Plants have been used to alter consciousness down through the ages. Depending on one’s sensitivity, ingested or not. Even just being around plants shifts consciousness, as Sam had experienced, spending time focused on green realms woke up a whole other aspect in her. But it was fascinating when you looked at ‘plant teachers’, like ayahuasca that sprouted a whole branch of shamanism, the Vegatalistas, who are taught about the other plants by this ‘doctoring’ one. Could dandelion do the same thing in a different way and level...
“People are drawn to exotic practices and plants from faraway, there’s a mystery about them, beyond the commonplace. Everyone’s key to the doors of the plant world is different, but how strange it would seem if the seeking was in the opposite direction? An Amazonian looking for dandelion seeds, coming to us for a workshop to observe how we live. That would be a dialogue! Every continent has plants that change consciousness, it’s just that traditions have a more continuous flow in some places, and peoples, are stronger. Such plants demand a ritual context and so they are often at the core of just that. Sacraments, prepared in ways that bring out their skills...
Take the phenomena of alcohol. Its story is intertwined with ours, and is just as paradoxical. It’s been a sacrament, look at the catholic church, and demonised, think of prohibition. It’s a crucial medium in much medicine making, but can also ruin lives. It’s a dosage issue, it’s a consciousness altering, plant based substance with a whole range of potencies from absinthe to beer. It’s been made by monks and moon shiners.”
”Clary, how do you know what dose age to give of a certain herb?”
“Tinctures are usually low dose, in terms of drops, because they’re strong medicine. Usually nourishing nettle, in tincture form could create hallucinations if you drank it by the glass full. As an infusion you can drink it all day long and only benefit. Infusion that’s fermented can help draw out the medicinal qualities in shy plants. It’s a spectrum....
It’s just another learning curve, it’s a bit like the Linnaeus thing all over again. The communal knowledge has been categorised to try to describes where a herb sits and what its actions are. Nourishing, tonifiers, stimulant, and such terms, are one way to tell us about the story of a plant’s uses. Overlaying that is the way it’s best prepared, oil, salve, tea, infusion, tincture, on a scale of potency.
It’s a bit like identifying, you use available field guides, combined with intuition more as your experience grows. Start out with one plant, get to know it, how it’s happiest as a medicine and gradually expand the circle, you’ll learn something each time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like you always do.”
“No problems there....”
“Didn’t think so....”
“ What we ingest, eat, breathe, think, feel, see, effects the quality of our nourishment. Nourishing herbs may be described as providing nutrition, the process where food is taken into the body to create living tissues. What those living tissues contain effects our overall being and health. To strengthen our systems we can use nourishing herbs like nettle to structurally build us up.
Tonics act on what we have built and maintained. Like an excercise is said to tone with regular rhythmic movement, most tonifying herbs contain substances that cause cell membranes to tighten and then relax, tighten and relax, this motion creating increased blood flow to cells. Some herbal tonics act on a specific organ or system, like dandelion with the liver, or are more generalised like parsley. More generalised tonics are also called alteratives.
Sometimes tonics get confused with stimulants. The easy way to see which a plant is, use it for a period of months and then stop. If it’s a tonic and you’ve been nourished you will feel as good without it for some time, if you have been stimulated you will feel worse and may even suffer withdrawal. There’s a big difference between nettle and coffee.
Tonics are slow acting and build health, stimulants are fast acting and don’t. If you use a stmulant it may trigger you into using a sedative, or the reverse. The classic example is someone who drinks coffee during the day at work and then to wind down at the end of the day has a few drinks, wakes up the next day and starts with coffee again.”
“Still, Clary” Sam spoke after she’d read the latest, “I don’t think i could give up my seasoning herbs, curry pastes, and chilli. They just hit the spot sometimes, they’re stimulants mostly...”
“Well, they were designed to please the senses, also used as preservatives and to improve the taste of aged meat when refrigeration wasn’t around, still are. They also traditionally come with soothing digestive side dishes, yoghurt and cucumber, banana and coconut, tomato and mint.”
“Mmmm....It’s a bit like the occasional cup of yerba mate tea on a late night stint compared to the dandelion leaf you had me infusing for breakfast, or lunch when I first came.”
