Hawthorne berries, with inadvertent psychedelic camera effect!
Well hello out there, friends- it's been a verrrrrry long time, and you must have thought that I dropped off the face of the earth. My only excuse is that when I throw myself into something, I do it 100%! First Ladyfest Nevada County, with an associated blog, and now my new project with my dear friend Amber from Nourished Mother-- we opened an online store selling vintage clothes! We're called Violet Folklore and we are on Etsy, a cool site for vintage and handmade goods. We might add herbal products this year, as was our original vision, but for now the clothes are demanding all of our time and attention! (Yes, in case you're wondering, it's going really well! It's my first ever successful effort at being an entrepreneur, and I am thrilled to bits!)
Snow bird, December
Naturally we have a blog with our new endeavor- and you can check it out here! We blog about our community, our lives, our fashion, and naturally we throw some herbs and natural health into the mix. We have just committed to doing a once a week post about "How I Took Care of Myself This Week". We also started a Flickr group called Making Herbal Medicine-- please join us and share your photos and your knowledge of the healing plants!
My herbal energies will be channeled in these new directions for now, so I hope that those of you who I have made a connection with can join me in my new cyberspace hangouts. Our blog is really more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.. and while we do promote the items in our shop, it is SO much more than your average "fashion blog"-- it's quite personal and (hopefully) inspiring. Though it might rekindle your love of dressing up, too...
Totally going to get you...
Thanks to all of my readers who made this year so wonderful for me-- your encouragement and support have given me the courage to launch my new business, and to feel that I can participate in this amazing online world with savvy and sass. I hope you all are having a cozy holiday season, and I hope to be in touch with you all in the New Year!
Whew! Ladyfest has come and gone, and I am finally starting to recover (after being a thousand-pound-zombie at work all week, and actually falling asleep in the middle of a rowdy dinner party last night-- complete with Drooling!).
I have a new found respect for Event Planning-- extending to even the smallest effort. The other day I thanked the deli crew at our local Co-op so effusively for my lunch that they actually looked frightened of me!
So how was it, how was it, I know you wanna know.... well, it was amazing!!! And a roller coaster ride. The workshops could have supported a lot more attendees, but those who came were over the moon about the quality and diversity of our teachers, and the high degree of organization. Things went so smoothly! Thanks in no small part to the Chamomile tea I drank all day long, to soothe that "acid stomach" feeling that comes from too much excitement, and to calm jingle jangle of the nerves that needed to remain calm for a 16 hour day. Chamomile is an old standby, found in almost every cafe-- but just because it is common, that doesn't mean we should forget about it! This little yellow flower truly is a superb nerve tonic and stomach soother.
The concert at night was packed, with the coolest audience ever, and I will blow my own horn and say that everyone agreed that each of the eight acts were totally awesome! (I picked 'em, and I'm proud to say I knew what I was doing.) I put in a Personal Best during the Shamrocks' last song... I was encouraged by the hoots and yelps from my girlfriends in the audience, and riding so high on the wave of Female Empowerment, that I was not just down on my back, but actually manipulating the whammy bar in a lascivious fashion. (Ahem.)
Some of our Ladyfest Concert performers: Uni and her Ukulele, Ricky Berger, Natalie of Agent Ribbons, myself, Adrienne of Coal Beautiere, and Catherine Scholz
This week has been hard... that whole Deflated Ballon, Lost Purpose feeling. (Sleep and Licorice tincture to the rescue, for those depleted adrenals!) But at the same time, there has been room once more for the quieter pleasures, which is a true joy. We all know that Slowing Down is the only way to enjoy life, after all... and on that note, I am glad to announce that the Morning Walk With Cats has returned!:
The stunning Fall beauty of the hill behind the house:
Ferns, still going strong, though all the grass is dry
After a typical Northern California summer in the Sierras-- with blue skies every day-- it is so exciting to see clouds again!
Oh that October light... proof positive that there is a Master Plan...
The perfume of leaves and earth is intense in the mornings and evenings. My soundtrack riding to and from work is the rich, deep, slightly spooky sounds of Fairport Convention:
"Come all ye roving minstrels, and together we will try... to raise the spirit of the earth, and move the rolling sky..."
(Oh Sandy Denny, I love you!)
