Pulsatilla: The Pulse of Rebirth

by Jessa Fisher and Phyllis Hogan

Yippie Skippie! It is March. That means the end is in sight and the beginning is upon us! I know all you winter recreationists and snowflake fanatics are bummed that another [killer!] snow season is over…but all us botanists are just now rubbing our hands and licking our chops, dusting off our hand lenses and getting our plant presses together. We can of course appreciate this blessing of snow and rain because of all the wonderful spring annuals it has nourished. But now it is time for the snow to start melting and the little green sprouts to start sprouting! Unless this is one of those historically representative years where March is the month which receives the highest annual precipitation levels….in which case we are in for it!

One of the first delicate spring plants to appear in March and take advantage of all that snow is quite lovely indeed. Herbalists call it pulsatilla, while botanists call it pasque flower, windflower, or anemone (pronounced a-nem-o-knee). Anemone tuberosa you can find most frequently around Sedona, because it likes exposed, rocky outcrops. Anemone cylindrica can be found in Flagstaff in rich soil along streams. Anemone globosa is special because in our area it is only found on the Sacred San Francisco Peaks at above 10,500 feet. Anemone is in the Ranunculaceae, or Buttercup plant family. Like buttercup, it doesn’t actually have petals, but sepals that look like petals. There are between 8-20 sepals, which are thin and translucent white to pinkish or purple. In the middle of the sepals are many yellow stamens (the male sexual organ in plants) surrounding a cone with many pistils (the female sexual organ). After the sepals drop, the cone bearing the seed heads grows larger. The flower gets its common name from when the fuzzy seed heads bend over and sway or pulse in the wind.

Pulsatilla has a magical history in old European tradition. It was considered a protective plant against black magic and evil spirits. For this reason, it was often planted on graves, or grown around the home. Ancient lore says that fairies would sleep in the closed pulsatilla flowers at night. Cicely Mary Barker, the imaginative English poet and artist who created the delightful Flower Fairies series, has an ode to the Windflower Fairy, which honors her as one of the first fairies to appear in the spring along with her totem plant the windflower.

The anemone's job of welcoming the spring and longer days back into the world mirrors the role this plant has with humans. It helps us to open up to the positivity and beauty of our lives and let go of any sadness we might be holding on to. Pulsatilla is the plant for the blues- for someone who has gloominess, deep sorrow, insomnia from worry, and non-stop crying from the bottom of their heart. It is helpful in all types of grief- from a divorce, a death, or an inherent constitutional type, where a child is just born weepy and distraught. It can be used for PMS or menopausal depression and mood-swings, and for ups and downs in men as well.

Pulsatilla is gentle in small doses, 5-15 drops of the tincture, but poisonous in larger doses. The tincture should not be taken during pregnancy. Instead, homeopathic doses of pulsatilla can be a very effective remedy during labor or for postpartum depression. Homeopathy is a form of taking the herb after it has been diluted tens, hundreds, or thousands of times to where not even a single molecule of the original herb exists. Another way to take the remedy is as a flower essence, which infuses the flower in spring water, picking up on celestial energy from the sun and moon. Homeopathy and flower essences are forms of energetic medicine, which can be very soothing for emotional imbalances. Another safe and effective way to take pulsatilla is in the Winter Sun Trading Company tincture called Phyllis' Feel Good Formula. This very popular combination of herbs is helpful for many people in cases of depression, and includes pulsatilla as well as other mood-elevating herbs.

So shake off those winter blues, go for a hike, and ask pulsatilla to aid in your rebirth. Just the sight of this early spring bloomer popping out of the cold earth will bring a smile to your heart and a spring in your step.

ENDING STATEMENT: The Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association (AERA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to investigate, document, and promote the use of traditionally utilized plants of the Southwest and to aid in preserving this knowledge for future generations. Phyllis Hogan is the director of the AERA and Jessa Fisher is the herbarium curator. www.azethnobotany.org