THE SPIRIT OF SANCTUARY
by Pam Montgomery
Many years ago the north-facing slope of Marble Mountain was covered with Ginseng. I discovered this about the mountain I live at the base of after meeting an old timer who, in the past, hunted the Ginseng. He told me, with his distinctive Vermont accent, that years ago he would go “sanging” in the mountains. I thought it was so sweet that he would go and sing in the mountains and said so to him. He laughed and said, “No, sanging, you know Ginsenging.” He said the mountain once was covered with the plants that produced the “old man root”. Today there is one plant of Ginseng, which I know of, on the entire mountain. Ginseng, whose essence is of longevity and wild vitality, no longer roams this mountain in great numbers. The remaining Ginseng is but a shadow of the grand tribe that once flourished here and yet, the echo of this survivor rings with the possibility of the vibrancy that once flourished here. To lose the essence of Ginseng in these mountains would diminish the vitality of not only the land but the people who walk this land. Could the loss of Ginseng in so many of the northeastern woods have contributed to massive chronic fatigue in the human inhabitants? Could it be that the essence of Ginseng is necessary for our vital existence, to feed the flame of our spirit that keeps us alive? When contemplating these questions, providing sanctuary for these survivors, whoever they may be, becomes not only important but imperative.
Sanctuary has a two-fold role to play for our native plant brothers and sisters. First, it is a refuge, a place that is safe from molestation. Plants that are in sanctuary know they are being kept safe with life-giving intent. This knowledge by the plants brings about a heightened level of positive response to those who care for and enjoy the sanctuary. Cleve Backster’s ground-breaking work with plants clearly shows that plants respond to the people that engage with them. By attaching polygraph electrodes to plant leaves Backster showed that plants respond to the mere intent of doing harm to them. Likewise, during a business trip, when Backster had the first thought of returning home, the plants in his office responded positively to this knowledge.
The second role of a sanctuary is that of sacred space where the “Holy of Holies” exists and communion is shared. When a botanical sanctuary is seen in this light it becomes a living church/temple where communication with the spirit of plants occurs. The loving intent of creating a sacred and safe place for native plants causes plants to respond with equal, if not more, loving vibrations. Within a sanctuary one experiences relaxation, peace, vitality and a 0ver-all sense of well-being. Here the common union between plants and people – breath - can be intentionally shared. The exchange of “greenbreath” with plants in a sanctuary, where one is placed in the fold of intentional sacred space with plants responding to safety and care, is a primary experience that brings profound healing. Our hearts open wide as the prana of “greenbreath” carries the vital essence held to give life, otherwise known as spirit. In this open-heart space we move into syncopation with the rhythm of Earth taking our place in the vast web of life as a co-creative partner. Botanical sanctuaries not only save our precious native plants from unconscious predation they provide healing at a source level by feeding our essential nature so that both plants and people are held in life-giving balance.
BLOODROOT - SANGUINARIA CANADENSIS
Excerpted from Planting the Future - Written in 2000 by Pam Montgomery
My first encounter with Bloodroot was in the woodlands of New York State. I was walking through the woods in the early spring and came across a small patch of exquisitely beautiful white flowers whose leaves were just beginning to form. I was so taken by these flowers that I stopped and sat down in order to observe them more closely. I had no idea what this stunning flower could be. As I sat and looked at the delicate blossoms I was overcome with a deep peace. I closed my eyes and saw the Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom. This lovely little white flower reminded me of the many petaled lotus. It wasn't how it looked but more the energy that emanated from it. I called it the northeastern lotus until I discovered that its common name was Bloodroot.
Years later, while studying Plant Spirit Medicine with Eliot Cowan I journeyed to the spirit of Bloodroot. I found myself deep in a forest glade where there were very bright lights, almost blinding to the eyes. This was where the spirit of Bloodroot lived. She appeared to me as a very kind older woman dressed in a shimmering silver gown. She looked almost like Glenda, the Good Witch of the North. She had what seemed like a wand but it could also have been a walking stick. I asked her about the gifts that she offered to people. She said that her main gift was that of purity. She purified the blood, the emotions and the spirit. She cautioned me to use her sparingly because her gift was so powerful. Her gift was to be used only in special cases. She then asked me if I wanted her to enter into me which, of course, I said, "yes". She touched me with her staff and I fell into an altered state of indescribable peace and clarity - purity of spirit.
