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Posts Tagged ‘Plant Wisdom’

Mistletoe and the Garry Oak Tree

At this time of the year in many western and European countries you will see mistletoe put up as a holiday decoration.  Is it a native plant in the Cascadian bioregion?  Yes.  It is called a hemi-parasitic plant.  That is it lives in a symbiotic relationship with other plants and is also considered a parasite to trees.

There are many myths about the power of mistletoe to bring humans together.  Thus it is the custom of many to place mistletoe above a door and encouraging people to kiss.  In one custom men have the privilege of kissing a woman under it- plucking each time a berry from the stem.  When all the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.

But mistletoe has other important uses to the forest ecosystem.

There are actually three types of mistletoe located in our bioregion. Two live in conifers.  The Douglas dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium douglasii) lives in the Douglas fir.  And the Western dwarf mistletoe (arceuthobium campylopodum) is most often found in the Western Hemlock but can also be found on pine, juniper, and other conifer trees.  And last, the most popular type of mistletoe is found in the Garry or White Oak located in oak savannahs throughout the region.

Garry Oak mistletoe (Phoradendro flavescens) is the type popular during our Solstice/Christmas season.  It was long thought to be purely parasitic and might even kill the host tree.  Now, after years of study the plant is actually known to be part of a unique ecosystem that encouraged oak tree propagation.

For instance the name Mistletoe is attributed to old German and old English language and means twig dung.  Because birds eat the seeds and the seeds are deposited in their dung and fertilized. The same birds eat other cone seeds, and acorn’s and carries them to other sites to be planted and fertilized.   The acorn of the Oak is picked up by squirrels that also come to the oak for the berries of the mistletoe.

The mistletoe found in conifers is very unique.  It causes the tree to produced odd shaped branches that grow closely together in a thatch.  This is called a “witches broom”. This type of mistletoe is often overlooked because it occurs high up in the conifer.  This thatch makes a wonderful nesting site for some very vulnerable birds in our region such as the Northern Spotted Owl and the Marbled Murrelet.  A wide range of animals depend on mistletoe for food, consuming leaves, young shoots, transferring pollen between plants and dispersing it’s seeds.

Medicinal aspects of Mistletoe

First peoples and people who live in Western and Northern Europe used Mistletoe to cure aliments of the circulatory and respiratory system.  A tincture or infusion was prepared and the solution was used sparingly.  The overuse of the plant parts can cause gastric problems that can lead to diarrhea or worse. It is not uncommon for a teacher to tell children that the berries are poisonous.

According to the book “A Modern Herbal” by Mrs. M Grieve, mistletoe was traditionally used as an effective treatment for convulsive disorders such as epilepsy. Mistletoe has also been used as an experimental treatment for cancer, though scientific evidence of its effectiveness as a cancer cure is limited. Medicinal forms of mistletoe include teas, tinctures and injections. Mistletoe extracts that are depleted of lectins, one of the toxins in mistletoe, are less likely to produce adverse reactions.

IS Mistletoe poisonous?

Mistletoe can make cats and dogs and children quite ill if ingested in high enough doses. It is best to keep mistletoe up high while decorating.  Young children may think the berries are eatable.  But it is like most powerful healing plants, a very useful plant if used correctly.

In modern times mistletoe has been studied to see if it can treat cancer. It was found to stimulate the immune system increasing the amount of white cells that attack the malignant cells. Much more investigation needs to be done to understand how this happens.  And a homeopathic does of mistletoe was formulated by Rudolph Steiner as he believed that mistletoe diluted (homeopathic) could treat a faltering of the body’s spiritual defenses.    Again it is best to contact a qualified herbalist, naturopath or physician. 

