The Culture of Nature: Queer Ecology & Herbal Medicine

The Culture of Nature: Queer Ecology & Herbal Medicine

 To be clear—-nature has always been queer—-plants, animals, fungi, minerals, weather, topography. Nature exists in a state of continuous fluidity and connection, not in the binaries we human-centric thinkers impose to try to make sense of it all. Unnatural and natural, “straight” and “queer,” living and not alive—-these are human terms and ideas. There are countless examples of the “queer” behavior of animals, plants, and fungi, and though we often seem to believe otherwise, humans and human queerness are inherently part of nature, one strand of the infinite web. Living organisms on this planet exist not solely to reproduce and compete with other species, but also to interact in textured, generous, and nuanced ways. Understanding queer ecology can help us “see (hear, touch, taste, smell, feel) the multiple universe of genders, desires, forms of erotic expression, and types of emotional connection that one can experience in community with others [and not just other humans],” posits Professor Catriona Sandilands of York University, a leading scholar in queer ecological studies.

Another way to frame this idea is to think of culture and nature as indistinguishable. Culture by definition refers to both our interwoven human society, as well as the proliferation and cultivation of bacteria, cells, tissues, and plants. Now more than ever in our modern (read: Western, colonized) culture, we are beginning to see human queerness celebrated and accepted. Along with this conscious shift has come a collective questioning of many human-imposed societal structures of control and oppression including government, capitalism, mass production, nationalism and immigration, and healthcare. Healthcare, especially in the U.S., has become increasingly inaccessible and ineffective due to high costs and insurance, lack of patient care, and incentivized pharmaceutical drugs. Up until about 200 years ago, and for eons before that, the mammalian world relied almost exclusively on plant medicine to heal. Our culture, however, has turned away from herbal medicine and an intimate relationship with plant-life, further deepening the perceived divide between humans and nature. 

Practicing herbal medicine is one tangible way to reawaken our multifaceted partnership with our world. The sowing, tending, and growing of plants and herbs helps us establish a relationship of reciprocity and interdependence, gets our hands in the dirt, grounds us. Harvesting, processing, and medicine-making allows us to exchange power and energy with our fellow non-human beings, and humbly bear witness to the magic we can make in collaboration. Experiencing herbal medicine brings us back into our bodies; channels and unblocks the love and light and vibration we all contain; gives us agency over our physical form, spirit, and health. Administering herbal medicine shows us how to hold space for another being, how to read another’s energy, how to facilitate interspecies healing. Witnessing and participating in the cycles of budding, blooming, and waning—-of death and rebirth—-moves us with the rhythm of all things, weaves us closer together.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on – have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear – what remains? Nature remains,” wrote Walt Whitman, acclaimed poet, naturalist, and queer person. As we see a cultural refocusing on herbalism and queerness both, know that these concepts are forms of resistance—-”Resist much, obey little,” Whitman later writes—-resistance of that which would try to make us inhuman, which would take us out of the matrix of nature. Queerness and herbal medicine reconnect us to our ancestral roots, our deepest lineage, our place in this culture. Rather than progress past our animal selves, we are returning to our true nature—-fluid, connected, part of this intricate design. When we accept and celebrate all our differences, we accept and celebrate all of nature.

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