I just got back from our Ancestral Herbal Medicine Intensive in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, taught by Maya-Tzeltal elder Dona Lucia Perez Santiz who was such a pleasure and honor to learn from. We delved deep into the realm of not just plant medicine, but ancestor work, initiating our journeys into the realm of reconnecting and healing our own ancestral lineages reaching 7 generations back. There is plenty to integrate and revisit before sharing too much, but upon returning home this week, I am inspired to find the ancestral plants of my humble garden blooming, budding, and with so much new growth in this short but significant time away! My plants are so often a reflection of me, and I know both the spring time weather and my own work to excavate my roots so that my own flowers can bloom are just in synch with my plants- and the ancestral plants in my garden this week in particular. I wanted to share a bit with you all about some of these special plantcestors and the way that the way they are speaking right now.
Here are some pictures and stories about them. The captions tell you who they are, and there are more stories about each below. They are all sacred, medicinal plants to the SWANA region, and each with their own special origins in my own life with them.
This Damask Rose was literally brought over here from Halab and shared with me by a friend of my mother’s who has been tending them here in LA, making amazing Rose jam (YUM). She is Armenian and Syrian and has managed to bring these roses from the homeland many years ago and propogate them in her garden since. It is such a special blessing for me to have a literal piece of the blad (homelands) in this way, and particularly in this time of such great suffering in Syria, I really am thankful that these roses allow me to tangibly connect to that sacred land and offer my prayers for healing and roses to beautiful Syria. Besides the cultural value and memory they offer, ancestral plants carry the genetic composition of our lands and connect us to it literally – just like how our own blood connects us to our ancestors even if they are so many generations back that we never had the chance to meet them. We ARE our ancestors, and these plantcestors ARE our ancestral land and carry its wisdom and medicine in deeper ways that we may even consciously acknowledge so much of the time. This is true not just in a spiritual “woo woo” way, but in our bodies. They are our ANCESTORS, like I always say. Their body’s, their medicine, their food source literally has informed the composition of who we are and who our ancestors were, and they are made of the minerals and body of our homelands which make them so specific. Perhaps not surprisingly considering, these roses she has given me have had their health struggles too since coming my way a couple years ago. The first one had a bad case of powdery mildew which only got worst over time and its still alive but hasn’t budded and I am working with it to heal. I am still learning about tending roses though- it’s not easy work! My Teta Renee is a pro, so I am hoping to get some tips from her when I go to visit her this Easter, though these “old species” roses as they are called are a bit more particular than the conventional ones most are used to. This one is beautiful and strong for the most part, hamdillah, but it’s got some kind of bug too. It was fighting something this past winter and now seems stronger and better but I caught some aphids on it yesterday morning, which explain why some of the buds are wilting. What are your favorite and most effective natural solutions for aphids, folks?? I have my tobacco plants just next to it to protect it and act as a natural insecticide too and have removed the aphids I saw and sprayed it with Dr. Bronner’s soap and water for now.
More about this beautiful medicine. I guess it’s no coincidence the Damask Rose is budding upon return from working with beautiful Dona Lucia, since it’s clearly one of her favorite and most utilized allies too. This rose is famous for it’s potent fragrance, and this particular species is a fusion of 2 or perhaps 3 wild roses of the old world and is one of the earliest hybrid roses around, matched together perfectly for its aroma and medicine by our SWANA ancestors. If any of you use rose water, you know this beautiful rose. In the SWANA region, it is a panacea, a tonic for almost every system in the body and perhaps most importantly of all, the spirit. In Mexico, this remains true also. Roses bring purification to the spirit and heart, bringing deep and sweet healing per the understanding of many traditions around the world. In learning about and getting real with the trials and tribulations that sometimes come when we enter the deeper realm of our healing via our ancestral work, Dona Lucia consistently reminded us to work with our roses to protect, nourish, and heal us while keeping us sweet in the challenges life and healing sometimes brings. I love to work with roses for trauma, anger, sadness, and heartbreak of so many different kinds and as an especially lovely ally to the womb and uterus as well. I am hoping to make a yummy Rose infused honey with my Damask Roses this spring when they bloom. YUMMY! There are over 20 buds I can see already. What a blessing.
