The other day I was talking to a group of budding herbalists and once again I heard the concern, "I don't feel good taking plants from the wild." With this point of view it is very difficult to relax and learn a plant's medicine, not to mention gather the plants medicine with an open heart.
The thing is, all you need to be when you gather plant medicine is "open". The plant give itself to you, if you are open. You need to be prepared to receive it. No herbalist has ever taken a plant from the wild. The plant gives itself to the herbalist.
Often people feel that they need to be in a peaceful, loving state to collect medicine. I often find when I am gathering plants, the plant teachings me about its medicine on many levels: body, mind, emotion and spiritual.
After gathering Blue Cohosh, I wrote this poem. I hope it describes the process of gathering medicine and just being open to whatever the plant has to teach.
people who walked barefoot and were not afraid of the dark,
found stories everywhere.
Strawberry, for instance,
grew on Star Woman’s daughter’s grave.
Star Woman, by the way, fell
through a hole in the sky
and then danced
till her feet were muddy again.
Grass used to be the earth’s hair.
Corn, beans and squash were sisters.
Mushrooms were doctors.
Apples offered offending knowledge.
The trembling aspen’s down fall was pride.
Birch was the Lady of the Forest.
Lonely trees in fields were homes of lost souls.
Stories used to be everywhere. Everything spoke.
Let me tell you a well-known secret.
I walk in bare feet and am not afraid of the dark.
When I am in the mood to listen,
everywhere I hear a story.
Yesterday, wearing my hiking boots, a story found me.
I brushed away the crumbled leaves and loose soil –
first to appear were four hard shoots
like bruised nipples, obviously -
she had prepared for spring.
With my digging stick,
I dug deeper.
Her roots did not wander,
nor did they branch.
They were thin and course
like thick black hair bleached white.
They burrowed into the forest soil,
clinging to the dark, damp clumps.
As if life depended on it.
The roots descended from a gnarled rhizome.
curling into itself like a grief struck woman.
I gently gathered the roots in my hands.
And lifted her from her bed.
My stomach hollowed out.
The way it does when I see a sick baby,
tubes in his nose, skin fire red, in a plastic box.
Mum wearing a mask.
Still on my knees,
I hold the roots to my face.
Sweet, soft, sour.
Like hope turned to despair.
Washing away the soil was uncomfortable
as exposing another’s labia to the light of day.
Once the forest told me to sing.
“Only hunters walk in silence”, it said.
So I sang to the roots.
Easing the fear, the loss.
Letting her know I heard her sorrow.
If I could tell her story it would go something like this:
There is a plant that grows for every woman who tried to give it birth
to the child who refuses to be born.
Now she sits in a jar, in the kitchen,
waiting to be medicine.