Eliot Cowan: The Healing Wisdom of Plants


“In earlier times of human history, people lived in harmony with the natural world, and regarded plants as sentient, aware, intelligent, alive, and healers in their own right.”

Unfortunately, in current day society, we have moved far away from this perspective. Plants are rarely viewed as anything more than objects that can be reduced to a chemical component, or an object that looks nice perched in a corner.


However, as with many aspects of our natural world, there is so much more to plants than meets the eye.


For those who strive to regain the ancient relationship with indigenous spirituality through plants as our allies, Plant Spirit Medicine can help you discover the healing power of plants.

Eliot Cowan, an American-born healer, fully initiated Tsauirrikame (shaman) in the Huichol tradition, teacher, author, and founder of the alternative healing technique known as Plant Spirit Medicine, remains as a leading authority on the healing wisdom of plants.


I had the pleasure to speak with Cowan to gain further insight into the healing world of plants.


BJB: What is the basis for plant spirit medicine as a healing modality?


EC: In recent times, our culture has basically looked to plants as healing agents in terms of their chemical properties. That is a relatively recent development in the history of humanity.


In previous times when people turned to plants as agents of healing they were not primarily concerned with chemical constituents, but rather they saw plants as living beings, as highly aware, having feelings and as well disposed to helping people.


It was that living awareness and good disposition to help people that people turned to plants as the primary source for the element of healing potentials.


When people approach plants primarily on the basis of their relationship with plants, I call that Plant Spirit Medicine. I practice and teach one particular approach to that.


BJB: Is there difference between plant medicine and plant spirit medicine?


EC: In practice, they’re often different.


When people refer to plant medicine these days, generally they’re referring to the discovery that plants have certain chemicals that create changes in the biochemistry of the human body. Today, that is by far the most common approach to plant medicine in our society.


When you use the term plant spirit medicine, the primary relationship is not about chemistry. It’s about a spiritual relationship to the plants as living, highly-aware, intelligent beings.


BJB: What is herbalism? How does it differ from plant medicine?


EC: Herbalism is a very broad term which (to me) denotes the use of plants as healing agents. That includes using plants as chemical factories, as well as relaying to plants as spiritual healers. It’s a broad term that encompasses any form of relating to plants as healing agents.


BJB: In Plant Spirit Medicine: A Journey into the Healing Wisdom of Plants you write “Plant Spirit Medicine does not diagnose or treat any illness…the practitioner of plant spirit medicine, in assessing which plants to use with a given person, pays no attention whatsoever to any symptoms that person may have.”


BJB: What is the role of Plant Spirit Medicine?


EC: You’re on the right track with this question. The healer makes no attempts to treat symptoms. The reason for that is we recognize that the symptom is merely a messenger for an underlying imbalance.


Our effort is to determine what the imbalance is and call upon the spirit of plants to correct the imbalance.


Now that doesn’t mean that people don’t often, and in fact, usually experience a great deal of positive change in their symptoms. The difference is when the change that comes about in the symptoms, and for that matter equally important change that comes about in how people experience their own lives, that’s a byproduct of using the plants to help correct what we call underlying imbalances.


So, there’s no attempt to diagnose a symptom; there’s no attempt to treat a symptom, but Plant Spirit Medicine is highly effective at helping symptoms.


I would also add the reason we call it Plant Spirit Medicine is for two reasons:

1. We call on the spirit of the plant to affect the spirit of the person.
2. We’ve seen that in this day and age, with the present conditions, the vast majority of people’s symptoms of any kind have a spiritual basis that can be influenced with a spiritual intervention, as opposed to a chemical intervention.