violet: calm, cool & collected

A few weeks ago, right at the beginning of Spring, I felt downright angry and resentful. I couldn't put a finger on exactly what was stirring this fire. The more I tapped into the energy of the season I realized it was simply that, the winds of Spring stirring up emotion. In Chinese Medicine, Spring energy is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder, and the mental-emotional characteristics can either lean toward creativity and compassion or anger and frustration. (Read more about that here.) I confirmed this with a few other people who were experiencing the same thing around the same time. 

I've been drawn to drinking roasted Chicory root tea since around that time, and my anger has subsided. In hindsight, another herbal ally that I could've turned to would be Violet. She's just started to bloom here in Brooklyn - I just love her gentle presence in the edges of the forest. Read on to find out how Violet can help relieve anger, headaches, and more....

Viola-sororia

 VIOLET (Viola spp.) 

Lesson: strength in grace & humility
Offering: compassion, soothing anger
Element & planetary affiliation: water, Venus
Energetics: bitter, sweet, moist, cool 

 

There are over 200 species of violet. The ones we’ll be referring to are mainly V. odorata, and V. sororia. 

When we are feeling frustrated, fatootsed, and just downright mad, violet can show us another way. Violet is a cool character, unassuming, humble, and compassionate. She shows us that forcefulness is not the way to solve our problems. Violet has a soothing, cooling, moist quality. She grows close to the ground and sends out delicate flowers of purple, blue, or white that do not produce fertile seeds. The flower is her gift of gentle beauty. 

All of violets reproductive action is done close to the ground. In the fall she sends out seeds in a small, hardly visible flower under the leaves. Violet also reproduces through runners underground. While violet doesn’t reproduce in a showy way, her visible parts are gently potent. 

The leaves and flowers of violet are an overall health tonic: she’s rich in vitamin A, C, beta-carotenes, bioflavonoids, calcium, and magnesium. 

Violet helps ease hot and dry conditions like constipation, dry coughs, and irritated skin. She helps move fluids through the body, and makes a lovely breast massage oil for hot, stuck conditions like mastitis. From Ancient Greece until today, she is said to cool us down in states of anger. Her heart shaped leaves show us that she’s beneficial for matters of the heart, specifically grief and heartache. Another common name for violet is Heartsease.

Violet is a humble warrior who brings us closer to the earth, right down there with her.

Viola-sororia

MORE ABOUT VIOLET

Constituents and Nutrients
vitamins A, C, bioflavonoids (rutin), calcium, beta-carotenes, magnesium, salicylates

Actions
alterative (blood purifying), anodyne (pain relieving), antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antitussive, demulcent, expectorant, mild laxative, lymphatic, mucilaginous, tonic, vulnerary (wound healing)

Conditions
breast swelling/cysts/tumors, bruising, constipation, coughs, cradle cap, cysts, eczema, headaches, hemorrhoids, irritation of mucous membranes and/or skin, mastitis, sore throat, swollen glands, urinary tract irritation, varicose veins

Distinguishing Features
Heart-shaped leaf that uncurls from the center, delicate violet-colored (sometimes white or white and blue) flower with 5 petals and 5 sepals that grows straight from the rhizome in early to mid spring.

Precautions
Not to be confused with African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) which is poisonous!

Use only the aerial parts, excepting the seeds, which along with the roots, are emetic (cause vomiting).  

 


RECIPES

Violet Leaf Infusion
Take a handful of dried herb (or at least twice as much fresh) and place it in a 1-quart jar. Pour boiling water over the herbs, cover, and let steep overnight (or at least 20 minutes). In the morning, strain the herbs and compost them. Use the leftover leaves as a poultice on tired eyes or irritated skin.

~~~

Violet Flower Honey
adapted from Brigitte Mars

2 cups violet flowers
1/2 cup honey
1 lemon, juiced

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend until combined. Store in the freezer. Serve on crackers, baked goods, or straight off a spoon.

~~~

Violet Leaf Salad

2 cups violet leaves, washed
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
sea salt
handful violet flowers

In a medium-sized salad bowl, whisk together honey (or maple syrup), vinegar, and sea salt. Toss in violet leaves. Garnish with violet flowers.

 ~~~

Candied Violets
adapted from Leda Meredith, Northeast Foraging

Beat an egg white until frothy. Dip each flower in the egg white and then in granulated sugar. Set the candied violets on waxed paper or parchment paper to dry for 24 hours. Use to decorate cakes and other desserts.

 My sweet flower lover, kissing the Violets

My sweet flower lover, kissing the Violets


POETRY/SONGS/LORE

A Flower in a Letter
E. B. Browning

Deep violets, you liken to
The kindest eyes that look on you,
Without a thought disloyal.

