First published as an episode on the Plant Witch Podcast
During the Dakota Access pipeline protests of 2016, I learned the Lakota phrase Mni Wiconi which means Water is Life. The Lakota Sioux, like all nations of people who lived on Turtle Island before the arrival of European colonists, deeply valued the sacredness of water. Without water, there can be no life. When the first waves of European colonists arrived here on Turtle Island, every body of water was potable. Every stream, pond, lake and river was clean enough to drink from. Now, our waterways are polluted from agricultural and industrial runoff, warmed by drainage from nuclear power plants, filled with sewage, seepage from landfills, overflow from superfund sites, and more.
The waters within our bodies are also contaminated. Our water often comes to us from the tap, which comes through pipes that are at times more than a hundred years old. Our water is treated in water treatment facilities where it is filtered and sterilized with dissolved chlorine gas. Many Americans don’t even drink water. Our beverages of choice are coffee, iced tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks. When we do drink water, it is most often from a plastic bottle. Bottled water is often tap water that is treated with extra filtration or has added dissolved minerals to improve flavor and softness. Plastic bottles have been shown to leach chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) (which acts like a hormone in the body and may increase the risk of obesity and disturb estrogen balance), antimony (which can cause damage to the lungs, heart and liver), as well as microplastics that we ingest and whose longterm effects remain unknown. According to an article from Business Insider in 2019, global water bottle consumption averages one million bottles per minute. Approximately 12% of those water bottles are recycled.
Our waterways are filled with floating water bottles and the bottles and cans that contain our other beverages until they blow off the barge or out of the landfill or are thrown out of car windows. The caps of water bottles are easily fractured when exposed to the elements, becoming small, sharp shards of plastic that are often mistaken for food by sea birds and fish. The incredible Laysan Albatross of the Pacific ocean are dying in huge numbers as a consequence of eating plastic and feeding it to their chicks. Film maker Chris Jordan produced a documentary about the Albatross community of Midway Atoll that shows the full scope of the devastation that plastic has created for these sea birds. In the pacific, where the Albatross feed, there is a giant floating island of trash. This has been called the Pacific Garbage Patch. There are now two garbage patches in the North Pacific, the east and west garbage patch. These giant islands of trash are held in place by the circulating ocean currents, herding the trash into massive collections of debris. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be 1.6 million square kilometers in size, roughly twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. The mass of all of this floating debris is estimated to be 80,000 tons, the weight of 500 jumbo jets. There are between 1-4 trillion individual pieces of plastic in this part of the ocean. It is extremely difficult to calculate, but scientists continue to try to assess the scale of this disaster, while also working to remove the trash from the ocean. Unfortunately, these garbage gyres are in international waters, and so no nation will take responsibility for the expensive and time-consuming work of cleaning them up. Instead, the task is being taken on by private organizations and non-profit agencies.
I have linked resources in the show notes if you are interested in diving deeper into any of these topics. The waters in our body are cleaned and filtered by several different organs and systems, primarily the lymph system, the hepatic system, the digestive system and the kidneys and urinary tract, although the lungs and mucus membranes exchange quite a bit of water as well. The lymph system runs parallel to the circulatory system aiding in fluid exchange between tissues, cleaning up debris from infections and cell replication and metabolism, and helping to remove toxins encountered by the body. Unlike the cardiovascular system, the lymph system has no pump of its own and requires the contraction of skeletal muscle or manual massage for movement of the fluids. When we are sedentary, the waters of the body can become stagnant. Stagnant waters in the body are very much like stagnant waters in the landscape. Stagnant tissues can be sticky, thick, full, stinky, and can invite the proliferation of bacteria and other parasites.
Dehydration is also very common in modern humans. Because we drink so little water (drinking caffeinated and sugary beverages instead, which are inherently dehydrating), the conditions of our tissues is often dry. Dry skin, dry nails, dry eyes, dry hair, constipation, itching, cavities, urinary tract infections and more can be linked to chronic dehydration. Not only can we be dehydrated in water, we can also be dehydrated in good fats and oils. Having enough fats/oils in the body acts as lubricant to the joints, hydrates the skin, and provides the raw materials for every cell in the body and especially the nervous system. Every cell in the body is made of a double layer of fat, and filled with an intracellular fluid. Without enough oil and water, the cells of our body have poor integrity and the body struggles to recover from illness and repair from injury. “Good” oils have a high omega 3 content, and a low omega 6 content. Oils that are high in Omega 6 oils are inherently inflammatory and lead to stress on the body. Omega 3 oils are healing to the nervous system, support healthy hormone balance, and more. An easy rule of thumb is to stick with fats and oils that are naturally expressed by the source of the oil, For instance, if you handle an olive or a walnut, you will experience the oily nature of these food sources. Corn is not inherently oily. Neither is canola or soy. This means that the oils have to be extracted from these sources with a process that is inherently degrading to the oils and renders them inflammatory to the body. Many oils are extracted using the volatile gas hexane, which has been shown to cause cancer, neurological damage, damage to lung tissue, and more.
