Birthings

From Pointing the Bone to Story Medicine

 

Because from out of the mouth, the heart speaks.

 

A really good storyteller casts a spell. Whether through the written or the oral word, the storyteller takes the listener captive and transports them to another place that transcends the reality they currently inhabit.  And the story can do this because of the words that the storyteller chooses to use and the exquisitely sensitive emotions and unmet needs that these carefully chosen words trigger and invoke. In indigenous cultures, the story might be known as ‘pointing the bone’, or we might say, it plants a seed. Someone particularly astute once said that when you change the meaning of a word, you change the culture. Words are symbols, imbued with well-trod meaning, which whether used as socio-political propaganda, or used in individual relationships can change the culture, or story, of that relationship. It changes trajectories and affects outcomes. And I could wax lyrical about how religion has done this, and how politicians do this, and how the gazillionaire puppetmasters who really rule the world do this – and have you noticed how it starts as a subtle tweak, here or there? Changing the meaning of words like Love, and God, and Choice, and Privilege. (No? Maybe that’s just me.) But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the words that we as individuals choose to use and how they ripple through other people’s lives. In this regard, we are all storytellers. But where does the story we tell come from? And what is its purpose?

 

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue

Guards his life from distresses” (Proverbs 21:23)

 

This story begins at a point during the birth of my youngest son. I had been labouring for about 19 hours, managing well – I’d done this before and so far, the labour was unfolding as expected and surprisingly much the same as my first birth with my eldest son exactly three years and 51 weeks before. In the lead up to this birth however, I had been working as a doula for about two years and had been mindful of the influence of other women’s birth journeys on my own, because someone once said, ‘worry is the work of pregnancy’. That is, women at this time of their lives are particularly vulnerable – not just physically but also psycho-emotionally. It is during this time, more than any other, that supressed emotional traumas – whether lived or inherited, and the beliefs they generate, tend to surface, and other people’s stuff can trigger it, thus adding to the burden. With this in mind, I embarked on some self-nurturing via the means of guided relaxation and visualisation techniques (The ‘hypnodoula’ process as I had learned to facilitate from my mentor Denise Love.  The process is more commonly known as hypnobirthing.) throughout the pregnancy. By the time labour had established itself, I was somewhat relaxed even in spite of a hot water system breaking down in the midst of filling the birth pool, and the arrivals and departures of various family members that invariably always show up during my births. My mother still remembers me making Steiner-inspired dolls in between contractions, stopping only to breathe and let the wave pass, before picking up from where I left off, cutting and sewing wee felt outfits.

Birth is a journey of going inward. Of leaving the thinking, analytical brain behind, and dropping into the instinctive, primal cradle of the womb. It is a truly embodied process, and it has to be this way. If we look at it through the lens of mythology, it can be likened to the hero’s journey of descent into the underworld, to a place where our deepest fears are confronted and overcome, and we emerge the triumphant warrior into the glorious light of a new hope, bringing with us the dawn of a new era. It is during birth that we learn to be mothers, whether it is our first or our tenth baby, where a new facet to the archetype – to our role, is also born. The birth process follows a specific design, or pattern. Of ripening and blossoming, of contracting and expanding, of working and resting, of opening, of surrender, of breathing and letting go. And always, at some pivotal point the process – of facing the Void. In my previous post on working with the forbidden, I likened the journey of walking with cancer to walking with birth. At some point, a surrender to the design must be acknowledged in order to be strengthened and move forward in the journey. I reminded readers that this doesn’t equate with defeat or giving up. On the contrary, surrender in the form of allowing the process to unfold, to be able to read its terrain and work with it – rather than against it – is paramount to survival.

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I didn’t give birth here. But it’s the type of place I envisioned when I was giving birth. Photo by M.Carnochan 2017

 

As is my primal wont – as it is with most mammals – my body slows labour until such a time that I can birth my baby in peace, quiet, safety, privacy, and stillness. For my first two babies, this occurred just on the breaking of dawn, for my third it occurred at sunset, all in the comfort of my own home. During my second birth, after some 19 hours of labour things were still moving along at a slow but steady pace, so I went to bed around 11pm to get some rest for the harder work ahead. Around 3am I was awoken by stronger contractions and so I woke my husband to let him know and he graciously went to stoke the fire in the loungeroom, and then check on the warmth of water in the heated birth pool (the hot water system had been fixed the previous afternoon), so I could labour in the glow of the fire in peace and quiet whilst our eldest child and my mother slept on. As the waves started to intensify, we decided to call our midwife, who was also a good friend and colleague. She arrived about 40 minutes later, and we sat and chatted as she watched me labouring in my comfortable little nest that I’d made out of one of our beanbags, breathing into the contractions and breathing them out as they diminished, and then carrying on our conversation. At one point I remember saying to her that I felt a little nauseous. After about an hour, she said, “I think you’re still only in early first stage. You should go back to bed and get some rest for the hard stuff ahead.” I remember thinking, “no, I’ve been labouring for the last 23 hours. I know I’m well into established labour now.” I didn’t voice this, but my husband did. They debated back and forth for a bit, my husband being deeply in tune with my birth rhythm knew where I was at, but my midwife had come in mid-story. The point that she had observed me in, was during the transition phase.

