Seeding relationships to the land

This is the transcript of the first episode of REBIRTH, a limited podcast series produced by advaya, in partnership with Stella McCartney Beauty.

Listen to the curated audio version of this podcast, which weaves the main conversations and reflection prompts together on Spotify here, or Apple Podcasts here, or Acast here.

“The plants are so wise. They are our ancestors, they've been here, and they're sacred. That humility and that continuous wonder, and being in a kinship relationship with them—of like, let me listen. Let me listen to what they have to say.” - Antonia Estela Pérez

Welcome to the opening episode of REBIRTH, a limited podcast series produced by advaya, a platform for transformative education. I am your host, Tammy Gan, and this four-part series is produced in partnership with Stella McCartney Beauty, a conscious alternative to luxury skincare.

This episode features Antonia Estela Pérez: a Chilean-American clinical herbalist, gardener, educator, community organizer, co-founder, and artist born and raised in New York City. The arrival of spring brings with it more abundant opportunities to deepen our intimacies with our more-than-human, plant kin. Embedding ourselves in and re-learning plant stories are key to collective healing—and liberation: this is deep decolonial and abolition work. In this conversation, we uncover how it is we can seed these medicinal, intimate, regenerative relationships, exploring personal and practical ways to reconnect.

We begin with discussing Antonia’s intertwined familial and land history, being first-generation born in New York to parents from Chile.

Tammy (advaya): I wanted to open with acknowledging, as you've shared elsewhere, that your relationships with the land, and with the more-than-human have been cultivated with the help of your parents. So I would love to open with hearing a little bit about their story, and then how your upbringing and formative years led to the kind of person you've become. So kind of going back a little bit into your own history and how that informs your current work.

Antonia Estela Pérez: I just want to acknowledge that I'm calling from Tongva territory in California—so-called California in Los Angeles. It actually weaves into the question that you just asked about my history and my parents, because my parents grew up in Santiago, and also in the outsides of Santiago, rural Santiago, which is reminding me so much of these lands. And as I was sharing with you earlier, they are very similar, due to the latitude that they're in. Santiago being 33 degrees, and Los Angeles 34 degrees latitude. And so the plants that are here, the climate is very similar, as well as the mountains and it being a valley. So I've had the privilege and gift of being able to return to my parents' homelands ever since I was a child, and got to spend time with my grandma and learn plants from her, learn the history of those lands, be—in Spanish, it's like acurruca, like, loved on? Like, what would be the word? Like, rocked by that landscape. So, really tall mountains, the Andes Mountains, and those landscapes are what held my parents, growing up.

And there's something really powerful I think of growing up in a landscape like that—any landscape, but particularly those lands with the mountains just consistently surrounding you, of like nature is here, and no matter how tall of a building you build, it does not compete with these mountains. The land there experiences a lot of earthquakes as well. So there's a lot of reverence and respect for the Earth. So my parents instilled in me, those values of respecting the Earth, understanding that we're guests on these lands. We're here as passer-bys, as guests that need to leave this land better than we found it. And those values also, my grandmother instilled in me as well. So want to name her because I feel like so much of what I've learned about land and plants came from her, from being sensitive, from learning how to be gentle with plants, learning respect, which I also learned from both my mom and my dad, Estela and Jorge.

And so they grew up in Chile and immigrated to the States, due to political reasons. But while being in New York where they landed, I think, having grown up surrounded by, you know, using plants as medicine, maybe even, not naming it herbalism—like my grandma, today with this lens, we'd be saying she's an herbalist or a healer. That's what she devoted her life to, teaching people about nutrition and herbs and using food as medicine. But my parents landing in New York, I think there was a desire from them to find their connection to land, feeling really displaced from their homelands. So they were invited by other Chilean friends to go to the Poconos. And that was, that's been a really important landscape for them, in their relationship, immigrating and settling in New York, in Lenape territory. So that relationship that they formed with that territory outside of New York City, was passed on to my brother and I as well.

So every weekend, we'd go to the Poconos, spend time in the woods. And it was really important for them to have us build that sensitivity and feel comforted and comfortable relating with the land. So my upbringing was like, Okay, I'm living in the city during the week; on the weekends, I'm experiencing the woods. And so, I think my whole life, it's been a huge question that I'm always unlayering, is: that relationship between the suburb and the urban, and what that relationship is, and seeing how... well, they're intricately connected, but also with that delayering understanding how these lands have been disturbed and changed through colonisation. So New York City hasn't always been the city, obviously, there was this very diverse land, with many... so much biodiversity of animals, of plants, of the people that inhabited that land. And so the plants really have guided me in that opening of and curiosity of knowing and unlayering, like, what has been here before? So I really thank my parents for inviting us into being able to relate with land and sharing their own love for the Earth, and making sure that those values were really present for my brother, and I.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for sharing that. I think when you shared that phrase about being rocked by plants, I think it's such a great way to visualise our relationship, or a relationship with plants, that's possible. I think the visual imagery of being kind of rocked to sleep, or like just rocked and held, by plants, is something that not a lot of people unfortunately, I think living such urbanised lives, right, as you were getting to, don't have the privilege and the opportunity to have such intimate relationships with plants, even though a lot of our ancestors would have had that kind of more closer relationship, and because of the way that things have modernised and urbanised, we're getting further and further away from that.

