herbal wisdom

Teasel | a medicine story

Have you ever thought about how things heal stronger, often, if they heal, than they were before they were broken? It’s true in nature-kind, it’s true for human-kind too.  Torn and mended bark on a tree and human scar tissue are examples.

There is an herb I first learned to be called “Xu Duan,” Dipsacus asper Wall, in Japanese it is known as Zokudan.  The version that grows here in the United States is known as Teasel: something Americans call a “noxious weed” that in the county where I now live we are required to kill.  Can you imagine?  The literal translation into English means “restore what is broken.” [Benski]

My master’s work and continued scholarly pursuits, my daily medical practice too, is in the realm of what causes a person to heal, or not.  I am curious, endlessly, why one remains broken but another with seemingly far greater injustice heals fully, and stronger, indeed, be it perhaps very changed, than they were before their perilous journey.  My medical proclivities unite mind, body and soul.  I find medicines that do not address the triad rather bland, if not negligent.  Just as the Ancients believed, I believe all things are connected and in constant change, I have found no evidence to convince me evolution has altered these principles.  Very often change means moving from one form to another.  This means a previous form, in essence, is broken.

To “restore” does not mean to make something the same, it means to revive or reconstruct, it means to rebuild.

Teasel is a thistle, an upright and regal occupant in nature, a crowned, prickly, textured, and in my opinion, infinitely beautiful being.  It has accompanied me in my life across all the lands I have lived but it wasn’t until a more recent experience a handful of years ago that this plant restored for me what was broken.

The ancient stories tell that the plant has bone-healing properties.  What happened for me was something far deeper than the physical bones.  I believe Teasel was instrumental in healing my life.  I did not even need to eat the root or apply its pulp to my wounds as I might for a physical ailment.  Rather, my orphan-self found its way into the generations of its growth:  ancestor, grandmother, mother, child, and in the way of plant spirit medicine, it offered something our languages do not seem to have a way to explain.

If you’ve never formed a relationship with a non-human element of nature you may have no framework to understand what I am saying.  If you would like to try, may I suggest one as mighty and powerful as this one?  If this is all too much for you now just think of my little story like any other fairytale because “life breaks everyone,” Hemingway tells us, and maybe you will find yourself down an unfamiliar road one strange day, discovering something desperate in you to heal that which is broken.  And when, or if you do seek for something to help you, may you remember the words of Isadora Duncan, “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.”


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