The Hawthorne berries are ripe, and there is a last wave of herb gathering to be done before the real cold sets in. I love the quickening before the great Slowing Down of winter... and I know you are all running around like squirrels burying your acorns, too!
The very last sweet pea (Only one on the whole hillside! A true mystery!):
Girls doin' it for themselves at the Ladyfest Publicity photo shoot: Sarah Jane Ely, Amber Magnolia Hill, daughter Mycelia, and me. Photo by Sarah Bridges.
Well, I warned you... I have been swallowed (alive!) by Ladyfest Nevada County.(Coming up Saturday October 4th!) For a girl who has never organized a big event in her life (my wedding almost sent me over the edge, and my mom did almost all of the work on that one!) it is amazing to me to see what I have accomplished. Myself and ONE other woman have wrangled together two dozen incredible workshop leaders, eight amazing performers, wooed the radio and newspaper press from here to Sacramento, and we've planned it all to go down at the swankiest venue in town. Heck, we even got them to donate the space!
Naturally Ladyfest Nevada County had to have a special blog, put together by yours truly. I think you'll enjoy this even if you don't live in Nevada County-- I did really interesting and inspiring interviews with all of our workshop leaders and performers! My friend called it "The People magazine of Nevada County". But of course it's pure gold, not pure trash (unless we're talking recycling). I've posted twenty in one week (really! now you'll excuse me for not hanging out on Kitchenwitch lately!) and more are coming.
You Herbsters out there will be interested to know that we have awesome workshops on Aromatherapy for the Spirit and Lotion Making De-Mystified. Oh me oh my, we have SO many good workshops, you really ought to peek at our titillating Workshop Schedule here!
Alright, I gotta go to bed, so here's wishing a happy harvest to all of you. And if you're in town on Saturday October 4th... I wanna see your face at Ladyfest!
Late August and early September is Visitor Time when you live in a place with a gorgeous swimming river. As summer winds down, everyone has to get their last blast of sun and water and general lollygagging. Guests are a great excuse for me to shirk my usual responsibilities (including, ahem, this blog...) and just Chill Out-- especially when they have kids, since it is hopeless to impose adult schedules and priorities on little people. This kind of time-out-of-time is a medicine of its own, I found:
Armelle and her daughter Anna-Nina, visiting from the eternally damp state of Oregon:
Anna and her inflatable hippo, enjoying the Yuba River:
Auntie Sasha, Anna, and a Magic Wand (also known as a Stick to the less imaginative):
Inbar, Jesse, and their son Ben visiting from foggy San Francisco:
Ben's glamor shot-- he reminds me of a Bollywood hunk:
After two glorious weekends in a row of sand in my bathing suit and meals of figs and goat cheese, well, I started to forget about my to-do list. Luckily, when the third weekend came around, I remembered that I already had plans to hang with my friend Nacoa. She lives in the same county as I do, but somehow in my whirlwind life I never get to see enough of her! We spent the entire day at Purdon's Crossing, taking a tour of the different swimming holes:
That's me in there!:
There's still another week or two of swimming, but as the river temp drops with the cooler nights, it's quickly becoming more like "dipping" then "soaking". I hate to see summer go, and along with it our parade of wonderful and inspiring guests, but... there is work to be done.
I won't be blogging as much as usual for the next three weeks, since I am co-organizing a big event locally: Ladyfest Nevada County!
Here's the low-down: 25 Workshops all day long, with something for Every Lady: Self-Defense, Greening Your Life, Networking Basics, Aromatherapy, Lotion-Making, African Dance, Breast Cancer Prevention, Creative Writing, Jewelry Making, Clothing Design, Yoga, Contact Improv, Cooking with Local Foods, and more! Then a huge concert at night featuring the best and brightest local and regional women musicians: Agent Ribbons, Ricky Berger, Uni and her Ukulele, Sasha and the Shamrocks (yup! That's me!), MaMuse, Coal Beautiere, BEESHARQ, and more!
Click over to The Center for the Arts for more info or to purchase tickets... and if you are on Myspace add Ladyfest here. I am making a special blog to showcase interviews with the performers and workshop presenters-- I will put the link up here when it is launched. These are all such fascinating ladies, I think you'll love getting to know more about them!
Hope you all are having a good change of the seasons... meanwhile I leave you with soft-serve memories....
Follow me down to the river, my friend; so wild and so free, til the Summer ends...