Many people who are listening to this will also feel foreign to land, foreign to plants, and are searching for that deep connection, that I think a lot of people know with their bodies, but don't know with their minds, and need that push and help to reconnect that. And so that's, I think, a useful way to get into that kind of, next big question [for today], which [is:] I think, for me, when I look at your work, a theme that emerges is the work of embedding. And I think that word has kind of found its way into my vocabulary, consciously in the past few months. And I think your personal embedding to your plant stories and your familial histories, your ancestral histories, but also through empowering people through Herban Cura, which we will get to, to start getting people to embed themselves in nature, in community.

And you've said on deem journal, in an interview with them, that: "There's something so powerful that shifts inside us when we try to go back to the source." And relatedly, you've also described your work as "rooted in" your "passion for sharing knowledge that interrupts notions of individualism and separatism from nature to grow towards collaborative and symbiotic communities." So I'd love for us to really unpack those things: so unpacking embedding, and how that's a way of describing your work, and also how your work really focuses on re-rooting the individual back into nature, back into histories, back into land and communities, but without also... kind of understanding that... I think like, individualism is something that is not necessarily as present in ancestral, ecological—more ancestral and ecological cultures, and that individualism is a notion that has really taken off in neoliberalism, capitalism, enhanced by like late-stage capitalism. So acknowledging that not everyone understands individualism in that way, but that today, in this economy, and this society, that individualism is highly encouraged. And so embedding is so important... But [I'm] kind of just giving that context, and wondering what comes up for you, in relation to your work.

Antonia Estela Pérez: So many pieces, I love this. I'll try and weave it all together. One thing that came up based on the question I was answering before, and this, around embedding and rooting to source, kind of that question that I was saying that I've been holding around, like, I don't know if I said this, but like, what is my place? And my story on the land that I grew up in New York City, Lenapehoking? How did I get here? Has been this consistent question like, Wait, how did I get here? Being a settler on that land, but also my parents not having chosen to be on those lands. One of the ways that I've felt connected to myself and to the Earth and to my ancestors, and to my landing on this place on Earth, or that ecology on Earth, has been through both understanding my parents' migration, but also learning about history and colonisation, the transatlantic slave trade, neoliberalism, United States imperialism—how that has really shaped the world that we currently live in today. That we're all interconnected with that story. And that that story is... really at the centre of it all is resources, and plants.

And so I'm gonna I'm going to jump to this other point, I'll get back to that. But as I was saying, that question that I've also held for a lot of my life, the relationship between the urban and the rural... Learning about the plants that were growing in New York City and observing what was growing there, understanding, like oh, this was not always this built city. What is underneath the concrete, the river, the Mahicantuck, but that we know as the Hudson River, this body of water that for me was this consistent reminder like, this is sacred land, this is ancient land. The stories that that water carries, for me, has been so informative and it's a body of water that's also rocked me. I've lived near that body of water my whole life, both in the city and then also upstate New York, and learning about the plants that grow near the river, which is where I do a lot of my plant walks in New York City...

So I find that learning about plants in New York City or wherever you are, is such a beautiful way to begin, to both acknowledge the land that you're on, that is nature, that everything is nature, this computer has been built and made from resources, the windows, the construction that we live inside of... like, it's all been built upon resources and land. But I feel that when we begin to meet the plants, we realise that we're not alone, and that we're in relationship to other species beyond just ourselves. And as we begin to learn about the plants, begin to observe the animals, the insects that are living in the plants, that are living in the trees, that are eating from that vegetation... What the relationship is between those animals and those plants, what's our relationship between those plants? But also, how did those plants get there? And what's the story between the people that brought those plants? How did they relate to those plants? What was the medicine that they used those plants for? But also, how did those people take care of those plants?

And I think it begins to expand our worldview, to recognise the ways that we've always been in relationship to plants, and that both plants and people have been moved, either consensually or non-consensually. And, for me, it gives me this sense of wonder, and also this sense of like, [we're] not alone. And I feel that's really beautiful and empowering for that feeling of just like opening up our worldview and lens. And then also on a practical scale of like, well, how can these plants also support my health? And also, how can I support this plant in thriving? And what does this plant tell me about the land, what does this plant tell me about the medicine that I might need or that the land might need? So that's what comes up. That's just one thought that was coming up there.

But in terms of, symbiotic relationships, I think about... and in a way, what I was just saying, like, how are we being in reciprocity, with plants as well? I think herbalism, we're in a place where it's also being commodified, and a lot of folks are focused on what can this plant do for me, right? We're just again in that individualist mindset, like what can this do for me? Versus thinking, Well, what can I do for this plant? Or maybe I can grow this plant so that this plant that may be endangered has more space to grow? Beyond just what can this plant do for me—the pollinators, right, and what are the other species that live off of this plant? So that for me is really important, because herbalism can also be romanticised and thinking, Oh, well, this is just a way of like, connecting back with the land and, it's good. But anything that gets commodified needs to be questioned.

