During all the years I lived alone in the wilderness I successfully faced down bear, cougar, storm and hunger; it was a pebble that nearly killed me. It happened hiking down the thousand foot mountain spine I jokingly called a trail. I knew it was treacherous and I always took my time on it but on that day some visitors had arrived and they weren’t likely to stay around long. People, I rarely saw them. So I was in a bit of a hurry,
My foot came down on a pebble –it rolled. I ‘d been to my cache at the top of the mountain where some friends had dropped off staples.They were weighing my backpack down, it was cinched tight around my waist. I slid down the mountain with the weight of the backpack pulling the cinch strap and its large buckle high up under my ribcage, until some trees scooped me to a stop. I could hear liquids hissing, gurgling, escaping from internal organs. My waist ballooned. And there was tell-tale pain. I was in trouble and still had another 500 feet to go before I could reach the visitors and get help. It was shock that guided me the rest of the way, like a friend taking my elbow. I left the backpack behind, holding my guts in with my hands. I didn’t feel scared, just extremely focused on getting down that mountain. Fear would have to wait.
On the way down I assessed my situation. This was a remote wilderness without any means of contacting the outside world. I was extremely fortunate to have a life-threatening injury on a day when there were others who had a vehicle to get me out to the hospital! What luck!
Or was it? Were my odds better at a hospital? Or were they better here where I had all of the herbs I needed? I had to make a choice! Stay, because I believed that plant medicine would save me; or get to an emergency room. because I didn’t believe plant medicine was enough. Just how confident was I in these herbs? Enough to stake my life on them? Knowing — soon I’d be alone again, treating myself, no way to get help if it wasn’t working out.
When I reached the valley floor we greeted each other..I told them I’d fallen and hurt myself but I didn’t let on how bad it was. Just that I needed to lie down. They said they were staying overnight and would leave first thing in the morning. It was summer, the time of year when the water was low enough to drive several miles through the creek bed to a road and there would be room in their vehicles to take me to the hospital.
The big question of course – what was going on? I was certain my gallbladder was ruptured where the buckle had forced its way, but what about my liver? Was I slowly hemorrhaging or was it just bile?
After binding myself tightly I went to fetch herbs for bleeding and “damp” conditions. I needed strong astringents and hemostats. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was past its prime since it had already flowered but I took it anyway. I always kept part of my nettle patch cut back to prevent flowering so there was plenty of quality material . Besides stopping bleeding, nettles (Urtica dioica) is a nutritive, I’d be needing that since my digestive process was questionable. Plus, if I was losing blood, nettles contains a lot of bioavailable iron to rebuild it. The nettles would be juiced in my wheat grass juicer.
I’m devoted to Cayenne for the energy lift it gives me and its catalytic actions on other herbs. I grow it and prepare tincture and powder, always mindful that in an emergency its reliable for stopping heart attacks and bleeding So I grabbled the cayenne preparations.
An herb that I cultivated in the garden for emergencies like this was Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) . There were native agrimonies growing here in the Ozarks but the European variety is thought to be stronger and I didn’t want to take chances on using a less effective plant for hemorrhage. It was the focus of the formula I was building.
I always kept my emergency first aid plants growing close enough to the house so I could crawl to them if need be. Just outside the back door I kept a healthy burdock patch. I couldn’t dig for roots but the large leaves would go as a poultice under the binding. Later, when I had the strength I would dig out the roots of burdock and dandelion, and consume them as food and beverage along with their leaves to restore health to my damaged liver and gallbladder. I also had plenty of plantain (Plantago major & P. lanceolata) around the house which I used as food and medicine. For now, the plantain went into the poultice.
But due to rabbits and deer I kept my comfrey fenced in the garden. And due to rabbits and deer, I didn’t have much of it. But I had enough to add to my poultice on that critical evening. I also knew that plantain would substitute for comfrey nicely.
