Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: talking to plants

What An Onion Has To Say

Half an Onion

Jacqui Murray recently wondered in a comment on another post: how would primitive people know which plants could be useful for healing? I replied that the one way of learning about plants which I’ve seen reported by indigenous people from various cultures worldwide is that the plants talk to the healers, and tell them what they can do for people. Martin Prechtel describes in detail how the process works for him in Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. When I heard about this communication with plants as a standard way of learning about them, my thought was that I must not be meant to be a shaman, because I’d never had such an experience.

Years later, Kim Upton presented a suggestion. When you are preparing food, ask the vegetables how they would like to be prepared. I’m the kind of wacky person who will try anything if there is no harm and the commitment is negligible, so naturally that very evening I talked to some basil from my own garden. It was a bit awkward, considering that I intended to eat said basil, but it turned out that the basil had no desire but to nourish me. That was all. It wanted wholly to be of benefit to my being, was thrilled by the possibility that I’d soon be masticating it to green pulp. It turns out that plants do not have the strong egos of humans, and don’t have the slightest care for their individual welfare. What an astonishing find.*

In following years I planted lots of basil, but it always got devoured to the stem by grasshoppers. I didn’t even bother to plant any this year. I occasionally attempted to engage my vegetables in conversation, but grocery store produce doesn’t have much to say. Once in a while something will tell me to use some five-spice powder, which is kind of funny, since no one in our house particularly likes five-spice. But a tiny bit is nice, when requested by the food upon which it is to be sprinkled.

This year for the first time we were able to amass enough capital to purchase a share in Shepherd’s Valley CSA, based in northern Lyon County. While preparing dinner tonight, I was captivated by the onion I received from them this past week. It was the most perfect onion I’d ever seen, with several inches of green at the top. It had a presence I couldn’t ignore, so I paused and held it in my hands and inhaled the delicate aroma. I saw sunlight, and thought of how fresh this onion was. It would be best to save the greens and use them raw, perhaps in the slaw I’ll make with the copious amount of cabbage we’ve received. But the bulb I wanted to cook, and as I looked into it with my eyes closed and my heart open, I saw a smiling face, a woman, radiating love. Was she who pulled this onion from the earth? I was overwhelmed by the love emanating from this fabulous allium. I think that was all it wanted to tell me, that it had been grown and harvested into the pure light of love. I felt love energy entering my hands as I chopped the bulb.

Yes, it sounds silly. If you want to commune with plants, you have to be willing to risk the ridiculous. It is, after all, talking to vegetables. But, oh, what a rush! I recommend it for everyone. What do your vegetables have to say to you?

*A gold star to any reader who notices that that story was in one of my earliest posts, written by Veronica. I gave it to her, but now I’m taking it back. She won’t mind.

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Flowers of the Summer Prairie: Western Ironweed

Spring is often thought of as the time for flowers, and the tallgrass prairie has her share of lovely spring wildflowers: beardtongue, spiderwort, milkweed, evening primrose, and many others. But now it is August, and the delicate beauty of the spring-bloomers has long faded; under the brutal summer sun, many of the spring plants have wilted and disappeared altogether, not to be seen again until the gentle spring rains awaken their winter-dormant seeds. But some plants thrive in the heat and glare of high summer on the open prairie. This is their heyday. Sunflower, compass plant, daisy fleabane, and our flower du jour, western ironweed, Vernonia baldwinii.

In 1900, Neltje Blanchan wrote of ironweed, “Emerson says a weed is a plant whose virtues we have not yet discovered; but surely it is no small virtue in the iron-weed to brighten the roadsides and low meadows throughout the summer with bright clusters of bloom.” She also notes that the tiger swallowtail butterfly seems to have a particular affinity for ironweed. I myself have seen upon this plant a lovely, white-furred caterpillar from a different feline lepidopteran; that is, the tiger moth.

In 1941, a Dr. Frank Gates had apparently read neither Emerson nor Blanchard, for he wrote only about ironweed’s undesirable traits, particularly when in pastures where cattle graze. He describes the plant in fine detail, without wasting paper dwelling on its beauty; then proceeds on to how to eradicate it. I wouldn’t give space on my shelf to his book, Weeds in Kansas, but for the unequalled quality of his drawings and descriptions, which have been consistently my best resource for identification of our native flora. Indeed, where many experts on native plants give their attention only to the natives, Dr. Gates doesn’t neglect to tell us about the immigrants as well; and his book was where I finally found the names of henbit, shepherd’s purse, purslane, and prickly lettuce.

In 1992, Kelly Kindscher lamented that so little attention had been paid to the medicinal virtues of prairie plants; of ironweed, he said only that it was used by the Cherokee in combination with sneezeweed to prevent menstruation in the months after childbirth.

Of the numerous species of ironweed native to North America, others have been been used to support feminine wellness and comfort. The midwives of our community are currently exploring the possibilities for what help it may have to offer us.

I sat by a patch of ironweed, to ask if there was anything it wanted me to tell you. I felt the soft fuzz of its underleaves, and I admired the plant’s habit of growing straight up as one stem, then branching at the top into pairs, each pair reaching out from the stem one-third of a rotation from the previous pair, with leaves showing beneath the stalks in the same pattern when viewed from above. It’s a neat and effective design for maximizing the plant’s exposure to the energizing light of the sun, from which ironweed never shrinks. I did not discern a message for me. Perhaps my friend was just enjoying the weather, a typically hot, bright August day in Kansas. Perhaps the message was, “Plant your roots deep, grow wholeheartedly toward the sun, your source; but don’t forget the soft, delicate underside of things.”

Hello world!

Hello world. I’m Veronica Speedwell. I live here at the Caryatids community, a wonderful place where people can still live in tune with the natural world. I’ve been here all my life, and now am the head gardener. I can’t think of a job I’d rather have.

I have a story for you. As a child, I knew a woman who saw fairies. She often spoke of them, and of other beings, of their various personalities and the things they did. She had conversations with animals and devas. She was a beekeeper, and always claimed to know the feelings of the bees in the hives. I didn’t take her seriously, though I did attend to her teachings about growing plants. She had the most lush, abundant garden, which fed so many people to such satisfaction. I would have loved to have her gift for growing things, but cared not a bit for her fanciful talk of the intimate lives of every living creature, of countless invisible entities, and of things which were real but had never been alive, such as the rocky hills we lived in, the soil spread like a blanket over it, the granite mountains buried deep below.

One day my teacher sent me to gather some basil from the herb garden. When I came to her with my hands full of the piquant greens, instead of taking them from me, she instructed me to hold them and ask them how they would like me to prepare them for eating. It was a strange and uncomfortable question, because naturally if I were asked that question, I doubt I’d reply in friendly terms. Nevertheless, I posed the question, feeling quite silly, to the freshly picked, deep green plants.

The answer came not to the question I’d asked, but to the one I hadn’t. The answer was a feeling, as all-embracing as the aroma of the basil itself, a feeling of complete and joyful willingness to give “itself” to my nourishment. The feeling was so strong as to be undeniable. I stood there inhaling the luscious fragrance, and inhaling with my soul the fragrance of ego-less, limitless giving. It was so pure that it could only be honored by partaking of the herb. Had this awareness and desire been present all along, and I never noticed it? How could it be? I was speechless, enraptured.

And thus began my love affair with plants.

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