Archives for category: Food and drug plants

A story or myth is a powerful entity.  It can embody a culture’s experiences and mistakes, and provide a vision that guides its evolution.

In some cases, myth is presented as fantasy, false, or fake; this is in contrast to the world of science and reality.  Myth is a way to explain phenomenon for pre-literate, superstitious, hunter-gatherer type societies that don’t know any better.  Or, a myth is just a tale that people make up for fun, something that isn’t really real.

In other functions, myth presents a deep reflection of human society.  The underlying themes of myth are true for all time – greed and generosity, anger and death, love and ecstasy, sadness and humility, birth and metamorphosis.  Stories offer clues to the respectful interaction between humans and nature.  Stories help one to navigate the difficult world of uncertainty and fear; a world ruled by survival and adaptation.  A story may give hope to a world that struggles with destruction, corruption, addiction, and power.

The following are drawings inspired by stories from the Amazonian Indian tribes of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.  The tribes include the Machiguenga, Siona, Kofan, Secoya, and Kichwa peoples.  This first set of pictures come from Los Cuentos de Los Abuelos compiled by Jaime Hernando Parra, The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa, and Vine of the Soul by Richard Evans Schultes and Robert F. Raffauf.

Up in the sky, the jaguar woman sat in her hammock nursing her baby.  She kept watch, and protected the earth and all its creatures.

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One day, a woman washing clothes down by the river fell in love with a boa.

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They had a baby.  The baby boy had boas around his wrists, and leaches on his ears and face.

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The boy grew up to be a great fisherman, but he was bullied and pushed aside for being different.  With the magic of the cane plant flower and the help of his father, the village was flooded and drowned.  The boy’s family and kind friends went to live under water with the boa people.  They lived happy times singing and feasting at the bottom of the river.

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It is said that tiny little demons live inside the flowers of the Parascheelia palm.  Best to stay away from this plant….

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Ants live in the nodes of the Duroia hirsuta shrub.  They are the guardians of this plant that also belongs in the devil’s garden.

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There was another woman who fell in love with a river fish.   The fish had handsome scales and beautiful song.  In time, her husband grew suspicious, and saw what they were up to one day.  He managed to trap and kill the fish, then asked his wife to cook it for dinner.  The fish would not boil, not matter how hard she fanned the flames.  It just kept oozing foam and blood, and cried out for their union.

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This next set of pictures were based on stories told to me by Jonathon Miller-Weisberger, working in the lineage of Don Cesareo Piaguaje, Don Casimiro Mamallacta, Mengatue Baihua, and Juan Gringo.  I am told that the stories will soon be published in book form.  Hence, the text here is minimal.  You are welcome to use your imagination to fill in the missing parts, or to treat the pictures as a trailer of tales to come.

Some hunters went to a sacred mountain.  The silent one went to the guardian spirit to ask for embers.

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The hunters did not respect the animals they killed.  They mocked them and tore them to pieces.  The silent one knew what was goin’ down, and climbed a tall tall tree to hide.

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That night, the guardian spirit sent her kids to suck out the hunters’ eyes.  Evil sees no visions, it only knows darkness and pain.

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On the way home, the silent one passed by some magical pots hanging by the river. Later, with a replica in hand, he went back to the site with the village elder.  They traded the pots, and brought back one of magic.  The pot was filled with abundant and everlasting sweet corn drink.

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Selfish youth, with spite in their eyes and jealousy in their hearts, broke the pot.  That was the end.

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In ancient times, people went to visit the primordial god of the rainforest and skies.  He tried to teach them, but they ended up falling asleep.  Only the ones who could shed their skins, and transform themselves from within, stayed awake for the heavenly songs.

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By the river of all the colors, ancestors came to teach the way of flowers and birds.  “Are you ready?”  They asked.

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With a whisk of the wand, wings tore through the sky and opened up channels of light.  All the strands of the rainbow wove into one.

Would you like to be a healer who works with plants?  An herbalist, pharmacist, or doctor?  Is this a viable career choice?  Will it bring happiness and contentment?

