The Five Finger Plant, a story in hexameter

Katherine Rudolph


This book is dedicated to Ann and Alfred Barnes

Having decided to meet every day underneath the old Hawthorne,

Connie and Carol and Keith got some lawn chairs and set up a place there,

They and Miss Prune would be telling the stories of herb lore in nature

Maybe she came from the Krienols herself, although no one was certain.

Keith did not think so. The Krienols watch over the plant life in nature,

Having to do with the herbs that are healing, but they’re elementals.

Though Miss Prune looks a lot like them, she seems to be quite a bit larger.

Wizened and wrinkled, she knows how to cure lots of illness with herb lore.

Bordering woodlands, her cottage, with shutters like eyes, dreaming plant life,

Often stands open to those who have problems or difficult questions.

Over a hill and around the small lake, it’s apparent to people

Who are not selfishly seeking. But otherwise they’ll never find it.

There was a meeting that evening at sunset beneath the old Hawthorne.

After the Midsummer solstice, for stories about herbal plant lore.

Tales flow from memory’s wellsprings; they’re ready and waiting for someone

Who has the patience to tell them; and now was another beginning.

Rays of bright light, which were streaming thorugh gathering clouds close to sunset,

Brought back to Keith how the herb with the leaves like five-fingers brought healing.

“How do I know? Oh, yes now I remember, it happened last summer,

Midsummer night was approaching, and I made a bet I could traverse

Over the magical meadow, beyond that enchanted oak forest,

Near to the lakeside of lilies, in back of Miss Prune’s woodland cottage.

Timmy, the bully, had dared me by saying he bet I’d get frightened.

When Jim McGee had gone missing on Midsummer’s eve in that meadow,

People had said he’d been caught by the gnomes. He returned in a fortnight.

Yet he said nothing about what had happened. He couldn’t recall it.”

“Jimmy just probably wanted to miss his exams,” replied Carol.

“But the blue crystal he found in his pocket, whatever could that be?”

“Whoever saw such a jewel?” asked Connie. “Perhaps old Miss Prune did.”

“Maybe we all will one day,” replied Keith, “When the sunbeams were shining,

I could recall what had happened to me just last year at the solstice:

Nobody knew I was going. I slipped out the window at sunset,

I’d packed a knap-sack with bread, and then stealthily crept past the pine trees.

Down to the half-shadowed woodlands, I went, as the breeze cooled my forehead.

Trying to find the old path to the cottage had taken me hours.

Well, that’s not odd, for the realm we call Faerie is entered beyond there.

Carol, you know the brown path seems to be just ahead; then the owl hoots!”

“Startling it is, you look up,” answered Carol “then you’ve lost the touchstone.

In the dark network of branches and stumps, the perspective then changes.

“There is no path afterall,” you say. “Then it is there once again.

It disappears a few times, before you can reach the old pathway.”

“That’s what I meant,” replied Keith, “that’s the way to find old Miss Prune’s cottage.”

No one was home at Miss Prune’s, so I took my own time about leaving.

Odd that the door was wide open and there was a basket of apples.

Several flowers in back, began jingling to greet me at twilight.

Bordering Faerie, the magical meadow is misty at nighttime.

It must have been close to ten p.m. Then I was through the back gateway.

Who would expect that you’d feel almost blinded in that murky darkness.

Twisted damp grass, jagged roots, I could not see before or behind me.

But then I tried to be positive, and I soon found the advantage:

Wandering so in the wet after such a hot day was no problem.

When I got used to not seeing, the coolness was soothing my sunburn.

Thinking I’d just keep on walking, I followed my way stepping rhythms.

Minutes went by; then came lights, bobbing lights, left and right which I followed.

Forwards then backwards, but where did they lead? Were they trying to help me?

Or, just confuse my own sense of direction? I called, “Won’t you lead me?

