Rachel Corby is a plant whisperer and personal rewilding coach. She is the author of 4 books, her latest being Rewilding & The Art Of Plant Whispering. Rachel runs workshops, retreats and apprenticeships. She also mentors and teaches online.
Often prayer and ceremony come with smudge, purifying smoke. When I was first introduced to smudge it was by an elder in New Mexico. The plant we smudged with was White Sage. Around ten years ago, I began to hear whispers that White Sage was becoming endangered in the wild due to over-harvesting, due to people like me flying her across the planet to benefit from her rich and generous smoke. Around the same time, someone gifted me a stick of Palo Santo. However I soon discovered that Palo Santo too is being over-harvested to meet the demand of distant admirers of the fragrant and cleansing smoke. So I began to think more deeply. I realised that the plants I use for smudge need to grow locally. I have been experimenting ever since.
Any plant high in volatile oils, once dried, will smoulder with luxuriant smoke. I gather sprigs of Mugwort, Rosemary, Lavender, Juniper, Yarrow, Thyme and Wormwood each year. I bundle them together when freshly harvested, bind them to form smudge sticks and hang them to dry.
I have found that by making smudge from the bodies of the plants I know, love and nurture, I can build deep and lasting relationships with them, which adds an extra dimension to the smudging ritual.
Making My Own Smudge © Rachel Corby 2021
For a while recently I lost my creativity, my words, my mojo. I kept going but was running on empty, no fire in my belly. Lacking passion and drive I all but abandoned my allotment, the land that for 20 years I held between my fingers as I nurtured and meditated, as I received wisdom. In danger of being thrown off that land for good, I returned one sunny afternoon to clear space, to give the impression that it was at least being partially cultivated. As I cleared I found the seeds I had planted in spring and left to their own devices had matured and were offering a banquet of fresh organic food; potatoes, sweetcorn, lettuce, squash, rocket, chicory. Medicines I had been elsewhere to gather were also waiting to greet me; dandelion, plantain, calendula and so many more. In those moments, kneeling humbly, I received not just food and medicine for body but food and medicine for soul. Something returned to me. Contact with the sweet, moist earth, rich with earthworms, relit my internal fire, reminded me why I am here, who I am. And with that, my creativity, passion and words have returned.
Tending My Allotment Is Tending My Soul © Rachel Corby 2021
I have come to understand that when I arrive in a new place I only truly arrive when I remove my shoes and stand barefoot, eyes closed and consciously meet the land. I have heard shoes described as sensory deprivation chambers, for that is what they are. Through the bare soles of my feet I make contact with the plant life, the soil micro- organisms, the bedrock beneath. I feel my feet being held as they in turn hold the Earth.
If I get the chance I expand this outwards, walking and eating the land. Not the soil itself of course, but the odd leaf, flower, or berry. Through eating the edible plants that live here, I am also eating the soil and the bedrock, the local weather, the land. As I walk and eat, I notice the undulations beneath my feet. I notice the sticks and stones. And I greet the place, each plant, animal and insect that I come across in this arrival ceremony.
It doesn’t need to take long, just a few moments. No one else notices what I am doing, just that I am looking round their garden perhaps. And yet, through this practice I find myself being tied in ever more deeply, until I know I have truly arrived, that I am home.
Meeting the Land © Rachel Corby 2019
In less than two weeks time I will be heading out into the wilds. For four days and four nights I will sit with no human comforts beyond my sleeping and bivvy bags, and a supply of water. I will sit and I will pray. I will ask for guidance, for the next step on my path to be revealed. I will be separate from other humans, but I will not be alone. I will be companioned by the trees, and plants, and fungi; the insects, and birds, and mammals. The unknown.
As I prepare myself for this quest, I can feel myself going into hermit mode. I find myself dropping everything of the outside world, in preparation for this deep journey within. I have made an agreement, to stop giving myself a hard time about what I “should” be doing. To leave it all alone and honour myself. For now, as this time of inward searching draws close, I must retreat from the human world. In the space this creates, my more-than- human relatives will rise up to meet me and guide me. This I know.
The Hermit © Rachel Corby 2019
Recently I have been feeling rather hopeless. It is being fuelled by what we are now calling eco-anxiety. It is overwhelming: the pain, the destruction, the ticking time limits for radical and far-flung societal change.
