Friday, 13 May 2016

"And the little hills rejoice on every side"

Lines like the one I've used for this post's title just jump off the page at me and stick in my brain.

No, make that heart, they stick in my heart. Heart-mind. That line is from the 65th Psalm, in case you're wondering.

It's spring, finally, and as the world grows greener by the hour the little hills around us do, indeed, rejoice. It's in the bird-song in treetops and the fragrance of forest floor, it's in the laughter of running brooks and the glow of lichen on wet rock. Here, in my own back yard, I could swear the unfurling leaves of comfrey that come up in the lawn (where they're not 'supposed' to) have a slightly defiant musical note to them and when I smiled at finding the first violets yesterday, they most assuredly smiled right back.

I take from what is offered in the most abundance, so right now a small pile of that slightly defiant comfrey waits on the counter; it shall go into my lunchtime soup. So will a few nettles. The nettles are not (yet) quite so abundant but the more I pick 'em, the more will come, so pick 'em I do.

"You crown the year with Your goodness,
And your paths drip with abundance.
They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
And the little hills rejoice on every side .."

Mmmm, what a lovely image.

Way back when, our yard had a smooth suburban-style lawn. Now that lawn is more like the pastures of the wilderness, offering me all sorts of food and medicine, none of it planted. Well, some, like the comfrey, was planted nearby, it just migrated out into the lawn when I dropped a leaf. (Yes, one dropped leaf = a colony of comfrey.) We mow around it. You can't get rid of comfrey, it's just not possible, and I take that as a hint that we really shouldn't try. So tasty and useful an ally can never be considered undesirable. In fact, in my do-it-yerself religion, to get rid of something like comfrey is an insult to the One who provided it in the first place. Nature, as directed by God, is always saying "Here, you might need this".

And well I might.

There are some who tell me I am more courageous than they are because I 'dare' to eat wild plants and herbs in such abundance. I can only say that I no longer dare NOT to eat them. I just don't have the courage (?) to say no to God when He carpets my lawn with gifts.

I suppose all of life is a matter of recognizing what is a gift and what isn't. Now if I can only learn to apply the message of my lawn - what looks like a weed is actually food - to the rest of my life. How much of what I weed out is actually there for good reason? What should I embrace, what should I avoid?  What should I encourage and nurture, and what should I discourage? And what is this courage thing anyway?

Beginning wildcrafters are often told to buy a good field guide. That might help, but the best thing is to have a friend already familiar with the plants to walk you through the field and forest, offer you nibbles of things and tell you their own stories of how they used what and when it worked and when it didn't. (The stories of failure are just as valuable, believe me.) Life's like that too, right? You can read self-help books, and the Bible, but having someone who is a little further along the path to share their experience just can't be beat.

Ah, youth. The older I get the less I feel like I really know what's what. Yet - somewhat hilariously - it comes down to me, as an 'elder of the community' (coff coff) to guide others. This growing lack of certainty I have is why, when you write to me with your questions about this illness or that herb, I so often have to give you that most unsatisfying of answers - "it depends".

That's also why I still write more here than on the wildcrafting blog, because wildcrafting is about a lot more than being able to recognize and use the plants, it's about knowing why and when to use them. And that depends on knowing your own heart. That blog is about the what, this one is about the why.


We can look at the gifts of this planet as there for our taking - and I think to a degree we should. We also have to look at these plants as living creatures. In most cases we don't have to take the whole plant, it gives parts of itself that regrow, but sometimes we are actually taking a life to enhance our own.  Once we come to realize that all creatures are sentient in their own way, taking that life is a pretty serious thing and it shouldn't be taken lightly. This is why, from time immemorial, there has been some degree of ceremony or ritual involved in the collection of medicine plants.

Creation, as we like to call it, is a collective - not a collection - of creatures. We, too, are creatures in that collective with a place in it, a role. The rest of Creation understands this. The medicine plants understand it. We are, in a very real sense, family. We're united in Spirit.

If we harvest the plants we need mindlessly, we still gain. The phytochemicals still work their healing. When we gather the plants mindfully, or more accurately heart-fully, the healing works on a deeper level.

These gifts of healing are not only from the ones giving their lives or parts of themselves for our benefit, they are, at their source, from the Creator. I find that acknowledging this is both humbling and awe-inspiring. Suddenly my purpose changes, my understanding, my belief .. from a fingers-crossed 'I hope this works' mindset I shift to a sense of certainty. I'm no longer relying on an intellectual understanding of how the physical medicine of the plant will work in my body, I'm opening my heart to allow God in on the business at hand. I'm stepping back into my place in Creation, my place in the family. And I can't help but rejoice, you know?

We can rid ourselves of annoying symptoms just by knowing which plant will balance or nourish our bodies, yes. I can teach you what I know of that, to some degree, but there are herbalists out there who know far, far more than I do. That's why I have them on my side-bar here, in hopes you'll learn from them too.

But really my role, my place in this family of Creation, is to be one of the smaller voices, speaking a different language. The plants have been healing my body and nourishing every part of my life for a very long time now, but far more importantly, in doing so they awakened my heart and introduced me to the Creator. It's almost impossible to find words for this that don't sound hokey, but it is my understanding that my role is to point out that they can do the same for you.

