Happy Spring! March 19 was the Spring Equinox, when the day and night are of equal length and the days continue to get longer right down to Summer Solstice June 20th, which is the longest day of the year and the days get shorter thereafter. What a gift New Moon and Solstice/Equinox. Our lives can be observed in a rhythm of ebb and flow, waxing and waning, lifting of energy and pulling back and in and down. The rhythm of Earth.
I moved a table and bench from Flora Jones Garden down to Sargent-Downing Garden. My friend Betty and new member Sarah were on hand to collect Dandelion, Nettle and Valerian.
I believe the productivity of having a writing/art practice has enhanced my personal growth. The energy and light in everyday conversations with friends and associates is magical. And now, I am privileged to return to the gardens! As we know we have not had Winter and here at the end of March, we are easily a month ahead into the season temperature wise, Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) and Maple (Acer sp.) blooming, not due for another month. Along with the Coronavirus pandemic, the Arctic breaking heat records, a perfect storm for anxiety. Our governments doubling down on oppression, we have all we’ve ever had - community. Huddle close friends, we have entered manufactured Armageddon. We send compassion into the universe for these lost, miserable, sad souls who rule us.
April 1 is opening day in the gardens for me. I was sad but at Flora Jones, but excited for new ventures. Flora Jones Garden was a barter for land at the beginning of my gardening self. Native Americans believe “we belong to the Earth, the Earth does not belong to us,” so I have avoided ownership of land all these years. We consider it now, just to have a hub in New York as we’d like to travel in retirement. I love my sunny apartment, though tiny, it is easy to clean and on the second floor of a house with windows in the front and rear. Not to mention affordable and in line with the Simple Life. I provided Flora with fresh vegetables in return for the use of the space. She had been having the lawn mowed regularly, but remembered food coming out of the garden in Alabama when she was a child. The space is 50 x 70 and was my wild herb garden. Too wild ultimately, for neighbors, family and friends. I began 2019 wondering how I would find the way to move one because my business has started to make money and my time would be better spent developing it. When the opposition began I decided to take my leave. Immediately, I gained a paid gig, Michelle’s Cottage Garden, that will begin this season. Exciting times.
Routine grounds me these days where it would have bored me in the past. The humdrum. It is important to maintain our routines in these days of mandatory shelter in place policies come down from at least state governments. I got the last of my seed orders in and now look to live plants and propagation supplies. What a gift that we are at the start of the growing season. We’ll have Wild Salad soon enough. I look forward to new sites for my wild plant family.
Jewelweed, Impatiens pallida, I. capensis, Balsaminaceae, Annual, Turtle Island
Impatiens pallida flowers are yellow and I. capensis is the more well known orange colored flower Jewelweed. I have only seen or used Jewelweed wild. I have been graced with her presence at SDG. I make a Jewelweed salve for poison ivy. The young shoots up to six feet can be eaten as a vegetable. The young shoots can also be boiled to make a soup that can then be frozen into ice cubes that are affective soothing relief for poison ivy.
Juneberry, Amelanchior canadensis, Rosaceae, Tree, Turtle Island
Juneberry fruit is a cross between a Blueberry and Cherry, size falling right in between. Often made into jelly, the fruit is also loved by birds. Once the fruit occur get out there and get them, for they do not last long. I have three Juneberry outside of my place and I remembered to stop over and collect the berries last season. There is a tiny seed inside that probably made them not viable for commercial production.
Lamb’s Quarter, Chenopodium album, Chenopodiaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island
Highest level of iron of any green, I had a Lamb’s Quarter the size of a small tree at Flora Jones last season. I had to cut it down witha saw, the ‘trunk’ was easily two inches in diameter. I harvested the ‘branches’ for seed as well as the leaves for Wild Salad. Nutty in flavor, Lamb’s Quarter also contains protein.
Hold tight, friends. We are in the next phase of our lives. Community is what we have, all we have ever had, all we will ever have. Stay in touch with your community members. Hold them close and make sure everyone stays in contact with one another. The growing season is upon us. We are ready to go. Grow food for next Winter. We are open air beings. Fresh air, sunshine are always therapeutic for us. We are Earth beings, connected to Earth. We belong to the Earth, the Earth does not belong to us.
I have not watched the news since New Moon Prayer Week. I have to say I was also in the midst of studying copywriting, which took up a lot of time - well worth it. I have finished the course now and am making my way back to watching the news. I have also gained through prayer, a pile of books to study. An exciting time to be sure. So rich! So full! My mantra this year is “take the journey” followed up with “pace yourself.” I am an empath (hypersensitive) and dare I say we all are to a certain degree, we just happen to be caught up in a rat race. How about the human race? What does the human race look like? Where are we going so fast.
I can’t say I miss the news. And I have caught smidgens of news here and there - of course coronavirus in the forefront. Makes one wonder what the Establishment is up to while we watch the spread of this possible man made plague. They manufacture Armageddon. Why shouldn’t my spiritual life be as important as any other aspect. I have studied yoga for thirty years, it is fitting that I delve deeper into this now lifelong practice. It not longer feels like escape. It feels like connection to the eternal. I have discovered that self worth engaged with Spirit is more profound than any self worth offered up by the Establishment. It is immaterial and therefore foundational, unshakeable. The work is here, what can be created here. Creation, a birth, the created, it’s own entity. It is quiet, free. Harmonious. One can touch creation. Creation is the purest of energy.
We suddenly experience quarantine, attendance drops, schools close, my work (classes, consultation) cancelled, future classes being planned through coronavirus preparation. Folks seek to escape New York City. My husband and friends commute down to the city daily. I gather our herbal wares and sit tight, thankful old age wisdom comforts us, natural remedy information targeted online. Take a gander friends, at my teacher Susun Weed’s coronavirus video on You Tube: Ward off CORONA VIRUS. Available on Facebook and Twitter @Wise Woman Spiral. There is no illness for which there is not a natural remedy. Now trauma, broken bones and such, of course sometimes need surgery to save one’s life, but everyday illnesses can be met with prevention and cure through herbs. We have been preyed upon by the medical industry for so long, it is difficult at times to trust inner wisdom, the wisdom of the ages. It takes courage these days to take one’s healthcare into one’s own hands and use now what’s considered “alternative” remedies. Now sparking debate in person and online. We can share information one to one, but it is about as far as one can go before opposition. Herbal medicine is folk medicine, the people’s medicine (accessible, affordable (read free)) and probably should be shared on an individual basis anyway. It always has been and always will be. A well kept magical secret.