The only thing that feeds me while I am in this space is being outdoors. Walking, tending my allotment, breathing the fresh autumn air, watching the leaves turn and fall, listening to the birds and the buzzes of insects on ivy.
To gather this vital food, I spend ten minutes outside, barefoot, each morning. Observing, greeting, noticing, being. This practice grounds me. When ten minutes standing is not enough, I surrender to the Earth; I lie down and give the ground beneath me a full body hug. And I just rest there a while. It feels nourishing, nurturing, energising and inspiring.
Isn’t it funny that the natural world, which I am so anxious we are destroying, is the place where I find hope, where I find sanity and reassurance? It reminds me that we are not alone in this. Our non-human relations are with us. They remind me of what I can do, how what I do does matter, and that there is still hope.
Eco-Anxiety and Me © Rachel Corby 2019
The days are still short, nights long and dark, and yet Earth is awakening after its winter slumber; the first signs of life are apparent. The land stirs with its promise of renewal, with potential. It is time to let go of the past and look to the future. Make plans so that you too can blossom this spring.
Wild Medicine: As the first wild edibles (such as chickweed) appear, sprinkle the fresh leaves over your food and they will act as a mild detox, giving your body a gentle spring clean, letting go of that which no longer serves you, making way for the new. Get outside and walk; notice everything that is returning, thank it for showing up again this year, express your love.
Celebrate: Spring clean your home to complement your personal cleansing. Light a candle and say prayers. Set your intentions for that which you wish to birth this year and the changes you wish to see in the wider world. Setting intentions is weaving magic. Weave well, as intentions well set are the first steps on the path to actualising them. Work towards your dreams, make small changes every day to draw them into reality. This is shape shifting, changing from one thing into another; bring your dreams alive.
Imbolc/Candlemass © Rachel Corby 2018
At this time of year, light and dark are in perfect balance. From this brief moment of balance comes growth, expansion and inspiration. The future is fresh, clear and bright. Days begin to out-lengthen nights; the sun is truly returning. Fresh green shoots are poking up all around. As sap is rising, so are energy levels.
Wild Medicine: Create balance internally with wild food. Take a handful of cleavers each evening and infuse overnight in cold water, drink on waking to cleanse and refresh your lymphatic system. Feel their energy work through you as your commitment to making your dreams reality builds and your tenacity grows. Eat primrose flowers, scatter them over every meal, invite in the joy and excitement of this time of year.
Celebrate: Nurture and encourage new growth around you in your garden, allotment or lo cal park by planting seed. Water and feed those seeds so that they grow strong and true. Remember to do the same internally; nurture and feed the seed you planted internally at Imbolc. Take time to think about what you are seeding into the wilder world. If you are not sure, go and ask. Wait for a sunny day and sit outside, face raised to the sun’s warming rays and ask for help to direct you in what you can do to help our Earth.
Spring Equinox © Rachel Corby 2018
Finally we have arrived at the beginning of summer. This is a time to celebrate sensuality, passion, joy, vitality and fertility. It is the time to bring the ideas, hopes and dreams seeded earlier in the year into reality.
Wild Medicine: Stand outside barefoot at dawn, close your eyes and listen to the dawn chorus. Then proceed, walking barefoot, as you gather the abundant wild foods of this season: wild garlic, dandelion, hedge garlic, tricorn leek, beech leaves, hawthorn leaves; the list is almost endless. Communicate as you gather, ask before picking and take only the amount you need. Plants are your relatives; never forget to tell them how much you love them and to thank them for sacrificing their bodies that you may eat. Collect spring water. Talk directly to the water as you imagine the thousands of shape-shifts it has made to reach you – through cloud and snow, rain and river, sea and glacier, tears and dew. Submerge fresh nettle tops in cold water overnight and drink first thing, to give you energy and strength, to feed your wood element which allows for clear vision and growth.
Celebrate: Renew promises made to self, friends, your partner and Earth that you will be faithful and passionate. Leap a blazing bonfire, naked if you dare, for fertility in all things and to purify and cleanse yourself.
Beltane © Rachel Corby 2018
The longest day, the shortest night. A time for manifestation, for flowering. A time characterised by strength and empowerment. A time to express gratitude. This is such a positive and abundant time of year, with so many daylight hours in which to achieve your potential.
