Tales of St Johns Wort…

I woke from a dream; a potent and distracting mix of jittery nerves, and dark fog like mist swirling
through my head and fixing my body
in a clay like position, frozen in sleep paralysis, not lifted  by the dark heavy cumulus nimbus ominous
outside my window, where I’d hoped for April sunshine.
My dream was of a field of St Johns Wort,  filled with bees, I could taste a tea of their life affirming
bitter red harmony, I could feel midsummers warmth licking my back,
but it was just out of reach a pathway of tiny maze like roads, filled with potholes and covered in
slippery grease blocked my path, little cross people scurrying like ants
moved along the charcoal grey walkways, my goal was tempting but out of my reach.

I moved through the morning shadowed and watched, nothing caught my wonder,
nothing but clouds framed by cobwebs filled the space I stared into.
Was it valid to act on a dream, could a visceral urge to seek out one herb on the whim of the subconscious be right.

 The herb became the theme of the day, my lovely sunny Leonine friend Lucy was passing through
before setting off to Tanzania to for the final leg of her Msc in Ethnobotany,
 (she’s been before working for anamed: http://www.anamed.net 
i’m going to copy their homepage statement her because thats the best way to explain what they do:
 anamed helps communities and health centres in the Tropics to become more self-reliant
in preventing and treating the most common diseases and health complaints.
By producing training materials and running training seminars, anamed enables local people
to produce highly effective “Natural Medicines”.
In this way, in even the poorest communities, many lives are being saved, even AIDS patients
are strong and healthy, and health centres are becoming
less dependent on imported medicines.
anamed is a small but very active charitable organisation based in south-west Germany.)
and I always find her energy levels and fearlessness inspiring.

The lovely Lucy couldn’t epitomise St Johns Wort better, and funnily enough she’s perfectly trained a very
lovely black dog….even more coincidental our mutual love of some good tunes
and a night of dancing once took us across Scotland to see Max Romeo twice in two days….where’s the
connection
I hear you cry!
Well for the last month while I’ve been researching for the Science festival I’ve been toying on and off with
telling
the story behind St Johns Wort, Hypericum perforatum, or to give it its old
nickname: ‘Chase the Devil’ (geddit ‘old Nick name’…..sorry can’t help myself!) hence Max Romeo…. 
Hung over pictures to dismiss evil spirits on Walpurgisnacht the
night of
April 30th, the night witches convene in Germany,
and now a recognised, valuable, turn to herb for depression for both herbalists and mainstream practitioners
alike
(link 1 below). 
The old British story behind the plant is a great one with an easy parallel, but tales of the devil and black
dogs are
best saved for enlightened adults or groups with the time and space
to embrace the story and its meanings in a workshop and not for rapid consumption by mixed groups  of a
broad  
age range in a one off session.

How did the beautiful, albeit sporadically rare, occasionally invasive,  radiant little flower come to be spotted
with
blood red dots on the reverse of its linear sessile leaves? 
Why does Lucy’s lovely little black dog make me remember Winston Churchill’s utterings of his shadow
companion
with his name around its neck?
 The black dog of melancholia which along with its parallel attributes of intelligence and bravery can be
traced
back to medieval texts, but a black dog the devil’s ‘fetch’ nonetheless;
a metaphor still used for depression.
Because…. Once upon a time, before medical notes; before research papers were funded; before mood
swings
were medicated; when plants grew unhindered by commerce.
When every village had a woman who knew, who lived outside, apart, but essential, an anchor, a go to for
problems
chronic or transient alike. There lived a young man strong of heart,
brave and steadfast with foresight and love. A young man who awoke from a swirling dream of darkness and
sorrow.
It was like no awakening he had ever experienced before, his body was weighted,
leaden, his skin ashen, timeworn and desolate. He raised his head but could not open his eyes for slow
meaningless
weeping, his throat wished to retch, his mind a blank. 
His mother at first concerned could find no physical ill, by turn fearful then infuriated, wracked her mind
for the
cause of his melancholy, but couldn’t find one . Indeed every time she entered and left his presence
she swore she heard a low growly chortle. Only the young man himself could see the source of thattonal
sound so resonant with despair, and his embracing misery did not give him the chance to articulate what
he saw:
…..A huge black dog, fed daily by its master, Satan himself, fed daily on a meal of the young man’s joy and happiness.
Weeks passed, as midsummer arrived his mother still finding no answer, sought the wise woman
who lived by the water high on the heath by the villages edge. The woman came at the mothers beckoning,
bringing her basket of freshly picked herbs with her. On finding the poor youth still bound to his bed by an unseen force,
pale, shaking, and mournful, she rubbed her eyes with the dew from the plants in her basket and using her wits
to look deeper into the space around him, she  slowly came to see the glowering shape of the devils dog,
pinning the young mans feet to the iron of his bedstead, growling its ominous gloom laden chuckle. 
The woman acted swiftly sensing the arrival of greater evil,  grasping the yellow flower of  the ‘witches herb’
and stuffing it into the slack open mouth of the youth just as the dogs master appeared.
On seeing the woman’s work the devil was possessed with a fury, a tumultuous rage.
Throwing the dog to one side, and brandishing his pitchfork, the devil proceeded to stab and mutilate the leaves
of the plant,
and each perforation he made oozed with the blood of St John, the blood drawn when Herod separated the
baptists head from his body and blamed the behest of Salome (a lass I’d like to suggest who didn’t really need
her suggestions taking to seriously but probably just needed some counselling…..I digress…). The blood healed
the plant allowing no harm to be done but sent a shiver like a shock right down the shaft of Satan’s pitchfork
and shaking the very will of the devil, who followed by his dog disappeared back to his fiery domain. 
In no time at all, after drinking an infusion of his herbal saviour the young man’s sunny disposition returned
and forever after ‘the witches herb’ was known as St Johns Wort …or…Chase the devil…
( © amanda edmiston 2012: This is my own original version of a short traditional tale and I would appreciate
it if people who wish to retell it in this way would credit my work!).

So you see my thought train my run of connections….But where did I end up, with my day of St Johns Wort?
Well a Botanic Garden inevitably, drinking tea whilst my friends lovely black dog, healed the child’s fear of dogs
with her beautiful behaviour and their mutual fascination with sticks, and me? Well Lucy’s expedition inspired
me as I knew it would, and my fabulous herbalist friend Daisy Mae 
http://www.daisymaeherbalist.com/ )a woman I know would give mindful heed to a gut feeling, a dream
instinct, or a good story: came to my rescue and listened to my stories and prescribed me some St Johns Wort! 

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