LIZ MIGLIORELLI | SISTER SPINSTER | Oakland
If there is a poetry of flowers, flower essences would be haikus—distillations of experience into pure and simple elements, intimate observations that become the crystallized hearts of wild and natural things . In this sense, Liz Migliorelli of Sister Spinster Apothecary is a poet, creating flower essences out of her home in Oakland. “Herbs and magic,” reads her website. Among her blends: “Graces,” “Ghosts,” “Third Eye” “Grounding,” “High Priestess,” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “The Fool.”
Liz narrates her relationship with plants as if she were waxing poetic about a romance. The Victorians encoded their romantic feelings into the language of flowers, imbuing bouquets with symbolism and meaning. For Liz, the flowers are not merely the means for winning affection but are the objects of her affection. She talks about “courting” and getting to know them. “I’m non-monogamous with plants,” she says of her aversion to singling out a “favorite” one, though she admits to spending a lot of time recently with thyme, yarrow, and angelica. And she’s always had a particular fondness for the rose family, which includes hawthorne and apple trees.
Liz narrates her relationship with plants as if she were waxing poetic about a romance. The Victorians encoded their romantic feelings into the language of flowers, imbuing bouquets with symbolism and meaning. For Liz, the flowers are not merely the means for winning affection but are the objects of her affection. She talks about “courting” and getting to know them. “I’m non-monogamous with plants,” she says of her aversion to singling out a “favorite” one.
According to Liz, the flower essence begins with one’s relationship to the plant—“a relationship of reciprocities,” she notes. “I used to just take what I need.” Not anymore. Nowadays, she leaves offerings for the flowers and gives thanks to them too. When she begins the ceremonial process of creating an essence, she’ll generally have a plant in mind. Approaching the plant is a delicate matter. “I’ll touch the plant first and get to know its energy,” she says. She’ll also seek to understand the dynamics of its environment, the ongoings of the ecosystem in which it exists, and its relationship with other plants and animals, so that she can be assured of the innocuous, if not beneficial, nature of her actions.
After she has scoped out the area, she’ll either pluck or bend the flower into a bowl of water. As the bowl of water sits under the trajectory of the sun, the sun “imprints the vibration of the flowers in the water,” says Liz. The flower-steeped water becomes the “mother essence” and is then combined with brandy and bottled into individual herbal remedies to sell.
You might be surprised to learn that Liz did not, in fact, grow up among wild blooms and floral abundance. “I was very much a city-city person.” She repeats the word “city” for emphasis on the urbanity of her youth—much of which she spent in New York City. But she ended up moving to the Northwest—a floral mecca—and it was there, in Olympia, Washington, that she came to learn about the healing power of plants through an endeavor to heal herself. With the help of a midwife (whom Liz calls “a witch and a powerful healer”), Liz figured out how to heal a lifelong bout with eczema, severe and crippling energy swings, and a ravaged digestive system. “I found empowerment in that,” she recalls.
Liz’s work as Sister Spinster Apothecary is three-fold: she makes and sells flower essences, teaches classes in the Bay Area (including: “Earth Magic of the Sacred Stones,” “The Folklore of Flowers,” and “Folk Medicine and Magic of Old Europe”), and provides herbal consultations for various health problems, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, or energetic.“Sometimes when someone is talking to me, I’lI have different visions of plants that will be helpful to them,” says Liz. “I listen to each person’s stories and find plants that have a similar mythology or folklore or archetype. Through my own knowledge of the plant’s history, I can pair them up with the right flower.”
As for Liz herself, she takes her own medicine too. “Fireweed essence has been really helpful in my teaching lately.” She mentions a syrup she made in a recent class—maple syrup infused with linden flower, elderflower, and hawthorn berry—that she has been taking as “heart medicine.” “It has helped me move through lingering grief.” Other important daily rituals she abides by: singing to herself, which wards off fear; keeping a dream journal; and watching the first light of the morning tumble into her bedroom, delighting in the dance of sun and shadows, in the shifting shape of waking hours.
“Camellia—petal / fell in silent dawn spilling / a water jewel,” wrote Matsuo Basho, a 17th-century Japanese poet and one of the most famous haiku writers. The cutting of these two images—the falling of the petal and the spilling of its dew—is an uncanny poetic rendition of the very process that Liz seeks to replicate: water meeting flower to create an essence, a single image, a unity. “We are not separate from the earth,” says Liz. “We are in constant relationship with the plants. Honor that. Always come back to the plants.”