We're delighted to share with you a recent conversation we had with Phelicia Okon Magnusson, a queer black herbalist and flower essence practitioner working on the big island of Hawai'i. Her work centers folks of color who are affirming their wholeness by healing generational trauma, moving though narratives of shame, exploring sexuality and returning to their intuition and resilience in the face of oppression.
Phelicia my darling! Tell me how you got into the work that you do? How did that begin for you?
Let’s see, well the first time I ever worked with a flower essence, I was living in Seattle and I was really young, I was like 12, and I had no idea what flower essences were. The first ones that I saw were the Dr. Bach. They’re the ones that you can find at natural food stores. The first one that I found was Oat.
I formerly went to school in New York for Clinical Herbalism. I went to ArborVitae School Of Traditional Herbalism. It was at a period of time when I was living in New York, and not sure if I wanted to live there or what I was doing next. I participated in a woman’s yoga self-study that was kundalini focused, but I was struggling with the yoga part. The teacher that I was studying with had us study a different herb every month. She had us write down the way it was making us feel emotionally as we were learning about the different characteristics of it.
The one that we started working with that I had a big relationship with was dandelion. We learned that it was a diuretic, so I as like, “Oh my god, I have to pee all the time!” [I also noticed that] it was really moving my anger. It made me aware of the way that anger was sitting in my stomach, and aware that I just really didn’t have a relationship with my anger. That was what got me interested in herbalism as a study.
I had a lot of exposure to [clinical herbalism] teachers that are very well know in Western herbalism, but no one was talking about that emotional component that I was feeling. They would mention it, but we didn’t explore it much. We were expected to learn and explore the clinical constituents of the herb that were doing something in your body, and to make all of these different preparations of it and jot down our experiences with it. Mine were all emotional. [For instance, with] Elderflower I was having dreams of my great grandmother that had recently passed. So that’s how I got into it!
That’s so cool! Do you think that the dandelion triggered your feelings of anger because it works on the liver, and the liver and anger have a connection to each other?
I think so. I mean, I don’t think that everyone who works with dandelion is going to have that reaction, but certainly in traditional Chinese medicine the liver gets associated with holding anger. Anytime you move the emotions that are stuck in the liver, certainly anger is one of those. But I’ve not seen everyone that I’ve given dandelion have that reaction, and of course, anger looks different for everyone.
Right. I want to know about how you got into your work with clients? How did you go from your studies into having a practice with clients and use of your flower essences?
The second part of studying plants, for me, is that I ended up studying with a woman while I was an undergraduate, whom I had met in Peru. She was a Curandera, and she worked with physical components with plants to heal chronic illness. She wasn’t separating the emotional components of working with plants from the physical or spiritual, they were all connected. I lived with her for 4 months. In my time working with her, the way that she had me working with plants was bringing up a lot of my memories of having experienced trauma. I had trouble believing what I was experiencing and working with the pants that way I was like, “this seems crazy!” I just felt really unsure.
I then left New York and moved back to Seattle and started working with a somatic therapist, who now is a big part of my community. Community is something that I was really searching for. I was working with her trying to figure out ‘how does trauma live in the body?’ and ‘can I trust what I’m experiencing with plants?’ and ‘what narratives here are living for me that I’m unconscious of?’ One of the things that she had me do more was to trust the experience I was having with plants, and where that wisdom lived in my body. She also said to me “You know, you’re not going to find the community you’re looking for if you don’t start to share your gifts. You’re going to be unknowable to the people that you’re seeking.” I think that felt like the right kick in the butt…
Yeah! That was brilliant advice actually.
Yeah, it was. So, that was when I started having a private practice. It looked like me mostly teaching classes. You guys [at E. Smith Mercantile in Seattle] were the first people that I approached to try and teach a class. It was really pretty different [from what I do now]. It was more focused on moon medicine and the plants were woven in there, but it wasn’t really the serious, but playful way that I work with plants now. That was the beginning of it. Through the classes I was teaching, and how I was talking about plants, a community formed around people that wanted to be in relationship to their body and start looking at the narratives that were living in their body. It felt really natural in that community.
I was wondering how we met! That must have been it.
That was such a dream space! It was amazing.
It’s pretty powerful the intention you set for a place. We always wanted [E. Smith] to be a way for diverse communities to come together, and offer a place for teachers and people that were ready to learn some fun things in a great environment. And we got to meet some wonderful people!
‘Intention’ is something that I heard when you were talking about not believing that the experiences that you were having were real… Don’t you think that it’s interesting that when you set an intention, that the Universe complies with our intent? Do you think that the work you do is partly the intention that a person sets to open themselves up to letting that plant talk to them, and how it relates specifically to their body and mind and spirit?
I definitely think that’s part of it. I really have a belief that plants have their own consciousness and regardless of the way that we want to work with them, they’re going to work with us also. I think a consensual and intentional relationship is the best place to go. Especially when I was willing to sit with how much power was there, and my connection, the intention to see myself opened everything up for me. It did open up the community I was looking for.
