Dragons in Your Garden: Herbal, Celestial, and Imagined

I’m so enraptured by Purple Archangel this spring. Notice all the ‘wings’ on this plant, in lovely lavender-green hues. These plants  remind me of the description of Proginoskes, the cherubim in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, with the many wings . I love the tiny dragon mouths — oh, I mean, flowers! I just can’t call this plant by their more common name (Dead-Nettle), can you?


An abundant spring “weed,” Lamium purpureum is entirely edible, though mostly folk just eat the young leaves. Because the leaves are a little hairy, you may want to chop them small and cook them. You can use them medicinally as a diuretic, diaphoretic, astringent, wound healer,  and to stop external bleeding. This plant is also an antihistamine – good for folks during allergy season, the very season in which they thrive. Add mint to Purple Archangel, and enjoy as an allergy-soothing tea. (Thank you to Nunutsi Otterson for this suggestion, and for teaching me about this plant for allergy relief).

Please note that while Purple Archangel is usually called “Dead-Nettle,” due to some extremely superficial resemblance to Stinging Nettle (spade-shaped leaves in pairs, square stems), this plant won’t hurt you! This plant does not have stinging hairs. Purple Archangel is so much smaller than Stinging Nettle, and has very different flowers (tubular and lipped lavender dragon mouths as opposed togrey-yellow feathery seeming teeny tiny flowers ),– you really can’t confuse the two.

For a detailed plant ID of Purple Archangel/Purple Dead-nettle and this plant’s habits, etc. read this article at Edible Wild Food.

As a plant spirit medicine, I feel this this plant connects us with our child imagination, peace, and strength of heart. I also feel that Purple Archangel connects with the sense I have of the Cherokee daysign known as Uktena – the Celestial Dragon. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I have been studying medicine ways with Cherokee elder and teacher Nunutsi Otterson. My explanations and musings below arise from my engagement with these teachings and how they’ve woven and worked in my heart and mind.  They are meant to serve as a very humble and incomplete introduction to the concepts, but hopefully offering enough of the qualities for you that you can fly with the ideas.

Cherokee Daysigns and Uktena

The Cherokee ceremonial day cycle lasts 20 days (St. Brigid’s fire is tended in a 20 day cycle as well.  A cycle of 20 days is archetypal for transformation!). The ‘day’ actually begins the night before, at sundown, and completes at the following sundown. Uktena, the Celestial Dragon, is the fourth day in the cycle, and has many qualities that connect the stars with the earth, and our personal star nature (each human is considered to be expression of a unique star in the cosmos) with the above.

Uktena protects peace in one’s heart and peace in the world, connecting our dreams for our lives with the greatest healing, highest good,  and harmony for all the world and beyond. The fire of our spirit — our passions — is a dragon fire. And in rising with our dragon fire, we can lean into support — from the fairy realm, the elements, the resonance of song, and the rich soil of earth, and with many other helpers, seen and unseen.

Uktena supports our activities in a broad way with celestial and earth-rooted harmony, helping us to note the lay of the land of our engagements and projects, and  rest into their groundedness before soaring with  their growth and leaf into the garden of our life. Uktena helps you make sure that you and what you’re working on are well-nourished before you take wing.

Doesn’t that sound like Purple Archangel, who is nutritive? Who helps harmonize your immune responses so they don’t overreact? Who helps cleanse and purify your liver and kidneys and blood, releasing what you don’t need? Who helps increase circulation, bringing heat from the core to release through the surface?

Purple Archangel seems to me to be an earth expression of Uktena, or at least with Uktena nature, to shine and sparkle and reach upward with their pairs of leaf wings. Purple Archangel combines this uplifting celestial aspect with their nature as a children’s herb.

One year in a spring break herbal camp I taught, the children connected with abandon to Purple Archangel.  They munched on this herb, used the leaves as herbal first aid poultices, and included them in their teas, herbal vinegars and salves. As a group, the children chose this plant to make into a flower essence, a vibrational imprint of a flower infused in water.  Sitting with the plants, and then tasting the flower essence, they determined that the healing nature of Purple Archangel was that of good cheer, kindness, beauty, fun, and friendship. Where grown-ups might have seen “weeds,” these children found companions and enchantment.

