Here I am
Most days when I’m out walking the dog, I gaze at the river, look in the ditches beside me, and delight in the new green things crowding in on each other. I am curious about what’s what, have a wish to identify plants so that I will know them better. If I make a tincture or an oil out of a medicinal herb it is with a four year old’s enthusiasm for concoctions rather than a pharmacist’s careful blending.
Come winter, I am curious to try my “medicines” for this or that illness to see if any of them work. But were I to come down with something serious I’d beat a path to the doctor’s door quicker than you can shake a stick.
Beautiful weeds…My earliest memories involve gathering wild flowers alongside my mother, a forager if ever there was one! Summer mornings I used to see how many different flowers I could find, and later, my wedding bouquet was composed of nothing but wild flowers: rugosa roses, Queen Anne’s lace, purple vetch and black eyed Susans, yarrow, daisies…It could not have been more beautiful cluster of flowers, ants and all!
As a teenager I encountered a delightful old forager on PEI. Mrs. G lived with her elderly uncle, a fisherman, in a broken down cottage in Launching. We met her one summer after she rescued us on Boughton Island.
The tide had come in and we were stranded on the island with a million and one mosquitoes for company! Mrs G, who was probably about the same age I am now, was as wide as she was tall. She rowed across the bar in her old yellow dory and brought us back to Launching, chuckling to herself about our foolishness.
I loved visiting her after that. We’d sit in her tiny kitchen and drink tea and she’d tell stories about storms that swept huge waves across the land, how she had watched anxiously for her uncle’s boat.
Once, Mrs. G and I went out foraging for clams. We waded around in water up to our shins. Mrs. G wiggled her big feet down into the muddy sand, then kicked the big quahog clams up into the skirt of her loose fitting dress.
She managed to live much of the time off the land and the sea, and could cure herself of most ailments. She taught me to make a pudding out of Irish moss which is a seaweed full of carrageenan. It will thicken milk if you boil it long enough. I’m not saying this is a pudding you should serve to the queen; but it worked: the milk got thick. In our rambles through the woods behind her place Mrs. G pointed out this plant and that, and I wish now I could remember what she showed me. Those plants were friends to her. She never seemed lonely.
These days I have a similar feeling about medicinal plants. When I encounter something I recognize it’s like running into a beloved friend. In fact my dog looks back at me questioningly when I shout out “there you are!” to a patch of plump red clover. I’m pleased that they have arrived, and it’s almost as though they are pleased back. The generosity of nature feels personal to me: “How about some blackberries?” Nature seems to say. “Yes you’re bound to be scratched, but oh the juicy reward!” “Have a wild lily of the valley leaf just popped up on the forest floor!” “How about if I tilt in the breeze,” says a daisy, “so that the light shines through my white petals just so?” “How about if I fill a whole meadow with a froth of yellow?” say the dandelions.
I hope reader, to include you in this delight, this friendliness of the natural world, this treasure hunt of foraging. When I make mistakes or claims that don’t pan out, forgive me. I’m a very amateur herbalist. If you read my blog at all, look at the first word to tell you what the blog’s about: Meanderings. Come meander with me; let’s see what we can find.