Friday, July 3, 2009

Sweet Nerve-ana

I have always considered the American Basswood or American Linden (Tilia americana) an enormously impressive tree. Standing upwards of one hundred feet or more, it's deliriously fragrant flowers have almost always been out of my reach. I am usually happy to stand on tippy toes to pluck a few flowers on low growing branches. But I am happier still, to stand beneath a tree in fullest fragrant blossom, to observe the humm and drone of perhaps thousands of drunken bees at work far above me. It is quite an amazing sight. The combination of being in the presence of such an ancient tree, the perfume of the sweetest of summer's flowers and the confirmation that the health of the honeybee population may not be so dismal after all provides a nearly instant cloak of peace and calm. Recently, I was invited to harvest various wild plants growing on the property of one of my students. I was thrilled at the prospect, knowing the property rather well, as the former home of an old herb friend who had long ago moved out of the state. I hadn't been to this particular piece of land in perhaps 15 years. When I had finished filling my basket, we chatted by the front of the house under the shade of a lovely tree that I hadn't remembered when my friend resided there. When I looked up to admire it further, I discovered it to be a young-ish linden tree, fully laden with branches about to flower....branches that had touched my hair and neck and shoulders while we visited. I was so delighted to meet a flowering linden within my reach that I stroked it instantly and vowed to be back the very day the flowers opened. I was sure that my friend had planted this tree and I thanked her quietly, where ever she might be now, wishing she could know that I was standing underneath it about to accept some of it's beautiful medicine. I also vowed in that moment to somehow reacquaint myself with this wonderful woman who I had lost track of over the years. As anyone intimately involved with plants well knows, some plants call to you, for reasons unknown, by a sweet scent, a vibrant color or a subtle shiver of leaves. It may even be a more blatant tickle of leaves on your neck or thorn snagged onto your sweater....whatever the method, the introduction has been initiated. It's up to us to continue the conversation and explore the gifts of the message. When rapt attention is given to the subtle voice of the plants, it opens the door to often beautiful and undeniable synchronicity. A remedy needed, a lesson learned, a truth told. For the past few weeks I have immersed myself in the immeasurable lessons of the linden tree, deepening my relationship with it's gifts through a thin gold cord that connects old friends, new friends and interestingly, also a friend who has passed.
(Interjecting a little bit of storytelling here...)
Seven years ago, Minnesota herbalist, Matthew Wood spent the first of many weekends here, sharing his herbal knowledge with a rather large group of us. During that time, he spoke highly of the virtues of the peach leaf, a medicine known quite well in the south. While he spoke, a woman who lived nearby, whispered to me to come by and harvest whatever I needed for drying and tincture making, which I did as the sun-kissed peaches dropped from her trees. Matthew's classes continued on through the months, while my peach leaf and fruit tincture infused in the cupboard. When September came, I packed up and drove to the Green Nations Gathering in upstate NY. I had brought along a few bottles of peach leaf tincture to give to Matthew, who was attending. Also attending the conference was William LeSassier, who was an herbal mentor to Matthew, David Winston, Margi Flint, Kate Gilday and many other well-respected herbalists. His reputation as a genius had proceeded him, and although I had quietly sat in on a few of his lectures, at the time, I must admit to being pretty insecure about assuming that he could also be a teacher and a mentor to me. Sometime during the weekend, as fate would have it, William and I ended up at the same place at the same time, and the subject of peach leaf came up. He quietly wished to have some for a particularly annoying digestive condition he was suffering at that moment. I shyly offered him my own...which he appeared astounded to see come from my bag. He was thrilled, then tasted it and defined it as 'PERFECT', the best he had ever tasted. He immediately initiated a barter. He pulled from his bag a full quart jar of raw Basswood (Linden) Honey complete with combs. It was a beautiful amber jewel and he deemed it the most valuable possession he had to barter with. I offered him the tincture for free, of course- no barter needed. He insisted and gratefully, I accepted the honey. It sealed the deal on a quick friendship, confidence and praise from a well respected teacher and in a few months, a visit to the Farm to teach a class on facial diagnostics that I had only heard legend about through my own mentors. It was an incredible weekend of sharing, and one I shall never forget. He renewed my faith in myself as an herbalist and taught me so much more in that short weekend. Sadly, he passed away a few weeks later, just after I received a wonderful thank you note expressing his appreciation of our farm, hospitality, great food and peach leaf tincture. I still have that note and most of that Basswood honey to this day- savoring both from time to time, still reminiscent of summer flowers and synchronicity, sweet praise and precious fleeting time spent with the 'Herbalist's Herbalist'.
(Okay, now back to the linden tree story....this will all make sense shortly, I promise)
Home with baskets of fresh linden flowers, I am again reminded of the deep peace that comes from working with this tree, surrounded by the bees and the sweet smell. The fragrance lingers in my truck, in my kitchen and my fingers as I put some up to dry and to tincture. Linden flower is helpful for insomnia and the type of anxiety that usually comes with the darkness (children and the elderly understand this best). It has a calming effect on the nerves (nervine) and adds a bit of sweetness and emotional comfort, like a warm, sun dried quilt on the bed at night. I like to combine it with passionflower when my mind swirls round and round, long after my body has given up the ship, but when nervous exhaustion either won't let me fall sleep or stay asleep for very long. Winston likes to use it for nervous 'bellyaches', especially with nervous gagging and vomiting. I use it also, combined with catnip and elderflower for an especially yummy tea to break a fever. As a nod to my Swiss German ancestors, I love the idea that the Linden tree was planted at the center of many Germanic villages underneath which all meetings, celebrations and ceremonies took place. It was believed that the branches of the tree provided an 'umbrella' of peace and safety and kept truthful hearts in all who stood beneath it. Perhaps that is why, in Germany, the linden is also known as the 'Tree of Lovers'... truth being the keystone to successful relationships of any sort. To put this story of Linden Love to bed, I finally decided to fill a jar with the newly harvested flora, covered them with brandy and topped it off with a goodly quantity of William's precious linden honey to potentiate the brew. Only one week in the jar and already one of the most energetically amazing and lovely tasting brews I have ever made. Of course, thanks to all of the friends, near and far, who have helped to stir this particular pot to create a beautiful legacy of sharing among plant people. It surely is a fine testimony as to what constitutes 'good medicine'.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them,
can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life ~ Hermann Hesse


Hildie said...

Thank you for this post, Sue What a wonderful send off to the week ahead: a beautiful love poem to the Linden, with fascinating stories embedded within.

Heather feather said...

Oh noooo!! Can I say ewww. Sorry my fear of bees makes me crrriingeee seeing these pictures! I hope to see you on the 27th!!


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