Ah <3. And this resilient Syrian Rue – I should probably name her Phoenix. Like I mentioned on my Facebook post, the seeds of this plant were harvested by me with my friend Emel when we were at Catal Huyuk, Turkey a few years ago, home of the ancient Goddess site of Cybele, 8000BC, one of the oldest known goddess sites in the world. I noticed the beautiful plant which I had been seeking in the SWANA wild for months, unexpectedly and from a distance when we came upon a whole huge field of it covering the grounds of the sacred area. It was the only plantcestor blooming, amidst thousands of chards of ancient obsidian and fossilized bones. A very powerful place and way to meet this sacred plantcestor known as “Harmal” (Arabic) or “Esfand” (Farsy) in the SWANA region. I recognized her immediately, quite a strong medicine, and to this day, I know me and Emel’s greatest regret is not having made a flower essence while we were there! (We of all people should know better than to travel through beautiful homelands without jars ready to make flower medicines at all times! I have learned my lesson since). This plantcestor, which we just worked with in our cosmology circle, is a powerful protector used to cleanse and guard us from the evil eye, and also is a vision inducing plant which can help us to access prophetic insights and inner understandings. Tala Khanmalek recently posted a blog on this HUB about it which you can refer to. It is also a powerful ally in the area of trauma and nervous system imbalances, and it is said that the flower essence helps to heal us from the wounds of pathological lies being told to us, or if we ourselves lie. This particular plant’s new green is deeply special to me because it has been through A LOT. Seeing it’s unexpected green today is a real affirmation that the prayers of life in this seed are stronger and will prosper above all else. LHAMDILLAH! Such potent medicine to learn from, tend, and share, and as I was saying before, since these plants are directly from the ancestral lands and related to the memories and conscious of both the homeland and my journey with the ancestral healing work, I take the blessing of this plant’s resilience as a metaphor for the undying and ultimately protected life force of my SWANA kin and homelands, despite all threats. This seed is literally the only one of its siblings that survived when I initially planted it almost 2 years ago. Between the cool fickle Bay Area weather, being attacked and dug out by not 1 but 2 different animals on more than 2 different occasions, being overwatered by people who thought they were doing the plant a favor at least 3 times, and undergoing a couple different moves and transplants, this plant is a REAL SURVIVOR! I am not sure why the animals- be they skunks, raccoons, or dogs have been inclined to dig up this plant while leaving all the neighboring ones alone, but it has been quite an intense journey, and I can’t lie… I thought this time it was sure to be gone for good, though I hoped otherwise. I think the resilience of resurrection, and the power of the undying ancient medicine that this seed and its place of origin carries is clearly alive in this plantcestor, and I am so honored and pleased to see it thriving stronger than ever, refusing to be eliminated, and that its ancient knowing and mysteries which this HUB is dedicated to resurrecting are also, despite all efforts to diminish them be it from Da’esh (aka. ISIL), western imperialism, or foolish Arab politicians, ALWAYS GOING TO FIND A WAY TO RESURRECT- BECAUSE WE ARE PROTECTED BY THE LAWS OF LIFE THAT AFFIRM LIFE. That the strength and power of our original medicine is still alive and available to be accessed through us, with the love and presence of our ancestors, and also- our people are not erasable. We are made of strong roots, lhamdillah. Giving thanks for all this magical plantcestor has to teach me, and the honor of it’s choosing to stay around despite all the struggles, and through my own journey of re-membering and healing. It is growing with some Obsidian from Cappadocia, like how it was in its original home. I love that it connects me to the memories and energy and wisdom of those sacred SWANA ancestral lands from right here in the diaspora. I cannot wait till its beautiful flowers bloom inshallah.
And the beautiful Nigellas, which were just little sprouts when I left, are now budding too! Another panacea, used to treat everything from colds, to immune issues, to severe cancer, to earaches, this medicine is another must have in my own apothecary and day to day life. But what is so special to me about this plant, whose seeds are typically used for medicine as opposed to its leaves or flowers, is that when I first chose to teach about/with this plant in my very first SWANA Plantcestral medicine circle in Oakland, it very magically arrived in my physical landscape during an unexpected flower essence class I was co-teaching with my friend in Oakland, at another friend’s garden. It was such a mystical and unexpected way that it spoke back to me in my waking life while I was immersing myself in learning about it through research and taking its seeds, and it really affirmed to me the magic of this work and the intelligence and depth of these Plantcestral dialogues and journeys. The flower was the one that our group decided organically to make an essence of that day, and I did not even know it was Nigella when we chose it. It is not native to the Bay Area, and even my friend whose garden it was did not know the plant. It wasn’t till the very end of our whole journey with it that someone in the class successfully identified it. The message it delivered was equally mystical and profound for our group, who were aided in some very real healing through working with this flower, and who also were taught that this flower is star medicine. I love working with this plantcestor to connect to the wisdom of our ancestral cosmologies- especially our SWANA ones but not exclusively. I had some wild dream travels to ancient places when I took the mother water of this essence for 3 days! And what was even extra more magical is that on the day of my actual SWANA workshop at my very own house a week later, as I went through the garden to collect some flowers for our altar, GUESS who was suddenly a-bloom in my very own garden for the first time??? YUP! Beautiful Nigella Flower volunteered herself unexpectedly once again, in my very own home, to make present in perfect timing for our SWANA Plantcestral altar and teachings with/about this cosmic ally.
Point of the story really being… Y’all, the magic is very real on this path <3, and the spirits of these plantcestors talk to us in many different ways, when we are present enough to tune in and listen. And our ancestral plants are reflections and extensions of us and of our homelands, who mimic our healing, resonate and transform our wounding, persist as we do to stay alive, and who help us deepen our connection to the natural and spiritual worlds that are always pulsing around us.
Okay, that’s all for today… I am not even mentioning the AMAZING fragrance of my mom’s orange blossom trees which are literally perfuming the whole yard these past days. It is so luscious! And my beloved Rue (aka. Fayjan) plant in full bloom. I will write about them soon perhaps too, but this is just a small piece of the SWANA Plantcestral love blooming in the garden of my life right now, and part of the journey and meaning I wanted to share with you all.
HUB wa Salam.
Layla Kristy Feghali is the creator of River Rose Apothecary, the نجمع جذورنا – reGather our Ancestors Program and the SWANA Ancestral Medicine HUB. She is a plantcestral educator/herbalist dedicated to the reclamation, healing, and re-membrance of the original teachings and medicine of our indigenous ancestors with a particular focus on the SWANA region.