Ocotillo Medicine : Ecstatically Grounded and Passionately Responsive- A Desert Ally for Stagnancy, Flow and Connection with Life Force

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens): Ecstatically Grounded and Passionately Responsive- A Desert Ally for Stagnancy, Flow and Connection with Life Force

Ocotillo

 

 

As I stand on a windy ridge of the foothills of the desert mountains, I look out across the expanse- clear, blue open sky, pink earthen granite boulders, and the green snake like arms of Ocotillo- covered in multitudes of green leaves, which only serve to highlight the fierce, thick thorns that run the length of its arms, open like a vase to the desert sun and sky, and rooted firmly in the dry desert soil.  It has been just about two years since I have lived in the dry Sonoran desert landscape, and sat with the Ocotillo.  Once this plant was among the many unique plants in my apothecary that grow only here in my beloved desert, but now, as I have returned to this desert home, the Ocotillo has become something more, so much more; a herald and an ally, as I reclaim parts of myself, my life, my community that I left behind.  Those fierce arms waving gently in the breeze beckon me closer, to sit, and feel myself rooted in earth, and ever open to the wisdom and magic of the world around me; to protect my core with fierceness, yet dance freely and visibly with the burning passions within my most authentic self.

 

To non desert dwellers Ocotillo may look a bit like an alien with a vicious streak. It grows throughout the southwest in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts on rocky slopes and foothills to about 5000 ft.  It grows from a single base trunk close to the ground, which branches out into many arms opening upward and outward toward the sky. A single mature ocotillo may have over a hundred individual arms and grow to 15- 20 ft high.  Each arm is studded with rigid, sharp thorns which are modified leaf stems.  These thorns can be quite vicious and puncture the skin.

For much of the year in the desert, Ocotillo may look like it is not living, because it lacks leaves. But as soon as any moisture falls on the desert, the ocotillo responds instantaneously to produce hundreds of small oval shaped leaves that cover the arms, within a matter of days.  It can seem like almost overnight that the ocotillo stands bare and thorny and then flush with green shining leaves which capture the scant rainfall in their gently cupped embrace. Ocotillo responds so quickly to moisture in part because of its root system, which is close to the surface of the desert floor and spreads out in a diameter at least as large as the plant is tall.  In this way it can take advantage of any small amount of water that falls on the surface of the earth, but which may not penetrate very deeply.   Shortly after leafing out in response to rainfall, the Ocotillo will begin to produce a raceme of vivid, red tubular flowers, with dramatic stamens and sweet nectar beloved by hummingbirds and bees.  They flower between Feb and June, and sometimes into the summer rainy months.  Ocotillo is one of those remarkable plants that can root readily from a cutting of the branch, when planted in moist ground.  People often build “living fences” made from ocotillo cuttings which leaf and flower and grow with the rain cycles of the desert.

Ocotillo is a special plant, unique to this dry little corner on the planet, with few relatives in the Fouquieria genus, one notably, called the boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris), and grows in Baja California exclusively.  Though Ocotillo is widespread through out this region, it is always at risk due to desert development and sprawl as urban areas spread into the foothills and slopes.  It is an endemic- limited in region and by climate, and so as with any endemic plant anywhere on the planet, one has to consider very carefully the protection and longevity of the plant itself, and its habit, and its place in the ecosystem where it grows before considering other uses.  This is not the plant for mass market commercial herb production or to be widely popularized across the world as the “next best herb cure for this or that.”  I firmly believe in the importance of working closely with the plants that grow around you, in your backyard, and in your bioregion, as primary medicine.  This isn’t to say you can’t use herbs from other places sometimes, but it is the plants that grow in the same environment in which we ourselves live, have a deeper, more appropriate medicine for that place and those people.  Exposed to the same climate extremes, rainfall patterns, temperatures, droughts, floods- plants and humans in the same bioregion are like two organs of a body system- they are adapted to each other, and respond to each others responses and feedback in turn.  Often times humans like to think we are immune to those sorts of energies, because we live in houses with artificial heat or cooling and our lifestyles do cut us off dramatically from the land in ways that eat at our  most primal soul, but we are deeply connected to the land we live on – and its experiences, its plants.  Ask anyone who has moved from their home landscape, they often feel displaced, uncomfortable with the type of surroundings, or feel an uneasy sense of longing in their new landscape.

