Marysia And The Wise Woman Tradition of Plant Spirit Healing By Ellary Allis
When I arrive at Marysia Miernowska’s apartment, she’s got a green concoction spinning around in her blender. “It’s comfrey and mint,” she says, handing me a glass and leading me to her sunny porch, complete with ferns and a tiny Buddha statue. She lights a chunk of copal resin with a match and sets it in an incense burner. “Comfrey has been so healing to me recently. It’s so deeply nourishing. It regenerates cells and heals tissue internally and externally. I’ve been needing that energy of regrowth and that earth mama nourishment. And mint supports my ability to shift situations and provides the energy of movement and activity.” Both comfrey and mint are abundant at the plot in Point Dume where Marysia gardens. “The comfrey’s been going to town. The more we harvest, the more it gives. And the mint’s been glorious. Mint’s not a prissy, beautiful plant. It’s sexy, thriving. It says, ‘cut me and I’ll come back. I’ve been going through some intense transitions in my life, divorce and other big changes related to home and stability…the kind of changes that make you feel like your root chakra has been severed, so its been really important to have those allies that are nourishing to the root chakra, regenerative.”
Marysia has also been supplementing with various adaptogens lately, namely stinging nettle, which she considers her strongest plant ally, and schizandra, an herb native to forests of Northern China and the Russian Far East. Stinging nettle is Marysia’s favorite plant for adrenal support: “Nettle is like a conductor of an orchestra. All the systems, all the organs in the body work better under her intervention. She’s so building to the blood (due to nettle’s iron content) and the digestive system. She’s rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin K that are hard to get otherwise.” Schizandra is another of Marysia’s all time favorite adaptogens. Schizandra berry is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese medicine, and is depicted in ancient art as a symbol of longevity. The berry’s Chinese name, wǔ wèi zi, translates to “five flavor berry,” because it is at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. Chinese medicine wisdom holds that each flavors’ activation of the palate stimulates and balances a distinct organ system. “Schizandra is also great for the reproductive system and for creativity. Traditionally she’s used for 100 days, because, like most adaptogens, she has a cumulative effect,” Marysia says.
The mother of a two year old, Marysia says its been about two years since she’s gotten a decent night’s sleep. Adaptogens and other herbs have been fundamental in supporting her journey into motherhood. During her pregnancy, Marysia took a lot of nettle, oat straw, red clover, and red raspberry leaf. Marysia says red raspberry leaf is especially beneficial for pregnant women because of its rich vitamin and mineral content and because it’s an astringent that tonifies the uterus, helping to prevent miscarriage. I ask Marysia why astringents would help prevent miscarriage. She responds, “They tighten the mucous membrane and nourish mucous membranes so they’re less permeable. If you imagine your womb as a net that’s holding your baby, the astringent is tightening and holding and strengthening the net.” Marysia also recommends red raspberry as a blood tonic, “important during pregnancy because you’re creating so much more blood.” Like her mom, Marysia’s daughter Flora is now a big fan of both nettle and schizandra. When Flora is sick with a common cold, Marysia gives her a homemade blend of elderberry, glycerin, echinacea, lemon balm, lavender, and chamomile-a mix of immune boosting herbs that contain antiviral properties. Marysia says it works wonders.
Though she embodies the fantasy of the Southern California girl, with her honeyed hair and buoyant spunk, Marysia is a Los Angeles transplant from Poland by way of Vermont. Since she moved to LA four years ago, she’s taken root in the metaphorical soil of the city and gotten her hands dirty in its literal soil. She’s a committed gardener who says that the act of nourishing plants as the they grow makes her a better herbalist. Marysia has designed and tended two large scale gardens in the Malibu area, employing biodynamic methods in both: the first one is a composite of seven smaller gardens, each corresponding to one of the seven chakras, and the second, her current project, features an herbal spiral and boasts upwards of 50 different medicinals. Marysia was pregnant with Flora while she was designing the first garden: “A month away from giving birth I was still carrying five gallon buckets of water up and down a mountain, total old school babushka style,” she says, smiling.
It was while working on that garden that Marysia was first exposed to the biodynamic approach to gardening, and was completely sold by the results she witnessed: “I’ve gardened my whole life and it’s the most effective method I’ve seen. Before, with the more general organic gardening I was doing, we would use blood meal and kelp, lots of additions to try and get the soil just right. With biodynamics, all you really need is amazing biodynamic compost. And there are some amazing preps that you can spray on the leaves and you just watch the plants respond immediately.” The biodynamic calendar reflects the biodynamic philosophy that lunar and astrological forces impact the development of the plants; the planting, cultivating, and harvesting of certain plants is based around lunar phases and the moon’s transit through the zodiac constellations. Focus on certain plants on certain days also corresponds to the type of crop, whether it’s a root, leaf, flower, or fruit. Marysia says the biodynamic calendar impacts the plant’s growth and yield: “It sounds really hokey, but its absolutely true: when you enter a biodynamic garden, you really feel there’s a difference in the aura of the garden. The vitality and vigor of the plants is tangible. There’s a light that exists in the biodynamic garden that’s really unlike anything else.”