The job duties include collecting and making medicines, prescribing herbs, and conducting ceremonies.  The hours may be long and irregular, seasonal and fluctuating.  You will spend many hours in the garden talking to plants and cutting them down.  You will commit to serving the community you live in.

To make medicines, you use plant parts with strong ‘active ingredients’.  You use seeds, leaf, bark, flowers, fruits, root, and sap.  There are many ways of taking medicinal plants and their products into ones body:

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Through the mouth:

Infusion – plant steeped in hot water.  For example, drinking tea.

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Decoction – plant cooked and boiled and strained.  How about a cup of coffee?

Tinctures – plant put in alcohol or other medium because its chemicals do not dissolve in water.  Put little drops on the tongue.

Lozenges/pills:  plant chopped little and stuffed in pill form, sometimes with some filler material.  Swallow with water.

Smoked – plant rolled in paper, leaf, or put in a pipe, burned and inhaled.

Through the skin:

Plant extracts are mixed with creams, oils, then rubbed on the body.

Through the nose:

snuffs – powdered plants are sniffed up the nostrils.

incense –plant parts are burned and smelled.

aromatherapy – plant flower or oils are smelled.

oxygen therapy – breathe deeply in the forest.

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Thr0ugh the eyes:

Colorful and geometric shapes bring order to the senses and joy to the heart.  Nature’s structures are grounded and grounding.

In the olden days, everybody was an herbalist of some sort.  Most people knew plants for basic home remedies.  A plant for head aches, another for sleeplessness.  Walk out the door, grab a sprig or pinch a leaf.  Soak it in hot water; drink it three times a day.  There were grandmas who were knowledgeable about women and children’s health problems, and an elder who went into trance now and then with some encouragement.

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Now, as before, it is a good skill to be able to identify the various plants found in one’s garden and be able to use them when needed.  In the garden are beautiful flowers that can kill you, red juicy fruits that will paralyze you, and non descript, drab green leaves that might cure you.

Herbalism is concerned with plants and their specific chemical properties.  Herbalism is an extension of cooking, and one of the oldest occupations of humankind.  Skeptical people who have not had much nature education like to ask, “Yeah, but does it work?  Herbalism is like, something from the medieval ages, isn’t it?  Apothecaries and witchdoctors?” Well, nobody asks, “Does coffee work?  Does cocaine anesthesia work?  Can overdoses of sugar make you diabetic?  Do oranges have vitamin C?  Did Captain Cook cure scurvy by drinking leafy teas?”  And so on and so forth…

Here are some examples of plants (and fungi) and the body parts where they exert their chemistry and influence.  Plants are everywhere!  They are sold at the pharmacy and in cafes, synthetically mimicked in pharmaceuticals, used in hospitals, and growing in lawns and gardens.  These are not prescriptions for experimentation, just a list to start feeling connected to plants.

Musculoskeletal system:

Muscle pain:  camphor tree wood & leaf Cinnamomum camphora (Tiger balm), Eucalyptus leaf oil

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Nervous system:

Pain:   willow bark Salix species, opium poppy latex sap Papaver somniferum 

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Sleeplessness:  valerian root Valeriana officinalis, Chamomile flowers and leaf Matricaria chamomila

Drowsiness:  Tea leaf Camellia sinensis, Coffee seeds Coffee arabica, Mate leaf Ilex paraguariensis, Betel nut Areca catechu, Yoco bark Paullinia yoco, Guayusa leaf Ilex guayusa

External injuries:

Small cuts/wounds: Calendula flowers Calendula officinalis, Tea tree leaf oil Melaleuca alternifolia

Burns:  Aloe vera leaf gel

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Digestive system:

Constipation:  Plantain seeds Plantago species (‘Metamucil’), prune juice Prunus species.

This is Plantago asiatica.

