This weekend brought rain. Rain is a thing that sounds so common in the Pacific Northwest, but this summer, rain has been scarce. I woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof this morning and grey skies that hid the mountain outside. Many people find the rain intolerable but I rejoice in it. I took a deep breath, pulled the covers higher and settled into deep cuddles with my husband, cats and baby yet in my belly. I listened to pats of water on the tin roof and breathed deep the smell of damp leaves and earth that wafted in through the open window.
Eventually I was called to rise and all I could think to do was to to wander out in the weather. I began down a trail that leads through protected second growth forests and along the Sauk river. Much of my study of plants over the last several years has been merely observing them in their environment, and learning their different phases according to the time of year. Here is a brief overview of what I encountered today. The plants are beginning to brown, some have lost leaves, the berries have mostly been made and dropped or eaten. They are beginning to pull their energy back down into the ground offering a wonderful mirror of what happens even to us at the days shorten and the nights cool.
All of these plants in the lily family are little used in modern medicinal preparations. The natives of this area apparently used them for poultices, made a tea out of the roots of the Solomon’s seal for rheumatism and ate the berries on occasion, although they were mostly considered unpalatable. They may not have strong medicine but they fill the forest floor with green sheathes of feathery undergrowth and beautiful flowers in the early summer.
Devil’s Club~Oplopanax Horridus—I will say little on this plant as it is deserving of a full post. Its many uses will be discussed very soon, but as I was simply on a plant walk I will note only the effect this plant has on me, even in passing. One of my teachers told me that this plant was considered a spirit gateway plant. Although I have not been able to factually back up this claim, I can vouch for the swirling energy, the earthward pull, and the call to fling off my shoes and walk barefoot that is felt whenever I enter a grove of this plant. If you are so lucky to live in an area where this plant grows, as I do, take note. Seek her out, sit in silence and breath in the magic she so freely shares.
Methuselah’s Beard~Usnea longissima—This lichen has been widely used for its anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. A common remedy for bladder infections, it also is used in fighting colds and flus. It is another plant deserving of its own full post in the very near future as we gather and prepare it in October/November. One thing to note ,however, is that this plant is a strong indicator on the environmental state of a forest. It is very sensitive to air pollutants and therefore its range has been decreasing over the years. So happening on bunches of this lichen makes me happy knowing that my forests are healthy, at least for now.
As I wandered on, rain drops fell through the massive trees that towered overhead. Grandmother Cottonwoods, giant Douglas Firs and mossy Big Leaf Maples caught the better part of the rain.
In the underbrush the rain was merely a light sprinkle that misted my clothes and cooled my face. The forest detritus sparkled with the damp and slugs slowly rambled through their forest of small plants.
Palmate Coltsfoot~Peasites palmatus—Around the corner I encountered a patch of large late season coltsfoot. This is another plant that will be useful in the upcoming cold season for treatment of coughs. A simple decoction or infusion made from the dried leaves will help calm an intense cough but please note that it will not treat the infection.
Youth-on-Age~Tolmiea menziesii—This plant is a favorite of Suzanne’s, our favorite teacher and gathering member. Note the little leaves that grow off of the larger one. It is a member of the saxifrage family and a plant that has been commonly cultivated as a houseplant.
Indian Pipe~Monotropa uniflora—This plant is a treat to come across in the woods. Its other worldly appearance and stark whiteness beckons one down on hands and knees to better assess it. As this plant does not have any chlorophyll it connects to the roots of conifers byway of a fungus present in the ground. It is a delicate parasite that grows in bunches and pushes its way through the ground like a mushroom. It is used as strong nervine, though I must admit my medicinal familiarity with this plant is weak. I have found little information of modern use of this plant except for an article written by Ryan Drum, and I think I’ll let the expert do the talking in this case. It is nonetheless a beautiful forest find.
My path continued on towards the river, the Sauk was running heavy and grey with the newly introduced waters spilling in off the hills.
Nearby I passed where Clear Creek came around its last bend before joining with river.
I came across the half eaten body of a Golden Chantrelle, a sure sign that more will be on their way, especially with this newly fallen rain. The season of rapid growth and reproduction is nearly over, but a walk through the woods reminds me that the plants are never entirely dormant and each month brings new medicine, if only you look.