Elephant’s Head: A Wildcrafting Adventure

Pedicularis groenlandica lives in wetlands in Canada and the entire western U.S.

The Fourth of July sun dipped below the tree-line when Kristie’s rattling old VW bus finally climbed the mountain. It had been hours since we left the city that afternoon, but I was willing to be patient because I knew it was worth the wait for Pedicularis groenlandica, a hard-to-find medicinal herb that grows only in high-elevation wetlands and flowers only briefly. It’s a sedative and muscle relaxer that you can smoke or tincture. The plan was to spend the night around a campfire in Mount Hood National Forest and then look for the herb in the morning.

Dried pedicularis

Pedicularis is known as Elephant’s Head because the flower bears an uncanny resemblance to the namesake animal, including the trunk. The only real-life elephants you’ll find in Oregon today are in the zoo, but fossil records tell us there were at least three kinds of elephants living here during the last Ice Age, including an 11-foot-tall extinct species called Elephas columbi. If you ever want to give your imagination the kind of boost it needs to imagine such a thing, it helps to lie in a dark, quiet forest late into the night. You hear twigs snapping and your mind runs wild, imagining all manner of creatures.

In the morning we hiked to a marshland. My shoes sunk in the muddy grass and some of my friends walked around barefoot. I saw red-bellied newts swimming in the shallow creeks that criss-crossed the field.

By the way, Pedicularis is technically a parasite; it saps nutrients from whatever plant it’s growing next to. (This could be a boon or a bust: You could end up with bonus psychoactive compounds or, worst case scenario, toxins.)

Elephant's Head and Russian Sage in a glass pipe

The Pedicularis flowers looked pink in the wild but turned wonderfully purple as they dried. When I lit the Pedicularis groenlandica flowers in my pipe last night, I mixed them with the calming mint Lemon Balm and some crumbled purple Russian Sage flowers, Perovskia atriplicifolia, a common ornamental plant native to Afghanistan. I use Pedicularis to relieve cramping; that combo helps with related PMS symptoms too.

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3 thoughts on “Elephant’s Head: A Wildcrafting Adventure

  1. Pingback: Smoking: Fun With Nervines « First Ways

  2. Hey I was just reading your article on mullein as my friend was planning on using it as a changa base and I noticed you mentioned Russian Sage so I came here to find any of your other references to it. It excites me that somebody else uses this plant! I have been smoking it recreationally very often for almost a year and a half and I gotta say the stuff is amazing. The effects, although mild (but not very mild) for me feel like a primitive version of cannabis. I smoke almost exclusively dried leaves and occasionally I make finger hash from the whole plant in a similar way that charas is made in india. Have you found any other use for it other than a cannabis admixture or sedative? I sometimes use it by itself for insomnia and it relaxes me about equally with the average hybrid cannabis. Anything you know about it from your use would be appreciated, in fact, you should do an article on it.

    • Hi Erik,

      Thanks for your comment. I do not smoke cannabis, actually, and I smoke the flowers rather than the leaves of Russian sage. Very interesting to read your take. I will try the leaves next time!

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