The Transition phase can last anywhere from for a couple of minutes to an hour or more. It is known as Transition because it signals the changing nature of the birthwaves from contracting and expanding and opening the cervix, to the contractions that push. And sometimes during this transitional phase, labour can seem to slow right down or stop all together. Oftentimes, a woman may feel nauseous like she is about to throw up (she may simply voice this, or she may do it), or she may suddenly say that she doesn’t want to do this anymore and she wants to go home, or she may suddenly get really scared as somewhere deep in her subconsciousness she is standing on the precipice staring into the Void – the abyss of the unknown. Will I live or will I die? Will my baby live or die? Am I ready to be a Mother? How will I cope? What if I’m not good enough? These are all worries that confront us in this phase. The reality is about to hit us that very shortly we will be holding a baby and our whole life will have permanently changed. For many women, especially when we have supressed and unresolved emotional wounds, this is a huge confrontation, and requires a huge leap of faith.

But leap we must. And the story begins to birth itself.

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Magnolia flower. Photo by M.Carnochan 2016.

 

The debate ended with our midwife deciding that her observations were sound and that she was going home. She lived a 25-minute drive away across a meandering gorge. And so, with that, she got in her four-wheel drive and left.

And then several things happened seemingly all at once.

“I think [the midwife]* is wrong.” I said. “I know she is.” said the husband.

“I need the toilet” I said, as I lumbered as quickly as I could up the stairs from the loungeroom to the landing where the bathroom was. As I sat on the toilet, an overwhelming urge to take all of my clothes off took over and I shouted out to my husband that I needed to get into the birth pool, but I needed his help. He came in and helped me into our spare room which was right next door to the toilet, and where we had set up the birth pool. The urge to bear down that I began feeling on the toilet became stronger once I had settled into the warm water. My husband said that he was going to go and call our midwife to suggest that she come back, and so off he went back down to the loungeroom. Left by myself, my body began to push in earnest. I had learnt that with the change in contractions from opening to pushing, to also change my breathing. I began to pant to help my body relax and, in an effort to steady the power that was now surging through me. I could feel the pressure grow between my legs, so I reached down and felt a huge bulge in my perineum. Suddenly, an odd thought crossed my mind, “What in the world could be causing that bulge? Is my uterus falling out?” You see, in my vulnerable state during transition a seed had been planted. ‘But I’m only in first stage’ I thought. ‘The baby can’t be coming yet. It’s too soon.’ I began to feel very dazed and confused. I reached down again, and I could feel the top of my son’s head. Suddenly I got my wits about me, as if a switch had been flicked. I was back in my body and my body was telling me that my baby was crowning. This was the moment of truth.

I called out to my husband to tell him that the baby’s head was crowning. He rushed into the room, along with my mum and our eldest son just as I was lifting our second son out of the water to lay him on my breast. It was an extraordinary experience for all of us. Our midwife did come back and swallow her words. I think we all learned a very valuable lesson that day.

The lesson that I learned from that was indeed about the power of words and what we say and when we say them. We affect the story. Oftentimes, we say the words because we don’t listen, we don’t read the terrain. Most of the time, this is because we are projecting our own needs, or our own interpretation on things through a lens that might not match the reality.

Since that experience, I’ve supported numerous other women, and have heard even more birth stories from others. I am constantly saddened by the disconnect that occurs and the changes that are made to people’s stories by the words of their caregivers. Fear-based policy becomes more important than listening to women, to what they say and what they don’t say during their process, or how they sound and how they move. Caregivers are losing valuable old-school skills like observation, the ability to read the terrain, and a trust in the process. I listen to the stories of ‘birthrape’ and loss of autonomy, loss of a vision, of the depression that follows and the acceptance that this is ‘normal’ – at least we have a healthy baby, right? (sure, we’ll only need a few years of therapy when we’re in our forties to deal with the inherited trauma and its aftermath)

But what about a healthy Mother?

And I see the cascade of intervention. (Would you like an epidural? What about pethidine? What about now? I bet you want drugs now, right?  Or how about, ‘Oh you’ve laboured for 6 hours and you’re exhausted, quick we need to induce you now or the placenta will fail and EVERYONE WILL DIE!’ Or my personal favourite whilst a woman was actively pushing, “I’M NOT QUALIFIED TO ATTEND A WATERBIRTH! QUICK!  PULL THE PLUG AND GET OUT OF THE BATH NOW!! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!!) And I hear where the words changed the story. The caregivers no longer realise the depth of meaning that their ironically care-less words convey.

