Photo courtesy of Olivia Bee/Trunk Archive
Can We Connect to the Energy of Plants?
Illness can force us to look beyond the physical body and into the soul, says spiritual healer and herbalist Maggie Harrsen. Harrsen suffered through two years of feeling chronically unwell. And then one day, doubled over in the bathroom, feeling desperate, she tried praying, which was new for her. Harrsen was hardly religious or spiritual. What she was, she said, was tired of fighting signals from her body that something had to change. The prayer wasn’t a miracle worker. But something about the act of praying encouraged her to begin listening to her own intuition. And from that small shift, she restructured her life—in a big way.
First, Harrsen left her job in New York City and went into the forests of Peru, where plants are honored as master teachers and healers. This concept, which feels foreign to a lot of us Stateside and elsewhere, took root, so to speak, in Harrsen. She trained with shamans for five years and brought what she learned back to her practice in the Hamptons, Puakai Healing. In Harrsen’s mind, every plant—from mind-altering psychedelics to humble garden herbs, like mint or rue—possesses consciousness.
(PSA: As always, nothing here is meant to replace a visit to your doctor or their medical advice. Psychedelics are illegal to use for the most part, in most places; to learn more, check out our Q&A with Charles Grob, “The Science and Shamanism of Psychedelics.”)
A Q&A with Maggie Harrsen
I practice curanderismo, which is faith-based healing that involves prayers and rituals and also herbal remedies and other traditional remedies, like limpias—which are a type of spiritual cleansing—and massage. And I use a lot of plants through infusions and oils.
“Curanderismo” comes from the Spanish word “curar,” which means to cure or to heal. I learned from a pair of twins I met in Peru, Doña Ysabel and Doña Olinda, who are traditional curanderas. During a San Pedro ceremony with my shaman, I had a dream, and the consciousness of the San Pedro plant guided me to connect with these women.
This healing practice is composed of many belief systems: One of them is African, one of them is Iberian, and one of them is Mesoamerican. Most of the tools in this practice were brought by the Moors when they conquered Spain. And then the Spanish went into Mexico and brought with them a lot of plants that the Moors had introduced them to, like basil and rue—two of the primary plants used in this type of work.
I believe that very old plants, from a spiritual perspective, hold a tremendous amount of sunlight and energy from the cosmos. But beyond this, the plant has its own spirit, just as we have a spirit, but we’re in bodies. The plant has a cactus body, and it always has a spiritual energy, and this energy is the energy of a healer. And I think other plants that I use all the time—like basil and rosemary and the plants in the mint family—are healers as well. I use them fresh in every session, and people remark that they can feel the energy of the plant as it emerges.
When I started working with plants, I realized I had to start building relationships with the plants. I connected to each plant like it was a living being, because it is. You can be in a relationship with energy, just as you would be with an ancestor or an angel. I believe all plant consciousness and all plants are here for human beings to heal and to learn from. I think plants help us remember our nature because they hold all the elements within them, just as we do. They’re holding the sun, the water, the fire, and the earth—and we are, too.
I work with people both in person and remotely. When we meet, I ask the client to explain how they are doing, both physically and emotionally. I’m very kinesthetic: When I’m working with someone, I feel what might be blocking them. As soon as I come into their energy field, we’re connected.
I usually begin with plant smoke to check the energy on the body. While the smoke moves around the body, we connect with it through the breath and the smell, and the plant begins to connect to the body. Then I check your pulse to feel how the vital force is moving through your body. The vital force is the energy that moves through us. It flows in and around the body and is moving all around us in the universe. Everything is made up of this vital force. I’m looking for a harmony in the body. Usually it’s not moving or it’s stagnating or it’s moving too fast—any of these can affect the body.
Then we drink holy water, which comes from my teachers, the twins. And we start praying.
Prayer for me is using the mind to direct energy. I’m basically creating a space for this person where their own healing potential can unfold. They’re healing themselves, and I’m holding the space for them to heal. That’s really my job: to make people feel safe enough to connect and share.
Then we do a limpia. A limpia is an energetic cleansing that uses an egg and a pair of candles to help us figure out what is going on in the body. The egg and candles are passed over the body to collect information from the energetic body. The egg is cracked into a glass of water and the impression of the yolk is interpreted as a story. The candles are burned to completion, then the melted wax that remains is also interpreted. The egg represents a feminine energy and the element of water. And the candles—I use synthetic fat but traditionally they were animal-fat candles—represent masculine energy and the element of fire. Together, they tell the story of this person’s body and what experiences are affecting the body in this lifetime. This starts the cleansing process and pulls out the energy that causes stagnation.
The plant treatments are usually topical. I use different plants I have harvested from farms and plants I’ve grown. I use aromatic herbal plants topically on the body, and I combine them with the holy water and, sometimes, oil. Plants can be brushed over the body and massaged into the skin. In that moment, I’m praying to the spirit of the plant. The biological qualities of the plant play a role, but it’s a special combination of spirit and body.
At the end, I talk through the experience and typically send people home with a small ritual to follow.
The Puakai Model
I developed this model of healing, which has three components: changing the energy environment, reconnecting with nature, and cleansing your subtle body.
Change the energy environment you live in.
The environment is a living being that we are in relationship with and a teacher that speaks to us by expressing indications of what may be causing disorder inside of the body. Asses the environment and the energy present, such as emotional influences and environmental factors like population density.
Connect with the energy of nature.
Daily connection with the living energies in the environment is key to well-being. The sun, earth, air, water, and ether. There is no distinction between the spiritual and physical world, and the soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in human beings but also in animals, plants, stones, geographic features such as mountains or oceans, or other presences in the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and sun.
Cleanse the energy of your subtle body.
The subtle body is comprised of various layers of vibrating energy that make up a human being. These layers create what is known as the auric body system, or aura, which is intimately associated with our health. From the perspective of the curandera, there are spiritual and emotional illnesses that can cause a loss of vital force within the body. These include: susto (fright), tristeza (sadness), pesar (grief), envidia (envy), bilis (anger), mal aire (bad air) and mal de ojo (evil eye).
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.
Maggie Harrsen is a spiritual healer and herbalist who began studying the healing arts in 2008. Her center, Puakai Healing, is based in Amagansett, New York.