OCTOBER 2019
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Healing Wise ...
with Susun Weed

Becoming a Herbalist

I didn't grow up wanting to be an herbalist. As a child I lived a few short blocks from the Dallas City Zoo. At night, as the stars came out and I laid in my bed waiting for sleep, the trumpeting of the elephants and the roar of the lions and the hoots of the monkeys were my lullaby. And my dreams were filled with spirits, urgings, feelings.

Between my house and the zoo was a small woods. This forgotten five acres was as good as five million acres to my child self. Whenever the world made me mad or sad, I would pack a lunch and "run away" to the woods. There I would sit by the little creek or hide in the cave carved by the water in the chalk cliff. Perhaps the Nature Spirits called me there. I only knew I found solace in nature when people disappointed me.

Actually, I planned to be a mathematician. Even majored in math at UCLA. But a funny thing: Nature seemed to be following me. Right across the street from the sorority house where I lived was a five-acre woods. Despite (or because of) the fact that we were warned not to venture into the woods, we did. It was the shortest way to campus. Every morning I would set out briskly for my classes, only to find myself enchanted by the changes I saw around me in the woods.

At nineteen, despite taking birth control pills, I was informed that I was five months pregnant. Wow. That was not on my list of things to do in life. I became something of a curiosity at the UCLA Medical Center where I went for pre-natal checkups. No one knew how the baby would be affected by the hormones I had fed her unkowningly for five months, and this was before the routine use of ultrasound, so there was no way to know. When all the interns showed up to peer between my legs, I didn't like it.

So my husband and I moved. To New York City. I was seven months pregnant. And I had no intention of taking any drugs. But, like most pregnant women, I had my share of minor complaints. What to do? I went to the library, the one with the lions, and asked the librarian for books on herbs. (Why? I can't tell you. The words just came out of my mouth and I followed them where they led.) She brought me all four of them! (This was 1965.) And I took them home. But what they told me to do was to put basil in my tomato sauce and dill in with my sliced cucumbers. Good advice, but not what I wanted. I wanted a natural childbirth, a bonded relationship with a nursing baby, and no drugs anywhere along that way.

Fortunately, I am generally healthy and strong, so I was able to have what I wanted, although without the use of any herbs, and without the support of the doctors and nurse in attendance. They actually gave my baby sugarwater before bringing her to me to nurse and closed the curtains around us when I put her to my breast "So as not to disturb the other women with your perversion!" Finally, in desperation, I checked us out of the maternity ward, against doctor's orders and went home to my fifth-floor walk-up on east ninth street.

For ease, for peace, for joy, I took myself and my infant daughter to the Cloisters, a beautiful, quiet park and museum along the river. I needed nature more than ever as a young mother whose ideas about childcare were not "normal." One day an older women stopped me and scolded me for holding my baby. (This was before Snugglies and the general acceptance of the need for body contact between infant and mother. I just knew that my body wanted contact, so I ignored strollers and held my baby close.) "You are spoiling her!" she harangued me. "You must not touch your child any more than is necessary. Especially when she cries. My sons were never touched and they are both at West Point," she concluded with a satisfied smile. I clutched my daughter to my chest, smiled, and silently vowed to hold her for as long as possible.

Though I was frightened in the city (a brick thrown through the window of my apartment fell to the floor an inch from my bed, I was hit several times by eggs thrown from roofs, and a gang of teenagers accosted me on the street, taunting me and lifting my skirt to expose my thighs and underwear), I had no idea of where to go. Nature did. And She finally got through to me with stories of a magical place upstate: the Catskills mountains.

We visited, and true to the tale (those who spend a night in the shadow of Overlook are forever bound to the Catskills), we were enchanted. Within the month, we had rented a small cottage and began to stay there on weekends. For my daughter and I, the weekends lengthened, and lengthened, until we were upstate full time. And what a glorious time it was: frolicking in the woods looking for mushrooms, gathering wild strawberries so dense that our knees turned red, splashing in the swimming hole, and planting my first herb garden.

Real basil. Real dill. And lots of weeds. I didn't know which of those little green sprouts were my herbs and which were the weeds. Thank goodness for Euell Gibbons, whose books on wild foods were coming into print. Soon I realized that the weeds were herbs too!

And so began a fascination that I carry to this day: to know the plants around me and to know how to eat them and to use them for medicine. There were to be many more steps laid out for me on my path to becoming an herbalist. Steps I knew nothing of as a flower child. Steps that would forever change me and the way I viewed life.


What a relief to leave behind the bustle of New York City and settle into the rhythms of Nature. In the city the parks were paved and nature was something we had to seek out and visit. Now my toddler daughter and I had a green lawn and an herb garden. We could spend as much time outdoors as we wanted. We were part of Nature and She was surely part of us.

And what an outdoors we had to play in. We were surrounded by the Catskill State Forest: thousands of acres of hardwood forest, with mushrooms, mosses, ferns, waterfalls, birds, wildflowers and even wild orchids. It was truly a fairyland filled with delight for a young mother and daughter.

After breakfast, my daughter and I would pack lunch and some guidebooks, and set out along the familiar trails into the heart of the forest. We wandered as we would, moving from mushroom to mushroom, flower to flower, stream to stream, rock to rock as the desire took us. And as the light grew dim in the evening, we made our way home, fording the creek that ran past our door, or perhaps staying out even later when the moon was full.

At night, I would sketch and paint the magic I had found that day, putting names to the new plants and mushrooms, learning something new about the familiar ones. My interest in herbs was still just a flirtation, but they increasingly drew my attention as I sought to learn about the beautiful flowers, leaves, and berries that grew around me.