“Well that’s another issue too. Teas are designed for volatile herbs, that often have a strong 'scent' when crushed, giving us a clue that they contain essential oils. Teas use less amounts of herb, brewed for a relatively short time. Like with chamomile, mints, sage, lemon balm. Herbs with a more 'earthy' smell when crushed are letting us know that they’re more like food, and can be taken in our longer brewing 'infusions', nettle, oats, red clover, comfrey leaf or dandelion leaf are all happily infused.”
Clary looked around the cottage still in her dressing gown, and smiled to herself. Although she’d lived most of her life in a pretty solitary way, having Sam here was growing into her version of normalcy. The tubes of watercolour, the growing stack of illustrations, the long term notes finally translating into a manuscript, but most of all how Sam was blossoming amidst it all. Clary had seen her come close to the edge when she lost her parents, the visits she had at that time Sam had been fractured and wounded. Who she was now had roots in the devastation of those times but now the warmth that always was a part of her, even amidst the depression, had come to the fore. She was absorbing the work and teachings like osmosis through the filter of her creativity.
Their time together would draw to a close at some point, Sam was young, she’d have other parts of her life come to the fore. The thought was one Clary put aside for dealing with later, it would no longer be her comfort zone to live alone, she’d been spoilt for that now...
Sam entered looking like a straggletag “Morning...”
Sam watched Clary b-line for the kitchen, glad to see she went the gas option this morning, she was in need. The comfort of Clary’s presence had become an organic part of her time here, she shuddered to think what would have happened if she hadn’t returned. It would have been a lonely road indeed. Their friendship was unusual, but wouldn’t have been in a saner world. Where would they go when the book was finished, she filed that away in the denial section at the back of her mental cabinet...this was her life for now...
Armed with their cuppas Clary and Sam wandered into their work, and play, space. It was like some kind of vine, overtaking the interior of the cottage with branches spreading into every crevice, each nook, with juicy fruits to tempt. A raspberry perhaps, leaves supporting the pregnancy of the book, and healing any morning sickness. Sam laughed, and was amazed at having a sense of humour this early. She wasn’t a morning person...
Yesterday she had been sketching shepherd’s purse, Capsella bursa- pastoris, shamans pouch as she called her, after her heart shaped seed pods so similar to a medicine pouch. This is a plant known for her ability to stop internal and external bleeding. During world war one when German drugs that controlled bleeding weren’t available, British doctors used shamans pouch. A bit like the women who were employed in industry when the men went to war....
Her tiny cruciform flowers were a hint of her origins in the Brassicaceae family as was the, slightly peppery, taste of her leaves which were a favoured salad addition in this household. A vinegar made with the seed pods had a mustardy flavour to it...
She thought to draw the pouch her mother’s cards were in, alongside an enlarged version of an opening seedcase. Experience had shown her that the strongest illustrations were ones she had an emotional connection, or association, with. Working from theoretical knowledge alone just didn’t cut it, the images were dry. It was the same for Clary with her writings, the plants she’d used repeatedly appeared larger than life, had personalities, which was how she had decided what to include so far. They’d just spoken up, it was natural...
Suddenly Clary was in tears. Sam was woken from her morning stupor with the rarity of such an occurrence...
“I’m sorry love, it’s just....old habits die hard, I used to be some kind of solitary plant, but now I’ve gone all communal with you around, and me roots are set up deep.”
“Still making a metaphor to the plant world tho even through the tears eh girl? ”
Clary smiled some. “Listen to me, I’ve got no plans on going anywhere, don’t you know you’re my family? This is home for me, not that flat I stayed in counting the clock and wondering what it’s all about.”
“I’m sorry love, I don’t mean to pressure you...”
“No pressure Clary, it’s a choice I’m glad to make each day, even through my morning fog.”
“I tell you what I’m going to pack that flat up and put everything in storage. Even going back to do that will be a push, but the times come.”
“No, you can’t...”
“Watch me. I should have done it weeks ago. I’ll head off this week, it should only take a few days of boxes and masking tape, but will you be ok?”
“Of course. The ol place n me will be fine...”
Sam hid the fact well that she wasn’t looking forward to going back to that world, but it made sense to do it now while she was motivated, paying rent on the place was draining her resources too...
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