Sometimes, there is more healing, more encouragement in saying nothing at all. Just sit, watch, and listen. Really LISTEN. Learn to listen with something more than just your ears. Listen for the intangibles. To walk with a woman throughout her pregnancy and birth and those precious weeks that follow is an extraordinary privilege. Indeed, to walk with anyone within a therapeutic setting is an extraordinary privilege. We don’t pull them along behind us, and we don’t push them in front. We walk alongside and we entrain our footfall to theirs. We learn to listen with our hearts. This is also called empathy. And at the same time, we hold space for their story to be told.

And the story will always, when allowed, follow a pattern. In birth, it is a pattern of contracting and expanding, of opening, of surrender, of breathing, and of letting go. If the story stalls or gets carried away on a tangent, we find our way back to the pattern and keep going. A lovely, and relevant example of this, is the entrainment that occurs between a mother and her newborn. The newborn’s heart beat and breathing rhythms are irregular and erratic. By staying in constant contact with the mother after the birth and in these first few weeks, the baby’s rhythms entrain to the mother. The mothers body ‘teaches’ the newborn’s how to find its own inherent pattern.

When I’m attending a woman during birth, I don’t say a lot. I sit, watch, and listen. If I hear her vocalisations begin to move into the shrill of fear, I match them with my own, gently guiding her down the octaves and back into that deep, primal base note of the Wombsong. This deep intonation that comes from the belly relaxes the jaw, which in turn relaxes and opens the sphincters. If she holds her breath, I breathe alongside her, finding the rhythm of the wave so she can ride it out. I offer a drink, a massage, or a change of position by way of gesture – depending on what her gestures have told me. Birth is a dance, which is not mine to lead, but I do know it’s choreography.

With great power comes great responsibility.” ~ Voltaire.

The cry for freedom of speech and the right to be heard for every vulnerable minority under the sun has typified our society in this Orwellian era. (Should I point out that there are 7.5 billion vulnerable minorities on the planet?) Everyone has something to say, but no one wants to take responsibility for the things that they speak. Perhaps this is the problem.

So perhaps, we should instead not only listen to what others are really saying, but also listen to what comes out of our own mouths. Is it coming from a place of love or fear? Of care and concern or self-interest. Of patience or impatience?

The mother entrains her baby through the deepest love a human can give. It is instinctive, protective, nurturing, and mindful. The Holder of Sacred Space works the same. We are all vulnerable, but imagine if we were all Holders of Sacred Space.

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Beauty.  Photo by M.Carnochan 2017

The words we say can be a balm to the soul, or a poison that we will, in time, have to swallow ourselves. Therefore, don’t point the bone. Instead, let us choose our words wisely.

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle

 

*the Midwife’s name has been withheld out of respect.

 

 

Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

When Paradise was a Walled Garden

Or the one where we contemplate growing our own drugs.

 

“We might think we are nurturing our garden, but really it is our garden that is nurturing us.” – Jenny Uglow.

 

As much as I love wildcrafting and spying out medicinally useful botanicals growing wild wherever I am, I do very much yearn for a garden of my own to be a custodian of. Amongst the strands of stories that weave themselves through my DNA, there’s the one about the holy man, or maybe it was a woman, who tended the garden in whatever sanctuary they found themselves in service to. This may or may not have actually happened, but I like to think that maybe, in some place, some time, it actually did.

(or maybe I’m just remembering the very beginning)

And of course, they had to be considered holy, set-apart for the work, whether a priest – or maybe a priestess, or a prophet – or maybe a prophetess, a monk or a nun, a druid or a shaman – because something sacred exists in the garden. These idioms of tangibles – of soil, and of trees, and flowers, and of fruits, and the great turning of the wheel of the Heavens, and the first and the latter rains, and of harvests, and from one new moon to the next, and of appointed times and seasons. Because it’s through these tangibles that the great mysteries of life are observed, and understood, and guarded.

And whether it is tropical or temperate, a garden, for many is paradise.

We can trace the word ‘paradise’ back to the original Persian word ‘pairidaeza’, meaning an enclosure, or a park. Over time as it travelled through the Greek and the Latin, and the French, it came to be synonymous with the Garden in Eden’ – an idyllic heaven-like abode of verdant abundance that was set-apart and protected. A holy place. A sacred sanctuary to relax, unwind, to be embraced by an abundance of earthly delights.

I think the term ‘sanctuary’ to describe a garden is fitting.

