Archive for November, 2009

The snow level has fallen and the mountains, now colored black and white, threaten to begin blanketing the river valley with the same frozen rain that will cover them through the winter and into summer. Smoke from the moxa Ellen made wafts out of the bamboo box it burns in and the room is doused in the earthy smell of Artemisia. The smoke drifts through the air and I sence it has latched ahold of my spirit and carried it with it. Bundles of dried Pearly Everlasting, Lavender, Pink Hardhack and Goldenrod hang from a solid wood beam and serve as reminders of summers flourish. The grasses outside remain green and tendrils of Usnea hang from tree branches while the staunch Cedars wave their feathery arms in the cold wind.

Pacific Mugwort ~ Artemisia suksdorfii

Plants are full of medicine, medicine of the mundane and medicine of the surreal. They evoke their healing powers in ways both physical and ethereal. They are our co-inhabitants of this planet, our green ancestors who have sprouted from this earth from times well before their mobile offspring. Their existence is a spiritualists dream, organisms that consume nothing more than light, rooted in place, presence must not be a practice but a compelled state of existance.I come to the plants for healing, they heal the body and do so with intelligence that begs the existence of a god. I come to the plants for more healing, they heal the spirit with undue compassion the likes of which a buddhist could only strive for.

Red Cedar ~ Callitropsis nootkatensis

The magic of this healing is twofold, much time is spent speaking to the physical healing aspects of the plant, but I experience so much of the work in mere communion. A barefoot walk to the river brings my body in direct contact with plantain, chickweed, grasses, dandelion and fallen pine needles. A glance out the window frames a world of varied, green giant trees. An evening meal is comprised roots and leaves and flowers. All of this is plant medicine.

Walking fern ~ Polypodium hesperium

The plants have the power to evoke experiences both unique and universal. The smell of the  Cottonwoods in a river valley rouses memories of smelling them before and affords me the ability to remain in the present and yet ply it with the experiences of the past allowing for an ever-growing sensation of life. Rather than life loosing its lustre after so many years of living, it gains the depth of feeling and love and color given only by many layers.  Think of memory and presence as co-celebrants, creating a life full of depth just as a painting is comprised of so many layers of paint but only one picture.

Goatsbeard ~ Aruncus dioicus

The plants also lend us a macro model for the micro-experiences of our life. They offer a model of strength and a promise of outcomes. In the winter, when much is dead or dormant, the plants that remain green remind us that the wheel will turn again. The spring is likened to the quickening, the first sence that life is growing among us, tender and new. Summer is a glorious and intense labor: long days and short nights, heat and power and production. And Fall is the ecstatic moment of sitting back and holding the harvest in our hands: a ripe tomato, a newborn baby and a deep full breath. It is followed again by the pause and the promise.

Devil's Club ~ Oplopanax horridus

In an abstract sence, healing the body begins first with healing the mind. The plants are an access point, a way to engage in the act of returning to wholeness. I suppose we are born whole and either through outside guidance or our own mis-informed acts we begin chipping away at that wholeness. Many of us later engage in a conscious path of healing or home-coming. We seek to return to the place we sence we once were. This, for me, is the true power of the plants, their physical acts of healing are merely door shows meant to entice us to buy a seat to the Big Top.  And once inside the path home is illuminated in green. Step outside, notice your ecosystem, let the green neighbors conjure images of what our lives could look like if we remembered ourselves as unbroken and again intact.

Old Man's Beard ~ Usnea longissima

Near my little home, a walk in the woods gleans views of trees strewn with long strands of Usnea longissima hanging from the giant rainforest trees like fairy-made tinsel. Usnea  is a powerful anti-microbial, assisting our bodies  in warding off unwanted intruders. But there is more. Walk through the woods and bring your awareness to the lichen: half plant, half fungus. Notice where it takes you, what thoughts it excites or inhibits. Sence your place on the planet in connection to it’s environment. Breath deep. Do this again with dandelion, with hawthorn, with beebalm, with whatever grows around you.
The plants evoke shifts in consciousness, they remind us to think of healing as wholeness and to notice that the planet is a web of healing. Everything we need is here and every living being, every mineral and every formation truly is our kin.  We are whole and we are not alone, never are we separated from other life. Let the plants remind us of the closed system we live in, let them tell us how our bodies feed the smallest life forms and make soil, which feeds the plants, which in turn feed us.  We all share air that has been breathed in and expelled by countless bodies, we drink water that has been ingested by inumerable entities and travelled through the skies and down mountains and rivers and again to the ocean. The basic elements that afford formation of our cells come from the rocks and the soil. Remember that the very air we breath is a creation of the plants.  It is the elixir they released and began summoning us out of the waters and into life. They are light eaters and without them we would not exist.  Look to the plants and let them remind us that we all live off light.