And so, I write of ocotillo, an endemic medicine of the southwest, a medicine local to me to inspire respect for and value of a medicine plant that is so precious and unique, not to encourage each and every one to use this medicine. I love this plant dearly, and have found its medicine for me is even more potent now, spiritually, and physically, after having left and returned, and journeyed far from my  Home land. I want to honor this friend and introduce it to plant lovers and plant honoring herbalists so you can love and appreciate her, and those who feel called to the healing of Ocotillo, can do so wisely.

 

Harvest & Preparation

Harvesting from a mature Ocotillo one branch, is much like pruning a tree, and causes no long term harm to the plant, and you can always replant a piece of the branch nearby to propagate the plant naturally.  It is considered a protected plant in many places in the Southwest, so it is prudent to harvest from private land when possible, or when large tracts of desert are bulldozed leaving many uprooted plants.  I find it best harvested after a rain, and the leaves are on the branches, though any live branch will do.  Live branches without leaves have a waving pattern of green underneath the grey bark and thorns.  Sharp pruners, some leather gloves and a big rock are your tools, as you stand in the meager shade of your wide brimmed hat, watching the thorny arms dance in the hot desert wind.   Clip a single branch at the base, making a clean cut, with no dangling bark or ripped pith, and gently pull the branch toward the ground with your gloved hand. When you’ve removed the branch, lay it out on a flat hard surface, and I like to cut it into 4 or 5 smaller more manageable pieces.  Then take your big rock that fits into your gloved hand and pound the ocotillo branch on a second flat hard surface to split the fresh bark from the pith.  I’ve seen people use and recommend peeling with a knife, but it has always seemed to me, more dangerous and difficult to deal with the thorns, than just a nice heavy rock.   The bark peels off readily from a fresh branch after a rain.  This bark should be chopped (with good clippers) into smaller pieces to fit into your jar. You can keep your pith for a walking stick or fire boards or drills; it is rather pretty and creamy white with small depressions where thorns attached.    I tincture the bark fresh in 95% alcohol, 1 pt Ocotillo bark and leaf: 2 parts alcohol for 4 weeks.  My experience has been with the fresh plant tincture, and this is the form I use exclusively.  I was taught that dried plant preparations of ocotillo bark are less useful, but I haven’t put that to the test.    I’ve often found that the dogma of only fresh plant being active to be false on more than one occasion, so suppose it is entirely possible that dried ocotillo is useful as well.

 

The stunning red flowers can also be harvested, if you can reach them atop a 20 ft tall arm waving in the wind, and dried for a mild and delicious beverage tea.

 

Energetics & Actions

Ocotillo is a warming and mildly drying lymphatic and blood/fluid mover. It has an affinity for the tissues and region of the pelvis and liver/portal vein system, and the respiratory system.  It is a stimulant, decongestant, chologouge, expectorant, and mild emmengouge. It is a warming bitter, with a sweet, oily or soapy taste.

It improves digestion of and assimilation of dietary fats, improving the uptake of lipids from the liver/portal vein blood and intestines into the mesentery (digestive lymphatic tissue) and pelvic lymphatic tissue.  It stimulates bile production and secretions by the liver and gall bladder.  It moves stagnant qi, energy, blood, mucous, and intracellular fluid in the pelvic region or lungs outward, upward and downward.  It decongests respiratory tissue and excess mucous by increasing secretions to move stagnant fluids out through productive coughing.

 

Applications

I use ocotillo most frequently in people with gall bladder and liver deficiency, poor bile production, and poor digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.  These people tend be on the cold side, and often have dry, itchy, or scaly skin, and cracked lips.  Sometimes they eat adequate dietary fats, but do not absorb and assimilate them, which can show up as steatorrhea (fat in the stools), or they cannot tolerate eating much fat at all, and the diet lacks sources of healthy fats necessary for skin health, mental health, hormone production, and healthy inflammation levels.  Ocotillo increases the uptake of dietary fats from the portal vein into the lymphatic tissue of the pelvis, improving digestion, assimilation, and utilization of fats, and relieving stagnancy of blood in the area.

