Saturday, 17 June 2017

Blueberry flowers, gratitude and magic

From this site: (chosen because of its simplicity, low woo-factor and because there's the occasional quote in the chart from Matthew Wood, my current favourite writer/herbalist.)

"Blueberry (low bush)
Vaccinium Angustifolium

This essence brings resiliency on all levels- physical, emotional, psychological. It enables the person who takes it to “bounce back” from illness or adversity. Low Bush Blueberry is a good addition to any healing blend and an important part of the blend Crisis Care."

Who couldn't use a little more resiliency? I know I could, and Paul (my husband, co-conspirator and all around good guy) wouldn't mind a little more himself, so it seemed a good essence for us to try out. And also, blueberries are something we've got plenty o' in this neck of the woods. This is blueberry country.

It's also blackfly season.

Are you familiar with blackflies? Yes? Then skip this paragraph, you don't need the reminder. But for the uninitiated, blackflies are evil personified in teeny tiny packages. Individually, you can see them, but just barely, they're so small. And if you do see one it's generally as it flies right into your eye or your nostril (ick) or because you've just swatted it and it's left an alarming amount of (your) blood behind (and soon, a major, itchy/aching welt). Blackflies are the reason that bears have such thick fur. I bet you didn't know that, did you. Now you do. En masse (which is how blackflies travel), they come in clouds ..

Wait, no, sorry, I can't go on with this description. Writing about them is making the welts on the back of my neck itch.

Blackflies are particularly fond of areas with lots of pine trees, and so are blueberries, so our blueberry blossom expedition took us right into the heart of Enemy Territory. Knowing that the blossoms were probably on their last day (we were right), we had to set out early, and that (of course) is when those little motherfucker bugs are at their hungriest.

Are we crazy? Why yes, yes we are, especially when some new project piques our interest. So there we were, the pair of us hunched over the masses and masses of low growing blueberry bushes looking for teeny tiny bell shaped flowers while even tinier flies tormented us. There was a lot of swearing. The place we were picking is what is known as a blueberry barren. It's hard to say, but it seems that land might have been clear cut of pine forest years ago, and now the blueberries cover the land between the still small, slow growing trees.

Nature is cool that way. Cut down a forest or burn one and what comes up first? Berries, or at least around here that's what you get. The Algonquin people of this area who were here before us knew that, and used fire to ensure their berry supply. I once met up with an anthropologist who was extremely excited about Calumet Island, where our blueberry blossom expedition took place, because there's so much evidence of that activity there. Calumet, like so many river islands, was a summer meeting place for the Native people; they fished in the river, gathered their berries on the land, danced, feasted, socialized .. and (as a die-hard romantic, I would imagine) those summers would be when many a young couple met and fell in love.

It took us a while to collect enough of those tiny flowers to just cover the surface of the water in the small mason jar I'd brought. We even ran back to the car, laughing but kinda screaming, for a break in the midst of things. Paul was especially good at spotting the flowers, in fact he was so good I just sort of followed behind and brought the jar to him whenever he found any. I kept being distracted by the gorgeous bumble bees, and the interesting lichens on that oh-so-acidic soil. It's quite the place. No photos, I'm afraid. It's hard to stand still long enough to take a photo when there are demonic bugs biting you.

Other descriptions I have seen for blueberry flower essence tend to recommend it for issues like  "neutralizing the beliefs that limit the experience of abundance on all levels" and "becoming open to the abundance that is offered with acceptance and gratitude". I can see how they get that idea, blueberry certainly symbolizes abundance. But I think the quote about resilience comes closer to what the reality of blueberry is all about. For you see, blueberries may be abundant, but to gather blueberries (or the flowers) isn't as easy a thing as one might be led to believe. To gather a good supply for a family for the winter would be backbreaking work. They're tiny, and the bushes are low to the ground. A day good for blueberry picking would be hot, and although it would seem smarter to go out in the cool of the morning, that's when the bears are taking their share, so later, in the heat, is safer. By harvest time the blackflies are waning but mosquitoes and deerflies abound, and deerflies are particularly mean. Picking large amounts of blueberries is not an entirely a pleasant task, in other words, but in order to have a supply to dry for winter and help stave off scurvy, it's a necessary one.

So to my mind, at least, blueberry signifies the abundance and generosity of nature, yes, but also, in a sense, the will and ability to get the task done, no matter how back breaking or tedious, and then move right to the next task, which is where the resilience comes in.

