TRANSCRIPT: Four Native Colorado (& North American) Plant Spirits
Hello and welcome to episode two of Amber & Amulets! In this episode I will be talking about Colorado plant spirits such as the piñón pine tree and their pine nuts, chokecherry, wild bergamot/bee balm, and switchgrass.
I would say that these plants “nativeish” to North America because just because these four plant spirits are native to Colorado and other parts of North America, doesn’t mean they are native to all parts of North America, but they and their varieties can be found in various parts of the country.
If you listened to the first episode of this podcast you know that I am from and live in Colorado, and I am working on creating a relationship with the local plant spirits especially in my neighborhood. However, the piñon pine and chokecherry plant spirits that have been with my family for generations, and I am still forging my own relationship with them. The two newer plant spirits I am beginning to work with are the wild bergamot/bee balm and switchgrass. I planted wild bergamot in my backyard this year in my clay, loamy soil since I am taking a regenerative farming course and it was mentioned that native plants tend to do better in that type of soil. Since I planted a bit late in the season this year, I am just now seeing seedlings sprout and can’t wait to see them grow.
Working with local plant and land spirits is a very important part of my practice. I am always learning about new offerings I can give or do for them and recently I have been picking up local litter and offering water when I can.
So, as I have begun working more with them I realized I haven’t found too much information regarding some of these plants so I thought I’d share what I have experienced so far in hopes to inspire others to work with and learn more about what is around them if they haven’t done so already.
With each of the plants, I will go over a brief history of how they are significant to me, then move into some background of varieties of the plant along with other bits of related information. Then, I will summarize its correspondences which are built upon what I just shared. So, without further ado, let's begin.
It is important to note that if you are foraging these plants, forage ethically and sustainably. Only take what you need, small amounts from healthy plant spirits and leave plenty for critters and future forests. Some of the plants mentioned in this episode are poisonous if used improperly, and can cause illness or death. Please do not use any information to poison yourself or others. There are many safe ways to work with some of these plant spirits without consuming them. This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or replace treatments or diagnosis. I am not responsible for any adverse effects from the information discussed. Always consult a medical professional or dietitian before consuming any plant and do your research on what is safe for you. Keep in mind that these correspondences are personal to my practice and they may differ from yours, and I am choosing to keep additional correspondence details private. Thank you for your understanding.
Colorado Pinyon aka Piñon (Pinus edulis)
My grandfather used to take my dad and his siblings to pick piñónes frequently here in Colorado. My dad said he remembers taking back pillow cases upon pillow cases full of piñónes and would divide them up amongst aunties, uncles, neighbors, and friends. And now, he takes me. This food is special to me and will always be. My father explained they would lay a tarp at the base of the tree, and they shook the tree and some branches so the seeds would fall onto the trap for collection. They would later then roast and salt the seeds. Today, when we cannot harvest some ourselves, we purchase some from local vendors on the sides of roads or parking lots. Now that I think about it, I hope they are foraging sustainability. I think I will respectfully ask them if they are next time I see them.
The Piñon Pine is an evergreen, and evergreens live for a very long time- up to 1000 years
There are many types of Piñon Pine trees, but I will list two predominant ones.
The two-needle piñon (Pinus edulis) aka Colorado Piñon, alternatively spelt Pinyon, is native to what is now known to many as the United States of America. Their growth averages about six feet every 100 years of ideal growing conditions. The range in the U.S. is in Colorado, southern Wyoming, eastern and central Utah, northern Arizona, New Mexico, western Oklahoma, southeastern California, and the Guadalupe Mountains in far western Texas, as well as northern Mexico.
The single-needlepiñon (Pinus monophylla), is a pine in the pinyon pine group, alternatively spelt Pinyon, native to North America. The range is in southernmost Idaho, western Utah, Arizona, southwest New Mexico, Nevada, eastern and southern California and northern Baja California.
Overall, there are eight species of true pinyon, and there are additional related Mexican species mostly called pinyons.
The Piñón Pine provides healing to the soil by increasing soil nutrients, though increasing organic matter within the soil making the soil more fertile. The pine nuts themselves are also rich in nutrition and the sap is a natural antiseptic.