I often see ocotillo indicated as well in people who have alternating diarrhea/steatorrhea and constipation from hormone imbalances, liver/gall bladder deficiency, weak/cold digestive function, and stagnancy in the pelvic area.  This stagnation in the pelvis is a key indicator for ocotillo- stagnant portal vein and lymphatic drainage and often stagnant liver qi.  This shows up in numerous disorders indicating stagnation, along with constipation, there are often hemorrhoids, varicose veins in the upper thighs/buttocks, acne or boils in the pelvic area/thighs, buttocks,

 

In men it can be useful in cases of benign prostatitis, often from too much sitting, (of course ruling out other more serious causes of prostate inflammation/swelling), frequent urination/polyuria, as well as sexual debility and difficulty maintaining erections.  In this case I find ocotillo is helpful if the primary cause is stagnancy in the pelvic region.  This situation often has other accompanying causes which must be addressed concurrently (malnutrition especially protein and B vitamins, lack of sleep, excessive stress, food allergy, and emotional or psychological reasons.) A male client of mine who used Ocotillo for stagnancy in the pelvic region that included constipation, liver stagnantion and difficulty with maintaining erection says, “When I took ocotillo, I noticed my stamina and libido working in a more harmonious way. I do believe my lower back was a little wrenched at the time I received ocotillo and could feel a shift occurring.”

 

In women this stagnancy shows up in sluggish menstruation, and uterine stagnancy, with cramps and old, brown spotting at the beginning of the cycle followed by clotted blood and cramping.  Ocotillo can be helpful in cases of endometriosis in addressing the pooling, stagnant blood along with other therapies and herbs.  It is also helpful for women experiencing loss of libido, again, working with all the aspects and root causes.

 

I’ve shared ocotillo with many clients and students, and everyone consistently remarks on the warming and relaxing sensation that they experience in the pelvic region and I have found ocotillo over and over again to help address the symptomatic pattern associated with stuck/stagnant liver qi.  This is a symptom pattern from TCM that is somewhat parallel to the symptoms of pelvic blood/lymph stagnation.  It includes a hot core and cold extremities, dryness of skin on the extremities, while the core can be oily.  There may be redness in the face or eyes, allergies, eruptive explosive emotional outbursts, constipation or diarrhea, stagnant menstruation.  Ocotillo, along with other relaxing, diffusive, and draining herbs can help to move the stagnant qi from the core and restore even qi flow throughout the body.  I combine ocotillo with verbena, stachys, mahonia, zingiber, curcuma, rosa, citrus peel, and/or taraxacum.  As with any therapy, the root cause of qi stagnation must be addressed as well- including removing food allergens, excessive alcohol, pharmaceuticals/nicotine, sleep debt, repressed emotions, excessive consumption of cold foods, and general cold/deficiency in the system.

 

Ocotillo has an affinity for moving physical stagnation from the pelvis and liver, it also helps to unlock blocked/stagnant energy of the pelvic and sexual regions.  In particular the kundalini stuck/blocked in the first three chakras – root, sacral and solar plexus.  It is these chakras associated with our core self, our security and sense of safety, our roots in the earth, our sexuality, our passions and pleasure, and our ability to manifest and create.  I have seen, in myself, and in others, that when this flow gets blocked at any of these three chakras, the result is a lack of sexual energy and vitality, overwhelming fear, difficulty providing for ones physical needs, inability to connect with core self and purpose, denial or inability to deal with emotions and frustrating or unhealthy situations, a feeling of being cut off from purpose, passion, and creativity.  This can cause depression, a sense of overwhelm, over emotionality and explosive reactions, or on the flip side a complete disassociation from ones feelings and a sense of apathy and a complete lack of interest in sexuality and intimate emotional connection with others, or with ones purpose and creative work in the world.

I have used both the flower essence of the bright red ocotillo blossoms, and the tincture of the bark and leaf to address varying degrees of this manifestation of blocked energy in the physical/emotional/energetic body.  For my part, I found myself as a perfect example of this picture for almost a year- depressed, unable to function or connect with others; unable to do work I loved, completely cut off from my roots.  I felt adrift, lost, and empty. Ocotillo was the medicine I needed, along with support and counsel of someone I trusted, community and re-rooting in the landscape I belong to.  I have worked with ocotillo essence and tincture personally, in addition to hours spent sitting with the plants as they leaf out, and bloom this spring; and as I landed back in my homeland this spring- I found myself at the feet of the Ocotillo, filled with awe and gratitude to this ally for sharing so clearly with me its medicine- that goes far beyond the liver and digestion.  In several cases since I have given ocotillo essence or ocotillo tincture with great benefit to the person, almost immediately.  One client remarked, “The ocotillo has been quite powerful and amazing. I am feeling more like myself than I have in a while.”

