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!