“A garden should make you feel like you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”   (Michael Pollan)

As a history buff, and perhaps because the memories are entwined in my soul, I am fascinated with the phenomena of the Physic Garden. Although I suspect that the healing temples of Egypt and Greece & Rome and even the sacred groves of the Druids, the rainforest gardens of shamans, and many other traditional or ‘primitive’ societies all had their own versions, the concept of the Physic Garden grew with the monastic (& later university) subculture of medieval Europe. Most of the monasteries were isolated and remote, and so they needed to be self-sufficient. Vegetable gardens and orchards flourished within the confines of the monastic compound, but there was another garden that grew there meticulously and reverently tended – the physic garden. This Physic Garden met the healing needs of the monastery inhabitants, as well as the folk from the surrounding area. Some of these gardens have been preserved and maintained and people can visit them to this day. Chelsea Physic Garden is renown, and although not monastic in origin, was established in 1673 by the ‘Worshipful Society of Apothecaries’ as a teaching garden. (That is, back when the physicians and apothecaries used plant medicine). These gardens (monastic and university) are more of a European tradition, but worldwide there is a grassroots movement to bring the tradition alive again for all to enjoy.

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Chelsea Physic Garden

 

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died” – Erma Bombeck

 

 

 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve gypsied around with an ever-growing entourage of plants in pots – their own little mobile homes. One day, I keep promising them, we’ll have a real home where they can snuggle into good soil, stretch out their roots and lift up their arms and rejoice. In the meantime, however, they still provide the medicine that I and my family need, even if sometimes it’s just a balm for my soul. I currently have: Aloe, Calendula, Yarrow, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Violets, Black Currant, English daisies, Solomon’s Seal, self-seeded Chickweed, Dandelions, Houseleek, and Acerola Cherry, and I’m attempting to strike a cutting from a Persian Silk Tree. I’ve lost some along the way, including chamomile, nettles, passionflower, apothecary rose, and an elder that bonsai’d itself. Now that we are in a less bipolar climate zone, I will endeavour to bring these and other species back into the traveling roadshow again, although to be perfectly honest, as much as I think that one can have a perfectly decent physic garden in pots, I am aware of a nagging feeling in the recesses of my heart that keeping plants in pots is akin to keeping birds in cages. But I’ll tuck that away for now and keep promising my green companions that one day perhaps a garden home will manifest itself for them. (Maybe if I sell enough of my soon-to-be released eBook. Hint hint 😉 )

 

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Houseleek & The Kraken. Photo by M.Carnochan.

Building a physic garden for oneself or one’s family, or a community if you are fortunate enough, is fairly simple. You’ll need to figure out your particular climate zone, but most of the medicinal plants discussed below are fairly hardy and will grow in a range of climates, if their needs are met. Invite species that have multiple uses and meet a broad range of needs. The easiest way to do figure this out, in my pattern-way of thinking, is to match plants with the six tissue states that you will encounter. As a brief review, the ‘six tissue states’ model of illness refers to heat/excitation, cold/depression, damp/relaxation, damp/stagnation, dry/atrophy, wind/tension. These energetic patterns refer to the moisture, the tone, and the temperature of the tissue state in disease and its development and manifestation. For example, we would match the energetics in plants the following way;

Heat/excitation = plants that are cooling & sedating

Cold/depression = plants that are warming & stimulating

Damp/relaxation = plants that are drying and tonifying (astringent)

Damp/stagnation = plants that are drying and relaxing/stimulating

Dry/atrophy = plants that are moistening & nourishing

Wind/Tension = plants that are relaxing & bring balance.

Of course, some of these tissue states can overlap or lead to the development of others, for example a hot/irritated condition can lead to dry/atrophy because all the fluids are being burned up. Or tension in the body can lead to damp/stagnation, which can lead to dry/atrophy because there isn’t any movement of fluids. In much the same way, plants can also overlap in their energetics and therefore be useful for several different conditions. For example, marshmallow is cooling, moistening, & nourishing, so we could use it as a cold infusion for an irritating cough, a burning urinary tract infection, a dry stomach & to enhance hydration, or topically for a dry, itchy rash. Getting to know which plants exhibit which energetic patterns does require some personal knowledge of the plant, and this can be gained from books and herbal teachers but is more deeply internalised by sitting with the plant itself and letting it teach you. This may be achieved through growing it, observing where it likes to grow best, its seasonal patterns, and drinking it as a tea, and tasting it. Experiencing the plant with all of your senses is called Organolepsis and is one of the best ways to determine its energetic patterns.

Back to the garden…

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Calendula. Photo by M. Carnochan

 

Below is a list of herbs that you would find (and might want to consider when planning your own physic garden) to match each energetic pattern;

Heat/excitation – plants that are cooling and sedating are needed here, and the biggest collection is found in the Rose family. Rose (flowers & hips), Hawthorn, Crampbark, Peach, & Cherry. These plants are indicated when there is redness, a rapid pulse, a red pointed tongue, and heat. Other plants that cool and calm heat & irritation include Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and the berries. Elder flower and berries are cooling, the flowers cool fever by way of relaxing the pores of the skin & inducing perspiration. The dark coloured berries are particularly high in anti-oxidants which give a cooling and sedating effect. The bitter herbs such as the artemesias (Wormwood, Sweet Annie), Gentian, or the berberine containing plants such as Oregon grape and Golden Seal are also cooling, sedating, and drain fluids such as we might see in swelling & inflammation. Aloe and Marshmallow & cranberry highbush Hibiscus are also cooling (and moistening).