And the approach of relating to something that is of the Earth needs to be questioned, because as I said, capitalism, slavery, colonialism—it's all about resources. So what, for me, really needs to shift, is how are we relating to the land? Like we've forgotten, in a big way, what it means to be human, that we're caretakers, that we have a responsibility, as I was saying, in the beginning, my parents taught [me that] we're guests on these lands, we're passing through, and that we also have a responsibility to make this place better, that my brother and I, we need to make the world a more equitable place, because of all these injustices that are here, right? So how do we, with our work, make the world a more beautiful place? And beyond just our work, in our relationships with each other, with our family, with the plants, not only thinking about ourselves, but how do my actions impact other beings?

And, to me, that is part of that symbiosis, or being in collaborative community: how can I understand my gifts? And how do my gifts help the greater ecology of this Earth or the communities that I'm part of, instead of being in competition? I think in social media right now, like this epidemic—pandemic that we're in of, like, social media, and the way that it's impacting our nervous systems... it really reaches to this like, part of ourselves that capitalism has done such a good job of extracting from us, and impacting our sense of self-worth. We're always competing with one another. That's one of like capitalism's values, right? So I think, as we relate with plants, it's always really important to think about the reciprocity that needs to be there in order for us to make sure that those ecosystems continue to thrive and create more ecosystems.

But I also think about, the microbiome in our bodies, right? Like, we're feeding the microbes, and then they're giving us... strengthening our immune system, the mycelium underneath the forest, helping to connect tree roots and communicate, or us exhaling and us inhaling the trees' oxygen—they are such beautiful reminders of how everything is interconnected, and that we're not isolated from this planet. What happens here will impact somewhere else on this Earth, like whatever plastic bag goes into the ocean might end up in Singapore, for example, right? Where you are. Like, this idea that... it's such a narrow ways of viewing like, or a very individualistic way of viewing what's mine, right? Like, oh, I'm just gonna throw this away, because that's just the trash, throwing things away without understanding where that goes and the impact of it. So that's, that's one piece that I think about, to answer that question.

And something else that I've been thinking about a lot in terms of, just disruption of ecosystems and roles in ecosystems, where I'm from, in the Northeast, there's an explosion of Lyme disease, which are tick-borne, but deer and mice are main carriers of ticks. But if there were more wolves and coyotes who ate the deer, [it] would balance out the population. But that imbalance is also a result of colonisation, settler colonialism, a fear of wolves or valuing more cattle or farm animals than the native fauna, right? So I don't know if that answers all those questions, but that's what's coming through right now.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, I appreciate that, a lot. I think I want to pick up on, or at least kind of highlight for folks listening to this conversation, your use of the word resource. I think I like to think about resource as a word—and not getting too caught up in the semantics of it, but—resource as a word, and then in relation to the word source, and how we view, or how capitalism views the Earth as resource, but people who adopt like anti-capitalistic worldviews will view the Earth as, like source. And so thinking about how to, I guess, reconcile those approaches to the Earth strikes me as important. And I want to put a pin on that for people who are listening.

And then the other thing that sticks out for me is your use of the word reciprocity, as well. Hannah Close, who is one of the members of our team at advaya. She wrote about kinship. And she's very big on the scholarship of kinship, so focusing on the idea of kinship, she talked about kinship as a way of relating that asks us to go beyond extracting value from the other, which is what you were talking about, by extracting values from plants. And she says that kinship is relationship for relationships' sake, and it's for the sake of life itself, and acknowledging the deeper workings of reality, by operating on the same principles as the very breath which keeps us alive: reciprocity, emergence, sensuous awareness. And I feel like that... the way you kind of responded to that question and really highlights that for me.

And I love the reframing of relationship with the use of the word kinship, and hope that that gets more adopted, but not in a way that community has become commodified as well, like you said, like everything that gets commodified through this system needs to be questioned, right, in the same way that herbalism has been commodified, and extracted from, and led to a view of plants as things that we can take, and things that we can extract use from.

And I think that's a good segue into the question... I would love for you to share a little bit about your work at Herban Cura, which you founded, and I wanted to focus on the aim of increasing collective intimacy, as you say, with plants, which we have recognised in the conversation that we're having now, plants have that history of violence and exploitation, being brought across land, into lands, away from lands. And those histories can be uncovered by understanding their original constellation of relationship, which I think is a great way to kind of situate what we're talking about, in that word constellation. On the For The Wild podcast, you also talked about simultaneous and parallel histories of plants, so acknowledging that violence and exploitation, but also the ongoing, historical deep relationship, but also one that's not historical, in the sense that you currently are practicing it, lots of people are practicing it—that deep relationship with plants that involves care, reverence, which you talked about...

