Archives for category: Food and drug plants

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This is building off the work of the great Russian scientist Nikolai Vavilov who documented the centers of origin of cultivated plants, and their wild relatives.   Each drawing of a geographical area is followed by a key to the plants depicted.  The trinity is composed of the land, plants, women and children.  Thank you earth.  Thank you goddesses of fertility.

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I heard about Tafa’i’s adventures in an old timer’s book about Polynesian navigation.  He was a righteous dude who set Tahiti in place back in the day when Tahiti was a big ol fish.  He cut its sinews with a long hard spear and the fish could swim no more.

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Then with his buddies in a double hulled canoe they sailed and paddled everywhere in the ocean.  Tafa’i pulled up more lunkers with his fishhook and set them in place as islands.  He plotted maps so that they could return with women and kids, taro, pigs, coconut, breadfruit, and dogs.

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Much later on in the story, he had to battle a man-swallowing kava monster in order to win the favor of a Hawaiian princess and her court of royalty. Of course, he was victorious, and even brought his dead cousins back to life.  But instead of marrying the princess, he goes back to Tahiti and marries a local girl, lives happily ever after.

plants and magic

About a decade ago we set up a day of festivities and speakers celebrating the connection between plants and spirit.  It was sponsored by the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers.  There was representation from a handful of cultural traditions.  So before the main event (Dr Plotkin), Gamo Da Paz got the crowd dancing to the drums of samba-reggae and Candomble, and Feroz presided over the kava lounge.  Feroz was from Fiji, he brought his bowl and made some nice strong kava.  In every bowl there was smiles and hospitality, kindness and family.  That was my first taste of kava, thanks Feroz!

 

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So kava belongs to a big family named Piperaceae.  There are several thousand members in this family, mostly from the warm and wet regions of the world.  The two primary genera are Peperomia and Piper.  Around these parts, we know Peperomia as our little indoor friend with the roundish or heart shaped leaves.  The Piper we are familiar with in the kitchen is the spice that gives us black pepper and white pepper.  Piper nigrum.  Kava is Piper methysticum, the intoxicating pepper.

Some six or seven years ago a big storm knocked down a bunch of monterey cypress trees at our school.  Somebody craned two whole trees to our yard for some reason, and we ended up chunking them into pieces for chainsaw practice with our tree care class.  Took five or six sessions.  Lucky we had Martin Kutches Jr and his husqy in the class or else we’d still be whittling away.  Anyhow, I salvaged a few big chunks of the material, and hoarded it for some future use.

This spring,  a nice Samoan lady came asking for a kava bowl so that she could do a presentation in her Plant Identification class with Ms. Charmain Giuliani.  The cypress log was now wanted and went to meet Mr Stihl.  Andreas Stihl.

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This was the rough cuts all chainsaw.  There was quite a bit of rot in the piece which required some patching.  Thinking back, I probably should have researched what authentic bowls looked like before I got started.  At this stage, I got design input, some polynesian patterns, a request for turtles and dolphins, and began to dremel away.

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There is a concave turtle shell inside the bowl, four legs, and a head.  Ok, lets take her to ceremony!

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The plant. Comes to us from Carolyn at the Park nursery and Martin Grantham of San Francisco State University, horticulturists extraordinaire.

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Our lovely host.  Anonymous here but well known in our garden world.  Good little turtle.

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Kneading the root to release its power.  Bowl inside of the bowl because the tung oil had not yet totally dried on the wood,  and best not to mix it with the flavor of kava.  Too bad you cant join us for a coconut bowl of the best stuff.  Drink up!

Tung oil, that comes from a species of Aleurites tree in the Euphorbiaceae family.  Its cousin is the kukui nut tree.  Yup, you probably have one of those shiny black nut necklaces.  Okay, back to the islands, and back to work!  Leave the spurges for another day!

 

 

 

Grasses are great plants.  If you get to know them your days will be filled with wonder and intrigue.  They are everywhere.  For a gardener, grasses are job security.  For the farmer, they are food and hard cash.  For the animals, they are footsteps of the rain, and settlers after a fire.  Oh beautiful grass, may your clumps and rhizomes be ever plentiful!

