My Initiation into Herbalism

As I say every August 1st, this is an auspicious day for my husband Chip and I. It is the date we drove into California with nothing but our favorite albums and our cat, Mama Kitty. We were young, adventurous and ready to feel the freedom California promised. The passing of Proposition 215 and the reputation for great ganja was the catalyst for our move to Humboldt County in 1997. We were emboldened by our youth, Prop 215, and the freedom fighters that came before. Little did I know that the allure of cannabis would bring me to the redwood forest where I would be initiated into the world of healing plants.

As you approach the Humboldt County line on 101 North you notice that the temperature drops as the towering redwood trees block out the sun. The air stills and time seems to slow down as soon as you are in the presence of these gentle giants. A feeling of serenity and calm engulfs you as you enter the timelessness of an ancient forest. It is a visceral feeling, being in awe of magnificence much greater than oneself.

I still remember the first time I experienced a redwood forest. Their beauty temporarily stunned me, as I stood looking up into their branches. Visions of times long ago instantly flashed through my mind. I could see what it was like before humans separated from nature, before profit surpassed our love of the land, before the decimation of entire forests and their ecosystems. The reality of how recent it all occurred struck me deeply and I began to understand how greatly humans impacted the world. It was a surreal interaction to have these trees communicate with me instantly and so directly. All I could do was listen.

In my book, Plant Songs: Reflections on Herbal Medicine,I devote a chapter to Redwood although the entire book is inspired by my love of these brilliant beings. Here is an excerpt from Plant Songs about the wisdom from the Grandmother Tree that lives behind my house:

Redwood: Think Back, Slow Down, Listen, Remember  

There is a 2nd-growth redwood tree beside my house whom I call Grandmother Tree. I have been speaking to this tree since my husband and I bought the property where she lives. Grandmother Tree has one of the largest burls I’ve eve seen at her base. In this burl are the spirits of Green Man and an ancient tree fairy. I see them both very clearly, although it is with Green Man that I most often converse. Green Man has been called by many names: Shen Nong, Pan, and Osiris are but a few. He is one of the manifestations that nature speaks through. With Green Man and Grandmother Tree I have had the most profound insights about humanity’s place in the natural world. I have listened to nature as she describes witnessing the demise of the human race. It is our mad quest for dominance that has separated us from the rest of Life and has stunted evolutionary growth as a result. Instead of working alongside nature, we have attempted to manipulate and control it, to the detriment of all of life on Earth.

The Earth is a living being with countless ecosystems that are always altered and sometimes destroyed by human habitation. The dramatic decrease in redwood trees has also decreased the intense fog that once engulfed and sustained life in the millions of acres of redwood canopy. The loss of canopy and fog has led to the decline of species within an ecosystem that has existed for millions of years. We can’t foresee the consequences of destroying such an ecosystem.

Grandmother Tree has spoken to me about how humans have nearly destroyed themselves time and time again. She says we are a resilient species but not beyond extinction. Her neutrality soothes me. She is matter-of-fact. Her attitude says, We enjoy having you here, but it’s your choice to stay. We can destroy or we can create, and we will reap what we sow. Life on Earth will thrive. The question is, will we?

As I re-read this passage it gives me hope. Human time is so small compared to planetary and cosmic time. I hope we humans change our ways. If we don’t the Earth will survive and eventually thrive again. I really hope the redwoods are part of that revolution.

With love,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

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