Recently, a visit to Eden Hot Springs in northeastern Arizona showed me that the desert is many, many things and I thought I had experienced them all but I soon found out that not all the teachings have revealed themselves to me even after 35 years of living here. I remember listening to an herbal lecture once as the speaker described the desert to be an open energy where there is expansion and bareness and vulnerability but that the forest, in contrast, is womb-like, closed and similar to being hugged. That analogy was impressive and to this day I still interface with the desert in this manner. She takes me inside myself but with a tenderness of heart that is difficult to grasp considering the harshness of the environment. Maybe the hard is meant to enable us to be soft.
Dry, dry, dry is always how the desert initially presents itself to me but as I look around, as I stare into the rocks and dirt and cactus I realize that she is so much more alive than what seems apparent. As the desert life starts blossoming so does the magnificent beauty that subtly envelops the body and soul as time is spent in her arms. And them she shows you her medicine.
Let's just talk about one today. One of my favorites, although all are really my favorites, and the name is Elephant Tree, Bursera mcrophylla. This is truly a plant that is hidden from view until you're ready to see it and then it seems to always show up!. I had the pleasure of being introduced to this plant just a few years ago and since then she has been like a totem herb to me because her teachings are so profound. She dwells on the sides of rocky, gravely and slippery desert cliffs so it isn't always easy to reach her in order to harvest a few branches, But most recently, as I was taking a friend on a short wildcrafting walk in the Yuma desert just five minutes into the walk there it was and not only did we find her quickly but she practically jumped out at us because she was so close to the trail! The desert is a rare teaching environment teacher but it is the herbs tht make it even more unique.
I have been up and down that trail hundreds of times before to train and to pick. I have marveled at the beauty of the morning sun and colorful sky, the clouds in summer and the reds at dust, the blue-grey hew of the mountains and the contrasting greens of the trees but this one particular day was unlike any other. The desert lavender, ocotillo, bursage and even the chaparral were all very dry and almost crispy but standing among them all was the vibrant Elephant tree green and oozing with glistening, red sap!
I love Elephant tree as a medicine but I love it even more as a teacher and this is where the beauty and greatness arises for me and sets me on my path. Each time I go to harvest or take a hike on the trail near where it grows, I am shown another lesson. This time my friend was lcuky and given the gift of being about to harvest her first time out. We picked and we carried a bundle back into town and we will make smudges, infused oil, essential oil, the and tincture. Sometimes, Elephant its for months in the original bag I collected it in until the resin for sharing is revealed. Elephant is a great anti-microbial medicine. When a plant contains resins it is usually a sign that it works well against microbes. In the world of essential oils there are many anti-everything oils. That is to say anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-septic and anti-viral. Just as the oil or resin protects the plant from the danger of these invaders so does the resin work on the and on the body to protect as well.
Elephant tree is a great anti-microbial, immune stimulant and helpful when you are tired and getting sick a lot and run down due to a lot of stress. It will aide in developing resistance to stress as it effects the immune system. it makes a nice mouthwash or tooth powder when the gums are infected, mouth related infection or inflammation or there is gingivitis. It is a bronchial pectoral that has anti-microbial properties directly expectorating the bronchial mucosa. Even though the application of Elephant tree as medicine is how one usually interfaces with this plant my journey has been one of teaching. She teaches me in ways that I beleive will never end that surfaces when I harvest, share, talk about of just sit with the tree.