~~~

from Sonnet 99
by William Shakespeare

(violets grow abundantly in Stratford-on-Avon, his hometown)

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? 

~~~

The Violet
by Goethe
(translated by Frederick Ricord)

A vi’let on the meadow grew,
That no one saw, that no one knew,
It was a modest flower.
A shepherdess pass’d by that way—
Light-footed, pretty and so gay;
That way she came,
Softly warbling forth her lay.

~~~

Violet Song

Written By: Jane Taylor (1783-1824)
Music Ascribed To: Dr. H. Harrington (1727-1816) 

Down in a green and shady bed,
A modest violet grew;
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head
As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flow'r,
Its colors bright and fair,
It might have graced a rosy bow'r
Instead of hiding there.

Yet there it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there it spread its sweet perfume
Within the silent shade,
Then let me to the valley go,
This pretty flow'r to see,
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.

~~~

Blue Violets
by Dora Read Goodale

A blossom of returning light,
An April flower of sun and dew;

The earth and sky, the day and night
Are melted in her depth of blue!

~~~

Violet Legends
From Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal

“Violets were mentioned frequently by Homer and Virgil. They were used by the Athenians 'to moderate anger,' to procure sleep and 'to comfort and strengthen the heart.' Pliny prescribes a liniment of Violet root and vinegar for gout and disorder of the spleen, and states that a garland or chaplet of Violets worn about the head will dispel the fumes of wine and prevent headache and dizziness. The ancient Britons used the flowers as a cosmetic, and in a Celtic poem they are recommended to be employed steeped in goats' milk to increase female beauty, and in the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Herbarium of Apuleius (tenth century), the herb V. purpureum is recommended 'for new wounds and eke for old' and for 'hardness of the maw.’"


FURTHER READING

McDonald, Jim. Violet herb.
http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/violet-herb.html

Godino, Jessica. Violet. 
http://www.susunweed.com/An_Article_wisewoman3e.htm

Yang, Paj Nra. Viola sororia.
http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2010/yang_paj/index.htm

plantain: nature's first aid kit

My son (who's 5) knows this valuable and humble plant so well. It's saved him from bee stings (twice) and cactus spines in the hand (yeow!). It's one of my favorite ubiquitous herbs – Plantain, and not the banana-shaped kind. Plantain is originally from Europe, most likely brought here intentionally by colonists as medicine and then adopted by First Peoples, who may have already been using native varieties. Plantain is a veritable medicine chest, used both externally for bites and booboos but also for several internal ailments.

  Plantago major   Common plantain – “planta” is Latin for sole of the foot, and some liken this to the leaf shape, as well as being a plant that is commonly underfoot. The leaves can also be placed at the sole of the foot to draw away weariness. However, some etymologists suggest the root word is “planus” (as in flat, plane), “platus” (wide), or Celtic “plant” simply meaning, plant or kin.  Image source:  Wikimedia

Plantago major

Common plantain – “planta” is Latin for sole of the foot, and some liken this to the leaf shape, as well as being a plant that is commonly underfoot. The leaves can also be placed at the sole of the foot to draw away weariness. However, some etymologists suggest the root word is “planus” (as in flat, plane), “platus” (wide), or Celtic “plant” simply meaning, plant or kin.

Image source: Wikimedia

 

PLANTAIN (Plantago spp)

Lesson: firmly grounded, you will awaken to your strengths and gifts
Offering: protection, humility, awareness
Element & planetary affiliation: Earth, Venus
Energetics: bitter, cool, moist, dry

 

Sitting there in well trodden paths and lawns all across the planet, this humble warrior of a plant waits to be discovered. To the untrained eye, plantain is just another weed, but to the initiated, it is gold.

For wounds, rashes, and bites
According to Nicholas Culpeper, 17th century renegade herbalist, “All plantains are good wound herbs to heal fresh or old wounds, or sores, either inward or outward.” Got a mosquito bite? Here’s your field medicine. Chew up a leaf and spit it out. Place it on the wound. There you have a spit poultice, a primitive and effective method of applying an herbal remedy. The stinging, itching, irritation and inflammation are relieved. Keep applying until the symptoms have abated.