Beautiful. This last year (2020) has been a powerful one for so many people. Can you share something that you’ve learned in the last year that’s been significant in your life?
I think my wider take away this year, witnessing the way that the pandemic changed the structure of our world, is that I have seen people get more intentional with their communication. That’s been really profound, to witness the way that people are coming together and allowing themselves to be more vulnerable. I think we’ve been forced into some vulnerability, not having access to each other as closely. For me, it’s been really powerful to witness people come together, and groups form over the internet. I’m watching people share things about their life that seem more heart centered. People seem like they’re being more honest about their grief and their longing and I think that’s really beautiful to see.
In my own life, I became a parent. That has been the clearest mirror I’ve ever seen myself in! It’s also opened this whole world to me of connecting with other parents, and the chaos of trying to organize your life for yourself and your child. That’s been humbling.
I remember those days! That circle of impact gets bigger and bigger as they get older.
At EAA we are passionate about issues of self worth and self acceptance. It seems like most of us struggle with these. Can you tell us why it’s such an important issue in the work that you’re doing with your clients?
The reason that I have centered my work on people being able to develop a relationship with accepting themselves and acknowledging their wholeness, is because I have seen through working with people that unworthiness is usually at the root of what they’re struggling with. Earlier in my practice I would get to a point in working with people that I would circle around the same issue over and over again, and it wouldn’t resolve. It could look so many different ways. Like, people would come and have relationships with repetitive patterns or they would seemingly always be on the edge of success and then self-sabotage or they would struggle with an addiction and quit that addiction and then pick up a new addiction. At the root of it, there was always some form of feeling like not belonging or not being good enough or some narrative that they had picked up somewhere that said “I will never be whole” or “I will never heal” or “nothing with ever work out for me.” I really feel like those narrative are very pervasive in our culture. I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t have to do some work on them, so far. That work is continuous, I’ve learned! Even though we heal one layer, there’s usually something else that comes up as we tend to whatever that narrative was. There’s another one that’s under the surface.
Like peeling the onion skin!
That leads me into the question to ask you about how your practice works. Walk us through, if somebody wants to have a consultation with you, how does that practice work?
The best way to get in contact with me is often through Instagram (@queenandcrow) or through my website (https://www.queenandcrow.com). The first time I connect with someone it’s usually a longer conversation, about an hour or hour and a half. Usually when people work with me they know exactly what they want to work on or they have an image or an idea of what they’re moving towards or experiencing. Sometimes we do body work, which is just me leading them through a meditation. Of course, everything happens through Zoom, so I’m not touching anyone’s body. I’m leading them through a meditation, and sometimes I’ll dose over the web, which works because flower essences are energetic medicine.
Someone will come to work with the plants, through their own knowing, in different ways. Some people will feel a sensation, other people will feel shifts in temperature, or some people will have memories or strong emotions surface for them, and that will give us a clue on where a narrative or a memory is living within their body. And we’ll address that.
The thing that’s been happening more recently in my sessions is that their departed loved ones will often show up. I usually will ask at the beginning of a session if someone’s comfortable [hearing from them]. If I do feel that their loved ones show up and have messages for them then I’ll share that. If they don’t, then I’ll acknowledge it in the blending of their essence, but I won’t bring it into the session.
Then I blend them an essence and hopefully we talk again in 2 weeks to a month. I usually find that it takes about 3 essences for people to really start shifting some of the narratives that might be making them feel stuck. After the first essence people really develop a deeper awareness of some of their narratives or emotions, and sometimes people feel more creative or more inspired, and sometimes people feel a lot of grief resurfacing that wants their attention.
That’s pretty common, isn’t it, with a homeopathic, to get into those layers and lift them up. There can be lots of emotional stuff that gets peeled away.
Yeah, and in clinical herbalism I was taught that flower essences were really subtle, and that they had less of an impact, and that just isn’t true for everyone. Some people will take a flower essence and call me and say “I’ve had a headache for 3 days straight and I feel nauseous! I thought this as a subtle medicine, what should I do?!” I say “Well, it’s’ not really subtle for everyone, aybe you want to put it on your pulse points, and not take it internally or maybe you just want to put it in your space and mist it. Or, maybe you’re comfortable with this [pain], and you want to work through it.”
You mentioned earlier about the Bach flower remedies. Tell us about the remedies that you’re using.
Sometimes I work with blends that are my own, but I don’t have a flower essence set myself that I work with all of the time. Often, I’m working with the blends of my teachers: David Dalton who owns Delta Gardens Essences, and Shane Case. I work with the essences of people that I’ve worked with, and that I know, and I’ve done my own healing with. Now I know enough people in the industry that I get to work with the essences of my really close friends. It feels like a whole other layer of bringing intention to the healing.
Yeah, intention and intimacy too. For those that wouldn’t know what a plant essence is, can you talk about how they are made and what they are?
I will start by saying that I really like flower essences because they are one of the most affordable forms of working with plants that there is, outside of just being in relationship with the plants outside your door. They’re the vibrational signature of a plant in water. It’s really sweet because you don’t actually have to pick a plant to make an essence of it. If someone wanted to work with an essence of a plant that’s endangered you wouldn’t have to pick that plant. You just place a bowl of water underneath the plant. Edward Bach would say that you have to make them with the morning dew. So, some of them are made really, really early in the morning.