The growing season looms, though Winter hasn’t happened. We pray for a snowstorm by the end of the month. Be careful for what one wishes. Anticipation for opening day in the gardens can no longer be contained. Conversation about the start of the season creates a smile from head to toe. With all or any personal growth that the New Year has brought is now met with “oh yeah and now we return to the gardens.”
Friends, I have spent my life financing my life outside and for the first time I have grown to the point to where it is a way of life. It is my life. Living simply is real and true and viable. As I pull out my stores of ferments and pickles to nourish me through Winter I feel wrapped up in the embrace of Spirit. It’s a harmonious dance. So much is not necessary for my existence. I am bare bones, but peaceful and happy. The story has been told time and time again. I’m just another witness. Can I get an awomen? (heee, heeeee, an amen?)
Where are we in our Wild Plant Family?
Goldenrod, Solidago ulginosa, S. virgaurea, Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island, Europe
The culprit, so many think of for allergies. I have seen insects all over Goldenrod so who really knows? More likely Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia). I have used Goldenrod leaves for Wild Salad and dried the flowers for tea. The tea is sedative. The seeds are edible and the leaves can also be cooked. Goldenrod is expectorant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic and may reduce cholesterol. Good for the kidney and bladder, cough and asthma. In China used for sore throat, flu, fever and indigestion. Used topically for wounds and sores.
Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, Pinaceae, Tree, Turtle Island
Leaves for tea, inner bark can be pounded into flour as well as used for tea for stomach issues and diarrhea, mouthwash or toothpaste, for swollen gums. Steeped longer can be used as a skin wash and antiseptic, cuts, bruises, stings, sunburn, poison ivy. Powdered bark can be placed in shoes for foot ache and odor. Groundwork had a large, beautiful Hemlock tree. I gathered leaves for tea once. I believe I have found a Hemlock tree at Hiddenbrooke. I will have to investigate further.
Hibiscus, Hibiscus militaris, Malvaceae, Shrub, Turtle Island
We have H. syriaca at SDG, which is native to China. H. militaris is white flowers whereas H. syriaca has white, pink and purple flowers on one shrub. H. sabdariffa from tropical Africa and Asia yield a swollen sepal that is made into a drink called Sorrel that can be found in Caribbean restaurants. Hibiscus are mucilaginous, emollient and demulcent, some can be astringent and diuretic. Flowers contain citric, malic and tartaric acids. One species, known as kenaf is used to make paper. Young leaves can be cooked. The sepal can be used to dress wounds and for cough. Dried sepal for fever and tapeworm.
Take care out there. Man made or not, coronavirus is here and we have no idea for how long. Those who don’t have to venture out, shouldn’t. Gather your resources and hunker down. The Great Plague of the twenty-first century is upon us.
New Moon Prayer Week once again. I can get used to this. The quiet, the meditation, the vision. I believe Astrology and Tarot are tools to guide us on the journey. I cast my own Astrology chart using The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need by Joanne Martine Woolfolk many Moons ago and then I had my chart done professionally and I was off by just a little bit. I think the astrologer may had had my birth time and place wrong which can affect the outcome. With Tarot, which I cast with Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer one can have a Soul Card, which is one’s soul purpose through all their lifetimes and a Personality card which is what one has come into this lifetime to learn. They can be the same card like me in which case one is working on their soul purpose in this lifetime. Then there is a Year card for the annual work for every year of one’s life. Astrology comes from India and Tarot from Egypt. In love with history these days, perhaps it’s time to delve further into these origins. Origins ground me, I am prone to flights of fancy and I have the ability to compensate in the other direction now through history. Places it all into perspective. And eliminates unnecessary fret over the issues of today. I also use Runes, which we got from the Vikings, stones with symbols on them thought to have originated with the God Odin after hanging wounded upside down from a tree for nine nights.
I read through my Astrology chart this year wanting to cast my chart for the year, but have decided to leave it up to astrologers like Rob Brezsny. Once one has formulated the Tarot over the length of one’s life, the results can be charted on graph paper where patterns emerge. I just finished a ten year cycle. I think it is brilliant to find patterns through numerology, which is how Tarot is done. And don’t get me started on Astrology and Moon, Sun, Stars and Planets. I might start to levitate!
I have bought several Tarot decks over the years and have created an art piece with five decks and the runes for the last two years in my current journal, usually during Winter Solstice, to set my intention for the year. This year I am adding the Tarot of the Orishas by Zolrak & Durkin which I have always wanted. I have been purchasing practical things of late acquiring some unexpected income, but I thought it was time to invest in my spiritual practice as well. My practice has of course served me over the years, having enriched my life, filled my life with wonder and delight. Encapsulating the universal Spirit available like a garden tool. For me, they are tools that facilitate this work called life. I may as well have a bright and colorful way to experience it.
I haven’t watched the news since I started New Moon Prayer Week. Change is scary. I feel nervous, seemingly “escaping” the issues of the day, but don’t I also deserve to explore my spiritual self? Haven’t I grown to this point? Obviously I have. My mantra this year is “take the journey.” I am charting new territory and there is no view of the outcome. I will undoubtedly change by the end of the year, but as has always been the case, my core self will remain, that I know. I am Earth based in my Spirituality. There is no journey to Spirit for me without Earth. She is my Mother, my sustenance.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I am sharing my Plant Family alphabetically so look back through previous blog posts to start from the letter A. I continue with my Wild Plant Family.
