generations.
Plants play a key role in the rituals that make up our lives. They bring us together around the dinner table and enliven the spaces we inhabit. Plants are central to our religious and spiritual beliefs, they symbolize our values, and mark some of the most important moments.
The plants that we eat and use daily tell a beautiful story of heritage, culture, and life. But they can also tell a story of exploitation. This is why it’s important to ask; where do the plants in our lives come from? Who grew and processed them? And what kind of impact do these plants make on people, animals, and the planet?
By paying attention to plants, we’re also paying attention to all of the people, places, and history that they connect us to.
How To Connect With Plants
Paying attention to plants doesn’t need to be more complex than simply noticing the roles they play in our everyday lives. What plants are listed on the back of your bottle of face oil? What plants are on your plate? What trees give you shade? What opportunistic flowers and greens are growing through the cracks of concrete around your town?
“Caring for plants and our relatives is first, and in return, they will always care for you. It’s a relationship that starts with being a student and dedicated to learning and being of service before ever receiving.”—Nicholas Hummingbird, California Native Plant Educator and Indigenous advocate
Beyond noticing the plants in our lives, we can also care for them. We can care for plants, particularly native plants, by saving and planting seeds, growing gardens at home or in our communities, and protecting them from harm. We can care for plants by pruning them back in the winter and trellising new growth in the spring. We can even care for plants by harvesting the bounty they offer.
We can also connect with and care for plants by advocating for Indigenous land stewardship and environmental justice policies. Eliminating fossil fuel infrastructure and returning stolen land to its original stewards ultimately support a healthier environment for plants, animals, and people.
When we create a reciprocal and reverent relationship with the plants in our lives, we create a better world for the future. Planting a tree creates food and shelter. Tending a native plant garden provides food and habitat for endangered pollinators while sequestering carbon and contributing to underground water tables. Hiking through the redwoods and falling in love with majestic trees means you’re more likely to advocate for good fire policies and stand up against deforestation and clearcutting. Growing food in an urban or rural setting feeds people today and into the future.
When we’re connected to plants, we’re more connected to each other. We’re in tune with the seasons, our own heritage, and our communities. We’re more present and aware, and more likely to speak up for plants, people, and animals all around the world. When we’re connected to plants, we’re connected to Earth.
Written By Faye Lessler