THIS is my medicine.

As you’ve probably already guessed from this website, I love plants.  Medicinal plants have been a long time focus and calling although all plants are healing in their own wonderful and varied ways.  This blog post has been a very long time coming.  Its first stirrings began many years ago and came again while harvesting St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers in the bright, warm, embracing sun in the summer of 2015.  It had been a trying year full of unexpected changes as my mother had died suddenly in the very early and sleepy spring.  Anyone that has experienced grief especially the raw grief that comes on abruptly unexpectedly leaving you breathless in an instant as all the oxygen in your universe is viciously sucked away in one soundless swoosh.  My experience certainly didn’t pale in that regard.  It left me feeling as tiny as a fish flopping around outside of its safe, natural borders into unchartered, foreign, and wholly un-supporting terrain.
 
Spending time with the plants was the only thing I wanted to do.  The only thing that still made sense to me and brought connection.  In that unfamiliar rawness being around most human beings was too painful.  One of most influential people that would ever be in my life was gone.  Blink. Gone.  The burden of needing to act “normal” was too great.  Conversely, the plants had no such expectations of me.  They welcomed me, open arms, grief and all and never wanted me to be anything other than what I was. In case this is new to you, plants have consciousness, they have spirits.  They have presence and in that presence is a profound healing beyond words and at times beyond comprehension or intellectual explanation. This level of healing needs no explanation. It only needs to be experienced, trusted, and honored for what it is.  What is needed is awareness and the willingness to learn a new language.  What is needed is to be open to the plant’s energy and consciousness and to how it is speaking to you and then to embrace and hold that experience close to your heart.
 
I found myself spending much time walking the Medicine Wheel, meditating with the plants, singing to the plants, playing my flute, and harvesting the plant’s gifts.  I especially found myself spending much time with St. John’s Wort, or St. Joan’s Wort as she prefers.  On this particular day I was harvesting St. Joan’s Wort in the baking Sun to be made into a healing oil.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  She has been one of my plant allies for several decades.  Early on She drove away “seasonal blues” and calmed sciatica pain and sore muscles.  Over the years I’ve had the privilege of sharing her medicine with so many people through classes and remedies from her bright yellow flowers that turn red when bruised or steeped in oil.  Making St. Joan’s Wort oil and salve has become a catharsis for me, a rite of passage, and just one of the ways that I keep reconnecting with Her power year after year.  The year my mother passed I found myself drawn to her over and over again.  A strong drawing not out of balance but a gentle knowing that She was there waiting for me daily. I would seek Her out making flower essences, oils, solar infusions, and many times solely for the purpose of being in Her energy. This particular afternoon had been one of those moments that should be frozen for eternity the connection is so complete and profound that a timelessness drifts over like a summer breeze a completely welcoming surprise.  As I bent to examine the bursting yellow blossoms it suddenly occurred to me that I was healing.  I was working through the feelings surrounding my mother’s death one day at a time with the help of this absolutely amazing and powerful plant. I’d noticed over the months, that my energy and vitality were returning.  At times I was even laughing and the deep and heavy sadness was lifting.  In this beautiful, profound “ah ha” moment that burned deep in my soul I realized on an even deeper level that THIS is my medicine.  This.  All of it.  Being in relationship with the plants, connecting, being on the Earth, harvesting in the way my ancestors have done for thousands of years.  Simple, beautiful, and profound.  This.  This was my “medicine”, my power.  I’ve been teaching about medicinal herbs and doing healing work for well over 30 years and yet there is always room to stretch farther, to go deeper. 
 
Even now I can feel Her roots working their way into my soul, into my Being.  And I smile.  This is the nature of the sacred medicine plants when we approach them with love, with gratitude, devoid of ego, and with an open heart. Bringing our whole selves with us; broken, bruised, and wounded.  Or happy and joyous.  It doesn’t matter.  They react and relate to the authentic.  To the real.  To the childlike.  To humility.  To me it requires a complete giving over of the self and allowing oneself to be led.  To be guided.  Allowing yourself to “not know”.  Letting it be okay to not have all the answers.  That is where we become teachable.  It is the place where the everyday and the sacred collide stretching on into eternity.  This is where we embrace the Divine and in doing so we touch the sacred within ourselves.  This is the place where we truly connect with the sacred medicine plants.
 
On this Summer Solstice Day, the Day of St. Joan’s Wort, I head out again to find Her. Seeking out her wisdom, her strength, and her medicine. Honoring her in whatever small ways I can to give back for all the incredible gifts she has given me, gifts I know I will never be able to repay.
 
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A Wise Elder

Every August I watch in anticipation for the deep purple berries of the Elder Tree. It’s technically not a tree at all but a tall growing shrub reaching heights of up to 12 feet. My obsession begins early in the summer at the end of June when the effusive flush of the fragrant inflorescence form into panicles of creamy white. Remarkably beautiful are the flowers that I can’t bear to harvest them plus I love the berries too much! These white blossoms have a special magic and medicine all their own, often being made into flavorful concoctions such as Elder Wine or Elder Flower Cordials, or into foods such as Elder Flower Fritters. Their medicinal uses are impressive as well for they are considered diaphoretic and carminative in nature and useful as teas to help resolve colds and flus quickly often reducing their duration by several days. Recent studies also suggest that Elder flowers have anticancer benefits and may help to support eye health.

The berries are a gift from the Earth when I can get to them before the deer and the birds but of course I always make sure to leave enough for my wild friends. Infinitely delicious are the berries, that they have been used in cooking pies and jams for centuries not to mention Elderberry Wine and jelly! Elderberries have impressive antiviral properties that are equal to or greater than modern vaccines without the side effects. Elderberry Syrup can be taken throughout flu and cold season as a highly effective preventative remedy and it’s delicious too! I take the Elderberry Syrup all season as it keeps me from getting ill and I feel great from all the antioxidants contained within. High in anthocyanins, Elderberries are a wonderful tonic for the heart and for supporting healthy eyes as do many of the darker berries such as Bilberry which were used in WWII by British fighter pilots to improve their night vision. Likewise, Elderberries may provide support for those with type 2 diabetes.

The native variety of the Elder is Sambucus canadensis, the bark of which was used by the Mahican tribe as an emetic and laxative. The flowers were used to sweat out a fever, as a blood purifier, and for skin related issues, the berries as a tonic. The Iroquois used the bark to relieve headaches. The naturalized European variety of Elder is Sambucus nigra which is very similar in appearance to the S.canadensis and is used interchangeably.

Much folklore exists around the Wise Elder Tree and in ancient times it was considered bad luck to cut one down but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Elder is ruled by the planet Venus and the Element water and in fact, you can often find them growing near a stream. Given Elder’s close association with water, it would seem it’s no accident that dowsing rods were often made of her branches. She has been used for divination, protection, prosperity, and contacting elementals. It is said that by sitting in meditation under this revered herb, you can connect with her Spirit who will answer a question for you.

Although all parts of the plant have been used medicinally, the leaves and stems are generally considered toxic and it is not advised to take these parts internally although historically they were used as a strong laxative and to soothe mucous membranes. The uncooked berries can cause stomach distress and nausea for some people so be sure to either take in a tea or other cooked or processed formulation.

Click here to purchase a bottle of Green Girl’s Awesome Elderberry Syrup!

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