" Some sorcerers do boast they have a rod,
Gathered with vows and sacrifice.
That, borne aloft, will strangely nod
To hidden treasure where it lies." — Shepherd (1600).
The whispering fingers of Autumn are tentatively feeling their way about us on the land. The first night I’ve used the big comforter came recently as I lay on the couch, reading Phyllis Light’s newish book, Southern Folk Medicine, which is fantastic by the way. I’ve been harvesting tomatoes everyday, green beans by the bucket fulls, blanching and blanching and blanching veggies for the freezer. Lamsquarter’s greens and tulsi are drying on the new herbrack I got as suggested by Laurie Quisenberry, my new friend from Wild Herb Weekend.
I had such a blast at this event. If you haven’t been and you like herbs and you live near or in NC, please come next year!! I taught classes on Appalachian Tonics, The Poison Path in Appalachia and did an Appalachian Ethnobotany plant walk focused on the magical uses of plants. It was super fun having a sleepover with my friend Byron Ballard and gossiping until late into the night, as well as doing some serious porch settin’ at the beautiful farm house we stayed in.
Aside from all that glory and magic, I do also want to take this opportunity to speak to issue brought up by recent news about Susan Weed. I am not an authority in the herbal world. I don’t see clients, and I’m more folklorist then herbalist, but despite all that and my young age, I do hold a position of power as a teacher and have apprentices myself. We as a group have talked a lot these past two weeks about the issues of “intense personalities” the cult of personality and teacher-power dynamics.
I feel that as a teacher, finding the ways to face my ego, my shadows, my victimization stories and the ways in which I act toxically in social situations is paramount to my work. I invite all of us who teach and hold that imbalance to let go of the celebrity-effect, and just freaking help each other see these types of abuse for what they are and support those who are affected by it. It’s so hard to know when someone is just has a “hard personality” or “is intense” or well, is really just plain abusive. If you have people describing you as that, maybe examine how and why you’re putting yourself out there in the world in those ways, and please, at the end of the day, don't be a jerk. For those who have been hurt or betrayed by this woman. I am sorry. You never deserved that, and I am here for you. Others have far more elegantly and less self-centeredly commented on this, but I stand with those harmed by this person and I hear you.
On a lighter note, in fact a light yellow notes, here to bring a golden smile to your face, today I want to share with you the magic of Goldenrod.
The first splashes of yellow are coming up here and there along the highways and round the edges of our pond at my home. Goldenrod is returning. Despite its ubiquitousness, I still find it to be one of the flowering plants I most anticipate. They say in Appalachia, that once you see the first blooms, it’s six more weeks to the first frost. Where we live, that’s not so, but elsewhere and higher up in WNC, it’s most accurate. This plant is, however, a sign of luck and wealth, though with some special caveats.
Goldenrod or Solidago spp. is a common Aster family plant native to North America and Mexico with between 100- 120 species, though they have been introduced in Europe and beyond. Goldenrod is edible, medicinal, and of course, magical. Despite its many uses, it has a bad rap as an allergen, when in fact, its friend the Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) is the culprit. The pollen of goldenrod is too heavy and sticky to become airborne and effect us allergic humans, and it is this stickiness which causes insects to be the main purveyors of this weighty pollen. This does not mean no one is allergic to goldenrod, topically or internally, anything can cause a reaction, but the story that goldenrod is responsible for the streaming eyes and noses of people with Fall allergies, not so!
Ironically enough, the suspect is the cure! Tea from goldenrod leaves and flowers has been used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes by indigenous people around the Americas, with large emphasis on its uses as a kidney and bladder medicine. Matthew Wood calls it bitter, warming and pungent, ideal for old wounds, sores on the legs and scalp as well as good kidney medicine of course. The latin name “Solidago” means “whole”, which most likely refers to its healing properties. Others say it come from the phrase "in solidum ago vulnera," "I consolidate wounds."Another old name for it was “woundwort”. The galls that form from a grub living inside the stalks were also carried to prevent rheumatic pain. Known as "rheumaty-buds", these little galls were cruelly believed to only be effective as long as the little bug was still alive inside. Sheesh. Nice job 19th century people. Tough being a grub.
There are studies indicating it has even more uses medicinally, from lowering cholesterol to upper respiratory infections, colds and flu. Salves and oils were used traditionally as topicals for pain, and the fresh leaf made into a salve for old wounds by the Romany. In Scotland it was used especially for broken bones. It was commonly used in African American folk medicine for fever and chills as a tea.
Goldenrod with it’s brilliant hue and stately countenance can’t help but inspire magical ideas. It was believed that if it suddenly appeared growing outside your door it meant that good luck and prosperity were on their way. In the British Isle, Its long stems were believed to point to the locations of buried gold and silver. It even has a history as a sort of dowsing rod to help find secret underground springs and water sources. This plant is given the astrological association with Venus. Perhaps this explains why if you wear a piece of goldenrod, it will also ensure you see your lover tomorrow. I know what I’ll be pinning to my lapel post haste.
Dictionary of Plantlore. D.C. Watts. 2007.
The Mythical, Magical Folklore of Plants. D. Thiselton-Dyer.
The works of herbalist Matthew Wood
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