And to throw another thing in there, making this a hopefully more textured conversation, I think, talking about how this is decolonising and abolition work. And specifically to kind of give a bit of context around that, I think, at this point, I hope a lot of people are more familiar with how this might be decolonising work, in that like, understanding where plants came from and how plants are key to the logics of settler colonialism, how it's key to the logic of monoculturing, and then also how it's connected to reductionism and western science, and how that has led to an approach to the natural world that has led to all of the crises that we're dealing with. So that's kind of the context on decolonising work, but I would love for you to focus a little bit more on the abolition side of things, because I think a lot of people are more unfamiliar with that context—and also connecting plant intimacy, collective intimacy with abolition work, might be a new thing that people are exploring. So knowing that, I would love for you to connect your work there with that broader framework and practice.

Antonia Estela Pérez: Such a juicy question. Well, I'll start with plants and commodities. I think a lot of the work that we're doing with Herban Cura, and uncovering some of these stories, de-layering is... is our own personal curiosity to restore and build deeper relationships with plants that don't grow in our ecosystems, but that surround us, like coffee, sugar, cotton, indigo, rice, for example, quinoa. So many different things that we consume on a daily basis—maize... that are reduced, right? So coffee, the coffee plant in the form of a drink, a cappuccino that we might be having, or a pot of dark coffee. Sugar, in everything. Cotton in the clothes that we're wearing, things that we're eating. But we're never in relationship to, or often right, at least in New York City, or in the United States, in our day to day life, going to the supermarket...

We're not in relationship to the plant, we're in relationship with the product—this reduced form of this plant, without any story, really, behind it that we've learnt. But that type of relationship of just buying something—tea, right? These plants that have really painful stories behind them, that like I said earlier have really shaped the world in the way that it is now. Rubber, I'm thinking about rubber in the Amazon. So many different plants and their story, of slavery, of enslaving people, indigenous people, people from Africa, I'm thinking of indigenous people in the Amazon, when I'm thinking about rubber, but indigenous people all throughout the world, to exploit a plant that may have been from those territories.

So for me, learning about these plants is a way to, like I was saying before, restore relationship with the plant, and give reverence and acknowledgement to those terra-stories that accompany them, and begin to open up our eyes to see how we really live in an illusion, in terms of just the capitalist illusion of abundance and of consumerism of like, Oh, I'm just gonna go get this package of coffee, but like, how is colonisation and exploitation continuing to happen today, right? Like you were saying the agricultural practices of monoculture and how production of coffee is impacting the soil, forest. Production of sugar. And not just how the land is being exploited, but the people who are tending to these plants, harvesting them, packaging, that whole system of production to the point that it ends up in our hands, is a cycle that is full of exploitation. And right now, we have other options of fair trade, and ways where people are being more compensated for their labour or they're taking into account how plants are being grown in a way that isn't extracting the land and the soils, minerals, and literal topsoil.

But I think that it goes even deeper, in [that], those plants, people, relationships and like, what are those people that are actually tending that land and those plants, and their relationship to the actual land? Like, do they own that land? Like, are they free on that land? So that's one piece with Herban Cura, that feels really important: just like a lifelong process of being like, again, why, and how is the world the way that it is? And like, how have we also been shaped by these plants, and the movement and the migration of them? How have those plants also migrated people, consensually, or non-consensually? And, yeah, like I said, I think we're still living in an era of colonisation, where resources are still being sought after, and I guess to think of like resources and source, that we also can't ignore the geopolitics and how that is, being guided by resources and arbitrary lines of borders.

I think of, to name the Amazon again, where I've also witnessed the ways that loggers, mining companies, oil companies, are illegally moving through the Amazon, missionaries continuing to convert people, and it's like, whoa, colonisation is very alive and healthy. And how these simultaneous parallel stories of the 500 years of colonisation that the Americas have experienced, from North to South America, and even within each landscape, has experienced different times of colonisation, and that there are people that are still in relationship to these plants, and to land, in ways that haven't been impacted by colonisation and capitalism. So I think that's also really important to acknowledge, and why it's so important to listen to indigenous people, and what they're saying about how we need to live in relationship to the land, because that worldview is the worldview of relationship, not of believing that the Earth is full of infinite resources that we can extract.

We're in a pivotal moment right now, where... we've always been in a pivotal moment, but the Earth still has so many resources, people who are in these relationships still exist, and that we need to be listening, especially in the so-called the First World of people [in] economies that are stronger, to consider how are we shift shifting this system of exploitation, to protect resources and people who are still defending... So I've had the honour of connecting with Sápara, the indigenous people in Ecuador, and seeing the ways that they're literally fighting for... they're risking their lives to protect both their communities and their resources, but that resistance is also protecting all of us. It's also keeping resources, keeping life—so when I say resources, I'm speaking about life, I'm speaking about the stones, I'm speaking about just everything that this Earth contains, so that being source, but in like an economic term, like resources, like what capitalism is trying to take, they're trying to take life and the return is death.

