I love stories. I love listening to stories, reading stories and telling stories. Stories entertain, challenge beliefs, call laughter to come into places drenched with tears and bring tears to soften places hard with bitterness and hatred. Stories heal. Stories teach.
All over the world, the wisdom of plant medicine has been taught through stories. The following story is an example of a teaching story from China.
The story of Dang Gui
A young boy is left without family. All he has is a bow and arrow, so he heads out to hunt. After several days with no luck, the boy sees a large falcon in a tree. He raises his bow and just before he releases the arrow, the falcon speaks.
“If you do not kill me, I will give you seeds for a medicinal plant. People will cherish you and the plant. You will never go hungry again.”
The boy pauses and lowers his arrow. The falcon flies over the boy’s head and drops a handful of seeds at his feet. After gathering up the seeds, the boy hurries home to plant them.
Within a week, a sturdy plant grows and bright, tiny red flowers appear. When the plant dies back, the boy digs up the root, boils it and drinks the tea. After drinking the tea, he feels strong and vital: anything seems possible. He offers a drink of tea to his neighbours and they become robust with optimism.
When the boy returns home a flock of tiny red birds has gathered on the roof of his house. They were singing Dang Gui, Dang Gui.
This simple story teaches many things about the healing plant and the healer. To begin, the healer starts his journey alone. In most traditional societies (including ours — I can’t think of a more rigorous training than becoming a medical doctor) the initiate healer must embark on a solitary journey to discover personal strengths and weakness.
While hunting, the boy spares the life of a falcon even though he is close to starvation. These actions suggest three traits of a healer. The first is compassion: he spares a life of another when it means hardship from himself. Second, after weighing his options, one meal instantly or many over an extended period of time, he chooses long-term benefits over short term gain. A choice like this requires patience, another characteristic of a healer. Finally, who in their right mind would believe a falcon? The boy does. He has faith. The belief that life is good and it is possible to receive what one needs to live is an essential characteristic of a healer.
Then the story goes on to explain the medicine of Dang Gui. First we learn that it is easy to grow. Many stories begin with birds planting seeds. The raven is the favoured seed planter in many First Nation stories. But this plant does not need to pass through a bird’s digestive tract to grow.
Then the story teaches about how to recognize the plant. Dang Gui is sturdy with small, bright red flowers.
Next, one learns that it is important to wait for the plant to die back and then harvest the root. The story also teaches to boil the root for tea.
After learning about planting, recognizing and harvesting the plant, the plant’s medicinal effects are taught. Tea made from the root transforms the poor starved, stressed and probably depressed boy. He becomes strong and optimistic. As are his neighbours. The plant nourishes, relieves stress and depression.
Finally the birds, reminiscent of the flowers, give the plant a name. Dang Gui. In Chinese Dang Gui means, “to return.” To return to health perhaps?
Although today Dang Gui is best known as a tonic for the female reproductive organs, it is also considered an adaptogen. Adaptogenic plants help the body adapt to stress through improving the function of the liver, calming the circulatory system and moderating stress hormones secreted from the adrenal glands.
l On May 9, there is a special storytelling event coming to Red Deer. The event is a fundraising for Walking with Our Sisters, a memorial, and art instillation for the missing and murder aboriginal woman. For more information go to www.walkingwithoursisters.ca/events/2015-2/red-deer
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.