For more about native plants used in celebrations check out this excellent article on Wikipedia called “Festive Ecology

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Oregon Grape

This is the first of 14 essays that I wrote on plant knowledge that appeared on the Portland Indymedia Website from January 12, 2008 until May 8, 2010.  They appeared as skill shares. People were encouraged to comment and share their own level of plant knowledge. I am reposting the 14 essays with updates and changes. I will also be archiving them on this website so they can be easily accessed. Please feel free to comment on each weekly essay.  There is a link to the original essay that appeared on Portland Indymedia.  The posts include interesting comments.

Let us begin this important discussion.

I must start by explaining that I call this land, this ecosystem and nexus of ecosystems stretching from British Columbia to northern California, Cascadia.  I will reference Cascadia throughout my writing and will sometimes, when necessary, identify a place more specifically by state, valley, or mountain range.  Much of what I will say about plants in Cascadia is true for plants across the Earth.  The Earth is made up of a connected series of ecosystems that support plants, humans, and all other creatures.  I believe in the Gaia hypothesis put forth by James Lovelock and others, which proposes that the living and nonliving parts of the earth interact in a complex system that can be thought of as a single organism. And we are a part of that organism – not apart from it.

I am a longtime Cascadian. I was born here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and grew up with the ways of a true wild child. I attended school and was part of a very large family, but every other moment of my life outside those realms I spent close to the earth and the plants.  I lived close to a white oak forest and learned about the plants from the plants themselves.  I loved the crawling animals, the birds and all creatures I found in that amazing forest. In that forest I found the divine. I lived close to the foot of Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range, a mountain that the native Kalapuya called Tamanawis, “place where the spirit dwells.”  When I was an older child in my teens, I ran wild on the slopes of the mountain – especially on the North Trail.  This trail was where Kalapuyan children were sent for their vision quests.  I had a father who loved the Earth and helped me to understand its plants and learn how to identify them.  He encouraged me to draw and paint pictures of the plants as a way of understanding them.  He did not know about their healing abilities, but  he sensed that some knowledge had been lost about these plants.  My father was a longtime organic gardener, and for a time our family raised about 50 percent of our food from the earth.  I learned a great deal about growing,drying, preserving, and harvesting plants from my parents.

In my early teens I was able to attract another great plant teacher: a woman simply called “Grandma,“ who lived not far from me. She lived across a couple of fields from my home..  Grandma taught me to harvest the tiny purple center of Queen Anne’s lace for use as a natural dye.  She was my most important human plant teacher. She told me about the spirit of each plant.  I was taught that specific plant families do not always react in the same ways in each human dose,  that we all attract plant healing in different ways.  This is the inverse of what corporate medicine teaches today.  Teachings such as homeopathy and the use of flower essence (Bach Flower Remedies) also teach that the healing must start with the human spirit and that all healing starts with emotions and energy.  I was also taught that to achieve proper healing,  a healer must be able to observe the progress and changes in a human or animal over time.  My most important teacher was the plants themselves. Through observation and use of the plants to heal myself and the animals on our farm, I was able to learn essential techniques used in plant healing.

To understand fully my relationship with the plants of Cascadia, I sought out stories about how native peoples used local plants. And I discovered an attraction to several plants.  I will start by teaching what I know about some essential plant species found in Cascadia.  These species are important to me, and you may find that  you are drawn to other plants in the region.

As I teach you about the important healing plants of Cascadia, I will also encourage you to observe yourself and note what plants you are attracted to. Understand that many times the attraction is mutual, and that the plant  that draws you in may be trying to heal you or bring you back to a state of balance with the natural world.

