Radical Botany - Week of January 12-19, 2008
I am long-time Cascadian - I was born here in the valley and group up pretty much feral child. As a child, I attended school, but every other moment of my life I spent close to the earth and the plants. I live close to a white Oak forest and learned about the plants from the plants themselves. I loved the animals and birds also. I lived close to the foot of Mary's Peak in the Coast range (Tamanawis- place where the spirit dwells). I ran wild on the slopes of the mountain - especially the North Trail. This is a trail where Kalapuyan children were sent for their vision quests. I had a father who loved the earth and helped me to understand the plants and learn to identify them. He encouraged me to draw them and paint pictures of them as a way of understanding them. He did not know about their healing abilities but sensed that some knowledge had been lost about these plants. My father was an organic gardener from way back and our family raised about 50% of our food from the earth. I learned a great deal about drying, preserving and harvesting from my parents.
In my early teens I was able to attract two great plant teachers to me. "Grandma" who lived not far from me, across a couple of fields and taught me to harvest the tiny purple center of Queen Anne's lace as a natural dye. She was my most important teacher. She told me about the spirit of each plant. I was not taught that a certain plant family always reacted the same for each human dose. I was taught that each human attracted plant healing in different ways. This is upside down from what corporate medicine teaches today. Teachings such as homeopathy and the flower essence (Bach Flower remedies) also teach that the healing must start with the human spirit-that all healing starts with emotions and that to have proper healing - a healer must observe the progress and changes in an human or animal.
To understand fully the relationships between myself and the plants of Cascadia I sought stories about how native peoples used the plants. And I discovered an attraction to several plants. I will start by teaching what I know about 10 plant species. These are important to me and others may attract you.
As I teach the 10 essential healing plants of Cascadia - I will also teach that you should try to observe yourself and observe what plants you are attracted to. Understand that many times the attraction is mutual and that the plant is trying to attract you and heal you.
I will be covering how to identify and harvest the plants that I think we should all know about. I also plan the cover how to use the plants for healing, nutrition, emotional and spiritual healing. I will give resources on how to learn more about each plant.
Before you can learn about plants- healing and nutritional plants you need to learn the lay of the land, the spirit force that the earth gives us through plants. Plants are more than inanimate objects put on the earthy for our enjoyment - they are part of us and we are part of them. We need to have an understanding that everything in heaven and earth is connected as one big system and that plants are a much a part of our bodies and minds and spirits as anything else in the eco-system that we live in (Permaculture). For too long human kind has been immersed in the idea of a mechanized world. Many humans believe they can treat the earth and our bodies like machines with exchangeable parts. Many humans believe they can remove or abuse a body part and have other parts continue to thrive. It is the same with plants. When you remove or abuse a plant community, you bring imbalance and dis-ease to the whole.
Plants are amazing earth entities. There is so much knowledge lost now about how to interact with plants and gain health and well-ness. There is a movement amongst Permaculturists and plant healers to collect the stories of how native peoples interacted with plants - the ethnobotany of plants knowledge. Here is a excerpt from an amazing resource for people who live in Cascadia and wish to "know" plants and our place amongst them.
The excerpts are from Bill Burwell a Kalapuya researcher, and Jerry Hall a ethnobotanist who teaches at Lane Community College.
Excerpts from May's Native Plants and Permaculture Conference Proceedings:
Bill Burwell: At the start of each harvest season the Kalapuyans would have a first gathering ceremony. The spiritual leader of each winter village site would harvest a few articles of each resource, bring it back, prepare it in a ceremonial way, bless the plants or animals that were responsible, and then the regular harvest could begin. The first gathering ceremony was very important to them, and it was practiced all throughout the Kalapuya culture, religiously. Their belief was that all plants and animals, including humans, were part of the same format. As above, so below. Just like humans, plants and all animals had families, and then beyond the families they had communities.
There's one word I know of that was utilized all the way up and down the Willamette Valley, the lower Columbia, and into the Salish area in Washington: Tamanawas. It's been translated as spirit power. People who went out on a vision quest were looking for their Tamanawas. I think what it really related to was a person's ability to interconnect with all the rest of nature. I've collected a number of tales of the people going out into the woods to find a particular medicine, and their ability to find this medicine came from the ability to plug into that certain plant and interact with it. The plant actually was the teacher of the person who was going out on the search.
Jerry Hall: When we started learning our language, songs began coming to us. There is the belief that songs are just in the ether or in the air, and they select somebody to come to at a time in that person's life. ... My experience is that singing evokes something from us that is beyond talking and gives expression to prayer.
I feel that nature is really part of the home and that people related that way five hundred years ago. People knew where everything was and they took care of it.
Next time: Plant communities/Human communities