Field Guide To Herbs by AE Reiff


Working as a botanist and herbalist running an herb garden for the U of Texas I issued three small printings of humorous takes on plants, Native Texans: Some Medicinal, Social and Philosophic Contexts of the Plants of Texas and the Southwest, which divided plants into three social classes, native, immigrant and modern, the latter including various psychedelic and divinatory properties of cilantro, oleander, yarrow, licorice marigold and vitex, along with the more common datura, mescal bean, cactus and mushroom. Field Guide moves forward from these into facetious takes on species of the psychedelic salvias and ayahuasca vine once cultivated in drug gardens, but now popular in suburban homes, providing also an antispecies antidote to facetiously apply.

They used to call herbs simples but now they are complex. Take ice weed (Verbesina virginica), which some call frost weed, so invasive that even on dry land  new Canadians are calling it Bush weed when its stems freeze over and leave mock icicles like vegetable stalagmites, but it has a cousin, the beautiful Trumpish for which literary magazines were named. Their teachings are also for society. Take Croton, famous in middle earth for indigestion in Orcs. In those days croton’s symbiotic  propagation was favorably aided by the intervention of the Squamish Bug whose pig-like snout was a similar boon for truffles in France. But when cows, passion, plows and bulldozers supplanted the Squamish creation of disturbed soil, an entire new species replaced the old, ratibita, argemenone, datura, marriubus, email.

A recent fruit of disturbed soil online is the social psychological diversion of the new future discovery herb, Salvia divinorum. Gossip for years gave plants futuristic properties. Half the plants had been tried for foretelling the future and the other half for protecting against the past.  “Saliva,” as it was called by devotees, like the amanita mushroom proposed by Mr. Wasson aka Schultes for the ethnobot underground, caused uproar in the plant and herb communities of the legislature. You could then order starts to treat the lawn because it was a good defoliant. Government, distracted by more powerful agencies of entrance to the otherworld, still allows it, as more citizens are wanted there. Where is the otherworld? Not to worry. It is in aluminum. You will see salvia along the path to Erebus right next to the usual offenders, pavlovia, ephedra, virtual space and introversion.

Salvia divornum was a generic thief from other salvias and stole the thunder of oracular  plants. So the fix was in. Getting to the future is no harder than curing the past. Out came dreams, visions, assumptions and physicians. But there were dangers in telling the future. Zen antihero Van de Wetering got booted out for making a koan that “tomorrow nobody has heard of Buddha” (Afterzen, 112). He  thought that tomorrow maybe everyone would want to know today. They didn’t. The big question was where the future was that it should be so remembered or forgotten, as the great Planto said years ago, but that’s why they invented drugs. We can know what we didn’t forget, but in the future rift got huge traffic.

That changed when  the DEA called salvia hallucinogenic. Garden clubs feared all 600 varieties would be banned, that red flowered  salvia coccinea would be found inebriating in sun tea and the catlike odor of its leaves induce visions in the neighbors. Of course the white had no such potency. Many in government had popular salvias hot housed by mail with equal or surpassing attributes. To prevent the humble catnip from slipping into tea, not to speak of soporific lettuce, legislators urged consumption of the  famous anti-herbs.

Pilgrims who escape the box of the future still do anti-herb. Social potencies mirror the priorities of the state. Psychology calls not only for psychedelic plants, but for psychological plants, plants with feeling, plants for plants, plants with empathy for others. We unsuspecting trod many of these in daily life. The humble cement plant is a case in point for who has not pressed it unthinking in their prime? But cultivated, Concretus perspectivist  decocted in water either with powder or ground fresh from a harvest in the street is a powerful anti-hallucinogen. There is also a particularis for treating malaise, to give one improvement. Grind the berries, the root, leaf or stem. The rising anti-sap has a desired effect. Do not mistake vitex for cannabis,  castor bean for rhubarb,  ilex for pyrocanthus, hemlock for carrot. Dead people know that.


The particularis anti-species was a cure for pharmacopeia-telling the future, not by prediction but by action. Say the prediction is that you will stop smoking. Smoking the anti-smoking drug gets you there. Too much drinking, try the anti drug Dessicatus minumina. Too much sex? Rhubarb works, with vitex and rue.

Anti-herbs flourish in an environment of excess. A surfeit society will treasure them even more than did their ascetic counterparts, the Indian, who used particularities for all manner of purging, sweating, sharpening and testing. To call anti-herbs psychological requires a knowledge of how they react, affect the illness, habit and psyche of the patient. This boils down in every case to an oil transmuted by photosynthesis and extreme heat, a species of sunlight, molecular structure as a thing in itself, separate from prisons, potions, decoctions and poultices of sores.

So are you vexed, bored, surfeit, soul sick? The anti-herbs say the people who don’t  use them are. Whether you’re an Indian on the Orinoco, in the attic, in the arctic or in the basement, let’s face it, if you’ve got to, make do with green leaves.

Do you want to get to the next world fast?  Inform the experienced anti-herbalist how you want to go, fast or slow, in comfort, directly, indirectly, in short the same questions you would ask your travel agent. Of course the geography of the place is worth some thought, that is to what part of the other world and do you plan to stay? Is it just a visit? What kind of accommodations would you please? Is your purpose business, pleasure? Have you had your shots? Like a consult on how to dress?

All these call for a field guide at least, something on the table where we improve at leisure. These do not substitute for field work with caution. Plants do not exist in an expected state. They turn up anywhere, so you need this field guide for self-protection. In our rating system red means outrun Hamlet, orange, stop like a school guard, yellow, advance with Guide in hand, green, take it home for further study, and blue, have it after dinner. Precautions like these will protect from starting your own farm.

Cats have long been our teachers in prospecting this wild. Do we not find them blissfully unconscious under lavender leaves?  Salvia trifecta also brings euphoria when leaf, flower and root are ground. The citizens of Rome testified that Salvia  pineapplefolium cured their delirium. Settlers of the otherworld got lifts from Artemisia thujol. These in oil,  rusticating upon the skin for three hours, are only rivaled by the monarda for that epiphany at the end of mind.

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