Thyme - The Little Warrior
(An excerpt from The Herbal Apprentice)
After the second TIA (Transient Ischemic Accident) and a long night in the hospital
emergency, as dawn chased away the darkness of night, I lay in my bed thinking of
all the people I know who have been paralyzed by a stroke. A TIA can be a precursor
to a stroke. Frightened, I asked for a dream to guide me during this difficult time.
When sleep finally came, I had a simple dream. In a garden grew a thyme plant.
Upon waking I questioned the dream’s logic. Thyme? Using thyme to treat or prevent strokes made no sense to my herbalist’s brain. The dream confused me. I had used thyme in my practice for its powerful antibacterial effect on respiratory and urinary tract infections. I dismissed the dream and spent the rest of the day moping about in a fog, a thin veil masking the terror of the long-term consequences of stroke.
The next day, a friend who is skilled in the language of dreams interpreted the thyme plant’s meaning as suggesting slowing down and practising patience. I am not known for my patience, particularly with medical tests and doctor appointments. We pondered the possibility of the old saying, “Time heals all wounds”. The healing cliché did not settle the anxiety I felt about the TIA, and I was sure the dream carried another meaning.
The next morning I spread a blanket out under the poplar tree that graces my herb garden and let the dabbled light guide me into dreaming with the garden. This is a favourite summer pastime of mine. I don’t fall asleep when dreaming with the garden; it’s more like I merge with its many shades and shapes of green. Dreaming the garden is like acknowledging I am part of the community of plants that have settled there over the years. I dream the softness of their leaves, the buzzing of the insects and prickly nature of their thorns.
Eventually, I took a walk around the garden, greeting each plant: my skinny friend vervain, my gentle friend motherwort, and my shy friend violet. Some of the plants have been in the garden since my first year of living in the house (when we moved in, there was only a patch of dirt where the previous owner parked motorcycles). Like old friends, we have had boundary disputes. Raspberry and valerian will not settle in one area of the garden. Borage has annoyed me with her love of spiders and I have lamented skullcap’s disappearance during drought and rejoiced at her return with rain.
Near the house, I found my thyme plant and recalled the dream. I sat close to him, took a small sprig, crushed the leaves and held them under my nose. The fear I had been holding at bay flooded my body. Just when I thought it would overwhelm me, it passed and I was left with a quiet strength I had not felt since the TIA. I nibbled on a leaf. The burning, piercing sensation of thyme’s powerful volatile oils brought clarity to my mind, waking me up from the fog I had been shrouded in since TIA had temporarily stolen my sight.
Thyme’s effect on my mind/body amazed me. I turned the small sprig of thyme over in my fingers and found a thin red stem from which delicate clusters of leaves emerged. Red stems, particularly thin ones, are signatures for fine blood vessels like the ones that feed the brain. A plant’s signature suggests its medicinal uses.
The other curious signature was the singular root emerging from the stem. The root reminded me of the close relationship between the nervous system and the circulatory system. The root connects the plant with the intelligence and nutrients of the earth. The nervous system provides the pathways for the exchange of information between the body and the brain: a process that gets totally messed up when one suffers a stroke.
Sitting next to the thyme plant, I felt I was getting closer to understanding the healing dream. I decided to research the history of thyme in medicine a little further. Here is what I found:
The word thyme is derived from the Greek for thumos, or spirit. Curiously, in pre-western medicine, strokes were considered an illness of spirit.
In the folk medicine of England, thyme was used to restore and strengthen the mind.
Finally, in the days of the Crusades, a lady embroidered a sprig of thyme with a bumblebee hovering over it on a scarf to give to her knight for protection. Thyme is a plant of protection.
The TIA had certainly left me feeling very vulnerable, without protection.
With this new knowledge, I returned to sit next to the thyme plant and named it “The Little Warrior”. My encounter with the thyme plant in my garden and dream told me everything was going to be all right. For the next six months I wore a sprig of thyme everywhere I went.