Ocotillo also speaks to me of being grounded, ecstatically, knowing fully ones purpose and connected with ones passion, and having the ability to protect and maintain healthy boundaries, while at the same time showing up joyfully and powerfully for living in the present moment and expressing oneself creatively and the ability to be open and responsive (as opposed to reactive) to the environment, to life and to connection with others just on the merits of its appearance and its particular characteristics and how it grows.  Additionally, reflections and confirmations of this information about the medicine has come through sharing it with students in plant medicine circles- in which both tincture and flower essence are taken and the immediate physical and emotional experiences shared, followed by a plant spirit medicine journey, again with insights shared with the group.  The experiences and information shared by these students is cohesive and clear, reflecting my understanding of the plant, even from people who have never worked with Ocotillo medicine previously.

 

Herbalist Mimi Kamp echoes my own sense and understanding of the plant medicine and describes Ocotillo flower essence indication as such: “One’s passion in life frustrated, blocked, or abused becomes a destructive impulse erupting in ANGER, aggression, jealousy, defensiveness, manipulation, complaining, blaming, demanding attention, or just too much talking. Or, the repression of such energy causing mental/ emotional stagnation, LOW VITALITY, and poor self-esteem. ABUSE issues. Sexuality and vital force. Reactivity. Overly sensitive/reactive to external stimuli, allergies.  Deficient fire stimulated, and a negative or wasteful fire expression cooled, calmed, re-centered, and re-channeled into self-healing and creative manifestation. Quiet strength and SELF-CONFIDENCE. Taking RESPONSIBILITY from a deep-rooted place. BOUNDARY and protection. Focus calm and thorough. Stability.”

 

So much vitality and health rests in healthy digestion, but also a healthy connection with self, purpose, passion, and a healthy flow of our energy and emotions.  Ocotillo is a plant with a deep affinity for improving overall vitality of the spirit and core-self, the smooth flow of energy and fluids in the body, and the healthy function of basic processes of digestion and assimilation.  There are of course many plants which can help us with one or more of these needs in our human experience, Ocotillo happens to be the one that grows near me, in the landscape where I belong, in the plant community that I consider my family and friends, and that has personally served me in my own journey to reconnection with self and healthy expression in the world, and to countless members of my community here in the desert.  It is a medicine well worth understanding, and if it doesn’t grow near you, I definitely encourage you to work with the flower essence, as it is a very sustainable and ethical way to connect with the medicine of this plant on an emotional and spiritual level.  There are many souls in the world disconnected from their roots and their passions, their sense of self, and sense of purpose.  This is a medicine appropriate for reconnecting our society and culture as a whole to healthy intimacy with self and other.  To me, Ocotillo is the medicine of ecstatic groundedness, and passionate and appropriate responsiveness to life itself. I am so deeply grateful to work with this unique medicine in my Home land.

 

Sources

Kamp, Mimi. Essences of the Desert. www.essencesofthedesert.blogspot.com

Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West.

Drink your Turmeric – Lemonade Style

It started with golden turmeric chai lattes swimming in creamy steamy cups…but, now its 90 degrees, and well, thats just not in my climate friendly repetoire now.  I think turmeric is a wonderful herb that we should be feeling free to use and be creative with, instead of just adding it to our curries.  How can we get a little turmeric every day? Aside from capsules, and tinctures….tumeric lemonadeglass

Lemonade!!

Liver loving!

Digestion boosting!

GI tract inflammation calming!

 

I sip a small glass of this stimulating, tasty and inflammation fighting and digestive supporting tea/lemonade most days.

You can also get creative with the basic recipe, adding your own favorites to change things up!