Inland California: Oaks like land-locked octopuses, striking poses against a clear blue sky. California girl: Oak silhouettes imprinted behind my eyelids like tattoos. Windy, twisty Oaks were the first trees I knew. Shading me as a baby on a picnic blanket; scraping my eight-year-old knees as pulled myself up through their branches to reach the highest lookout; sheltering me as a teenager on my wild and secret missions in the hills. Each one a mystery; sculpted from wind, rain, drought and the Milky Way. Each one familiar; many-armed, welcoming.
Inland California, late Summer. The smell of bleached white grass and pungent Artemesia; the musky damp of the creeklet which winds through impentetrable Blackberry vine shade. A winding path that snakes over boulders and forest duff, turning to soft sand as it approaches the riverbed.
The first trees are turning, evidence of the cooler, longer nights. Blinding white July mellowed to golden August, the long shadows playfully hinting at the darker days to come. But not yet: Not just yet.
The Yuba River is a swift blue ribbon of snowmelt, hurrying from the High Sierras to the Sacramento Valley. It cascades through steep canyons, pausing in an occasional pool before squeezing its way through elephant-sized blue granite boulders, galloping to the lowlands in white waterfalls, a firehose full-blast.
In Bridgeport, the steep mountain canyons soften to sinuous, rolling hills; the roaring torrent becoming a purring kitten. The river here is wide, shallow, the long flat beach filled with picnickers and toddlers in water wings.
In a wet winter, the river may swallow the beach and become hundreds of feet wide. By summertime, the receding waters have left whole worlds in the sand. The foliage goes to work reclaiming its turf, and the Summer Girls go to work exploring.
My feet wear proud callouses; tough skin that can clamber up scorching boulders fast as a billy goat, transform into powerful flippers in the strong current. Walking by the river in the oven-hot afternoon, I am out of time, a sum of every summer inside of me. My shadow is my only reflection; a long-legged stilt walker, a horse-girl on the moon. My shadow body stretches, bends, becomes a Willow.
Where the foliage is dense, I climb in green canopies, tendrils reaching a thousand directions. I am lush, green, succulent; Wild Grape, dappled in sunlight and shadow.
Whether this is a tangle of weeds or a Medicine Garden really depends on your perspective. The birds twitter and debate in their tree apartments above, utterly content with their bounty of berries and bugs. I try to be still in the blue half-shadow. I want to gaze deeper into the Riparian Jungle; so many layers get lost when I am Rushing and Supposing about. As I slow down, the useful plants begin to appear everywhere. Even in the spaces between, there is a certain extra magic, gauzy and fine like spidersilk. A slightly different quality of light. The hallmark of a healing place.
This scene did not look the same two summers ago. Record-breaking rains turned the Yuba into a monster that devoured everything in its path. When I came to explore in the spring, I found a tableau of destruction: the State Park bathroom uprooted and lying upside down 200 feet from its foundations, the Willow garden a flattened, mangled mess. My special, secret place had been leveled.
Today I am filled with awe at the regenerative powers of Nature. Only two summers later, almost all evidence of the destruction has been erased. Here and there a memento, but even these are disappearing back into the earth, enfolding back into the larger cycle.
Exploring the Bridgeport Medicine Garden: Willow
Here are my sweet green-grey friends, flexible and undaunted by the thrashing they took in the flood of the winters past. Willow contains salicylic acid, the precursor to the pain-relieving ingredient in aspirin. For thousands of years, the inner bark has been used for relief from headaches and arthritis. Salicylic acid is also used as an ingredient in skin care products, where its ability to make the epidermis shed more rapidly comes in handy when dealing with conditions like acne, psoriasis, calluses, corns, and warts. Beauty potions made from Willow itself will work much more gently than over-the-counter products, sweetly softening and toning the skin.
If you can beat the birds to these dark purple jewels, you will get a sweet and juicy mouthful of fruit that is bursting with anti-oxidants. The color in dark red, blue, and purple fruits comes from a class of flavonoids called anthocyanidins. These potent anti-oxidants are like superfood for our cells, and the extra boost to cell integrity is seen long-term in the reduction of heart disease, and immediately in the reduction of wrinkles. Not that I would be so terribly vain as to worry about that... (yeah, right!)
Grape leaves may also be steamed and eaten (think dolmas!), and they are used medicinally to cool off inflamed conditions. The fabulous herbalist Kiva Rose has a great post about Wild Grape over here.
