We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered. The Rigveda (8.48.3)
Lately my passions for yoga, herbalism and plant magic have been merging. I’ve been experimenting with wildcrafted elixirs, tonics and infusions inspired by the mystical legends of soma, a sacred nectar reputed to grant both immortality and enlightenment. Described as “green-tinted” and “bright-shining” in the Rigveda, soma was made mainly from wild herbs and plants, whose rejuvenating potency or “life giving essence” was strong. And most telling, it was meant to be drunk not from the mouth— but the heart.
Some scholars believe soma was single plant, others a group or type of plant (texts like the Susruta Samhita mention twenty four soma plants and eighteen soma-like plants). Many claim soma was an entheogenic substance made from mushrooms or a vine, others say it was an inner elixir produced by yoga and meditation. But according to Dr. David Frawley whose analysis of soma reflects forty years of study of Vedic texts, and author of Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda: The Power of Rejuvenation and Immortality the most potent soma was made mainly from wild plants and herbs which combined with “ojas” the soma or life essence of the body to create “an exhilarating effect that promotes healing and transformative processes on all levels”.
From yogic mystics to Taoist sages, to western alchemists, sacred plants have long been entwined with our sacred anatomy. In yoga the physical and subtle body is likened to a tree with different branches and different plants and herbs interact with these branches to vitalize our chakras and facilitate the life-giving flow of prana through energy channels or nadis. Evidence for the use of soma to energize both the physical and energetic body and expand consciousness is found in countless sacred texts – the Soma Mandala contains 114 hymns praising its qualities.
The rejuvenative properties of soma may be relegated to the realm of myth but science is discovering many of the herbs and plants used in soma preparations affect our telomeres, the caps at the end of each strand DNA that get shorter each time a cell copies itself, causing them to age.
Studies show that chemical compounds found in soma-like plants (Astaxanthin, Polyphenols, CoQ10, Vitamin K, to name but a few) actually help rejuvenate and lengthen our telomeres— suggesting some of these ancient soma preparations may actually deserve the appellation “anti-aging” after all.
The beneficial effects of many soma type plants are also well known to herbalists. Some, according to Dr. Frawley, are “tonic” plants used to increase physical energy, stamina, musculoskeletal function, circulation and coordination. Other plants are known to possess nervine properties which act on the nervous system, stimulating concentration, perception and clarity. Nervines can also be calming, slowing the mind for meditation–and in yogic tradition they are said to nourish the higher brain centres.
Some yogic traditions tell of a soma chakra or Amrita or Bindu chakra. Located near the pineal gland and Ajna Chakra (third eye) the Amrita Chakra – which means ‘the Nectar of the Crescent Moon’ it contains the inverted triangle, symbol of feminine energy, and the great seat of Shiva & Parvati consciousness.
So it was this intriguing mix of yoga mysticism, herbal healing and anti-aging science that inspired me to create my own soma. But where to begin?
Through my herbalism studies with well-known herbalist teacher Betty Norton, I knew that many plants with soma-like qualities grow in wild abundance right here on Vancouver Island. Many are well-known tonics and nervines with medicinal benefits, like Nettles, Wild Mint and Wild Chicory. Syrian or African Rue is an invasive weed whose seeds are commonly used as a spice but are also slightly narcotic, hence one of it’s common names: soma! Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace) flowers and seeds are also psychotropic.
Many of these plants, like Yarrow leaf, Wild Ginger root, Wild Sarsaparilla root, Wild Bergamot leaf are known to contain adaptogens which improve the health of adrenal system helping us cope with stress, anxiety and fight fatigue. Devil’s Club is also a native plant with adaptogenic functions and it is still used by local First Nations, who have their own indigenous sacred plants and healing traditions.
And according to Dr. Frawley it was not only wild plants that were best for soma potency, but those growing in particular areas where natural energies were strong. He writes “soma ingredients are most prevalent among plants growing in the mountains, particularly by streams and lakes”. So off to the mountainous wet wilds of Vancouver Island I would go!
While inspired by eastern, western and indigenous herbal healing traditions, I decided the wisdom of wild mother nature would be my primary guide. For example, last year our early lush spring brought us nettles in profusion. Bursting with compounds that reduce inflammation, nettle has long been used to treat allergies and hay fever. Because the same climatic forces and natural energies that flow through our landscape flow through us as well, mother nature knows best when it comes to providing the medicines we need to thrive each season.
Another illustration of mother’s natures pharmacy is Licorice Fern, which begins to flourish when the cold dank rains of autumn set in. And as First Nations healers well know, Liquorice Fern root is an ideal medicine to treat colds and congested lungs. Coincidence? I think not. There is a balance in nature and we are a part of it.
Finally, as a wildcrafter, I wanted to incorporate a little old fashioned plant magic. There is an the old herbalist axiom that the plants we need “speak to us”. On a wild medicine walk Cowichan Medicine Woman and ethnobotanist Della Rice Sylvester, told us – watch for the plant that calls you, you will notice it – it may even “move without wind” to get your attention. So for my Soma, I would go into nature with a trusting heart and an open eye. I would follow the plants that called to me.
In Hinduism, the god Soma (Chandra) is a lunar deity, thus the full moon is the time to collect and press the divine plants. The moon is also the cup from which the gods drink Soma, and a waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. So true kitchen witch style, I will be busy harvesting and brewing my soma under the phases of the moon.
And my first creation? A Wild Yogini Elixir, in tribute to the Matrikas, the seven great mother goddesses found in the Rigveda and Mahabharata who were said to control the preparation of soma. Designed to get prana flowing, this wildcrafted elixir will not only fire up the solar chakra, open the heart and ignite the third eye—but bring me into ‘healing harmony’ with the natural energies of the land I inhabit, body and soul.
I’ll let you know how it goes!