Wild Medicine: Add a sprig of elderflower to a glass or bottle of water and drink throughout the day. The delicate flowery flavour will rapidly infuse into your drink, while the medicine of elder will aid transformation, change and renewal: perfect at this time, as the long days will soon start to shorten once more. Let your naked flesh be fed by the warmth of the sun and the cool waters of sea and river. Find a spot for a night of tent-free wild camping and immerse yourself in the richness of summer. This is a true celebration of life.
Celebrate: Wear flower garlands in your hair, a simple daisy chain is perfect, not forgetting to ask the flowers before you gather them. Stay up all night watching the sky. As you do so, sit by a fire with friends, laugh and joke, tell stories, make music. Greet the dawn by facing the sun while standing barefoot. As the sun appears over the horizon offer your gratitude for the sun and everything that it brings.
Summer Solstice © Rachel Corby 2018
The days are noticeably shortening and the nights are responding by stretching out to take their place. Harvest season is beginning; this is a time of true abundance. Fruits in the hedgerows, vegetables in your garden, and your own personal projects are ripening. Results are beginning to be seen and felt as you begin to reap the rewards of all the hard work you have put in so far this year.
Wild Medicine: Go for a wild walk and find some blackberries; introduce yourself and ask if you may gather a few. Nibble as you go. Eating wild foods is eating the land you are standing on – the soil and all its minerals, the rain and the sun; it is eating in the world around you, helping you become more part of the landscape and less separate from it.
Celebrate: Take some time alone to find a flower meadow, lie in the long grass and drink in the late summer sunshine. Take a moment to reflect on all that is good in the world and send love and gratitude. Review the intentions you planted earlier in the year: notice how they are coming along, how they are ripening. Gather with friends for a bring-and- share meal to celebrate the seasonal harvest and abundance. Watch the sunset together and warm yourself with stories of summer.
Lammas / Lughnasagh © Rachel Corby 2018
Another fleeting moment of perfect balance, before we shift once more into a time of greater darkness than light, longer night than day. Harvest begins to slow. Fruits ripen and fall, their sweetness exploding while they are pecked, plucked and nibbled. The fruits let go of their flesh to release the secret they hold inside, the seeds of the next generation, all the potential and possibilities that lie therein.
Wild Medicine: Gather hawthorn berries (haws) and make a tea by simmering them gently for 20 minutes. Drink to nurture your heart and keep the circulation going as you slow down into autumn.
Celebrate: Take a walk and gather the hedgerow harvest of berries and nuts as you go. Notice the changing colours of the leaves and enjoy them; see how easily the trees release them. Take stock of your personal harvest, the garden harvest and the planetary harvest. Consider what worked and bore fruit, what seeds you will take forth ready to sow next year, what lessons you learned, and what perhaps will require a different approach. If you are having trouble letting go, ask a tree to share its wisdom; sit under it and ask how you can let go more easily. Feast once more with friends in gratitude for the abundance that this life brings, and warm yourself at the fireside as you celebrate through the evening.
Autumn Equinox © Rachel Corby 2018
Dark cold days are closing in. Breath becomes visible. Frost and mist decorate our landscapes and highlight the presence and beauty of intricately woven spider webs. This is a time to rest, to reflect, to remember. As darkness descends and expands, the veil between worlds thins. This is a traditional time to honour our ancestors.
Wild Medicine: Gather fallen leaves from paths, leaving those that lie beneath trees as they become food for those trees as they mulch down. Store the leaves you have gathered in big black bags for two years, while the leaves decay. When two years are up, your bag will be full of rich dark composted leaf mould, heavily populated with worms; scatter it well around the roots of hungry plants.
Celebrate: Go for a walk by the light of the full moon. Don’t use a torch: instead give your eyes time to adjust and bathe in the moon light, enjoying the rich darkness and the moon shadows. Go alone or with friends, but ensure that you take time to be quiet, to feel the night-time stillness, feel it flowing through you, settling you, calming you. Assemble a collection of photos of your ancestors and those you have lost: light a candle for them. Honour those that have gone before by speaking their name out loud and saying something that you loved about them; remember your love for them.
Samhain © Rachel Corby 2018
The shortest day, the longest night, the darkest point of the year. Within this moment of stillness, of time between time, is embedded the promise that the sun will return. This is a time for renewal. Time to dream a new dream. Time to breathe deep and trust as the days begin to lengthen once more.
