Part of the illustrating process was to read what Clary wrote....
“There were rebels, Nicholas Culpeper, in the seventeenth century, translated some of the work begun by the nuns and monks in Latin, into English in attempts to make a system of healing more accessible to the masses. The establishment of his time when it came to local plants didn’t include common names, or descriptions, they were interested in expensive exotic species mixed into formulae. Culpeper wrote of plants growing in folks gardens used as simples. He used astrology in a system that could be applied to describe and treat disease. He was treated as a quack by the establishment, but his herbal is still in print today.”
Always it becomes about control, Sam thought. Egads, I’m thinking like Clary now. This was no abstract theory though, people’s lives have, and are, being effected by what information they receive. Whereas once it was a lack of information, now it’s a seething mass of information. How to make sense of it?
The source of information can affect its quality. Locating people who encouraged the simple use of plants, or gave of how to make your own medicines and herb related produce, tended to be more trustworthy than if someone was trying to sell you something. Clary had a pet theory about the more processed the product, the more ingredients it had, particularly those that are numbers, the less you could trust it. She felt the same way about food...
“Take capsules of powdered herbs, they go right through ones system, better off to break the capsule open and sprinkle it on your breakfast, and who knows what’s in a powder? Could be graveyard dirt for all you can tell looking at one of those pill clones. Pills, everyone wants to pop a pill, we’ve been conditioned into thinking they’re some pinnacle of healthcare, not that they don’t have a place, but don’t try to sell me herbs pretending to be pharmaceuticals. And supplements! Who can afford them? Not the starving masses!”
“What does most of the worlds population survive on? Grains! Grains with a little protein, meat, beans or legumes.
Unfortunately large companies have ‘encouraged’ people to give up growing local species and buy their seed. Seed that’s bred reliant on pesticides and fertilisers, sold by who? The same companies! Thank god for the seed savers movement, sensible people, have got folks growing local species from their own seed. The plants do better and so do the people. Don’t even get me started on palm oil! ”
Sam remembered something she’d read earlier from their herbal to be...
“Beneath our very noses are growing some fine foods, and medicines, that are easily overlooked until you get to know them, then it’s likely you’ll be inviting them to dinner more often. Wild herbs and vegetables are packed full of nutrients that more cultivated vegetables have to a lesser degree. But just because they’re abundant please don’t be uprooting an entire patch. Some folks believe you should walk past the first seven plants seen to leave enough for the next seven generations.
There’s usually a 'grandmother' plant, or deva, who oversees a patch and who you can address explaining your needs to harvest and asking permission. You could leave an offering of food, or water, or do some caretaking such as to trim dead branches, spread some seed or reduce the numbers of a particularly dominating or invasive species that will out compete your ally.
A broad rule of thumb is that plants should be gathered when at the peak of their growth, generally spring and summer. The best times are early in the morning, after evaporation of the dew, as dew wet herbs will become mouldy on drying. The same also applies to rain wet herbs. Also, when collecting for drying its best to take plants at the time of the month when the moon is waning, in the early days of this time as there is less sap in the stems so that the herbs dry more easily.
Only harvest a third of any patch. This could mean a third of the amount growing there, or a third off each plant.”
Clary had a few guidelines up her sleeve.....of course...
Avoid harvesting endangered, threatened or sensitive species, especially native plants have limited corridors surrounded by human development.
Harvest plants in places you are familiar with, so you can observe and learn how your practices affect them over time.
Check if the plant you wish to harvest is slow growing like sarsparilla (Smilax australis). I was taught to use the young leaves only, but also that it’s very slow growing, so not to harvest too many baby leaves from one plant. Learn the growth patterns and cycles of plants you wish to harvest.
If you’re harvesting the root of a plant, will a small part replanted take shoot and continue to grow? If so replant as you go.
Harvest only an amount that you can in reality process.
Gather from as pollution free area as possible, avoiding agricultural or other pesticide spray zones. The same goes for heavily trafficked roadsides and parks where dogs are walked regularly.
“ If you’re coming to this with an attitude of respect, you’ll likely find when you ask a plant "would you like to be in some medicine I’m making?, you’ll hear "yes! Me, me, over here!" ”
“Everybody has a different kind of constitution at the core of their physical being, with tendencies to certain conditions. Such similarities in groups of folks have been at times, and in different schools of thought, been associated with a certain element, humour or personality type, in an attempt to create a picture of where someone’s at, and how to best treat and support them. To identify the particular patterns, tendencies, and signs, from their body and then work out which herbs will respond best with that ‘picture’, or have in other cases. But ultimately, it’s our own bodies who can give the clearest messages about where we need strengthening.
For some folks it’s their digestion, when there’s stress it plays up, tightening or loosening their bowels. Allergies or food sensitivities may be agitated, or increase. Stress creates overload, whatever the system, and it’s personally designed for each one of us. One person’s version of stress might be their landlord threatening them with eviction, while someone else might get stressed about what dress to wear to that do next week. We need a certain level of stress in our lives to function, stimulation, but give us too much and our systems respond with a reminder of it.
Have some faith in the wisdom within. It can guide you to an ally in healing, be that person, plant, animal, rock or locale....”
Sam wondered how she had ever lived differently as she dived into the deep pool surrounded by water smoothed rocks, sanded back to a fine touch by eons of its motion on and around them. She opened her eyes underwater, that special light and the way if you looked up the sky was like a great circle above, fish eye lenses they called cameras that did that, I could use that imagery for one of the water plants she observed.
She’d been working on a drawing with no luck, trying to put an image to some of her visions, she’d been drawing Clary’s hanging herbs to overlay onto a depiction of the Cailleach’s cottage with its trance inducing fire. The last time she’d journeyed back there she was gone, replaced by a young sprite of a thing surrounded by an abundance of spring flowers. It had come as a shock, what was this woman doing in Cailleachs home? Sam had been defensive she was looking forward to sitting with her wise woman friend, but instead Brigid had greeted her.
“Happens every year” Clary had explained patiently, the Cailleach is said either to turn to stone come Imbolc, battle with, or become Brigid in a cyclical metamorphosis. “Don’t underestimate her skills though... a fine inspiration for poetry, blacksmiths, occult and healing arts it’s said. Very well respected arts all, in their time and place...”
Sam surfaced from her dive and clung like a freshwater mermaid to her favourate rock. Water has such an ability to clear stuff she thought, hoping it would clear her painters block. Perhaps I’m a damp kind of person, cool damp and that’s why I love the river so much, especially in the heat, like Clary’s hemlock. It’s homey, every now and then I just need submerging. Perhaps I’d be a mint or a cress if I was a plant? A water chestnut, or a lotus, depending which country I was growing in....
“Ask which plant is your ally at this time, put it out there, and then just open to information. Browse books with pictures of herbs, coffee table numbers, get out and about and see which plants catch your eye. Identify them if they’re unfamiliar if you know them have you ingested them before, ingestion being used in the broadest sense of the word here.”
Cailleach would be a slow growing tree, Sam thought, Brigid a flowering herb.
Perhaps herbs can be matched to people after all. A totemic symbol of who they are, what they’re about. A particular plant, suitable by its nature, to being present as an ally. It would be interesting to see if a person’s self selected plant related to the symptoms that appear for them. A deck of cards would be great for that, to choose your own medicine intuitively. It would be an interesting way to gather information, and then compare it to what’s already recorded and known. Following in my mother’s footsteps, ancestral deck for her, green deck for me...
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