Cold/Depression – plants that are warming and stimulating are needed to balance this tissue state. Plants such as Cayenne (chilli peppers), Nasturtiums, Ginger, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Basil (culinary and Holy basil).

Damp/relaxation – plants needed here are drying & tonifying, these include the geraniums such as Herb Robert, Agrimony, Yarrow*,

Damp/Stagnation – plants needed for this tissue state need to move fluid & relax the tissues (if there is underlying tension). Herbs such as these we refer to as the ‘alteratives’ or ‘blood cleansers’ such as Burdock, Dandelion root, Cleavers, Nettles, Yellow Dock, Calendula, & Echinacea. Yarrow also has a place here, as it disperses heat & blood stagnation and stimulates circulation.

Dry/Atrophy – atrophy refers to a wasting away of tissue. Plants needed here are those that impart a nourishing and moistening quality such as Marshmallow (or mallows in general), Aloe, Liquorice, Burdock, Shatavari, Withania, Solomon’s Seal, Plantain (major and ribwort), Comfrey, and Calendula.

Wind/Tension – wind in this sense refers to a changeability of symptoms. Eg: constipation alternating with diarrhoea. Plants needed here are relaxing, or spasmolytic, and often they will also be tonifying. These include plants such as Agrimony, Wood Betony, Crampbark, Raspberry leaf, Wild Yam, Lobelia, Lavender, Peppermint, Chamomile, Lemon balm, and the warming ‘carminatives’ that we find in the kitchen spice rack – Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, & Fennel.  California Poppy & Catnip along with the aforementioned chamomile are lovely calming & relaxing herbs for children.  Passionflower, Hops, Valerian, Kava Kava, Mimosa (Persian Silk Tree), Skullcap, & St John’s Wort are all useful for this state as well.

If we apply these to the more common conditions that most of us encounter, we might begin to build our physic garden like this:

Seasonal Allergies & Hayfever:  Usually typified by a hot/irritated, damp/relaxation tissue state. Useful plants to have growing here include: Nettles, Elder flowers, Eyebright, Liquorice.

Bruising: This is typically a damp/stagnation state, so Yarrow is particularly indicated. Or English daisies.

Burns: Aloe is your go-to companion here. Burdock is a close second (use the leaves). Lavender (to make a cooled lavender infusion to bathe the burn in) is also useful.

Colds, flu, & fever:  For runny noses & watery eyes (damp/relaxation): chamomile, golden seal, elderflowers, eyebright, yarrow. Yarrow, elder & peppermint are a classic combination to make as a hot infusion and drink to help bring the cold or flu or fever to a peak, and thus providing relief. The elder berries, rosehips, and black currants are also good additions to helping boost vitamin C and anti-oxidants. Sage is also particularly helpful here.

Coughs: For dry, irritated coughs marshmallow, ribwort plantain, violets, or licorice are your friends. For damp, congested coughs, thyme, ginger, sage or rosemary. For spasmodic coughs, grow licorice, or once again thyme is useful (and also possesses anti-microbial properties). Peach leaf, or cherry bark are helpful for sedating a hot, dry, irritated cough -the type that keeps children awake at night.

Cuts, scrapes, grazes: For fresh cuts that are bleeding (damp/relaxation), yarrow is your friend. If the cut looks a bit red and puffy around the edges (damp/stagnation), use calendula and yarrow. Ribwort plantain is also useful here.

Fractures & broken bones: You’ll want comfrey in your garden for these situations. Obviously, the bones will need to be set first, but you can safely apply comfrey (or take as a tea for a very short time internally) to help the bones knit back together and speed recovery. If bruising and bleeding occurred along with the break, use yarrow and calendula, or ribwort plantain first.

Insect bites & stings: Like burns this usually results in a heat/irritation tissue state. Here we apply cooling, soothing plants like ribwort plantain, or lavender.

Insomnia: If the nervous system is too stimulated (either wind/tension or heat/excitation), we need calming, sedating plants. Here we might think of Lavender, Chamomile, Passionflower, California Poppy, Skullcap.

Upset stomach: This can be due to a myriad of reasons to do with the digestion. It could occur from something recently eaten. For example, allergies, intolerances or food poisoning. These would result in the damp/stagnation, hot/irritation tissue states, or in food poisoning – damp/relaxation, wind/tension. It may be due to nervous tension (wind/tension). It may be due to deficient secretions of digestive fluids (dry/atrophy), or too much (damp/relaxation). It may be due to liver function issues (damp/stagnation or heat/irritation).

