Medicine For March

“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

— Anton Chekhov

March in East Texas is a fickle month, still pulling in dreary, cold weather but with an occasional burst of spring ... which somehow makes the following cloud-covered and rainy days even gloomier.

A sharp-eyed fan of nature might pick up advanced warning of both good and bad days if they pay attention to pimpernel flowers. The small blooms, some pale orange and some vivid blue, of this prolific “weed” have the special property of folding in on themselves when the sky turns dark enough to rain and not opening up again until touched by sunlight. This led to their other name, “Poor Man’s Weatherglass” and was used to predict the coming of rain.

Rainy spring days cast a melancholy air across many people, making them sad for good days past and yearning for good days not yet here. But as so often in nature, a medicine for this March sadness can be found underfoot. Pimpernel has a long history of being used to bring a quick end to melancholy feelings. A simple tea made from one-half teaspoon of the dried plant steeped in one cup hot (not boiling) water for 10-30 minutes then strained out was drank by the soul-afflicted person. Within an hour, gaiety would return to the patient.

Admittedly, Western science finds little to support this cure, but I personally think they’re not examining it in the right way. It has been shown that a cup of pimpernel tea triggers the spleen and gall bladder to increase production, which in turns triggers feelings of hunger, resulting in the person seeking a meal.

Sadly, nowadays many people eat alone, which gives no comfort. But think back to ye olden days, meals were social events of entire families gathered together, with no electronic walls separating them. They talked, they shared, they questioned, they offered advice. Most sad people withdraw from others, but when really hungry, the need for food outweighed the desire for separation. And somehow, by the end of the meal, the melancholy had been washed away.

Honestly, this is just a theory of mine, but it’s based on decades of experience as a forager, an herbalist, a scientist and a studier of humans. There are numerous herbs that trigger similar gall-initiated hunger, though none were assigned the power of lifting spirits. Perhaps because none of the others had such intriguing, beautiful flowers?

Now, please do keep in mind that often, the difference between healing and poison is usually dosage. Pimpernel is such a medicine. A cup or two of it per week is fine, more than that can lead to organ damage over time. But a sip of tea, a bit of food and a few good people around ... what a wonderful cure!