Everyone knows the dandelion, says herbalist and singer-songwriter Josh Fox. It’s emblematic. “Besides Antarctica, it’s on every continent,” he says. “Everyone grew up with it, probably spraying Roundup on it or seeing it as a sign of evil on the lawn.” But Fox hopes to change that perception of the common plant to one of hope, healing and tenacity.
“I don’t know many other flowers that will push up through concrete,” Fox says. “To know the dandelion is to embody earth-strength.” To share that idea, he’s releasing a new video for his song, “Dandelion,” on Friday, Oct. 18, at 1 p.m., at avl.mx/6lu.
The video was filmed by Marc Hennessey (also known for his musical project, To All My Dear Friends), shot in a dandelion-filled meadow surrounded by mountain vistas. In it, Fox is dressed in the dandelion costume from a Fairie Kin bee dance performance. Fox was the musical director for that group for about four years.
From the song’s inception, Fox knew it needed a visual element because dandelion season is a vast, golden time, he says. “There’s something so profound about that one week, usually in April, that’s just explosive,” he says. “It’s always been a spring marker for me when I’d go collect the [dandelion] tops to make mead.”
“Dandelion” is from Fox’s 2016 recording, Spells Cast by Rain, which he describes as “an album of plant songs (and a few heart songs).” Despite the universal appeal of the dandelion, Fox first wrote about kudzu. “If you’re from this part of the country, you know what it looks like for kudzu to become this monster that climbs over buildings,” he says. “But I don’t know how to explain it to people on the West Coast or other places who don’t get to see the phenomenon of kudzu taking over.” For that reason, it, too, might warrant a visual component.
That song came about before Fox, originally from Atlanta, was studying and teaching about plants. “The kudzu was a symbol of ‘You can be rooted down but still get around everywhere’ — it’s the best of both worlds,” he says. A dozen years ago, he was introduced to the mugwort plant while interested in lucid dreaming (a property of that herb). “I was so blown away by its effect on me. … I thought there must be thousands of other [herbs] that had magic in them.”
Fox made the move to Asheville to apprentice with CoreyPine Shane at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine and teaches at the school (as well as the Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts) today. He notes that one of his heroes is naturalist, herbalist and storyteller Doug Elliott, who, “on plant walks will go around and start singing about some of the plants,” says Fox. “It really touched me that this is actually the way that a lot of herbal knowledge is passed on, through story and song.”
So Fox’s own songs take on a similar bardic spirit, not only entertaining but informing the listener of each plant’s growth cycle and healing properties. “Reishi,” the lead track on Spells Cast by Rain, came about when “I was asked to teach a mushroom class for the Organic Growers School one year,” he says. “I was like, ‘This will be a lot more fun. People have been in lectures all weekend, so I’m going to write this song that gives people the basics. If they can learn at least one verse, they’ll really remember that.” It was a hit.
The track list of the album loosely follows the wheel of the year, or the seasons. There’s “Spring Bee Waltz,” followed by “Dandelion,” and then “Tulsi,” which is more of a summer plant, Fox notes. “The kind of soulful, darker songs are more toward the winter, and ‘Goldenrod’ finishes it, which is more fall.” He adds, “So much of the Daoist medicine that I study is the observation of nature, so it did leave an impression in terms of how to orient the songs.”
The botanical inspiration continues: “I just wrote a new song — a four-part song — which is about the procession of the late spring plants,” Fox says. That piece, “The Earth Is Alive,” is accompanied by a puppet video and is available on Fox’s YouTube channel.
Learn more at foxsongs.bandcamp.com and avl.mx/6jm.