Tammy (advaya): I would love to invite you to talk about how the work connects to abolition work, and also, if you want to introduce more formally and more explicitly what the work you're doing at Herban Cura is, so people get a sense of what it is...

Antonia Estela Pérez: So, to tie in abolition, I think of abolishing institutions and systems that are causing that death and that exploitation and that extraction, thinking of slavery abolitionists, and the different tactics that they were using in terms of boycotting sugar, for example, and using maple syrup instead—that relationship with the land, that wisdom of, and knowing of the land for survival. So part of the practice, when I think of abolition is, how are we reconnecting with land? How are we connecting to ancestral practices, as a way of being sovereign? Of protecting and supporting our communities, so that we have the resources that we need to be healthy, to survive, that being food, that being medicine, to give us the strength to abolish these repressive systems, and as I mentioned, the prison industrial system, but how do we abolish capitalism?

How do we abolish these systems that are still extracting from the Earth and that are extracting from our human kin? How do we abolish these inequities within the system, so that we can live in a system that promotes life, where we have what we need, the baseline: where we have food, where we have shelter, where we're rethinking how we can be in a system that is life-giving, of symbiotic, collaborative communities that aren't individualistic. So some of the work that Herban Cura is doing is... One of our projects is called Plants to the People, where we harvest plants that we've grown or that neighbouring gardens, farms, [at] upstate New York have grown, or really anywhere, but predominantly, we've done it in New York City, and we just set up, we occupy a plaza, and we give out herb bundles to people, so we've harvested tulsi, sweet annie, purslane, oregano, thyme, many more herbs, in low-income, immigrant, BIPOC communities and we just give out herbs for free.

And it's such a beautiful practice, and really actually political to give something to someone for free, like this medicine is for you, it's a gift. And alongside the plants that we give, we also offer acupuncture, ear acupuncture. And that type of method was used by the Young Lords and Black Panthers. So this work is in that legacy, of offering free healthcare to our community, supporting our communities in ways that they're not being supported by [the] current system. And, this isn't changing it, necessarily, but it's offering a drop, an invitation to connect, to remember. So, many folks that have that come and receive a bundle, are remembering how their grandma would use oregano for ear infections, or how they would cook purslane in different dishes. People coming to the table and they got off the train because they just smelled the plants. So remembering the plants in the city, is this radical act. Receiving these plants for free is this radical act, to remember that the plants are so generous, and are here to help us and to remember that we can also heal ourselves with the Earth and that they've been such powerful tools for our survival...

And that they've also been threats to the establishment for so long, which is why when I think of witch hunts in Europe, and in part of settler colonial history, of disempowering women, naming them witches, taking their relationship, and that autonomy, their bodily autonomy, but also the wisdom of, oh, we can heal with plants, we can prevent so many diseases through knowing plants. That they're here to help us survive. So that's one of our really important projects right now, that feel like a huge opportunity for my own learning and I'll share a little anecdote from the other day, here in Tongva territory. We did a Plants to the People at the [Celebration] of Life show, and I was making all these bundles with the help of some friends, and I was thinking, I was getting really in my head about how people were going to receive these bundles, or what they were going to think, or what was going to be like, the outcome...

And we had purple sage, pirul/molle—[they are] the same plant. We had eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender. And I was really in my head making these bundles. And I felt the plants in a moment just really interject into my spiral and be like, Shh... We're so wise. You know a little bit about what we do and, how we vibe, but we're so much more than you think we are. Like, we're the elders. We got this. Like you've done what you needed to do, which is bring the plants, make the bundles. And from here, it's between us, the plants, and the people receiving the bundles. But it was this really humbling moment of just being in deep trust and also awe and wonder and magic of, right, the plants are so wise. Like they are ancestors, they've been here, and they're sacred, and that humility and that continuous wonder and being in a kinship relationship with them, of like let me listen. Let me listen to what they have to say.

Not just like, okay, rosemary, uses for rosemary are... like, cool. Thanks for categorising me into this little box. Yes, I do some of those things and I can pretty much do it all... like, when I'm teaching new students, they are like, but like, so what can I use for this, or what I can use for that, they're like, Oh my God, every plant does so many things, it's like, yes, like find that plant that you just go in deep relationship with—you don't need to know every single plant to support your digestive system, or support your lungs... like, so many plants just have actions that support your whole body. So that's been a plant story that I've been holding really close to my heart, because I feel like they really, they spoke so loudly, of, get out of your head. This is not about you. Like you've done great work. And like, we take it from here. Which I think is a really important lesson, in just... in listening.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, there's a lot in there again, so thank you for that. But I think what is coming to mind for me at the moment is, for people to have that experience of listening to plants... I can imagine people who are foreign to having a relationship are like what does that even mean? The plant like said something to you that was loud... but I think that like, the question is then, what needs to quieten and what needs to be softer for that to be loud? And I'm thinking about, to go into that space of animism, without commodifying it, without making it the next big cool thing... but really to practice that in our own lives is not something that can be taken away from us in a way that's like commodifying and extracting, I think if we practice that kind of... let's be humble, [let's] recognise that we are walking on this Earth with many other like plant ancestors that have been here longer than we ever will be. But yeah, thinking about how intimacy with plants, not only seeds a sense of reverence, but also seeds a sense of humility, and invites us into a practice of re-embedding ourselves into a wider Earth, one that is so populated by different species, still, in spite of all of capitalism and what it's done to biodiversity, there is still abundance, there is still those other species in conversation with us, whether or not we want to hear and whether or not we can allow ourselves to be in that space where we're hearing...