Turmeric Liver Lovin Lemonade

1/2 gallon jar

1/2 gallon hot boiling water

1 lemon, juice squeezed (more if you like it tart)

2 tbsp turmeric powder (you can use fresh roots if you have them, grated, using slightly more)

2 tsp ginger root powder (or fresh root, grated)

a few tablespoons of honey, to taste (i prefer less sweet)

1 c calendula blossoms

1 pinch sea salt

1 pinch chiltepin chile (or cayenne- this is optional if you are not a fan of spicy hot)

1 tsp grated orange zest

turmeric lemonadeMix all the ingredients in a 1/2 gallon canning jar, pour hot water over the mix and stir, let infuse covered overnight.  Strain, and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.  Sip 8-12 oz once or twice a day.

You can serve this warm if you prefer, which is wonderful for a sore throat, and you can add other favorite herbs to the mix, marshmallow, rosemary, schizandra, green tea, lemongrass, black pepper, etc.

 

 

And here’s an old (from 2007) blog post about Turmeric from Gaia’s Gifts. 

April Medicine Plant Walk ~ Tucson, AZ

spring sandwortr flora

 

APRIL 19th from 8:00 am ~ 2:00 pm

Join Shamanic Herbalist Darcey Blue for a Plant walk in the low desert Riparian zone where we’ll discuss the Plants we see, Medicinal & Edible properties, and Plant Spirit Medicine. We will sit with plants and attune our Hearts to their messages and use a Drum Journey.

Be prepared for all kinds of weather! Bring sun protection (and rain protection!), Snacks, Water, a Journal, a Camera and good shoes.

We meet at Le Buzz Cafe at Tanque Verde and Catalina Hwy at 8 am to caravan/carpool to our walk location

Cost $25

PLEASE Visit this event and details on Facebook at Click Here! While your there Click Join

& RSVP to shamana.flora@gmail.com 

 

Sacred Earth Medicine Retreat 2014 is Open!!

Save the Date!!

Sacred Earth Medicine Herbal Retreat

October 29-November 2, 2014

Aravaipa Canyon, AZ

The time is here, the moon is right- are you ready? I sure am!!! Sacred Earth Medicine Retreat 2014 is open!!! Join me for this Sacred Journey with the Spirits of the Land, the Plant Medicines, and our Ancestors standing beside and behind us as we dream the world into being.

Click here for Details & Registration!

Spots are limited in this amazing opportunity to join  in sacred space, on incredibly powerful land in the southwest, learning about plant medicine, engaging in ceremony with an intimate community, eating nourishing handmade meals based on locally produced foods. Hold your spot with a deposit right now!! Need payments- we can set that up too! Gonna fly in? We can arrange a ride from the Tucson airport with our group shuttle.

Click here for Details & Registration!

My heart is all a flutter with so much energy and excitement, hopping up and down. I can’t wait!!!

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**Space is Limited to 18 participants, Register early to hold your space in this incredible journey and unforgettable experience of Sacred Plant Medicine**

This event is being offered on a Sliding Scale Tuition ~ Click here for Details & Registration!

We are the change we wish to see in the world- let us dream a world of community, deep connection, spirit, nourishment and beauty. ~~ In Love & Gratitude ~ Darcey

Plant Journey Circle ~ March 24, 2014

 

Monday, March 24, 2014 ~ 6:30-8:30PM

Come gather at The Harmony Hut, 2004 E. Spring St in Tucson and learn about the medicine and healing properties of a medicinal plant ally each month!

  March’s Plant Ally is Creosote!

 We will learn through our senses, tasting tinctures, elixirs, teas and flower  essences, and use shamanic drum journey to access the plant to learn directly! All are welcome, no experience with plants, shamanic journey or herbalism needed!

Suggested Donation : $10-15

Join Us ~ Click Here to RSVP on the Facebook Event Page!

creosote

Embracing the Becoming – Shamana Flora Retreat at Wind Spirit Community

I just returned home after hosting the Shamana Flora Spring Plant Medicine retreat at Wind Spirit Community.  I am so filled up, I am so full of gratitude, and amazement.

13 beautiful sisters sat in circle with me, speaking deeply of their desire to connect and reconnect deeply with the plants, with the earth, and with their own spirits.

