© The Wise Woman – Leslie Ann Butler
Like the word wild, the word witch has come to be understood as a pejorative, but long ago it was an appellation given to both old and young women healers, the word witch deriving from the word wit, meaning wise.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from Women Who Run with the Wolves
The use of Spring herbs for toning the body after the long rigors and deprivations of Winter is a time-honored tradition. Although the lore of the Druids was an oral tradition, Roman historians observed that they used specially gathered herbs of Spring at the Vernal Equinox for tonics and cures, taking advantage of the cosmic balance of energy at the time of equal day and night.
Some of their herbs and plants of the Spring Equinox included acorn, celandine, cinquefoil, dandelion, dogwood, honeysuckle, iris, jasmine, rose, tansy and violet. Most of these herbs are easily available to us today and continue to be used for home remedies. The Druids used them in rituals to celebrate and honor the change of season as well as to make medicine. Some of them were used particularly because of their bitters, which, as I discussed yesterday, are considered useful as blood and liver purifiers.
Besides the priestly class of Druids, though, until very recently, it has traditionally been women who have been the healers. According to author Janet L. Allured, in the mid-1800s, one of the few female physicians in the United States argued that women, unlike men, were natural healers. Dr. Ella Flagg Young explained, “Every woman is born a doctor … [while] men have to study to become one.”
Allured writes, “It certainly must have seemed that way. In most nineteenth-century rural communities, female healers performed almost all of the tasks that professionally trained doctors, nurses, and pharmacists later assumed.
“But as regular (male) physicians became more prevalent, and medical training became more scientific, domestic medicine fell into disrepute. By 1900, academically trained physicians were dismissing traditional female healing practices as irrational and superstitious, ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.
“However, a historical look at folk healing tells a different story.
“Far from being random or illogical, domestic medicine was based on empirical evidence, rational calculation, and the time-honored method of trial and error. Women called on an impressive knowledge of native herbs, modern pharmacology, traditional rituals, preventive medicine, and loving care to maintain their families’ well-being. Before the widespread use of antibiotics, the holistic care practiced in the home by female healers was as effective as almost anything contemporary physicians had to offer.”
Spring tonics were a favorite method of preventive medicine. Our great grandmothers observed that tonics restocked vital reserves of energy and nutrients, which people needed for good health. In order to replenish all the systems of the body, most herbal healers made their tonics from a number of roots harvested in February and March before the sap rose.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some more about this legacy of healing that once belonged primarily to the Wise Women.