Help me, I’m crossing this meadow!” Alas, then I slipped on a runnel,

Slid down a tunnel of mud and fell into a dream in the meadow:

…Watery earth full of herbs, that were pushing up growth — until I too

Sank a long root into the earth. I was sensing straight down to the center,

Rising through leaves, squeaking stems, through leaves like five-fingers I melted.

Sap flowed inside me and up ‘til I felt I was bound to lose presence.

“Tell me undine tell me why am I here?” And with that it all started:

‘Here is a story you earth boy, about how one day we were creeping

Slowly along on the edge of a pathway, like always, so folks see

All our light yellowish blossoms, and pluck us to eat in a salad.

You can imagine the joy that we felt when a sunbeam bright shining,

Spread into rays and soon beamed down to shine, bearing news from the Castle.

Everyone knows of the Castle of Natural Wonders. Three seedlings,

Which grow together, wherever they’re needed for service by humans,

Krienols who picture the stories are guarding the towers of wisdom.

And from the Castel, this message was heard! T’was much like a calling:

“Sylphs and Undines bring your foliage, don’t tarry, the fever is rising,

It is the child underneath the old Hawthorne, Vanessa has fever!

Leaves of five fingers shall cool and assuage the poor child’s burning forehead.”

“Those were the words that transferred by the rays of the sunlight – this order:

‘Gnomes take up roots and make haste to appear e’re the dawn at the Castle!’

How did we know where it was? Our own heart knows the pathway of movement.

When we are needed for healing, we hasten: our name has been given.

Sparks of the Crystalline Sphere. And Vanessa the child who was living,

Heartbeat to heartbeat, was weary; three days now her life had been trembling

Just on the border of worlds; and our foliage would heal her affliction.

We were prepared, and then placed on her forehead, crushed up into greenness.

Seeping a liquid, we penetrate deeply and heal the brain fever.

Bathed in a tea of our roots, she’ll become whole and well and courageous.

With the good will of the King Of the Elements, healing can happen.

All the long morning her life seemed like dreams that were waking and sleeping.

Patterns were shifting, and all of her forces had gone out of balance.

Lost in a desert, bereft of all waterways, cracked by the drought days…

Nightmares were plaguing her soul-life, as fever was threatening her life blood.

Dreams that she dreamed in those weeks were not ever forgotten. Imagine!

Years after healing, the images seen in her soul, are remaining.

And, above all, she remembers and tells of the Castle of Wonders:

Hear her relate from the wellsprings of memory how it once happened:

Then ask yourself, child of earthland, the reason you’re hearing this story.”

“Summer had come to the woodlands and day after day had been sunny.

Noontime was past and I’d tired of swinging outside in the backyard.

Sunlight too bright seemed to hurt my sore eyes, hurt my head. I was dizzy;

I wanted water. But then felt so heavy that soon I was sinking,

Leaning my head ‘gainst the tree. I was thirsty but there was no water.

I couldn’t move; were my muscles all twisted? My head was all swollen!

This wasn’t like any headache, my head would soon be cracking open.

Flames from my backbone were burning a column of fire in my hair.

Drams of a brittle sky… I was ascending in white, flaming heat waves,

Dizzying heights; white was welded; ‘til vaporish melting consumed me.

Then the dry wind rushed. I fell on the desert sands, grittily smothered,

Soon tossed aloft again. Lightning was searing the sky with its fire breath.

Thirst was a torment there; I could not swallow; my lips would not open.

When I saw water and crawled to the source, a small rivulet trickled –

Tricking me, then, disappearing or searing my eyelids like fire.

Frightened, unable to breathe, I was pelted, and buried in sandstorms.

Hearing myself crying out, I awoke, with convulsions. “Oh help me!”

Mother and father would carry me over the magical meadow;

Through the stone portal to Faerie. We’d go to the Castle of Wonders.


Cure Meningitis? The fever enflaming my brain. What might cure it?

Leaves like five-fingers? If not I might perish alone in that desert.

What was there real? Whitish vapor?” – “Follow us.” “What was I hearing?”

