Poke weed

Week 33 of the PBP.

Poke weed holds the dubious honor of being the first plant that I took it upon myself to identify because no one I talked to knew what it was. In a sense, it was the guardian to the world of knowledge through guidebooks. I checked out several from the school library, sitting with the plant for what seemed like hours, trying to get it to give up its name to me. I was more than a little thrilled to find out it was poisonous! Dangerous plants are always more glamorous, even at a young age.

Tall stands of poke weed grew around the elementary school. It was also the first plant I ever tried to turn into a spear. It was lightweight—a good quality for an aspiring fourth grade hunter—but its joints twisted and turned, which made it very hard to get it to fly true. Eventually the berries became currency, and were traded for other valuable commodities like acorns and bunches of garlic grass. I later encountered poke weed in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, where she described it being used to paint the smile on a child’s doll.  We painted rocks and sticks with the mashed up berries quite a bit around the school yard, but never really graduated to dyeing anything other than our fingers.

Pine

Week 32 of the PBP.

Pine. The native peoples of this area called the white pine the “Tree of Peace.” Standing in the white pine grove on the shores of Brewer’s Brook, it’s not at all difficult to imagine how the name came about. There is a deep stillness in the swampiness of the pine grove.

My home state is famous for its Pine Barren in the southern reaches. It’s where the dreaded Jersey Devil lurks. I’ve camped down there more than once, and it’s a powerful place. There’s little wonder that tales of otherworldly beings continue to perpetuate.

Now entering the deep of winter, I’m struck by another pine, this time a balsam, gracing my household. The scent is so wonderful, filling the room with memories of song and feasting. Every year my landlady does her traditional Danish tree, complete with live candles and paper ornaments. We went and cut it from a local tree farm on the Solstice, something I had actually never done before, but which I found quite moving. The evergreens of the holiday season bring families and friends together in peace, if only for a little while, as they watch over our celebrations of the light reborn.

Ocymum basilium (basil)

Week 31 of the PBP.

Basil: the king’s herb. I believe this to be the tastiest weed on this good green earth. So many different flavors, so many colors, I could go on and on. With just a little pinch back at the beginning of the season, you’ll soon have a wealth of materials for pesto, thai cooking, even sorbet!

I associate basil with Earth and Jupiter, not least because it has the reputation of being quite handy in money spells. I also find it to be a mood brightener. It’s almost impossible to feel sorry for oneself when munching on a tomato salad garnished with basil greens.

Basil is everything that is good in life, summer’s bounty and the promise endless fragrant breezes ahead.

Maple

Week 26 of the PBP.

If you ask me, this is probably one of the fundamental trees in the New England landscape. And yet, the maple is often lacking in traditions which descend from the British Isles simply because they don’t have these flaming beauties.

I grew up on a street lined with maple trees—it was even named for them, in fact. The autumn was  a riot of color and kids would wade through waist-deep leaf piles, jumping and swimming their way down the road.

Then there is the wonder that is maple syrup, or boiled tree blood as one friend calls it. A foodstuff that many consider a luxury, but once you’ve had the real thing, high-fructose corn syrup really just doesn’t cut it any more.

The maple, along with the oak and white pine, comprise the majority of the trees on my land. It’s such a vital part of the landscape, it’s honestly the impetus for my desire to create an ogham for my bioregion. Any system which would leave this tree out feels like it has a gaping hole to me. The Druids of old used their alphabet to record knowledge and wood lore, how can I not attempt to follow in their footsteps?

Lavender

Week 25 of PBP.

The other “L” entry is also beloved for its perfume: lavandula angustifolia. The first real memories I have of this beauty are of the endless fields of lavender in Provence. Every medieval garden my family visited in the south of France had glorious lavender plants. I loved how the sticky, spicy scent would cling to my fingers after rubbing the leaves. I stared in wonder at the bees and hoverflies and humming birds as they completely ignored my presence to flock to the sprays of purple flowers.

Sadly, as I’ve moved further and further north, my lavender plants have fair less and less well. But there are still a few hardy varieties that manage to winter over and bless my cosmetics and my cooking with their wonderful oils.