Ocotillo Medicine

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The May springtime bloom was in effect bringing the excitement of new beginnings with it. I made my way down interstate 5 in route to Joshua Tree, CA to start my first leg of our yearly six month festival tour. Buzzing with enthusiasm for the road and the experiences that lay ahead of me, I was on my way to spend two weeks in the desert vending first at Bhakti Fest and then Joshua Tree Music Festival. This spring had been particularly exciting for me as I had been furthering my herbal education by participating in an apprenticeship with renowned herbalist, Kathi Keville. I had always felt very connected to the Mojove Desert since my first encounters with her and now I was intrigued to see a deepening of this relationship through my expanded lens of herbalism. I came with an intention to make medicine, packing a bottle of vodka in case I came across any medicinal plants that caught my interest. I didn’t have any particular plants in mind but I was open to whatever wanted to call out.

On the 10 hour drive down from Northern California one plant began coming into my consciousness and continued her tapping frequently throughout the next few days to follow. When I entered the desert I was immediately drawn to her standing tall in her almost other worldly prescence and I somehow knew she was “Ocotillo”. I had noticed her before on previous trips to the desert, but no one had ever told me her name. In part, my recognition of her name may have been because I had read something about her since the last time I had been to the desert (I really was reading a lot about plants at the time), but I also feel another piece was simply that she was speaking to me.

Ocotillo Medicine Plant.  <it>Photo by: Bob Bales</it>

I had just gotten into reading the herbalist Rebecca Altman’s weekly missive and I was becoming enchanted with her wisdom and writing on the subject that was fueling me the most. I had printed out her recent missive entitled “Pleasure Medicine” to bring on my venture for those moments of solo recharge. About a week into my trip, I found that recharge space in the form of a couple days break in between the two events. My first evening of quietude I pulled out my reading material and low and behold, Rebecca had written about Ocotillo in the missive I brought with me to the desert. I read by headlamp in my tent, drinking in every word.

I remembered that my friend and local Joshua Tree resident, Simon, had kindly reached out upon hearing that I would be down in the desert and invited me to tea at his home with himself and his wife, Melissa. I decided to let him know I would be available to come in the morning and also threw out that my ideal circumstance would be if they happened to have an Ocotillo plant in their yard as I had been feeling the pull to meet her. His reply- “Yes we have a large one right in front of our home that’s just starting to bloom”. I smiled and shook my head at all the synchronicites that had lined up so perfectly for me to get to know Ocotillo. It is here where I will say, from my experience, one of the characteristics of Ocotillo medicine is opening to communication and synchronicity of the unseen world.

I drove to their home the next morning up and up a windy dirt desert road through the surreal decomposing granite boulders that my friend Nathan refers to as “concealed alien capsules”. Not for the first time, I was hit with how much this desert feels like another planet to me, an entirely different extraterrestrial-like realm.

Joshua Tree rock formations aka ‘concealed alien capsules’. Photo by Alan Majchrowicz/Getty Images

Simon and Melissa are both artists so it was no surprise that their home felt creatively inspiring perched on top of a hill with its full front windows looking over the Joshua Tree landscape. I at once saw the Ocotillo in the yard, briefly said hi with my heart and told her I would be back to sit with her in a moment. I visited with Simon and Melissa and it quickly came up that Melissa had been working with Ocotillo medicine herself in the form a a drop of flower essence made by her friend and well known herbalist, Sophia Rose, every day for 40 days. Again this synchronicity inspired me, that the vibration of this plant was working through Melissa and that I had been drawn there by the same vibration. Here more qualities of her medicine come up: high vibrational, drawing, connection.

I noticed the freshly tatooed dots on Melissa’s fingers and commented on them. She informed me that they were done by Simon in a ritual they recently shared honoring the anniversary of the passing of her mother. The energy around this subject was still very tender for Melissa and in another synchronicity of the vibration of Ocotillo, the healing around the mother wounds had also been coming up for me. Mother’s day landed during Bhakti festival a few days prior, bringing a lot up to the surface for me around going deeper into my journey of really trusting and opening to the nurturing of the mother archetype. Ocotillo medicine: deep grieving medicine, bringing up that which needs to the surface to be grieved for the healing process especially around mother wounds.

I sat with Ocotillo while Simon prepared his tea house to host our tea ceremony. Most of her blooms were just beginning, but Melissa wisely told me that there is still medicine in the stage of the blooming. It came to me to make a flower essence with spring water I had carried with me from the Joshua Tree Lake Campground and a few buds being in full bloom but most still budding. I see the process of being in bloom as a property of this particular essence that was made on this special synchronistic day. The message for me is, ‘there is medicine in the bloom, there is medicine in the process of healing’.

Another quality that really struck me during my meditation was Ocotillo was it’s soft waxy leaves mixed together with it’s thorns- a message of being able to embody both softness and boundaries.

Rebecca Altman writes, “Ocotillo is a deep energy mover. It moves energy in the pelvis, in the blood, in the deep old energy of the body. It dreges it up gently, softly, calmly, bringing it to the surface, moving it through the liver so it can be processed (in the case of toxins) and through the consciousness so it can be processed (in the case of grief and trauma).

Sophia Rose writes Ocotillo is “for those who have experienced trauma, sexual and otherwise, and have lost a sense of agency there is no better remedy… A plant which governs the fluid of the body as well as the fluidity with which we move.” I recognize the quality of fluidity that was with me during this time of my Ocotillo courting. I see that the her vibration was with me even before I sat with her which assisted me to be in the flow and open to the beautiful synchronicites that aligned to bring me to her to make medicine.

A couple of years prior, I had experienced a deep trauma in this desert and this desert had also given me the medicine to move through that. I am forever in awe of the vast and powerful teachings of the Mojave desert and appreciate her sometimes soft and sometimes prickly lessons for me in my process of blooming and healing. Ocotillo embodies the desert in which she dwells: stately, potent, powerful, other worldly, medicine.

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