Generally speaking, most of our kitchen spices are carminatives and digestives (that is, they dispel wind, enhance digestive fluids, and are antispasmodic, eg: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, fennel. Etc.

Aloe soothes inflamed, irritated tissue internally as well externally and is useful when the upset stomach is due to chronic inflammatory conditions such as diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, food allergies and intolerances, leaky gut.

Calendula also soothes inflamed tissue but also works to decongest the lymphatics in the gut, making it useful for food allergies and intolerances, and for repairing a leaky gut.

Chamomile is wonderful for stomach upsets caused by nervous tension, as in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It’s also great for kids.

Dandelion comes in to assist the liver, and as a bitter it also helps increase digestive fluids.

Ginger is for people with ‘cold’ digestion. It helps to stoke the digestive ‘fire’, to increase digestive fluids and optimise absorption. It is also anti-inflammatory and carminative.

Nausea & Vomiting: Ginger – warming, antispasmodic; Peppermint – warming; Peach leaf or twig – cooling, useful for morning sickness in pregnancy.

Rashes: If hot and inflamed, we might use a cooled Chamomile tea as a wash, the inner gel from an Aloe leaf, or if related to an allergy, Calendula and Nettle will help.

Sore throat: This is usually due to a damp/stagnation tissue state as the lymph nodes (including the tonsils) in the throat begin to proliferate immune cells to sort and filter out any potential threat (& it’s metabolic debris) from the internal and external environment. Useful plants here include Sage and Liquorice, Ribwort Plantain, and Calendula.

Urinary Tract Infections: Typically, a heat/excitation/irritation tissue state. May also present with damp/stagnation, or damp/relaxation. We want cooling, soothing, and diuretic plants here as well as plants that are soothing to the nerves, and anti-microbial. Here we think of marshmallow, ribwort plantain, yarrow, dandelion leaves, burdock, and corn silk (the silky tufts at the top of a cob of corn). Nettles and cucumbers are also useful here. Again, we can use the berries to enhance our immunity. Nasturtiums are a particularly useful plant here with strong anti-microbial properties.

Pain: Like all of the previously listed conditions, this is a symptom that communicates an underlying problem and an underlying tissue state, so pain is best treated accordingly. Having said that, we do have some effective pain-relieving herbs that we can grow in our own physic gardens, and can be used in conjunction with other appropriate herbs.

Crampbark (Viburnum opulus or Guelder Rose) – for spasmodic pain, muscular pain.

Chamomile – soothing to the nerves, digestive tonic, also for spasmodic pain. Good for kids, particularly for teething pain.

California Poppy – calming to the nerves. Good for kids.

Cayenne pepper – believe it or not, cayenne is often quite useful in pain because it increases circulation and dilates the blood vessels, bringing a fresh supply of oxygen which helps to relax the tissues. For this reason, a heart attack can be warded off in the initial stages. Use 1tsp of cayenne pepper powder to 1 cup of water and get the patient to drink it whilst waiting for the ambulance.

Raspberry leaf – useful for period pain.

For special times such as pregnancy & breastfeeding: raspberry leaf, nettles, chamomile, fennel (increases milk supply and calms colic), cabbage (cools and soothes engorged breasts and mastitis).

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of conditions, or plants that you could grow, but I hope that it is enough to whet your appetite. A beginning Physic Garden may then look something like this;

Aloe, Calendula, Chamomile, Yarrow, Peppermint, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Ginger, Liquorice, Nettles, Elder, Nasturtiums, Comfrey, Chilli.

As you begin to grow your own medicine and start to use it, you may find your interest growing as well, and soon you’ll find yourself on the lookout for more healing plants – either to grow yourself, or to harvest in your particular area (such as dandelions, violets, chickweed, and other medicinal weeds or natives). Your kitchen also holds a lot of useful (and powerful) remedies and before you know it, you’ll have your own full working apothecary. But that’s another article for another time 😉

 

Happy gardening!

 

 

*Yarrow pretty much does everything.

 

 

 

 

Grassroots Healing, Musings, Plant Medicine, Spirituality

On Being Called to Plant Seeds

I have taken on an apprentice. This is my second apprentice. The first quibbled over why my tea bag had a string and informative bit of card attached and his didn’t. I was attempting to teach him how to make a medicinally useful cup of tea. Suffice it to say, we didn’t get past that first lesson, mainly because sixteen is a fascinating age and so is their hair. My second apprentice is a little more eager, although the attention span is also a bit shorter, and she doesn’t actually like drinking herbal tea. Maybe because she’s nine or she’s going on 30. And the second-born hasn’t been engaged to be my third apprentice yet because he’s being called by volcanoes, and dinosaurs, and the ghosts of dinosaurs that were possibly consumed by volcanoes, who also code.

