As part of my ongoing quest to save the planet– or at least sustainify my own little patch of backyard– and become a bit more hippy and in tune with the earth, I went along to a herbal first aid course last weekend. (And thanks to Spinkles who MMSed the cut out from local paper).
I was expecting lavender, cannabis, thyme and camomile. And there was a little bit of that. But the email I got two days beforehand was a bit more descriptive than the ad had been– read ’herbal’ to mean ’weeds’.
Which, quite frankly, is even better– much less of a financial investment (not to mention a chicken security problem).
The course, held at the local community nursery (which I never even knew existed), was six hours and seventy bucks of awesome.
The woman teaching was fifty years old if she was a day, but the essence of glowing good health– she seemed to radiate sturdiness and sunshine. Perfect skin without a wrinkle or a smudge of make up, hair allowed to grey gracefully and cropped short to be maintained with ease. Her name was Pat, of course, because Nancy or Sarah or Rhonda or even Elizabeth wouldn’t suit her (but if she was one of the latter, she’d be a Beth, without doubt).
And she speaks with passion. Speak with passion about anything, I don’t care what it is, and I’m yours– I will sit, enthralled for hours, and when I release my fascination it’s with a ghost of yours still intact, and I’m lost in a half dream of your world for days.
Pat speaks of plants most people regard with distaste as if they were good friends– clover, dandelion, thistle and nettle are all raised from the caste of lowly weed to foodstuff, medicine, crop and harvest. Someone inquires as to what we should plant to begin our own native and natural apothecary patch, and she seems confused by the question. She views her garden differently to what most people do– my mind print involving rows and sections and order, immaculate shrubbery tagged each with their name; it would be totally lost on her, and she would see far too much effort in restraining something that doesn’t need to be kept in check.
”You don’t need to plant anything at all”, says Pat, seeming to remember how differently most in the course see greenery to her, “your garden is probably already growing you everything you need… anything else can be picked from somewhere.”
And she’s right– the basic herbs I need are, if not already in my lush green backyard, then sprouting proficiently in someone else’s.
I pick petty surge and native violet leaves from underneath my clothesline, and spot fat hen and chickweed growing in my neglected winter veggie patch– I’m tempted to fence them before Ethel and Lucy take feast, but, remembering it’s just beginning of winter and I’m soon to have two cold, hungry hens; I leave them be. I intrude into my grandmother’s beautiful cottage garden beds to find oxalis, seeded stinking roger and a stubborn mallow she has been weeding from amongst her geraniums for years, roots and all. My mum and stepfather’s farm has ample amounts of lantana since the last bushfire, veritable fields of tiny butter colored St Johns Wort, and like most farms, a riotous amount of spiky, thick blackberry bush. On the drive home through the local industrial area, I spot an unkempt factory frontage teeming with just–opened, bright yellow calendula; and I take home half a kilo, some to dry, some to steep in alcohol for an all–purpose, antibacterial tincture.
Pat discusses with us concepts that sing to the hippy in my heart– making do with what’s already there, allowing the earth to have it’s way with it’s own. We discuss farmers who plant apple trees in blackberry crops so their cows will act as groundsmen, the overuse of convenient mass produced medicines and the loss of traditional healing methods. I learn that so many of the weeds I’ve been helping my gran dismember since childhood, from dandelions to plantain, are useful for everything from anxiety to fevers to lip balm to salads and tea.
|Calendula, tincturing in alcohol
I’m taught how to brew oils, elixirs and tinctures; make creams and ointments and fill capsules with ground ginger, garlic and slippery elm. The first aid kid we create contains dozens of tiny containers holding things such as Epsom salts to be mixed with water to treat burns and charcoal in capsules to treat food poisoning. I learn the simple magic of a poultice and that hypericum actually numbs nerve endings for a period of hours.
Something called ‘allostatic stress’ is discussed in detail, the herbs used to assist it’s alleviation produced. The symptoms are listed– fatigue, anxiety, exhaustion– I feel my muscles grow heavier. “Of course you’re not stressed”, says our healer teacher, speaking of the patients she treats at her clinic, “your body has adjusted to it. But the levels just keep building up.”
There’s no test, as such, for allostatic stress, which makes little difference to me, but I’m slightly distressed to hear the outright dismissal of psychiatric medication for the same reason. There’s no mention in the books I bring home– a weed identity book, and one filled with recipes for blends and brews– of ‘allergies’ or ‘welts’, and it takes me a moment to figure out why. Your skin is your third kidney, they say, and some people believe those conditions come from within, caused by emotional stress, overexposure or a build up nasty stuff in the bloodstream or the mind.
Again, I’m just not sure… but the memory of both my children suddenly developing a ridiculously inflammatory skin allergy to mosquito bites within a month or two of their father dying scuffs it’s foot guiltily at the edges of my mind.
I love all these natural medicine ideals, and you can scoff all you like– I’ve found as amber necklace as effective as Panadol for teething, a neti pot
and ivy leaf extract better than pseudoephedrine for clogged sinuses (and now I’ve discovered the wonders of ink plant root as well), and I try not to mess with my body’s natural rhythm (lest I become a deranged axe murderer).
The thought of urban exploring takes on the element of a harvest as well. My mundane view seems to have shifted again– the corridors of TinyTrainTown are filled with medicines and beauty products amongst the scrubland.
(Fill my mind with things, as many as I can, so there’s no room for thinking, no space for being lonely at all…)
As I know, well and truly– hobbies, interest, endeavors– they can be literal salvation from torture. A reader of mine named Sarah had her life struck by tragedy not long ago, and she’s found a way to keep the core of herself in tact, too. Where I blog, she takes amazing photos.
Sarah’s in the running for a $5000 small business grant. If you could help her out by voting– one click, I promise– both she and I would much appreciate it.
Cheers, jellybeans. Catch you tomorrow.