Grief Medicine: Angelica

Angelica Archangelica (in my region, usually Hendersonni or californica). Also, Angelica sinensis (Dong Quai).

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

—Leonard Cohen

This morning, sleeping only a few feet away from the vast presence of both Lake Tahoe and Mount Tallac, I dreamed of Angelica. She was a beautiful and bright feminine presence, lighting the road, showing me a path, encouraging, but absolutely not indulging.

It’s hard to believe I haven’t yet written about Angelica. It has been part of my journey with plants since the very beginning, 15 years ago. I met the plant first in Mount Shasta, in a bookstore, in a numinous moment, in a book called Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner (who I eventually apprenticed with).

There was this:

…I am always struck by the feeling of femaleness and strong purity of spirit that the plant emanates. It is a shy plant, rarely in great abundance.

and this:

In sitting in meditation with the spirit of Angelica, it is clear that the plant sits in balance between Heaven and Earth. The powerful hollow stem rises up and carries the spirit energy between the realms.

It’s hard to explain how much I identified with this plant, how I wanted to embody what seemed to be the highest manifestation of who I was, at my core, if I could just get things moving and get out of my own way.

Little did I know at the time that Angelica’s particular medicine reaches into the lungs, into the digestive system and the reproductive systems, expectorating, removing impurities and infections, balancing, and soothing. In other words, it gets things moving and moves things out of the way so that our body can do what it is naturally able to do well.

The accomplished Mrs. Maud Grieve wrote about Angelica in her Modern Herbal, first published in 1931. She writes that Angelica was cultivated as a vegetable and medicinal plant from the 10th century on, named for a monk’s dream in which St. Michael the Archangel instructed the use of the herb for treatment of the bubonic plague.

From the California School for Herbal Studies:

Angelica is a warming, decongesting and aromatic bitter. Its bitter aromatic warming qualities can help with indigestion, bloating, sluggish liver or gas. Angelica also helps stimulate blood and circulation, and is especially regarded as a women’s herb in this way. Angelica relieves menstrual cramps by warming, relaxing, decongesting, and stimulating flow. It can also be useful in regulating cycle or bringing on delayed menses.

Angelica has a warming expectorating effect on the lungs and can help soothe and heal coughs, bronchitis and pleurisy, especially when they come along with a cold or flu. The leaf can be used as a compress for inflammations of the chest. Angelica has been used across time and cultures to purify and protect against disease, and can be used as a remedy for viral infections such as influenza and the common cold.

As a spirit plant, my sense is that Angelica is a conduit for accessing great light and bringing it into areas of shadow. It does this in a traditionally feminine way (which of course can be embodied by both men and women): encouraging, balancing, bringing, inviting, offering, channeling. It expectorates the lungs, where grief can get stuck. It soothes the digestion, allowing us to truly “digest” and integrate our experiences and to learn and grow. But it does not coddle. It knows you are completely capable.

Nothing could be needed more now, after this shattering election cycle, after the cessation of civility on all sides. After watching the heartbreaking, months-long stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has gathered the largest tribal coalition in 100 years. After a Super Moon that has left us all pretty much emotionally beside ourselves.

And so I sit here looking out at the magnificent Lake Tahoe. It is the largest alpine lake in North America and at its deepest point could completely conceal the Empire State Building in its depths. It is clear and pure, so clear that you can see 75 feet down into the lake. The water is as pure as distilled water, but it is also polluted. And all of these things can be true at the same time.

It seems no coincidence that I dream of Angelica while sleeping next to the lake. She asks:  how clear and pure are your intentions? How much light can you focus to your actions? How much light will you allow into the depth of your shadowed selves, illuminating the beautiful deep blues and underwater greens of your grief and anger and fear.

Sister Angelica
You sing of Light
Inviting presence
Balancing between
Lighting the path to our greatest selves.

2 thoughts on “Grief Medicine: Angelica

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