Bloodroot is of the Poppy Family which in latin is known as the Papaveraceae. It is an herbaceous perennial native to North America. The solitary flowers are one of the first to appear in early spring before the leaves have fully opened. They are 1-2 inches across with anywhere from 7-16 petals. The leaves are very unique in appearance and are the way one can easily identify Bloodroot. They begin by protectively wrapping themselves around the flower bud. Once opened they are palmate in shape with deep lobes grooved out of the leaf. The edges are scalloped. The leaves can reach eight inches across at maturity and the entire plant can grow from 6-14 inches in height. The rhizome is the medicinal part of the plant and is where it received it's common name. The horizontal rhizome when cut exudes a reddish orange juice. Bloodroot grows in moist, deciduous woods and woodland slopes.
Bloodroot's name comes from the fact that the root exudes a red juice similar to the color of human blood. Other common names are Indian Paint, Tetterwort, Red Puccoon, Red Root, Coon Root, Snakebite, Sweet Slumber. Many native tribes used the juice of the root to decoratively paint their skin for ceremony. A bachelor of the Ponca tribe would use Bloodroot as a love charm by rubbing the root on the palm of his hand, shake hands with the woman he desired to marry, and if the charm was successful, after five or six days she would then be willing to marry him. The juice was also used to dye cloth and baskets. Puccoon is the native name for Bloodroot with Coon Root being the white man's distortion of the native name. Bloodroot got its name Tetterwort because it was used for skin infections, as well as, ringworm, fungal growths and warts. Tetter is an out-dated term for blister-like skin diseases such as herpes, ringworm, and eczema. It's common name Sweet Slumber most likely comes from the fact that it is of the Poppy family and contains Protopine, an alkaloid also found in Opium, thus giving it mild narcotic effects. I can find no references to Bloodroot's use for snakebites in any of the literature; however, plants receive names for a reason. If you find yourself in the woods on a warm sunny spring day and you surprise an Eastern Timber Rattler sunning itself on a rock and suddenly you are bitten I wouldn't ignore the Bloodroot that may be growing within reach.
The Delaware Indians revered Bloodroot to the point that they chewed a bit of root daily to maintain general good health. Like many native tribes they used it for conditions of the blood and particularly felt that it was purifying to the blood. Iroquois women used Bloodroot for many of their "particular problems", as well as other problems associated with blood ie. cuts, wounds, hemorrhages and ulcers. Both the Potowatomi and Ojibwa squeezed the juice onto a lump of maple sugar then let it melt in the mouth to aid in sore throat much the same way we use cough drops. N.R. Farnsworth notes that "Cherokee Indians employed extracts of this plant as a remedy for breast cancer as early as 1857, and it has been used empirically as a cancer remedy in Russia." At the same time that native peoples were using Bloodroot for cancer Dr. Fells was successfully treating cancer patients. "Dr. Fells mixed Bloodroot, flour, water, and zinc chloride together and applied this paste to cancers. Twenty-five breast cancers were treated in this manner at Middlesex Hospital in London, and this therapy was more successful than surgery." (Judith Bolyard, 1981)
Bloodroot was listed in the United States Pharmacopea from 1820 to 1910 and in the National Formulary from 1925 to 1965. It was classified as a stimulating expectorant, emetic, tonic, and alterative.fMedicinal and Other Uses
Sanguinaria canadensis received its latin name from the word sanguine which means consisting of or relating to blood. Sanguinarine, the predominate alkaloid which is considered poisonous, can cause slight central nervous system depression and narcosis if taken internally. It also is known to disturb mitosis. At the same time, it has been found to have antimicrobial, anesthetic, and anticancer properties. Bloodroot is very pharmacologically active containing many other alkaloids including: alpha-allocryptopine, beta-allocryptopine, berberine, chelerythrine, chelilutine, chelirubine, coptisine, homochelidonine, oxysanguinarine, protopine, pseudochelerythrine, sanguidimerine, sanguilutine,and sanguirubine. The FDA has classified Bloodroot as an unsafe herb. In large doses Bloodroot causes burning in the stomach, paralysis, vomiting, faintness, vertigo, eye irritation and in James Duke's experience, "tunnel vision after chewing a small bite of rhizome". Regardless of its potentially toxic properties Peter Good in his Materia
Medica Botanica writes, "This plant is one of the most valuable medicinal articles of our country, and is already very generally introduced into practice. Few medical plants unite so many useful properties: but it requires to be administered with great care and skill, without which it may prove dangerous."
Bloodroot's medicinal use has been extensive. It's most common use by eclectic herbalists was for the treatment of bronchitis. It has stimulating properties and is expectorant and at the same time has a relaxing action on the bronchial muscles. It's antispasmodic properties have made it useful as a cough remedy as well as an effective treatment for asthma, croup, and laryngitis. There are other indications of its use as an emmenogogue, in heart disease with weakness and palpitation of the heart, as a snuff for nasal polyps, and externally for various skin conditions including fungal growths, ulcers, and fleshy growth. It has fallen out of common use, most likely because of it's potential toxic side effects, except as an escharotic salve for skin and breast cancers and as a useful plague deterrent in mouthrinses and toothpastes. Even though Bloodroot is primarily indicated for external use with cancer I recall a conversation with Dr. Gary Glum (revitalist of the Essiac formula) where he indicated that the original Ojibwa formula possibly contained Bloodroot instead of Turkey Rhubarb Root.