[However,] you can make them around any time, or any astrological occurrence that you wanted. Typically, they’re made by placing a bowl of water, usually with the flowers in the water, for a period of 2-3 hours. You then remove the flowers and that’s what’s called a Mother Essence. The [stock bottle is the next dilution, and] is 50% a menstruum (typically brandy), and 50% spring water, with a few drops of that Mother Essence.
For the dosage bottle you take 20% brandy and then spring water, and a few drops of that mother essence stock. The dosage bottle is the smallest dilution. It goes Mother, stock bottle, dosage bottle. The dosage bottle is the one that I give to a client, and the stock bottle is one that I buy from my teachers that I make the dosage bottles with.
There are really formal ways of making flower essences, and then there are fun ways of making essences. You can also make an essence of an environment. Like when you travel and go somewhere you love, you can set out a bowl of water and put an intention in it and make an essence that way. It’s fun to make essences with people that you want healing with or that you’re in conflict with. Let that be an intention for your healing and deepening in connection or relationship. I made a flower essence of my wedding. Any situation that you want to make a medicine of you can make a flower essence of. You can be as picky and as formal as you want.
The traditional essences that are made, you don’t even touch the flowers, you use chopsticks or other tools. The community essences that I made, we all touch the flowers! Depending on who you talk to, they may say that that’s wise or not wise, but I like to think that the people who touch the medicine, if my desire is to be in connection with that person, then I want their medicine in the bowl. For my clients I’m not giving them medicine that I’ve touched, but for community medicine I think the idea that everyone can touch the medicine is a really sweet offering.
Nice, thank you. I’m really curious about some of the things you do or tools that you have both physical and metaphysical that you return to in your personal care and your spiritual practice on a daily or weekly basis?
The biggest one is probably just intention. Because it’s always available to me. One that I often open a session with is a meditation where you call your energy or your awareness into the present moment. You call it back from the past, and you inhale and exhale, and you’re trying to noticing where sensations land in your body. You call the energy into the present moment and you say “I’m going to notice where this energy lands in my body first.” You do it for the past, present and future. That’s a meditation that’s really quick for me and allows me to call myself back from all of the places that my thoughts might have me lingering.
Salt is also something I use a lot. Scrubbing myself down with salt in the shower. I don’t know who taught me this, but we do it here in Hawai’i also. I’ve been doing this since I was really young, so probably one of my teachers, like a family friend. When I traveled, if I wanted to make a safe space for myself, one way to do it was to put salt around the perimeter of wherever I was staying. So that’s something that I do. I’m someone that really struggles to stay in new places and not feel all weirded out by the energy in spaces, so that helps me a lot.
The other thing is that I just practice talking to the plants around me. The ones that I see I’ll just say hi to them and keep acknowledging them. It’s a way for me to build relationship with wherever I am and wherever I find myself. It makes me feel connected to the land in the space where I am, even if I don’t feel connected to the people. Those are my go-to. Everything that I used to do before parenthood now feels excessive.
Well, you’re so beautiful! Your skin is glowing, and you look centered.
I appreciate that! Sunday has that effect on me.
You mentioned at some point that your work is serious, but also playful. Can you talk to us about how that manifests?
I just feel like my work can get really dark really quickly, only because I’m seeing people in their shadowy shit, and the stuff that they feel like they can’t mention, or that they feel like they haven’t been able to speak out loud for themselves. There’s often tears, and this space where people come really willing to be vulnerable. I’ve realized that I cannot hold those spaces without connecting to my own goofiness. Otherwise, my work just feels really heavy. The playfulness is how I get to be my authentic self in those spaces. As intense as I can be, I’m also a really big goof! That intensity can be deep and dark and heavy, but there’s also the opposite side where people will cry and cry and cry and then just burst out laughing or remember a sweet memory.
Reminds me of the fool card in the tarot deck. Walking that razor’s edge between pain and sorrow and pleasure and peace and lightness.
That’s a beautiful description of it. I somehow think that grief and goofiness are really connected in the same way that pleasure and pain can sometimes be very connected.
In our work with EAA we use hydrosols, which are plant waters of a different kind. It’s interesting to think about how, in skincare, you’re putting that plant essence into something that you’re smelling and touching and literally making part of you as your skin eats it. There’s opportunity there to have a similar meditation, if you set an intention as you’re cleansing, to set intention as you care for yourself.
I’ve found that people who are having trouble remembering to take their essence on a regular basis, if they can add it to their skincare, they usually will take it. Often times the people who enjoy it better as a topical use, for them it seems like it’s another way to celebrate being in relationship to their body. I’ve seen some really sweet applications of people bringing that intentionality to skincare. In terms of working with people who have any sort of body-based narrative that they’re working with or trying to affirm “I’m in a body, I’m learning to love my body,” [that topical skincare application] is really powerful.