The multiple seeds are encased in a hard shell and carried by a pinecone. Pine trees are also protective in their qualities. I correspond piñónes to fortune because my family and I feel extremely fortunate to come across a good harvest, and eat them during winter. They are quite the treat, and also the pinecones carry quite a bit of the piñones within them. Also, the needles of the pine tree are quite sharp at the tips.
A good harvest averages about every four years although the range is anywhere between 4-7 years. So year to year the harvest and quality of the harvest does vary. To me, this represents its strength and resilience to continue on with life even if not yielding ideal results, until a good harvest is here again.
An easy way to work with piñónes / pine nuts is to just buy some from the store! It will do the same thing! Have you heard of the McCormick Coven? This is similar in that don’t be afraid to use what you have at your local grocery store.
Correspondances in summary:
Planetary: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn
Element: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and therefore Spirit
⚝ Immortality, Eternal Life
⚝ Healing, Balancing, & Grounding
⚝ Inner Strength & Resilience
⚝ Fertility, Prosperity/Fortune, & Protection (Cleansing)
Chokecherry (P. virginiana) (Not to be confused with Aronia, called chokeberries)
My grandmother always loved chokecherries. For her birthday or holidays my family and I would give her chokecherry jam, syrup, and/or honey and she would pair it with toast or a biscuit. Native to Colorado, these ruby gems have and always will have a special place in my heart. My husband, brother and I were on a late-summer hike and found chokecherries in the mountains. I just had to take a picture of them, grandma is with us.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), commonly called bitter-berry, chokecherry, Virginia bird cherry, and western chokecherry (also black chokecherry for a variant), is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America. It is also a relative of black cherry (Prunus serotina) of eastern North America.
The name chokecherry is also used for the related Manchurian cherry or Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) and there are three known varieties.
“The natural historic range of P. virginiana includes most of Canada (including Northwest Territories, but excluding Yukon, Nunavut, and Labrador), most of the United States (including Alaska, but excluding some states in the Southeast), and northern Mexico (Sonora, Chihuahua, Baja California, Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila, and Nuevo León” (Wikipedia)
Chokecherries are deep red and purple in color when ripe and are high in antioxidants, quinic acid, flavonoids, and more and the most common ways of consuming this berry is through jellies, jams, syrups, butters, etc. They are usually bitter and astringent in taste, so adding sugar helps to combat the bitterness. Most parts of the plant contain cyanide, including the seeds within the berries, so be careful and do your research before processing although if you plan on consuming chokecherry I suggest you order chokecherry food products online from a reputable source where they have been tested for safety.
So again, be careful and do your research before processing. Although, if you plan on consuming chokecherry, I would just suggest you order chokecherry food products online from reputable sources where they have been tested for safety. So I usually buy mine locally. I buy local chokecherry products in the mountains when I go there.
Because they are part of the rose family, Rosaceae (also like plums, cherries, peaches, almonds, etc.), chokecherries are astringent and parts of the plant are poisonous if consumed. Please do your research!
“All chokecherry trees are “toxic” but not all parts, not all the time, and not to all species. The poisonous cyanide-producing compounds build up when the plants are grown under certain conditions such as in high nitrogen/low phosphorus soil, just before pollination or when the plant is damaged.” (https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=501)
They produce white flowers and are “in full bloom when young prairie falcons are about to fledge” (Craighead et al. 1963)
Correspondances in summary:
Planetary: Venus, Mercury
Element: Fire, Water
⚝ Healing & Warding
⚝ Love, Passion, & Romance
⚝ Protection, Strength, Overcoming Obstacles & Binding
Wild Bergamot/ Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)- avoid internal use while pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding
Part of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Wild bergamot also known as bee balm (or a type of honey plant) because of how its citrus aroma attracts various pollinators including hummingbirds, has an antiseptic compound known as thymol which is an ingredient in some commercial mouthwashes. It also is known for having antimicrobial, antispasmodic, decongestant, analgesic, digestive, and anti-inflammatory properties.
