Monday, March 09, 2009

Stalking the Wild Anemone

This week I’ve been “stalking” the wild anemone of the southwest, Anemone Tuberosa. This lovely spring wildflower is a shy, small plant that hides underneath the spiny cat claw acacia, mounds of dried grasses, fallen logs, and in the crevasses between rock and soil in the grassy foothills and oak/juniper woodlands of our local mountains. It only grows in any great quantity in years when we’ve been blessed with abundant winter storms with snow and rain, and even then takes a sharp eye to spot due to its small size and tendency to hide.

Anemone, a member of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family, is used much like the more well known Pulsatilla, and is related other medicinal members of the family like clematis and black cohosh. It grows from small tubers (thus the name A. tuberosa) that remain alive in the soil for much longer than the delicate flowers make their appearance. The flowers range from white to pale pink, about an inch or inch and a half in diameter, a single flower per stem. The flowers develop into bulbous, and wooly soft seed clusters that dry and scatter on the wind. The entire plant is extremely acrid, leaving a spicy, burning sensation on the tongue, and irritating to the skin.

Usually this delicate looking but strong and tenacious medicine flowers from late February through March, and occasionally into April, depending on the temperatures and continued spring rain. It has been a particularly busy February for me, juggling both work and several clients a week, with few days off. I finally got a chance to head up to the foothills of my favorite secluded canyon and medicine plant spot one morning this week. The day dawned overcast and significantly cooler than it has been for the last few weeks, and I was eager to be outside, and get a first glimpse at the plants beginning to wake up from winter rest. I knew it had been a fairly wet winter, and recent spring rains further strengthened my hope for a good wildflower year. So off I went to see if one my favorite nervous system remedies was growing in great abundance this year. A short 5 minute walk down the trail, eyes trained to the grassy areas on either side of me, revealed the first glimpse of the beauty, Anemone. I feel to my knees in the grass, gently parting the dried mat away from the multi flowered specimen that had caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I observed that there were 3 or 4 other individual plants in that small area. I felt such a deep outwelling of gratitude to the plant, for revealing itself to me so quickly, and promising abundance in its plentitude in such a small area.

After a rather humbling experience this past fall in which I didn’t listen to a plant before harvesting, I quieted myself, focused on the small flower before me and asked permission to harvest and make medicine. It has been at least 4 years since I have collected this special medicine, as usually one batch lasts a very good while (small doses usually do the job), and I have spent some time away from the desert in those years. An affirmative response from the plant came to me, one that is difficult to describe in words, but can be distinctly experienced in the senses of the heart and spirit. It is easy to distinguish a “No” from a “yes” when working with plants and harvesting if one is sensitive and open, but I have learned, all too easy to push aside if you aren’t present and focused with the particular plant with which you are working. I’ll elaborate more on this in a future post.

I made an offering to that plant, and tasted a small portion of a leaf with gratitude, feeling the medicine of the plant fill my senses and body, a spreading warmth, a slowing and strengthening of my pulse, and a heavy calm washing over me, in addition to the characteristic burning taste it left on my tongue.

I left that spot and began to wander up the south facing hillside slowly, choosing each step carefully, eyes scanning the ground carefully for the hiding flowers, and sure enough, as the plant I had connected with had assured, there was an abundance of flowering Anemone, in various stages of growth. Some were just sprouting leaves and tiny buds, others were in full flower, and some had even begun setting seed. I quietly began to collect some of the plants, breaking stem off near the ground with my thumb, leaving the tuber in place to grow more plants in the future. The juices of the fresh plant left a burning sensation under my thumb nail as I collected, again showing its strength, especially in the fresh state. As I harvested I found myself reaching under clawing Acacia bushes, crawling on the ground, face down under branches and holding onto rocks and boulders as I found plants that offered themselves for my medicine jar. Much to my delight, as I was harvesting, I saw the beautiful Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, with bright blue flowers and long slender lily leaves, and the spring green tender growth and fragrant violet flowers of the native verbena, Glandularia gooddingii, the golden yellow flowers of Corydalis aurea, also known as goldensmoke also dotted the hillside. Indeed, a good year for flowers!

