Inna Duckworth – Plant Spirit Medicine For Healing

Plant Spirit Medicine (PSM), as a discipline, is a stream in the ocean of interaction with plant spirits for healing.

The system I was taught by Eliot Cowan, the founder, is based on “Wu Xing”, Five Element theory and protocols, which were reinstated and introduced into the West by J.R. Worsley in the 1970’s.

I asked Eliot, who said he initially wanted to learn herbalism, why he became a Five Element  acupuncturist, and the answer was, he was looking for a standard of healing based on change at the very deepest level, transformative by nature, and built into the very philosophy of practice, which should go beyond addressing the symptoms, and seek out the root cause.

Eliot found such a standard in Five Element Acupuncture, taught by J.R. Worsley. Once Eliot became an accomplished acupuncturist, he returned to plants and developed a framework for healing with plant spirits, described in his book “Plant Spirit Medicine: A journey into a healing wisdom of plants”.

It is worth noting that Eliot started this work around 40 years ago, and over that time, the awareness of the possibilities around spiritual work with plants and beyond has risen, as has also the need for it.

Now the fact that plants are spiritual beings and represent a wider reality doesn’t require further postulating, especially in the healing community; what is important, in my opinion, are frameworks and approaches which help us to work with this reality, whilst being objective and leaving the ego behind.

PSM is one of such approaches, which may be acquired not from books, but through several years of daily exercises that open up and fine-tune your senses. The practitioner is trained to diagnose, instigate and evaluate the change brought by every step of the PSM protocol, through a combination of observational techniques such as looking, smelling, listening, being empathic and taking the pulse.

The Five Element theory dates back to an era when people knew that the human body is a direct reflection, a hologram of the Universe. I understand that unity through  a set of equations Cell=Body=Mind=Spirit=Planet=Universe, where each item is governed by the same laws and principles and can be studied by means of a set of correspondences, making the intangible world accessible through phenomena and experiences in physical reality.

One can relate simultaneously to the melancholy induced by the leaves falling in Autumn (governed by Metal) and to the grandeur of the exposed trees’ structures and the crispness of the air, hinting at the presence of something bigger and higher in nature. “One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design to give men, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime” (R.W. Emerson).


The same happens with Metal-governed structures in the body: our Spirit connects with the Divine, looking at the oh-so-clear autumnal Sky; our Mind grieves for what is lost and learns to see what is truly  valuable; our Body receives the Chi through Lungs and leaves behind what’s no longer needed via Colon.

One might think that Five Element Theory is Chinese in its origin, but I think of it as of a PanAsian phenomenon: similar frameworks exist in Tibetan and other various Siberian and Mongol systems of cosmology. Given that DNA analysis traces some Native American tribes back to Central Asia, perhaps even beyond, this makes it even more universally relevant, easier to connect with.

The main principle in Five Element Theory is that the energy that the elements represent must be balanced:  it should be flowing smoothly at all levels. Ailments arise in the Spirit, Mind and Body when for whatever reason one of the elements is suppressed and distorted.

It also suggests that everyone has a core element that animates the individual’s energetic mandala and allows the person to truly flourish and bring their gifts to the world. Supporting this element will bring about true transformation to an individual.

The working of the plant spirits can be compared to opening the gates of a dam and enabling the free flow of the Spirit within all the bodily structures at the level of Spirit, Mind and Body.

Plants possess the ability to restore that elemental force within us, because the elemental forces are governed by the Laws of Nature, just as the plants are. The way to access and request plants’ healing capacities is to use the universal code of the omnipresent correspondence system, where plants have got their place, just as we have.

In PSM as a system of healing Five Element Theory is used as such correspondence framework, because Eliot found out, when meeting the plant spirits, that it worked very well; however, many other healing systems use other frameworks.

There is another dimension to the PSM therapeutic protocols, which is working with the so-called Outlaw conditions. The Outlaw conditions are those which lie outside of the Laws of Nature. Five Element Theory recognises several of them. They represent major blocks at the level of the Spirit. The presence of an outlaw condition can be compared to a meteorite blocking the railroad. One doesn’t just call for more people to remove it: it represents some other realm and needs some other approaches to deal with it. A PSM practitioner is taught to diagnose those states of being and apply some protocols to remove them and restore the balance. A certain plant has stepped out to perform those protocols and a PSM healer is initiated to work with it.

Over the recent years the need for such protocols has increased greatly. Another healer and researcher of Taoist tradition, Laura Clarke Stelmok, who studied both with J.R. Worsley and Eliot Cowan, offering advanced training in those protocols, says, now almost every other patient presents with an outlaw condition.

PSM as a framework has its own Yin and Yang, where the protocols are transparent and logical, while the plants bring their magic with them. Over time each PSM healer develops their own Materia Medica, and this is where the true healing work begins.  Somehow, plants come from a place where time is different: they have a certain knowledge of things that have been and are yet to come. Time and time again I would be called by a plant, meet a spirit, then a patient would come to see me and I’d be marvelling, how did that plant know that its medicine would be so much needed?

PSM practitioners do not work with the major teacher plants, because each of them represents a certain tradition and requires to be a part of a certain spiritual lineage with its own rules and commitments.  Beyond several plants that offer their help with certain aspects of the protocols, we build relationships with those plants that grow around us. We learn what the plant is like, not what it is for.

Co-tutors on the course Pip Waller and Lucy Wells wrote a book “Touched by Nature: Plant spirit medicine journeys”, about people’s experiences with PSM over the years.

Eliot Cowan left a message to us all in his foreword to this book: “Plant Spirits have a way to deliver a touch that puts us in a good way with our lives. I am convinced we all need such a sacred touch from time to time.”


About The Author

Inna is a Plant Spirit Medicine Healer and a Medical Herbalist with an MSc(Distinction) in Herbal Medicine. When she was studying for her herbal degree, Inna read Eliot’s book and was fascinated with the standard of healing that was established there. Through her clinical studies Inna noticed that many people, who have a “low mood” or are unhappy, are in such an emotional state fundamentally because they are disconnected from their heart’s calling or the ‘true self’. Their physical ailments are a reflection of deep internal imbalances. She found that the bodies can be nourished and some emotional needs met through herbs, but their Spirit will still be deprived.

It took her 7 years before she could join the professional healers’ course with Eliot Cowan and Alison Gayek and become a Plant Spirit Medicine Healer. It was a profound journey of self-discovery and internal reintegration, one of becoming a truly wholesome person”. Inna receives regular PSM sessions from one of the colleagues and can speak about the benefits of the medicine from her own experience: “The more I receive healing, the more profound the impact on me is. Just before I was joining the course, I was advised to have surgical procedure, after about a year of regular treatments, there was no need for that. Overtime, not only I became a confident Plant Spirit Medicine Healer, capable of detecting the nuances of the healing protocols, in my personal life, I feel more everyday joy and deepened connection to my family.  I have rejoined an art school after many years of neglecting my passion. That is just an example of what this medicine does, I get similar stories from my patients.  I deeply respect and admire the wise and kind nature of the healing changes that the Plant Spirits being upon us.”

Inna practices from London Natural Health Centre in Holborn. Also she offers talks and workshops helping people to reconnect their Heart to Nature.

Inna Duckworth

London, United Kingdom