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A Rationale for Psychoactive Gardening:
Rebuilding Our Indigenous Relationship with Plants

James Neill
Last updated:
11 Nov 2004

James Neill, 2003
(Revised: 04/2004; 11/2004)


On the Indigeneity of Plants

The world, for humans today, is a sea of anxiety which ultimately only closer connection to nature can quell.  Whether you call it karma, thermodynamics, homeostasis, sustainability, or just plain common sense, doesn't really matter.  What matters is that our own human nature is intimately interconnected with the nature of our local and global environment.  For about 4 million years, humans evolve with a very close relationship between inner consciousness and the rhythm, riches and dangers of nature.  As the human-nature connection has transformed and traditional knowledge about the connections lost, modern human society has spiraled out of control.

I have had persistent visions over the years of the streets of civilization being eventually overgrown with plants hundreds of years from now.  Perhaps we should re-read John Christopher’s “Day of the Triffids” and “Death of Grass”, just to remind ourselves again of the possible futures for man and plant together - at least if we continue to get it wrong.  The plants were here long before us and will be here long after us.  They have an enviable wisdom and patience as the original inhabitants, the first forms of life, who have seen it all and worked out how to maintain and transform themselves through evolution.  Plants are more indigenous than any human being.  And, above all, if we as humans want to survive as a species, we need to nurture our relationship with plants (upon which we are totally dependent for survival, whether nutritionally, economically, or psychologically).

On the Suppression of Psychoactive Plants

Human beings have a long history of being awful to one another, to animals, and to plants.  Whether its slavery, wars, hunting, farming, clearing forests, or banning the growth and use of plants such as Poppy, Cannabis Sativa and Salvia Divinorum (the three illegal plants in Australia).  This is akin to jailing and massacring indigenous people.  To "lock away" certain plants from access to society is to cut off our nose to spite our face.  Clearly many people want to explore their relationship with such plants, and continue to do so illegally.  People who wish to explore their relationship with plants are marginalized and by law punishable variously through death, jail or fine.  Yet the viewpoint that such plants are evil and damaging is largely propaganda. 

Instead, we need to create places on earth where people, animals, and plants can exist in freedom, unity, and harmony.  All plants in indigenous life had uses and applications, whether for their strength, nutrition, medicinal or psychoactive properties.  Plants were used wisely and effectively.  The problem is that we've largely lost the positive cultures into which the use of such plants were embedded.  Our culture, if we are to survive, needs to rediscover a more holistic relationship nature, starting with plants, and one in we understand plants not only for their physical properties (e.g., aesthetics of flowers, wood for building), medicinally (e.g., for healing), but also psychologically (e.g., for exploring consciousness).  I imagine a place in which all plants belong and humans have positive relationships for exploration of mutual power and potential.

Personal, Indigenous Farming of Psychoactive Plants

We need to develop an intimate relationship with plants throughout their life cycle, whatever one's form of plant usage - vegetables, fruit, trees for wood, and plants for medical and psychological uses.  Ultimately, we all consume and use many plants, although these days we grow very few ourselves.  The disconnection from growing for one's consumption, whether plant or animal, is a dangerous trait of industrial societies.  It opens up an experiential gap which allows for poor decisions to made about the management of the natural environment.

Ironically, due to the illegal nature of psychoactive plants, personal farming of psychoactive is now becoming more common, because of the market scarcity and unpredictability.  This also happened during the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States.  People rediscovered how to brew alcohol themselves.  By growing for one's own needs, one becomes an indigenous person, tending to the earth and cooperating with it to provide for one's own needs.  Each person should aim to grow through their lifetime at least the amount of food, wood, and medical/psychological plants as he/she consumes.  It is a simple necessity for collective survival, but we have become divorced from understanding and tending to the growth of plants, although we continue happy to consume to the detriment of future sustainability.

It is important to understand that where there is genuine, mature, sustainable exploration of the psychoactive properties of plants, the user will generally evolve to having a relationship with the whole lifecycle of the plant, and not simply the gratuitous point of consumption.  We must be careful not to simply consume a plant without respect and understanding about how it grows, where it comes from, and the nature of its uses and effects.

Each plant species has properties in common with its genetic lineage that can be explored, mapped and understood.  By engaging in an evolving relationship with plants, we discover that we can become so much more with so much less.  By taking personal responsibility for contributing as much as we consume, we live indigenously and 'righteously'.  Psychoactive plants have an important place in helping human society to evolve and mature.  In the future psychoactive plants will have their place one way or another, hopefully used in far more rich, mature and safe ways than that reckless recreational usage of powerful chemicals and draconian, fear-based government prohibitive policies.

Intimate knowledge of psychoactive plants was traditionally held by shamans -- and the role of shamans, though no longer central in Western communities, is still vital.  Shamans acquired and developed holistic knowledge about access to altered states of consciousness.  Then the shaman helped society to access states of consciousness for their own benefit, whether for healing, celebration, vision-searching, problem solving, and so on.  The shaman developed, among things, intimate knowledge of the plant’s life cycles and plant's personalities (aka plant-ality).  Indigenous relationships with plants are essential for a sustainable society.  It is not well understood today that for effective use of psychoactive plants, one should either be either under the guidance of a shaman or at least be actively pursuing a holistic relationship with the full cycle of each plants.

More on the Potentials & Possibilities of Plants