This podcast episode is full of rabbit holes that we could spend hours exploring! What I really want to convey here is the absolute sanctity of water. When the water in our ecosystem is not healthy, the water in our bodies is not healthy, and vice versa. Water is yin, the energy of the night, that which is receptive and emotional, the dreams and the ancestors. Water is connected to the phases of the Moon and her effects on the tides. Water imparts the quality of fluidness and flow. It soothes and heals inflammation. Water cushions the brain and allows for optimal function of the nervous system. It cushions the joints as synovial fluid and allows for smooth movement and full range of motion without pain. It is used by the body to create saliva and digestive juices to help us break down our food. Water is essential for every function of the body, and the essence of water offers us emotional buoyancy and spiritual depth.
Water is a primary element in the Kapha dosha of Ayurveda, along with the element of Earth. This dosha demonstrates home, steadiness, contentment, resilience, and cohesion. This energy in its most elevated form is Prema, the love that holds the universe together.
Herbs that are connected to water are herbs that are associated with the Moon and are known as demulcents and moistening herbs. Many of our herbs are drying, and our general lifestyle tends to be drying to the tissues. Moistening herbs, oils that are high in Omega 3s, and proper quantities of high quality water can make such a huge difference in our overall wellness! Speaking from experience, when I remind myself to drink a quart of really high quality water that has been infused with sunlight, in a period of days I can immediately feel a rebound in my vitality, a cushioned buoyancy in my mood. It really is balancing and healing to the body.
Some moistening and demulcent herbs that are very safe to work with are plants like marshmallow. Althea officinalis and it’s weedy cousin malva neglecta are wonderfully moistening and very safe to work with. The leaves, flowers and roots are all moistening and nurturing. Oatmeal is also very moistening and nourishing to the body. These herbs are connected to the astrological sign of Cancer, ruled by the moon, and pisces ruled by Neptune. Another plant that is wonderfully moistening is the humble garden weed chickweed or Stellaria media. This plant is deeply nourishing, healing, moistening and helps to balance the urinary tract while soothing inflammation.
Some people can drink plenty of water and can’t seem to retain it, passing the water through the kidneys and excreting it without absorbing it. This can be a sign of a mineral deficiency, specifically sodium, but also a lack of tone in the tissues. In cases like this astringents can be beneficial to help the tissues hold on to moisture. Astringents like rose hips and raspberry leaf are generally safe and well tolerated. When minerals are lacking, plants like Nettles, urtica dioica, as well as seaweeds, are very mineral rich. They can be taken as infusions, teas, added to soups and stews, and so much more.
Of course some people are too wet by nature. They may have a lot of mucus, frequent sinus drippage, watery bowel movements, or copious amounts of light colored urine. They may have swelling in the legs. One of the toxic conditions in our culture is damp heat, where the body is wet and inflamed. This can lead to severe and chronic illness. Damp heat can be cleared using diffusives, herbs like rosemary, cayenne, ginger; herbs that get the blood flowing. They can help move the damp, stagnant pattern in the body. If the kidneys are having a hard time releasing the water, you can work with diuretics like nettles, goldenrod and others to help the water move out. Adding astringents can help pull the tissues tighter, there is often a state of laxity that goes along with damp stagnation, though that is not always the case.
This is an introduction to herbal energetics, and I don’t want to go too deeply into these rabbit holes. I really want to give you an idea of the qualities of water, how we are treating water in relationship, and how we can come into right relationship by treating it with respect, cleaning waterways, drinking high quality water in quantities that are supportive of the body’s processes. We should be shooting for at least 2 liters of water or herbal teas per day. Also fresh juices without added sugar. Caffeinated beverages and artificially sweetened juices work against our overall hydration.
We develop an incarnated and empowered and respectful relationship with water. We can work with our ancestors, and the ancestors of other people, to strengthen our relationship with water. Also working with dreams, incubating dreams, ritual bathing, charging water with crystals, intentions or by the moon are all ways to enhance our relationship with water. Dr. Emoto has done so much to help us understand the memory-holding quality of water. Moon water can be used for bathing, to water plants, for ritual, and so much more. It is now holding moon essence. We can also program water with intentions for healing, cleansing, manifesting. We can do this by speaking into the water, by writing words on the vessel holding the water, etc.
I will close with this blessing for water from the book The Earth Path by Starhawk:
Praise and gratitude to the sacred waters of the world, to the oceans, the mother of life, the womb of the plant life that freshens our air with oxygen, the brew that is stirred by sunlight and the moon's gravity into the great currents and tides that move across the earth, circulating the means of life, bringing warmth to the frozen Arctic and cool, fresh winds to the tropics. We give thanks for the blessed clouds and the rain that brings the gift of life to the land, that eases the thirst of roots, that grows the trees and sustains life even in the dry desert. We give thanks for the springs that bring life-giving water up from the ground, for the small streams and creeks, for the mighty rivers. We praise the beauty of water, the sparkle of the sunlight on a blue lake, the shimmer of moonlight on the ocean's waves, the white spray of the waterfall. We take delight in the sweet singing of the dancing stream and the roar of the river in the flood.
We ask help to know within ourselves all the powers of water: to wear down and to build up, to ebb and to flow, to nurture and to destroy, to merge and to separate. We know that water has great powers of healing and cleansing, and we also know that water is vulnerable to contamination and pollution. We ask help in our work as healers, in our efforts to ensure that the waters of the world run clean and run free, that all the earth's children have the water they need to sustain abundance of life. Blessed be the water.