I will be covering how to identify and harvest the plants that I think we should all know about.  I also plan to discuss how to use these plants for nutrition and for emotional, physical, and spiritual healing.  I will provide resources for additional learning about each plant and share some ideas on how to use plants (not trees) for shelter and other necessities such as clothing and fiber…

 Before you can learn about healing and nutritional plants, you need to learn the lay of the land, and you must grow aware of the spirit force that the Earth gives us through plants.  Plants are more than inanimate objects put on the Earth for our enjoyment – they are part of us and we are part of them.  We need to have an understanding that everything in heaven and earth is connected as one big system and that plants are as much a part of our bodies, minds, and spirits as anything else in the ecosystem that we live in.  For too long humankind has been immersed in the idea of a mechanized world.  Many humans mistakenly believe they can treat the Earth and our bodies like machines with exchangeable parts.  Many believe they can remove or abuse a body part without harming the whole of the body.  A similar attitude perseveres about plants.  Yet as with human bodies, when you remove or abuse a plant community, you bring imbalance and dis-ease to the whole.

Plants are amazing Earth entities.  Yet we have lost so much knowledge about how to interact with them and gain health and wellness through their use.  There is a movement amongst permaculturists and plant healers to collect the stories of how native peoples interacted with plants – the Ethnobotany of plant knowledge.  The following is information that I gathered during a talk that I attended at the 2008 gathering of permaculturists in Eugene, Oregon put on by the Eugene Permaculture Guild.

The speakers were from Bill Burwell, a Kalapuya researcher, and Jerry Hall, an ethnobotanist who teaches at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

Bill Burwell spoke at length about the relationship between the Kalapuyans who lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  He said that at the start of each harvest season they first had a gathering ceremony.  Great respect was given to the earth and the process of harvesting.  The Kalapuyans expressed gratitude for the harvest.  „The spiritual leader of each winter village site would harvest a few articles of each resource, bring it back, prepare it in a ceremonial way, bless the plants or animals that were responsible, and then the regular harvest could begin.“

Burwell reported that there was a belief that all plants and animals, including humans, were part of the same lifeforce, family and community. „As above, so below“.

Burwell spoke of a word that was used up and down the Willamette Valley, the lower Columbia, and into the Salish area of Washington and British Columbia.that expressed this reverence for life: Tamanawas. Burwell said it’s been translated as spirit power. People on a vision quest would look for thier Tamanawas. Burwell said that what  Tamanawas really related to was a person’s ability to interconnect with all the rest of nature. Burwell reported that often a persons ability to find a certain plant for healing happened because they were able to connect with nature on a energetic level. „The plant actually was the teacher of the person who was going out on the search“, Burwell said.

Jerry Hall spoke about language and songs that were used to connect with nature.  Hall spoke about first people gather songs that would connect them to a plant. The songs were located in the ether world and if one was accepting, the song would come to them and then they would find the plant. „ My experience is that singing evokes something from us that is beyond talking and gives expression to prayer“, Hall said

Both Burwell and Hall agreed that people 500 years ago knew where everything was in nature and the people took care of it and respected it.

Original Essay with comments found at http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2008/01/370936.shtml?discuss

Other resources:

Eugene Permaculture guild:  http://www.eugenepermacultureguild.org

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Radical Botany: Arising from or going to a root or source; Arising from the root or its Crown: radical leaves. Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in the current practices. Developing a new awareness of our place in the natural world.

The Radical Botany blog is a discussion and repository of articles on Plant wisdom. Most of the plants discussed are native to Cascadia- the area from British Columbia to Northern California.

If you are looking for a good teacher for learning about plants, look to the plants themselves. All knowledge that would lead us to live rightly on the Earth can be found with the plants. You only need to possess excellent powers of observation and do what the plants ask you to do. If you know and understand the plant teachers, you will never be hungry, unsheltered or unclothed. You will surely be a person who lives a prosperous, abundant life.

“The loss of connection to plants, to the land, to the Earth, leaves the connection to life with which we are naturally born unfilled. No matter how much Ritalin or Prozac is poured into those holes of disconnection, synthetic pharmaceuticals can never fill them; merely human approaches can never heal them. It is not only plants that are our teachers and healers; not only plants that are among our community of life; not only plants that have a language we have long known. It is the community of life that we are missing.”  Stephan Harrod Buhner – The Lost Language of Plants –http://www.gaianstudies.org/articles2.htm

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