Monday, September 15, 2008

Medicinal Oils

I have been inspired lately by a herbalist named Kiva Rose who lives in the Gila of New Mexico. Kiva Rose makes an infused oil from the Goldenrod flowers and uses it for muscle strain, muscle spasms and general sore muscles either from over-use or tension. Since the Goldenrod is flowering in abundance here in Vermont I thought I would give it a go. The princesses and I gathered and garbled the flowers, packed them into a jar, and covered them with olive oil. We'll wait about 4 - 6 weeks and then strain. I'll let you know of the results.

(As an aside, we began homeschooling in the Queendom and herbal medicine making is part of the princesses homeschooling. But don't tell them ... they think we are just playing in the meadow!)

After making the Goldenrod oil, I strained the Saint John's Wort flower oil that had been infusing in olive oil for the past 8 weeks. I use the Saint John's Wort oil for the same purpose as the Goldenrod oil ... the sore, over-strained muscles. The wonderful thing about the St John's Wort is that its little yellow flower makes a surprisingly beautiful red oil!

And yeah, dude, I am straining the oil in a hemp coffee filter. I'm so cool.

While I was picking the Goldenrod, I had an herbal inspiration! A few weeks ago the Goldenrod was flowering alongside the Purple Loosestrife, and the antique white Boneset. It was a color combination that made my heart sing. The Loosestrife is now past and the Boneset is beyond its prime, but next year I will make an oil of the three of them together. I have never heard of such a thing, but this oil was my inspiration. Boneset is traditionally used in a tea (together with mint and yarrow) for achey fevers, the Goldenrod, as I said, also for sore muscles. I imagined rubbing the oil from the three sisters of colorful summer onto the body of a loved one to relieve an achey fever in the winter. Ahh, fall hasn't even officially arrived yet and I am already planning next year's herbal adventures!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I made a new friend this week. Her name is Parnassia (or Grass of Parnassus). I'd never met her before and when I saw her I had that where have you been all my life? kind of feeling. And while I can't say exactly why, something about her feels of Nana.

Parnassus is a mountain in Greece said to be home of the muses and referred to as the home of poetry, literature, and learning. (Thank you, wikipedia) Nana was definitely a life-long learner and avid reader. She read Ekhart Tolle's A New Earth twice! in her last months of life. She played daily sudoku and cross-word puzzles up until a few months before her death (until she was 93 and 3/4 years old). Nana subcribed to the "use it or lose it" view on aging.

But there is something more going on here. When I walked past Parnassia, it was as if she called out to me. She caught my eye and she beamed. As I have mentioned, I'm not naturally visually observant, so my wildflower field guide becomes a learning tool in observation. If I want to learn a plant's name, I must look carefully at the details of its flower, leaves, stem, and environment. The name then helps connect me to the observational details and anchors me to the plant's spirit. And sometimes, as in this case, the name gives me a peak into others' relationships with the particular plant.

Having an animistic world view, I wonder if this pant called to me to encourage me to keep writing ... to stay connected to the home of the muses. And I wonder, with the feeling I had of Nana connected to this plant, if perhaps Nana helped guide my footsteps to the muses doorstep. Or pehaps it's just a big otherworldly conspiracy ... Nana, Parnassia, all of my spirit helpers, the universe, God at large ...working together to keep my inspiration sparked. Am I egotistical to think that the whole universe is working to keep me in check? Am I just plain nuts? Perhaps ... but I wouldn't want to live any other way.

Nana’s Head

My Nana died at home last week at the age of ninety-four. She spent her last eight months in hospice - five months more than the doctor ordered. The doctor warned us early on that Nana would die a terrible death with lots of pain and suffering, but Nana was always stubborn and did things her own way. Telling Nana that she couldn’t do something was a sure indication that she would do it. She said that the last year of her life was the best year of her life and it was definitely my best year with her. It was a year of firsts in my relationship with her. We got to know each other for the first time; she said ‘I love you’ for the first time; we were able to touch each other for the first time.

Nana touched me with her honesty, humor, laughter, and stories. She touched me with her will and bravery. She touched me with her ability to die with grace. I in turn touched her – most often her head and her feet, sometimes her back or legs. I started with her feet the day she moved into the hospital bed situated in her living room. I rubbed lotion onto her calluses; I pressed my thumbs onto her arches. I gently pulled each toe as we talked. I rubbed her back when she was tired and having a hard day, the massage guiding her into a nap. I stroked her head and brushed her hair when she was nearing the end, in hopes of soothing her as she journeyed toward the world of dying.

I know Nana’s head now. Last year I barely knew Nana. Now I remember us laughing together. Now I know the shape of her skull under my fingertips. I know the bones of her feet. I know her ankles and legs, slowly shrinking over the weeks without food. This is all that I wanted. To know my Nana intimately. To see her eyes smiling straight into mine.

It has only been a week since she died, but already I can’t recall the exact appearance of her face. I am not observant of visual details, I am observant of energy. When my husband approaches me smiling because he has just shaved off his mustache, all I see is the smile. When I recall Nana talking, Nana sleeping in bed, Nana at her birthday, Nana sitting in her chair, or Nana in her kitchen when I was a child, these images shift and blur, her face fades, but I see her spirit. Her memory is in my hands, my feet, my head, my eyes, my mouth, my back, my belly, my legs and ankles. Nana is in my heart, opening as I lay my hands on her feet, laughing as she tosses her head back and laughs.