A Drive of Dragons

With these qualities in mind, let’s shift more firmly into the imaginative realm — specifically to Purple Archangel as offering expressions mirroring aspects of A Wind in the Door, the second in Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet (the first book being the famous A Wrinkle in Time):

Good Reads introduces A Wind in the Door in this way:

My favorite cover of this novel. Illustration by Richard Cuffari

Every time a star goes out, another Echthros has won a battle.

Just before Meg Murry’s little brother, Charles Wallace, falls deathly ill, he sees dragons in the vegetable garden. The dragons turn out to be Proginoskes, a cherubim composed out of wings and eyes, wind and flame. It is up to Meg and Proginoskes, along with Meg’s friend Calvin, to save Charles Wallace’s life. To do so, they must travel deep within Charles Wallace to attempt to defeat the Echthroi — those who hate — and restore brilliant harmony and joy to the rhythm of creation, the song of the universe.

Look again at the image of Proginoskes on the book cover and then at Lamium purpureum. Review the qualities of Uktena I’ve listed. Doesn’t it seem like A Wind in the Door is an imaginative expression that connects with both the plant and the daysign Uktena? Even before I’d fully recalled (it being a number of years since I last read the book) that Charles Wallace had seen “a drive of dragons” in the twins’ vegetable garden, I had introduced Purple Archangel as “dragons in the garden” to kids I teach.

Ready to fly with the dragons in the garden? Here  are some wonder questions we can take with us as we fly through the rest of this writing!

Might a synchronicity exist between A Wind in the Door  and Purple Archangel?  Might the novel actually illuminate our experience of Purple Archangel’s qualities on both a physical and spiritual sense? A question for me: Might the novel, sourced as it is from the wellspring of archetype and pattern, illuminate more of my understanding of Uktena? How might the qualities of all three “worlds” — that of the the plant, the daysign, and the novel — shine a light on happenings right now, something relevant in our own life? Heck, how might these dragons offer a healing magic in relation to our global situation of the Novel Covid-19 virus (ha, ha — my mind wants to play with the fact that the virus is now being designated as the “Novel” Covid-19.)

Speaking of Names and Naming

In A Wind in the Door it turns out that Meg and Progo are “Namers.” In this story the cause of Charles Wallace’s life-threatening illness (farandolae refusing to “root” in the mitochondria of his cells), mirrors a cosmic cataclysm in which stars are dying as the result of being Unnamed by an evil force. In classic as above, so below, and within cosmology, the death of the stars, wars,  destruction, and lack of connection on earth, and the root cause of Charles Wallace illness have everything to do with one another.

Author Shirley Showalther reflects on A Wind in the Door (Read the full blog post here):

“Progo is explaining why he is calling out the names of the stars. He knows they need to be named in order for peace to exist on earth.

The enemy of peace is a force called the Ecthroi, which Progo interprets to Meg this way:

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming – making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.’

Shirley then writes:

I have also tried to reach the depth of metaphor Madeleine L’Engle discovered. My deepest desire is to contribute to peace by helping others find their names — their callings and purpose in life. In so doing, I have found my own.

I find it fascinating to reflect on Progonoskes and to read Shirley’s reflections, while musing on Purple Archangel and their herbal actions. It seems to me that an aspect of Uktena’s “medicine field” has to do with Naming. Do Purple Archangel’s qualities extend to Naming as well?

As in A Wind in the Door, some folk in our world have the gift of Naming. They see into the gifts and qualities of a person, the form of their life journey, feel into resonances, and  as a result a name may arise in them for that person that encapsulates all  they witness  into a single word or a few words.  Think of the naming by an elder or medicine person that may happen after one has undergone a rite-of-passage.  Most often these days, this kind of witnessing doesn’t take place:  we have to Name ourselves.

Naming takes the form of discerning one’s gifts and wounds, one’s vision, and of honing that vision into lived expressions. Basically we must discern the form of our dragon nature, our abilities, strengths, weaknesses. Our superpowers and the feel of the dream woven in our hearts. We must Name the beauty and blessing and cautions of our Dragon — the irrefutable Truth of our nature. We must discover the treasure that is our Vision for a better world and our life in service and expression of that world. We need to hold up that treasure of ourselves, and then take wing.