I remember very average-sized Mugwort growing here pre-flood, but something seems to have changed for the better after the great Pummeling of 2006-- these specimens are nearly six feet tall, among the biggest I've ever seen! I am glad they are so darn happy.
Mugwort is used as a bitter to move stagnant energy in the digestive and reproductive systems. It is useful after a meal that refuses to digest-- for example that Weird Potluck feeling (when you've had peanut-butter-chocolate-melon-salad followed by Brie and sardines, ahem). Mugwort's strong bitter taste (and you have to TASTE it, no popping capsules) can help set things right again; try a tincture or a tea.
Mugwort is a beloved Moon ally for the ladies, since it brings on and regulates the menstrual cycle-- especially for young women just starting to bleed, or women getting off of birth control pills. Its strong clearing energy also makes it a popular ingredient in smudge sticks. It is also a psychic enhancer, hence its appearance in Dream Teas. Be aware, however, that Mugwort's powers of enhancing visions and bringing prophetic insight can send you flying around the Dreamworld all night long on Important Missions, and you may wake up feeling more exhausted than refreshed!
A plant of many uses, Mugwort is also used topically (as a wash-- try a strong tea or a vinegar) AND internally as an antidote to Poison Oak. If you do end up touching Poison Oak, wash the area of contact with cold water and soap and start a Mugwort regime IMMEDIATELY. I've seen it stop and/or temper the effects in a dramatic fashion.
Elder has been used by Native Americans and Europeans since the dawn of civilization-- even its name speaks to its reputation for enhancing and lengthening life. In times when flu epidemics could mean the decimation of entire villages, the flowers and berries of Elder have been beloved allies of the people. Modern research supports what folk tradition has known for centuries: Elder is strongly anti-viral, stimulating to the immune system, and specifically supportive to the respiratory system. Another dark purple berry, it also has high levels of those anthocynanidins so crucial to the integrity of cells and their ability to effectively hunt down and capture the dreaded Free Radicals. (I am referring to the bad Free Radicals, now, notthe interesting kind with goatees and Che Guevara posters). I am putting up a ton of Elderberry tincture this year; I'm so excited to try it in different combinations (with Ginger? Echinacea? Red Root? Osha?) for immune support.
Late Summer makes me into a nostalgic creature, I admit; there is something about the disappearance of the Light that makes me yearn for days and people of my past. The gift of this keening feeling is a re-emergence of my creative powers-- in Summer's indolence, music served as a soundtrack, books as entertainment; now everything my senses take in becomes immediate fuel for my own songwriting and dreaming. Though I do not grow my own food garden (beyond a few tomatoes and herbs), I have a real sense that I am cresting towards Harvest right along with the Earth energies. Riding this wave of the seasons grows more poignant and more intense every time I round the wheel; an utterly unexpected boon of aging. I hope I use it well. Happy Late Summer to all of you!
I think it was back in May that me and my husband looked at our busy calender of musical engagements (we have TWO bands, he plays drums in mine, I play Omnichord in his), and we said "let's take August off".
Well, as they say, We Plan, God/dess Laughs! August has been the busiest month YET! ...and it's not over...
With that in mind, I am just dropping in briefly to share news about our friend Vervain-- the beautiful purple flowering spires have finally burst forth!-- and to share a few funny pics from my wacky August life...
By the way, while I was doing some research for my post on Vervain, I came across some interesting information attributed to the Druids: "harvest Vervain at a time when there is no Moon and no Sun in the sky..." I couldn't resist, naturally-- I had to give it a go! Me and ZouZou went out to the Vervain patch on the night of a New Moon and put up a huge jar of Vervain. It was a very intense experience, with a very deep and strong earth energy infusing the medicine-gathering process. This fall, I plan to launch a little Etsy shop, and I will be sure to have my "Druid's Vervain" for sale! Meanwhile...
The other day, my hunny and I have to share a car because his is in the shop. Since he goes to work an hour before I do, when I drop him off I find myself both A. Up early and B. Out and About (a rare combination, I tell you)... with nothing to do.
