Uncategorized

WiseWoman Traditions

The Medicine Wheel of Plant Uses

(Part Two of Five)


 

 

The East: Sweet & Bland

 

The Medicine Wheel of Plant Uses begins in the East, place of the rising sun, place of dawning and beginnings, place of birth. The element of the East is air: it is the first breath, inspiration, laughter, singing, flight. The plants of the East taste sweet and bland. They are rich in sugars and starches, the two forms of carbohydrate.

 

The archetypal plants of the east are the cereal grasses. They were the first plants to be cultivated, and they continue to be the mainstay food of all the world’s peoples. Grain is the real currency of the world, not gold. In ancient Greece, at the temple of Demeter in Eleusis, mystery school initiates, when they were judged ready to understand the holy of holies, were shown the shibboleth: “an ear of corn reaped in silence.The resurrection of Christ is said to be patterned after the mystery of the grain, which rises three days after it is sown (buried). Likewise, Inanna is buried in the underworld for three days before she returns.

 

I define the plants of the east as: Plants that, by themselves, sustain life when eaten daily in any amount. The only plants that fit this definition are the seeds of certain grasses. Grain alone, unlike all other foods, and without assistance, is enough to sustain us. Though we wish not to live by “bread alone,” much of the world does get along eating nothing but a bowl of rice or millet a day. Grain supplies sweet, bland carbohydrates, some needed proteins (though incomplete), some vitamins, and some minerals, and some plant hormones (lignans, which are powerfully anti-cancer).

 

Sugar cane is a grass. Though we do not use the seeds of it, it is a plant of the East so long as we consume the entire plant (minus the fiber which we cannot use). Succanet is the evaporated juice of whole organically grown sugar cane. I use it instead of maple syrup (relatively cheap here in the Catskill mountains), honey, or malt (which is made from grain) in recipes where I need a granulated sugar and where I’ll enjoy the molasses-rich taste.

 

The goddesses of the East are the goddesses of Nourishment. Their many faces are the faces of the Corn Mother in her many guises. In Rome she was Ceres, from whom we draw the word “cereal.” Her feast day, Cerealia, in the middle of June, is still celebrated in parts of the British Isles. In Greece she was Demeter, the Barley Mother. In Mexico, she is known as Chicomecoatl, she of the seven serpents, guardian of childbirth and corn. In Peru, she is Pachamama. Among the Pueblo people, Ut Set, Spiderwoman, gave the people corn – explaining it was the milk of her breasts – and eagle feathers so they might travel safely. To the Algonquin-speaking peoples she is simply: Grandmother. And she is in charge of all food on earth.

 

The gate to the East leads to the realm of the animals: those who give us milk and meat. It appears that it was for them that we began to cultivate grain, and to harvest the grasses to make hay. The Great Goddess appears more often as a milk animal than in any other manifestation, according to Barbara Walker. She is the “wetnurse of humanity.” The cornucopia is her horn, spilling out nourishment in all its forms.

 


Plants of the East: Grasses

 

Wheat, spelt, rice, rye, barley, oats, millet, corn

 

1.      What part? The seeds.

 

2.      When harvested? When ripe and dry. No mould!

 

3.      How prepared? Cooked thoroughly to inactivate phytic acid, a nutrient-robbing phyto-chemical in all grains and beans. Or sprouted and then roasted (this is called malting), or ground into a fine meal and cooked, or sprouted and cooked, all of which inactive phytates.

 

4.      How much consumed? Unlimited amounts. Best to use many different species and types of grains to ensure a complete complement of amino acids (protein building blocks).

 

Change the answer to question 1 and move it to the South.

 

1.      What part? The leaves.

 

2.      When harvested? When the grass has jointed and the seeds are just starting to form.

 

3.      How prepared? Dried, then brewed with water; for instance, oatstraw infusion.

 

Or fed to animals as hay and then consumed as milk, cheese, yogurt, muscles and organs. The advantage of having the complete proteins found in animal foodstuffs (rather than partial ones found in plants) has caused people all over the world to feed all of the hay and most of the grain they grow to their livestock whenever possible.

 

4.      How much consumed? Unlimited amounts; up to one quart of oatstraw infusion daily.

 

Change the answer to question 3 and move it to the Southwest.

 

1.      What part? The fresh plant, just seeding.

 

2.      When harvested? When the grains are in the milk stage.

 

3.      How prepared? Tinctured in 100 proof vodka.

 

4.      How much consumed? 30-60 drops several times a day to relieve anxiety.

 

Change the answers to question 3 and 4 and move it the West.