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This is a synopsis of a talk  given on December 10th at the San Francisco Botanical Garden as part of an ongoing series about plants, medicine, and spirituality.

Around town, you see the products of the rainforest everywhere you look.

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Rubber tree latex in tires.

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Ipe wood, also known as ironwood, in fences and decks:

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Pineapples at the grocery store:

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New must have health foods:

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Products of the petroleum industry – gas, plastics, and jet fuel:

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Some of these plants are native to the Amazon rainforest, and have been planted in tropical plantations worldwide from Southeast Asia, Africa, to Hawaii.  Other items like logs and fuel come straight out of the Amazon.

The rainforest is a treasure box of chemicals, many not yet examined or deciphered.  Many plant chemicals have made their way into our culture.  What the Indians use as whole plant extracts, we like to isolate into small and specific compounds.  What the Indians use in ritual and respect, we tend to use in a secular context, or in an abusive manner.

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The rain forests are the lungs of our world, why would a culture want to chop out its own breath?

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This is my experience with the doctors and hospitals of our culture:  the waiting room with excellent magazines and hand sanitizer;  the cuff of the blood pressure monitor and a kind nurse; the reassuring gaze of a doctor who comes in and out; and a stop at the local pharmacy.  Alternatively, the health care experience as a patient begins with an ambulance ride; then the operating room with the healer doctor shaman of our tribe in scrubs and bright lights; ending in a hospital bed recovering with the help of a big screen TV, IV drip, and a constant beep beep beep.

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With the amazing things we can do (growing stem cells, grafting skins, shrink tumors, laser surgeries, and the like), it is easy to put down other medical traditions.  It would be tempting to lump Amazonian traditions with any number of hocus pocus hunter gatherer new age type traditions.  Plus, we are uncomfortable with medicines that address good and evil, or medicines that make the earth and universe dance and sing as if they possess consciousness:

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On the other hand, the Amazonian traditions are ancient and practical, having been used over thousands of years to survive in the rainforest environment.  Their medicine men and women are true researchers and healers; the forest is their university.  How would you like it if people came to your university and chopped up all your professors and tore down the school?

I wrote down the various roles of  an Amazonian medicine man, and imagined what their resume might look like:

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Among the shaman’s medicinal plants, they are roughly divided into plants that are used for the body, and those that act on the mind and spirit.  For the Secoya (Siecopi) people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, plant potions like Pehi, Chiricaspi, and Yahe are gateways to the spirit and ancestors.  Kekenna is an Aristolochia pipe vine used for stomach ailments; wasi iko is a Chenopodium pigweed used for intestinal worms; suara iko is a coca relative, an Erthroxylum, used to treat diarrhea; ma susi is a big stinging nettle named Urera useful for muscle aches and pains; mito is used externally for skin parasites, it is tobacco Nicotiana.

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The following are some scenes of my limited experience as a patient of the Amazonian Tradition.

To drink plant medicines it is necessary to fast.  Simple foods unadorned by spices and sugars.  Fasting is not just about the guts, it is also fasting for the heart.  To be aware and conscious of one’s breath; to not be quick to anger and frustration; to let it come in and let it go out.  Fasting is also about the movement of energy – cultivating the inner mind scape, making it as vast as the sky and as deep as the sea.

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The shaman must bless the medicine by blowing his spirit into the potion.  This part reminds me of the kosher gefilte fish I loved to eat in the all you can eat cafeteria, and the holy water at the entrance to the church.  Dip your fingers, make a cross.

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When the shaman sings, the song covers me in clouds of rainbows.  All the antigens find receptors and nest comfortably in the hammock as birds fly overhead.

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This next part is painful.  It is the purge as the small rainbow snakes of the plant potion find their way to the guts and start to jerk the nastiness free of ones body.  It expels the parasites and locked up emotions in the cores of cells.  For many people, these are useful parasites in day to day modern life; they help to maintain the order and structure of civilization.  They help to define success and accomplishment.  For dwellers of the rainforest, , engaged in constant battle, evil must be purged if the tribe is to survive.  It hurts just thinking about this part.  Not fun, not fun.  The worms stare back at you with gaping mouths.