Now I’ll share the most important step I took that contributed to my survival. In superficial, minor health issues its fine to regard the plants as physical entities conveying important chemicals to the right places in our physical bodies. But in very serious situations there’s another step that I believe is required. The properties of those herbs need to be received as energetic frequencies carrying information to the energy matrix of the body – the energetic matrix that runs the show, organizing mechanisms to halt damage and rebuild. This goes much deeper than squirting some tannins into needy tissues.
This is where it pays to develop relationships with plants, where it pays to perceive of one’s body and plant entities as vibrational constructs capable of interacting to restore harmony throughout the ecosystem called home. We could call it the spiritual ingredient.
Some might dismiss this as “new age” nonsense. But there’s nothing new about it. Yes, the scientific underpinnings are new and based in new physics which backs up the spiritual sentiment. But traditional herbalists have always known to deliver their herbs along with whatever it took to shift the consciousness of the patient towards surrender and faith in a higher power.
In an article published by the Missouri Historical Society titled, “Women’s Healing Art: Domestic Medicine in the Turn-of-the-Century Ozarks” by Janet L. Allured we read:
The competence of female healers cannot be dismissed as simply superstitious nonsense. The range of problems they treated was vast, and their efforts at curing sometimes succeeded after physicians had given up hope…
What regular physicians failed to understand, however, was that rural medicine was rooted in the folk beliefs of the people it served and that the mysticism surrounding it aided its power to cure. Prayer and ritual encouraged confidence in the treatment and tapped the mind’s healing powers in the fight against disease. Healing resulted as much from faith in the cure, and trust in the person administering it, as from any objective qualities in the poultice, tea or ointment. A patient’s belief in the healing process has curative power of its own, and recent studies bear out the idea that a patient’s state of mind can speed or delay healing.
So that night, after gathering all the herbs around me, I altered my perception until neither I, nor they, appeared as material. I was a field of light, as were they. With ease, the wisdom of the body met with the wisdom of the plant kingdom. My job was to be still, to give permission for healing, to invite, to be at peace and at trust while introducing the herbs as directed by this exquisite intelligence that knows so much more than I. To do this, I also had to be at peace with the possibility I could die during the night.
I slept and woke up in the morning, those awful gurgling bubble sounds had stopped. My first trip to the outhouse was telling, bile was pouring out of my ripped gallbladder. But I had decided to stay.
I continued with the astringents for about a week. I was still losing a lot of bile but I didn’t want to irritate my digestive tract by overdoing them. Now I was concerned about inflammation and infection.. I chewed and decocted Echinacea root. I’d tinctured honeysuckle flowers that spring and included them for protection from infection. My other anti-infective was good ol’ garlic.
I went with the traditional liver/gallbladder herbs, Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root & leaf, Burdock (Arctium lappa) root & leaf, and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) root & leaf. In addition to decocting the roots and infusing the leaves, all of these were foods so I cooked with them.
I’m a vegetarian and foraged for a lot of my food. I believe the wild greens I ate played a role in recovery. Raw leaves of yellow dock, small young burdock, dandelion and violets in salads. Tonic soups of the above roots plus ginger root (anti-inflammatory) and shitake mushroom which I had dried (immune system).
I did NOT give up coffee. I’m a great believer in it as a complex herbal beverage and it didn’t seem to be an irritant.
The tincture of cayenne was taken in 5-10 drop doses several times a day along with the other herbs. As a catalyst it helps move herbal properties to where they are needed. It’s a gentle stimulant taken in small doses and I wanted to keep my blood circulation moving. Besides, if I accidentally re-injured the area to cause it to bleed, the cayenne would put a stop to it. I juiced nettles and took a couple of ounces once or twice a day.
I kept the bindings on, often with a poultice underneath, Gradually,over several months, I stopped passing bile and was able to remove the bindings to allow the abdominal muscles to strengthen. It might have gone faster if I hadn’t had to keep up with chores during recuperation.
I realize that self-treatment of an injury like this isn’t for everyone. Yet, its good to know that if there were no doctor, no hospital, such injuries can, indeed, be healed. Obviously, I had a lot of faith in what I was doing. When your life is at stake, to whom or what do you look for healing? Its good to know.