a new friend came into my life on saturday night, when we had a satsang at our house. “satsang” is a sanskrit term for “being in company of Truth.” it is what you call the time when seekers of all sorts get together purposefully for the opportunity to be as One, to honor the Inner Self, to honor the teachers, disseminate the teachers’ and scriptural wisdom, and to do things like chant, contemplate great words, and meditate, and…to socialize with like-minded individuals. we had cake (someone’s birthday! happy leos! and herb tea afterwards.)
this new friend of mine grows herbs. she knew i was a fan of nature because in our emailing back and forth preceding the satsang, i mentioned my love of ripping out lawns (which i do wherever i can) and replanting them with zero-scape (or is it xeroscape?) gardens, designed free-style with meandering paths, little areas of interests, and as much rock-work and sculpture as i can possibly fit into the space. i’ve done lots of this kind of arting-with-earth-moving-and-painting-with-living plants creation, in both cities and in rural areas.
in an email to her i mentioned how i’ve been trying to germinate “tulsi,” a variety of basil, which is considered both medicinal and sacred in India, where it’s from. so when Dora the herb lady (her business is www.maggiesherbfarm.com ) came to satsang, she brought bunches of cut neem, and…magic of all magic, a tulsi plant!
the neem was especially interesting to me, as i’ve been staring at a jar of neem oil, afraid to use it, timid to try something so foreignly sticky and yukky smelling, and generally being the kind of slouch and narrow-minded fool that i often ridicule. so isn’t it perfect, me thinks to meself, that Dora has brought me some neem as a gift.
plants are truly gifts from the gods. how often has mankind been rewarded, even “saved” by a natural plant or mineral? a cure for leprosy; the fungus growing on bread that became penicillin; barley and hops that became mankind’s favorite intoxicant: mead then beer; juniper berries in gin; little unopened flowers that are capers; and let’s not forget all the great cures of cancer, AIDS and every other disease that is sure to be contained in the “right plant”…when the scientists discover them.
a little treat for you, on this thought:
…so…what is neem, you ask.
it is a deep-green, delicated-leaved tree used for any type of ailment besieging a plant grower or gardener. writing this, i’m working up to trying an infusion of its leaves on an infestation of white flies attacking my young papaya trees. i’ll also be glad to share my other stash (a jar of neem oil from Dyna-Gro) with my friend, Isabel, who has an epidemic of microscopic black flies (or is it scale?) attacking hers. i’ll put some of this neem oil into my sprayer, diluted with water and liquid dish soap (1 tsp. per gal) and spray it on early in morning or late in afternoon. meanwhile, i’m cooking up the leaves of the neem branches that Dora brought, to make my own brew. the leftover naked woody stems i’ve put in a pot of water with the prospect of their sending out roots and then, voila! i’ll have little neem trees of my own to plant in my St. Augustine, Florida garden.
when i kill lawns i always plant as many native species of “wild grass” from the area, and as many big timber species of bamboo as i can fit into a property.
here, at the garden i’m creating at our new home (which I’ve named “Veritas Shambho”…veritas is latin for “the Truth” and shambho, sanskrit for “the abode of bliss”), i’ve planted over 7 different clumping species (old hamii, minor amoenus, buddha belly, dragon’s nest, etc.), and wow, this place will look like that fighting scene from “Crouching Tiger” in just a few years. be sure to always plant clumpers, not spreaders, for those of you who are thinking of going natural, and planting bamboo. BIG difference. you will regret it if you accidentally plant a bamboo that spreads, rather than clumps. so be careful.
which brings me to the thought of how nature is so well balanced, so much in fact that if we could just learn how to live from observing nature, how much happier, healthier, and prosperous we’d all be.
years ago i drew this illustration for Tim Plowman, a great botanist who succumbed early on to the AIDS pandemic. but before timoteo left us he studied the use of, spread of, and in general, good effects humanity has derived from the plant known as coca.
it has occurred to me on several occasions, about the mystery of how nature has encrypted both a blessing and a curse in each of her byproducts. certainly, the human species is the best example of that, as we can be either the very best example of cosmic consciousness or…the very most slug-minded beast who slaves at dispersing evil and dismay for him/her-self and others.
but with coca, mother nature has outwitted us brainy humans by implanting in this particularly favored of her plant-children, many remarkable attributes, attesting for its being one of the great plants that both boosts the human experience, and seriously challenges it.