And, as plants are able to do, the anemone made it perfectly clear when it was time to stop harvesting, a combination of not seeing anymore plants, and an inner knowing, said, “This is enough.” So I sat down on a flat rock, took off my pack and sat quietly, taking in the cool spring wind, the sun on my skin and my gratitude for the abundance that the day had given me, in just a few short hours. On my way back down the hillside I stopped to gather some of the flowering verbena (another plant I haven’t harvested in quite a while and have been running low on), and some of the fresh spring growth of the local Artemisia. I chewed a bitter leaf as I walked back, tasting the freshness, the bitterness and vigorous life bursting forth from the new growth.

Desert anemone is a very special medicine to me, one that is particular to the southwest, and so strong, and so useful. Being a member of the Buttercup family, Anemone is a very strong medicine, and small doses are really all that is necessary to receive its benefits. For most people 5-10 drops works beautifully for emotional outbursts, panic/anxiety attacks, PTSD or hormonal mood swings. I use the fresh plant tincture, hanging out in the Michael Moore camp that finds the dried plant much less effective.

Anemone is a supreme warming nervous system remedy, circulatory stimulant, relaxant nervine, digestive stimulant, and blood mover. I use it extensively for anxiety, panic attacks, hysteria, depression and hormonal mood swings. 5-10 drops, taken in 3-5 drop doses, every 5 min usually takes the situation down a notch, and I find it works beautifully in combination with cardiovascular/heart remedies like passionflower or motherwort ( if racing heart or palpitations accompany) , muscular relaxants and antispasmodics like lobelia or kava (for constricted respiratory passages, or muscular tension and spasm with pain). I’ll add a little sage, wood betony or St Johns Wort if there is great fear associated with the episode or hawthorn or rose for associated heartbreak.

Anemone is also a supreme remedy for folks who are withdrawing from addictive substances. I’ve only used it for folks coming off of nicotine, or anxiety medications like Xanax, but suspect it would be very useful for other substances as well, especially if there is nervousness, anxiety and tension or emotional outbursts. In these cases I like to complement it with nervous system and adrenal restoring herbs, especially Milky Oat Seed tincture, or St Johns Wort, Scullcap, Nettle Seed or Licorice. The addition of Lobelia can be of particular benefit to those who are working with a nicotine addiction. Michael Moore states that is has been of use for “bad trips” or “hallucinogenic flights of abject terror” or anxiety from marijuana use along with Passionflower.

This is a lovely remedy for women who experience menstrual mood swings, crying jags, depression, dysmenorrhea (cramping), and/or hormonal migraines. Like its cousin Clematis, it can stave off the worst of a migraine if caught and given early, (at the time of visual disturbance), and can be of great aid in the pain and emotional havoc that plague some women at this time. Again, small doses of 5-15 drops, used alone or in combination with other antispasmodics, blood movers, and nervines as appropriate. My most recent experience in this regard combined Anemone with Viburnum, Dioscorea, and Zingiber for clotty, slow to start, painful cramping w/ menses. I only needed 2 doses of this blend spaced about 15-20 min apart to get significant relief from pain and emotional tension that I experience. A very nice acute remedy while addressing the underlying causes of hormonal imbalances or nutritional deficiencies contributing to the picture.

I could go on and on about the various uses of anemone as a stimulating poultice for arthritis, as an eye wash for conjunctivitis, or glaucoma, and a digestive stimulant, but I’ll point you to these other very well written treatises on Anemone and Pulsatilla, and stick to my own personal experience with the plant in my writing.

7Song -

Kiva Rose-

Michael Moore-

Charlie Kane -

This is multifaceted treasure of the southwestern deserts and I am deeply grateful to be working with such magnificent plants, tender and strong, fierce and gentle, tenacious and ephemeral.

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"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~