Elderberry, Sambucas canadensis, Caprifoliaceae, Shrub, Tree, Northern hemisphere
Elderberry has been elusive for me over the years showing up in friend’s gardens, but never finding the time to connect and harvest. I was gifted berries a couple of years ago and I just found them in my freezer and had to toss them. Poke has always come to me in abundance and I believe plants come to one to teach one about themselves, Poke has been my go to for allergy, colds, antibiotic. Elderberry is safe for children, though and Elderberry elixir is yummy. I have found a source for bare root this year - a minimum of ten trees, so she may be planted at Hiddenbrooke and SDG this season. Kinda exciting! The flowers have been used culinarily, for the eyes, skin and for headache. The berries contain vitamins A and C. The leaves can be used for bruises and sprains. The bark has been used to treat epilepsy. Know as the “country medicine chest.”
Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, Onagraceae, Biennial, Eastern Turtle Island
I saw Evening Primrose for the first time on Denning’s Point and then she showed up at SDG now been over-run by Bull Thistle. She did choose another spot last season, but a single plant, not forming a huge stand like the first time she showed up. I was so happy to see her beautiful yellow flowers. I think she had been gone for a season. I have not used her for anything. Another elusive. The leaf and stem have been food for the Blackfoot tribe. Roots and tops can be boiled in honey to make cough syrup. Seed oil has fatty acids for healthy skin, containing gammalinolenic acid which can be used for PMS, allergic eczema and reduces blood pressure. Seeds contain tryptophan, which has been used as a sedative.
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, Cruciferae, Biennial, Africa, Asia, Europe
Woods are overrun with Garlic Mustard these days. Leaves taste like Garlic and are a spicy addition to our Wild Salad. Garlic Mustard is biennial and can be found in either stage. Quickly going to flower where the leaves go bitter. The seeds taste like mustard. I have made Garlic Mustard vinegar. Leaf tea purifies the blood. In flower the plant is expectorant, antiseptic, stimulant and antiasthmatic, expels worms and can help heal wounds.
Happy Valentine’s Day! All hail St. Valentine who was martyred for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and his service to Christians in Rome. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12th and George Washington’s Birthday is on the 17th. Of course the sentiment of love is in the air with an individual risking his life to join two people who have found love. And Christ is love. I left the materialism of the holidays behind many Moons ago. I eat chocolate year round and my gardens are a floral delight - in season.
Thankful for the drop in temperature however brief. It has been Spring since mid-January and as a gardener not a favorable omen. Ticks emerge sooner in the warmer weather and having had a bout with a dog tick last June, not looking forward to it. 43º and rain for the last two weeks. Maple Syrup should be flowing with freezing nights and above freezing days. Garlic should be peaking up their lovely heads. A friend of mine on Long Island said she has had flowers since mid-January. So here we go folks - the 2020 growing season is afoot! I am finishing up my seed order and as I sat before my IPad going through my seeds I had music playing and was singing at the top of my lungs, seed purchase brings me such joy! I’ve come to realize that there are those of us who are married to the land. I had a conversation with a newcomer to farming and I was discussing a fellow farmer who had been displaced three times in their farming experience and she couldn’t understand why anyone would go through so much trial. In that moment I realized that we are a tribe, a tribe of stewards who have no choice, but to find ourselves on land and develop the relationship. To plant a seed and coax it into a plant is like giving birth. Of course plants are far more resilient than a human baby, but we give them life nonetheless. I have no children so they are my babies. Hundreds year after year! Mama Earth dips and reels and as a gardener, I await the season with bated breath. We are out of the normal temperatures at least a month now, so the season has shifted ahead.
I take Winter photographs just to see when the earliest plants emerge. Some plants have new growth at the end of the season. Chickweed is one of my favorites. She is found creeping at the edge of the sidewalk.
I pray at the New Moon and Solstice/Equinox. I spent 2019 developing my writing practice and did not maintain my prayer schedule. I did pray at the Winter Solstice 2019 and now I find New Moon Prayer Day where I spent the day in meditation, letting go of the Establishment, dwelling in the Void. It was sweet release. I felt light and peaceful. I think New Moon Prayer Day is gonna be a thing. By the end of the week it had become New Moon Prayer Week. As the days passed, I found myself asked to stay in meditation. Be not of the world. Scary at first to be sure, but surely, one week a month is almost necessary in these trying times. An important shift in energy. I have studied Yoga for thirty years now and in flipping through magazines for my Vision Board, I came across a magazine called Tantra and it has led me to a deeper practice. Tantra, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “any of a class of Hindu or Buddhist mystical and magical writings, dating from the 7th century or earlier; also adherence to the doctrine or principles of the Tantra, involving mantras, meditation, yoga and ritual. In Hinduism, tantric practice may involve indulgence in normally forbidden taboos and is designed to awaken the energy of Sakti. Tantrism is an important element in Tibetan Buddhism.” Now every experience in the world has to be filtered through the Establishment, the West, meaning Europe, the tiniest continuous land mass on the the planet, attached to Asia, I might add, but the most fierce like a cornered animal. It is why I place the definition here, because there is room for us all and it’s high time we got to inclusion. We are all allowed especially and including me, a black woman thoroughly dismissed by the Establishment. I was born in England, so you can imaging my perspective. From the Tantra magazine, which dates back to 1995 “Tantra derived from the Sanskrit words tanoti (to expand) and trayati (to liberate), embodies the expression “expansion of consciousness toward transcendence.” Tantra is a synthesis of art and science that acknowledges the physical and the metaphysical experience of being human.” As one may or may not know Tantra is only associated with sex in the Establishment as the adult site second on Google can attest.
I had a car accident in November, nothing major, but my left side has taken a hit. I have decided to use yoga for physical therapy and here I am in my ninth week and I am experiencing a deepening of my practice. I thought often last year about the spiritual aspect of creativity. To write or produce art seems to me to create its own energy. I felt stress producing a blog weekly but here one year in, the stress has eased and I’m feeling a flow of energy. Creation of energy, flow of ideas, thoughts, emotions, wisdom etc. I know that maturity (I’ll be fifty-three in April) and menopause are also in the mix. I’ve been meditating on surrender for the past two weeks so I lay on my bed in the morning before yoga, letting the bed support me and Spirit breathed me. I had the experience of heightened senses weeks before - food (Indian) especially delicious and the Winter air so refreshing. Something is happening. The Tantra magazine touches on health, mandalas, Ayurveda and Taoism. There are issues of Tantra magazine available on Amazon, but I only find tantramag.com now and no information about the creators of Tantra magazine. I have often picked up old publications and found them relevant today.
