Half a Hundred Herbs
Crossing that adolescent threshold
into a more than rational universe,
I found myself among herbs –
leaves of jade, glass-green, ice-grey,
and smells that open doors –
a ghost of lemon, breath of mint,
the bitter medicinal tang of yarrow,
rosemary – a scent of pine and dust
and memory – and the clean
kitchen smells of thyme and sage.
Here naming was blurred.
Hedge became garden, became flower,
became food. But knowing was clearer –
lavender was not prim at all,
but hot and heady, with a hint of camphor,
incense, resin, honey, spice.
Roses bloomed in flamenco skirts –
a fiesta of apples, myrrh and incense,
all soft, but warm and wild, all different.
In those green years I grew my roots,
learned daring and defiance, reaching
with sense and spirit into the earth,
old wisdom, the skill of hard work
in mind and muscle, the way the weather
shapes our growth, the life of birds,
new tastes, the feel of my own magic.
I’m not sure if I have ever posted this poem before, but it’s the one on my mind just now. In my youth, with a certain atavistic longing for a simpler universe to be fantastic in, I took a serious interest in herbs, which, unlike most adolescent crazes, has lasted my whole life. I’ve grown a lot, cooked, dried, propagated, used them in teas and potpourris, and researched a lot of the folk lore, mythology and traditional beliefs about them. Now, with the realism of reaching the age for my bus pass, I’m going to build on all this stuff, and try something new.
My own patch, which I’ve been calling the territory of rain, is shrinking a little – to my own back garden. Over the next year, I’ll be keeping any eye on the birds and wild flowers outside, but my focus is going to narrow a little, and I’m going to pay attention to the herbs – growing, using them in the house, and writing about them. At one a week that ought to make fifty two, but two of them, the rose and the elder are going to need a little more space. So fifty it is. I may add that I’ll be stretching the definition a little. There are some trees in the mix, and a few weeds and wild flowers. And there won’t be any serious medicines; medical herbalism is much more learned than I intend to be, and I’m not going beyond the odd cold remedy or hand cream. This is a very home-made project.
With a narrower focus, I hope to be paying attention to the smaller and less glamorous inhabitants of the garden – the insects, the mosses and lichens, the strange creatures I see in the pond. I’m taking my inspiration from Alan Watson Featherstone’s blog for Trees for life, which takes notes of things as small as aphids, in spite of being set in the most picturesque Highland landscape I’ve ever seen, and also from Rima Staines’ Weed Wife post on her blog The Hermitage, which wanders into some of the territory I’m working on in my Huldra-folk poems. My fingers are itching to start—-