These past August days have felt quintessentially like san-francisco-summer. I think of Mark Twain several times a day: as I wake up to fog, bike through fog, watch thicker fog settle in over a foggy evening sky. Powdery mildew sets in to the leaves of sun-loving plants: calendula, mugwort, lemon balm all start to decline.
This weekend Margaretha gave a talk on common medicinal herbs found in San Francisco at Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin neighborhood. This community has a history of neglect from the rest of the city, it is not uncommon to see a houseless person shooting up or selling previously used items on the street. Glide Church is known within the community as a haven: a place of music, hot food and many other services, no questions asked, 365 days of the year. There is a garden there, six stories above the street on the roof of the church and adjoining soup kitchen called Graze the Roof. It is possibly the highest garden in the city. Lindsey, the garden steward shared a piece of the church’s morning service with the group gathered in the garden. She spoke of Faith – the verb and the noun: the notion to believe in the divine, as well as something, anything, greater than yourself.
The events on this partly-cloudy afternoon helped me to understand the lack of trust many people have with plants as healers. Divorced from herbal traditions, something all of our ancestors practiced, many of us were born unaware of the power of herbs. Yet at eye level with executive suites and in the midst of the urban hustle, I see as a culture, our faith has been lost. As part of her workshop, Margaretha asked all the attendees to take a moment to sit with a plant — preferably one we did not even know the name of — and explore what we noticed, what came naturally and intuitively. Through inquiry based learning, folks gleaned a calming groundedness from California Poppy, a comforting protection from Mullein and a sense of blissful courage from Borage — all traditional and scientifically proven uses for such plants. We spoke of the doctrine of signatures – the incredible phenomenon that plants display their healing characteristics in their physical presentation. As a fellow urban dweller it was humbling to witness others rebuilding a relationship with the natural world.
It is all too common in industrialized countries that natural, safe and effective herbal choices get brushed aside for allopathic remedies – antibiotics, steroids, synthetics, pharmaceuticals. How radical to teach simple, gentle and free remedies within a neighborhood so affected by economic injustice, racism and the pharmaceutical industry. Alcohol, narcotics and poverty afflict this neighborhood quite harshly, yet with food and faith, Glide has restored a human trait, a value and a passion — a connection to the divine, however we choose to define it. The local weeds on Glide’s rooftop serve as a reminder to keep a Faith: in the plants, in our ability to heal, in the divine Mother Earth, in the cosmos, and to trust, unconditionally, in something greater than ourselves.