It has a relatively high essential oil content containing compounds that give it the properties listed above. Peoples indigenous to North America, including but not limited to Blackfoot and Winnebago, have used this plant in poultice, salves, or teas to soothe chest (and respiratory issues), digestive, headaches, and skin issues along with food seasoning. When using it in tea, sweeten with honey or a sweetener of your choice as it can be a bit bitter.
There are a wide variety of wild bergamot species out there and their flowers can range in color from white, reds, and various shades of purple, however the one I am discussing that more of a light purple and they have numerous petals of course.
Correspondances in summary:
Planetary: Mercury, Saturn
⚝ Protection, Purification, Dispelling Negative Energies, & Warding off Negative Energies/Evil
⚝ Transformation and Balance
⚝ Healing & Cleansing
⚝ Attraction, Prosperity, Abundance, Love
Switchgrass- (Panicum virgatum) (not for human consumption)
This is a perennial warm season prairie, bunchgrass/tallgrass that produces rhizomes, meaning it grows roots and shoots from its nodes. This allows for switchgrass to grow new shoots upwards. Switchgrass often yields 100 pounds of seeds per acre (112 kg/ha). Some people view this as a type of weed. Common in Colorado, Switchgrass is an important drought-resistant cover crop. Its dense root system helps to conserve the soil, prevent soil erosion, and increases organic matter within the soil making the soil more fertile. If you look at Switchgrass you can see just how high the plant can grow above the ground (2.7 m [8 ft 10 in] high), but their root system is twice and a half as long as grass. Because of this, its height is effective in blocking the wind above ground and it increases soil permeability and prevents soil erosion below ground.
Most of its growth occurs during late spring and early fall, and in the winter becomes dormant. When faced with fire, although the aboveground parts are destroyed, it often lives since its rhizomes are belowground and it can continue to grow. However, with any fire, this depends on how intense the fire is. Otherwise, if the fire were to burn the plant while dormant, the fire will not destroy the switchgrass and it will continue to grow the following season.
This plant spirit provides game cover for pheasants, quail, grouse, wild turkey and other foul as well. In a few studies, this plant has been found to be toxic to horses, sheep, and goats.
Overall, it is an adaptable plant because it can grow and even thrive, not just survive in various weather conditions, soil types, and seasons. Also because of this, there is a very diverse range of different species of switchgrass, each unique to its environment with visible differences across each species.
Correspondances in summary:
Element: Air, Earth
⚝ Protection & Cloaking
⚝ Stability, Strength/Vigor, Perseverance
⚝ Road-opening & Prosperity
Thank you so much for listening! If you’d like a transcript of this episode please visit the Amber & Amulets website at amberandamulets.com. See y'all in a few weeks! Remember, there is magick in the everyday.
Bee Balm Monarda. ACORN Herb School. (n.d.). https://www.acornherbschool.com/bee-balm-monarda
Craighead, J. J., Craighead, F. C., Davis, R. J., Hagen, G. O., & Salgado, E. (1963). A field guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers: From Northern Arizona and New Mexico to British Columbia. Houghton Mifflin.
Cunningham, S. (2016). Cunningham’s encyclopedia of magical herbs. Llewellyn Publications.
Meseyton, T. (2019, July 12). Singing gardener: Wild chokecherries — the new superfood ... - grainews. Grainews. https://www.grainews.ca/farm-life/wild-chokecherries-the-new-superfood/
Mundi, S. A. (2022, September 29). The astrology of herbs. Anima Mundi Herbals. https://animamundiherbals.com/blogs/blog/the-astrology-of-herbs
Piñon. Natural Magick CO-OP. (n.d.). https://www.naturalmagickcoop.com/products/resins-pinon
Uchytil, Ronald J. 1993. Panicum virgatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/graminoid/panvir/all.html [2023, July 7].
Whitehurst, T. (2017). The magic of trees: A guide to their sacred wisdom and metaphysical properties. Llewellyn Publications, Ltd.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023a, May 28). Pinyon Pine. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyon_pine
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023b, June 15). Monarda fistulosa. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarda_fistulosa
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023c, June 15). Panicum virgatum. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panicum_virgatum
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023d, June 15). Prunus virginiana. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prunus_virginiana