Antonia Estela Pérez: That just made me think about how you could just have such a heart-expanding, mind-expanding, body-expanding, experience with the weed, the plant that is just growing through the sidewalk, if you just take the time to be with that plant, and just listen. So the little plant was... I mean, I don't know, but like, they weren't necessarily voicing in this, anthropocentric, human way, but it was... it could almost be thought of as like my older and wiser self, [being] like, Okay, your ego, your self-doubt is getting in the way. And we're gonna put that to the side right now, because you're not doing this. You're doing this because of love, because you want people to connect, and people will find their way to connection, in a way that you can't control. Like, you can't control everything. So it was a thought process, and something there interjected, that was softening.

But I think about... right now there's a whole industry of sacred, yes, sacred not in quotes, but like sacred, powerful plant medicines—but all plants are sacred. And yes, some plants have certain constituents that open us up more quickly to really seeing parts of ourselves that otherwise... maybe with dandelion, you don't receive when you drink a tea, but those are the plants that we need to be connecting within, because they're what's growing around us. I really think those are the plants that we need to be learning. What is growing around us, not, I'm going to take a trip to the Amazon, to go on a retreat, and take ayahuasca, and then not do the self-work to integrate and change my behaviour, as a human on this Earth, like, spiritual capitalism is a very real thing right now, of like, extracting, let me take this thing so that I can feel better. This, this, this, this, this, and we still don't feel good, right? But like that experience of just sitting...

How do we connect back to source? It's right here. One of my dear friends and mentors, she's always like, you just need to go on your internal trip, your internal journey, like, all the answers are right here. They're right here, in your breath, in your heart. Like being in prayer, being in meditation, being with the sun, like being with the elements, and we can reach that wherever we are. Wherever we are, we can reach the source. And I really feel like it just starts with that breath. But it's having the courage and giving ourselves the permission to say, I'm going to put my phone down. I'm going to pause on my work, and I'm going to fight. That's my action of fighting capitalism today: is stopping work, resting, going for a walk and meeting the homies. Meeting the plant homies, and being like, oh my god, like, I didn't notice you yesterday, but I see you today. Like, what's your story? And that's so fun. It's so fun.

Like I just went on a walk before this, our conversation, and I mentioned this territory reminds me so much of my home in Santiago, and I was seeing all these plans that I recognise like, molle, bougainvillea, floripondio, eucalyptus, níspero—that I think would be loquat, in English. So many, so many plants—the mallow, that's just growing through every crack, the chickweed.... there's so much abundance here now. And yesterday for the first time I used a plant ID app, which was so much fun. I was like, How have I never used this before? Like, what are the names of all these plants? Which I think has its place, and then you're not really building a relationship by just taking a photo. It's like okay, cool, now I know the name, let me sit with this plant for a long time, and like, and also have the humility, to just be like, let me pause, I'm not harvesting anything. Also, let me be careful because a lot of plants can cause dermatitis or give you an allergy.

But yeah, so in doing the plant ID, I met this California oak. And today on the walk, I was just seeing it everywhere and I was like this is so cool, like now I see it everywhere, and it's this never-ending, lifelong experience of meeting the plants and learning about yourself. Like they're such incredible teachers, and each season is an opportunity to learn a little bit more about them, which is so fun, like, really you could just spend your whole life just learning one plant.

Tammy (advaya): I love that. Quite a few months ago, I wrote something about knowing plants. And in that piece, I think I was doing a bit of research about how the whole plant naming process, like the scientific naming process of plants is... what I kind of arrived at, that conclusion for me was that like, yes, when you know, when you name the plant, when you ID a plant, like, does the relationship with the plant start or end with the naming? Like when you're on a walk, and you give them names, you see them and they see you and you start forming a relationship with that—that's so different from the scientific naming of the plant, and the ID-ing of that, and I think people need to see that whatever way you choose to name the plant, you're beginning to cultivate a sense of... a relationship with that plant, a history of you and that plant, and that's such a sacred process, that we can't be allowed to be tainted by the way that biology, and the way that science has studied and classified and put into boxes and categorised these plants...