A salve or balm made with plantain-infused oil can soothe rashes, eczema, and hemorrhoids. Its ability to both draw away poison and relieve skin with moistening mucilage also make plantain a go-to for snake bite. The clue for this is in its flower or seed stalk, reminiscent of a snake about to strike. This is the beauty of the Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient system for identifying the usefulness of plants for healing. (Snakeweed is also one of its common names.)

Soothing to the inside, too
Internally, plantain is a wonder. Soothing an irritating cough and sore throat, plantain is an ally for those suffering from bronchitis and pneumonia. Plantain simultaneously tightens the tissues, lubricates mucous membranes, and draws away unwanted fluids (mucus, pus). Taken tonically (in larger doses over a period of weeks or months), plantain tones the kidneys and liver, and regulates the digestive and urinary tracts. According to herbalist Matthew Wood, this herb is also helpful for oral inflammation and pain. Herbalist Julia Graves says that it is one of the most useful remedies for trigeminal neuralgia (pain that can stem from dental maladies).

A very useful “weed”
Plantain has sprouted up wherever colonialist Europeans set foot, hence the nickname “White man’s footstep.” This now overlooked plant was included in the old English Nine Herbs Charm (10th C. C.E.) depicting 9 of the most important healing plants for poisoning and infection. From North America to New Zealand, indigenous, land-based peoples all the world round found the value of plantain as well. There are also species of plantain native to this content (eg, P. rugelii) – potentially 24 of them! – which First Peoples most likely used prior to the introduction of the European species.

There are several species of Plantago found throughout the world. Two of the most common seen here in the northeast are the introduced species P. major (common or broadleaf plantain) and P. lanceolata (long or lance leaf plantain) and they tend to prefer disturbed soils, which is likely why they are so common here. They are used interchangeably, though my sense is with its smoother, thicker leaves P. major has more mucilage. Its seeds are also more plentiful for use as a fiber supplement. These can be dried and added to baked goods to add bulk and aid digestion.

Flower essence
According to herbalist Anne McIntyre, plantain flower essence “is said to enhance enjoyment of life and with its grounding effect, it promotes strength and stability.”

 

 Image source:  WNMU

Image source: WNMU


MORE ABOUT PLANTAIN

Constituents
flavonoids, mucilage, tannins, acids (including vitamin C), allantoin, bitters, fixed oils, sugars, minerals (potassium, calcium)

Actions
alterative, anodyne, anticatarrhal, antimicrobial, antipruritic, antitussive, aperient, astringent, demulcent, diuretic (mild), emollient, hemostatic, mucilaginous, styptic, tonic, vulnerary

Conditions
bites/stings (bees, mosquitos, snakes), bladder infection, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, constipation, cough, diarrhea, eczema, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, kidney inflammation/swelling, oral pain & inflammation, neuralgia, pneumonia, rash, sprains & strains, urinary discomfort, vaginal discharge, wounds

Botanical Description
From a Modern Herbal (Maud Grieve), of Plantago major:
“It grows from a very short rhizome, which bears below a great number of long, straight, yellowish roots, and above, a large, radial rosette of leaves and a few Iong, slender, densely-flowered spikes. The leaves are ovate, blunt, abruptly contracted at the base into a long, broad, channelled footstalk (petiole). The blade is 4 to 10 inches long and about two-thirds as broad, usually smooth, thickish, five to eleven ribbed, the ribs having a strongly fibrous structure, the margin entire, or coarsely and unevenly toothed. The flower-spikes, erect, on long stalks, are as long as the leaves, 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick and usually blunt. The flowers are somewhat purplish green, the calyx four parted, the small corolla bell shaped and four-lobed, the stamens four, with purple anthers. The fruit is a two-celled capsule, not enclosed in the perianth, and containing four to sixteen seeds.”

