Natural Health and Healing in the Wise Woman Tradition
c. 2002 Susun S Weed
The Wise Woman tradition is invisible. Without healers, without diseases, without cures, without certificates, without guarantees, it exists. It has no rules, no right answers, no promise of life eternal. The Wise Woman tradition is a spiral of uniqueness, everchanging, like a woman, steeped in and rising out of the blood mysteries, the wisdom of womb-ones, the knowledge of those who hold their blood inside.
The Wise Woman tradition honors the ordinary and avoids the exotic, works simply and steers clear of complication, accepts failure, chaos, and the eternal void with humor instead of fear and dread. The Wise Woman tradition is compassionate and heart- centered. It honors the Earth. It is local and ecological and urges us to use our dooryard weeds instead of the latest miracle herb from far away.
This is in marked contrast to other traditions of healing. In the Scientific tradition the doctor is highly visible and the patient is reduced to a body part or a disease designation. In the Heroic or Holistic tradition, the healer is the one who knows the right way to do things and the patient must follow the rules in order to get well. Most so-called alternative medicine comes from Heroic traditions, which emphasize fasting, purification, colonic cleansing, rigid dietary rules, and the use of rare botanicals in complicated formulae. Metaphysical healing also is applied that way: It views illness as a failure rather than a natural and potentially constructive process.
The Wise Woman Tradition reminds us that wellness and illness are not polarities. They are part of the continuum of life. We are constantly renewing ourselves, cell by cell, second by second, every minute of our lives. Problems, by their very nature, can facilitate deep spiritual and symbolic renewal, leading us naturally into expanded, more complete ways of thinking about and experiencing ourselves.
The Wise Woman Tradition encourages us to work towards good health from the inside out. And to remember that our healing choices influence not only ourselves but the entire planet.
Month One * Waiting * Arctium lappa
In the darkness, there is waiting. Underneath, the roots hold firm. Dare you reach down? To dig deep, deeper, yet deeper, until you grow weary, fingernails broken, anointed by your own sweat? If you do, if you persevere, you will reach her. Your fingertips will caress her cool rough black skin. Honor her power, ask for her help. You will hear her answer, feel her as she gives away to you, as she allows you to take her out of the earth. With your hands and cool water, softly coax the dirt away; sharpen your knife. Cut thin slices, stopping where the root grows dense and begins to yearn upward as leaf. Fill a glass jar: once with slices, then with room temperature apple cider vinegar. Watch it through six weeks of Change, and, just as the light returns at Solstice, eat and drink your potion if you wish to build strength in your liver, your life, your kidneys, your stamina, your intestines, your immune system, and your skin.
Month Two * Sensing * Betula nigra
Who created the belief that we're dirty and must be cleansed to be healthy? Wise women don't clean. They say life is a spiral of nourishment. They say each cell is made in perfect health/ wholeness/holiness when optimum nourishment is available. Instead of "cleansing" -- which can create a damaged self-image -- the wise woman nourishes, increasing self worth and health.
Even when it comes to housework, I don't clean. Instead, I nourish spaciousness. My ally? A brew of sweet birch. I break a handful of twigs (with unopened buds) into a quart jar, fill it with boiling water, and cap it tightly. The next morning, I pour off (and drink) the wintergreen- flavored tea, leaving the twigs in the jar. I pour another quart of boiling water over the (same) twigs. And so on, up to thirty times. After the third or fourth brewing, try some of the liquid as a grease-cutter in the oven. Amazingly, the birch tea gets stronger the more often you use the twigs.
