Airmed and the Origin of Healing Plant Knowledge

And how we lost it..

By Meg McKenzie, CMUK young associate

I created this animation and painting as part of a project with Grow Wild, a youth programme by Kew Gardens. They offered grants to a selection of young artists to create work about the UK’s native plants and fungi. We each received a grant of £500 to be spent on equipment and materials, as well as the opportunity to exhibit our work together. This exhibition will be at Saint Mary Axe in London opening on the 16th September 2021.

I was inspired by the Celtic myth of Airmed, the goddess of healing and herbalism. Grieving from her brother’s murder by their jealous father, her tears watered the earth and all the healing herbs of the world grew where he lay. There were 365 herbs, one for each of his sinews and joints.

As Airmed collected them, they spoke to teach her of their healing powers. She laid them out on her cloak to match the places of the body they can heal. When her father saw her work, he angrily flung the cloak, scattering the herbs. Because of this, no human knows all the secrets of healing herbs. 

From this tale I have created a short hand-painted animated film (443 individual painted cells). This is a very time-consuming process, using my own stencils and a ruler; it can take up to 10 hours to produce just one second of film.

Alongside, I’ve created an interpreted oil painting of a figurine of flora, laid out from the UK’s native plants and fungi corresponding to their most effective healing body part. However, instead of 365 plants, I have depicted a select amount, reduced to accommodate for the lessened knowledge we have about the magic abilities of the green that surrounds us.

From planning my painting, the process led me to investigate the plants, which turned out to be partly what one might describe as ‘weeds’ that surround me everyday, even in the city. I have noticed more than ever the little magical tufts of dandelion growing between pavement cracks and the resilient roadside nettles, and how disregarded these medicines from the Earth have become.

I would love to create a more in-depth version of my painting, with recipes and precautions so it can become a genuine useful guide for plant treatment. Perhaps expanding to incorporate non native plants and fungi that can be found in the UK.

Climate Museum UK, of which I am an associate, was the supporting organisation of this project. Through this I was able to share my process and learning about plants with other young people including Goldsmiths students and on my instagram.

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