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There are some excellent visuals that come with the drinking of these plant medicines.  I get the same visuals by going to the supermarket and standing in front of the cereal aisle.  Abundance, colors,  and excellence!!  Another way I’d describe it is this, combine fish:

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with colorful produce:

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Add a football game with its flowing colors and running patterns:

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Multiply those images by 2000, then feel that energy running through your whole being.  That’s about right.

At some point during the medical appointment, you may come to the end of the road and see either a small crack in the earth, or perhaps a loud rushing river.  My best guess is that it is death you encounter.  Not physical death like I can’t breathe! or I got no heart beat! but the place where we all end up.  Across the river is another place full of blooming fragrant flowers.  I get cold and scared here at this point and turn around, but you may be tempted to just walk across.  When you come back to regular life, perspective is changed, priorities are aligned, and fear is not gone, but it is lessened.

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The Amazonians believe in a universe filled with spirits, and lived with in balance with the heart and mind.  Heart and spirit.  There is a story about an Indian who was tempted by power, and was granted the ability to change into a jaguar.  He became ruthless and cunning, and knew only killing and destruction.  Too much power, not enough light.  Power must be balanced by the forces of the light –  goodness, and  respect for people and nature.

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Followers of the Amazonian tradition see that there is a small jaguar within ones heart that is to be awakened.  With the roar of the sun it comes to life.  With that, transformation takes place.  Everything  will look the same, but lines of gentle waves  will rock our tribe of humanity.

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Well, that was my experience as a patient of Amazonian medicines.  May you find the time to reflect upon our world, and appreciate all it has to offer.

Heres a few more drawings that trace their origins back to rainforest medicines.  Thank you to the forest peoples who understand the importance of ancient trees and the spirits that dwell within:

Who is laughing here?!

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If you are not awake in the wee hours of the morning, you’re gonna miss the best part!

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I know Bauhinia as a legume tree with pink orchid like flowers.  In the tropics is a gnarly liana of a Bauhinia that climbs up to the sky people.

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The chicharras are singing ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji ji…

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Then Orellana’s ship was swallowed by the great amazonian catfish.  why!?  Where did he go?

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In the shadow of the sun, Indians chant for another round.

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In the presence of indian medicine, songs are vibrations are rainbow arcs of energy that are inserted deep into one’s being.  The goal is to open one’s eyes to the magic of this world.  Know gratefulness and find kinship.

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To get past our fear of flying insects it is important to meet them and say hello.  Insect scientists group insects into different clans.  One of the characteristics to observe is the kind of wings it has.

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Bees are grouped with the wasps and ants.  Some bees are named for their trades and the types of nests they build.  Clay and mud, wooly hairs, bits of wood, green leaves.  Bees are master builders and architects.

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How social is the bee?  Does it live in a little hole by itself, in a hole surrounded by other holes, or in a huge nest ?

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If the bee collects pollen, where does she store it as she travels to the next flower?

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How many babies in each little nursery cell?  One to many?

What sort of structure?  Is it waterproof? Who brings food to the young?

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Some bees live as parasites on other bees.  Survival and another day staring at flowers.

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Not all flowers are quick to let go of their precious pollen.  Some take just the right touch.

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One time up in the mountains I thought the earth was rumbling and granite was shaking.  Turns out it was a dead tree humming with activity.

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The ovipositor is the egg laying device that sticks out the back of the abdomen of female bees and wasps.  In some instances, It is modified into a stinger.  Poison and power, life and birth.

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Bees are awesome!

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Funny thing is, it seems that once an idea is lit up in one’s mind, it does these loops and starts to show up everywhere.  Yesterday, dreaming of bees, I came upon this scene.

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Then this:

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And here they were – at the edge of the sea.  Rock rock Rockaway Beach!  This ones in Pacifica.  2-3 foot shifty watery claws!  GO!!!!!

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This is a quiz for fun.  It skips and dances over four basic themes – identity and self image, the mind and the universe, love sex drugs alcohol & money, and lastly sickness and old age.  These are questions about nature –  human nature, culture and nature, relationships in nature.  There is not one correct answer; you are free to pick any answer(s) that rings the most true for you.  Good luck!

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How did you do?