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Nausea and motion sickness:  Ginger rhizome Zingiber officinale

Indigestion:  peppermint leaf Mentha x piperita

Liver damage: milk thistle seed Silybum marianum

Respiratory system:

Asthma:  Ephedra sinensis stem and branches

Throat irritation and cough, expectorant:  Loquat leaf Eriobotrya japonica and

Mullein leaf Verbascum thapsus:

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Circulatory system:

Congestive heart failure: garlic bulbs Allium sativum

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Heart arrhythmia::  foxglove leaf Digitalis purpurea

Immune deficiencies and maintenance:  

“adaptogen”:  ginseng root Panax ginseng

Improve immunity:  Ling-zhi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum

Microbial diseases:

malaria: Cinchona tree bark Cinchona species

Cancer:

Leukemia:  Madagascar periwinkle leaf Catharanthus roseus

Ovarian:  Pacific yew tree bark Taxus brevifolia

Spiritual-religio emotional-mind:

addiction: iboga Tabernathe iboga

ego-isolation, lack of connection to nature:  Psilocybe and kin

Herbalism gets a bad rap because, around these parts, there is usually no license necessary to practice the art and the science.  There is the danger that you do not identify a plant correctly and get really sick or worse.  Plus, the use of herbs get intertwined with love potions and tiger bones, costumed singing and dancing, rituals in the woods and other general silliness.

Nevertheless, the power of belief and the mediation of the mind between the inner and outer worlds are true phenomenon.  All cultures developed medicinal practices starting with plants.  Here is a glimpse into a small portion of cultural theories and cosmologies that affect herbal efficacy:

Western:  Disease is caused or influenced by external agents (pollution, exposure to poisonous or carcinogenic substances, viruses, bacteria, mosquitoes, diet), as well as internal circumstances (genetics, stress, trauma, diet).  Curative drugs work on the molecular level – specific chemicals attack viruses, bacteria, cholesterol.   There are medicines that augment or decrease existing levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, and so on.  Plants are used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, other pharmaceuticals, and psychotherapy.

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African:  Humans are players in a world of spirits.  Healing takes place when a person understands their life as a story, reflects upon its meaning, and gains wisdom in the process.  You graduate, and live not only for today, but begin to see into the future.  There is a constant exchange of energy between the spiritual and material realms.  These forces can inhabit (mount) people and override or defy physical and material laws.  Plants are sacred, and form a part of these mediums. Herbs are used in conjunction with divination, cleansing, drumming, spirit possession, and story telling.

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Chinese:  Humans are conduits for energy that runs in channels throughout the body and universe.  If conduits are blocked or not flowing, disease results.  All modes of therapy seek to free up the “chi” and maintain health and harmony, within and with-out.  Anger, frustration, and bitterness stored in the body become poison, and cause sickness.  All plants are useful.  Herbs are used in conjunction with exercise, massage, acupuncture, moxibustion, and meditation.

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Latin:  Disease can have its source in ones behavior in the community at large.  Recognized disease states are susto, nervios, envidia, and egoismo.  This is to say, a person who is selfish and eyes others with jealousy, is sick.  A person who is fearful of the world, and isolated from neighbors, friends, and family, is ill.  Curative processes would bring the sick person back to health via celebration, penitence, warm and caring people, and forgiveness.

Native American:  The world we inhabit is an illusion.  A parallel world is accessed in dreams, visions, and through guides who bridge the distinct worlds.  The cause of disease is malevolent spirits shooting darts, throwing spears, and casting webs.   These spirits dwell in the forests, deserts, or in towns.  They work to destroy others and the world.  The job of the medical practitioner is to go into the spirit world and attack and repel the source of evil.  Plants are beings with consciousness and spirit; they are teachers and allies. Herbs are used in conjunction with songs, prayers, chants, ceremonies, fasting, and incense.

Milkweed in the mountains for Asclepias the healer:

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Be conscientious and be careful!  A poisonous plant killed the Chinese  medicine emperor Shen Nung five thousand years ago.  The plants are not joking around!  When engaged in the very serious study of medicinal plants.  Beware of:

•  The importance of dosage and frequency of use.  A little of something can be beneficial, while too much can be a detriment to health. Sugar in small doses is sweetness and energy for muscles to use.  In large constant doses sugar is a slow poison that causes diabetes and other ailments.  Ritual use of tobacco by native people of the Americas is not the same as recreational or addictive use of cigarettes.