I don’t know how we arrived at the Castle of Natural Wonders:


“Green will be guiding, so follow us. Don’t be distracted by heat waves.

Trickling the rivulets, trick you by hovering over the sand dunes.

We are undines, we are winding and gliding, we’ll find the blue fountain.

“Whispering, swirling green fronds, they made pathways of coolness.

Evening breezes were wafting, upwelling, as sand dunes turned silver.

Freshness streamed through me; the cooling blue fountain rushed into my bloodstream.

Murmuring, comfort undine glided downwards to wells I remember.

Labyrinths slowly dissolved, I returned to my self and my senses.

Five cooling fingers were rippling my scalp and then calming my forehead.

Streams were now soothing my limbs, and entwining, ‘til peace had abided.

Now that I rested the lush world of Faerie had opened up to me.

Mists that were silver now dappled green landscapes with early light dawning.

Free was my breathing; the cramping was ended. I rested relaxing.

Sylphs in the coolness with rainbow laced lightness were balancing life-breath.

And the deep well of the world from inside and around me flowed onwards.

Outside and inside was I at the same time, at least for a moment.

Eyes fluttered open and white became colour. I knew where I was then.

Mother and father, the healer who dreams herbs for healing, were waiting.

Sunlight was pearly, I knew I’d be better, for they were all smiling!

Droughts and hot windstorms were banished, and brain fever, vanquished.”


“So elementals do bravely take part in the healing of humans.

Little Vanessa was healed on St. John’s and returned with her parents.

Home to the borders of Faerie. Because we’ve been chosen for healing,

We of the leaves like five fingers are able to serve with the others,

Seeds are now sown in the garden. The Castle of Natural Wonders!

In the herb garden we grow and are known for assuaging brain fever.

He, who dreams healing and herbs for each fever, each illness or ailment,

Smiles down on us for our watery leaves, running streams like five finger’s.

Thus you have heard us a story, you earth boy; you’ll wake in the meadow.”

“That is what happened to me,” said Keith. “Now I remember quite rightly.

It’s the Five Finger Plant, ‘Potentilla Reptans’, Miss Prune knows!

Waking I knew where I was near the brook that can rhyme as it ripples.

I realized that I wanted to learn to ease pain and cure illness.

I had been sleeping on foliage of herbs in the magical meadow.

“What do you think? Well, my pillow was made of the creeping Five-Fingers.

Crossing the rest of the way at the sunrise, then finding a pathway.

I made my way to the bus stop, just like any midsummer morning.

I took the bus back around, close to six in the morning; ‘twas easy,

Then I remembered my knap-sack beside the old brook by the meadow.
I could go back to the magical meadow and get it next week-end…

In the broad daylight it probably would not be much of a problem.

I went back home through the window, I climbed into bed. Of course, Timmy

Never believed me, not even when seeing the bus ticket shown him.

“You can just see for yourself!” I said. “Bring me my knap-sack, you bully!”


Down by the brook, just a pace from the magical meadow, you’ll find it.

But he declared he would not, saying he didn’t eat mouldy bread.

Little I care about him any more, if he wants no adventures.

Yet, I am thankful he made me that dare, after what I discovered.

Now I remember and what I remember may serve in the future.”

“Something you said has reminded me of the blue crystal, I’ll tell you.

Silence is not always golden,” said Connie. “I believe Jim McGee knows

More than he’d like to admit. We’ll be meeting again by this Hawthorne.”

“Tell it tomorrow,” said Carol. And so, we went home for the evening.


Creeping Five-Finger Plant
‘Potentilla reptans’
…This herb, with its tapered five-finger-like leaf clusters and yellow flowers is often
prepared as a vegetable, much in the same way as spinach.
Unpretentious though it may be, the healing forces it offeres are of great value.
…In the case of brain fever of meningitis it is essential to place the crushed leaves
directly on the forehead and head of the patient. This breaks the fever and strengthens
the nerves in the head.
Johann Künzle: Das grosse Heilkraüterbuch, Verlag Otto Walter og Olten, 1945.