Wild Medicine: Eat any nuts left over from your autumn foraging walks. The healthy fats will give you energy at this time of near hibernation, while giving your brain food with which to dream up what comes next.
Celebrate: Find a spot to watch sunset on the shortest day and take some quiet time for final deep reflections on the year that was, so that you can start to birth new ideas, new dreams, new seeds to love, feed and nurture in the year to come. And not just for yourself, for your garden and for the Earth too, remembering that all the change you wish to see in the world must begin with you. You are your own medicine, you are Earth medicine, you are sacred, you are nature. Watch sunrise with friends as the light returns, then take a walk and gather greenery; holly, ivy, mistletoe and yew, as the hedgerows provide. Decorate your home with it: bring the outside and its winter magic into your home as well as into your heart.
Winter Solstice © Rachel Corby 2018
Soil is a living organism. In healthy soils you can expect to find around ten billion bacteria, one million fungi and hundreds of thousands of protozoa in a small handful. I find that totally incredible: more lifeforms in one handful of soil than the entire human population of the whole planet!
Each time pesticides and fungicides are applied to crops the incredible ecosystem brimming with life that is healthy soil takes a hit. In effect, where soils are subjected to conventional farming they become lifeless. If it were humans, that would be genocide; if it were visible plant and animal life we would all be chaining ourselves to the remaining trees to honour them and attempting to publicise our campaign and save them.
Who knows what far-reaching effects extinguishing all these simple microscopic lives without a second thought is having and will have, how it will impact on our future generations? So, what can we do? First and foremost of course is to insist on organic produce. When possible grow your own using organic seed. Feed the soil with home made compost. Mulch any bare patches of soil with straw, manure and cardboard. Add seaweed to the soil, as this serves as food for bacteria.
Love your soil and its micro-organisms; like bees and trees we cannot live without them. And like every other living being on this planet they have a right to be here, living in conditions in which they can thrive.
Care for the Soil © Rachel Corby 2017
Spring is a favourite time for me. Days incrementally lengthening and warming while bright green leaves emerge from the ground, punctuating the taupe, brown and buff winter colour palate. Spring is known as the hungry gap, the time when the winter veg is all but over and the new crops are not yet ready to harvest. But I have never known a hungry gap as the small, sweet-leaved spring arrivals provide rich pickings. Wild spring leaves are typically quite cleansing herbs – stinging nettle, cleavers, wild garlic, Jack-in-the-hedge, hairy bitter cress to name but a few. While I gather I breathe the fresh spring air; while I eat my body cleanses the excesses and inertia of the winter season. By eating wild plants I feel myself becoming that little bit wilder. As I eat the local landscape, the soil and climate, through the wild leaves, ancient whisperings settle in my bones and I know I belong here. As I meditate upon what I can do for our planet in this time of ecocide, of destruction and chaos, one simple phrase comes to me ~ become more plant. And so that is what I strive to do. On gathering my green spring relations, placing the leaves on my lips as I quietly acknowledge everything I imagine it is to be that plant, then eat with gratitude, I can feel my wild connection growing. As I eat my raw plant supper I do indeed feel myself becoming more plant.
Wild Spring Leaves © Rachel Corby 2016
I love the taste of fresh cool spring water gushing and spiralling straight from the earth. When I drink such water I always sing from my heart with love and gratitude. Conversely, when the water available to drink comes from a tap, I feel dislike as I drink; it tastes horrible. Purchased spring water that has been trapped in a plastic bottle and lost its swirling spiralling vitality still manages to taste better than what comes from the tap. But I abhor the waste of resources, the plastic container itself and fossil fuels burnt to get that bottle to the shop.
Recently, something has changed in me. I have remembered how water carries energetic imprint as well as nutrients to our blood and pollution to our seas. I have remembered how I feel when I drink straight from the earth; how I bow and bless the water with gratitude and love. I have begun to do the same when I drink from a tap. I feel gratitude as the water travels down my throat and infuses into my cells. I talk to the water that resides in and moves through my body and thank it,love it, ask it to help me remain healthy. What a difference. Thanking and loving water changes the taste. Imagine what change could become manifest if, each time we see a dirty river, a plastic-littered pond, or an oil-streaked puddle, we not only do all we can to remove the physical objects polluting the water, but we also take time to acknowledge the water, to thank it, to love it. This is a game-changer for me.
Water © Rachel Corby 2015