Flutter byes

Said goodbye to some old friends today.

Little by little, I am winnowing my belongings so that our rebuilt house doesn’t feel so stuffed when we move back in.

Clothes. DVDs. Books. Art supplies. Bulky accumulations of memories and identity that I can’t let go of.

Today it was herbs.

I learned the basics of Southern Appalachian herbalism more than five years ago. My enthusiasm was immediate and intense. And, as my herbalist teachers warned, the herbs and supplies quickly took over the kitchen.

We acquired a hutch that had been abandoned on a country road. It was a bit rough but beautiful wood, obviously handmade. That became the home for my herbs and accompanying jars, bottles, labels, beeswax, oils, grain alcohol, muslin cloth strainers, and funnels.

In those first two years, I harvested often in the wild.

Dogwood bark strips

I shaved bark off the dogwood branches for an analgesic – it has to dry for a year before it is no longer toxic. I pulled up the bright yellow root for tincture and salve. I retrieved armloads of pruned cherry branches from my chiropractor and peeled the bark for cough remedies.

I plucked strands of the all-purpose gynecological remedy, partridgeberry, from alongside the gravel roads in the forest.

Dried Pipsissewa leaves

Often on those same banks I gathered pipsissewa leaves – one plant at a time, so as not to overharvest. I didn’t have urinary tract problems, but figured one of my friends surely would.

I learned that the Appalachian oak leech – with its beautiful yellow blossoms – had been used by the Cherokee as a tea while fasting to give them visions. I never quite got the nerve to try it, but I collected it.

All these herbs were packed into small jars and bags, carefully labeled with the date and place of their harvest. It was comforting to know that they were standing by in case of need.

Most dried herbs are only potent for a year or a bit longer, so these were well past their use date.

Today, I took a row of jars out to the deck, and one by one, opened them and scattered the dried herbs to the breeze.

I winced in the bright cold sunlight. Unused potential strikes at my soul like no other pain.

As I gathered the herbs in my hands one last time, I put my nose in them and breathed deeply.

My friends gave me one last gift.

From their faded life came the smells of the forest, of the hours spent wandering and getting to know them. For that moment, buried in their scents, I was happy again.

I opened my hands and let the herbs flutter away. Like tiny butterflies, they floated, drifted, and found a place to settle on the ground.

Back to the earth.

They don’t mind. They are home again.

Today’s penny is a 2011, the year I began gathering herbs in the wild.

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