Being a tea lover, I am always raving about the benefits of drinking tea. Of course there is a long list of medicinal reasons to steep these fragrant leaves, but I started to wonder if there were deeper, perhaps even more spiritual reasons, that these healing herbs have moved the hearts of so many tea lovers for centuries. Cheralyn Darcey, an environment artist, author and botanical explorer, had the answer for me:
“…focus, be still, listen, to go within, unions, calm.”
Cheralyn uses something called the Language of Nature. Once known as the Doctrine of Signatures, this is the study of a plant to recognise its potential use. In other words, herbs that connect with certain parts of the body can be used to treat ailments. Cheralyn’s research has helped her re-learn the forgotten stories behind every petal and leaf. By studying the shape, colour, function, taste, and other important features of a plant, she says, we can identify its potential use. But obviously, it’s not as simple as staring at a plant. “In my work, I research the botanical history of a plant, the folklore, and then I do my own research through experience taking the Language of Nature into consideration.”
So why would people do this? Back before we had search engines, the internet, computer, electricity or even the printing press, humans had to find a way to identify the use of a plant just with what they could see – is it poisonous? Is it edible? Does it have healing qualities? What could its healing qualities be? The Language of Nature states that by observing the plant you can deduce it’s deeper purpose. And sometimes it’s staring at you in the face. Take the walnut. It looks like the brain, and that’s exactly what it helps, in improving memory and brain function. Cheralyn explained to me that Paracelsus, a Swiss German philosopher, physician, botanist, astrologer and occultist created an ‘Art of Signs’ based on a Christian belief that God had placed easy to read signs in the structure of plants so man could recognise their virtues. “I do not believe, as many who have worked in this field do, that plants are created with aspects and characteristics primarily for us at all,” Cheralyn addendumed, but she is not removing the possibility of plants being part of a universal connection. “They are part of the ‘the all’, they have their own purpose, their own lives, their own cycles, it is just that we can benefit, with respect, from these as well.”
What I couldn’t understand was, why would people use this ancient practice now? So, what Cheralyn has done is brought back this old practice. She designed two oracle decks that use the Language of Nature. [With an oracle deck, you randomly draw cards to examine your personal life in more detail – what’s happened, what’s happening, what could happen.] Cheralyn’s cards have beautiful painted flower prints, each carrying a symbolic meaning to its reader. Although this practice may not be for everyone, it is certainly fascinating. Having recently begun my own quest for clarity around myself and my future it was interesting to think that the plants I pass everyday could be holding usable insights. Everyday plants such as tea!
“Tea is fascinating as it is a plant with such a long deep history with such an emotive connection with us all. I dare say there are not many people who can not express something about tea, whether it is how they feel drinking it, the aroma of it lingering, or lines from times past or even the distaste over loose leaves clinging to sink and cups. “Unfortunately, I find that the modern meanings are often distorted because we are not familiar with what the living plant looks like, how it behaves, how it feels when alive before us.”
In a world where vegetables are grown in neat lines in greenhouses, and where meals come out of a packet, there must be many people who don’t think about the tea plant beyond its delicately curled dried leaves steeping to release their flavour. Perhaps they don’t know what a tea plant looks like. “The signature is, of course, still there in any botanical form, dried or extracted, but we are numbed by our modern world to really connect with it fully,” says Cheralyn.
Camilla sinenis, the common tea plant, creates popular varieties such as black tea, white tea, green team and oolong through a variety of preparation methods. “Interestingly, preparation and usage does change the aspects somewhat but the foundation remains.” Cheralyn gave me an example using the plant that can produce the base for tequila, Blue Agave (Agave tequilana) Before the Blue Agave is transformed into this potent alcoholic drink “the translations are – late-blooming, long-term projects, life purpose, letting go of doubts, personal ability, self trust.” It is fascinating to realise that upon creating Tequila with this plant and consuming it how these meanings become so obvious. “The alchemy we produce enhances these characteristics and I’m sure anyone who has had a cheeky tequila shot or watched others will instantly recognise the enhancements of the above keynotes.” This same principle of enhancement through preparation applies to tea creating popular varieties. “We look at the characteristics of the teas themselves in relation to their Language of Nature meanings.”
Cheralyn offers a teaser into the language of tea:
- Black tea: stop and find calm, care with relationships, reflection
- White tea: purity in observations, joy in new beginnings, mental clarity
- Green tea: important truths, body/mind connection, new vision
- Oolong: universal peace, core values, physical/romantic relationships
Could the Language of Plants be changed in not just the preparation of the plant, but with when creating blends too? Such as Earl Grey or Russian Caravan? “Yes,” confirms Cheralyn. “The additions in the blends would have an effect. Each plant’s meanings add to the pot as it were.”
I considered other herbal and floral inclusions such as peppermint, chamomile, jasmine, lemongrass or hibiscus, usually consumed for their well-known medicinal benefits. “I really do believe that drinking teas which are focused on the energies we wish to bring into our lives do assist us, as well as promote the more widely known health benefits. They connect. For example peppermint tea is drunk to reduce pain, assist with digestion issues, reduce stress, assist with sleep and boosts the immune system.” According to the Language of Nature, peppermint’s meanings are “clarity, healing, purification, good dreams.” You can see the similarities between the medical benefits and the deeper meanings.
“I adore chamomile tea (meanings: balance, calm, peace, clarity, understanding). As a tea it is drunk to calm one down, to reduce sensitivities and irritations and I’ll freely admit I am a rather gregarious and yet sensitive person. I am also one who can sometimes find difficulty in always seeing negative undercurrents to situations so I can be a little too trusting and careless. Chamomile is known for its ability to sooth and heal eye conditions and in the language of nature, reveal the true nature of things, bringing clarity and balance.”
“As well as selecting teas to bring these energies and therapeutic qualities to us, much can be gained by looking at our desire for a certain selection,” said Cheralyn. I wondered, can you tell a lot about a person’s personality from the type of tea’s they prefer? “Absolutely!” Cheralyn exclaimed. “And I also think you can tell a lot about a person by the teas they reject.”
The featured banner has been illustrated by Aditi Dilip.