Medicine from the Yard

Dandelion Leaves

[Dandelion leaves]

Today and the past two days, I’ve been eating these lovely gifts from our yard–dandelion leaves.  They are best to eat before the bright yellow flowers appear, so you have to search for them by their pointy leaves arranged in a starburst pattern.  I asked the plant for permission to pick them, so that they might become a good medicine for me, and then picked some of the leaves from several plants.

Dandelion leaves are a blood purifier, great spring detoxing for the liver, have a lot of vitamins and minerals, and are full of anti-oxidants. (But be sure you pick them from a place with no chemicals or road run-off.)  I am just beginning to try eating them, so I rinsed them off and chopped them up, and mixed them into some kale I was stir-frying for breakfast, after the kale was already pretty much cooked.  They have a really mild flavor, and I enjoyed them.  You can also eat them raw or in salads.

So often, we just ignore the so-called “weeds” in our yard, or worse yet, try to eradicate them.  What if we saw them as gifts sent to us from the earth, to help our bodies with what they need?  This is what I learned from herbalists–the plants appear when we need them.  So, to ignore them or not use them would be rude, wouldn’t it?

I first began to understand this when the St. John’s Wort started appearing in our yard last summer. St. John’s Wort has traditionally been understood as useful for depression and wound healing. Last summer, at the Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island ceremonies, the spiritual wound that revealed itself to me was the Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their relationship with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded and disconnected, and thus never even seek to understand that they had once been connected. I heard in my mind, “St. John’s Wort can help when you remember the wound of disconnection from the earth, and when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.”

And the St. John’s Wort is returning to the yard this spring as well.  The flowers are best picked just after the Summer Solstice (feast of St. John the Baptist, which is where they got that name), but now the plants are starting to put forth new stems and leaves around the old stalks we picked the tops of last year.  I think picking them has helped them to grow and expand.

I like learning about the plants in this way, one by one, as they make themselves known to me here in this land I call home.

St. John's Wort

[St. John’s Wort]

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Cedar

cedar leavesI seem to have unleashed a thirst for learning the names of all the trees who live with us on this land to which Margy and I belong. Today, I am exploring the cedar tree in our southeastern boundary area. I had always wondered about the difference between cedars and arborvitaes, and now I know that they are the same, really, here where we live.  There are a lot of names for this species which is native to southeastern Canada and northeastern United States–Eastern White Cedar, Northern White Cedar, White Cedar, False Cedar (because it is not related to European cedars).  Its Latin name is Thuja occidentalis.  

Cedar trunkIt was first called Arborvitae by French explorers when Indigenous people gave them tea  made of its leaves as a treatment for scurvy.  Arborvitae means “tree of life.”  Now, arborvitae is the name used by horticulturists, and there are many cultivars of the tree that are sold for landscaping.  The Anishinaabe people called the tree Nookomis Giizhik or Grandmother Cedar, because of its importance as a sacred and medicinal tree, associated with one of the four directions.

This has been a special tree to me personally in most of the places I have lived–Michigan, Chicago, northern New York state, Massachusetts, and Maine, and I appreciate that my matrilineal ancestors also knew this tree in Quebec/Nitassinan.  The Innu word for this tree is Massishk.  The tea from its leaves contains an abundance of Vitamin C, and can be used as a medicine.  (Note–being cautious, it is recommended that pregnant women should not use cedar tea because the compound thujone within it.)

From Sean Sherman (The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen):

The tea of simmered branches is used to treat fevers and rheumatic complaints, chest colds, and flu. This brew is delicious warm or cold and is simple to make. Just simmer 2 cups of fresh cedar in 4 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes until the water becomes a golden color. Strain off the cedar and sweeten with maple syrup, to taste.