Month Three * Emerging * Sprouts
Have you watched the sprouts in the garden? Try it this year. Watch carefully to see what comes to eat the tender seed leaves as they first emerge, heralding the coming true leaves. Are you surprised that nothing eats the sprouts? Even the insects wait until the true leaves begin to grow before settling in for a feast. The plant is at its most vulnerable when it sprouts, so it protects itself with phytochemicals that are carcinogenic and sometimes outright poisonous. Take a cue from Nature: Avoid sprouts (unless they're cooked, which neutralizes the phytochemicals). Need another reason to avoid this fake food? It isn't grown in the earth. It would make sense to eat sprouts if aboard a spaceship bound for Mars, but my spaceship is planet Earth. So, for optimum nutrition and glowing health, I choose foods that have their roots firmly in Her.
Month Four * Growing * Plantago
Plantain, the plain plant, grows invisibly underfoot in parks, playgrounds, driveways, lawns, even paths through open woods throughout the temperate regions of the Earth. She is lying in wait for you, waiting for you to recognize her virtues and befriend her. All parts are useful: especially seeds, roots, and leaves. The leaves are renowned for their ability to ease stings, itches, sprains, itches, skin irritations (including eczema) and itchy bites. I use the fresh leaves, quickly chewed and applied directly. Children call her the "bandaid plant." Those allergic to bees and wasps swear that a timely application of plantain leaves will save them from adverse reactions to stings. For winter use, I make an ointment by pouring room temperature olive oil over a jarful of coarsely chopped plantain leaves; let it sit for six weeks (no sun!); strain, and melt with beeswax. It is unsurpassed for soothing diaper rash, dry lips, bruises, and -- you guessed it -- itches!
Month Five * Enduring * Symphytum
Is she an evil witch or a tender healer? (of bones, tendons, ligaments, lungs, throat, vagina, guts, and skin? Like the women she has long been associated with, comfrey has a mixed reputation. I use lots of comfrey leaf, brewed as a strong infusion (put one ounce dry herb in a quart jar, add boiling water to top, cap tightly, steep overnight); but I rarely use comfrey root -- if for no other reason than that comfrey will colonize the garden if her roots are disturbed. The healing agents in comfrey are concentrated in the petiole, or leaf stalk, and the flower stalk. Cultivated comfrey has sterile flowers, so I harvest while it's flowering, cutting leaf and flower stalks near the ground and hanging them individually in a dark, well-ventilated place to dry. As I write this in the Catskill winter, a steaming cup, enlivened with a pinch of mint sits by my elbow. Oh comfrey the comforting, you cunning witch, how I adore you!
Month Six * Flowering * Hibiscus
One of my favorite daily practices is to find and eat some wild food, no matter where I am, city or country, home or far away. I like to nourish all that is wild and natural, real and earthy in me. Sometimes I have to resort to dried wild seaweed, but most of the time I can find fresh wild plants. If I'm lucky, I get to eat flowers. In tropical regions, the many-colored hibiscus blossoms offer themselves abundantly. At home, the closely related weedy mallows have much smaller flowers, but are just as delicious, as are the wild (and cultivated) hollyhocks, with their large, tasty, magnificent blooms, and the late-blooming Rose of Sharon, the northern hibiscus. What hussies these flowers are, sticking their tongues out, oozing with nectar, fragrant, and dusted with fairy glitter! What healer they are as well (leaves, too) with their ability to soothe and cool and provide generous amounts of antioxidants ( vitamins C, A, and rare minerals).
Month Seven * Conceiving * Tillia
Known by numerous names, linden (basswood, lime blossom, tillia) is a worldwide favorite for strengthening the immune system and preventing/treating colds and flu. Children are partial to its delicate flowery taste, and it always seems to bring a smile to the lips of adults. At the corner of my house the linden tree leans away from the pond. Her branches sweep down to the roof, aiding our efforts when we want to free her nodding blossoms into our baskets. It was once the custom in France to let out the schools when the linden bloomed, so the agile children could harvest the healing flowers of the tree that buzzes. (The nectar is so sweet that every bee wishes to partake, and they visit in such multitudes that a linden tree in bloom actually buzzes!)
