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On Finding a Rare and Special Bosque Treasure

09/06/2016 02:29 pm ET

During my regular excursions into the Bosque, the nearby grove of cottonwoods that border the Rio Grande (the largest such grove in New Mexico, North America, and supposedly the world), I'm always on the lookout for something remarkable and memorable -- something to revisit or to show to my Bosque-buddies. Most of these memorabilia are living, like a friendly coyote that hangs out in the same area, a school of carp in a ditch, or a certain Cooper's hawk that is sure to return to her nest every spring and with her mate conceive and nurture that year's nestlings. Others are unliving, like the stump that others and I had previously written about: a holy place for prayer, meditation, and meeting new friends.

Two days ago on a new path, I came on a very special Bosque treasure. It was a group of beautiful and healthy flowers (it's monsoon season in New Mexico). They are lily-like, tall, white, and proud. In the high desert where flowers - especially large, showy ones -- are scarce and thus looked upon with much admiration. No wonder the natives of the Southwest were enticed by the Jimson Weed (datura) to interact with it in several ways just as I was; however, for me, that meant learning about this beautiful find in the Internet.

For example, Peruvian-born American author Carlos Castaneda in his writings beginning with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968 wrote extensively about this plant, in which he claimed that a "Yaqui Man of Knowledge" named Don Juan instructed him in the preparation and uses of all parts of the plant, roots, leaves, flowers and seeds for recreational and spiritual purposes.

Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium) is also called Sacred Thorn Apple, Sacred Datura, Devil's Snare, Angel Tulip, Mad Apple, Peru Apple, and Locoweed) is the name of a poisonous perennial plant and ornamental flower of southwestern North America. The leaves and seeds are used to make medicine as well as in spiritual practices around the world. Despite serious safety concerns, jimson weed is used to treat asthma, cough, flu (influenza), swine flu, and nerve diseases. Some people use it as a recreational drug to cause hallucinations and a heightened sense of well-being (euphoria).

Here are some interesting tidbits I harvested on the web about my new-found flower:

  • In 1676, a group of soldiers in Jamestown, Virginia accidentally dined on a salad made from D. stramonium leaves. They proceeded to exhibit very bizarre behavior. Thus the name became Jamestown Weed, which morphed into Jimson Weed.
  • Many North American peoples blend datura leaves with other herbs and kinnikinnick smoking blends to assist in "vision quests" (a rite of passage in some Native American cultures consisting of a series of ceremonies led by Elders including a complete fast while alone at a sacred site in nature.)
  • Anglophone settlers in California often called it "Indian whiskey" because of its ritual intoxicating use by many tribes; the name "sacred datura" has the same origin.
  • The Mixo of Oaxaca, Mexico believe that the plant spirit of datura is an elderly wise woman. When they harvest the seeds of the plant, they pray that she may heal the illness of the individual for whom the seeds are being harvested. The seeds are then consumed ritually.
  • Among the Zuni people, the powdered root is given as an anesthetic and a narcotic for surgery. They also apply a poultice of root and flower meal applied to wounds to promote healing. The Zuni people also use the plant for ceremonial and magical purposes. The root pieces are chewed by a robbery victim to determine the identity of the thief. The powdered root is used by rain priests in a number of ways to ensure fruitful rains.
  • "I asked Aunt Bett why we couldn't pick that beautiful white flower that bloomed in the evening and on into the night. She sat me down right then and there and told me the story of near death and destruction brought about by the misuse of the Devil's Plant. And she made me promise to never touch Devil's Plant no matter what, 'cause the devil got ahold of anybody who did." [from an Appalachian journalist]

So, in conclusion, I will be revisiting and paying my respects to the patch of Jimson weeds, until they retire for the winter; I will show them to my Bosque buddies; and I will eagerly await their return each late summer monsoon season; but what I won't do - I promise - is give their leaves, seeds, or roots a taste - or even a feel

Seedpods to carry about with you:

  • From Aldo Leopold: The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?
  • From Henry David Thoreau: I went to the woods because I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow.
  • From George Washington Carver: I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.
  • From Carlos Castaneda: For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length--and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.

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