The nights and mornings feel much cooler since the lunar eclipse and the plants are responding to the temperature change through shifting color and vigorous fruiting. As the light shifts from the summer fireball blast to the luminescent gold of another mountain autumn I’m out checking on the plants, making a few lists and prioritizing the herbs I most want to harvest and what I need to get through the winter. I’m also constantly working at keeping my materia medica slimmed down to essential plants that I feel truly intimate with. Darcey Blue’s been paring down her apothecary as well and will even be selling so of her “leftovers”.
During this joyful process of harvesting and discernment, I’ve noticed an uncomfortable habit leftover from my days as a wanderer, which is to stick with commonly known, widely available weeds, even if they’re a bit rare here. Which is great, cuz that’s what I like to teach about anyway since my students come from all over the world, and back in the day it served me well to know that anywhere I went I would my beloved Ground Ivy, Plantain or Mint. And yet, I find this tendency to stick to the familiar, to cling to what can be found everywhere is a stumbling block in my journey towards becoming really, truly at home here. So at home that my body is no longer separate from that of the plants, or the quartz studded stones, or the river that flows between the stones and plants. And so I’ve undertaken a task to really get to know the very specific species that are common to here.
And what does here mean exactly? I don’t define it as just the twenty yards around my cabin, or even just the canyon. Rather, I’m referring to an area something like the semi-nomadic natives might have considered to be local. So we’ll say, about 100 miles, which is a good chunk of the Gila.
There’s a definite lack of literature on the subject of wild plants of the Gila. Michael Moore has lots of great Southwestern plant info, as does Charlie Kane, and Darcey Williamson and Janice Schofield are two of my favorite Western herbal authors. But what if I want to know about the subspecies of Nettles here, or the particular kind of Pink Mallow that dots the hillsides just now that doesn’t seem to be in any of the books? Now, I’ve been learning from the locals for several years now, memorizing the local names for certain plants and writing down the uses and I have been doing lots of one on one time with the local endemic plants (like with my lovely Salvia subincisa) but now I mean to get down to it for real.
The way I intend to do this is to try to narrow my primary personal materia medica down to about twenty-five plants that are all from HERE, and especially focus on the ones peculiar to here. I’ll still use my normal materia medica when working with clients for now, and I’ll have them on hand in case I feel like a situation really calls for a certain plant. But for myself, I want to imbue myself with just their medicine for a while, to feel what it’s like to have just local wild plants in my body, to hear what they’ll say to me when I’m deeply focused on them.
I also plan to work with these plants in a certain way, which is mostly experiential. I’ve read the books, and I’ve poured over countless pages of studies and research, but right now I really want to hear it all firsthand. So, I’ll use basic field guides so that I know just what plants and plant families I’m dealing with, but besides that I want to use mainly my own senses and not constantly double guess those senses by cross-referencing everyone else.
I love Isla Burgess’s method (if you could call it that) of approaching the plant with each of our senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, intuition. And to figure out what each of those senses is telling you about the plant and your relationship with it. Not about systemizing it, but about learning to listen. We’ll talk more about that in the Talking With Plants series.
So, hmmmm. What plants then? Some I know well already, some I’m just beginning to fall in love with. I’ll make up a little list and put on the sidebar sometime soon, and I’ll update you as I get deeper into the groove with the process.
And BTW, I’ve been getting just tons of letters from blogreaders lately (thank you!) and I love it when any of you comment too. It can also give me a better sense of what people are most needing and wanting. Speak up!