Last weekend I got a chance to experience the magic of working with wise woman and herbalist Robin Rose Bennett. It began with a beautiful walk in with Loba, Robin and five other plant obsessed women who’d joined us to learn about local herbs and experience the mystique of the lunar eclipse within the mothering arms of the canyon. The mile and a half walk into the Sanctuary proper was a long and winding road filled with the collective oohs and aaahhhs of all of us as we wandered from one plant to the next. Loba ran ahead to warm up dinner but the rest of us lingered with the canyon’s wild flora until nightfall, and we unknowingly walked past wolf tracks in the dark. That first night was a glorious feast and a wonderful sleep for many tired women.
The next morning Robin led a magnificent opening circle, and evoked the primal elements of earth through her melodious voice and graceful presence. As we sat barefooted beneath ancient canyon trees, we shared story and spirit between us, each of us giving an integral and profound piece of ourselves to the group and place. The focus of our gathering was on rebirth, transformation and growing into our true selves (along with much plant adoration) and each of us brought to the circle a piece of ourselves we deeply desired to nurture into fruition and integration.
Our days were filled with shared herbal knowledge, quiet counsel and playful laughter that rose up from the river and rock, filling the canyon with the joy and bliss of women in communion with the land and each other, a taste of what sisterhood and tribe can be. At night, we sat around the fire and sipped Nettle/Oat infusions as we alternately sang to the moon and told stories.
Great fun was had by all as we exchanged notes on Mullein and Evening Primrose, Mugwort and Hops. Each of us came from different backgrounds and levels of experience and it was a fascinating process to come together and share the differences and commonalities. What we all share in common was a deep love of common plants and wild weeds, a desire to nourish first and foremost and an experiential knowledge of healing and medicine.
Robin gave us deep teachings from Evening Primrose and I delightedly shared my knowledge of the Alder and her medicine, while Loba pointed to every food plant in sight (of course!) and Rhiannon attempted to fix everyone’s booboos with Mugwort spit poultices. Which was good thing considered the hyperactivity of the red ants during those four days. Many ant and a couple spider bites later we were all profoundly grateful for the medicine of Creosote Bush, Grape Leaves and Yarrow. Medicine harvesting making was fun too, with many of the women feeling drawn to the flowering Mugwort so commanding and prevalent just now. Other choice herbs were our brilliantly blue flower Salvia subincisa, Yarrow, Evening Primrose and the Wild Geranium.
One of the herbal tidbits I’m excited to share is Robin’s amazing knowledge of the Grape leaf. She uses them in poultices, tincture, infusions and teas to strengthen the vascular system, take down swelling and improve overall fertility. I’m excited to make both an oil and a tincture before the grape leaves start to turn this fall. We all got to see first hand the dramatic improvement of a spider bite with accompanying bruising and swelling with simple applications of Grape poultices and internal doses of the tea.
Another lovely discovery Robin and I had was the profound wintergreeninness of the new green growth of the Redroot twigs (not to mention the unseasonably flowering bush Robin happened upon). Now, the root smells strongly of wintergreen and that’s one of the ways I can tell how strong my medicine will be when tincture it, but I’ve never known the bark to be very strong smelling at all (though the flowers smell something like faery wings). So we were both super excited to discover this extra strong Redroot bark, and we harvested enough to make a small batch of tincture. I would be very pleased if it turned out to work similarly to the root since digging those roots up is a serious pain, and I hate killing the plant.
The culmination of our event came on the night of the eclipse when we ascended the mountain side barefoot near dusk. We climbed to an ancient cave high in the rocks where Gooseberries grow with wild prickly abandon. Though the women were tired and hurting from the gravelly rock underfoot, they each gamely entered the darkening cave for ceremony. By the time we came back down the mountain it was fully dark and la Luna was beginning to rise from her nest into the star glittered sky. Down we went, through pine needles and volcanic stone, still barefoot and by this time very sore. Despite the weariness we sang and told stories, laughed and went on with only one flashlight in use, feeling our way through the forest floor and using the light of the moon as our primary lamp. Back at camp, we celebrated our feat with tea, chocolate and delicious food.
The women kept a vigil all that night, waiting until after the final moments of the eclipse to retreat back to warm blankets. It was joyful but tired crew the next day as they prepared to head to their respective homes. And as we danced the circle back open, we thanked the birds, the plants, the animals and the place that had opened so fully to help us all experience the magic of that amazing weekend.
And if you’ve never tried a full body mudbath on a Southwestern riverbank, well, you really should try it sometime