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St. John's wort (Hypericum)

My apothecary garden is a community of sentient beings. The plants are the main players, but also the birds, the furry creatures, myself, and the human visitors – all contribute to the overall sense of harmony and contentment within that small space.

This harmony, I hope, is conferred to my patients through the energy of the medicines, and of course, the quality of the products, hand harvested, at their peak of power, with love. So, what does that mean?

I think it boils down to respect and consideration for all the beings of my garden – seen and unseen. Every living being craves to express itself freely, thus the first rule of herb harvesting is that you leave more than you take, and in this way, the plant can complete its life cycle by flowering, seeding and feeding the bees and butterflies. Perhaps it delights a flower to be tickled by a bumble bee, and for the bees, it appears to be a narcotic experience as they bumble from flower to flower in an apparent blur of busy-bliss. Total focus.

I take this sentience to the level where I ask the plant to show me which flowers (etc), I may take, and whilst this might seem quite ridiculous, I am aware that some flowers glow at me, while others push me away. I learnt this originally from nettles, who would gently sting me, and then I knew that it was time to move along. Over the years, I developed my sensitivity to the plant world – I hope.

It is easy to drop a twiglet when harvesting, but out of respect, these should always be collected, because it is not right to waste a miracle – for what is a plant whose body parts can heal us, but a miracle? To my mind, the ultimate magic is when you take a weed, extract it, and give it to a sick human, and their health is fully recovered. Alchemy and transformation. Such power should be respected.

If at all possible, I don’t harvest a flower upon which an insect is feeding. Can you imagine having your larder stolen from you by some oaf?

Once the plant has been harvested, I leave the herb out for a few hours for the tiny insects to escape, for it is amazing how many tinies live amongst the petals. I often think what a wonderful life it must be to sleep enrobed in the silky petals of a fragrant rose. Your entire world, a place of perfume and colour therapy! Think of the light through the petals as the sun rises. Think of the rainbow prisms showing your world from the dew.

I then either extract the herb as a tincture, or dry and cut it up for herbal infusions. Sometimes it makes me so sad, when I hang marshmallow or Californian poppies to dry, and for a few days their petals open and close with the sun. Towards the end of summer, when I harvest bunches of plants, and lay them out on the lawn before tying them into bundles, again, it makes me sad, for they look like animals which had been killed, however – this is the big one, I pay the plant handsomely. I give the Vervain honey because the ancients always did that, and in the autumn, I put all my plants to bed, tucked under a thick layer of manure and compost, so that they can rest and be fed over the dark cold winter months in the safety of Mother Earth.