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some notes on recovery and a ramble about the wisdom of plants

My husband does everything for me. He feeds me, feeds the animals, goes shopping, cleans the house, cleans me! and has generally taken over all the big and small things of daily living. And, he doesn’t complain or show a whiff of irritation. I have failed to catch even a small sigh of regret. I thank him and my gratitude is laden with guilt and angst with a tinge of embarrassment coloring the edges.

Yesterday, I told him he should be proud of himself. He said, “There’s nothing to be proud about. I’m just doing what should be done. I’m just doing what is right.” I said, “I know others who would not be so patient and giving,” and my amazing husband said, “Then they should be ashamed.”

I do not know what I did to deserve such a person in my life, but I humbly thank the universe for my good fortune.

~~~

Bodies are amazing things. I’m so glad I have one that works so well. Granted, I feed it real food, but I’m not obsessive about it. I’ve done terrible things to it over the decades, especially back in the 60s and 70s…ok, I was pretty terrible to it in the 80s too, but not as wantonly as in the two decades previous. I got serious about yoga and started feeding it better in the 90s and with the turn of the century, I gained some wisdom and found my way back to a more earth-centered style of living. My studies of how to live with more kindness in my heart and a lighter foot on the earth has strengthened me in ways that I’m just now beginning to understand.

~~~

Two or three years ago I began studying herbalism in earnest. I chose to study in a tradition that spoke to me of the ancients, of old earth magic and lore, the Wise Woman Tradition. This gives me a real and deep connection with nature; a connection that is intimate and personal. I look at what is growing in my yard, in the woods close by, and choose the plants that have come to me of their own volition. I encourage these weeds of opportunity: dandelion, plantain, feverfew, St. John’s Wort, yellow dock, chicory and other “lawn weeds.” I plant perennial and annual herbs and flowers and vegetables that support me, my family and the birds and other critters who live here. I make my medicines from these humble but powerful allies.

~~~Poke~~~

There’s a deep connection with the earth that comes from working with plants. I’m not just talking about gardening, I’m talking about working one on one with a plant on it’s own terms. Two years ago, I found my yard was surrounded on 3 sides by Poke weed (Phytolacca americana). Poke is an amazing perennial plant that teaches love and respect. When working with Poke, you work on her terms, not yours as she’s a powerful ally, capable of great support or, when misused, great discomfort. You learn that there’s a time for nourishment and a time for strong medicine. When a plant surrounds you on 3 sides, it’s offering you protection, but it all hinges on your ability to pay attention and not take anything for granted.

When Poke is just breaking ground in the spring, you can eat the new shoots, but you must prepare it carefully. Poke will give you strength as a spring tonic food as long as you pick it at the right time (6-8″ tall with no purple in the stalks), and cook it in at least 2 changes of water to wash away the toxins. Poke is eaten this way by wise (poor) people in the southern states.

Poke will grow quickly to a great size, but she must be left alone, as all her parts are poisonous. In summer, she puts forth delicate white blossoms and then later her plump, purple berries will hang heavily in loose clusters. Poke berries are an important food for birds and a traditional remedy for arthritis. One or two berries a day is the usual dose, either fresh or dried, but take care! The berries have very small black seeds that are highly toxic, so DO NOT CHEW. You can suck them and spit out the small seeds or just swallow them whole and allow the seeds to pass naturally (not to worry, they are very hard and will not dissolve). The berries make a lovely purple dye that can be used as a substitute for ink. Dried Poke berries are gorgeous things. Deeply purple, they shrivel up uniformly to form a flat, fluted button. I carry dried Poke berries with me wherever I go for protection.

The year I experimented with Poke, I ate her berries daily. I started with one, then two and worked my way up to five berries a day. At this point, I realized that the spirit of Poke resides just outside the mundane world. Some interpret this as a spacey feeling, but it seems that Poke suggests a more meditative plane than a spacey one. I had to remind myself that I was walking or driving or working, even as I went about my day, amazingly unimpaired. I found myself in the place of witness, detached from events even as I participated. Poke is a bit of a yogi.

In fall, after Poke dies back, her strength goes to her roots. Before this die-back, Poke root is much too toxic to handle, but taken at the right time, from a plant at least three years old, her roots are highly medicinal. One to three drops of Poke tincture will kick your immune system into overdrive. Worried about SARS, the mythical “bird flu,” or influenza? Poke alone or mixed with Echinacea is a powerful medicine. An infused oil of the roots will dissolve breast cysts and tumors. Poke is being investigated as a potential treatment for cancer and AIDS. Poke has an affinity for the lymphatic system. When I had a systemic reaction to a cortisone shot for back pain, I used Poke to help get my jammed up lymph nodes to drain. After only one dose of 3 drops, everything that was blocked began to move.

Last year both Feverfew and St. John’s Wort grabbed my attention when they moved into my yard. My experiences haven’t been as deep with them as it was with Poke, but that was my failure.

I wonder who will grab my attention this year? Hopefully, I won’t let opportunity pass me by.

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