Naming with Purple Archangel

Can Purple Archangel support our Naming, our expression of Truth, our Vision? I think this plant does so in a very special way: by reminding us of our inner child imagination  and passions, and the truth we knew about ourselves when we lived fully in the magic of the world, back when we understood ourselves to be nested in a caring and welcoming reality.

If you’ve never fully embodied that knowing, and even if you have, you might try the following when next you meet with Purple Archangel.

~ Get belly-to-the-earth beside Purple Archangel. Gaze into their dragon faces, stroke their dragon wings. Feel their square, juicy stems, and observe the green-lavender-red coloring that moves through their entire being, from roots to stem to leaves to flowers..

~ Introduce yourself to Purple Archangel and appreciate them.

~ Ask if you might taste or merely smell a leaf or flower. If yes, crush the leaf until you feel the juices of the plant, puff your breath onto the leaf, then inhale the scent.

~ Experience the scent in your body. Allow the scent and the feel of the plant in your fingers to talk with you.

~ If both of you and the plant are willing, put the crushed leaf in your mouth, hold it there for 1-2 minutes, noticing everything about your experience with the leaf: the taste, the feel of your mouth in response, other responses in your body, emotions, thoughts. *

~ You might ask a question: What is my Name?  What are qualities of my Name? Listen or feel into a response.

~ Notice where peace lives in your body, in your being, in your imaginative nature.

~ Swallow the plant or spit it out, your choice.

~ Take as long as you and Purple Archangel would like. Then thank Purple Archangel.  Part with them as one would do when sitting with a friend, teacher, extended family. Perhaps you can do something kind for the plant, or offer them a gift.

~ Thank Uktena for their company and insights, their resonance and wing.

~ If you discover aspects of your Name, the shape of your name so to speak, you might consider confiding your illuminations with a close friend or loved one.

~ If you discover your Name or that your given name is your Name, you might want to keep that Name or the full sense of it completely secret. This is a practice in fairy tales, and is quite sensible. Names are a heart song, and it’s easy for an unkind or inconsiderate word to wound your sense of the treasure of your Name holds for you, particularly  if you are new to the truth of it.

~ Live into the feel of your Name, how it is alive in you,  your story with the name. When your relationship with the Name is strong, you might share that Name in careful ways.

And maybe in time, pick up a copy of A Wind in the Door and read and wonder. Or just step outside one evening, determine the star that is bright in you, and take flight to it in some real or fanciful fashion. There in the sweet earth of night, and in the celestial ground of the garden,  see if you can discover where in both your lived and imaginative realms your Name flies freely.

Purple Archangel is a plant with many given names, scientific and common. I’ve shared with you the one that feels most true to me. Perhaps in time with Purple Archangel, you or I will open the door  and  perceive and feel the Wind of this plant whispering to you, sharing with scent, form, and being, the rich secrets of their Name and their meaning for your own.

* Thank you to Lisa Ganora for teaching about how to “Wolf Taste” herbs to experience them with the fullest of senses and sensation

 

Magical Naturalist Skills: What Kids and the Kid In You Know

FoxTales No. 1 - written and illustrated by Jane Valencia
FoxTales No. 1 – written and illustrated by Jane Valencia. Shell and Leaves step out of the book Because Of The Red Fox into their own comic!

If you’re out with a child — especially with a young child — and you remove the shackle of clock time (so you’re wandering, no agenda, no pressing time commitment), the world around you reveals its true extraordinary state. Children will be drawn to all manner of things in the landscape, and will overlay their own bundle of stories and lore — whether it’s characters and lore drawn from books, movies, or anything else they like, or situations they’re puzzling to understand deep within. It’s like that for us grownups too, but we sometimes have to work hard to extract ourselves from our mental chatter to notice the wondrous around us.

In any case, a wander — especially outdoors (but it can be anywhere really), where you disengage from the press of time and commitment is an occasion for discovering that magic is everywhere, and that this magic is a mirror of our deepest natures. We are given enticing glimpses of our soul landscape, as well as the soul landscapes of the kids or other folk we are with.

The kid in you might point out that the magic you glimpse in what you notice in your surroundings is actually a clue to one of your “super-powers”. You could also say that the magic you notice reflects a glimpse of your gifts, your unique way of perceiving the world,  a facet of your soul’s purpose revealed, or the jewel of your heart. Choose your language.