My impulse, out of habit, is to go into work early and wade through my inbox. Luckily I catch myself, and realize that there is actually no pressing reason to start staring into the Electronic Eye this early in the morning. I recall an exercise out of the book The Artists Way by Julia Margaret Cameron-- the book which helped pull me out of my decade-long Stage Fright/ Writer's Block/ General Jammed-Up-Inside-ness slump-- an appeal to look at your day a new way, to walk home on a different street, to eat something new for lunch, to stop and actually SMELL those flowers. Something, anything, to break the spell of same-ness and routine that can become a self-made prison.
Everyday I take a shortcut to work on a stretch of windy, wild road beside Wolf Creek, and a million times I pass the tempting turnouts and have no time to stop. Why not today?
Now I could never resist a path or a road that goes winding back mysteriously into the underbrush. I even have some scars from tangling with barbed wire fences, as the result of my boundless curiosity... but don't let me set the Example for you, or you'll have a pretty weird life! Anyhow, today there is no fence and no sign saying No Trespassing, though I have the vague feeling that my behavior isn't exactly encouraged. I also know that no one zooming to work on this road gives a damn or will even notice.
Just feet from the road is a jungle of Blackberry Vine, Sweet Pea, Hawthorne, Mugwort, Willow, Wild Grape, Chicory, and assorted Cheery Wildflowers. By the rushing creek it is a little cooler, the underbrush too thick to penetrate; a glorious secret kingdom. A hummingbird sings (okay, squeaks, but I love the sound) in the treetop above.
Chicory is one of my favorite wild flowers. She is only open early, and each flower only lasts for just one day-- so although I catch her out of the corner of my eye on my way to work, when my day is done her flower is already spent. It is so nice to spend time with her in her prime, in the morning with it's clean light and succulent air.
Chicory appears in "New Orleans Coffee", incidentally-- when times were lean, her roasted root was combined half and half with the more pricey coffeebeans. The taste is divine, and it stuck. Chicory is also good for stimulating the appetite, and supposedly as a treatment for gallstones, though I have no experience with this. Her flower essence is used to mitigate the need to selfishly possess someone or something.
Here she is with Star Thistle- a much-maligned plant, but beautiful in her way. These days, with the ever-shrinking open space in California and the ailing bee population, you don't see huge, inexpensive jars of Starthistle honey that you used to. To bad, cause it is so good on toast!
There is nothing more satisfying to me then a huge bouquet of wildflowers. My half an hour in the morning got to stay with me all day.
I hope this post inspires you to look at today in a new way. Sometimes the sweetest diversions are merely a few feet from our well-traveled road... almost like an alternate, parallel universe.
I wrote the following post about Vervain for this month's Blog Party on the topic of Bitters, hosted by Kiva Rose at The Medicine Woman's Roots!
Vervain, sweetest among the Bitters. Vervain, who starts out green on the palette, yet leaves an aftertaste so sharp that all of my juices erupt like Dancing Fountains, and my liver revs to life like a Harley Davidson. Vervain, so unassuming in appearance, but with a reputation nothing short of Illustrious in Herbal and Magical lore.
Vervain, with whom I once sat on a stony hillside, pleading for Nature to please reveal herself to me in a ridiculously obvious way: shimmering auras, pixies swinging from willow branches, and voices of my ancestors chanting instructions in Dolby Surround Sound. Vervain, who waited patiently until the tide of my desperation ebbed low again, leaving a silence in which she could be heard:
Pick up your pen.
I'd brought my notebook to the hills, intending to do a plant meditation and jot down my Deep and Meaningful notes afterwards. Unfortunately, all that the peaceful silence was doing was making me crazy. Why couldn't I be one of those subtle, psychic girls who says "Om" and just *poof!* disappears through a gauzy curtain to the realm of the Plant Spirits? When I closed my eyes, all I could think of was lyrics to pop songs, my grocery list, my bank balance.
Pick up your pen.
Writing? But wasn't that cheating? Giving free rein to my hyper-active mind, the endless chatter that clearly needed a gag and a straight jacket... but what harm could it do, anyway? The "meditation" was hopeless.
I picked up my pen.
And I imagined that the Mugwort in the dry riverbed began to hum. I imagined that the Oak trees sang to the grasses, the beetles to the birds. I imagined that the light had began to shift, oh-so-subtly, glimmering silver on the landscape.
Ah, but when I looked up from my notebook, it was true. No, the poppies weren't pirouetting like cartoon stars in Fantasia's Waltz of the Flowers, but a door had opened just- a-- crack, so that I could see the plants around me for what they really were. Magic.
