More folklore of the wild flowers
Stories are medicine: the folklore of healing

Wild healing

Lords & Ladies

Another fine book I'd like to recommend is Emma Kennedy's The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us. In this beautiful diary enriched by nature drawings, paintings, and photographs, Emma recounts the ways that immersion in nature helps her to live with chronic depression, records her encounters with the flora and fauna of the Cambridge fens, and discusses the science underpinning her thesis: that being in nature produces physical and neurological change in the human body.

Bank Vole by Emma MitchellIn the book's Introduction she writes:

"Of course, I am not the first to have noticed the consolation of walking outdoors. Literature is peppered with references to striding in the countryside as a means of easing melancholy, inspiring creative thought and hastening recovering. The 19th-century Danish philosopher, poet and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, exalted a daily stroll: 'Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.' Elizabeth von Arnim wrote one of my favourite novels, The Enchanted April, in the 1920s, and her feelings on walking through the countryside echo my own: 'If you go to a place on anything but your own two feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.' "

Lords & Ladies

Woodland triptych

A few pages later she notes:

"Joint research from the University of Madrid and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences published in 2007 showed that simply seeing natural landscapes can speed up recovery from stress or mental fatigue, and hasten recovery from illness. Studies published in 2017 from the University of Exeter have demonstrated that the presence of vegetation in an urban landscape diminishes levels of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress levels in city dwellers, and the same raft of work showed that time spent outdoors alleviates low mood....

Bluebells in a Devon wood

"Research aimed at understanding the Shrinrin-yoku phenomenon [the practice of 'forest bathing' in Japan] has show that walking in green space has a direct positive effect on several systems in our bodies. Blood pressure decreases, levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop, anxiety is alleviated and pulse rates diminish in subjects who have spent time in nature and particularly among trees. Levels of activity in the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our fight or flight response to stress, drop away and the activity of a particular kind of white blood cell called natural killer (NK) cells, which can destroy virally infected and certain cancerous cells, increases when humans spend time in a woodland environment."

Lords & Ladies

The science is still progressing, Emma writes, "but I'm fascinated by the idea that the balance of the chemistry of my brain, and my hormonal and nervous systems, are changing as I linger among trees and plants, and that this can impact the tone of my thoughts and my mental health. I have felt the curative effects of my surroundings as I walk in a wild place numerous times, and it is reassuring to know that there is something I can do to help myself on dark days."

Hound in a Devon woodland

Wildflowers around a badger sett

Wild Remedy

"At no point would I suggest standard treatments for this condition can be replaced by dawdling near a dog rose," she adds; "I rely on antidepressants and talking cures to prevent my illness from becoming overwhelming, but depression varies in its grip on my mind, depending on the season and on daily stress levels. I have found that the basal level of respite provided by antidepressants and therapy is sometimes insufficient to prevent my thoughts falling down a well. It is at these times that I find walking among hazels and hawthornes can help to dial down cortisol levels and cause the shift in neurotransmitters that I need to fend off the black dog."

(Sorry, Tilly. She doesn't mean you, dear.)

Woodland creature

Lords & Ladies among the Bluebells

Although my own health problems are physical rather than neurological, the two are inextricably linked, of course, and much of this gentle, artful, informative book spoke to me on a personal level. I, too, find healing among the trees. Thus I recommend Wild Remedy to all who travel through illness of one kind or another...and since, sooner or later, that is all of us, this book is for every reader who loves, or might come to love, the natural world.

Wild Remedy

Woodland wanderer

Words: The passages above are from Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell (Michael O'Mara Books, 2019). The poem in the picture captions is from Jay Griffith's unusual and brilliant book on her journey with bipolar disorder, Tristimania (Penguin, 2016). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: Emma Mitchell's artwork from Wild Remedy, and photographs from my own rambles through the Devon woods. Every year I wait for the Lords & Ladies to appear in a certain place, and they never fail to warm my heart -- it's like catching up with old friends. (Americans may known the plant best under the name Jack-in-the-Pulpit.)


Wonderful post. I so know the benefits of being in the woodlands, just a short wander down the forest path here does my spirit infinite good. Beautiful woodland flowers in your photos. Wondering what the plant in the first photo is?

Thank you for another post to encourage the journey. We have a promise of Woods for our next campground, in July. We visited the place, gathered in celebration with the adult woman who lives there and offers us a place to lean; and asked permission of the stout Grandmother Maple ... she says we are welcome.

Reading here, I am reminded how much healing took place for me when we lived eight years among the many woods. So a respite, for part of the Summer at the very least and the recommendation of a good new book. Nice.

I live in my rubber boots, and love your rubber boots. Where did you find them?

I live in the North Carolina woods and also go to a horse farm every day. I am surrounded by green beauty and Natura and animals. It was 94 today but the green, the air still held us and we were blessed. Our elders are blooming now and I made a flower essence from them with many thanks. Their fragrance fills the hot air - I think of Sylvia Plath's poem about the bees..."they think they are in heaven."

It's Lords & Ladies (Latin name: Arum maculatum), known best in the States as Jack-in-the-Pulpit. I love them so much. They emerge here around the same time as the bluebells, and leave again much too soon.

Oh, I'm so glad you have a patch of woodland to settle and wander in.

Wellington boots are essential in this damp climate, as I imagine they are in yours too. These jaunty wellies are in William Morris' "willow" pattern. Ellen Kushner found them for me in Paris, of all places!

Years ago, I wrote a whole post here in praise of wellies, on a wet winter's day:

What part of North Carolina do you live in, Mary Beth? (The general region is fine if you don't want to be specific in a public space.) My father was from the Blue Ridge Mountains at the western edge of the state. I didn't grow up there, but when I went there in my 20s to meet him and his people, I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains, and how different they were from those of Pennsylvania (where my mother's people are). Your lovely comment brought the *smell* of the Carolina woods back to me. What a magical thing words are!

I only went there a few times (my relationship with my biological father was complicated and short), but that red soil felt so familiar to me that I had to reasses all my ideas about genetics and ancestry. Robin McKinley (my then-housemate in NYC) came with me on one trip, and I have a wonderful picture of her -- also in her 20s then, in the middle of writing The Broken Sword -- sitting at the edge of a red rock creek deep in the mountains by my father's house, looking rather like a blue-jean clad wood nymph.

Thank you, Terri.

Beautiful post and s good reminder not to feel guilty about time spent walking in the woods.


Madeleine L'Engle once said: “I used to feel guilty about spending morning hours working on a book; about fleeing to the brook in the afternoon. It took several summers of being totally frazzled by September to make me realize that this was a false guilt. I'm much more use to family and friends when I'm not physically and spiritually depleted than when I spend my energies as though they were unlimited. They are not. The time at the typewriter and the time at the brook refresh me and put me into a more workable perspective.”

Have you read her Crosswick journals? If you like memoir, they're wonderful.

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