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The Doctrine of Signatures

I’m pretty sure it’s not just me, but do you ever get the feeling that your plants are talking to you? And no, I don’t mean the typical leaf droop or yellowing of leaves saying that you overwatered them again. I mean looking at the plant and exchanging energies to understand each other. No? Maybe I need to socialize more…

But really what I’m trying to say is that plants, fungi and humans have a special way of communicating with each other. Most people will have a story about a grandparent who, whenever you got sick, would just tell you to drink this tea or rub this herbal poultice on and you would get better. How did they know that this specific plant or fungi would help? Well, it goes back to old culture and traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation and they learned by listening to what plants and fungi have to say.

Plants and fungi express themselves through their colours, shapes, textures, scents, and location of growth and we humans have evolved to be able to understand what each is capable of. This was before technology allowed us to isolate and study the different constituents of plants or fungi. Because of this inherent knowledge, we humans can tell which plant or fungi would be beneficial for specific parts of the body. This is called the Doctrine of Signatures: the resemblance of herbs or fungi to various parts of the body that can be used to treat ailments of those body parts. How cool is that?!

Let me give you some examples:

  • Yellow flowers or fruits can be used in disorders of the liver, gallbladder, or spleen – e.g. Dandelion or Lemon
  • Red flowers, fruits or fungi can be used as blood purifiers and beneficial to the cardiovascular system – e.g. Red Clover, Hawthorne or Red Reishi mushroom
  • Plants and flowers that resemble the eye have healing properties for diseases of the eye – e.g. Eyebright or Chamomile or Carrots
  • Plants with sharp thorns or prickles can be used for acute sharp pain – e.g. Thistle
  • Plants that exhibit exudations such as resin can heal most cuts, lesions, or ulcers of the skin – e.g. Aloe or Calendula
  • Kidney beans can benefit the kidneys
  • Lion’s mane mushrooms, resembling the brain and neurons, can benefit – you guessed it, the brain!

As you can see, plants and fungi communicate exactly what they can be used for just by the way they look - isn’t that fascinating? Of course, nowadays this concept is considered pseudoscience especially with the onset of new technology and especially the fact that prescribing based on ONLY the doctrine can be very dangerous for toxic herbs. Yet, herbalists and physicians today can still refer to this concept as most plants and fungi are effective in precisely the way their signature indicates.

So, I implore you, the next time you cut into a fruit, vegetable or mushroom or the next time you look at a plant with its flowers and leaves, or a mushroom growing in the forest, dig deep and try and decipher exactly what it is trying to tell you. Recognizing the doctrine of signatures of plants and fungi is such a grounding and fulfilling connection to have with nature around you. Happy connecting!

Disclaimer: while herbs, plants and fungi are readily available to consume, please see your Naturopathic physician or licenced herbalist before taking any of the mentioned herbs medicinally as there can be interactions with medications as well as contraindications that may result in harm.

By Angeli Santos -- BA Psyc and 3rd Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine, CCNM

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