Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wisdom From the Waterless Sea

“I am the waterless Sea 
stretching from shore to shore 
I feed the World and 
serve as Summer’s dancing floor.

Tenacious, I will cling to Life 
in the most unlikely of places. 
I am the green thread 
holding back the sliding Earth 
with my tender embraces. 
Amidst my waving depths 
shine countless smiling faces.

Hot or cold, 
many begin their day 
with me.
I thatch roofs, 
feed your livestock,
fashion baskets or lawns, 
scent potpourri
define a host of playing fields.
Mother's hair 
rippling in the winds,
few understand the benefits
my bladed charms can yield.”

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant, etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Cheryl and Thomas Garden for naming these Teachers!

“The grass may be greener on the other side, but you still have to mow it! ~ proverb
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.” Zen proverb

“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”~Hal Borland

How many of us think of grass as anything other than something to mow down, an inconvenience, and Suburban ruler of neighborly etiquette? Yet, without grass… where would be? There are countless varieties that carpet the World. Some are ornamental, some feed us, others clothe us, provide us with medicinal or mundane products like paper, and some, like Bamboo, might even provide us with shelter! Grasses of all sorts help to keep the Earth from eroding out from under us, these amazing Teachers are worthy of so much more attention than we typically give them.

Perhaps the most versatile of life forms, Grass of some sort can be found on every continent, including Antarctica! Grasses have been cultivated by man as a source of food for self or animals for over 10,000 years. According to Kew Index of World Grass Species, there are about 10,000 species of grass. We couldn’t possibly cover them all for their Totemic values, but we can certainly take a good overview and highlight a few species for a closer look. Green as a color can represent: health, prosperity, Nature, envy, toxicity, growth, renewal, sickness and death.

It can evoke feelings of comfort, relaxation, stress-reduction, balance, or even laziness. “The grass is always greener on the other side” is a common proverb that implies people tend to feel that the other person has it easier than they do; reinforcing the image of green as the color of envy. “Don’t let the grass grow under you” is another commonly used phrase encouraging one to move more quickly towards their goals than grass. I find that kind of ironic considering that, while not the fastest growing plant, it can and does spring up darn near anywhere. Grass is nothing if not tenacious!

LEMONGRASS is a citrus herb used widely in Asian and Caribbean cuisines. Commonly used in teas, soups and curries it is excellent with fish, poultry and seafood. Citronella grass, a close relative, is used to produce the insect repelling citronella oil, much like Lemon balm. Lemon balm differs in that it is far more palatable for edible purposes, although equally aromatic. I have found Lemon balm (aka Sweet Melissa) to be an extremely welcome addition to my garden. Crushing a few leaves and rubbing them on bared skin definitely helps keep away those pesky Insect relations, and it is unbeatable as a flavoring for my Thanksgiving Sweet Potato casserole. Like Lemongrass, it can be dried, powdered or used fresh.

West Indian lemongrass is reported to have antimicrobial activity, and acts as a central nervous system depressant. Oil of East Indian lemongrass has antifungal activity, and also has some pesticide and mutagenic activities. Lemongrass tea is drunk before bed to induce sleep, and as an infusion it is used to loosen or lessen mucous, to treat fevers, cramps, and stress. Most commonly though it is used for cooking or cosmetic purposes. It is refreshing to the skin, nicely scented and has the added benefit of driving off insects! Magically, Lemongrass is linked to Mercury and the element of air.It is believed by some to repel dragons and serpents. It has been burned as incense, bathed in, or carried to induce lust, fidelity, honesty, new growth, strength, psychic powers, and purification.

SCURVY GRASS is a species of about 30 different annual and perennial herbs related to cabbage, not actually a true grass. They are most commonly found in coastal regions, on cliff tops and salt marshes where their high tolerance of salt enables them to avoid competition from larger, but less salt-tolerant plants. They can, however, be found in mountainous terrains, temperate or even tundra regions. 

Scurvy grass was commonly eaten by sailors of yore suffering from, you guessed it, scurvy. The high concentration of Vitamin C helped to combat this deficiency disease that was brought about by a lack of vegetables and fruit in their diet. It has a strong peppery taste similar to horseradish, watercress or even nasturtiums which are often included in salads. The use of salt to de-ice winter roads has caused Scurvy Grass to spread to areas it has not typically grown in before.