The plant Nicotiana has sticky leaves and showy tubular flowers:

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•  Each person is unique, and has different constitution and genetics. Everyone will react differently to a plant food or drug.  Even twins are not the same.  For some, alcohol lightens the mood and leads to singing and cheerful behavior.  For others, its use leads to crippling addiction, broken homes and livers.  Some people are allergic to peanuts and shellfish, others less so or not at all.

•  Addiction has a physical component, and a large mind state component.  You can become addicted to any number of things.  That is to say, even if an activity provides no beneficial effect, an addict will do it repetitively, on impulse, over and over again.  Actions are performed in boredom and in fear.  At times, it leads to the breaking of ancestral bonds that tie communities together.

•  There is difficulty in standardizing dosage and potency in plants due to soil conditions, time of harvesting, processing, and adulteration.  Fresh herbs are usually preferred over old herbs that have been sitting on a shelf.  Herbs gathered in focus and prayer may work better than herbs gathered in hatred.  With experience, you will recognize and utilize proper timing and methods.

This was a happy day when I found a female ginkgo tree laden with fruit.  How does it smell when ripe?

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• There are possible side effects of multiple alkaloids or chemicals when taking either one herb or a combination of herbs.  Side effects can be minimal and beneficial, or dangerous.  Do not under estimate the power of plants.

•  Find out what conditions are able to be self-medicated and what conditions require professional medical care.  If sick, give the body time to rest and heal.  Acknowledge the power as well as the limits of modern day medicines.

•  “Natural” and “organic” do not necessarily mean non-toxic, beneficial, or good.  Natural and organic substances encompass strychnine, arsenic, nicotine, mercury, and other possible poisons.

•  The distinction between foods, medicines, and poisons is best seen as a continuum – a long line of substances, each folding and doubling back on one another.  Plants do not read our books, and do not always fit into discrete and definite categories or taxonomies.  If you box them up, the plants may disappoint you.

What part of this plant do you eat, the fruit or the leaves?  Which one is tasty and edible, which part is poisonous?

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•  Its all about plants.  From drug wars across borders to sugar cane plantations and coffee farms, the currency is plant chemicals.  Forms change; leaves and flowers are transformed into crystals and pastes, gums and powders.  From the best-run surgical rooms to the thatched huts in the jungle, the medicines are also plants.  Some put you out cold for a surgery, while others will light up the body cells in rainbow arcs.  A respect for plants and their power, and a plant – human relationship based on cooperation and goodwill, will best bring about health of individuals, communities, and societies.  Here is some food for the angels:

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In our introduction to horticulture class we use a textbook called the California Master Gardener Handbook, published as part of the California Master Gardener Program.  The California Master Gardener Program is run by the University of California, and shares information about home gardening with the general public.  In the first pages of the book is this brief description of plants:

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A view of plants as energy output machines has enabled us to to apply efficient methods of cultivation, and to produce enormous amounts of plant products.  Foods, drugs, fibers, and building materials.  Boxes of oranges, bags of rice and potatoes, piles of folded cotton, and stacks of 2 x 4’s.

On the other hand, Amazonian Indians – horticulturists, hunters, and caretakers of the forest – articulate the perspective that plants are beings, or the abode of spirits.  In some cases, the plants are actually teachers of humans.  The plants teach kinship, symbiosis, humility, and inner metamorphosis.

The time I have spent in the rainforest is minimal.  Nevertheless, I am amazed by the diversity in the jungle, and bewildered by the primeval plant knowledge that enabled human survival for many thousands of years.  Stories passed down by Indian tribes to explorers and writers embody a universe and relationship with nature very distinct from our own.

Inspired by the Secoya peoples, permeated by the writings and old photographs of G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, R.E. Schultes, and W. Vickers, I started to draw some of the stories related to plant lore:

This is the sun father carving petroglyphs with flowers and light on rocks by the waterfalls.  The nuclear reaction that powers our world – the SUN!

