My fascination with Ocotillo began long before my formal introduction to its medicine. I was seventeen and on the first real road trip of my life, traveling through the unending expansive beauty of West Texas alongside my first Love, Jake. The spindly limbs of Ocotillo punctuated every rocky hillside and flat expanse that marked the increasingly spare landscape as we headed toward Big Bend. Her brilliant red flowers were in full bloom and her spines, though not at first detectable, spoke to me of something exciting and unknown. After this first encounter, many years passed and I thought little of Ocotillo, desert sentinel, enchantress of the lonely places.
And then, quite by accident, I moved to New Mexico five years later, landing just an hour’s drive of her northernmost range. Drawn toward her, I traveled South to Truth or Consequences to soak in the hot springs and revel in her beauty – so fierce and foreign to me. More time passed. I moved farther North, from Albuquerque to Taos, and my life looked different, quieter, sadder. My partner, the man I lived with and loved, he and I took a long long trip through Arizona, driving fast down winding highways lined with Palo Verde and towering Saguaros, then North through the Redwoods of California, and finally to Southernmost reaches of Washington where Wild Roses grew so thick they threatened to overtake the roads.
It was on this trip that I first harvested Ocotillo. We baked in the midday Sun, my body weak from the heat as we gathered her purple-tinged new-growth and slept upon the Earth amidst the desert flora and ferocious ants. I squatted at dusk, pounding her thorny limbs between two rocks. I peeled her sticky bark from the cylindrical twig of a bone around which she grew. We tinctured her parts in vodka and nestled the jar safely into my basketful of sweaters. When we returned to New Mexico, our relationship ended – an ending as strong and blunt and disorienting as the vodka in which our medicine sat macerating. I fled south, shattered into one thousand bits of myself, but still somehow intact. I did not cry until I crossed the threshold of Mountains just South of Albuquerque; the mountains that meant leaving, really leaving.
I moved back to Austin, my home. To be with family, to rest, to grieve, to gather myself back to wholeness. That tincture we made together sat on my shelf in the dark, untouched and unacknowledged for many Moons. I returned to New Mexico on a road trip with my friends and saw the Ocotillo again. I wandered about the stark hillsides where she grew and told knowing tales of her medicine to my dear friend, Asia. Looking her straight in the eye as I spoke, and with little awareness of what I was doing, I reached down to the earth to retrieve a stone from the base of an Ocotillo that had called me to it. I lifted a brilliantly faceted druzy smokey quartz from the red dirt and we admired it in equal states of amazement.
When I returned to Texas, the rains came with me. I lay awake at night for fear of flooding. I lit all the candles in my home and put I record after record on the turntable to fill the room with some semblance of warmth. My sprawling apartment was submerged in a darkness that brought with it an eerie kind of beauty as the rain quickly turned to a river outside my door. It was then that this medicine came to me – this medicine of smoke and darkness and flowing waters. I rifled through my many jars of herbs to produce a quantity of Ocotillo flowers I’d asked a friend to gather for me. These, I learned later, were harvested by him and his girlfriend on their first date – a fact I would later come to hold like small treasure, an emblem of hope. I covered the scarlet blossoms he’d mailed me in Mescal – my favorite . When they were ready, I combined the smoky spirit of my friend’s first love with the sharp and caustic tincture of bark and endings that my previous partner and I had gathered on our trip. To this I added a quantity of smoked alder sea salt, sticky brown piloncillo sugar, the flower essence of Ocotillo, and finally – my prize – the smoky quartz I’d found in the desert. In the dark, this alchemy came together, in the dark, this alchemy heals.
When the elixir was complete, I began taking a single drop a day. It was potent and unctuous and everything I like about herbal medicine. Immediately I began to feel movement in my womb. Old stories. Old, old stories. So many things pushed beneath the surface, by me, by my family; nameless shapeless, watery and mercurial unknowable tales began to whisper themselves to me. I grieved day and night until my sheet were wet with tears and tiny capillaries around my eyes ruptured. I screamed so violently that I am truly shocked my neighbors did not call the police. Grief became my teacher and my task master. It takes up a lot of space, as it turns out.