I am of course, talking about my children. As part of their home-school Science/Home Economics/Physical Education and Personal Development (insert other relevant compartmentalised Edubabble here) curriculum I thought I would start incorporating more formal botany, plant identification and herbal medicine lessons into their learning plan. I also had an overwhelming urge to pass on my knowledge so our tradition isn’t lost. I mean, after all, breast milk when they were babies and herbs as they grew and an inordinate supply of hugs, are the only medicine they’ve ever known when they have needed it. It should come naturally, right?  So, we’ve been using the excellent resource that is American herbalist, Kristine Brown’s Herbal Roots Zine – a monthly ‘zine subscription that focuses on a new herb each month. We have also owned the excellent Wildcraft board game since John & Kimberly from Learning Herbs first published it. And we use Jeannie Fulbright’s Exploring Creation with Botany, and Thomas J. Elpel’s Botany in a Day. And of course, we have lived in the bush, or nearby, ever since the kids were born (except that brief exile to suburbia in Melbourne, and that time we bummed around on Currumbin Beach for 8 weeks. Nevertheless, there are still medicinal weeds aplenty in these diverse places). The kids can identify most of the more common medicinals growing around us, wherever we have found ourselves.

Currently, my young Padawan is getting to know Dandelion. We’ve traipsed around our quiet little seaside community in search of it. She has learnt to identify and know the difference between lookalike species, she has harvested leaves and flowers, and dug roots, dried the leaves and sprinkled them in our dinner, picked the flowers to infuse in oil, pressed the plant and recorded interesting information about its virtues in her journal. Yet as I watch her colouring a picture of the Dandelion, I can’t help but wonder – has she heard the Dandelion’s song? You see, she knows the technical sort of details of the plant, but does she know its essence? It should come naturally right? I mean, after all, she has grown up knowing which herbs are what and what I have used them for, surely it would sort of rub off somehow, or maybe she’s inherited my passion.

But then, as is my wont, I pondered some more.

What do you do when the land climbs into your bones,

its green tendrils unfurl through your veins,

and it sings its blooms into your heart?

 

I was somewhat appalled recently when I discovered that a number of naturopaths using herbs have never seen the herbs they use in their original state (that is, as the whole living plant, or even a photo of it, not liquids in a brown bottle, or dried and crushed into equally non-descript pills), let alone be able to identify them if they happenchanced upon them in the wild. A profound sadness filled me. How could this be?! Actually, I felt quite traumatised by this. There is a deep wound here. A deep disconnect. And perhaps as affected as I was, not surprised because we are products of a reductionist society. But on reflection, it reminded me of a conversation I had not so long ago about the meaning of the seemingly unrelated word –Indigenous.  My friend and I were discussing this term in relation to the knowledge of our own Australian Indigenous herbal – or rather Bush Medicine – tradition, and how, it is a largely oral-based tradition that is well protected and not readily shared unless deep respect is earned by the seeker (ie; to people of European descent. Understandably). My friend and I, to the eye anyway, are both of European descent. I have Dutch, Scots/Celt, Scandinavian, & Jewish blood running through my veins, and there has been some speculation that there’s also a drop or two of Indigenous Australian blood in there as well, but whatever the case may be, here I am having been born here, my parents were both born here, as far as I am aware all of my grandparents were born here, and my great-grandparents – well therein is the diversity of where the different blood travelled from. I don’t know the lineage of my friend, but she was born here, she grew up in the bush and spent much of her life feeling strongly connected to it. I felt much the same. So, we began to wonder whether indigenous might also mean something beyond the meaning that we are politically familiar with.

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With all due to respect to our indigenous brothers and sisters and their history, which as a former archaeology/anthropology student and generally someone also experiencing the human condition, I deeply appreciate; this thought process isn’t about social justice or cultural appropriation. I believe herbal medicine transcends these by being the medicine of the people – whichever people you are and wherever in the world you find yourself putting down roots, and it saddens me that we’ve allowed the division from these very emotionally driven political ideas to permeate into our own solidarity as Plantfolk. This thought process is rather, about this thing called being indigenous as the Earth itself sees it – because if you go back far enough, we’ve all been sojourners coming from somewhere and going to and settling down somewhere else, and we’ve all been formed from the dust of the Earth. Some of us have just put down longer roots or sent out more entrepreneurial and aggressive runners. And this may be a bit of an esoteric idea for some, but in attempting to pass on my knowledge to my daughter, I realised that this is my calling, the plants have chosen me. It might not necessarily be hers, and I can’t make it so. Let me repeat that again; the plants have chosen me.

