roots and seeds

Roots and Seeds

A couple of weeks ago, we heard about one of the most expensive problems in the world today, invasive plants. When I think of invasive plants, I think of weeds.

I brought in some things I expect will be familiar to you, especially if you have a garden. This is a dandelion leaf. I’m going to tell you some things about the dandelion you might not know. The name, dandelion, comes from the French dent de lion meaning “tooth of the lion”. (Dent is the root of dental.) Dandelion roots can grow to about three feet long in the right kind of soil. Cutting off the root without getting all of it out actually encourages the plant to grow! As you know, dandelions are resilient! I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but I am convinced they actually duck when I’m coming toward them with a lawn mower. As soon as I pass over them, they lift their little heads and laugh.

One reason dandelions spread so quickly is they don’t need to be pollinated. Every seed, attached to these little parachutes like a little person, is fertile. It’s hard to imagine life without dandelions, but there were none on the American continents before colonists arrived from Europe.

This is a catkin from the cottonwood tree. It contains hundreds and hundreds of seeds. We have some friends who bought a lot years ago that had been cleared. They wanted to plant trees that grew quickly so they bought and planted more than 50 cottonwoods. As you can imagine, this year cotton is falling like snow on their yard. I’ve never seen a year like this in the 40 years I’ve lived in Alaska. The cotton is a foot or more deep in places.

This is a fireweed flower. It’s a barometer of summer. The flowers start blooming at the bottom and work their way upward. When the last flowers bloom at the top and it goes to seed, summer in Alaska is over.

I have a talented wife. Some people think she can do almost anything but that isn’t true. One thing she doesn’t do well is gardening. Cooking is another. It’s not that she can’t cook, but she doesn’t really like to. Neither do I. Gardening is even worse. She’s tried, but her failures outweigh her successes.

Last summer, she finally broke down and bought silk hanging baskets. We’ve gotten several compliments on them from people who thought they were real. We just smile. Maybe we should plant silk flowerbeds. Wouldn’t the moose be surprised?

Susan has always preferred wilderness, the wild, free beauty of nature. When we lived in a Quonset hut in Bear Valley, I wanted to plant a little lawn. She protested, saying then we’d have to water it, mow it, rake it, and tend it. She finally relented, and I liked the results but she was right about the work. When there were only alders and weeds, there was no work.

We feel close to God in the wilderness. Everything is in natural and easy disarray, with a bigness and wildness that stretches the spirit. But God placed Adam and Eve in a garden. The only work mentioned before sin is gardening. There’s a reason for that, I think. If life before we came to Christ can be compared to life in a wilderness, what He wants us as to do as Christians is turn our lives into gardens where He can commune with us in loving fellowship as He did with Adam and Eve.

Just as God wanted Adam and Eve to be gardeners, He wants Christians to make gardens of our lives, to strive to sanctify ourselves, clean things up, weed out sin, nurture and fertilize good works, and create a haven for others who are going through storms. It’s not easy. It’s a lot easier to go with the flow and enjoy whatever blessings that naturally come our way.

But life, like wilderness, isn’t always easy and beautiful. The weather can change, the temperature can drop as rain pours down and wind picks up. We can be hurt or lost. Suddenly, what would be a beautiful experience in peaceful weather becomes dangerous, then alarmingly dangerous as we realize we’re in a fight for survival. Nothing would appeal to us more at that time than a peaceful, protected garden, a shelter from the storm. I know how wonderful a quiet cove looks when we are getting beat up on the boat.

As Christians we are to be set apart from the world. That may mean building walls to protect ourselves from the influence of popular culture, but walls not to keep people out. We can welcome people into our garden rather than join them in the wilderness.

In the analogy between a garden and a Christian life, soil is like our sinful flesh. Seeds are ideas or thoughts, the source of weeds (sins) as well as fruit and flowers (good works). We are called to plant the Word so it will bloom and bear fruit, and to battle weeds, or sins, which grow naturally.

Once we are set apart through salvation, God wants us to clear the weeds (sins in this analogy). What didn’t seem like a weed or sin in the wilderness is undesirable when we begin to want what God wants. He begins to change our hearts so that we desire His righteousness and hate our sin. Some sins are deeply rooted, like dandelions. If even a tiny piece of root is not destroyed, it grows again. Our job is to pull it up again, and again, and again until God recreates the world and we are given the weed free, sin-free bodies He has promised. For now, it’s a continuous battle.

A big difference between some gardens and others is that some gardeners keep up with the weeding and others neglect the job. It’s the same with our lives. We can’t garden alone, without God, but He won’t do the gardening for us while we sit back and watch. Gardening is a cooperative effort. If we work with Him by planting seeds and pulling weeds, He will bless our efforts.

As weeds are cleared from our lives, we can begin to plant something more beautiful. As Christians, we are to plant seeds from the Word of God in our hearts and become deeply rooted in Christ Jesus. In other words, we need to spend time studying and learning God’s Word. As seeds from the Word develop and grow into righteous fruit, so will our trust, confidence and knowledge of God. Ideas are seeds. Here on earth, seeds of sin can blow in from the outside world and quickly germinate. Just as weeds and flowers compete for space, water, and soil, ideas compete for space in our minds. Our sinful natures naturally welcome sinful weeds that can choke out the flowers, or good works, we want to cultivate. Good gardening makes it possible for good plants to flourish.

