October 16th 2011 - THE POACEAE - THE GRASSES - FAMILY
The Beating Heart of Life on Earth
Copyright~Susun S Weed
The earth offers us so many green blessings: an abundant, overwhelming, brimming basket of beauty, food, and medicine. With so many choices, it's hard to know where to start. Let's learn herbal medicine from the ground up, by focusing on the families of plants.
In previous issues we visited with the mallow family, the knotweed family, the rose family, the aster family (and the genus artemisia), the cabbage family, and the lily family. Altogether, that's more than 30,000 plants we've learned how to identify and use. What's next? The grasses!
A garden catalog (Heronwood) says it poetically: "No wonder visitors feel drawn to the grasses -- we were born in them. Grasses signify water and whisper, 'You're home’, more than any other group of plants."
Few people think of grass as a flowering plant; but it is. Many of us think of grass as a lawn or a golf course, not the sacred sustenance of human kind; but it is. Our ancestors had great respect for the grasses. They, in their multitude, are the beating heart of life on earth, the prime mover of agriculture, and the tuning fork of universal nourishment. The grass family - the Poaceae - is found in every habitat all over the world, and includes more than 10,000 plants, all of which bear edible seeds.
Grass flowers, it is true, are not fancy. You'll need a magnifying lens to see them clearly. They don't have showy, colorful petals. They just have what's needed: male stamen for pollen, female pistil to capture the pollen and gestate the seed.
And how we value those seeds. Whether it is wheat or rye, oats or barley, corn or millet or rice, almost every person on the planet bases their meals on grain, the seeds of grass. We honor the grain mother whose seeds support our lives: Corn Mother, Ceres (who gives us “cereal"), Demeter, Amaranth Grandmother. Her names are as numerous as Her nourishing seeds, as beautiful as Her seas of golden rippling grass. She sustains us with Her gracious bread of life: mana. "Corn", that is, grain, was the greatest of the Eleusinian mysteries.
"Sedges have edges; rushes run round; grasses have joints," is the saying I learned to help me distinguish between three look-alike plant families. Sedges, fond of wet places, flower from the sides of stalks which have edges. Rushes, also fond of wet places, flower from the top and have round stalks, no edges, like grass. Grasses prefer dry places and flower from the top of round stalks which are jointed, like bamboo, a woody grass. Pluck a flowering stalk of grass and see if you can find the joints. Then, look at the leaves.
Like the lily family, members of the grass family have flat, long, narrow leaves with parallel veins. Unlike lily leaves, grass leaves are micro-serrated along the edge. If you gently pull your fingers up the sides of a grass leaf you'll find it's as sharp as a razor. Careful! It can cut! That's one reason we eat the seeds of the grasses and leave the leaves to the animals (with the exception of those who drink wheat grass, a tasty juice which, unfortunately, lacks value as either a curative or a nutritive).
Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions Cookbook and advocate of Weston Price, reminds us that grazing animals and grasses benefit each other. It's not a choice between plants and animals, grain or meat. Our planet, and our bodies, need both. Without cattle eating winter wheat shoots, we would lose more than half our grain crops. Why? Because, although grass roots and leaves are extremely cold hardy, the jointed flower/seed stalks are not. Most wheat is sown in the fall, when the soil is drier and easier to work, rather than in the spring when the soil is wet and likely to rot the seeds. If the late fall weather is not cold, however, the grass will start to flower too soon. Pasturing cattle on it prevents this, giving us healthy grass-fed meat and grain to eat as well.
One of my favorite herbs - oatstraw - is a grass. Oatstraw is the dried leaves, or straw, of the plant that gives us the grain oats, found in most households as rolled oats. I use a full ounce (by weight) of dried oatstraw, with or without seeds, in a quart of boiling water, steeped at least four hours, to make a restorative tonic. Oatstraw is considered an herb of longevity in India. American herbalists value it as a strengthener and nourisher to the nerves. Like oats themselves, oatstraw infusion is heart healthy and cholesterol-lowering. Many a menopausal woman has praised oatstraw's cooling, calming ways.
There are many stories of grasses. Listen to them; let them take you home. Let them take you back to your Ancestral, sacred self. Herbal medicine is people's medicine, heart medicine - free, simple, and accessible, a gift of love from our Mother. I'll be back with more plant families and more green blessings - soon.
Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material in this article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.
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