WINDOWSILL TO THE WORLD OF MEDICINAL PLANTS

by Susan Leopold

-UpS-Journal-2020The inspiration for the 2020 cover of this Journal came from a post made on Instagram not too long ago. A question was asked, “What is your favorite plant podcast?” and hundreds of people engaged. Most fascinating was the response on podcasts that relate to potted indoor plants. According to the New York Times, indoor plants have become extremely popular from podcasts, Instagram accounts, and plant stylists. What does this latest plant craze say about how plants make us feel when we connect with them, even in the simple capacity of caring for an indoor plant? This question is easily answered in the beautifully animated short fi lm “Bloom” by Emily Johnstone, brought to my attention through the weekly blog Brain Pickings! This short fi lm captured kindness and overcoming depression through the tending of an amaryllis that lived in a city windowsill. Forest bathing, wildcrafting, mindfulness, farming for the birds, fi nding sanctuary, and a language for grief are all parts of the holistic role plants play in our lives. Thus the idea for the potted plants on the windowsill came to mind as a way to illustrate and honor the global diversity of plants and how they touch our lives. The creativity of the cover is a visual collage inspired by current trends to engage and connect with our readers.

United Plant Savers is an active member of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Within the IUCN Species Survival Commission is the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group – a global network of people working on medicinal plant conservation. Every four years the IUCN gathers for the conservation congress. The last congress was held in Hawaii, and this year’s congress was planned to be in Marseille, France in June. Unfortunately, it has been postponed until January of 2021.

The IUCN was founded in 1964. One of its six volunteer commissions, the Species Survival Commission, is a world-wide network of scientists working to document and monitor biodiversity, most notably through the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Nearly 9,000 people attended the last congress in Hawaii from countries around the world. They gathered to discuss conservation priorities and to adopt voluntary global resolutions that help guide nation-state policies critical to biodiversity.

When I was a student studying global ethnobotany, the IUCN Red List information was a critical resource. Sadly, hardly any work had been done to evaluate medicinal plants in North America until last year when goldenseal was listed as Vulnerable. Now there is an active program newly funded through the New Mexico BioPark Society to evaluate the UpS “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” plants! This project is detailed in the fi rst article of this issue. The IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group was invited to submit stories to this years’ Journal. Each account reminds us that plant conservation is a global issue. Not only do these stories highlight endemic species, but also those medicinal plants that have traveled and found a new home where they are important to local needs, which is why I highlighted the castor plant in the Kenya story on the cover of the Journal.

In the upper right-hand corner is an image of C.S. Rafi nesque (1783-1840), whose father was a merchant from Marseille. Rafi nesque would eventually make his way to North America and is considered by many as the father of Eclectic Medicine. He was a polymath, helping to decipher Mayan script, wrote about evolution before Darwin, and documented the mounds of Kentucky before most were destroyed by the plow, just to name a few signifi cant contributions. In his time he was an outcast and died penniless, that said he leaves behind a bridge to a bio-diverse landscape through his hundreds of publications.

In the far left-hand corner is a hidden “Reine de Deniers” from the Tarot de Marseille. The Queen seemed the perfect choice as a maternal card that expresses spirituality and creative energy in the earthly plane that we so need at this moment in time. The tarot has a mysterious link to the Eclectic School of Medicine, most notably by the Lloyd brothers, who were known to belong to the Theosophical Society. John Uri Lloyd would go on to write the novel Etidorpha, and he would ask his friend Augustus Knapp to illustrate the infamous occult classic. Curtis Lloyd, a mycologist would commission Knapp to illustrate 42 studies of fungi. Knapp would later move from Cincinnati to California and go on to meet Manly Hall, and thus the classic Knapp/ Hall tarot cards were created. The tarot of the Americas continues in the tradition of the tarot of Europe, steeped in the mysteries of sacred geometry, astronomy, alchemy, herbalism, and divination.

zaire-stamps
Another hidden gem in the cover is a stamp from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Engleromyces goetzei, a fungus that grows on bamboo and is mentioned in the article from Kenya as a very important medicine. The mysteries of plant medicine rooted in cultural and diverse landscapes are often just hiding in plain sight—we only need to recognize their value, and thus they appear.

death mask remedyThe theme of Marseille for this year’s cover seems very symbolic to the folklore surrounding the classic thieves oil. The story is told that in 1413, as the bubonic plague decimated France, a group of unemployed spice merchants was arrested for robbing the dead and dying. When caught the judge off ered leniency if they shared their secrets for not contracting the plague. Thus the classic thieves oil: clove, lemon, eucalyptus, rosemary, and cinnamon, and certainly many other classic combinations and remedies that have ties to the spice trade. Marseille has a rich herbal history, for example, the beaklike masks that plague doctors wore, stuff ed with absorbent material soaked in the thieves blend to protect them from getting sick.

There is so much to be learned in these pages, and many different ideas, perspectives, and opinions are presented. It’s ok to disagree or feel differently about a particular topic. What is important, as consumers of herbal medicine, is to take the time to know the stories of plants, so that we can be united, advocating for biodiversity. Medicinal plants are teachers! The lesson is simple—plants are not only medicine for our physical, mental, and spiritual health, they heal the planet and if we diminish biodiversity, then we have destroyed the capacity for the earth to heal itself. This is why we are called to herbs. They heal us, and in return, we reciprocate by protecting biodiversity, human health is planetary health. Even in the smallest action of caring for a houseplant and growing a windowsill garden, we are activating reciprocity. In these challenging times, we are grateful to our members for your support and we are so thankful to the plants.