the delicate tropical bush named coca erythroxylum is still cultivated for its unique flavor (and exported to Coca Cola factories throughout the world, minus the alkaloid cocaine which is distilled from the leaf in its native growing countries of Peru, Bolivia, Columbia); used still for its medicinal qualities by indigenous and acculturated people throughout the Andes, for warding off everything from altitude sickness, stomach ailments, to a child’s misbehavior, and even malnutrition. best known, though, is coca’s malicious, much maligned cousin, the alkaloid cocaine, which is familiar to plain old recreational drug users everywhere, for an energized thrill-seeking high preferred by those seeking to escape so-called reality (coke users, crack-heads, and their danger-loving drug-dealing suppliers).
when Nature bestowed on us earth dwellers the plant coca, She intended for the plant to be worshipped as a Goddess. the ancient Incans did so, and all was well. the ancient Incans used the plant sparingly, to fuel themselves on long treks through the mountains where taking food and water would be difficult, if not impossible. every Incan who was mummified has been found with his/her coca pouch for their trek to the Great Hereafter, as they believed chewing coca made them more in touch with the divine.
even modern-day descendants of the Incans have lost the divine connection to Mama Coca. to this day, the indigenous Kogi people of Columbia still chew (although, to my mind, way too excessively), but certainly more than any westerner i ever met either snorts, smokes or swallows drugs, chews gum or smokes cigarettes, for these so-called “pure” indigenous people to be labeled anything other than intoxicated. certainly these guys don’t need to so addictively be poking their sticks into their lime gourds, constantly constantly constantly activating the alkaloid in the leaves as they habitually do. whereas the other Altiplano indigenous people, for instance, the Ayamarra in Bolivia, just let their coca wads set and trickle their juices in their puffed-out cheeks, adding the lime activater (a catalyst substance, like ground-up seashell, or fire ash) to the cheek wad only occasionally.
truly, the world is witnessing the degradation and murdurous violence, the downgrading of humanity through the spread of drug use, and cocaine is one of the strongest, most addictive, next to heroin. within all so-called “beneficial” plants Nature has, in the balance of existence She is, activated the “encoded” curse within everything. with coca it goes something like this (lord flea sings!):
when the spaniards came to invade the new world, they wiped out the indigenous people, the Incans, calling them heathens and savages. they didn’t honor the gods of the Incans. they didn’t recognize Mama Coca, and called Her, instead, a false god. the spaniards wanted the savages to stop chewing Her coca leaves, to stop revering Mama Coca. but the native people did not, and thus, they were eradicated. now…centuries later…the conquerors, those descended from the spaniards, the english, the dutch, etc. have themselves come under the evil scourge of what coca does when it’s been altered by “human distillation” … in the form of cocaine. people everywhere are suffering from the prevalence of cocaine. gone are the days when coca was considered a valuable medicine, when Coca Cola had it in their drink (the alkaloid addition halted after narcotics were regulated by Federal Law in 1927, but the distinguishing extracted flavor of coca still is used). gone are the elixirs, the coca-laced wines and other coca-enhanced pick-me-uppers, the refreshing, nourishing potions sold everywhere after the discovery of coca in the new world.
now the world thinks of “coca” and (if they don’t confuse it with cacao, the tree that is the source of chocolate) they think of drug-addled crazies. This is the way Nature, or i should say, Mother Nature, our Mother Earth, our dear Planet, beloved Gaia, has encoded into all her being-ness her all-knowing, always sensing, self-protecting feature, in each and every one of her cells of existence. Including you, all other humans, and me.
In other words: addiction to cocaine is Mother Nature’s way of getting back on the guys, the so-called “civilized conquerors” who wiped out the Incans, just because they were different than they were. Heed this warning, all good people of the Earth. Mother Nature always balances the scales when there are injustices against any part of herself.
We are One.
we cannot hurt one part of Her without another part of Her hurting us. this is the law of cause and effect: of Mother Earth’s Mystery, the balancing act of Nature.
so…i boil my neem leaves and prepare to make my own insect-killer, bacteria-negater, infestation-preventing potion: not by buying the latest chemical (which might do ME in by accident…it happens!) but by finding out what Nature has given us to counteract negatives. There is always a positive out there, to balance out the negative.
oh, and did i mention i’m suffering from poison ivy this week? jewelweed, the natural antidote for poison ivy (rhus toxicedron) doesn’t grow around here, in northern Florida. but i found a good poison-ivy soap from www.Burtsbees.com that contains jewelweed, and also other good things from our Mother.
here’s another of my early botanical works for you. this study done for Tom E. Lockwood’s dissertation on Brugmansia (Harvard University, 1968). brugmansia is the tree form of datura, which is popularly called Devil’s Weed, Angel’s Trumpet, and many other weird, counter-indicating names that don’t make much sense, except they are quite sensational, as the plant is.
enjoy the moment, yours in singing Truth, lord flea
ps. if you want to know more about “Plants of the Gods” check out that eponymously named book by Schultes, Hofmann and Ratsch, Healing Arts Press.