And so I think this is a good place to go into asking you almost the last question, which is, because this series is being filmed right after the spring equinox, and we're emerging into a new season, and I would love for you to share maybe one of your current or favourite plant stories, or relationships, that are unique to this spring season, and also, I think you've done this already, but offering some ways in which folks who may be new to having relationships, like how can they start to introduce themselves to this practice of knowing and cultivating intimacy, other than, of course, like if people are in New York to engage with the work that you're doing, and the offerings that you have, but I mean, for people who are not in that space, what can they do?

Antonia Estela Pérez: Well I think wherever someone is in the world and may be listening to this, any season is a great opportunity to get to know the plants... especially winter, you get to see the trees, if you're in a place that experiences winter, and the falling of leaves, you get to experience the trees with just the bark, which is such a beautiful experience of building an intimate relationship. You get to see the dried up seeds, seed pods of plants, and that's a really fun time to be like, that's dried mugwort... Totally different from when you see it flowering in the summer.

One of my plants stories of this season, which just happened yesterday, at this garden where I was experiencing this plant ID app for the first time... My partner has been having a lot of face allergies and getting rashes and just like very sensitive skin. I was on a walk and I saw this beautiful patch of chickweed. And I was like, oh my god, chickweed is really good for the skin. It's so great for dry skin, for eczema, for sensitive skin. It's lubricating, it's really high in amino acids, and I was like, this. We're gonna have a facial, in this garden. So I go back and I tell her, I'm like, okay, just lay down. I'm going to give you something that's really good for your skin, and so I just squeezed all this... I rubbed the chickweed and I squeezed all this yummy green chickweed juice on her face and then covered her in chickweed, and I was like, I want to do it too. So I went and harvested some more chickweed, and both of our faces were just covered with chickweed, and I was like do you want me to read you a little bit about chickweed? And so I was reading to her about some of like the chickweed actions, and how it's great for pulling splinters out and I was like, Oh, so that's probably also really helpful for pulling out toxins in the skin as well. And just laying there with the chickweed was such a beautiful experience.

We were sitting underneath this molle tree. The molle is originally from the Peruvian region, I mean, the Peruvian Andean. So you find it all over Peru and Chile, but also found its way into Mexico and California. So we were sitting underneath this tree and it was such a sweet moment. Again, it was like a plant, just like listening to the plant, of like, oh, right, like boom, connecting, I know you, like you're like, here I am... and I also have a rash on my face, so I was like, Oh, this will be great. Like, why haven't I thought of this before? And this is the perfect moment not only to work with chickweed externally, but also internally, it helps move our waters, it helps to enrich us minerally as well. And I was reading a little bit about chickweed yesterday, and how originally it's from Europe, but it was a green that was sold at the markets, like a really important green. And I personally love to eat chickweed, I think it just feels like... tastes green. But it's really, I love the texture, it's a little crunchy, it's great in a pesto, but I was just reminded again of like, right there's so many greens that have fallen out of just popularity, that so many of us rely on the supermarket to get our nourishment, but that that's a curated place, and so much... we're lacking so much nourishment because we're not eating foods that the Earth is just growing in abundance, and so much food that comes to the supermarket is grown in soil that's been really depleted. So that's my chickweed story. We just had like the chickweed on our face and I was eating the chickweed as it was like hanging down.

Just another thought around like, beginning to connect with plants for folks who may be listening, is to find a plant that is growing, it could be a tree or shrub, that's calling your attention, and just to sit with them, or stand, or whatever laying next to them, whatever is calling to you, or just sitting and observing them from your window. But doing that consistently every day, through a whole season, through the whole year. It doesn't need to be long, but just to begin to observe and notice. I think that would be the first step in building any relationship, observation is the first piece. Observation and then an introduction, and yeah, see, vibe, like is there consent to hang out? Like how does this plant being communicate, how do I feel is the way that I want to communicate with this plant that feels authentic to me. So that would be my suggestion. And also then just going for a walk, and being outside, and letting the street, the path guide you.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for sharing that practice and also for sharing the story. To kind of close, and to tie into this whole theme—we kind of never really spoke about it more explicitly, but I think in a lot of ways this conversation is very related to the theme of rebirth. And I would love for you to share a personal anecdote or a story, that you're called to share in the theme of rebirth to leave with us...

Antonia Estela Pérez: I wanna say, I'm feeling those two stories that I just shared, of giving out the bundles, and the chickweed on my face, right now, are feeling like my rebirth story, with myself, because—and then maybe [I'll share] one other moment—but I feel like they've all been just working on me, and they've been massaging me, they've been like whispering, and how I'm feeling right now, and with spring and this awakening, of like, and I feel this, I think, every spring, is like, I get to learn them all over again. I get to learn them all over again. Like oh, I didn't notice this... like well, I'm on the West Coast right now, but I saw eucalyptus in flower and I haven't seen that that many times. It was so beautiful. I was like oh they're so fuzzy and like so cute! And just anytime I get to see a plant in a phase where I haven't seen it before, it feels like something's... like my heart is just opening a little more. But yeah, those two stories I feel like, felt like a big cleanse, and like you are still on the path of learning, you will forever be on the path of learning, and like stay humble, stay curious. Stay curious. Stay in that space of wonder, like a baby, just continuing to get really like, low and observe, and feel, again if you know the plant—never taste the plant if you don't know what plant that is.

