Ivi is the self proclaimed witch of our family; if one wasn’t already convinced by her knowledge of plant medicine and wild mushrooms, her cackle leaves no room for doubt. My earliest childhood memories of Ivi and her husband Tone are of laughter. My mom, my grandmother, our other cousins laughing, at what I understand now, were the dirty jokes Ivi is still a well spring of. Hunting for phallic and earthy fruits of the Slovenian forests and a taste for the obscene go hand in hand.
Ivi’s relationship with plants started at a young age, with the onset of a rotten and aching tooth. She grew up quite poor, so the dentist was a luxury her family couldn’t afford. In a daze of pain, she laid down in the barn stall where bags of wild herbs where kept to feed the rabbits. Ivi rested her head on one of these bags and fell asleep. When she woke, her pain had disappeared. She knew then, it was the healing herbs who had relieved her of her suffering.
From then on, Ivi has worked with wild and cultivated herbs for herself, her family and anyone who comes to her with one ailment or another. She freely gives her carefully dried herbs and mushrooms. When her granddaughter, Urska, became ill with Leukemia, she researched and grew Amazonian plants found to have anti-cancer benefits. They still thrive in her garden, after three years of Urska’s remission, next to the abundant and familiar Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Thyme and Rue. Ivi’s approach to herbal medicine is a trust in the plants, and their spirits. When I ask her how an herb works, she simply says, “They just help”.
Ivi and Tone are avid mushroom hunters. Both in their 70’s, they still go for long foraging excursions. During our last trip, Ivi made us lunch and apologized that there were only four different wild mushrooms in our soup. She explained that mushrooms exist on a spectrum. Very edible to, half poisonous to all out poisonous. The half poisonous mushrooms are the most medicinal, but she warns not just anyone can eat those for food-they are too potent and can make people sick. She says her and Tone eat the half poisonous mushrooms often because they have built up their tolerance.
Ivi, like all of the women in my family, seem to be in a constant flurry of activity. Along with her many crafts, Ivi has started a project to recreate her healing experience as a child. In a room above their small shed, she is preparing a mattress filled with medicinal herbs that people can come and sleep atop of to aid their healing. Being around Ivi makes me connect with the intuitive and creative ways our ancestors related to plants and mushrooms. I ponder if the wicked glee of dirty jokes is an aspect of plant language. I think of her when I’m feeling bogged down by terminology of phytochemical constituents or actions. Ivi has taught me that folkways are in our bones, they are to be trusted as the plants are to be trusted- that is how we can open to their wisdom.