wort::::meaning root and cunnery::to ken, be cany . . . . wortcunnery::to know from the root, to ken from the source
I came to the plant world with a desire to scatter seeds and dance in the rain afterward, rhim jhim rhim jhim, skirts twirling and scarf whirling around while the seeds were soaked and soon to sprout . . . . surely. So, with a hand trowel and a packet of seeds I walked down barefoot to a space by an overgrown field behind a pole house we were renting in 1998 that looked promising. It was September. I scraped off grass and for my efforts was rewarded by a sandy gravelly patch about 3 x 3 that I scattered the cucumber seeds over, then I began dancing and twirling, stomping seeds into the earth while waiting for the rain. It didn’t come. The grass grew back, the cucumber seeds did not. Over the autumn, I set out to the library and returned with a mountain of gardening books that I poured over and learned a few things, such as when to plant and how. I tried again the next year, peeled off the sod, dug up the earth and turned it over, sprinkled cucumber seeds into a trench and covered them, watered, and waited for the rain to come while I danced. It was June. The cucumber seeds sprouted and grew, I was thrilled! I watered them, sometimes it rained, I danced and twirled, rhim jhim rhim jhim; they sprawled and got tangled and flowered, even gave a little fruit. These grew fat and yellow where they lay on the soil, some tasted delicious some did not, but I was overjoyed having now grown cucumbers! I couldn’t wait to do it again, grow other plants, maybe tomatoes, peppers, basil! A world of plants beckoned, come hither come hither!
Thus began what turned into a journey with plants leading from domesticated plants and scouring books to my first pregnancy in 2001, which opened a door to herbs, plant medicines, plant people, container gardening, forays into community gardening and conversations, weed walking, compost talking, raised beds rich with worms and hummus to the heart of the wild, to lymes, to microbes and microorganisms and fungus on forest floors, where eventually the plants got a hold of me and led me a merry dance, shaking me up and rattling my bones, they taught me how to listen to the wilderways of the wilderun: this is my story of how I came to wortcunnery before I knew such a word existed. I’m still on the path . .. though sometimes it takes movement to be still 😉 . . . . learning as the plants whisper or sing their songs in chorus or solo from within a whole ecosystem that changes from year to year, in the meantime I’ve slipped over the hedge where you might find me or you might not, it all depends on how you look and where . . . ..
Tickle me silly with some Neddy Buttercup walking backward right side up . . .. about 6 years ago on a fall day my Michael pointed to a cluster of stark red berries upon a tall stalk and said Go, find those, they’re ginseng, Sam Cash told me so. He took the kids to town and I took myself off for a hike, hot on the trail of the magical ginseng root. Once I got moving and my eyes tuned in to the golden understory there were red berries on stalks ‘everywhere’, I couldn’t believe it!! These woods were covered in ginseng! Plastered in ginseng!! Singing gin-sssaaaaaanggg!! We were rolling deep in ‘sang! I followed the plants for hours back into the forest until eventually I took a break by where the creek was gurgling and just sat there for a while before finding a digging stick to harvest a few roots with.
Well, the ‘roots’ turned out to be oddly garlicy/daffodil bulbish looking, not carrot-rooty at all. But :: Sam Cash had told Michael these were ginseng and I had found what I’d been shown above ground, so I shrugged off the little voice that was saying, “something’s not quite right here sister”, and dug out a few of these roots from densely populated patches. Again alarm bells were going off as somewhere I was feeling like this wasn’t right, not at all, but what did I know, after all Sam Cash had said that these plants were ginseng, and Sam Cash was an expert on such matters. Why Sam Cash was born and raised here and his whole family had settled the mountain top, giving it the name Painter Mountain (Irish/Scots for ‘panther’ in dialect) dating back to the 1700’s, they’d given the road and creek its name: “Irish Creek Road”, they knew these woods inside and out and what did little ol’ me know?! . . . how happily I handed over my knowing to the knowing of some other more authoritarian voice! It happens . . . .
Suffice it to say when I got back home I was marvelously energized and couldn’t wait to tell about the copious prolific abundance of ginseng I had found! Michael and the kids came home and were like, well? And I was beaming and bursting with the fullness of my find, with some bulbousy rooty’s to show too. Now from what Sam Cash had said, the roots were going to taste earthy, so together the two of us took a nibble off a ‘root’ and we were instantly horridly BITTEN by the oxalic acid sharpness slivering on our tongues leaving it numb for a few hours afterward. It was then that I decided to put the books in our bookroom to use (after all they’re good for something right?):: took out some pictorial reference guides and Maude Grieves Modern Herbal and was positively certain that this was NOT ginseng no matter what Sam Cash had said!! It didn’t take me long to find that it was bethroot, birthroot, or trillium and it had gotten a hold of me and given me a good run around and a lesson to boot: ) Technically the roots are rhizomes though the imprint on my muscular memory from that day likes to perceive them more bulbishly than rhizomatic, the semantics of words don’t change my knowing of the plant only the communication of this knowing to another person . . . . but that would be a different post eh, or not.
Oddly enough, one day I was telling a friend about my adventure and her eyes lit up when I mentioned the dried birthroot that I now had. She is a midwife and crafts a labor tincture that includes birthroot. With a mischievous grin, she opened her cupboard and gave me a brown paper bag . . . turns out her father had just given her some ginseng root that he had hunted and dried, but she was more interested in birthroot, so we traded. Something sang to me in the woods that day; maybe it was ginseng, whispering over birthroot, knowing all along that it was in this way that I’d ‘get’ ginseng, for sure enough I did.
To this day when I need a good dose of lightening up or contrary sideways talking tricksterishness or even a reminder that I Know, I only have to think of my teacher, Beth, and I get a good chuckle at myself amongst other things. In the painting that you see, which is a longer work in progress, I planted seeds symbolicked as garlicy bulbs for Bethroot as she’s how I came at long last to the cauldron of wortcunnery where bark, seeds, leaf, and root get crushed under the pestle into essence; and Sam Cash, well Sam Cash got a mighty good laugh when he heard about my mighty long ginseng hunt and if you’re in need of some ticklish times, I hope you get a chuckle too . . . . laughter is good medicine, especially sprinkled with wonder when the universe leads you to where you were going to begin with in a way that reminds you of how vast and unpredictably awesome it is, in a way that reminds you to trust beyond the picture you see 🙂