Through it all, my womb felt full and heavy, but there was movement where before I’d found only numbness and stagnation from the pain of my own deeply personal heartbreaks, compounded with the shadowy past I’d inherited. Slowly, I noticed my stories about my body and my sexuality beginning to change shape. Through all this crying, my body felt somehow more like home, like there was more room for me in it, all of the sudden. I felt settled within myself in a new way; at once more and less vulnerable. It was as if I’d previously only existed from my navel up, preferring to act as though I had no belly and barely acknowledging my lower half, let alone my womb or the sexual centers of my Being. The seat of my awareness became lower, more grounded. It felt damned good. I felt safe, perhaps for the first time in my life. And as a woman in this culture, that is no small thing.
Since about the age of fifteen, a major point of sadness and frustration for me, has been my seeming inability to reach orgasm. And I will spare you the graphic details, by saying simply, that it was not for lack of trying. Despite my many attempts, I could not have an orgasm. Not alone not with a partner, not in a house, not with a mouse. I could not have an orgasm, Sam I am. I felt broken. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy sex, but I felt like I was missing out on a truly fundamental piece of the human experience.
Then one night in November, after roughly two Moons of working with this new medicine, two Moons of witnessing the old stories that lived within my body and sitting squarely in the grief and the discomfort – as if by magic, it happened. And then it happened again, and again. And, expectations aside, the experience of orgasm has become a deeply tender and healing aspect of embodiment for me. Since this first experience I’ve continued to work with the Ocotillo Elixir on a daily basis, and have even returned once more to the desert to harvest her bark.
Through courting the medicine of Ocotillo, I’ve come face to face with my shadow and my shame, and all of the things I would rather not think about. But it needed to happen, because only through welcoming this pain have I been able to remember that pleasure, too, is safe and sacred; that eros truly is present in all things, when we feel secure enough within ourselves to experience the world directly through the body. It takes an incredible act of surrender to live life from the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in – and this surrender has been her greatest gift to me.
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Ocotillo puts us back in touch with our wild instincts. For those who have experienced trauma, sexual or otherwise, and have lost their sense of agency and self ownership, or perhaps never known it to begin with – there is no better remedy. Ocotillo helps you to reclaim your creative power and your right to truly feel. It is a plant which governs the fluids of the body as well as the fluidity with which we move, and move through the world. Ocotillo is the newly installed gatekeeper, minding the dams which have held back your tears for too long and allowing them to flow like rivers full with Salmon once more.
When we feel stuck in life, like we’ve reached some invisible roadblock in the path, it is often due to repressed memories, unprocessed emotion, stagnation of the Spirit. Without careful attention, these things accumulate within our bodies and our hearts, the pressure growing ever greater and as it fills us by turns with a peculiar mixture of grief and anger, anxiety and restlessness. Ocotillo is a plant which goes straight to the root of our discomfort, in order to find resolution once and for all and to leave us feeling spacious and at ease in the world, once more. She is a plant who teaches us to dance gracefully with our shadow; to embrace the darkness of grief and wade through murky waters of long forgotten pain.
She is also indicated for low vitality, lack of appetite, feelings of constant overwhelmed, a tendency toward emotional outbursts, and general sense of stagnation in the womb or pelvis.
Ocotillo stokes the creative fire which lives within the womb, belly, and sexual centers, returning Eros to our world, renewing sexual vitality, and re-awakening the body to the electric sensations present in all of Life. Her medicine invites you to speak your truth without apology, to stand your ground and stand up for who and what are important to you. She reminds us how to reclaim our bodies, our time, and our pleasure as belonging solely to us and no one else. Her medicine aids us in deconstructing the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies, our sexuality, and our respective pasts so that they may soften and take new form as we move toward blossoming.