I lived on 13th street in Manhattan back in the nineties. Integral Yoga was across town and East West books was around the corner. I took my first book about yoga from the library when I was sixteen years old in Miami, Florida. Classes weren’t even readily available back then. A television addict to this day, I must have seen a yoga show on television when I was a child. I stumbled upon Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda in Beacon Reads bookstore and I think it is where my study will begin. I have read the Upanishads and a book on Ayurveda. I grew up on curry because Indians along with the Chinese were imported to the Caribbean directly after slavery. It is thought that yoga originated with the Brahmins in India, perhaps an indigenous people with an oral tradition because to find any written evidence is difficult. I love origins because they help me to find the truth. I am prone to fantasy so gathering facts grounds me.
Perhaps creativity has opened my space, time and energy for me - expanded my universe. The right energy to lead me into my experimental phase in the herb garden. 2012 was my best greenhouse experience to date. It wasn’t actually a greenhouse, but a sun room off the back of the house I was renting, I managed to germinate Teasel and then lost the plants in a heatwave.
Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, subs. sativas, Dipsicaceae, Biennial, West Asia, Europe
I believe I was told Teasel was a cure for Lyme and upon searching online I came across Lady Barbara who had cured herself over fifteen years so I bought seed to try it out. Lady B as she was also known, lived here in Beacon and Cold Spring until she moved to Oregon in 2005. I moved to Beacon in 2006, just missing her. She passed on from colon cancer in 2013.
Pipsissewa, Chimifila umbellata, Ericaceae, Northern hemisphere, Perennial
I was asked to grow Pipsissewa as well, for a health condition. Pipsissewa tea is astringent, diuretic and diaphoretic and can be used internally and externally. I had the seed but didn’t get germination.
Bee Balm, Monarda didymium, Labiatae, Perennial, Turtle Island
More upright and not as shrubby as M. fistulosa, I got one plant from seed but was one of the plants that got mowed in 2016. I have found seedlings at Canadian company Richter’s. Like most Mint Family plants, leaves and flowers are good for colds and stomach upset. Natives brewed them as Oswego tea.
Catnip, Nepeta cataria, Labiatae, Perennial, Southwest and Central Asia, Europe
I have grown Catnip from the beginning because it is a good smoke. At SDG she has found a number of different spots to grow in. Of course cats love it, the leaves can be used for Wild Salad and tea. In flower good for colds, stomach issues and can reduce fever.
Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, Labiatae Perennial, Africa, Eurasia
In my early twenties, I wanted a natural form of birth control and Pennyroyal holds those properties. I have gotten her from seed. I planted her on the border at Groundwork initially and then transplanted her into a bed. I grew Mentha pulegium, but it seems M. pulegium var. erecta is the correct variety for birth control.
Just some of my experiments over the years. I can grow and manage six new beds a year. Bee Balm is a holdover bed from last season. I had forgotten about Catnip until now. I am challenged by weeds which took the Spring last season to manage. I am going to use straw as weed control this season.
Gardening is a spiritual practice, a meditation. Harmony with the natural world is my practice. Plants, Animals, Insects, Rocks are my family. I cannot enter wanting to be dominant. How would I hear their voices? SDG is ten years old this year. I started three gardens in 2011 and have moved on from the other two. I have not spent ten years doing anything in my lifetime. Short attention span be damned! My Plant Family is my life’s work. Gifts of Spirit have kept me going lo these many years. All I do is just to find my way back outside come April 1. I am a steward. I cannot live without the land. It is as intrinsic as breath without which would be emptiness. A fundamental aspect of being.
We prefer to come out of a cold, snowy Winter at the end of March warming into the forties, but here we are end of January and the energy of Spring is in the air. It is time to purchase seed. Of course Potatoes may be sold out already. I want a thirty foot Potato bed, but where? Potatoes are quite the journey - once planted, needing a couple of layers of mulch. My crop has not been worth the effort my last couple of attempts. Sweet Potatoes were in the mix also a couple of seasons, but not a good crop either.
My Plant Family (those herbs that support my health), my Plant Allies, are now in the ground. I looked up last year and realized I have been at Hiddenbrooke three years already, the same length of time I was at Obercreek before I was displaced in 2017. I think the wound has healed and now Groundwork is at Hiddenbrooke. I will try out the name Groundwork at Hiddenbrooke in 2020, see if it fits. Perhaps Hiddenbrooke is enough. Groundwork can live on in my heart and mind.
I move on to experimental herbs, those I have an interest in, but have never used. My work is with native plants and restorative planting. What did Turtle Island look like when these beautiful native plants thrived? I am stunned by their beauty. Cultural bias and trade have brought foreign plants and invasives to these shores. Plants like Cattail (Typhus latifolia, Typhaceae) easily an indigenous staple worldwide are now overrun by Phragmites (Phragmites australis, Poaceae). I’ve watched a stand of Cattails become engulfed by Phragmites. I have yet to find an accessible stand to engage with Cattail. I have found Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) so often I carry a square foot to every garden I design. Nettle was used for fiber in Mexico 8,000 years ago. She struggles at Groundwork right now. She may have too much sun. I transplanted a patch into the shade last Autumn. We’ll see...
