Spring is eagerly looked forward to in our house. The first signs of green growth, what some people would call weeds, herald platefuls of nutritious meals and the making of tinctures, infusions, and decoctions. At this time of year we are gathering those weeds, drying some for teas, cutting and infusing others to become medicinals for winter use, and cleaning and eating others fresh from the ground. Those weeds are full of energy, the first signs of offerings from Mother Earth after a long winter of making due with what we can find in the local markets. As the winter waned we watched the struggle, the earth awakening, the buds growing a little more each day, the need for sunlight and rain to aid in the natural unfolding of what has been lying dormant for so many months.
As a young teenager, I hiked along the Appalachian Trail that ran along the top of the mountain where I lived, a copy of Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus in my backpack, learning to identify plants and trees, digging for roots, picking leaves, and always on the lookout for that elusive wild asparagus. My daughter tells me that Stalking the Wild Asparagus has taken on a cult meaning now, within a new hippie culture; her friends posting that they are out ‘stalking the wild asparagus’ when walking the land or simply unavailable. I like that, the idea that a book written by a man who Johnny Carson regularly used as a brunt of jokes, but also respectfully invited to his show, The Tonight Show, is still important, still valued. I know that this modest man and his book are extremely valuable now as we face the call to change how we live upon this earth.
Yesterday, while driving and listening to the radio, I happened to hear part of an interview with Vandana Shiva on Alternative Radio, a woman from India, a nuclear physicist turned environmentalist. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide a link to that interview, called War on Earth, originally recorded on April 26, 2011, but I urge anyone who is interested in the environment and what is happening to our food supply to read her books, look for interviews, and pay attention to the truths she so eloquently speaks of. At the end of this blog I link to some You Tube video recording of interviews with her, for convenience, in an effort to aid in awareness of her lifelong calling to save what rightfully belongs to Mother Earth and to us as human beings living on this planet.
In the interview I listened to yesterday, she spoke of the differences between Eastern and indigenous knowledge of the earth as true Mother and the Western concept of earth only as nature, totally separate from man. No, she says, the earth is Mother; she gives us everything. In fact, we are the guests here, though we have lost this most vital and humble connection to our presence on this earth.
As visitors for only a brief period of time, are we not responsible for being better guests? Are we using the earth as a cheap hotel, leaving it in a shambles for someone else to clean up? Are we going to keep trashing, burning, drilling, cutting, tampering with, poisoning, and destroying what Mother Earth provides? Are we going to let a greedy few take away our health, our land, our most vital resources because we don’t have the energy or time to care?
A few weeks ago, someone turned to me in the aisle of the grocery store as they read the label on a can of tuna fish that stated it was sustainably caught and caring of the planet. This person looked me in the eye and said: “I don’t care about the planet, let the planet take care of itself.” When I heard this utterance I felt my face turn into a mask, my entire being becoming earthen and solid, as I felt the deep well of disrespect that I know is rampant in our country. To speak even the word ‘mother’ in the West, as Vandana Shiva mentioned in her radio interview, is often rebuked as silly, dismissed as naive, unimportant.
In truth, we are so distant from the true reality of ourselves as related to all things. We prefer to be superior, above and beyond nature. We are a culture resistant to breastfeeding, where a woman’s body is no longer sacred or respected; mother no longer held in the highest regard, as the giver of all life.
Vandana Shiva is part of a group of international environmentalist working toward earth change, part of the group that recently helped enact the law in Brazil calling for returning equal rights to Mother Earth. As she said: She is mother.
How can we not understand that? The indigenous cultures know this and they see what has happened to their mother and they want to stop it. Can we not also see this and embrace this cause? Can we not see that our very lives are at stake?
It takes more than an individual effort; it takes a global effort to enact this kind of change. But, in the meantime, we must still, each one of us, do our individual part. Today, I suggest that we each take a look at what Mother Earth offers us in our own environment so that we can truly begin to understand just what she provides us. I follow with a few examples from our own backyard.
Chuck and I have been resurrecting our acre of land over the past several years. Once highly landscaped, it fell into disrepair and by the time we purchased it most of the gardens were overgrown, hiding the ornamental trees and bushes; the rock walls covered in poison ivy, sumac sprouting up everywhere. When we lost our tall pines in the tornado that came through last fall, we at first bemoaned the loss of those majestic trees, home to many birds, that had shaded us in the summer and protected us in the winter. Now however, we have embraced what nature did, for we have sunlight and the ability to grow food that we didn’t have before. As we have cleared and cleaned our property we have discovered its hidden offerings as well. As we walk the land, we find that we could actually survive off it, food aplenty, medicinals and healing opportunities abounding.
Crab apple and magnolia trees, though often thought of as only ornamental, offer many healing properties. Their blossoms, leaves, and barks hold many properties that have been used by indigenous and Chinese herbalists for centuries, some of them making their way into products we find on the market today. If you chew the bark of the magnolia you may recognize that it tastes like something familiar, used in many dental products, because it is good for the gums and teeth. The pesky sumac, the kind with red berries, not the poisonous kind with white berries, is actually full of healing properties as well, as is the rapidly growing catalpa with its large leaves and long pods, the seeds especially medicinal.
Dandelions, the leaves, roots, and blossoms are full of vitamins, minerals, and healing properties as well. Plantain, the lowliest of wild plants probably—everyone has this in their yard or can easily find it alongside the road—is amazing in the healing of cuts and stopping the flow of blood. We use it often; chewing the leaves and laying the pulp over a cut to stop the bleeding and knit the skin back together faster than anything I have ever seen. In telling his story Black Elk, the holy man of the Oglala Sioux, refers to being healed in this way after having been in battle, his guts hanging out and the shaman having him chew the leaves of this lowly plant and it knitting him back together so that in a matter of days he was back on the battlefield.
Last night, Chuck and I had a meal of tender dandelion greens sauteed with shitake mushrooms and garlic in olive oil, a little lemon juice sprinkled over it, salt and pepper. We also sauteed, in butter, tiny buds of dandelion flowers. Tasting like tiny asparagus they are the little green nuggets at the center of the plant before the stems grow. We sprinkled our plates with a few edible purple violet flowers. In picking the greens before the flowers grow the characteristic bitterness is avoided; after that soaking them in salted water removes this taste if it is unpleasant.
We make salads or sautes of chickweed, garlic mustard, plantain, prickly lettuce, wild onion or ramps, and clover, all found in our backyard. We make dandelion brandy from the flowers of this so-called pesky weed; its properties cleanse the liver; its roots a tonic for many ills of the digestive system. We make tinctures of chickweed, good for the skin; lemon balm, good for the nerves, heart, and brain; burdock for innumerable reasons.
Get a good book, research ancient folk remedies on the Internet, learn to identify what Mother offers in your own backyard, neighborhood or park. Everyone, no matter where we live, can have access to what the earth offers if interested. She is right below our feet, we don’t have to go far to find something to sustain and heal us. She does indeed offer us everything we need.
Stalking the wild Mother,