I think it's important to look at something like blueberries, not from the modern, fairly cushy perspective we have today, but to the deeper historical relationship between human and berry. Blueberries are about survival, not blueberry muffins as a treat. Once the berries are picked they'd have to be cleaned & sorted & dried; fiddly, painstaking work. Stored in containers made by hand. Gathered in baskets made by hand, too, come to think of it, probably lined and layered with leaves to keep them fresh and clean. The women and children who did this work had their hands full at all times, it was but one task among many to prepare for winter. So while there was also plenty of fun and celebration at that time of year, there was plenty of work, too. That's what resilience is, being able to work and have fun, be grateful for the abundance and willing to do what it takes to make sure it isn't wasted.

I think, too often, the new-agey writings about the generosity and abundance of nature forget about the sweat of our brows that comes along with "accepting" those gifts. This emotional difficulty we have with "acceptance" didn't happen to our ancestors. They knew these gifts weren't treats, they were the difference between life and death, or at least health and sickness.

Interesting thing about blueberries; you need good eyesight to spot them, and they're good for the eyes. The berries, and the leaves as a tea, both support eye health (among other things). Of course the First Nations peoples knew this, they would collect and dry the leaves as well, just as they did with raspberries and blackberries. Raspberry leaves support a healthy pregnancy; blackberry leaves (or roots) cure dysentery; sumach berries, bark and roots all have their own uses as well. So you see, what we see as an afternoon's fun berry picking was an entire season worth of work for our ancestors, making every tool they used as well as gathering these foods and medicines in amounts that would last for the rest of the year.

After all, all peoples of the past knew these things, it's just farther back in time for those of us who are of European descent.

This is important stuff. This is who we are, part of our human-ness. Most of us don't need to do this any more, but a scant few generations ago, we did, and if not for our great great grandparents' knowledge, none of us would be here now. We are all here because of the resilience and wisdom of the people who came before us.

So now I'm thinking that acceptance runs deeper than berries. It's also about accepting - with gratitude - what these people knew and did, how resilient they were so that we, so far in the future, could be here. Those were their gifts to us. If the best way to show gratitude for a gift is to use it, then I for one want to use the gifts of their knowledge and resilience, too.

As I work with flower essences, I have to look more deeply into what these flowers signify than what the blurbs on the internet might tell me.

It might well be that taking a flower essence is "nothing more" than a ritual. While ritual, to us modern types, has pretty much lost its meaning, to those who are heart-aware, a ritual can awaken, or even reinforce something in the soul; it ensures mind and heart work together as one. We could dismiss any positive affects essences might have as placebo (although even science admits if placebo can heal it has to be a good thing) and I suppose it may be placebo, in a way. But if that is so, then so are the rituals of religion (the Eucharist, for example) that have been so good for so many, also "placebo". Most church-goers don't take communion any more, and those who do are likely to poo-poo it as "only ritual". But it was/is experienced by the faithful, as (at the very least) bringing us to the table with Christ, and so bringing Him into our day to day lives.

So in a way, maybe the flower essences, even if used "merely" as a ritual, can do something for us. Each one representing an inner truth, something that mind and heart can come together and agree on. We can build on that, bring that truth into the way we live our lives.

I've made a few essences now. We brought that little jar of floating blueberry blossom bells home and I placed in a sweet little spot in the garden to catch the sun, the same place I made my other essences. That spot now holds a significance it didn't hold before, and I find myself hanging out there more than I did. I could tell you the names of the other essences I've made, all from flowers in my garden, and I could link you to the blurbs about them. But that wouldn't explain what they mean to me, and I find myself not quite willing to even try to put it into words.

If you have a garden, then you probably understand what I mean when I say there is a certain intimacy one has with one's flowers. We sit there with them, wordless sometimes, just being with their beauty. Each one means something to us, something that we maybe can't explain. Yes, "pansies are for thoughts", and "rosemary for remembrance"; there is a "language of the flowers". But to those of us who love them, there is something inexplicable in our relationships with our flowers, just as why we love the people we love can't always be put into words, either.

Like so many other things in life, I don't believe flower essences - let me rephrase that - I don't believe the essences of flowers can be bought or sold. I suppose in saying so I may be guilty (once again) of being too anti-retail; perhaps people who can't capture the essence of their own flowers in their own gardens should be able to buy them, perhaps it's better than nothing .. but once again, it grieves me that anyone would feel they 'have' to buy something they really could make with their own hands. And yes, if a commercial flower essence makes people feel better in some way, so much the better, but ..

.. in my experience, the real magic of life lies in the doing. If there is some particular flower that holds some particular significance for you, why not try making an essence? As I said in the first post of this series, it is a lovely experience. Quiet, meditative and beautiful, working with flowers, water and sunshine is just plain sweetness in action. Come some dreary winter day you can put a few drops of the memory of those sweet moments under your tongue. That's got to be a pretty wonderful thing in itself.


  1. That's what I was thinking somewhat, what you wrote at the end there, that perhaps the essence of the flower is in the "picker."

    1. Stay tuned, the next post is brewing along those lines.