Burdock, Mugwort and Poke are my first Plant Allies showing up in Riverside Park in Manhattan when I worked there. Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca, Asclepiadaceae) was also there. There was and may still be an aggressive campaign to eradicate her. What!? Monarch Butterfly food? My tender feelings toward these plants would not allow me to remove them. Ultimately, I was followed and those I left behind were removed. Burdock has a Turtle Island species Arctium minus (Asteraceae) and a European species Arctium lappa. The minus is used for the hollow stalk of the leaf. The European species stalk is fused. I’d like to spend 2020 figuring out the species I have. I transplanted Burdock at Hiddenbrooke in 2017, but she has not spread yet. I did find the seed head on the plant so we’ll see where she decides to land.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, Asteraceae) is an Asian invasive, though a sacred plant here and in Asia. Asian invasives are particularly aggressive on Turtle Island. Every try to remove Japanese Knotweed? Mugwort and Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica, Polygonaceae) have an intricate network of roots underground. Erosion control I imagine.
Poke (Phytollaca americana, Phytollacaceae) is on the USDA poisonous plant list even though there may only be seven deaths in the history of the plant. There are Poke Salad recipes online. A student of mine recalled her Grandmother kicking her out of the car to harvest Poke leaves on the side of the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are Plant Allies like Mugwort that I would never live without - Comfrey (Symphytum officinale, Boraginaceae), Elecampane (Inula helenium, Asteraceae) and Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca, Labiatae) to name a few. All European.
My experiments begin with the Asclepiadaceae Family with Pleurisy Root and Swamp Milkweed. In the Asteraceae Family, we have Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Marigold (Tagetes sp.) and Milke Thistle (Silybum marianum).
Pleurisy Root, Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepiadaceae, Perennial, Eastern Turtle Island. I propagated two thirty foot beds in 2015. I planted them in the Autumn of 2015 and mulched them in 2016. I was displaced in the beginning of 2017 and they were mowed down by the Summer when I returned to transplant. Roots, shoots and young seed pods are cooked as a vegetable and the orange flowers can be used as a sweetener. The root is used for cold, flu, pleurisy, bronchitis and uterine problems. Tests on the root have found estrogenic activity. The enzyme asclepian is found in the sap and is good for removing warts. A. syriaca has been used for temporary sterility. A. speciosa is used for weak kidneys. All Milkweeds are possibly toxic. One of the most important medicines for the Menominee tribe.
Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, Asclepiadaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island. I propagated many of these plants also in 2015, then realized she needed damp conditions. I have a wetland at Sargent-Downing (SDG) so I planted them there, but they did not return the following season. There may be a wet area at Hiddenbrooke to plant them this season. I have not found an herbal use for Swamp Milkweed, but she does have pretty pink flowers and is food for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars and attracts pollinators.
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, Asteraceae, Perennial, Eastern and Central Turtle Island. Very difficult to propagate. It says so right on the seed packet. I tried without success. I have transplanted her from SDG to Flora Jones and she chose a second spot there. I have transplanted two plants in pots from Flora and they are at Hiddenbrooke. A tea of the root and leaves is diuretic and is also good for the heart.
Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium purpureum, Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island. I got three plants when I propagated Joe Pye Weedin 2015, but needed moist conditions so did not comb back in 2016. Sweet Joe Pye is the Native American who cured New Englanders of Typhus. The rhizome is till used to induce sweating to break fever. Joe Pye Weed is tonifying for the reproductive system, soothes menstrual cramps, is good for gout, rheumatism, kidney and urinary problems. The seeds are used by natives to make a pink dye. Can we say staple herb? Other species E. perfoliatum, E. cannabinum and E. purpureum may have anti-tumor uses. E. odoratum is used in China for parasitic worms and to stop bleeding.
Marigold, African, Tagetes erecta, French Brocade T. patula, T. minuta, T. lucida. Culturally appropriated and well known as African and French Marigold, Marigold is actually from Turtle Island. Turtle Island refers to the world for our indigenous, but we use it here to refer to what is now the Americas. T. erecta is Mexican or Aztec Marigold, T. patula is from Mexico and Guatemala (Mayan), T. minuta is from South America (Inca) and T. lucida is from Mexico. We had clay pots on our stoop when I grew up in Queens and every Summer we had T. patula in them. I recall a spicy, musky scent as we would play around the house. I assumed it was my Mum that placed them there, but now I know Dad is the gardener as he continues to putz around in his garden at eighty-two. I had a few good years with Marigold back in 2011 - 2013. Now that I think of it, I may have bought seedlings and planted them. In recent years, I have propagated them, but they can become too leggy so I propagate her on my living room table. Last year my whole crop rot when I transplanted them. I probably should have placed them on my deck to dry out. We live and learn, don’t we? Sister to the well know Calendula, through cultural bias we are hard pressed to find Marigold in our herb books. One of my books even calls Calendula Marigold. Marigold may have similar properties to Calendula and therefore good for cosmetics, also antiseptic and antifungal. May be used for stomachache, swollen lymph nodes and as a stimulant for the liver. The uses that we commonly find for Marigold are protecting plants from insects and certain weeds. Flowers of T. lucida can be used as a spice. The leaf was used by the Aztecs to dull the senses of those facing human sacrifice.
Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum, Asteraceae, Annual, Southwest Europe. Another European herb I will not live without. The loveliest leaf, Milk Thistle leaf looks as though silver paint was splashed on it. Dare I say, a sexy plant with a character all her own. Standing erect with her prickly fancy leaves and then producing beautiful purple thistle-like flowers. Prickly and unruly when harvesting the seed which is where the medicine lies. Hurts sooo good! Again a few good years (2011 - 2013), but haven’t had the chance to get her in the ground the last few years. I still have seed from 2012, but I have been buying seed lately. I seeded the 2012 seed in 2017 and got germination. Might have been the end of her viability. Milk Thistle is liver support. I’m taking the tincture right now through menopause because I have an issue called formication (incessant itching of the skin). And the key to protecting the liver when out drinking, is to take a dropperful of Milk Thistle tincture before one starts drinking, but who can remember? Of course, Milk Thistle is in my herbal medicine chest that I carry with me always.
The adventure never ends in the natural world. It is said that even if we could learn all the plants in the world, by the time we did, they would have morphed into something else. Perfect for my short attention span self. I will never be bored or ever stop learning. And if I ever feel down, I only need remember all the gifts of Spirit I have received on my herbal journey. Let’s go!
