And, yes, of course it can talk, says healer Juliet Diaz, who’s been asking her houseplants for advice all her life. She tells Hanna Woodside why chatting to plants can be better than therapy.
Juliet Diaz can talk to plants. A cactus once warned her off a man during a date – ‘It told me I had better things to do than listen to him talk about his ex,’ she reveals. A cat’s claw is on hand for pep talks: ‘It loves to tell me tales of reaching for the stars – “Grow my dear, grow!” it says.’ And a particularly chatty swiss cheese plant has to be shushed when Juliet’s too busy. ‘She nags me for attention almost like a little sister. My family often hears me yell, “Not now, please!”’
In the same way you might catch up with a neighbour or workmate, Juliet says she can literally hear her plants talk – and of course, she replies. ‘I speak to them like my friends,’ says Juliet, 39, a mother of two from New Jersey in the US. ‘It’s a full-on conversation. Chickweed is like my life coach – she tells me how important it is to see all the different sides in a situation. I talk to my sago palm every day; her wisdom and perspective on life can shift the way I think about something. And my eucalyptus is always chiming in with advice when I’m having trouble making a decision and she whispers when I need to clean my home.’ Some plants are more cryptic. ‘Elderberry can be a little hard to interpret – she’s very poetic and often speaks in rhyme.’
Juliet describes herself as a healer, seer and plant witch ‘who works with nature to ground, balance and shift’ her life. Being a true plant lover isn’t about participating in a social media #plantfluencer competition, stresses Juliet, whose home is filled with 400 plants (she has a schedule to keep up with watering). ‘Plants are more than just decoration: they are the natural healers of the world.’
An indigenous Taíno (the native people of the Caribbean), Juliet’s parents came to the US from Cuba in the early 1980s. A deep connection with the natural world is at the heart of her culture. She says she is descended from a long line of witch healers from Cuba – who also had the gift of being able to talk to plants – and draws on Taíno traditions in her work. ‘Our lifestyle revolves around plants and their medicinal and magical properties,’ she explains. ‘As a child, I would be sent out to forage for plants by my mum; she’d make soups, teas, healing balms and tonics. When there was a special ritual, she used them as offerings to our gods and goddesses.’
And this appreciation of plants is apparent in her own family: Juliet says her 12- and 15-year-old sons, who have always been surrounded by greenery, ‘love plants just as much as I do,’ while her partner of 11 years, who was born in Puerto Rico, ‘grew up in nature, tending to animals and plants.’
‘Yes, they make a face when I come home with more plants, but it’s one of the things we all come together to do that we love.’
Juliet remembers the first time she heard a plant’s voice; she was six when she says she heard the anguished screams of a plant being yanked from its pot. Powerful experiences with plants are rooted in her childhood in New Jersey, which was blighted by trauma and abuse. ‘We were very poor. My dad got involved in drug trafficking and was murdered when I was five. It was incredibly traumatic. We lived in project housing in the ghetto. The building I lived in was dangerous and I would escape whenever I could. It was surrounded by a cemetery, and I would lie there among the grass and the flowers and chat with them like friends. They saved me.’
One night, she escaped the misery at home, climbed a willow tree in the sanctuary of the cemetery and fell asleep on its branches. ‘That whole night I didn’t feel cold, even though it was December. I wasn’t scared. The tree cuddled me in this aura of love; it took away all the pain I was feeling. I felt cared for, protected.’
Wanting to share the power of plants with the world, as an adult Juliet gained a master’s degree in herbal medicine. Combined with her other healing and spiritual practices, she offers sessions with clients hoping to improve their lives – whether connecting them to their spirit guides or helping them manifest dreams.
Now Juliet is sharing her wisdom in a new book, Plant Witchery, detailing 200 species of plants (the majority of which you can grow indoors, so you don’t need to have a garden). As well as describing the unique healing properties they each possess, she explains how we can connect with them to improve our lives, drawing on ancestral Taíno knowledge passed down to her as a bohuiti (healer) and her extensive studies in herbal medicine.
Juliet is adamant that ‘100 per cent anyone’ can begin to communicate with plants, so they become helpful companions in your life. ‘It works on different levels,’ she says. ‘Some people don’t have conversations; they describe it as a feeling, an energy that guides them.’