This retreat was just a tiny seed last autumn, when I got a call from spirit to act- an e mail from the event coordinator at Wind Spirit, asking if I was interested in doing a retreat with them in the spring.    Strangely enough, I had been thinking about calling them that very week.  So, I had to say yes, not quite knowing any details, but feeling that urge that comes from spirit guided living.  Synchronicity and serendipity are ways that I find myself learning from the plants I call allies, and and are ways that the sacred spirit communicates to me often.  So, it is, I sent out a call to the ethers, to bring a group of plant people together to share in the ways of sacred plant medicine and connection.

The land was lush with blooming fruit trees- oranges, peaches, cherries, grapefruits, and the desert plants in bloom on the hillsides surrounding us.  We sat to attune to creosote bush- and made a group flower

essence- getting lost in the sea of 8 foot creosote bushes, and then sitting at the feet of the ocotillo to learn of its medicine of connecting us with root, and purpose, healthy emotional expression, and joy and creativity. It never ceases to amaze me- how once shown the way to open their heart perception to the plants communication, students can tune into a plant being, and in 3 min, gather and sense the healing energy of that plant, that can be verified from many other sources.  These ladies were no less….so spot on.

 

An afternoon of medicine making mayhem- harvesting sweet white roses from the tombstone rose bush all aglow in the full moonlight, peach leaves, orange blossoms and peels, mulberry leaves, ocotillo bark and olive leaves.

Several women began weaving crowns of olive branches, roses and flowering creosote at breakfast on Saturday morning, so that we walked around all weekend adorned with the laurels of wisdom and sisterhood, ancient connection to ceremony.  We all felt as goddesses- parading through the flowering and sweet smelling oasis.

 

We gathered again in the full moon light – around the fire for a primal ceremony to release what no longer served us in our healing journey, and to call in our highest intentions and desires.   Beautiful women singing, drumming, swaying and holding space for each other, filling my heart with awe and inspiration.  Feeling this deep unfolding within me….a recognition of a gift that  I had left unrecognized thus far.  I did not specify that this gathering be only for women, but that is how it arranged itself, and I feel deeply that medicine I hold of creating sacred space, and especially in connecting with the mysteries of the feminine.  Falling down to earth in humble amazement.  I didn’t quite know how much I was stepping into, how full and beautiful it was, how powerful it rocked old beliefs about who I could be off their wobbly legs.  I am learning to embrace the unfolding of my gifts- by allowing myself to be guided by the whispers of my heart songs, and the magic that spirit orchestrates when we step out of our way.

Sweet beautiful voices singing together in the sauna, cleansing our spirits and bodies with the special cleansing plants and warm steam- creosote, desert rue, and hierba del pasmo. Reconnecting with ceremony and the healing that the spirit of plants offers us.  In closing, holding onto the magic and healing we received from plants, from ceremony, and from each other, we created personal healing medicine bundles- to take with us along our unique journeys- a connection with a plant ally to help us and give us strength as we do our work of self transformation.   We all sobbed through our closing circle as each woman shared her gratitudes with each of the others, for their courageousness, their laughter, their sharing, their friendships and connections.

It is hard to express in words the magic I felt as the group formed in those last weeks, with women who I’ve connected with years ago, to those who showed up out of what seemed the blue.  The way that things just came together, without my getting attatched to the outcome or how it looked.  How I leaned into my faith, and my heart, not my head.  Sharing what deeply feeds me about the plants- instead of contriving some idea of what is expected.  Each circle, each walk, each activity flowing with ease into the next.  The heartfelt reflections of collegues, students, sisters- each telling me how much my sharing of heart, not head, moves them and helps them to go deeper into that.  I don’t know how to express what just comes in tears and amazement as I recount all this  - that which I have spent so many years hiding or being fearful of sharing, when finally I get out of my own way/head, and just step into that shining full moon light to be who I am becoming.  Imperfect, beautiful, trembling, uncertain, but moving towards it anyway with delight and breathlessness, with a tinge of fear, and vulnerability.  How we show up in our vulnerability, in our humanness, is medicine- for those we share with, and for ourselves.  Allowing ourselves to be totally present to everything we are, and holding the shape of things to come, even if only in glimpses, during magical ceremonies.

See the magic we made!  Shamana Flora retreat photos by Darcey Blue

Join me in October for the Sacred Earth Medicine Herbal Retreat in Aravaipa Canyon for a four day journey into spirit, ceremony and sacred plant medicine!