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Here are the first settlers of the Amazon basin from the Tukanoan tribes.  They came to the jungle from either the highlands to the west, or from the stars of the milky way.  A cosmic anaconda pulled their canoe.  Inside the canoe were three sacred plants.  Manioc is first; it is the starch and staple of all meals.  I met Manioc as a tasty flat bread and as a plant in an actively cultivated garden plot.  The second plant was Coca, the source of coca leaf.  Coca leaf is a ritual food that provides protein and vitamins.  It staves off hunger and thirst, so that one could work a little bit longer in the forest clearing.  The third plant is Yage, the vine of the soul.  This plant enables the Indians to travel to mythic time, and make contact with the spirits of the forest.

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One of the epic Indian dreams sees the river as a person.  The head is the headwaters, and the feet go to the sea.  When the person shakes their flowing hair, leaves of the yage plant scatter into the river and become fish.

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An important medicinal plant is Kana, Sabicea amazonensis.  It belongs to the Rubiaceae, the plant family whose members also include coffee and quinine.  The commonly used landscape shrub in the subtropics Ixora is in this family, as is the fragrant Gardenia of florists.  Small red fruits of Sabicea are eaten and drunk.  This plant symbolizes the linking and twining of humanity.  Fruits are hearts are people; vines are string are umbilical cords are rivers are time.  We are all children of the sun.

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One of the most important plants to any society is the plant with caffeine.  No caffeine, no work!  Amazonians are partial to Yoco as well as Guayusa tea.  Since I was drawing hollies with caffeine content I went ahead and included mate from Argentina (Ilex paraguariensis), Ilex vomitoria from the southwestern United States used as a purge, and the bitter nail tea holly from Taiwan and China.  Oops, forgot Guarana!  A Yoco relative of the rainforest.  The elfin dudes running at a fast clip have just had their morning brew, their heads are the fruits of Yoco.

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There is this idea of transformation in the jungle.  Of people and basketry turning into animals, plants, and rocks.  The boundaries are not strict.  Consciousness permeates from every substance in this universe.  The whole thing is alive and reflective…!

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oct 3rd ceremony

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We were at the beach.  A crowd was saying final goodbyes to a loved one…

 So we started working in the vegetable garden.  It was overgrown with weeds.

We were concerned that past activities had contaminated the soil.  Vegetables suck up metal ions and store them in their plant parts – roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits.  If we eat these veggies in large quantities, the metals can cause our bodies big problems.

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Soil is a living force.  A handful of soil is millions and millions of creatures.

An overview of different farming styles led to discussions of philosophy and our relationship to the earth.

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Give and take, give and take.  Take naps, dream, then go back to work!

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Hey, how about a few swiss chard-eating fly larvae in the stir fry?  Protein!!

This story is about drinking the vine of the soul from dusk to dawn.  It is dedicated to the brave people of the Siecopai culture, to the unguragui and chambira palms, and to the wantas scavenging for forest fruits in the night.

When the sun lit up the day, these pictures flashed before me.  There are three stories in one.  The first is a gathering of people around a ceremonial fire.  The second is about cells and the scientific mind.  In the third we enter the realm of jaguars and anacondas.

Part I:  Ceremony

C’mon, let’s go!  By the side of the trail, three hawthorn trees with berries stand tall.

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Let’s make camp by the river.  Clear wings of dragonflies glide and spin along the banks.

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Orange spotted blue butterflies hop from sand spit to sand spit.  Crows dive, tumble, and even out.

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We greet the dude who chants, blows, and sings all night.  Ho ho ho!

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We share a smile with friends who hold down the corners: turtle, fox, and hummingbird.

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This is Hawk, the black sun dancer who loves Indian stories.

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It was our first wedding anniversary, a full moon by the gushing river.  Que romantica!

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We drank a bitter potion of jungle vines, leaves, and flowers.

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We sat still on round pebbles watching the flicker of flames.

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Part II:  The cell

This is the membrane that lets stuff in and out – the lipid bilayer made of hydrophilic and hydrophobic heads.  Stay in balance!

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These are various parts inside the cell – the powerhouse, the dump, the makers of proteins…

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Here is the nucleus:  the safe house of the secret code.  Shhhhhhh……..

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The helical twists we know and love.  Elegant design, endless variation.

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Here comes the virus!  Don’t let it replicate!

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Part III:  Jaguars and anacondas

The rainbow serpent, protector of the universe, gets ready for transformation.