The Two Row Wampum Renewel Campaign was the 2013 observance of the 400th anniversary of the signing of the original treaty between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Dutch. We all know how that turned out, but at the very least, the Mohawk and the Ramapaugh First Peoples retain their lands. The Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee are the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca people. I was coordinator for the Beacon festival. A group of paddlers in canoes started a thirteen day trip in Troy, New York on the Mohawk River paddling to the Hudson and down to Manhattan and marched across town to the United Nations for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. America walked out.
The wampum belt, the symbol of the treaty, signifies the First Peoples and the Dutch traveling through life together without interfering with one another. We had no idea what we were organizing so when I sat down at 2:00pm at the festival and the Dakota Riders arrived on horseback, it was only then I realized what we had done. My ancestry is Arawak/Caribe and I heard my ancestors whoop in that moment. I ran along the shore calling out to the paddlers as they arrived, hearing response on the wind.
Artists were commissioned to produce totems for the event and I realized too late that I could have made a totem.
Dare I say Two Row planted a seed that lead to Standing Rock and now the Ramapough Sweet Water Prayer Camp. The work continues and our organization, Neetopk Keetopk (www.neetopkkeetopk.org) was born out of Two Row providing indigenous education ever since. I couldn’t create a totem, but I did sit down and sketch in my newsprint pad.
Our original art were cave paintings, pottery and weaving - sewing our clothes possibly with Honey Locust needles. I reach back and touch my ancestors to engage my creative self off the page and written word to imagery, symbolism.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is the now well known protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, an oil pipeline that travels 1,172 miles underground from North Dakota to Illinois where it connects to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline which travels from Illinois to Texas. Once again America reneges on its treaty and the pipeline runs through the the Standing Rock Reservation water supply. Of course the concern are oil spills which will damage the drinking water and of course the pipeline leaked immediately. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe continues their protest.
I had gotten this far six years ago. I decided to finish now. It is oil pastels. I felt the paddle charged with energy and wanted to represent motion with urgency on the page. Fierce tribal mission, purpose moving down the rivers, the land holding Spirit as the journey unfolded.
The European has the audacity to declare it illegal to be, denying peoples for centuries, their language and culture. What happened to this upstart late to world civilization? Do we look back to Pangaea and continental divide to teach us of the trauma plaguing this human. If Africa is the cradle of civilization what face did the move take that pushed this human up and out of the bosom of Mother into the cold, dank, famine of Europe. Were we guilty of genocide, border patrols, rape and murder in creation of that Great Migration? Did we forsake our sisters and brothers and chase them out? Can we have these conversations? Is it the nature of the beast? As we bow to the shifting world and watch Mother dance, can we apologize, can we ask forgiveness? Can we infuse the collective consciousness with joy, love and peace and take hands and walk into the future together? Yes, we can. It is not easy. It is a fight, but we can do it.
63º over the weekend. A friend of mine says “Earth is convulsing.” I say She’s just doing her thing and we just have to sit back and watch. The days were beautiful, bright and sunny, but eeery. We can believe or deny climate change, but what if the “Sixth Mass Extinction” is inevitable? What if we think we have a say in it, but instead we are merely a blip on Earth’s radar.
Today is cloudy and gray, back to our previously scheduled Winter weather. Tree twigs are now looking pink in anticipation for Spring. Some plants may have bloomed early in the past two Spring-like days only to be frozen by the 28º last night. Who knows what to think? When I pause to have compassion for the Establishment, I see us fighting so hard against it that there’s room for understanding. Folks are driven by profit/greed and greed alone. They were raised to believe in scarcity, in not enough, that love is conditional and they do not have free will. Their lives have been dictated to them, they are miserable and so they seek to control our lives to deny us free will. Misery loves company. We dance in our warm and wonderful communities exploring our free will, loving unconditionally.
We can think of packs of animals when it comes to hatred. A new member can be killed or run off if not accepted to the pack. The potential new member has to ingratiate themselves to the leader. Once having gained entry, they are entitled to the support and protection of the pack. Predator does not hate prey. Prey does not hate predator, just participates in the circle of life. So people of color are prey. Predator guards their territory. Predator hunts for survival. They do not hunt for sport like humans do. I watched The Two Killings of Sam Cooke on Netflix yesterday. Imagine the black performers surprise traveling South past the Mason-Dixon Line and running out of places to stay and food to eat. Here is a people who gave their very bodies to develop the country. If anything, we should have preferential treatment because of our sacrifice. Bodies, minds, spirits, children, family. Instead we continue to be discriminated against as if we did something wrong. This predator may be fighting for its survival. In fighting for survival one believes they will be annihilated. And truth be told this predator will be outnumbered in thirty years so perhaps they are right and annihilation is what they’ve been fighting against all along. Perhaps they even delayed it? Are nations tribes? Clans? Perhaps enclaves of tribes/clans. States are not even tribes/clans. The Establishment defends their territory and we are the enemy. We have no territory, ejected even from the Motherland. Set adrift on Earth belonging nowhere, at the whim of any Establishment. Earth is a loving entity. Takes what we give her and offers support, sustenance. Abundant, vital, strong, absorbing our trials and tribulations. Many an hour have I spent outdoors letting go, letting down, returning home refreshed, renewed, peaceful. What a gift to find such peace in a hostile world.
My journey into the wilderness began in 2009 upon leaving Stone Barns to develop my herbal self. I walked the lands of Beacon engaging Mother wanting to find myself “out there.” Immediately, met with wonder and delight of the dark before the dawn, the primordial deep, sunshine over mountain, sunshine on flowing water and a relationship with my Animal Family - Beaver, Fox, Raccoon, Opossum, Skunk, Deer. Never an employee, I would take the odd job to contribute to the household, Marc commuting to Manhattan as a Union Carpenter. I became enamored of the Simple Life and slowly stripped away the trappings of the Establishment and explored just what it means to sustain oneself on the planet. My first Wild Salad was Wild Onion, Dandelion, Chickweed and Violet. Two strong flavors and two mild. I was struck by the tiny portion that satisfied me, my mouth filled with captivating flavors - spicy, bitter, sweet, green. Engagement with Spirit draws a giggle from one’s lips as one is awash with knowing and love.