Several years ago I was in Montana with my friend Brooke Medicine Eagle. I showed her a patch of skin on my face that was red and had been this way for quite some time. She encouraged me to put a salve on it called Compound X which is known to have as a main ingredient Bloodroot. Her brother had given it to her to use on a carcinoma she had on her nose. He had much success in using it on cows with ulcerations. Brooke told me she put this black salve on her nose and covered it with a bandaid. A week later she removed the bandaid and a black scab had formed over the spot where she applied the salve. She removed the scab and put more salve on and waited another week. After this amount of time she removed the bandaid and found a small hole in her nose. She began to work at it and kneed it. Eventually, a long black stringy substance came out of the hole in her nose. The carcinoma had shriveled. Within a couple weeks the hole closed and only a tiny scar remained. I was game to try it after hearing her story. I applied the salve just as she had and left a bandaid on for a week. At the end of a week I took the bandaid off and a black scab had formed. I didn't touch the scab and let it fall off by itself while new pink skin was forming. She gave me the rest of the Compound X to bring home with me. After the skin healed I realized I had missed a patch. I put another application of the salve on the small patch that I had missed the first time only this time I used more. I followed the same process but this time when the skin healed there was a small white scar. Apparently, I had actually burned my skin. My skin was clear for some time except for the scar and then gradually the patch of red skin reappeared. In thinking back on this process, I wonder about all the variables. Perhaps I should have applied a cell proliferant like Comfrey to help regenerate healthy cells or maybe I should have kept it from being exposed to the sun until it healed better. One thing I do know is that more is not always better.
Andrew Weil in his book, Spontaneous Healing, reports a more successful outcome in the use of Bloodroot salve, "On the second day of applying the paste, (to a pigmented mole that had been enlarging) the skin around the base of the mole became inflammed, an obvious immune reaction, and John said it was quite sore. On the third day, the mole turned pale and began to swell. On the fourth day, it fell off, leaving a perfectly circular wound that healed quickly."
More recently, I have used Bloodroot as one of the ingredients in mouthrinse that I make for myself. I have had a long history of bone loss and gum disease. I use the mouthrinse daily in a maintenance program to keep plaque reduced and to strengthen gum tissue. Bloodroot is effective in vitro against oral bacteria that is known to cause plaque formation. It is a major ingredient in Viadent toothpaste and mouthrinse.
In veterinary medicine the leaf of Bloodroot is used to destroy bot fly larvae on horses.
Flowers of the Bloodroot are made into a flower essence by Kate Gilday of Woodland Essence. The flowers' gifts are for "trusting one will be protected as one moves forward in her/his evolution - help(ing) one find the courage and inner resources to heal old wounds and move from a place of despair and darkness to the light - embracing one's inner light."
Bloodroot's other uses are primarily as a dye plant and for body painting. Using Bloodroot as a dye works best on wool and silk. You can obtain a range of color depending on whether you use a mordant or not. To obtain an orange color use no mordant at all, a mordant of alum and cream of tartar leaves a rust color, while tin will create a reddish pink shade. To obtain the best results use the root of Bloodroot fresh harvested in the fall. The native use of painting the body with Bloodroot is being resurrected. Many young people are turning to body painting as an outward expression that is much less permanent than tatooing. My most recent experience of this art form was with Nance Dean, an apprentice of mine in 1999. She had chosen Bloodroot as her plant ally for the duration of the apprentice program. At our closing ceremony each apprentice presents their plant ally. Nance's presentation included elaborate decoration of her skin with the fresh juice of the rhizome of Bloodroot. She proceeded to paint everyone's skin leaving us looking more like an aboriginal tribe than middle class white Americans.
