The Medicine Bag
Wherever I go, I carry a red woven wool bag from Guatemala. It can be worn as a backpack or carried over the shoulder, I’ve even attached it to my belt on a few occasions. Inside the bag lives many of my most important tools, medicine items and plants. Since students keep trying to peek into it, asking about it and wondering how to make their own, I thought I’d share most of the essential components of my well-loved Medicine Bag.
First of all, I have three knives. A medium skinning knife, handmade in NM and perfect for skinning small animals, gathering larger or woody plants and various other situations that call for a large sharp item. A second, rose etched ivory-handled folding knife in a hand-stitched leather case. This one works for medium plants, carving or something that needs a small, strong blade. Thirdly, a very small handmade, sharply pointed knife with a hand sewn leather sheath. It’s tiny and looks impractical but I use it most often of all the knives, to cut twine when bundling plants, for working with delicate plants or in small spaces and so on. This third one is attached by a leather strap to a small deerskin leather bag made by a friend from Nevada. The bag has fringe on its seams from which dangle many special charms and medicine items — shells, a mermaid figurine, teeth, a small gold bear and bones. The lip of the bag is stitched with green glass beads and the inside is lined with soft blue fabric. In this pouch lives a glass vial of Nettle seeds, who travel with me everywhere.
In the Medicine Bag lives another small leather pouch, this one made by a friend in central NM. The leather is dark, soft and ragged; the clasp is a single turquoise stone. Within the pouch resides my current two salves of choice –one a sweet scented Rose salve, the other Ananda‘s Wild Green Balm– as well as two small bottles, one of wood-heat infused Goldenrod infused oil, and the other of aromatic Larrea oil, from Creosote bushes of the Sonoran Desert, gathered prayerfully by Darcey Blue. Other, smaller pouches made of velvet, lace and satin populate the medicine bag. These hold precious packets of dried herbs. One pouch consists of wound herbs, a swath of Usnea for a bandage, a bit of Yarrow, some crushed Oregon Grape Root leaves, fragrant Sage leaves, a bundle of Labrador Tea and a few sprigs of Moonwort. Another pouch houses a soothing tea of Rose, Evening Primrose, Blisswort, Vervain and Elderflowers. A certain green velvet drawstring bag contains a tightly packed bundle of dried Nettle leaves, Mallow roots and Rose petals (for emergency infusions on the go, you know.) A beaded burgundy pouch holds my pipe and current smoking mixture of Apple leaves, Mullein, Moonwort, Rose, Sage and Sweet Clover. And one last pouch contains an assortment of strange smelling roots, mostly Osha, Calamus, Burdock and Evening Primrose.
Of course, there’s the many amber tincture bottles as well. The standard list is Yarrow, Sawtooth Sage, Wild Rose, Evening Primrose, Moonwort, Alder, Elderberry, a special post trauma formula of Wild Rose, Elderflower & Golden Smoke and a pain and cramp relieving formula of Silk Tassel, Evening Primrose and Blisswort. They’re heavy and there’s entirely too many of them, I’m hoping to downsize to 1/2 ounce bottles soon. I don’t have good logical reasons for these choices really, they’re the ones I use most frequently and that I can’t bring myself to not carry around with me everywhere.
Then there’s purely practical medical supplies – a roll of cloth tape, some gauze, tweezers, a soft rag, LED flashlight, botanist’s loupe, a pen and small notebook. Folded neatly near the center are several cloth bags for carrying just harvested plants in. I also carry many of my sacred medicine items in the bag, some of these were gifted to me and others I found or acquired.
My Medicine Bag feels like carrying around a miniature Medicine Lodge with me everywhere and it’s nice to be prepared for nearly any situation, from spontaneous herb gathering to emergency medical care. To be a fully functional first aid kit I’d probably have to upgrade a bit, which I’ll probably do at some point, but for now it’s a comfortable and well used companion with me on all my walks, workshops and journeys.