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This month our gathering fell on November 1st, the day after Halloween and the day before lunar Samhain.  Here, in the Pacific Northwest, there are still yellow leaves clinging to trees, the weather is cool but not yet cold, and the recent rains have made the water in the rivers run high and brown. Samhain is the time that many of the creatures in the Northern realms have died or have gone dormant.  Considered the Celtic New Year, it is a time to honor your ancestors, those that have been put to the ground and returned to the earth.  It seems fitting that Samhain be the time of root gathering as we pull from the dirt those things that have grown and flourished from the remains of the death and decay that has come before.

Devil's Club
Devil’s Club ~ Oplopanax horridus

This time of year the power of the plants are returned to the roots to be held until the time of regrowth in the spring.  Root medicines such as dandelion, burdock, Oregon grape and red root are at prime harvesting time.  If you are lucky enough to live in the area where the powerful plant of Devil’s club grows, sit with it , dig it, scrape it, and honor it.

We met this morning at Carrie’s super cute house.  Her sweet dog Lucy met each of us at the door.  I arrived with Coralie and Ann showed up soon after driving all the way from Quincy (a 4.5 hour drive.)  Shana joined us as well,  she took the same apprenticeship class that many of us did only a year before, however she has years of herbal and wild crafting knowledge, she is definitely an asset as well a pleasure to have join us. Carrie had also invited Michele, owner and proprietor of the really amazing and quaint  Living Earth Herbs  in downtown Bellingham.  If you’re in the area stop by and peruse her great selection of dried herbs, tea blends and herbal products. Although the forecast threatened rain we were graced with clear skies and fair weather as we loaded into two cars and began heading down Mt. Baker Hwy towards the Nooksack river.

Mount Baker from highway lookout

Devil’s club, or Oplopanax horridus is a sensitive plant, growing mostly in healthy forests with lots of moisture.  Its range is relatively small found in south-central Alaska to central Oregon, and sparsely east to the Rockies.  It is a relative of ginseng and is often referred to as Alaskan ginseng.   The very best information I have found on this plant is located on Ryan Drum’s site.  Considered and ethneogen,  a substance used in a religious, shamanic or spiritual contexts,  it is a well honored plant of the native people’s.  The plant is very delicate growing, so if you intend on harvesting it take only what you need in thick stands leaving the tall standing grandmothers to stay and propagate more plants.

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Gorgeous Root!
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Late Fall Devil’s Club

 Carrie and I had used our intuition to lead us to area we thought was appropriate for harvesting.  The place we chose was also a harvest site for cedar bark, one hopes that the bark stripped from these trees was done with reverence and respect.   We alighted from our cars and descended down a hill leading to the rivers edge where several stands of the magical plant stood.  Entering a grove of devil’s club is akin to entering a deep forest cathedral.  On this November day the leaves were yellow and appeared illuminated from the sunlight above.

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Carrie, Ann and Lucy

This plant begs reverence. A heady spirit mover, silence rolls over you as you near it in quiet recognition of the it potency. This plant does not so much bring presence as it does call us into the spinning corridor of the earth, a grounded entrance into the unseen.  It is a plant that demands healing and offers it to those already committed to doing what is necessary to achieve that health.

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Ann In The Woods
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Shana Gathering Roots

The five of us, accompanied by little Coralie in a bundle on my chest and Lucy, the sweet puppy,  approached the plant and sat in silence for few moments.  Carrie offered a strong tincture to sample and help connect us with the gorgeous if dangerous plant.  We carefully pulled a small portion of recumbent stem from beneath the forest duff and layer of moss and gently pealed portions of the root bark and cambium from the stem.  Each of us chewed a small piece and Michele offered to lead us in singing a hymn to the Cedar trees.  After pausing in silence for a space we separated and each found our own places to harvest.

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Michele With Her Harvest
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Carrie Processing Root Bark
After a time of digging through the forest detritus and avoiding, if possible, the millions of pokey spines,  we gathered in a circle and began processing and peeling the roots to use in tincture.  Carrie brought her deck of Medicine Women Cards (which seemed very appropriate 🙂 and we each pulled from the deck. 
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Kate, Shana and Coralie

 We engaged in sweet conversation while the river roared heavy with the recent rains behind us.  The strong smell of the plant permeated the air as the day slowly darkened beneath the canopy of cedars. We joined in song once more and offered thanks to plants and the forest and returned home.

December Gathering- Solstice potluck and percolated tincture making.

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