Plant Stories from the Agter Pakhuis

A preview to a book:

Tracy has been documenting her own journey amongst the plants of the Cederberg for some time, in the hopes of producing a book. It is a detailed process and takes some time. So, every month, we will publish information about one plant in the book. This month, we're taming the flame with Inflammasiebos. A recipe for anti-inflammatory massage balm and a calming tea are also included. Enjoy!

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An Ancient Intelligence

The Cederberg is a place where time and space follow their own way. Rock art sites dot the landscape, offering a glimpse - and maybe a sense of connection - to our early human ancestors, who lived here for many thousands of years.

Here, the land still talks, telling stories that enlighten, delight and even heal - if we can listen correctly. It is a place at the edge of two realities: the illusory world of material realism - and something else, something eternal, something that can’t quite be grasped with the thinking mind, the computer screen or the written page.

Nowhere is this thin red line between what is measurable and that which can only be experienced more evident than in the plants that have adapted to survive in this world.  Here, at the confluence of no less than four floral biomes, life has evolved with the landscape for millions of years.  The result? A celebration of intelligent abundance: a place that is surprisingly verdant, given the hot dry conditions that exist for most of the year, and which boasts an incredible diversity of useful plants, many of which are endemic to the region.

I believe that every plant harbours its own, unique facet of the landscape’s evolving wisdom. A sacred truth, if you like. A story that is even greater than the infinitesimally detailed intelligence of its component parts. For every plant, the growth habits, appearance, traditional uses and phytochemistry tell a story; a story that reaches back in time to bygone peoples and eras way before them. Here, where much cultural history  has been lost or eradicated, the ongoing relationship between wild plants and people is arguably the one thing that has kept some sense of cultural identity and history alive.

The plants are the secret keepers.

  • Of phytochemical miracles we can break down and analyse, but never fully understand in their healing complexity - or indeed reasons for evolving as they have;
  • Of the remedies and recipes that have been passed down through generations and are still in use today; and
  • Of an almost unspoken world of magic and enchantment; of plants as teachers and facilitators. For many contemporary observers, this latter aspect is dismissed as myth, witchcraft or dangerous muthi-practice. But is it really? It has become fairly conventional to work with the vibrational / subtle healing aspects of plants through homeopathy and plant essences: is magic not the very same thing? Is it not possible that the ancients held awareness of a level of connection between people and plants - and by extension the landscape as a whole - that we have lost, in our distracted, disconnected, reductionist and attention-deficit “reality”?

There is power and healing to stories. It has been said that the ancestors of this land could transcend time and space; reaching out through trance but also through Story. So it is, I believe, with the plants. Their stories are multidimensional, holding keys and clues to our history, but also to our healing and future survival.

So let’s pause a moment…and listen.


An important note:
This piece of writing, which I hope will become a book, is not intended as a scientific text or a field guide. It is also certainly not intended as a substitute for advice from your doctor. I am neither botanist nor pharmacologist, but rather, an African, living in Africa (in the heart of the Agter Pakhuis, Rocklands) using, experiencing and talking about local plants as a part of everyday existence. My research methods veer from scientific literature to personal experimentation, but I can say that without doubt, my most important teachers are the people whose ancestors have been here for generations - the descendants of the San, Khoi and Malay people of the Cape. For many people living here, still today, the use of plants does not have to be believed or disbelieved, or validated by scientific method - it simply Is. Taking my cue from these teachers, the scope of the plants included in this book is not wholly indigenous. There are some plants, like Wynruit (Ruta Graveolens) that are in such widespread use, planted in so many gardens, that they, too, feel part of this evolving landscape.

I am including recipes in this book. These recipes are those used for some of the most popular products made and sold by my Storytellers Fynbos Apothecary. They are all based on old-fashioned methods that utilise the wisdom of the whole plant, and never isolated extracts. I urge you to try them, modify them if you like, and experience the joy and satisfaction of the self-empowerment it brings. I believe in open source: nature’s bounty should not be subject to copyright and patents, and neither should it be captured, tamed or adulterated by chemicals. When working with plants, however, always be cognisant of your ethics - where possible, use your own plants, but if wild harvesting, always do so sustainably and with permission. Remember also that plant remedies do not only work on the level of the biological and pharmacological, but also on the level of vibration or frequency, which is influenced by you, and your approach.  This is an aspect not easily measured or objectively observed (although some good research is being done attempting to do so), but it is something you can feel, if you choose to, and I believe it does affect the efficacy of the product. Ask your plant for permission to harvest. Some people, from this area, say you should not allow your shadow to fall across the plant as you do. Tune in to what you are doing: be present. Listen to the plants - you may hear them suggest a different remedy. And finally emulate the generosity of the plants and pay it forward - always be willing to give some of what you’ve made (or learned) away to someone who needs it.