" The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German - Hollunder - is clearly derived from the same origin. In Low-Saxon, the name appears as Ellhorn. Æld meant ‘fire,’ the hollow stems of the young branches having been used for blowing up a fire: the soft pith pushes out easily and the tubes thus formed were used as pipes - hence it was often called Pipe-Tree, or Bore-tree and Bour-tree, the latter name remaining in Scotland and being traceable to the Anglo-Saxon form, Burtre.
The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny and other ancient writers and is evidently adapted from the Greek word Sambuca, the Sackbut, an ancient musical instrument in much use among the Romans, in the construction of which, it is surmised, the wood of this tree, on account of its hardness, was used. The difficulty, however, of accepting this is that the Sambuca was a stringed instrument, while anything made from the Elder would doubtless be a wind instrument, something of the nature of a Pan-pipe or flute. Pliny records the belief held by country folk that the shrillest pipes and the most sonorous horns were made of Elder trees which were grown out of reach of the sound of cock-crow. At the present day, Italian peasants construct a simple pipe, which they call sampogna, from the branches of this plant.”
"To see things in the seed, that is genius." — Lao Tzu
This contract has led me to a space of understanding health and healing in a way that encompasses all of life. Micro- and macrocosmically, achieving a state of centered balance within the self — a state of being that is firm and rooted like the Red Cedar, though fluid and adaptable like the fungi that grows through the Cedar snags — is key to understanding that health is not a personal achievement found in a solitary moment, but rather, health is an ever-changing symbiosis with the environment around you. Within the point of infinity that is you or that plant or that rock, exists the universal vital force, identical in all, whose expression through you creates your karmic duty and your medicine.
In Ayurvedic medicine, there is an idea of one’s natural state of being, when born and healthy, and one’s current state of being, likely off balance with the first, called Prakruti and Vikruti respectively. According to http://ayurveda.iloveindia.com, “Prakruti is the science of nature which determines the innate character, physical constitution or disposition of a person.” This is one’s baseline balance of the three doshas, Kapha, Pitta and Vata. This balance changes over time, and through understanding one’s Vikruti, or current state of imbalance that leads to dis-ease, one is able to addition the correct medicines to achieve a state of true balance, closer to one’s Prakruti. In working with the plants this summer, I have been given clarity on the state of my own Vikruti. A huge teacher in this unveiling was the Aspen tree in Colorado. With this organism’s emphasis on the eyes, I have found myself on a journey towards healing my eyes naturally. I have been wearing glasses and contacts since the third grade and for the first time in my life I am making a conscious decision to walk the earth without the crutch of glasses or contacts. This alone has brought to my awareness many of my other imbalances, such as my posture, the way I place my feet on the earth, the rhythm of my breath and particularly, how I psychically perceive the world. If I am unable to decipher particular visual details in the world around me, my other senses must wake up to compensate. My sense of smell and sound have heightened significantly, along with the my non-physical awareness of any given situation. My ability to “feel” the energetic architecture of people and situations is becoming a guiding force in moving through the world, while my habitual visual translation of the world is taking a back seat.
These transformations have deeply affected my relationship to music in that my perception of sound is being remediated. In the forest, the call of the late night owl and tickling trickle of the stream move through the symphonic harmony of crickets, tree frogs and the wind-blown maple leaves. The sounds complement each other, support each other and even tell stories to the careful listener. Like in the Amazon, where navigational focus is placed on sonic perception due to lack of visual clarity, one can navigate through the shadows of the self by simply quieting oneself to the orchestra of the forest. In listening, I am beginning to understand the effect of music on a place, on a plant, and on a person. I will forever more play music in honor of the balance that exists both internally and externally. Music as medicine, medicine as music.
I feel as though I am being reborn, meeting the truth of my Vikruti eye to eye, compassionately and consciously choosing to see the real state of my being. I am opening my eyes for the first time, using my muscles and walking for the first time, breathing correctly for the first time in my life. The importance of the breath far exceeds any number of words one could give to it — it is the flow we are constantly engaged with. It is our eternal transaction with the external world, and how we honor that transaction sheds light to the state of our Vikruti. Breath deep, fill your lungs and find balance in that flow.
Life choses life. Humans, in their attempt to manipulate and exploit the environment around them for profit and pleasure, have fallen out of this delicate dance with the cosmos, and as a result, have forgotten how to be children of the Earth and warriors of the Light. It is about moving up, growing tall and strong with the rest of the forest. Do you think the Oregon Grape questions its existence, or worries about what other plants may think of its growth structure? Or do you think the Oregon Grape simply grows, utilizing its resources, reaching toward the sun, adapting and synergizing with the rest of the forest — the trees, the sun, the mycelium. We, like the rest of the plant, animal and fungal kingdoms, are here on this planet to live and live well. That is all. Live in a way that additions strength to your karmic weaknesses, that supports your physical, mental and emotional struggle while simultaneously benefitting the world around you. The trees have teachings in the way their branches grow around obstacles and the way their roots revive old snags. The wildflowers have teachings in the way they point their centers toward the sun, in the way they drop their leaves in fall, and in the way they retreat into a state of dormancy in the winter. The birds have teachings in the way they use their voice as song and we, as humans, have the honor of participating in this kaleidoscopic phenomenon as care-takers, as healers, as singers and dancers, because it is through these modalities that we re-member the innate balance Nature has instilled in us from the beginning.
"This plant was, and still is, highly respected, for even to eat a small portion of it would result in loss of consciousness, followed by death. It is sometimes known as ‘skookum root’, this Chinook jargon for ‘strong, powerful’. This plant was in important and respected medicine, used by most northwest coast groups. The Tlingit used an Indian-hellebore medicine for colds…There is one report of a Haisla who was cured of tuberculosis by placing a losenge of dried Indian-hellebore root under his tongue for a day. It is said that his face went numb, but her recovered…It was believed almost any disease could be cured with Indian hellebore…Veratrum presumably refers to the dark flowers or blackish rhizome (vera means ‘true’; atrum means ‘black’). The origin of the name ‘hellebore’ is obscure; true hellebores are species of Helleborus an do not bear much resemblance to Veratrum species. Helleborus was a supposed remedy for madness.”
Pojar, Jim. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing. 1994. Print.