As I moved into Nature's rhythm, following her seasons and cycles, She rewarded me with a special place to live. A mile from the nearest neighbor, at the end of a dead-end dirt road, lay the big barn and lovely house. The previous owners were organic gardeners, and the flower and vegetable beds astonished me with their perennial abundance and ever-changing beauty.

Here my days were more intensely filled. Wanderings in the woods, yes, but not every day. There was the garden to tend and herbs to grow, my bread-baking business, the hour drive to take my daughter to her playgroup, maple syrup to boil down in the spring, tomatoes to can in the fall, blueberries to pick in the summer, and firewood to gather, cut, split, and stack for winter warmth.

I might have lived there for decades, but for this: My beautiful home in the country was vandalized and I was held at gunpoint. No lasting harm was done, but I was severely traumatized. I was unable to sleep in my bedroom and cried uncontrollably anywhere in the house. Only outside did I feel easy.

Perhaps I had a nervous breakdown, or suffered from post-traumatic shock; then, I had no name for my nameless fear. So, in a desperate attempt to create safe space for myself, we sold our beautiful farm, bought a Land Rover station wagon, and set out to explore the parks and wild places of North America.

When your life is on the road, you pare down your possessions and what is important becomes clear: tools, food, cooking gear, purple shorts, and the guide books. Actually, the book shelf needed to be expanded several times that year, as I bought more and more books about wild plants, mushrooms and wild flowers.

Cooking over a campfire night after night and camping far from supermarkets increased the pressure and the pleasure in finding wild foods to nourish myself and my family. Meanwhile, I was discovering that the herbs, wildflowers, and even the weeds that was coming to love, were considered by some to be medicinal.

More than a year (and many high adventures later), we found ourselves in California, at a friend's house, where we were gathered up in a police dragnet. I spent a week in jail, fearful of the fate of my daughter, who I had left with the (nice-looking) older woman next door (on the pretext that she was the "grandmother"). We were safely reunited, but my husband was detained and eventually sentenced to four years in prison. The lawyer said he might be able to get him into Danbury, a minimum security federal prison, if l would move back east.

Once again, the Catskills called. So I put myself and my four year old daughter into the Land Rover and, with my brand-new driver's license, drove from Santa Monica to Vancouver (where we had an apartment) and from there to Woodstock. I didn't have any idea that herbs could have helped me, but I knew that Nature was my refuge.

I would drive all day, and, as night gathered, turn off the main road onto a smaller road, and from there onto a smaller road, and eventually into a dirt road into a forest, where I would cook a small dinner and sleep lulled by the sounds of the creatures large and small. One night I felt so much grief that I threw up; but the next morning incredible butterflies moved gracefully across the ground I had soiled the night before, and I understood that beauty is everywhere, hidden even in pain and loss and fear.

Did I mention that the Land Rover was constantly breaking down? Of course, it was. Fortunately, I knew how to fix most things that went wrong with it. But the day I arrived in Woodstock, something BIG broke and I was out of wheels for a while. Thus I found myself hitching a ride to town and thus I found myself being charmed by Aaron van de B. Jr, a man, who, in his own words: "Been in these mountains so long I know what's under every rock. " *

Within the hour my daughter and I had a place to live: a Quonset hut on Cross Patch Road, with a front yard full of hundred year-old ginseng plants, and an enormous cage to hold the occasional wild animal that Aaron had to tend to, being as he was the Forest Ranger.

It was here that my path as an herbalist was clearly revealed to me, but, of course, I tried to ignore the message.

    * In the Catskills, what's under every rock is another one!



Autumn Soup

A tribute to the season, with the produce of autumn, bursting with flavor, color, and warmth. Butternut squash can be used instead of cheese pumpkin.

 


  • Saute 4 medium onions, thinly sliced in 4 tablespoons pure olive oil and a teaspoonful of salt on a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and soft.
  • Add 4 apples, cored and cut into pieces and continue to cook, stirring often.
  • Meanwhile remove the seeds, pith, and most of the skin from 2 baked cheese pumpkins (or squash).
  • Add the flesh of the pumpkins to the pan, along with 2 tablespoons of astragalus powder. Stir well.
  • Slowly add 1 gallon water and 1 ounce wakame (seaweed) cut very small.


Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for one hour.
Blend into a smooth, thick soup.
Add up to 4 tablespoons of raw sugar if needed to brighten the taste.



Susun Weed’s books:




Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
Author: Susun S. Weed. Simple, safe remedies for pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and newborns. Includes herbs for fertility and birth control. Foreword by Jeannine Parvati Baker. 196 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $14.95
Order at: www.wisewomanbookshop.com





Healing Wise
Author: Susun S. Weed. Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $21.95
Order
at: www.wisewomanbookshop.com



NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way

Author: Susun S. Weed. The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $19.95
Order
at: www.wisewomanbookshop.com
For excerpts visit: www.menopause-metamorphosis.com



Breast Cancer? Breast Health!


Author: Susun S. Weed. Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $21.95
Order
at: www.wisewomanbookshop.com



Down There:
Sexual and Reproductive Health the Wise Woman Way

Author: Susun S. Weed Simple, successful, strategies cover the entire range of options -- from mainstream to radical -- to help you choose the best, and the safest, ways to optimize sexual and reproductive health.
Foreword: Aviva Romm, MD, midwife, 484 pages, Index, illustrations Retails for $29.95
Order at: www.wisewomanbookshop.com

 

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