Seated in a circle with the other students of the Herbaculture Internship Program at Oregon’s Herb Pharm, Sarah Baldwin experienced a near psychedelic journey after ingesting only one drop of a gentle tincture. The spirit of the hawthorn tree had been knocking at her door for some time, and in 2010, that door finally swung open.
She was flooded with painful insights about the patterns in her romantic and familial relationships, ushered in by the hawthorn berry’s potent heart-opening medicine. She watched visions of her past resurface in new light by tracing energetic threads down winding roads of her vast unconscious. Sarah’s natural ability to navigate the mystical realm of plant spirits inspired these epiphanies, aided by this particular plant’s profound therapeutic capabilities.
Hawthorn berries are a known remedy for ailments of the physical cardiovascular system and the emotional body as well. The realization of this heart-based awareness proved to be a pivotal moment in her life — “the question is not when did the plants start communicating with me, but when did I start hearing them,” she says.
A talented writer and herbalist from Indiana, Sarah Baldwin is the author of The Herbal Healing Deck and an editor at the acclaimed Herbal Academy, an online school of herbal medicine. Published in 2017, Sarah’s divination deck consists of 48 unique cards, complete with a comprehensive guidebook detailing the oracular, folkloric and physical application of the plants.
People ask me ‘how did you choose the plants in your deck?,’ although it really was the other way around. It was a process of co-creation, having the ideas and very much feeling guided; the plants were coming to me and to us, me and Ashley – the deck’s illustrator.
Raised by a spirited Woodstock-attending mother who practices astrology professionally, and a father who loved botany and gardening, Sarah was in the perfect position to develop skillsets in the extrasensory realms. “It was normal to play with [tarot/oracle] cards and talk about spiritual experiences at the dinner table,” she says.
As a natural, food-loving Taurus, Sarah started down her herbal healing path by connecting with wild edibles. “I realized the wild is full of all these nutrient-dense medicinal foods that are all around us and are really tasty and fun to experiment with.”
I was always interested in plants. As a kid I would hangout outside, making my pretend magical potions. I majored in communications in college and in my last semester senior year, I took a wild edibles class while working at the local natural foods co-op.
Sarah graduated from college in 2007 and began self-studying herbalism and gardening, while also working on local organic farms. She had a cottage business selling herbal products but realized deep down it wasn’t what she wanted. “You know, I’m a writer. I began as a freelance writer, writing herbal and metaphysical articles for a little publication that is no longer around. I love the nuts and bolts of herbalism, which is what I do now with The Herbal Academy, but the mystical side is really what keeps me so drawn to the plant world.”
Sarah has now developed a powerful ability to connect with plants on a spiritual and energetic level. She was first greeted by the motherly — or grandmotherly — spirit of the hawthorn tree encouraging her to take her medicine and clear stagnation and old patterns.
“Hawthorn was the gateway plant into the plant spirit world, and since then it opened up the whole wide world of plants to me, all through the heart. I think I had to get my heart cracked open like that, and so I thanked the plant for the teaching even if it was incredibly humbling.”
There are a number of plants Sarah considers to be her natural allies that she communicates with on a regular basis. Moonflower, also known as Datura stramonium or jimsonweed, is a powerful hallucinogen and a common ingredient used in the witches’ flying ointments of lore.
Because Sarah is so sensitive, she works with moonflower not as a physical intoxicant, but as a subtle, energetic opener. That said, her experiences with it are nothing short of psychedelic. Moonflower is another of the herbs that presented itself to her, this time during a period in her life when she discovered astral projection.
“I was in what is known as the middle world in the shamanic world view, and I was walking outside in the yard in my astral body. I walked across this field, where in real life, or in 3D, my neighbor has cows grazing, and growing in the field is all this jimsonweed. The spirit came to me then and has been with me ever since.”
“It had a very powerful presence that nearly took me over. It asked if it could become a part of me, to see through my eyes. And so we made this deal that it would help me see things differently and shift my perspectives in order to intuit things more clearly if I would allow it to see the world through me — as a part of me.”
Sarah also works in the fungal realm, experiencing reishi mushrooms as an oneirogen (pronounced “a-NAY-rogen”). These plant or medicinal mushroom substances, which also include mugwort and African dream root, can create enhances dreams or dream-like states. Reishi mushroom, for example, is a tonic herb and adaptogen that can help with sleep and encourage lucidity during dream time or astral states.
I’ve always been connected to my dreams. My dad and I have both actually experienced reishi mushroom as a dream-enhancing substance. After making my first double extraction with the mushroom, I had this beautiful dream, but I didn’t remember it at first. I was a on a road trip when it suddenly came back to me.
The dream was of my grandmother who had recently passed. I dreamt of her and then I woke up and knew I was still dreaming. I knew in my dream it was the reishi who had connected me with my grandma. You how you just know things in dreams? It was a knowing kernel of truth.
Sarah is a gifted visionary in the space of modern herbalism and metaphysics, giving talks, teaching classes and leading guided meditations with her natural aptitude for shamanic journeying. “One of the things I really see shut people down is self-doubt. There are a few cards in the deck that encourage people to be careful whom they share with, or maybe to hold their cards close to their chest at this time. I feel that’s very important when you embark on any spiritual work.”
It’s easy to doubt your experiences after you wake up from a dream or come out of a journey. One of the things you can do is to wait for the synchronicities to show up in your life that confirm it was real. Another thing you can do is be very discerning with whom you share these things because they could skew or negate your own perceptions.
Sarah compassionately encourages those in the midst of an awakening to steer clear of the naysayers in their lives and instead to seek out those who are nurturing and supportive of their processes. A “spiritual study buddy” who is doing their own work can help confirm the sometimes difficult-to-fathom occurrences because they are experiencing their own. This was the kind of relationship Sarah was fortunate enough to foster during the writing and illustration of her oracle deck.