 

1.      What part? The seeds.

 

2.      When harvested? When ripe and dry. No mould!

 

3.      How prepared? Sprout until starches are converted to sugar. Grind and roast. Use this malted grain to nourish yeasts which excrete alcohol as a waste product.

 

4.      How much consumed? Alcohol is poison, but a highly useful one that can be tolerated in small doses without harm. It is one of the most useful solvents for extracting alkaloids, the active ingredients in many plant medicines. Alcohol is, and was, safer to drink than water in most places, and throughout most of history. Fermentation of grains increases the nutrients available to us, vastly increasing the amount of B vitamins, for instance. Nonetheless, used lavishly, alcohol destroys the liver and robs the body of nutrients. Vodka is the least poisonous of the high proof alcohols. In Russia, people drink a liter or more of vodka daily for forty or fifty years. “Grain” alcohol, or 198 proof alcohol (vodka is made from grain too, but is only 80 or 100 proof) will kill you in two years, I am told, if you drink even two cups of it a day. Reasoning that I want to make myself healthy with herbs, I make my tinctures in 100 proof vodka and do not use, or recommend using, 198 proof alcohol in herbal remedies.

 

Plants of the East: Beans

 

Pulses, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, pinto, anasazi, kidney, fava, and myriad other beans.

 

Also, clover, vetch, alfalfa, astragalus.

 

1.      What part? The seeds.

 

2.      When harvested? When the pods are ripe and dry.

 

3.      How prepared? Cooked thoroughly. Or sprouted and then cooked, to inactive phytates. Do not eat bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts raw. Soy beans contain large amounts of phytic acid which are not destroyed by cooking. The safest way to eat soy is fermented; miso and tamari are foods of the east. Soy beans become foods of the west when they are processed.

 

4.      How much consumed? Limited amounts. The large amounts of indigestible sugars in beans cause flatulence and gas pains! Best to combine with grains to ensure a complete complement of amino acids (protein building blocks).

 

Change the answer to question 1 and move it to the Southeast.

 

1.      What part? The fresh plant, just seeding.

 

2.      When harvested? When the pods are still green and tender.

 

3.      How prepared? Cooked.

 

4.      How much consumed? Greenbeans can be eaten in moderate quantities.

 

Change the answer to question 3 and move it to the South.

 

1.      What part? Soybeans

 

2.      When harvested? When ripe.

 

3.      How prepared? Fermented for at least two years. The resulting bean paste is called miso; the liquid that rises to the top of the fermentation vessel is tamari.

 

4.      How much consumed? In small amounts daily as an anti-cancer protective.

 

Change the answer to question 3 and move it to the Southwest.

 

1.      What part? Soybeans

 

2.      When harvested? When ripe.

 

3.      How prepared? Soaked in alkaline solutions, rinsed with solvents, and turned into soy beverage, tofu, soy cheese, soysage, soy protein isolate, and other fake foods.

 

4.      How much consumed? The more consumed, the greater the risk to the health of the bones and the immune system. The narrower the diet, the greater the damage done by the consumption of soy fakefoods. That is, in a vegan diet, soy causes maximum harm; in a broad-based diet, which includes animal products, soy causes minimal harm.

 

Plants of the East: Edible Seeds

 

Sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, amaranth, quinoa, nettle, yellow dock, chickweed, lamb’s quarter, kasha (buckwheat)

 

1.      What part? The seeds.

 

2.      When harvested? When ripe and dry. No mould!

 

3.      How prepared? Cooked thoroughly. Or roasted immediately before consumption. Few phytates, lots of protein.

 

4.      How much consumed? Moderate amounts; up to a cup a day.

 

In a healthy diet, the occasional white sugar treat is not a problem. In a diet lacking real nourishment, white sugar is the wild card that disturbs our real cravings for food and makes it difficult to trust our body.

 

The first taste (after birth) is sweet. Have you ever tasted mother’s milk? There is nothing sweeter. Sweetness is the taste of life. The desire for sweet is the desire for life. We never outgrow our need for, or desire for, sweet. Because there are few sweet foods in nature, we are “programmed” (by the genes of our ancestors who survived) to search out and eat as much sweet as we can. Interestingly enough, it is hard to overeat natural sweets such as fresh and dried fruits, honey, and maple syrup.

 

When refined sweets are constantly available, our genetic program can’t say, “Stop”. Refined sugars contain no nutrients, so we continue to crave them no matter how much we eat.

 

I meet many women who tell me they are trying to eliminate sweets from their diet. Not only do I hope they will fail – for craving sweets is craving life, and if we don’t crave sweetness, we have somehow given up on life – I hope they fail quickly, before they injure their physical and emotional health in the attempt. In fact, I believe artificial sweeteners can trigger depression.