In 2009, I was forty-two years old. Having never wanting marriage nor children, I found myself with an amazing love, so do I have a child? Surely, the opportunity was swiftly leaving me, but one last ponder couldn’t hurt. There had been a few close calls, but each time met with a resounding “No.”. Thank you rollercoaster and alcohol. Here was the final “no, I do not want children,” and I knew it. Profoundly sorrowful and over the Moon joyful at the same time. I believed motherhood had become optional by 1970 with the Women’s Movement. Interestingly enough, we had reached four billion people on Earth, which some believe is the carrying capacity of the planet so by my late twenties in the mid-nineties, having left the latest boyfriend, I knew I had a legitimate claim to motherhood being optional. So what then, no man, no children? Why spend a life in service of course, to communities, organizations, causes, enough work to fill a lifetime.
So in 2011 when land was gifted to me, it was perfectly bittersweet to accept this tremendous gift of Spirit and bid farewell to motherhood for the final time. By some sort of initiation into the wilderness, we were also struck by the recession and lost our home having to move annually for the next two years. A hedonist, a gypsy to the core, I had wondered at one point, “do I want land?.” Did I want the responsibility? Here I was in 2011, gifted three gardens so I had no choice, but to take Spirit’s had and endeavor, lest I be looking a gift horse in the mouth. Spirit is wily, a trickster, a comedian, a benevolent, brilliant entity here for us. Ask and ye shall receive. So, although homeless, I could take my tribulations to Earth and be supported, consoled.
Seven years now in my sunny, humble abode, I can look back fondly now. When one is in survival mode, there is not time for thought, depression, so busy fighting to stay alive, it wasn’t until we landed here that I slipped into depression for a year. Forty-four so much like twenty-four facing mortality, bumbling along. That interim rented house, still the best propagation I ever had. Now forty-five, landed safe, sound, not dead. What do I do now? How do I pick myself up and carry on? Well, the gardens my dear. Gardening is visioning, planning, executing - drop one of those balls and one will be playing catch up for the rest of the season, even I knew that, a mere two years into my lands. So pack up that depression, hope you are whole at the bottom and get on with it. I had cohorts, a Women’s Farming Cooperative, that had begun with five of us now down to two. I did not know what growing would look like for me, but once again thrust into racism, now joined with sexism, we women of color forged our own path. Empowering to say the least. As my partners moved on, I knew I had found my life’s work, my marriage to the land. I had no choice, but to explore this love affair.
My Plant Allies, my Plant Family, have been with me every step of the way. What I couldn’t find wild, I cultivated.
Cattail, Common, Typha latifolia, Narrow leaf, T. augustifolia, Perennial, Turtle Island
Cattail is a later ally and I have yet to find an accessible stand from which I can harvest. Easily a staple food for our indigenous people, Cattails can be eaten year round. The best way to destroy a people is to destroy their resources. The one stand I found was soon overcome with Phragmites. One can imagine every Phragmites stand used to be a Cattail stand. Ahhhhh, those lovely vigorous Asian invasives! Cattail shoots can be harvested early Spring and eaten raw or cooked. Root stalks can be used like potatoes or ground up into flour. The green female flower spike can be eaten like corn on the cob. The clear syrup can be used like cornstarch. The flower head can also be used medicinally for diarrhea. Rootstalk can be made into tea. At the base of each leaf is a sticky substance for cuts and bruises. The sap can be used to numb toothaches. The root starch is good for poison Ivy, burns, boils and stings.
Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, White Cedar, Chamaecyparis thyroides, Cupressaceae, Tree, Turtle Island
I observe the Solstice/Equinox and other indigenous ceremonies so I have become familiar with the scent of Cedar when we are smudged. I have a gift of bundled Cedar on my altar. The original Groundwork was bordered by Cedar trees. A tea of the twigs can be used for stomach issues or inhaled for a head cold. White Cedar can be used in Sweatlodge for rheumatism, arthritis and other aches and pains. Can also be used to wash or bathe. The tea is diuretic.
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae, Biennial, North Africa, West Asia, Europe.
I will miss Chicory at Flora Jones Garden. Flora Jones was my Wild Edible garden. The garden may have looked unkempt, but it was filled with edible plants. Chicory has a sweet periwinkle colored flower. The roots are roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The brand Cafix can be found in our local grocery store. Flowers can be used as garnish in salads, buds can be pickled. Leaf clusters, known as chicons, can be eaten as a vegetable. Leaves are a source of iron, calcium and copper. Leaves can be used topically to reduce swelling.
The garden dance, magical, joyful, peaceful, life itself. Earth is here for us, heeding our every whim. Engage, be, enjoy. Even when she rages, she is beautiful. The future is uncertain, but one can be sure, that moment in the garden can feel like eternity, with Sun on one’s face, Earth between our fingers, touching our ancestors in the deep Earth, rhythm, pulse. The New Year is afoot and it is time to plan and purchase our seeds to, yes, get on with it.
I have taken a long break from Blog. Well deserved, it was a productive year. I must study the creative process. Perhaps The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? I’m curious how constant creation affects one’s life. I want to learn to manage the energy.
Ready for 2020? Ready or not, here we go. I am excited and looking forward to it. We may have dark days in the Establishment, but individually, we can develop warm and wonderful community.
As revelry of the holiday season fades away. Visions of the growing season develop. I have my immediate Family of Plants installed at what I will now refer to as Groundwork at Hiddenbrooke. I think I was so traumatized by losing Groundwork in 2017, that I couldn’t think of the name until now. Adding Groundwork tickles me and brings an energy of beginnings again.