SWEET GRASS is one of my personal favorites of all my Plant Relations. Also known as Buffalo grass, Vanilla grass, Mary’s grass, Holy grass, Mother’s Hair, Peace grass, or Seneca grass, this North American native is an important part of many Native American traditions. Unlike real Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides), Sweet grass is not drought resistant, preferring wetter or even marshy conditions. Difficult to grow from seed, Sweet grass spreads most easily from established plants. Some traditions say that Sweet grass should never be burned, others use it as a smudge before any ceremony as a reminder to respect the Earth and her many gifts to us.

Exceptionally fragrant, Sweet grass is most often kept in braids to attract and keep good spirits in a home or other area. It has been used to flavor candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes, was once strewn at church doors on saint’s days in Northern Europe, as decorations, basketry material, mattress and pillow stuffing, as a tea or smoke to combat coughs and sore throats, and cosmetically as a hair wash. This sacred plant is considered to be the Spirit Keeper of the North on the Medicine Wheel; the direction of abundance and gratitude. Its sweet scent draws positive energy, peace, and the abundance of the Mother. It is believed by some that Sweet grass was the first plant to cover the Earth, hence its close association with Her and the fairly common phrase, “hair of the Mother.”

OATS are one of the plentiful cereal grain grasses that have been cultivated by Man. Unlike Alfalfa, which is actually a legume, Oats are relatively easy to pollinate. Oats have been feeding man and beast for many generations. Crushed or rolled they are served as porridge, baked into cookies, oat bread, oatcakes, muesli, granola, and brewed into beer. Oat straw has been used as bedding, fodder, and oat extract makes a great addition to many skin cosmetics. Oatmeal baths are one of the most soothing treatments for chicken pox, shingles and other irritating skin conditions. They also make wonderfully cleansing and softening facials that help with dry skin, acne, or just plain old stress!

Oats are the only cereal plant that contains globulin or legume- like protein, avenin. Because of this and their lack of gluten, they can be turned easily into milk, but not bread. Oat breads or cakes must have gluten added to them, usually through the use of another flour. Because of this, Oats make a good early cereal to introduce to infants and an excellent base for homemade wet food for pets. 

Vigorous growers they often squeeze out weeds. “Sowing wild oats” is a reference to reckless, oft times promiscuous, behavior best gotten out of the system young. This rather overindulgent phrase is typically only applied to young men. Avena fatua, or wild oats, are considered a bane to farmers as they have no value as a cultivated crop but are difficult to separate from true oats.

Oat grasses are also used in treatments for stress and anxiety, as well as to nourish and restore nerves and reproductive organs in both men and women. Oats add good fiber to you diet, help to lower cholesterol, and are an excellent food for those recovering from illness. Oatstraw is lower in calories and higher in vitamin A and C than other grain. Both are soothing and nourishing, drinking the tea or eating oatmeal helps you develop strong nervous and endocrine systems. They also ease cramps, reduce inflammation, strengthen the heart and liven up your libido!

As you can see, while certain grasses have specific representations, like the peaceful nature of Sweet grass, all grasses are emblems of fertility, tenacity, abundance, the cyclic nature of life, unity, perseverance, luck and renewal. This is why Rice tossed at newly wedded couples is such a long-standing tradition! Maize, wheat, millet, rushes, reeds, bamboo, blue grass, Fescue, Pampas, crabgrass, squirrel-tail… there are thousands of species and one could easily spend a lifetime studying this Teacher alone!

Straw men or women (dollies) have been used in many cultures for a wide variety of reasons from gratitude, healing and abundance ceremonies, to simple toys for children. Some form of grass typically makes up the diet of most birds and herd animals, which in turn feed other types of animals. Truly, Life would be impossible without this tiny and oft unappreciated Teacher. So, while you are grumbling over the need to mow that lawn under the Summer heat, remember too to be grateful to the Plant Nation for keeping the Earth from eroding, for feeding us, its many lessons, the life-giving oxygen it helps to generate and for its own unique beauty.

“Every blade of grass, has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow! Grow!” The Talamud

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Henry Miller

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” Eleonora Duse

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