by Richard Katz
We were hiking in the high Sierra Nevada mountains south of Lake Tahoe and came across the Downy Avens, Geum triflorum (also known as “Prairie Smoke”), blooming in an alpine meadow at around 9000 feet (2750 meters) elevation. or “Old Man’s Whiskers”)
The form and growth pattern of a wildflower is an expression of its life force, and thus is a clue to how an essence of that flower will work within the human psyche. Downy Avens is a wildflower with a most unusual growth pattern. It blooms with its flowers nodding downward, deep pinkish red sepals tightly clasping the petals, with only a small opening at the bottom. Yet, after pollination, this tightly-held, almost bud-like flower turns upward to the sky, and opens to reveal the extended styles in a feathery whirl.
The whole plant has an airy quality, with fine hairs covering the divided leaves, stems and flowers, thus the name “Downy.” And I suspect that the “Avens” name is derived from the Latin avem for “bird,” although etymological sources say otherwise ( namely avencia, a kind of clover).
We see in the Downy Avens a polarity of the closed and contained flowering gesture, pointing down to the earth, and the wide open and airy seeding gesture radiating up and out to the world.. The airy and sensitive quality also pervades the rest of the “downy” plant. The flower maintains a protected interior space while the flowering process comes to fruition, and only when that process is complete, does it open to the light and air. The medicinal uses by Native Americans also show a similar polarity of earth and air, using the fragrant root to deal with air afflictions in the lungs or over-sensitivity in the digestive region.
Downy Avens is a member of the Rosaceae plant family, plants which are typically strongly incarnated, as evidenced by their extensive root systems or rhizomes. The Geums spread by active rhizomes, an expression of their earthiness, balancing out the airy qualities. The incarnational forces of the Rosacaceae can come to expression in the will and limbs, but also in the forces of the heart and blood. Think of the California Wild Rose. We can then see the dusty pink Downy Avens as a kind of rose bud, which only opens when it goes to seed.
With this extensive picture of the Downy Avens plant held in our imagination, we can understand why its flower essence is an antidote for the overly frenetic mental forces of our time, for the tendency to let the airy intellect speed ahead of our emotional development. Downy Avens encourages us to cultivate nurturing heart forces to bring our creativity to maturity before we offer it to the world. By holding back its opening, the Downy Avens is then able to give its gift in a most elegant way, when the time is right.
For example, a flower essence therapist from Brazil reports she uses Downy Avens for emotional maturity, based on a “loving heart,” for young adults with very active minds. A couple saw her because they wanted to start a family, but they each felt dissatisfied with their relationship, somewhat bored, also discontented with their work and living situation. After taking the Downy Avens essence for some weeks, they were able to make time to to develop a warm emotional bond, instead of fantasizing about what they might have differently in their lives. They were able to start a family and gradually develop new creative interests in work life.
Another flower essence practitioner from Germany uses Downy Avens flower essence for people “working in fast-paced, high stress situations” to facilitate connection with the heart. One case was with a female lawyer, who saw herself struggling in what seemed a man’s world to keep up with everything in her schooling and profession, while still maintaining her femininity. Downy Avens helped her to “pace herself, as it were, to install brakes,” as the practitioner described it.
Downy Avens is particularly helpful for many children, especially those on the autistic spectrum, whose intellectual development is typically out of sync with their emotional expression, and who struggle to feel incarnated.
One flower essence therapist used Downy Avens with her young son, who exhibited autistic and hyperactive tendencies in his mainstream schooling. She found that he had “ a keener sense of the environment around him, and is more present init, rather than just being in his ‘own’ environment.”
Downy Avens, along with Lewisa, was used for another boy suffering form autism. His parents took him to a treatment center, but they were told that it could not help him. The boy was described as having “a veil in front of him, not the true self. He presented daily with so many different faces, but not the true one.” After using the essences for a week or so, his parents reported that he “became calmer, more responsive and a presenting with more clarity. At his school he was able to be more expressive, and to state clearly his preferences. It was a though his head was not so clogged, something new was flowing through him.”