Tiny World - photo by Jane Valencia
Tiny World – photo by Jane Valencia

Okay, so you have a “soul’s journey” aspect to your wanders. The other aspect is that in a true wander where you open your senses,and let go into the weave of the world, you enter an amazing conversation. You’re not just noticing things (rocks, plants, human-made things) that reflect an aspect of a nature, these things actually speak to your nature.

Suspend your disbelief if disbelief is starting to shout out to you right now. I invite you to engage in this possibility: that the world is alive with its own myriad intelligence (which can be very different from our human style). What if, when you notice something with curiosity, openness, appreciation, and wonder that it notices you?

Lupine Lens - photo by Jane Valencia
Lupine Lens – photo by Jane Valencia

Even before that moment of noticing: what if you set forth in a state of wonder, curiosity and open senses. Could it be that if you do so, the beings of the world wake up to you? “Alert! Alert! Here’s an awake, open-hearted, curious human!

What if, when something in your nature resonates particularly with the unique nature of another being, that that other being calls out specifically to you? “Hey! We have something in common! We’re in tune in a certain way.

What if this being is calling out, inviting you to notice, inviting you into a conversation with it? “You’re pretty interesting. I like what I see you in how you see me. Do you want to play?”

Dragon Tree
Dragon Tree – photo by Jane Valencia

That’s how plants work in offering their best medicine, in my opinion. And I think if you are reading this post this far, you probably recall times when a mountain has called to you, or a cloud, a lake or sea, a mischievous breeze — or particular human-crafted things: a book, a doll or toy, a harp, a home, a _______ [you fill in the blank].

The thing to keep in mind if you are new to this thought, or don’t play in this sandbox very often, is — if you bring the shell, plant, rock, doll, toy home — to continue the conversation. And listen to when its time to let the thing go. When you’re conversation is done, return the being to the earth, or pass it on to another human who will take time to  get to know it.

I’ll stop here today, but I want to emphatically state: The world is alive.

Here’s part of a poem I love by a 19th century Welsh bard, that underscores this idea for me:

In lovely harmony the wood has put on its green mantle,
and summer is on its throne, playing its string-music; the willow, whose harp hung silent when it was withered in winter, now gives forth its melody — Hush! Listen! The world is alive.
Thomas Telynog Evans (1840-1865)

This is what being a magical naturalist is: to open your heart, to walk in wonder, and to view the world with what Annie in Because Of The Red Fox calls “Magic Eyes”.

Go out on a wander! What do you experience when you step into the world with “magic eyes” and an open, wondering heart? Please share your flights of fancy or other thoughts about wanders, the aliveness of the world for you, and more in the comment box below!

Dragon Fire - photo by Jane Valencia
Dragon Fire – photo by Jane Valencia

Art Show! Magical Nature + Kid-Inspired

Paloma and her dragon friend Wings celebrate Hawthorn - Art by Jane Valencia (c) 2012
Paloma and her dragon friend Wings celebrate Hawthorn – Art by Jane Valencia (c) 2012

Art Showing by Jane Valencia

Into Forest Halls: Kid-Inspired Art From The Heart Of Our Nature

At the HUB 070 Gallery – November through Year End (Located in the Spinnaker Building in downtown Vashon just north of Chase Bank and across from Vashon Market)
17710 100th Ave SW,Vashon, WA

First Friday Gallery Tour Opening: Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, 6-9PM

Come enjoy harp music and micro-magical tales from artist Jane Valencia, good island company, yummy forest-and-garden inspired snacks, and nourishing and delicious herbal beverages as you browse an enchanted forest of nature-rooted, kid-inspired art that speaks to the heart of our true nature.

About the show:

Step into forest magic in this showing of whimsical nature-rooted and kid-inspired art that speaks to the heart of our true nature.

Featured in this showing of watercolor and colored-pencil drawings and fanciful photography are several pages from Paloma And Wings, an herbal comic for kids, which was published for two years in the internationally acclaimed herbal journal, Plant Healer Magazine.

As a harper and storyteller, an instructor with the Vashon Wilderness Program, and a children’s fantasy book author, Jane Valencia draws upon her love of imagination, music, magical lore, the natural world and her joy in adventuring with kids in the outdoors to create her art.