March is a beautiful time where we live. The spring equinox is approaching, the moon is waxing and the beautiful luminous joy it brings every evening has to be seen to be believed. It is also the month of the great flowering. All around us, the Earth seems to be bursting into bloom. One evening after a particularly beautiful walk admiring hillsides with golden poppies, I came home and picked up the book, ‘This is Your Mind on Plants’ – By Michael Pollan.
The book is split into 3 sections: The mind soothing, mind enhancing, and mind altering
Morphine in the opium poppy; the caffeine in coffee and tea; and the mescaline produced by the peyote and San Pedro cacti. (In short, it deals with sedative, stimulant and hallucinogen classifications of plants)
After reading the first introduction I could not get the image out of my mind. How could that beautiful flower innocuously growing on hillsides in the wild, the relatively common poppy be associated with the Drug Wars? How did human beings even pick up these things and figure out what the effects are. The simplest explanation points to humans observing the calming effect of poppy eating cattle and trying a bit for themselves. I was curious to read that poppy tea was served at funerals in the Middle East as they were known to help induce feelings of happiness and thus dull the grief of death. Could the beautiful, innocent loving flowers be responsible for the opioid crisis that have resulted in the death of thousands in America in the past decade alone?
Finding the use of a sedative would have been one of the first things human beings checked off their evolutionary list. In fact, some of this knowledge may even have been handed down to us by our ape cousins.
For instance, apes make trips of miles to procure certain herbs to cure themselves of stomach upsets. When I read it in one of Jane Goodall’s essays, I was astounded. Of course our animal cousins have a more intimate relationship with nature than we do.
If sedatives could be obtained thus, hallucinogens couldn’t be far behind. I remember reading somewhere that the myth of flying reindeer has hallucinogenic origins too. Seeing the effect of the magic mushrooms on the reindeer, the humans near them experimented them as well, and lets say their hallucinogenic effects seem to have echoed down the centuries in endearing stories of Santa Claus and his red nosed reindeer.
I put the book down meditatively, and went downstairs to make myself a cup of tea to start the day. Nothing wakes us up like a good cup of tea! Often teased about my fondness for tea, this is one of most oft taken for granted plant influence. The caffeine in tea and coffee has stimulated human kind for over two centuries.
After a particularly beautiful walk admiring the golden poppies in the light of the setting sun, I looked it up. It was a small relief to read that the California poppy though in the same family as the opium poppy is not classified as a narcotic.
“It should be noted that although California poppy is in the same family as opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), it is not a narcotic and is much gentler and non-addictive.”
I am looking forward to finishing the book.