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Thousands of tigres y culebras are wrapped in gold, running back and forth.  They are laughing in a crystalline sky of chimes.

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Between the sun and the shade, Jaguar lies in camouflage.

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Jaguar’s whiskers sense unusual activity on the river rocks.

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Jaguar opens her mouth and sharp teeth, she gets ready to tear it up!

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Eagle claws, take me to the sky!  Grab hold.

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The Indian lodge!  I am here!  But how do you sing the universe into form and pattern?  Why is the setting sun black?  How do you keep the gates open?  I want to learn more.

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No!  Not into the bowels of excrement.  The storage vault of the spirit – the chipped and scarred, charred and broken.  Release the worms inside!

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Gotta hang by your toes.  This part is painful.  Drain the brain.  Fill it with love.

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Anda!  Una escritora Chilena guapita.  Too bad she is married and not your age.  Run free!

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And that was the end.  Wish I could explain it better.  Well, hope you enjoyed this story.

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CACOHUITOYAI!

In the old times, plants important to human cultures were attributed to divine forces.  Stories articulated these simple themes:  plants are heaven’s gift to people; people and plants are one; plants are energy beings with power and knowledge.  In the end of the stories, there was usually something to be learned about wisdom, and the place of human beings in the cosmos.  Here are a couple of plants whose origins reach way back into mythical time:

BAOBAB:

The baobab tree sprouted and grew up by a mirrored lake.  Baobab saw his own reflection, and he did not like what he saw.

Baobab desired the showy red flowers of the flame tree.  He was jealous of the palm’s slender and regal form.   He wanted the shiny and smooth skin of mahogany, not his own wrinkly elephant hide bark.  Night and day, Baobab complained and complained to the Creator.

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Creator was tired of listening to Baobab’s whining.  The creator gave the tree to hyena.  Hyena pulled Baobab from his roots, and planted him upside down.

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Thereafter, Baobab quietly served humanity, and gathered the community together for all the important events.

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Know silence.  Respect elders.  Create unity.

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YAGE:

The vine of the soul sprouted from the blood of the rainbow serpent’s tail.

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As it grew, it gathered power and attracted the jaguars of the forest.

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The spirit of  yage is so strong that it can carry you into the realm of the dead, or up to the sky to converse with the spirits in the milky way.

Use this plant, if at all, with caution and respect.  If you use the vine in anger and greed, your life and that of others will be ruined.

Working in the garden growing vegetables is a grounding experience.  The hands move soil and the smell of mints and sages knock you back into the earth.  Thinking like a plant, you follow the sun, and work within the limits of your unique climate and geography.  Pulling a carrot or cutting some chard after many quiet hours of labor is an exercise in thankfulness.

One of my favorite garden crops is a group of cruciferous vegetables known by many different common names.  It encompasses coleslaw and sauerkraut, fresh tossed kale salad and creamy cauliflower soups.

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There is always some uncertainty in growing vegetables.  When do you put seeds in the ground?  Is there going to be a heat wave?  What happens if snails attack?!

The bulb onion lives for around two years; it is are called a biennial.  We harvest them when the bulb is big and then sliced them up.  Depending upon our skill and luck as a gardener, our plans can succeed, or not.

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Plants live a balanced life with varying strategies for survival.  There are mechanisms for coping with conditions that are not suitable for growing leaves:

Too cold?  Go dormant!  Rest until the sun returns!  Go alpine!  Get low low low!

The cherry tree cultivar ‘Akebono’ has massive blooms in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in March and April.  It is known as a flowering cherry.  But the cherries we eat do not grow around these parts.  Gotta go somewhere with a warmer summer.  June, July, August – at the road side farmer’s market!

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The sun and heat make fruits fill with sugars.  In my dreams I see bright fields of winding green leaves and snaking tendrils, watermelons and honeydews ripening on the ground.

The opposite is also true for other types of fruit trees.  They need the cold, the chill, and the frost to make the jump into spring.  A period of winter rest says, “Okay, it’s safe now, send out flowers, bees are coming for a visit.”  Imagine that you put out buds and shoots before it’s time, and a cold snap comes and kput!  Kills all the young growth.  Oh well, better luck next year!