I didn't go looking for that to happen and I know I was free to ignore it, as are you. But if there is the slightest crack in your armour, the slightest thought that maybe I'm speaking some kind of truth, catch on to it. Use it. That's why it's there.

So - every plant may have its own specialty, yes; there are liver-specific plants and kidney plants and plants to knit bones and plants to help us fill sad, barren wombs. But in the end, they are all healers of hearts, too, if we allow them to be.

It's raining now; we need it, and the farmers will be happy. So it's appropriate to quote a bit more from that lovely Psalm 65:

"You visit the Earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it:
The river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
For so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers,
You bless its growth."


  1. Sweet message, Sister. God bless you.

    1. Thank you Brother. God has blessed me, with you.

  2. One day, I will get there with plants. But for now, I enjoy reading the article taking away other pieces and lines. Thoughts like these:

    I suppose all of life is a matter of recognizing what is a gift and what isn't.

    That might help, but the best thing is to have a friend already familiar with the plants to walk you through the field and forest, offer you nibbles of things and tell you their own stories of how they used what and when it worked and when it didn't.

    But really my role, my place in this family of Creation, is to be one of the smaller voices, speaking a different language.

    Thanks! :-)

    1. I'm always glad to hear that something I've written somehow speaks to a reader, thanks for your support Terri :-)

  3. Reminds me of this anthem which we used to sing at harvest:

    Interesting that David notes the rain falling on hills and wild places as well as farmland & pastures:

    '12 They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.

    13 The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.'

    An acknowledgment that it's not all about us and our Glorious Project of Domestication. For one commentator:

    'These communications of God's goodness to this lower world are very extensive and diffusive (v. 12): They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness, and not merely upon the pastures of the inhabited land. The deserts, which man takes no care of and receives no profit from, are under the care of the divine Providence, and the profits of them redound to the glory of God, as the great benefactor of the whole creation, though not immediately to the benefit of man; and we ought to be thankful not only for that which serves us, but for that which serves any part of the creation, because thereby it turns to the honour of the Creator. The wilderness, which makes not such returns as the cultivated grounds do, receives as much of the rain of heaven as the most fruitful soil; for God does good to the evil and unthankful. So extensive are the gifts of God's bounty that in them the hills, the little hills, rejoice on every side, even the north side, that lies most from the sun. Hills are not above the need of God's providence; little hills are not below the cognizance of it. But as, when he pleases, he can make them tremble (Ps. 114:6), so when he pleases he can make them rejoice.'

    Modern devotees of 'ecosystem services' and 'natural capital' should take note!


    1. Nice to 'see' you Ian.

      "not all about us and our Glorious Project of Domestication"

      If we were to think of the Earth as our God-given domicile, then learning the Earth's ways would make *us* the ones being domesticated!

      "Ecosystem services". If I mow around red clover so the bees get their share of the nectar, and I make sure the toads have someplace where they can live undisturbed - surely that counts as serving the ecosystem" (Yes, I'm being cheeky!)

    2. Interesting thought re: domestication, although doesn't really fit with my current understanding of what the word means. Will sit with it for a while though and see what happens...

      re: serving the ecosystem - if only they saw it that way!

      Fun cautionary story by Nick Hunt:

      'It was a warm autumn day, and the ecosystem service providers were buzzing in the natural capital. The foliage was consuming the light. Anders was sitting in his usual chair. Sophie and Sasha were on their way, and this afternoon he would go with Sasha to an area of outstanding natural beauty to forge a closer familial connection while recreationally walking.

      No, that was not correct. Anders rubbed his head with his thumb. It wasn’t an area of outstanding natural beauty, it was twelve hectares or thereabouts of medium to low quality indigenous fauna habitat, but Sasha need not be concerned about that. Sasha was nine years old. The place was pretty – yes, it was pretty – its cultural and recreational value was adequate for their purposes, and such qualitative definitions, he thought, were not of importance to children.

      Such definitions were not of importance. Anders closed and reopened his eyes. He gazed at his trouser legs stretched across the patio, and then at the pebbles around the lawn and the trees beyond the garden. The trees were mostly rowans and oaks, and during a night of sleeplessness that had occurred some months ago he had calculated the value of each to about six hundred ecos a year – taking into account such factors as sequestration of atmospheric carbon, electricity conservation through shading and wind reduction, interception of particulate matter, and raising property values through leaf surface area. He looked at them now, doing their part. It was a ballpark estimate, and something about it bothered him now. The leaves were moving in the light. He rose from his usual chair and took a few paces, frowning. [continues...]'


    3. I think I'm out of the loop here. I don't really understand this reference to eco-service providers, I was just horsing around. Dark Mountain is usually such a depressing read I just can't be bothered with it any more.

  4. Oh, okay. Look it up sometime if you want to get angry/bemused/amused. Horsing around is cool too. You gave me a new perspective on the subject without even meaning to (probably)!

    DM's all right really. They have a sense of humour. Dark, admittedly, as you might expect. Going to their festival again this summer as it happens. Should be a good'un...

    Nighty night,