Marysia embarked on her path as an herbalist when she moved with her ex-husband to Vermont eight years ago. They were living on an isolated mountain in Northern Vermont, working at a ski academy. There weren’t many other humans around, but there were thriving forests and trailheads right outside the couple’s front door. Marysia found companionship in the plants that surrounded her. Wanting to learn more, she began an apprenticeship at the Gaia School of Healing in Southern Vermont, following up her first apprenticeship with an advanced apprenticeship. It was a course in Western Herbalism, but, Marysia says, “deeply rooted in plant shamanism, plant spirit healing, and the Wise Woman tradition of healing.” “What I love about the Wise Woman tradition of healing,” says Marysia, is that it belongs to everyone. It’s not elitist. It doesn’t revere one special shaman with one special root that you can only get on one special mountain, it’s about connection with the weeds growing around you. This magic is your magic, it’s in your body. Our bodies are made to access this wisdom. The Wise Woman tradition of healing is one of the more ancient ways of relating to the plants. It isn’t intervention medicine, it’s preventative medicine. The way of the Wise Woman is nourishment and love and connection to the earth. And it recognizes that even disease can be a message from the spirit world, even disease can be a blessing. In other traditions of healing, disease is seen as the enemy-must fight disease at all costs. But the Wise Woman tradition sees disease as a messenger about what is needed for the spirit to attain wholeness. It’s a messy and fun and magical way of working with the plants, and it’s the people’s medicine.”
At the Gaia School of Healing, when students learn about a particular herb, an intentional sacred space is created. The students are asked to do a guided meditation with herbs, sipping a brew made from the plant, sitting quietly and attempting to listen to the plant spirit speak. “The most beautiful way to learn from the plants is learning directly from them, without an intermediary,” Marysia says. “It’s by creating these herbal allies that your life can shift.” Marysia’s first identifiable herbal ally was nettle, the plant that she still feels the strongest affinity towards. During her apprenticeship, Marysia was drinking an infusion of nettle and heard the spirit of nettle speak to her. “It was so present, so clear. Soon after, I decided to go out searching for nettle, to see if I could hear the voice of nettle guide me to it. It was winter, everything was covered in snow, and I had doubts about whether it would work. I started hiking, praying, carrying offerings, and eventually found myself by a frozen stream. Suddenly I saw this dry, brown branch with maybe three leaves so thin they were almost transparent. And it was nettle. It was such an affirmation for me. It said, ‘We know each other.'” And Marysia indeed did know nettle, from her childhood in Poland. One of Marysia’s earliest memories is of walking through a neighborhood in Warsaw with her great grandmother, while her great grandmother pointed out nettle, growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. Marysia’s great grandmother would harvest nettle to treat her rheumatoid arthritis; she’d beat her legs with branches of nettle to create circulation and bring in vitality. “I can’t sing enough praises about nettle,” Marysia says. Elder tree is another of Marysia’s favored plant allies, another plant that grows in both Poland and Southern California. “It’s a febrifuge, great for breaking fevers, has a lot of vitamin C, and it also just feels like fairy medicine. At Beltane I slept under an elder tree, in an elder grove I found out in Malibu. It felt so right: Beltane, and I was sleeping under the gateway of the fairy realm.”
Before I leave Marysia’s apartment, she loads me up with potions. Sweetgrass is one of her favorite California natives to work with. I’ve seen sweetgrass braids, but I haven’t heard much from herbalists about working with it internally. Marysia says it’s great support for the respiratory system. She also gifts me a bit of rose hydrosol, made from organic Bulgarian roses from the Kazanlak Valley, or the Valley of the Roses. Marysia adds drops of rose hydrosol to her drinking water. “Drinking rose water you just feel this calming, divine feminine quality. You just put a tiny bit in there and you’re drinking rose water. You’re getting all those essential oils from the petals.” Bulgarian roses are esteemed for their fragrancy and quality, but Marysia cautions that the roses in most Bulgarian rose creams are grown with pesticides. The crown jewel of Marysia’s offerings is the face cream she’s originated, which she calls “Golden Rose Luxurious Face Cream.” Gardening in the California sunshine without sunscreen or a hat, she noticed new lines on her face emerging, quickly. “I thought, I’m aging really fast! This is cool, I have all of these cool wrinkles. Then I thought, ok, maybe my skin is crying out for some nourishment, some good food.” Shopping around at Whole Foods and the local Coop, she was disappointed in the quality of the face creams on offer. The creams that boasted rose hip seed oil always seemed to be diluted with safflower or some other cheap oil. Marysia decided to make her own. “I asked myself, ‘What would Cleopatra use?’ I decided to make the most divine, most decadent, most luxurious face cream. So I infused chamomile in golden raw jojoba on the full moon. I would then set the infusion out on the full moon to activate it. I used a ton of rose hip seed oil, all raw, organic. This cream is pretty much all rose hip seed oil and the jojoba oil and then aloe vera gel and the rose hydrosol from Bulgaria.” This cream, like everything Marysia has me try or taste, is the quality work of a true alchemist.
Marysia will be teaching the first California branch of the Gaia School of Healing’s apprenticeship this fall, starting September 20th. Find the course at http://thegreenwoman.com/californiacourses.html Email: firstname.lastname@example.org