Here in the Gila, on the border between mountains and deserts, rivers and grasslands, countries and peoples, we are still very much immersed in the old ways. Hispanic wisdom, hardbitten mountain man sense and Native knowledge retain their hold. Bear fat is a cure-all here, nearly everyone knows how to use at least one plant for medicine and wild meat is valued above all other food. Outsiders sometimes see the landscape here as harsh or extreme while locals can’t understand why anyone would ever live anywhere else but all who pass through the enchanted lands of the Southwest recognize its magic, sensuality and power. The plants here tend to be exceptionally medicinally active, full of the wild energy of an untamed land. The terrain itself is eerily sentient, and often surreal in composition and color. Every morning I wake up amazed that this is where I belong and I revel in the joy of knowing the place I am called to.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as healing that comes from home. The process of gathering plants by hand, preserving them with fermentation, fat or honey and then applying them in need, celebration or health is one that takes us deeper and deeper into relationship and intimacy with the matrix we belong to. In order to further this relationship, I continually simplify, looking for the vital core of what healing and herbalism is.
For me, this has meant becoming more and more locally based, and at this point there is only one plant in my primary materia medica that doesn’t grow here, although even this one has found its way into my garden this spring. The materials that form the base of my medicine also primarily come from nearby — local desert honey, wild animal fats (and hopefully local farm lard soon too), fermented herbal brews, homemade vinegar, wild teas and other traditional ways of preserving and delivering medicine. Lately I’ve almost completely stopped using oils for medicine simply because I can’t make them or have them made locally. Also, fat based salves appear largely superior in performance to me. They seem to work more quickly, create fewer complications and are simpler to make. I am still using the hardcore magic of Everclear since distilling one’s own alcohol is a no-no under federal law, but more and more I’m utilizing and exploring fermented herbal wines and ales as tonics and remedies, and save tinctures for a necessary convenience or when acute care is needed.
The goal is to become medicinally self-sufficient, for the herbs and preparations to all come straight from this bioregion and my own hands and the hands of my immediate community. This is a very practical stance, considering the soaring price of delivery of supplies to this tiny mountain village. But even if current times didn’t dictate a change, I would still need the intimacy, immediacy and intensity of living up close and personal with my food and medicine. As I grow more and more rooted in this volcanic rock and red clay, I am less and less able to use plants and foods from far away without it hurting my heart. And the simple joy of engaging the living spirit and vital energy of the mountains and forests has become deeper, and infinitely satisfying.
I know the Gila, this canyon, these forests and rivers like my own skin or the body of my love. My medicine is wild tomotillos and canyon grapes, rich green pesto and bone broths, bubbling berry brews and the aromatic flowers of Beebalm steeped in beaver fat. And it is laying in this cold, clear river and flowing with its insistent, healing pull.
Note: On a related line, check out Shawna’s amazing post on the importance of using animal fats for healing.
Photograph of Yucca buds and blossoms (c) 2008 Kiva Rose