Spring on Cougar Mountain, the rocky backyard hill of Exshaw, was a pulse of purple: waves and waves of rippling crocuses. We would go for a little hike to pick them. Such lovely things, these little purple flowers, looking like your grandmother’s eggcups, blooming around Easter on the wind-beaten slopes. The air was surely packed with pollen, but it didn’t bother me at all – my nose was filled with the fine spice of springtime, never a sneeze or a sniffle. My lungs, on the other hand, heaved with asthma from cats and dust mites, but breathed easier in the clear outdoor breeze.
In fact, my nose has rarely been a big problem for me. Colds, yes, of course, but allergies not really. One standout exception to my general sinus bienséance came when I was in graduate school in Boston. I got some kind of sinus infection. I think I may have aggravated it by trying to flush it with a neti pot. I sought some relief: I went to a bookstore and natural medicine shop in Harvard Square. I looked in their homeopathy reference and, flipping between different options and diagnoses, decided that I should give pulsatilla a try: it was associated with (among many other things) thick mucus in quantity. I bought a little vial of sugar pills that had been coated with water that had pulsatilla diluted in it to something like one molecule per mole of water. Would it provoke curative symptoms that would paradoxically result in a faster and more effective resolution of my problem?
I really can’t say for sure if the “pulsatilla” pills had anything to do with it, but my nose, for several days, produced the most prodigious quantities of phlegm imaginable. I recall teaching a test prep class – showing a couple dozen young people how to put their brains in gear for the SAT or GRE – and having to step out every five minutes to fill a half dozen Kleenices each time. (Kleenices? One index, two indices; one Kleenex, two Kleenices.) I really have no idea where all that white glop came from. Had I turned into a cousin of Moby-Dick, with my forehead all full of spermaceti?
Since then, I have associated pulsatilla with little pills and with phlegm in prodigious quantity, and also incidentally with all those things associated with phlegm, including slow pusillanimity. My sinuses are ill disposed towards it.
Which is really not fair to those pretty crocuses.
Those beautiful crocuses that populate the springtime hills and mountains of Alberta are, in fact, not crocuses, not actually. They look like crocuses. They are called, among other things, prairie crocuses. But actually they are related to buttercups. And I have learned lately that they belong to the genus Pulsatilla, flowers including the anemone and the windflower – indeed, the name Pulsatilla appears to be a reference to their being beaten (the Latin pulsa root) by the wind. (The italics aid the visual impression: Pulsatilla.)
Real crocuses grow in Europe and Asia and Africa, and some of them produce saffron, that finest, most expensive of spices. My beloved little succour of spring youth produce purple and pollen and that’s pretty much all. And they have not offended my nose; they have not stirred my sinuses; they simply palliated my perennial chest congestion with an excuse to climb into the fresh air and spur my pulse and respiration.
So now when I hear or read of pulsatilla, something nicer than an overloaded nose will spring to mind.