My immediate Plant Family comes from indigenous education - Plant Family, Insect Family, Animal Family, Rock Family and I suppose Element Family as well. We are interconnected with the natural world. She is our family. My immediate Plant Family are my Plant Allies that have developed over the course of my herbal journey. One’s Plant Allies are those individual plants that have come to you to teach you about you. One’s individual medicine. One of the challenges with prescription drugs is that they do not treat the individual, they are actually created for a white male. I have used my Plant Family for years now and have shared them with my Human Family of relatives, friends and associates with great results. Over the next year, barring any major happenstances, allow me to introduce their stories within my life. Who knew that blog would produce a journey for me. Hee heeeee..... We will start with the wild. We are prone to “dominion” over the natural world, but endeavoring with the thought of family relationship opens up one’s place within the cosmos, Earth and our selves. Kinder and gentler engagement.
A word about plant language. A small group of white men gather to produce the names of plants. Plants have a common name, a botanical name and a family name. Flowering plants (angiosperms) are categorized into families by their sexuality - male, female or bisexual. Sound familiar? Indigenous people group the plants that grow next to each other as families. Dioecious (female and male), monoecious (bisexual). Dioecious plants have the female part, the carpel and the male part, the stamen on separate plants,. Monoecious plants have the female and male parts on the same plant. The botanical plant names come mainly from Latin, which is a dead language so they won’t change with other languages like Greek also used. Regions have common names which can change. Burdock for instance, is the common name and Arctium comes from the Greek arctos which means bear and lappa from the Celtic which means hand or seize. Burdock is also called Love leaves in England and Wu shih in China and Bardane in France to name a few regional common names. Plants also have lifespans, Annual, flowering in one year, Biennial, flowering in the second year and Perennial, flowering for four or more years. I use each description here along with their origin. There is thought about naming plants by their DNA which would be more accurate it is believed.
Amaranth, Amaranthus retroflexus, Amaranthaceae, Perennial, Turtle Island. Here is a plant whose wild variety is more nutritious that the cultivated variety. I found Amaranth in abundance at Sargent-Downing where, in any given season, like 2019 grows wild. Breaks down like Spinach when cooked so I have been blending Amaranth with Kale for my pots of greens. In the Caribbean, Amaranth is blended with salt, scallion, onion, tomatoes and peppers and often served with salt fish for breakfast. Perhaps I will separate Amaranth and cook her the Caribbean way this season. In 2019 Amaranth grew in Kale bed so I harvested them together for my pots of greens. Amaranth is cultivated today because of her nutritional value. The seeds are very nutritious as well, containing our essential fatty acids (EFAs), protein, lignin and protease inhibitors. Amaranth is also a good source of antioxidants, calcium, carotenes, folic acid, phosphorus, potassium and can prevent cancer.
Aster, Aster sp. Asteraceae, Perennial, Turtle Island. I met Aster at Flora Jones Garden, three different varieties, a late Spring/Summer tiny daisy like variety and two Autumn varieties, one white and the other lavender. The leaves are good for our Wild Salad. The root is used by the indigenous, like the Cree of Alberta who boil the root for eye drops and powder the root for first aid to stop bleeding. The Chippewa are also known to use Aster as food and medicine. The flowers are sweet at the end of the season, tiny, but many coming together create a spray of white or lavender.
Burdock, Arctium minus, A. lappa, Asteraceae, Biennial, Turtle Island, Europe, respectively, covered the slopes in Riverside Park in Manhattan when I worked there. One of our jobs was to remove them. I always thought to myself, “this neighborhood must have some serious digestive issues.” One of the park’s neighbors referred to Burdock as Cocklebur. We are all familiar with coming home with the seed head of Burdock on our clothes after a hike. Burdock’s seed head was the inspiration for Velcro. I was beginning my herbal studies when I worked at Riverside Park and I knew to place Burdock leaves in vinegar to heat up and apply topically to reduce swelling. Little did I know that within a couple of years I would be using them on my husband Marc when he fell on a construction site tearing his ACL and damaging his meniscus. One has not heard sorrow until one has heard their loved one cry in pain through the night. I thought “I must do something” and then I remembered the leaves in vinegar on my counter. Heated them up and applied them and he was good to go. Herbal medicine effectiveness can be quite astonishing. Place a towel between the leaves and skin.
The other use I knew of was Burdock root tincture for digestive issues which I had from years of alcohol and hot wings. The only catch was the dosage was a dropperful an hour for a year. Some herbal medicines are cumulative. Burdock root grows at least a foot down into Earth, about fifteen minutes to dig one up and so digs deep within us to unearth deep seated issues. It wasn’t until the summer of 2006, having moved upstate and so grateful to Spirit that I wanted to show my gratitude. Spirit only wants what’s best for us, so I thought I would give back faithfully and spend the year with Burdock. I gathered the patience to spend that year with Burdock root tincture. We Generation Xers have a thirty minute attention span so it wasn’t going to happen before 2006. I hear millenials’ attention span is seconds!
Our herbal journey is a journey to Spirit and once endeavored, we engage Spirit and the many gifts that await us. A year to the day, I understood my issue and what I was doing to cause it. I was sober for a year after and having found work on a farm, had access to fresh food and water.
Engagement of Spirit that runs through all things is engaging the Void. The Establishment falls away and we face ourselves in the cosmos. Unnerving to be sure, but having an understanding of Spirit can be the ride of one’s life as Spirit’s love envelopes one and lifts one up like any messiah, prophet or guru. Having grown up Catholic, Pentecostal and Southern Baptist and spent years studying many other religions, for me Spirit is and has been coopted by religion to control the masses, but pure engagement of Spirit creates a loving, supportive interplay.
Our Plant Family begins our engagement with Spirit, the love journey that awaits us all should we endeavor. Not for the faint of heart for we will meet ourselves and all that has brought us here. Courage, Faith, Humor are some of the tools to pack for the journey.
A chant I sing in my gardens while I work
I envision my life
As a Spiral journey
Gathering the tools
To take the ride
I travel the path
With love and peace
Finding the joy of life
I wish you joy, love and peace for 2020. We may enter with trepidation, but lift one’s heart to Sun daily and enter each day with joy, love and peace and we will be just fine. Ache!