If you can set aside your cynicism and want to bond with your plants, start by meditating with them or sitting with them. ‘If you’re doing yoga, have them next to you,’ advises Juliet. ‘When you’re eating dinner, chat to them about your day. I often read aloud to mine, especially if there’s a passage I think they’ll find funny.’ Introduce yourself to your plants – and name them. Yes, really. ‘Make it a ritual to speak to the plant before you tend to it. Say hello. Hold the plant, close your eyes and ask it what it needs.’ Watering your plants ‘with intention’ is important, too: hold the watering can, calm yourself, take a few deep breaths, think about happy, loving moments – then water your plants with those ‘positive vibes’.
‘The more you implement these techniques, the stronger the connection gets. It might take a whole year to connect with a single plant, but the language will start to create itself in your mind; you will start to understand them,’ promises Juliet.
It might seem like an awful lot of effort – or a bit too tree-huggy (literally) – but Juliet insists it is a vital element of cultivating self-care. ‘The amount of care you give a plant is the amount of care you’re giving to yourself. If you don’t have time to care for yourself, you don’t have time to care for anything else.’
If you’ve not had much luck keeping plants in the past, Juliet says not to worry. ‘Start with one plant. Schedule time to care for it. If it starts to die, don’t panic, just pay attention to it: feel its soil, its leaves. Each plant has its own personality. Two of the same species won’t need exactly the same thing. One might like more sunlight, one might want dimmer light. One might like to drink more, one might not be so thirsty. They have their own preferences.’
Ivies and pothos are good starter plants, says Juliet. ‘They’re easy to take care of and they grow down in vines. The longer the vines the more you’ve connected with it. It’s a nice symbol of how well you are bonding.’
Once you develop a meaningful relationship with plants, says Juliet, ‘it creates this beautiful evolution within yourself. If a plant isn’t thriving, we don’t think it is “broken”– we adjust its environment. It’s the same with us: if we’re struggling, we’re not broken – we need to change something in our lives.’
Juliet believes we can learn from how plants survive hard times, too. ‘They adapt to their circumstances – think about a flower growing through a crack in the pavement,’ she says. ‘Plants don’t set limits for themselves. They want to grow as much as possible. It doesn’t ever think: “I’ve grown enough, I’ll stop now.” It unapologetically continues to flourish and thrive, as we all should.’
How plants can help you
The pick-me-ups Juliet swears by.
- If you’re feeling frazzled and need to reset, try a footbath with petals of morning glory, which is known for its energy-clearing properties.
- If you’re trying to manifest something in your life, a fiddle-leaf fig can help, its speciality being abundance.
- If you need a little luck with something, write it on a piece of paper and place it in the soil above the fiddle-leaf fig’s roots for three days.
- If you want to protect your home from intruders, put cacti (plants of protection) in the four corners of your house.
- If you are struggling with anxiety, surround yourself with plants such as ivy, pothos, eyebright, rose and any kind of palm, which in Taíno culture have healing properties. These are said to create an environment around you that takes away worry and fear and in turn creates a healing energy.
Turn to team green
Looking for love, needing downtime or feeling stressed? There’s a plant to help with anything…
Air plants (relaxation)
Hang these around your house to create a beautiful, carefree flow. Place them near your workspace when you’re feeling stuck; it will open up your imagination and release tension.
Air plant, £5.99, waitrosegarden.com
Aloe vera (protection)
Plant them around the entrance to your home, or hang them dried above your door to keep your household safe. Aloe vera also offers protection to those who are accident-prone.
Aloe vera, £14, thestem.co.uk
Wearing jasmine will draw true love to you. Placing it in the bedroom will lift romantic energies and attract heartfelt conversations.
Madagascar jasmine, £24.99, waitrosegarden.com
Sit beneath an oak tree in a park or wood and meditate (or simply rest in silence) to tap into their ancestral wisdom. Keep one question in your mind, repeating it over and over – and await your answer.
Oak tree, £32.99, protecttheplanet.co.uk
Place an intention – an idea about something you wish to make happen in your life – in a single pine needle and burn it with a green candle to release your intention into the universe.
Norfolk island pine, £20, patchplants.com
Spider plant (positivity)
This acts as an energetic filter, like a dream catcher for negativity. Keep one in each room of your house to create an energetic shield that captures any negative energies that have slipped past.
Spider plant, £5.45, homebase.co.uk
Cleanse yourself by tying a few yucca leaves together at their base, then sweep over your body from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. If you’re anxious, cut a piece of yucca root and rub it over your belly to draw out excess energy.
Yucca, £19, diy.com