Preparation and Dosage
Bloodroot can be prepared in many ways. Traditionally, it was decocted by placing one teaspoon of dried rhizome in one cup of cold water and brought to a boil. Then it was left to steep for 10 minutes. Drink 1 teaspoon three to six times a day. Bloodroot may be tinctured by using the spring or fall fresh harvested rhizome. Chop the rhizome and add to 50% dilute grain alcohol. An average dosage of tincture is 1-2 ml. (1 ml equals approximately 25 drops) three times a day. There are many cautions against high doses of Bloodroot. One woman friend of mine reported nausea and "spaced-out" feelings after ingesting one dropperful (30 drops) of Bloodroot tincture. My recommendation would be to stay on the low end of the dosage range (10 drops three times per day) until you determine your sensitivity to Bloodroot. Bloodroot was also dried and powdered. Taken as a dried powder an average dosage is 10-30 grains (a grain is 0.002083 ounces). Bloodroot may be made into an oil by slow heat extraction in olive oil. Melt beeswax in the oil to bring to salve consistency. As an escharotic salve, Bloodroot powder was blended with lard making a thick paste to apply externally. The proportions are approximately one ounce of powdered root to three ounces of lard. The fresh root poultice may be directly applied to skin eruptions and cancerous lesions.
Harvest and Drying Techniques
Harvest of Bloodroot is of the rhizome and root in fall after the leaf has died back or very early spring at the onset of leaf emergence. Bloodroot should be laid out to dry on screens in a well ventilated and very dry room where absolutely no moisture can get back into the plant material after the drying process has begun. Bloodroot is very susceptible to rot and will deteriorate quickly if not dried in a timely manner and then stored in an airtight container. Do not cut the rhizome and root into pieces for drying but instead leave it whole. The precious juices exude profusely from the plant when cut.
Propagation and Cultivation
Bloodroot is hardy to Zone 3 and likes a soil temperature of 60-70 degrees farenheit for best germination. It prefers part shade but can grow in full sun. Ideally the soil is moist, well drained, rich sandy loam. You can easily cultivate Bloodroot from seed but it must be planted fresh thus needing a vigilant eye to watch for when the seed is mature and ready to be planted (usually mid-summer to fall).If you do let it dry out the germination rate decreases significantly. Germination is usually in the spring after one or two seasons. Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs reports that, "The seed has an eliasome (fatty protruberence) which attracts ants to carry it away to their nests. The ants remove the eliasome and discard the (still viable) seed, which then has a chance to grow at some distance from its mother." Propagation of Bloodroot can also be accomplished by rhizome division. Break off the side shoots and replant immediately to avoid root-rot. Plant the bud upwards 1/2 inch deep. Covering with well decayed leaf mulch enhances growth.
The once lush carpets of Bloodroot that existed in the north east are vanishing. Occasionally, you still find large stands as is the case in the Adirondack Park of New York State. I don't really know why they are disappearing. I doubt that it is from over-harvest since Bloodroot is an herb to use with caution and only the experienced herbalist feels comfortable with it's application. Even though it is used in a commercial dental product it is still not common place because of discrepancies in clinical trials. Could this be one of our native plants that is being lost to population explosion or perhaps environmental pollutants? Only further investigation can answer this question.
I recall my first encounter with Bloodroot years ago and the breathtaking beauty of its flower especially at that time of year one is so hungry for flowers after the long cold winter. Now, each spring I anxiously await its arrival and the promise of renewal that it brings.
Bolyard, Judith, Medicinal Plants and Home Remedies of Appalachia. Springfield, Il.: Charles C. Thomas, 1981
The Recognition, Courtship and Service of Plant Spirits
We are all striving to live more inspirited lives full of connection - connection to each other, connection to the natural world, connection with ourselves and ultimately connection to God (Creator, Divinity, Spirit). When our spirits are withered and starving they struggle to make healthy connections with the dynamic forces of life. Because our hearts are the physical vehicle through which spirit expresses itself, this is a good place to begin. Our hearts have been displaced by the mind removing it from its rightful place. It is the heart that is the primary organ of perception instructing the brain and yet modernity places the mind in a superior position. Making decisions strictly with the mind brings about abstraction, the lack of connection to what's real, which leads to chaos. It is the heart that balances the mind with intuition, perception and receptivity and knows our true nature and what that nature needs to prosper and be healthy. We give positive impulses to the heart through gratitude, forgiveness and innocent perception (non-judgment). This helps us honor the heart putting it back in its rightful place as Priestess of the Temple. There is one plant (tree actually) that on all levels is healing to the heart. Hawthorn is the plant spirit that I use to help put the heart back where it belongs. Allow yourself to deepen in relationship with Hawthorn. As your friendship buds into partnership you will be amazed at the opening in your heart. When Hawthorn gives you its healing gifts then you have the potential to experience the ability to make decisions with heart, open to your intuition and live an inspirited life.
Plant Spirit Healing is a heartfelt attempt to embrace the vast multiplicity and diversity of the green beings and their healing role during these times. While either learning Plant Spirit Healing or receiving Plant Spirit Healing treatments you step into a process of healing and becoming whole returning your heart to its rightful place and embracing your true nature to walk the path you came here for. It can be a challenge but a challenge worth taking leading to a life worth living.