  Plantago major   Image source:  Magic Screeches

Plantago major

Image source: Magic Screeches

  Plantago lanceolata   Image source: Wikimedia

Plantago lanceolata

Image source: Wikimedia


RECIPES

Plantain Infusion
Place a handful (about 1/4 cup) of dried plantain in a quart jar. If using fresh herb, double the amount. Pour boiling water over and cover. Steep for at least 20 minutes, up to 8 hours (I like to make my infusions overnight). Strain and enjoy!

~~~~

Plantago Chips
From Leda Meredith
http://ledameredith.com/foraging-plantain-leaves-for-food-and-medicine-no-not-that-plant/

These chips are all about texture, I have to admit: the leaves themselves are somewhat bland. But they are a perfectly crisp vehicle for whatever seasoning you put on them. Amounts here are flexible – you can change the number of leaves, amount of salt, etc.

24 large leaves of any Plantago (plantain) species
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon seasoning (try garlic powder, nutritional yeast, half the quantity of cayenne,
za’atar, or any of your favorite spice blends)

Preheat the oven to 250F. Wash the plantain leaves and dry them well in a salad spinner or by rolling them up in a clean dishtowel.

In a large bowl, toss the leaves with the oil until they are each well coated. Spread the leaves in a single later on baking sheets. Depending on the size of the leaves you gathered, you may need more than one baking sheet.

Sprinkle the leaves with the salt and seasoning. Bake until crisp but not burnt, which may take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the leaves. Remember that they will continue to crisp up a bit as they cool, just like cookies do after you take them out of the oven. If you aren’t sure if they’re done, err on the side of underdone. Take them out, let them cool for just a minute, and if they’re not crunchy enough put them back in the oven. 

Once they are completely cooled, you can store your Plantago chips in an airtight container for several weeks. If the container is not airtight the chips may absorb some humidity from the air and lose their crispness. Not a problem: simply put them back into a 250F oven for 3 – 5 minutes.

~~~~

Plantain Oil & Salve

About 8 ounces (volume) fresh plantain leaves
About 8 ounces olive or sesame oil
1 ounce beeswax
About 1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil (optional)
10 to 20 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

Slow method
Harvest fresh large leaves of Plantago major, enough to fill an 8 ounce jar to the top. Tear the leaves into small pieces, about the size of a dime (even a bit smaller). Cover the herbs in the jar with good quality olive or sesame oil. Stir the mixture to get all the bubbles out. Top off the jar with more oil. Cover with some muslin or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band or metal mason jar band (if that’s the kind of jar you are using). Let the mixture sit in a sunny spot for at least 2 weeks before straining. Check for mold (if you see it, just skim it off the top) – if the plantain is submerged in oil you shouldn’t see any.

Quick method
Tear or cut up the leaves of fresh plantain and place in a glass Pyrex measuring cup or bowl. Cover with oil. In a double boiler fashion, place the measuring cup or bowl over a pot with some water at the bottom. Turn the heat to low-medium. Let the water under the mixture steam but not simmer or boil. Keep stirring the mixture every now and then. Warm the mixture in the double boiler for at least 2 hours. For a really strong infusion, heat it this way for 2 hours on and off for a 24 to 48 hour period (excepting the time when you’re sleeping!). Strain the mix and store in a dark glass jar for 1 to 2 years.

Salve
After straining the oil, pour it into a Pyrex measuring cup, add the beeswax and gently heat in a double boiler fashion. Check and stir occasionally until the beeswax is completely melted and incorporated. Remove mixture from the heat. Let the mixture cool until it is thick but pourable. Stir in Vitamin E oil and essential oil, if desired (they both add skin healing and preservative qualities). Pour the finished mixture into tins or small dark glass jars. Salves can last up to 3 years if stored in a cool, dry place.

Notes: Dried plantain leaves could be used as well. Just use about 1/4 to 1/2 the amount that you would fresh.

 

 Image source:  Magic Screeches

Image source: Magic Screeches


 POETRY/SONGS/LORE

from Hiawatha
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wheresoe’er they tread, beneath them
Springs a flower unknown among us,
Springs the White-man’s Foot in blossom.

excerpt from the Nine Herbs Charm
from the Lacnunga
translated from Old English

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs, 
Open from the east, mighty inside.
Over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
Over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection
And the loathsome foe roving through the land.

anecdotes from A Modern Herbal
by Maud Grieve

“Erasmus, in his Colloquia, tells a story of a toad, who, being bitten by a spider, was straightway freed from any poisonous effects he may have dreaded by the prompt eating of a Plantain leaf.”

“From the days of Chaucer onwards we find reference in literature to the healing powers of Plantain. Gower (1390) says: 'And of Plantaine he hath his herb sovereine,' and Chaucer mentions it in the Prologue of the Chanounes Yeman. Shakespeare, both in Love's Labour's Lost, iii, i, and in Romeo and Juliet, I, ii, speaks of the 'plain Plantain' and 'Plantain leaf' as excellent for a broken shin, and again in Two Noble Kinsmen, I, ii: 'These poore slight sores neede not a Plantin.' His reference to it in Troilus and Cressida, III. ii: 'As true as steel, as Plantage to the moon,' is an allusion that is now no longer clear to us. Again, Shenstone in the Schoolmistress: 'And plantain rubb'd that heals the reaper's wound.’”

