A profusion of white flowers growing along the highway entices us to pull over and investigate. The plant getting our attention is Sweet Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus). It likes to grow where it can have wet feet, so these rain-soaked hills in the western Cascades are perfect. The flower spires seem to rise out of a sea of open hands, like they are making an offering to the heavens. Large basal leaves are lobed and/or sharply toothed with smooth top surfaces and wooly-white undersides. Multi-flower heads exhibit a slight pink tinge and tease us to look more closely. But we are too near the edge of the highway with vehicles zooming by. We need to find a safer place to indulge our love of wildflowers.
We often identify flora growing alongside the road as we travel. Tarn and I frequently joke we should have a bumper a sticker that says, “I Brake for Wildflowers.” It is a beautiful thing to love something so much you will stop whatever you are doing to witness the beauty. Our original unfettered mind grabs our attention and offers us the opportunity to see, “A World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” So says William Blake. But we do not pay attention when we whiz by life on autopilot. It is like those new cars that are supposed to drive for us—we surrender our natural awareness to a surrogate brain.
Being self-absorbed in thought is like surrendering our awareness to some other brain. We miss the beauty in front of us. What we do not see could be the solution to all our problems. What if the flower we fail to notice has the cure for our illness? In the case of Sweet Coltsfoot, indigenous people discovered amazing healing qualities. Many Pacific Northwest tribes (Alaska Native, Lummi, Quileute, Quinault, and others) have used coltsfoot roots as an emetic and to treat tuberculosis. Raw roots have been eaten to cure coughs. An infusion of smashed roots has been used as a wash for swollen areas and sore eyes. Leaves have been used as a cooking aid, tobacco flavoring, and mixed with other greens for food. A poultice of warmed leaves have been used to treat rheumatism. An infusion of dried leaves has been used to treat colds, head congestion, and chest congestion. A compound containing this plant has been used to treat skin sores.
Did you know that? Think of all the indigenous wisdom that no longer resides in our memory. Now get off the screen and look around. Notice the precious flowering of awareness. What can you learn? How will it benefit others?