So that's my rebirth story right now, just like really being reminded by the plants to listen and to be curious. And I was standing under the sun yesterday and I just also felt the sun being just affirming, being like you're on your path. You're doing great. Like, keep walking on your path. Keep feeling yourself. Keep breathing, keep feeling into what you're doing, keep allowing yourself to be guided by these plants, and don't fall into the self-doubt, don't fall into deceiving myself. And I think right before spring, when you've been in winter for a long time, it's kind of hit some lows, and just can fall into that seasonal depression, and spring is just coming in, with this big birthing energy like, see yourself, see your beauty, you are a shining... You also have gifts, just like me, this plant, you have gifts, see your gifts, don't compare yourself with the other beings. We each have our unique gift and how do we all collaborate? So that's how I would answer that.

And in terms of staying in touch with Herban Cura and what we're doing we have... in New York City, we have many Plants to the People events coming up this summer, again, they're free plants that we give out, and we'll have some in person classes as well this summer, both in New York City and upstate, and online, we have really fun classes coming up, like really amazing storytellers, historians, seed keepers that will be sharing with us this year. So you want to learn more, you can check out our website.

Tammy (advaya): Antonia, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. And also all of those affirmations I feel so empowered. It's a good reminder that even though it's a changing of the seasons, every day, regardless of the changing of the seasons, it's a new rebirth and new opportunity to learn and grow alongside the plants.

Antonia Estela Pérez: Absolutely. Yeah. I love what you just said. The rising sun is our birth and the setting sun is just such a good moment to be like, I'm letting go all this shit that I don't need. Let me go to sleep, feeling calm, wake up, do the things I need to do that makes me feel good. Tend to my sacred body.

Haile Thomas: As this podcast series explores the essence of Rebirth and its many manifestations in nature, I invite you to think of Reflection as a medium for Rebirth.

In a state of curiosity, we birth pathways for possibility, insight, and enriched perspectives that may open our minds and our hearts, empowering us to live our lives guided by a sort of intentional wonder.

So as you sit with each interview in this series, you’re invited to take a few moments to dig into the topic at hand and ponder how these conversations might take root in your life.

In episode 1, we explored seeding relationships with the land.

In this conversation, we’ve come to remember our role as guests and temporary caretakers of this Earth. And this remembrance prompts the question, how might we accept the invitation to our duty of care?

There’s this unspoken language between all non-human life forms rooted in maintaining connection, nourishment, and balance. I feel this communicates a really powerful message about our current perception of individualism.

We’ve yet to remember that our individuality, our gifts, healing potential, and the power of our Being shines most radiantly from a place of wholeness, not fragmentation.

And just as plants offer their unique functions as individuals, they also serve a greater, more holistic, and communal purpose, creating passageways for other life forms to distinctively contribute to and maintain ecosystems.

Without the illusion of separatism and through the prioritization of community, ironically, our individuality is given more space to be nurtured, to shine, and, ultimately, to be of meaningful and nutritive service to the whole.

Through the following prompts, let’s take a reflective stroll through the themes of plant intimacy and kinship, curiosity by way of stillness, and the lineage of reciprocity.

Feel free to simply be with this inquiry and allow the questions to simmer, or actively engage through pen and paper journaling, audio journaling, or even in dialogue with your community.

  • Many of us are displaced and occupying land that does not hold our ancestry—How do we create new traditions of care and relationship with the land that respects this nuanced, new-age context while honoring indigenous plant and human histories?
  • In your lineage, how has your connection to nature changed throughout the generations? Perhaps your great-grandmother was a gardener or a forager, or your people come from lands rich in certain medicinal herbs or vegetation. What are some ways you might reengage with ancestral land and plant connections?
  • What natural elements speak to you? What praxis can you explore to cultivate intimacy with those elements of nature?
  • What plants are in your area and how can you learn more about their stories?

All parts of life act as catalysts. And perhaps misguided individuation, increasing feelings of disconnection, and the ecological harm that comes as a result, are a call to return to wholeness through cultivating new ways of being in relationship with the land.

So as we continue to reflect on reengaging with nature through the lens of lineage, present embodiment, and future seeding, may we allow quiet curiosity to guide our acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Earth and help us better experience the complexity and intelligence within nature—that which is enveloping and providing for us at all times.

Find further readings, resources, and video footage of this episode with subtitles on the YouTube playlist here.


Tammy Gan

Tammy (she/her) leads on content and storytelling at advaya.

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Antonia Estela Pérez

Antonia Estela Pérez is a Chilean-American clinical herbalist, gardener, educator, community organizer, co-founder, and artist born and raised in New York City.

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Haile Thomas

Haile Thomas is a 22 yr old international speaker, wellness & compassion activist, content creator, writer, and co-founder of wellness teahouse Matcha Thomas.

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