Month Eight * Ripening * Avena
Cultivation of grain is one of the greatest of the women's mysteries; and oats is one of the oldest of the cultivated grains. Hear us Demeter, you who are called Goddess Mother. The oat seed is sown, and soon green shoots carpet the fields. Oh, oat grass, soother of souls and frayed nerves, hear our pleas, comfort us. Growing steadily, the stalk at last yearns skyward, carrying the oat flower into the fertile winds. When pollinated, she will return to gravity, dangling her new crop of oat seeds, oatmeal to us. Oh, Ceres, she of fullness, ripe with milk, it is your body that we feed on, that we nourish ourselves with. We offer you our flowing blood, our sensuous undulating bellies, the ripple in our walk that so mimics yours. You who are beautiful in all ages, help us remember that our beauty also changes with the season.
Month Nine * Scattering * Daucus carota
Most common weeds hide uncommonly-helpful abilities under their rough ways. Beautiful when summer warms her delicate blossoms, the rest of the year Queen Ann's lace is not much to look at. In the autumn, when the seeds are fully matured, but not yet brown, we harvest them to use as a contraceptive. Related to dill, caraway, cumin, fennel, and anise -- all aromatic plants whose seeds are widely used -- and the common carrot, parsnip, parsley, and celery, Queen Anne's lace claims also relationship with one of the most famous plants of antiquity: It even appeared on a coin. Why? It was a highly effective contraceptive! To use: take a full teaspoonful each day, mixed in with food, but not cooked, for as long as you desire to be without child.
Month Ten * Withdrawing * Ulmus fulva
Slippery elm is a graceful tree found near streams and in wet areas throughout eastern North America (from Quebec to Florida and west to the Dakotas and Texas). I have been intrigued with this tree since I first met her. Her inner bark is a superb source of nutrients and a universal antidote for poisons (even bacterial food poisoning). Whenever there are symptoms of gastro- intestinal distress, I think first of slippery elm. Careful harvesters take only branches; the bark of the trunk is not used. After drying, the inner bark is powdered and then mixed with milk or honey before being fed (in tiny amounts, or from a baby's bottle if needed) to the womoon (or animal) in need. Slippery elm quickly stops violent diarrhea and allays even convulsive vomiting. It nourishes and restores life to the intestinal tract.
Month Eleven * Resting * Taraxacum
It seems always to surprise women that I prefer my dandelion greens in the fall. What is it about the cold nights that brings out the sweetness in her greens? Is it that the bitter is gone to the root? That the leaves are storing sweetness toward next springs blooms? Whatever it is, I think the leaves taste their best in the weeks just before and just after the first killing frosts of the autumn. Hidden over the summer by the bigger plants, dandelion steps back into the spotlight (and the sunlight) as the nights chill and lengthen. Cooked or chopped into salads, the greens provide outrageous amounts of carotenes (vitamin A), minerals, and immune-enhancing nutrients. I think of her as a fall tonic. And as I eat her I envision my roots storing up extra for the cold months ahead.
Month Twelve * Dreaming * Papaver
Scarlet poppies bloom behind closed lids. Scarlet petals fall slowly, lazily, easily away, revealing the mystery within: a crowned box of seeds. Scarlet poppies open, draw us in. Rattle, rattle, rattle. . . come closer, she rattles. Her rattle is a drone, is a drum, is the rhythm of peace, is the sound of the sea, of the earth, and of perfect peace. Rattle, rattle rattle, scattering scarlet poppy seeds. Scattering your thoughts to the wind. To the wind that feels so good, so good against your closed eyes, so warm, so comforting, so full of dreams. Scarlet poppies of blood drip in rhythm from your womb, a rhythm so good, so warm, so comforting, so full of peace. A pulsating rhythm of blood, of poppies, of dreams. Scarlet dreams, deep dreaming, deep inside, where scarlet petals fall away, revealing the crowned mystery within. You are the goddess, you are the poppy, you are the dream.
Susun Weed, Copyright 2012
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Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health.
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