By Angela Highsmith
AH: What initially comes to mind when you think about mental health on the farm?
AS: When I think about mental health, there’s something about slowing down. Yes, the farm is a place where there’s a lot of growth and activity, and at the same time, there’s this balance of growth and activity and this sense of nourishment that needs to happen for the activity to take place. So when I think about our mental activity and what gives space for that, it is the slowing down, like literally the slowing of our nervous system so that we can actually process some of the things that are happening in our mind. I think about balance - what is the balance between rest and activity? How do we slow down enough to observe what is happening? How do we take the time?
The farm is an amazing source of these observations. When I come into the garden and enter the gate, it’s like I’m waking into this portal of possibility. I enter a space where there are so many different varieties of life existing, that each need something different, that each brings something different. Even just stepping in and seeing all this variety; all the shapes, colors, sizes, and the different fruits, flavors, smells – they somehow speak to me subconsciously and let me know that all those aspects of my own being; my physical, my mental, my spiritual, and all the dimensions within those, that there is space for them. If I can slow down and observe myself in this way, then I can find ways and means of nourishing myself.
AH: Speaking of variety, I’ve never seen yarrow with so many colors!
AS: This is Yarrow Colorado. Yarrow is an amazing plant, this is a plant that teaches us boundaries.
AH: Boundaries, how so?
AS: I would say another piece of rest & relaxation is boundary. I remember looking at Yarrow one time and seeing it move in the wind. It was kind of doing this (moves hand in a tight spiral) “szzh szzh” - it’s a centering force. Sometimes people think about boundaries as keeping things out; boundaries are also a space where we get to exist. So when we are existing in a space of healthy boundaries, there’s a sense of centering that I feel like Yarrow really offers. It’s really beautiful – the stalk isn’t that thick, but it’s super sturdy and there's something about this that’s centering. It’s as though it says ‘okay, I understand. What are my needs? What are my needs in this moment?’ The Yarrow is a flower essence for boundaries and one of the mantras for Golden Yarrow is similar to, ‘I reach out to others from the golden center of myself.’ When we are in this centered space, we are able to express or understand what we need in our space and what we don’t, what we need to fill a space and what doesn’t fit. Yarrow is a wild plant, but it’s very clear about its presence. Some plants just spread everywhere and there’s no clear distinction between them and others, but with yarrow, there’s a clear distinction between it and those around it. This tells me something about it.
AH: You mean that it’s staying in its own space?
AS: Yes! So plants - through their gesture, their color, how they grow, how they feel, how they smell - tell us something about the energy of that plant, the medicine of the plant, the gift of the plant and what it has to bring.
AH: You speak about flower essences and I know you make flower essences; how do flower essences tie into mental health?
AS: Flower essences help to bring awareness to our own patterns within the mental and etheric field. Mental health is in our mind; etheric are the things unseen that affect us or affect how we think. I like to say flower essences, as a medicine, are like vitamins for the soul. Basically, they bring awareness to things that are in or out of balance with what it is that we have come here to do. I think about flowers on a plant and their journey from seed to flower. The flower is the ultimate expression of the plan - it’s the flowering of the seed. The seed in the ground is taking in so much information and learning what it means to burst through its shell to find the sun and to send its root to find water and nourishment. Each seed has a different journey. So, the essences teach us and invite us to consider ourselves as though we are seeds - to have seeded from something. Each of our experiences, each of the things we encounter in our life, help to shape us and help to shape the flower that we have become. In our lives, as a flower or a human being, we encounter things that challenge our growth. Flowers remind us that the things that challenge us help us grow and shape us. Flowers help us understand and accept ourselves and accept that there’s nothing wrong with us but instead that everything is an opportunity for us to take and transform into something that brings growth and healing. Flower essences are compassionate friends and remind us that everything we have experienced can help shape us and help us grow - and not only us, but everything around us. Flower essences help us embrace ourselves and our path more fully, they help us understand how we shape our lives through our actions, how we consciously choose to move, to act and therefore impact our reality.
AH: What flower essences do you recommend for the challenges common during the farming season: early hours, hot sun, physical exhaustion, etc?
AS: Oh my gosh, there are so many! Sunflower for strength of spirit. It’s a really beautiful plant, and you can tell by its shape (a sturdy stalk, able to withstand wind) that it has deep roots. There’s a solitary stalk in the center that gives the base for the center flower and other flowers come around it. Sunflower is a positive sense of self - it turns towards the sun, orienting to its own light. Especially for a gardener or farmer who is solitary or feeling isolated, sunflower is a good one to work with because it shows you how to be strong and confident, yet also reminds you that you have other little buds you’re shining your light on. So, a positive sense of self, that’s Sunflower.
Olive flower essences for exhaustion. Another one that’s really good for overworking and that ‘Ah, ah, ah! Too many things to do!’ feeling is Indian Pink. This is a flower from the Flower Essences Society (FES), an organization in California. Indian Pink helps us find our focus, amidst many different activities.
Spreading Phlox, which grows earlier in the season, is for community and socialization. This is one for finding your tribe, finding your people, and finding who works for you.
I’m getting to know Lavender Cloud Nicotiana. Nicotiana is related to the Tobacco family, a family that is really connected to the Earth, that loves the Earth. You have these purple ‘lavender’ flowers. I need to sit with this plant a little bit more and learn. And this white flower, ‘cloud’. A white flower is usually about connecting to the spirit, these are also really healing for root issues like trauma. A flower like Holly or Star of Bethlehem (also white flowers) are for healing deep wounds.
Ah, there’s so much in the garden that can bring rest and relief. Rest for me, as a fiery person, might be different than for somebody else. Rest for me is this (sitting with the plants), rest for me is walking in the garden every morning and just breathing and noticing. Rest is letting my mental activity rest and opening up my senses. Opening up my sense of smell, of touch, of sight and just noticing - this green leaf versus this one, this shape versus this one - gives my mind space to rest. That’s what the garden is - it's a portal into the sensual world that provides deep rest for me.
Angela Highsmith Has practiced herbalism for over 20 years, a solid foundation for the deepening of land-based and, increasingly, ancestrally-informed ways of being. She lives in the Berkshires with her family.