We can’t be gardeners in our backyards or in our lives without God. No matter what we plant, water, or fertilize, we cannot grow anything. We do not have the power to grow a plant. Only God can do that. We do not have the power to sanctify ourselves, but God does if we allow Him to have his way. He might prune us, or discipline us, so we bear fruit. It is not pleasant when this happens, but if we understand the pruning is done in love, for a purpose, we can accept it.

God desires to commune with us in a garden, as He did with Adam and Eve. Our fellowship with Him is close when we willfully choose to cooperate with Him to reclaim a garden from the wilderness, sanctified, weeded, and full of beauty to be enjoyed in His presence. Then, we will be able to welcome battered refugees from the world into our lives and share with them the peace and shelter Jesus offers. If our lives as Christians are no different than those in the surrounding wilderness, there won’t be any reason for lost and hurting people to want what we have.

Jesus used an analogy of seeds in one of His first parables, recorded in Matthew 13:3-9. He later explained the parable to the disciples:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Matthew 13:18-23 explains the meaning of this parable:

“ Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

In practice, this means we are to plant seeds from the Word of God in our hearts and minds then give Him time to grow them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants us to become fruitful, a hundred, sixty or thirty times. For that to happen, we need keep up with the weeding (of sin) so that the good plants aren’t smothered by the bad. The goal for this is that our lives would become havens of peace and safety in which we can commune with God and where we can welcome others to enjoy that same peace and safety with Jesus.

(Note: A song to accompany this talk is “The Garden Song” by Dave Mallett. Find more about Dave Mallett at

Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow,
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Father bless the seeds I sow,
Spirit warm them from below till the rain comes tumbling down.

Pulling weeds, picking stones.
Knowing I’m just flesh and bones.
I can do nothing on my own to bring life from this dry land.
Grain for grain, sun and rain,
Trusting God in joy and pain
I know my work is not in vain.В On His promises I stand.

Plant your rows straight and long,
Nurture them with prayer and song.
The Word of God will make you strong if you plant with love and care.
Seeds of hope, seeds of love,
Seeds of faith in God above.
Hear the soft song of a dove as you work with praise and prayer.

Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow,
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Father bless the seeds I sow,
Spirit warm them from below till the rain comes tumbling down.

Note: This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.

In the analogy between a garden and a Christian life, soil is like our sinful flesh. Seeds are ideas or thoughts. We are called to plant the Word in our hearts.

Bark, roots and seeds

We have been collecting plants for replanting to extend populations, like goldenseal, and during the last week sustainably harvesting other plants for making herbal medicines, gathering bark, roots and seeds. In some cases we can benefit from plants before they die from other causes. Here in the United States, the Dutch Elm disease has been attacking elm trees including Slippery Elm ( Ulmus rubra). Paul Strauss showed us, on the trail through the forest, how to spot trees that may be in trouble – if the tree is going to die within a few years then it may be considered for medicinal use. The inner bark of this tree is an important soothing and nutritious medicine useful for gastro-intestinal and skin conditions. We marked one such tree on a walk last week and went back to harvest it this week with Paul. Felling trees within the forest is no easy task because they will often ‘hang’ on trees close by, but Paul deftly worked with his chainsaw to bring this Slippery Elm down. Once on the ground, the tree was chopped into sections about 5 foot long and we carried them out of the woods to a waiting pickup truck. Back at the Plant Sanctuary barn we learned how to use draw knives to shred off the rough outer scales and to reach the whitish inner bark above the yellow heartwood. The shreds of bark can be further pulled into thinnish strings and these dry readily in the sun. Our Slippery Elm will be shared out with the land owner and much appreciated. At the moment there is no obvious substitute for this useful remedy.

Another plant which is on the United Plant Savers ‘At Risk’ list is the Purple Coneflower ( Echinacea purpurea) . In the Sanctuary there is a large field area which was seeded some 16 years ago with a variety of prairie plants. At this time of year, in September, the prairie area is a sea of yellow, white and purple including native grasses which contribute to the soil fertility. Here there is a large stand of Purple Coneflower, its roots are widely in demand for its immune system stimulating properties. We were able to dig up a small number of roots around the edges to make Echinacea tincture. The seeds were scattered back on the ground although they too can be used medicinally. The roots are quite small with purplish buds but when cut they produce a characteristic tingling and numbing taste on the tongue, indicating active constituents. Our prized roots were washed and chopped up with added alcohol (50%) without any delay. We have a growing number of jars and containers of all sizes which sit on top of the refrigerator in the Yurt, our roundhouse cooking and meeting place. We have been back to the Prairie a few times now, usually collecting seed for replanting in other schemes. This area is rich in beautiful and useful plants from Indian Hemp (for rope making) to False Wild Indigo (makes a good babies rattle from seed pod) to Boneset (gathered by every family and dried for winter complaints) to Maximilian and Downy Sunflowers (roots of all sunflowers edible) and more. These wonderful plants are tall and a path needs to be cut through the prairie to appreciate them with ease. Establishing a prairie like this apparently takes a few years of cutting at specific times of year and then it is almost self-maintaining so long as occasional invasives are spotted and removed. Almost everywhere I have been in the area I see freshly mown grass areas from roadside to well beyond every house – it would be wonderful if everyone could set aside part of their huge lawns to have a Prairie Patch (or even a Prairie Maze!) and appreciate the wild plants.

Bark, roots and seeds We have been collecting plants for replanting to extend populations, like goldenseal, and during the last week sustainably harvesting other plants for making herbal