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The Australian Indigenous people do believe that it is the Land that chooses the people, not the other way around. Our descendants may have colonised it, pillaged it, raped it, but they did not own it. We use it for resources, but it only speaks to some of us. To the rest, it is a dead thing, and in my experience, when you treat things that are living as dead, as without soul or sentience, then it will only yield its gifts to you in kind. It’s the quick fix mindset, the extraction of isolated constituents all over again to produce pharmaceuticals that manipulate the body and produce uncomfortable and sometimes deadly side-effects. When there is no respect, you get none in return. You’ll also be seen as devoid of life. Devoid of heart. Which is what we have essentially become.

“For the intense longing of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the children of Elohim. For the creation was subjected to futility, not from choice, but because of Him who subjected it, in anticipation, that the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage to corruption into the esteemed freedom of the children of Elohim. For we know that all creation groans together and suffers the pains as of childbirth until now.”  (The Scriptures. Romans 8:19-22)

I know this will be difficult for some people to comprehend, that the Land has chosen people. It is akin to the created becoming a god, is it not? But perhaps, think on it this way; In the beginning we had one job. To tend, to care for this extraordinary garden we call Earth. One job.

“We have a remarkable ability for forgetfulness, ingenuous methods for not being present, a delicious capacity for oblivion. It is not difficult for us to forget the shocks of childhood, our nature, our destiny, the divine, and all those tasks for which our soul came into this world. As Antonio Machado once asked: What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”    (Robert Bly/Marion Woodman as quoted by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Becoming Vegetalista.)

We haven’t done the job. In fact, we forgot all about it. But the Earth knows what its purpose is, it hasn’t forgotten. The plants remind us of who we are and where we have come from, and where we are going, and this is why their medicine can touch us so deeply and profoundly. But in our busy lives of material distraction, we don’t see or feel or hear – except for some of us who were born with eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart that feels and so we hear the silver song and we follow the notes that lilt with the breeze, and we see the golden bark at the bottom of the Grandfather Tree and we feel it’s shimmer and know within our heart of hearts that faeries live here. We become indigenous, we become native, we remember – a kinnection between the earth and man, we speak for them that have no voice that humans might hear. And with our green tendrils we reach into the hearts of those who want to know the way home, and we plant a little seed. And so, the humans only have to tend that one little seed in the garden of their own soul. One job. It isn’t that difficult. But it might be a little painful…at first, because some of us need first to wake up and smell the roses.

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We are chosen, and the plants are our teachers. One day I will write a book on all of these that have taught me. And every year, when the time is right, my feet itch and the Land calls and my heart scouts the edges of the road less travelled, listening for the teacher. My own apprenticeship continues until the day I’m liberated into Light or my bones have returned to the Land and the seeds that have been scattered lovingly throughout my shroud sprout into a meadow of wildflowers.

“Nonetheless, the ecstatic journey has been part of human life for as long as humans have been. And the Earth really is intelligent and alive and aware and communicating with us every second of every day. And there really is a sacredness that flows through everything that, sometimes – usually when we least expect it – touches the soul of us and urges us to begin a journey that, as Mirabai once said, ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries. And for some of us the particular path we are called to take is the path of the vegetalista.

For those of us who take that path, the plants themselves become our teachers. They initiate us into (and surround us every day with) veriditas – a meaning-filled word created oddly enough by Hildegard of Bingen who was okay for a Christian I guess. She cleverly combined two Latin words: veritas and verde – truth and green. It’s a word that means -allatthesametime – the living intelligence of the green world and the sacredness that can be found there.” (Stephen Harrod Buhner. Becoming Vegetalista. )

And the sacredness is this; it is not the created that we worship, it is the created that reminds us, that seeks to work with us. It is the Creator who breathes Life into all, including Earth, a Divine signature; and each plant, each tree, each rock, each crystal, each body of water, each creature, speaks to that glory. Because Yahuah speaks the mysteries in the idiom of tangibles. He speaks in Golden Threads and Green Tongue, and He speaks in pomegranate and almond blossom, in olive, in oak, in cedar, and one day I might tell you the mystery of how the Blue Water Lily healed my root and navel.

“For since the creation of the world, His invisible qualities have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, both His everlasting power and Mightiness…”.     (The Scriptures. Romans 1:20)

Have you ever seen a forest in worship? Each tree, each plant raising its limbs toward the heavens in joy-filled praise?

 And sometimes, when the Pine has had enough of the zombies, it gives everyone the bird.  I don’t really blame it. Sometimes, brick walls are easier to talk to than people (because even the bricks remember that once they were earth).

So, I’m not entirely sure just yet if my daughter has felt this Veriditas entwine itself into her soul, if the earth has called her, or if in this green language, to her Yahuah will speak.

I plant the seed nonetheless, knowing that at least she can tell the difference between a dandelion and a cat’s ear, and that dandelions make a much nicer medicinally useful cup of tea.

 

 

Green blessings,

Michelle x