 

 Long-leaf Plantain ( Plantago lanceolata )  Image source:  Magic Screeches

Long-leaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Image source: Magic Screeches


FURTHER READING

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. North Atlantic Books. 2008.

Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Plantain, Common. https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/placom43.html

Keeler, Kathleen. A Wandering Botanist. Plant Story: Plantains (Plantago), Tracking Your

Footsteps All Over the World. http://khkeeler.blogspot.com/2013/11/plant-story-plantainsplantago-tracking.html

handy dandy dandelion

Hello Spring! Well, sort of. Despite the blanket of snow outside, the gifts of Spring are emerging. A couple of weeks ago I was out in the park with my son and some of our friends. One of the kids excitedly pointed out the unmistakeable golden yellow blossom of the Dandelion. They were all very protective of it, yelling "don't pick it!" while the adults (especially me!) were taking pictures.

Each Spring when the Dandelions bloom I take the time to pick the yellow sun rays and make Dandelion blossom oil (see recipe below) and if I have enough left over I make Dandelion fritters. I always make sure to leave plenty for the bees and other insects. Read on for more about the beautifully humble Dandelion... 

   Taraxacum officinale    Taraxacum, may be derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy). Officinale indicates the long history of use as a medicine.

Taraxacum officinale

Taraxacum, may be derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy). Officinale indicates the long history of use as a medicine.

 

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale

Lesson: strong foundation to raise your vibration;
stay the course regardless of circumstances
Offering: purification, digestion, pain relief
Element & planetary affiliation: air, Jupiter, Sun
Energetics: bitter, sweet, dry, cool (root & leaf)

 

Humble warrior
Dandelion is sadly maligned and misunderstood. If only militant gardeners and lawn lovers knew what they were missing when they poisoned this beneficial beauty. This humble plant is tenacious – if you try to rip out dandelion it will only grow back stronger. Dandelion teaches us that to shine brightly, to raise our vibration, we need to have a strong root, a strong foundation. And to not give up regardless of circumstances.

The blossom of the dandelion is like the Great Eastern Sun – radiant, brilliant, awake. The stem, leaves, and root are tender, like the warrior’s heart. When I speak of a warrior, I mean a spiritual warrior. Someone who is confident and clear about where they stand, but also tender and vulnerable, open to the world around them. 

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche brought the concept of Shambhala Buddhism and Enlightened Society to the West. He endured great hardships to get here. He was forced to leave Tibet when the Chinese communist party took control in 1959. He led a small group of monks on horseback and on foot to escape to India. Often they would trek up a mountain in harsh, snowy conditions to then have to go back the way they came and find a new path. At times their robes were frozen solid with ice and snow. 

Despite being exiled from his homeland, and later experiencing a car accident that left him partially paralyzed, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche maintained his view of the Great Eastern Sun. I see the dandelion as an embodiment of this view. We choose to see the goodness in this humble plant, the goodness that is in all of us. 

ChrisEarleDandelion

Powerful and gentle medicine
Dandelion leaf is full of nutrients – it’s said to have more iron than spinach, and more vitamin A than carrots. It’s also a non-depleting diuretic; unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, dandelion does not deplete the body of essential minerals, like potassium. 

The root is an excellent spring tonic and a liver tonic, stimulating the production of bile and aiding the body in the elimination process. The root also contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber that helps feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Solar wonder
My favorite part to use is the blossom. The radiant golden flower has an affinity with the solar plexus. One of my first healing experiences with dandelion blossom was in an herbalism class with Robin Rose Bennett. She was straining off some dandelion blossom and goldenrod oils. At the time I had severe abdominal bloating and pain (I was just figuring out I had a strong gluten sensitivity). When she told the class these blossoms are especially relieving to pain in the solar plexus I jumped out of my seat. I took the oil and massaged my belly – within minutes there was a warm and radiating feeling of relief. 

Wise Woman Herbalist Susun Weed says this about dandelion blossom oil: 

Dandelion has a special affinity for breasts. Regular use of dandelion flower oil promotes deep relaxation of the breast tissues, facilitating the release of held emotions. Applied regularly to the entire breast area, glowing golden dandelion flower oil can strengthen your sense of self worth as well as your immune system. Easily made, this oil is a superb ally for regular breast self-massage, and highly praised by those doing therapeutic breast massage. Dandelion root oil, used alone or in conjunction with the flower oil, can help clear minor infections, relieve impacted milk glands and reduce cysts in the breasts.

