As I write this, I’m in the desert, just outside of Phoenix. I am looking out at a eucalyptus tree, it’s leaves dancing in the wind. It’s gentle leaves remind me of the gingko tree miles away, overhanging the gate to the Japanese Garden at the Arboretum. Besides being lovely trees, I use Eucalyptus essential oil frequently for colds/congestion and the ginko biloba is used for depression and memory issues. A few of the warmer days in AZ, we have sat next to large blooming rosemary bushes, filled with so many bees, the humming was constant. And of course, there are aloe vera plants, various yucca plants (the yucca sharp leaf ends were used for needles along with the fibers from the leaves), the creosote bush (aka greasewood), mesquite, and of course, sage. It’s interesting that while the herbs are different and sometimes the same, many of the herbs that we use were learned from different tribes of Native American Indians.
In 2004, my husband & I decided to drive the Lewis and Clark trail on our way out to Glacier National Park. It was the bicentennial of that historic expedition. On the way, we listened to the corresponding portion of Meriwether Lewis’s journal for each day’s travel. There were a number of things that amazed me about the journal and I came to appreciate more fully the role of Sacagawea, a young Shoshone woman. She was only about 15 years old when they started on the journey and she carried her 2 month old son, Pompey, on her back. She died at the young age of 25 and her son & daughter were raised by William Clark. Sacagawea was paramount in helping the Corps of Discovery make it to the Pacific Ocean and back. She knew the roots to dig for both food & herbal medicines. And there is an account that while on the Oregon coast, Sacagawea hunted for fennel seeds to help the men, as they had gorged themselves on a beached whale & found that the fatty tissue played havoc with their digestions.
Two of my favorite Native American herbs are Sweetgrass and Sage. Sage is held sacred by many Native American tribes. It’s effective purifying energies is thought to bring back balance & cleanses the body & mind of negative spirits. Native Americans used it to create Kinnikinic, a smoking mixture of various herbs that was used in the sacred pipe. As a tea, it is said to flush ones system of impurities and stimulate sweating. I also read it can be used for a sore throat, a natural deodorant, an antiseptic, a healer of the scalp, & can be used as a rinse to darken gray hair (I’ve tried that one summer– you can judge the results). Plus, every time I pass my sage in the garden, I run my hand through it and take a whiff. I believe sage is not only for the wise, but it’s good for the soul.
Sweetgrass is another herb that Native Americans used in prayer & purifying ceremonies. It is said to attract good spirits. I can see why. I have been growing a small patch of Sweetgrass for about 5 years now and I love its aroma. I cut, braid, and dry it and have it in several spots in my home. Although some of the braids are several years old, they still retain a beautiful scent. Like sage, sometimes just taking a smell of it lifts my spirits. Both Sage and Sweetgrass were and still are used in smudging ceremonies to purify homes. There is research that the burning of these herbs releases negative ions, which can create a more positive attitude. However, I read that if you do smudge, you should burn Sage first, as it attracts all spirits and then Sweetgrass, which only attracts the good spirits. I’ve never smudged my home, as several years ago I tried a sage smudge stick outside & decided that it created way too much smoke. I’m not sure if I was doing it properly though, so let me know if you’ve had success in this whelm.
I will sign off with a writing of John Joseph, a Chinook Shaman.
“Sweet grass grows high in the Rocky Mountains. A gift from the creator, it is said this grass never dies. It is one of the great smells reminding us of the mountains and open air. Sage is the cleanest smell of the desert. It is also a present from the creator. Tobacco is another gift. Our thoughts and prayers are carried on its smoke. It carries the two great smells of the mountain and desert. It is a visual representation of our thoughts and prayers being transported.”
Find this and more info about smudging, check out www.thesacredscience.com/the-art-of-smudging or www.powwow-power.com/smudging
Here’s a postscript to the President’s message. It is the Apache story of The Singing Lights, as told by Tony Duncan, an Apache flutist and hoop dancer. It has nothing to do with herbs, but it is a beautiful story that I think you’ll enjoy. I heard Tony tell the story in 2016 while enjoying a short stay in AZ. Check out Tony’s Native flute music and his hoop dancing at www.tonyduncanproductions.com
“There was just the Sun and the Moon and they were trading places in the sky. The Sun would come up, illuminating all the life & bringing light to all the earth. And when it got tired, it would set to the west and Grandmother Moon would come up. Light of Beauty, Light of Wisdom. She would throw a beautiful light over Mother Earth. They would go back and forth, trading responsibility for lighting the Earth. Grandmother Moon became tired after many, many times until she was a small tiny sliver. It was at that time when all the Earth was stark. There was only darkness, so all the little animals could just barely see. They started to bump into each other & started to lose their trail home. They got lost and they lost their arrows for the hunting for their families. They would miss their target because they weren’t able to see. This got all the animals very concerned as they weren’t able to provide for their families. Many of them became lost and they lost their different family members. They’d have to wait for the Sun to come up to find them.
It was at that time, that all those little animals started to pray. They all met next to a steam and they got down on their knees and prayed to the Creator. The Creator came down and stood before then and said thank you for coming into prayer and asked them what they needed. They told him that at the time when Grandmother Moon became tired, that they would lose their trail and that their arrows wouldn’t hit. So the Creator, being very wise, put his staff into the water and started to swirl the water around. As he touched the staff into the water, all the little pebbles, those stones that are on the bottom of that stream, began to glow beautiful colors of yellow, green, purple, blue, and red. The stones got brighter and brighter. They were so bright that all the little animals of the night had to put their hands over their eyes. Pretty soon, the Creator lifted his staff out of the water, put it into the sand, reached into the water, and picked up all those stones that were glowing. They were blessed by the hand of the Creator. He showed all those little animals these were going to be the helpers of Grandmother Moon. When she becomes tired, these little singing lights will sing beautiful songs. He told them that these helpers will be so very beautiful but would be so far off, that you’ll only be able to see them as a twinkle. So he showed all those little animals these bright beautiful lights. Then he threw then up into the sky, painting all those images of all the animals in the night sky.
They say when Grandmother Moon becomes tired now, you see the beautiful stars and if you’re very quiet you can still hear the songs of the stars.”