When we look at the folklore surrounding plants, we find that there are shreds of truth in these stories. In researching our works Biota Beings and Entanglaculture, we are curious about the beliefs and magical associations assigned to plants in folklore. Often these stories tell of intimate relationships with humans and interactions that either help, heal, or hinder us.
The tales often talk of plants having medicinal properties. With the perspective of contemporary science, often these tales are found to have truth in them.
The dandelion, otherwise known as piss-a-bed, is found to be a diuretic. Willow bark previously known as a pain reliever, is found to contain salicin, flavonoids and polyphenols that eases pain and acts as an anti-inflammatory. There are many more examples.
What we discover is a role of stories and folklore that surround the natural world to give a way to capture and pass on knowledge. We can see this as to know something without having sufficient ability to understand why something works - ‘to know without knowing’.
Before there was a scientific discipline to understand the mechanisms of the interactions between the natural world and humans, we had stories to make sense of these. In a way, folklore filled a gap in a perceptive blind-spot to see the molecular scale. These stories also made the knowledge open to everyone in understandable ways. Within the folklore we also observe layers of value systems, and they reveal dreams, hopes and fears of our species.
These remind us of Simon Barnes’ book Rewild Yourself. Here Barnes gives ‘spells’ to rewaken parts of us and to see the wild world. He says: “There is wildness in us all, but in most of us it’s latent, sleeping, unused.” He gives techniques to notice, look, see, listen and hear the lost world around us. Where Barnes uses ‘spells’, we find stories and folklore as a way to wake-up our senses and give permission to make relationships with other worlds and their many beings.
We ask: how can we build space for the current unknowns and change in the world? How can we use stories to give permission and a means to make relationships with the non-human world? How might intuitive methods give ways to ‘know without knowing’? How can these methods help navigate complexity and the unknown?
Clare A. Bevan, M.S., et al. The Diuretic Effect in Human Subjects of an Extract of Taraxacum officinale Folium over a Single Day. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Aug; 15(8): 929–934.
J Vlachojannis, et al. Willow species and aspirin: different mechanism of actions. Phytother Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):1102-4. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3386. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21226125/
Simon Barnes, Rewild Yourself. Simon & Schuster, 2020
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