Walk of Life

by Jessa Fisher and Phyllis Hogan

Beauty Before Me
Beauty Behind Me
Beauty Above Me
Beauty Below Me

As I walk, I walk with Beauty

- traditional Navajo Prayer

What better way to enjoy the gifts that nature has in store for us then to go on a plant walk? It is quite an experience to take the time to do this and really observe the intricate processes happening all around us. It takes a little while to unwind and tune your energy to the subtle vibrations around you in the woods, but once you do, a state of deep healing and connection to the universe awakens within you. We are blessed to live in such a vibrant area of the country with so many different wonderful places to explore.

One of the most enjoyable parts of our job at the AERA is during the summer when we get to lead our public ethnobotany plant walks. We have many faithfuls who join us every year, and also new folks on every walk. We teach about traditional native and herbal uses of local plants, and in the process empower people to take control of their own health, diet, and serenity. We start out by circling up and introducing ourselves. We bless our circle with juniper, and dedicate our walk. We walk in silence for a little bit, which really allows us to let go of extraneous thoughts and chatter that keep us from being present with the plants. Then we stop and visit plant friends along the way, using our species lists to identify them. The plants are excited to see us and have a lot to share!

Here are some questions that frequently are asked on our walks, and a variation of the answer we give. We hope you are enjoying your own walks this summer and that you will join us on our last walk of the season, September 8th at the magical plateau looking down on Flagstaff and above to the Peaks, Buffalo Park. Call or email us to register or for more details.

Where do you harvest plants?

While our plant walks are just for observing and learning, many people ask about harvesting. If you are going to harvest on Forest Service or other governmental land, you need to obtain a special permit. It is important not to harvest plants for medicines by the roadside, because they will absorb the toxins running off the road. It is respectful not to harvest in someone else’s wild medicine “garden.” Traditional people have and still do use many areas in and around Flagstaff to harvest. Harvesting anywhere on the San Francisco Peaks we consider to be off limits, as they are a sacred native harvesting ground. We are encouraging people more and more to grow their own medicines in their backyard; a great resource for local native plants is Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed and for herbs is Horizon Herb Co.

How do you harvest plants?

With prayer and intent. Always ask permission of the plant first, by sitting with it for a while- it takes some time to get attuned to a plant’s energy. Then offer a special symbolic substance- it could be tadidiin (Navajo corn pollen), or hom’oyma (Hopi corn meal), or tobacco, or anything of your choice. Pray to a healthy happy plant, leave your offering, and then leave that individual to be and harvest plants around it. Only harvest what you need and no more. The best thing is to only harvest one species a day so you are not too scattered with your energy. If you are harvesting roots, always leave a little bit of root in the ground so the plant can resprout. If you are harvesting seeds, spread some seed around to help out the plant for next season.

How do you know which part of the plant to use?

The answer to this question is different for every plant. For some plants the most active part of the plant is in the leaves; others flowers; others roots. Some plants have medicine in all parts of the plant- sometimes for all the same use; and sometimes the leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots are all used but for different reasons. The best guide for this area is Michael Moore’s book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West.

How do you prepare plants?

Once again, this is different for every plant. Some are only used externally; some for a tea; other plants only retain their properties in the fresh state, so must be tinctured and thus extracted and preserved in alcohol and water immediately after being harvested. It is important to use the best plant material possible. Once again, look to Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West as a guide. Or join us on a walk and we will share everything we know about the plants of the area with you. Blessings on your journey……

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 azethnobotany@hotmail.com 774-2884