One of my favorite plants to find in the wild is the Ghost Plant or Indian Pipe. A parasitic plant, its roots draw into the surrounding tree and fungi mycorrhizal network, sucking up the nutrients there. It requires no sun to grow, hence its lack of chlorophyll giving it its white color, and its flowers seem to nod down to the very earth from which it grows.
A few weeks ago, I woke one morning with the words “Indian-Pipe-Ghost-Plant-Indian-Pipe-Ghost-Plant” running over and over in my head. It didn’t take long for me to head out into the woods and find that this plant was poking its head up through the ground. Herbalists say that when you feel particularly drawn to a plant, there is something that the plant wants you to know, and clearly, this plant was calling me. I sat with the plant for a while and wondered about its medicinal properties. I got the sense that this plant had much to teach me, growing in places where the sun doesn’t shine, drawing life from the decaying bits of the forest. It felt pretty symbolic to where I was in my own process of drawing my shadow into the light.
I’ve always been interested in herbalism, growing and drying my own herbs for teas to sustain me through long Winters. I went home and researched the medicinal properties of this plant. I learned that the Ghost Plant is a type of nervine, used to work with pain, both physical and emotional. Most interesting and relevant to me, Ghost Plant is known to help folks dealing with buried emotional pain of traumatic events. While it doesn’t take away one’s pain, it is known to put a person outside of their pain so that they can work with it and understand it in a new way.
Herbalist also say that you only need to look at a plant to understand its healing properties. The roots of the Ghost Plant resemble a brain, and when made into a tincture, the liquid turns into a deep and beautiful purple, resembling the crown chakra. Makes perfect sense, considering what this plant is known to do.
Back into the forest I went to harvest some Ghost Plant. It is strongly advised to only harvest a few stalks from each colony that grows. As I walked, more and more colonies of the plant seemed to show themselves to me. I gathered what I could and went home to make a tincture. Here is how I did that: This is one the stalks I harvested — notice the roots. They really do look like brains. The weird wormy looking stuff is not from the Ghost Plant. Those are roots of a fungus from which this particular colony of Ghost Plant grew. I gave the Ghost Plant a bath to remove the dirt: Next, I chopped up the Ghost Plant and smooshed it around with my mortar and pestle. I felt quite witchy. Finally, I put all of the Ghost Plant I had harvested in a mason jar and covered it with grain alcohol. You can use vegetable glycerin, too, which I think I will use next time I make a tincture. And finally, the magic happened. After only a few hours of soaking, the tincture turned into the most beautiful purple I have ever seen: I will let it soak for 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, I ordered some from an herbalist who made her own tincture in the same way I made mine. I wanted to do that as a way to compare my own tincture to one that was made by someone who has experience in making these type of medicines, and I was eager and feeling a bit too impatient to wait 4-6 weeks for my own tincture to be ready.
I decided to try it on a day I was feeling particularly lost in my emotions. This is a strong tincture with a 1:1 ratio, so only a few drops are needed for it to be effective. I became immediately connected to a cool, earthy, mossy feeling that eventually seeped into every corner of my existence. This feeling eventually pushed me away from the intensity of my emotions so that I felt above them. You know how when you meditate and you are able to watch your thoughts and emotions and not let them consume you? The emotions and thoughts are still there, but you are separate from them. I feel like the Ghost Plant provides the same medicine, but in a way that puts you physically and emotionally outside of it. This is particularly useful when emotions become so triggered that you are unable to detach from them. It felt gentle, and I was able to see the root cause of where the emotions were bubbling from and work with it in a way that didn’t feel overwhelming.
That night, I dreamt in purple. I’m not sure of any other way to describe it except that all my dreams had a purple tint to them. I also dreamt that all of the energy within me was being drawn down into the Earth and released. I woke up feeling like I had done several week’s worth of emotional work in only a day. My final analysis is that the Ghost Plant works in such a way that the ghosts that haunt a person can be seen, understood, and released. It is not a medicine to use everyday, but a great medicine to have on hand for moments of acute emotional or physical pain.
I can’t wait to see how my own tincture turns out! I feel pretty grateful to live in a place where this plant grows in the wild. Just remember, if you attempt to utilize this plant as well, please do not harvest the whole colony. Leave most of it behind so it can continue to grow!