Vervain is known as the Druid's Herb, the Poet's Herb, and the Witch's Herb, depending who you ask. The Celts used her for protection during rituals. Neo-Pagans use her for protection in their car-- especially if they don't have insurance! Druids were said to drink a tea of Vervain to bring forth the muse of poetry and song. Romans left offerings of her on their altars to their Goddess Venus. Single New Age ladies bathe in her in order to attract and secure a mate. Witches of old made sure there was a heaping dose of Vervain in their flying ointment. (How else is that broom supposed to get airborne?) She's even supposed to ward off Vampires.
Vervain gets around.
Like so many helpful herbs, Vervain is bitter. Not immediately, arrestingly so, like Gentian or Yarrow. In fact, she even starts out a little sweet. But try to hide her in tea, and you can't do it. Sugar or honey only makes the deception more obvious.
Bitter functions as a warning in nature, a Threshold-Cross-Not. Bitter is an initiator. Bitter gets bile flowing, loosens thoughts. Bitter stops us in our tracks, sharpens us, prepares us for a smorgasbord of the senses.
Too much sweet, anywhere in life, can be smothering. Thank god, in a crowd of pillowy Yes people, for the acerbic wit that slices through the treacle, the carefully placed sarcastic comment that lets the fresh air back into the room. Thank God, in 24-Hour Pancake and Ice Cream Sundae America, for the sprig of parsley on the side of the plate.
Vervain is an antidote to suffocating, cloying states of both Mind and Body. She is specific for looping thoughts, the specialty of insomniacs and worrywarts from Guam to Kathmandu. She is also used as a bitter tonic, long-term, for heated and congested livers.
Now you weren't going to forget about your liver, were you? (That six pack of Bud and the deep-fried Twinkie at the Fair were just temporary insanity, I know!) A massive organ with a mammoth to-do list, when our liver gets overwhelmed and irritable, our mental outlook begins to reflect the same. Vervain works-- over time-- to cool things off and get things moving, putting the spring back in our step and lightening our load both physically and emotionally.
(Yes, the above image is, in fact, a plush liver! This and other organs are available at iheartguts.com!)
You can dream with Vervain, trance with her, attract love, and Goddess only knows what else. (meteorite dust?) Energetically speaking, you want to be careful with Vervain (or any bitter) if you already run too cool, or you are naturally dried- or spaced-out. A little goes a long way! Vervain is one cool lady, but remember that she's more about the Ether than the Dirt. Grounding is not her specialty!
In Northern California, where I first met her, Vervain (Verbena hastata) is an unassuming plant, a few feet high at most, with the silver-green leaves typical of Natives who must endure the rainless summers. Her tall, sturdy European cousin (Verbena officinalis) is much taller and sturdier built, but they share one salient feature: their enchanting spires of purple flowers. If you happen to rendez-vous at twilight, staring at these miniature purple candelabras can put you in a trance.
In my garden, I am lucky to have both kinds of Vervain, but I am still waiting for those fantastic flowers to come in. The European variety is the superstar of these photos. I planted her by some of my favorite sitting stones, so we get to spend have a lot of time together, watching the stream, dreaming, and imagining. I have been compelled to make tons of tincture from her juicy leaves, so she will be with me all winter long, when dusky-magic summer twilights are but a memory.
Vervain, sweetest among the Bitters. I'm glad to know you, and glad to introduce you to the next generation of eager dreamers!
Down by the stream, a miniature grove of otherworldly trees has risen from the tangle of cleavers and sedge grasses. The new arrivals have shot up within two moons, and their branches are already so tall that they form a soft green atrium around me. I have brought my camera, hoping to capture the unusual color of the stalks, hued in black-light-poster-magenta and lime green; I’m also after a good picture of the clusters of just-ripening berries, with their long Dr. Seuss-creature snouts. Above all, I am eager to spend some time with the plant whose medicine I keep all year in my tiny Spirit room, using 2 or 3 drops before doing Tarot readings or trance writing.
This is Poke, or Phytolacca, and she is not your usual Cup of Tea.
It is fitting that she only grows here, by the little trickle of water that I call a stream, since she is one of the plant kingdom’s premiere lymph movers. “Lymph” itself means “a stream of pure, clear water”, and comes from the Latin “lympha” or “water nymph”. Nymphs are no strangers to mischief and magic, and there is a true extra-dimensional feeling here in the forest of Poke.