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There are zone maps to help gardeners determine when and where to grow what plant.  These maps take many factors into account:  how cold it gets in winter, drying winds that blow out to sea, valley sinks of cold air, creeping low fog, dripping wet heat, and so on.  Apply existing knowledge, but do not be afraid to experiment, that is part of the fun.  Find your window of opportunity to put seeds into the ground and smile with flowers.   Where is the best spot for the maiden hair fern?  In other words, how do I best mimic its natural habitat – the shade and protection of oak trees, a meandering creek, and wet soils?

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Say hello to the sun, receive the blessings of pure light.  Catch!

In Taiwan it was common in the old days to chew a palm nut to stay alert and awake.  Coffee was not yet imported and popular, tea was drunk in more relaxed company.  Tobacco, well that is another story.  The Areca palm is one of the cash crops, planted in large plantations or in a vacant lot next to your house along with some bananas.

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The palm is called bing lang in mandarin Chinese, Areca catechu is its scientific name.  It has nice stilt roots.Image

Where you see large neon displays on the street, that is where the bing lang stands are.  There is usually a female store keeper, ‘dressed to impress’, wrapping up the not quite ripe palm nuts in the betel leaf, while dabbing a bit of lime paste in the package.  The betel leaf is heart shaped; its botanical name is Piper betle.  Other species of Piper plants include the pepper (black and white pepper are from the same plant), as well as the Polynesian brew kava kava.

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After you take a few chews a great warmth swarms over your body, as does a feeling of vigor and power.  It is as if a small southeast Asian typhoon was inside.  The leaf and nut are not swallowed, but sucked on and passed from cheek to cheek.  Then you gotta spit.  The spit is red.  There is a lot of spitting, out the window or on the sidewalk.  Check out the dashboard – another 200 kilometers to go…

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Well, that is part of the reason for the decline of betel nut chewing.  The sidewalks were all stained red.  Besides, spitting is not really an acceptable aspect of civilized modern culture.  Street cameras were installed, fines were levied.  The taxi cab drivers still chew, but ppttuiiii into cups.  Other pills, drinks, and remedies have now over taken this particular plant and human relationship.

What is consistent through time is the use of plant based chemicals in different forms to stay alert, whether in war time situations or in day to day working life.  With any such substance, there is always the danger of addiction and abuse.  Beware of dosage, reflect on your mind state.  Maintain a healthy balance.

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Seeds are fantastic little pods of life.  Aside from the tiny plant embryo which becomes the sprout and roots, most life pods carry a bit of food energy to help them get started.  That way, the plant babies have a jump on things before they get their leaves up into the sun and sky.  The carbohydrates that fuel the little sprouts are also fuel for us.  Noodles and rice, oat cereal and corn bread, yum!  Yolks in eggs do the same for the baby chicks.  And a plate of Mexican food after some watery shacks and nasal drip, the best!

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Seeds go into a sort of coma state if it is not too wet, not too warm, or if they are surrounded by some kind of sterile and inert material.  So an icy glacier, a peat bog, or a no oxygen mud hole can be a seed’s home for a long time.  We got some real weedy bean type plant relatives around these parts called Brooms.  Some are French, others are Scottish.  They are said to hang out in the dirt for over eighty years or more, waiting for the right moment to bust open and go for it.  Maybe longer, who knows?  I mean, what’s another year if you’ve been sitting around for fifty already?  Or a hundred?  Oh, one more thing – the brooms have a real hard seed coat which protects their innards.

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Roots never cease to amaze me, especially when I am trying to dig up an old and mostly rotten tree and the roots are still holding on tight and strong.  There are many plants in the tropics with roots high above the ground.  The screw pine is one familiar to Hawaiians and fiber weavers in south east Asia also.

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Our economies, geographies, and stories are bound up in the layers of bark and tubes of woody shrubs and trees.  The Amazonian rubber trees bridge World War II and the plantations in tropical Asia.  Sugar maples flavor the pancakes and the northern woods.  Chiclet chews and blows, while Myrrh infuses the air with the rituals of birth and resurrection.  Take the time to learn the trees in your neighborhood!

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