Our lymph system is one of the body’s two major fluid transport systems. The circulatory system is as loud and obvious as a Superhighway—it throbs in our temples, pulses in our throats, and beats a drum in our chest every moment of the day. If we cut ourselves, our blood seeps out quickly, alarming as a red light.
Meanwhile, beneath the hubbub, the lymphatic system operates like a fluid transport Subway. Quiet and seldom noticed, the job it does is a critical one.
All lymph fluid travels on a one-way path towards the heart, picking up bacteria and other particles that cells have put out on their “curbside recycling”. Before reaching the heart and the bloodstream, all lymph will move through at least one lymph gland, and it is here that a lot of the hard work takes place.
The lymphatic system is the producer of some of the body’s major immune cells, such as lymphocytes and macrophages (visualize tons of little Ms. PacMans eating blinking ghosts). A lot of shrapnel results from the skirmishes between your immune system and would-be invaders—dead cells, bodies of vanquished foes, etc. If a cold, flu, or infection has already passed, but your lymph glands are still swollen for a few days, that’s your clean-up crew working overtime after the lights have gone down and the crowd has gone home—lymph is taking out the trash.
Lymph, like a self-winding watch, is only moved by OUR movements. These can be gentle motions like skin brushing, or yoga; you can also give your lymph a real shake-up by jumping on a trampoline or dancing Tecktonik:
In the category of herbal lymphogogues that includes Cleavers (galium) and Red Root (ceanothus), Poke Root is considered an incredibly powerful mover and shaker. So much so, that it is toxic in high doses, and can cause puking in sensitive individuals even at low dosages. Don’t worry, you won’t be finding Poke in your glass of iced tea at my house! I did give it to my friend Amber when she was suffering with mastitis-- for which the root tincture and poultice of the leaf are specific-- and I use Poke occasionally on myself for sluggish lymph. Mostly, though, our relationship is built on hanging out together in the spirit realm.
My favorite plant meditation is doing stream-of-consciousness creative writing while sitting with the plant itself, or after taking a few drops of tincture. When I meditate with Poke, I have the sensation of descent through the layers of the earth/my own body, a closeness with all things buried and long-forgotten, and an affinity with the taboo.
My Official Tour Guide of Poke’s realm usually shows up as an archetypal raven-haired lady with a red rose in her hair and a red convertible sports car, wearing a skirt that’s just a little too short for decency. Naturally she’s driving too fast and has a bottle of whiskey stashed in the glove compartment; and naturally she charms me into coming along for the ride.
In these deeper dimensions, I find forgotten experiences, sensations, and desires—all the things that I push aside or bury so I can Play Nice, Fit In, and Behave. In day-to-day life, I am a born rebel trying (occasionally) to act the part of an angel, and Poke has something to say about that. Our journey together isn’t necessarily a joyride—in fact, it can really shake me up-- but I always return feeling that the stuck and stagnant corners of my spirit have had a thorough cleaning-out.
The energy of this journeying with Poke strikes me as particularly Plutonian in character. Pluto (recently shorn of its title of Planet, but not banished so easily from astrology!) is the ruler of the Underworld, death, mining, detective work, your secret rendez-vous at the Motel 6, and taxes. The Wikipedia describes Pluto’s job succinctly as “bringing buried needs and desires to the surface and expressing them”.
Getting in touch with what you really want can clear major energetic blockages, However you do it—dreamboarding, wish list-ing, yelling at the top of your lungs under the freeway—it is important for you health that you express your true Desires. Just like our lymph, which doesn’t move itself, it takes a little push for us to shed those psychic layers.
Poke reminds us that our underground streams of water deserve to run clear, and our inner selves deserve to be as agile, lithe and playful as water nymphs themselves. May it be so!
My #1 Herbal Buddy Amber has started her own Official Blog, Nourished Mother. (She used to blog exclusively on Myspace, but that wasn't nearly as accessible!) There are so many reasons you will want to check out her beautiful new blog, not the least of which is her fascinating story about her unassisted (that's right, not even with a midwife) homebirth.
She is also an amazing herbalist, deep thinker, and of course the first person I would turn to for a question about conscious parenting. Check it out and tell all your mamma friends!