I also love to make dandelion blossom fritters – all you do is make a batter, dip them in whole and fry them. Tastes like spring! Ethnobotanist and foraging expert (and friend) Leda Meredith turns the blossoms into wine, and sometimes beer. (Recipe here: http://ledameredith.com/dandelion-beer-recipe/

  Weather predictions    Ancient traditions state that if dandelions stay closed in the morning, it will rain.    If they bloom in April and July, the summer will be wet.    https://peninsulalighthouse.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/plant-lore-acanthus-to-dandelion/

Weather predictions

Ancient traditions state that if dandelions stay closed in the morning, it will rain. 
If they bloom in April and July, the summer will be wet.

https://peninsulalighthouse.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/plant-lore-acanthus-to-dandelion/


MORE ABOUT DANDELION

Constituents and Nutrients
B vitamins; vitamins A, C, E, and K; calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, inulin; flavonoids (luteolin, apigenin, isoquercitrin); caffeic and chlorogenic acid; terpenoids, triterpenes, sesquiterpenes 

Actions
leaf: bitter digestive, potassium-sparing diuretic, tonic
root: alterative, anti-rheumatic, mild aperient, bitter digestive, potassium-sparing diuretic, cholagogue, hepatic
flower: anodyne (topical)

Conditions
acne, arthritis, cirrhosis, constipation, eczema, edema, gout, hepatitis, jaundice, kidney stones, warts (using latex sap)

Distinguishing Features
From a Modern Herbal, by Maud Grieve: “From its thick tap root, dark brown, almost black on the outside though white and milky within, the long jagged leaves rise directly, radiating from it to form a rosette Iying close upon the ground, each leaf being grooved and constructed so that all the rain falling on it is conducted straight to the centre of the rosette and thus to the root which is, therefore, always kept well watered. The maximum amount of water is in this manner directed towards the proper region for utilization by the root, which but for this arrangement would not obtain sufficient moisture, the leaves being spread too close to the ground for the water to penetrate.

The leaves are shiny and without hairs, the margin of each leaf cut into great jagged teeth, either upright or pointing somewhat backwards, and these teeth are themselves cut here and there into lesser teeth. It is this somewhat fanciful resemblance to the canine teeth of a lion that (it is generally assumed) gives the plant its most familiar name of Dandelion, which is a corruption of the French Dent de Lion, an equivalent of this name being found not only in its former specific Latin name Dens leonis and in the Greek name for the genus to which Linnaeus assigned it, Leontodon, but also in nearly all the languages of Europe.”

Botanical-Dandelion

RECIPES

For roots, a decoction
Take a handful of dried roots and place it in one quart of water in a small pot. Gently simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

For leaves, an infusion
Take a handful of herb and place it in a 1-quart jar. Pour boiling water over the herbs, cover, and let steep overnight (or at least 20 minutes). In the morning, strain the herbs and compost them. This is the way I make most leaf and flower infusions. 

Dandelion Greens with Double Garlic
from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
Makes: 4 servings; Time: 15 minutes

The first measure of garlic mellows as it cooks with the greens; it’s the second that adds a real kick. Substitute minced ginger for the second addition of garlic if you like.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic (5 or 6 cloves), plus
1 teaspoon minced garlic, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dandelion greens with stems, well washed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Put the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sliced garlic, pepper flakes, and some salt and black pepper and cook for about 1 minute.

2. Add the greens and stock. Cover and cook until the greens are wilted and just tender but still a little firm, about 5 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has all but evaporated and the greens are quite tender, at least 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and add red or black pepper and salt as needed; add the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute more, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with lemon wedges.

~~~~

Dandelion Blossom (Fridge) Jelly
from Martha Stewart

4 cups water
4 cups dandelion blossoms (yellow and white parts only)
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ( 1/2 package) powdered pectin
4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Bring water and dandelion blossoms to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a measuring cup, pressing solids. Discard blossoms. (You should have 3 cups of liquid; add water if necessary.)

Combine pectin and 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Bring dandelion liquid and remaining 4 cups sugar to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Add the pectin mixture, stirring constantly to dissolve pectin and sugar. Add lemon juice, and boil for 1 minute. Skim foam from the surface. Let cool slightly. Pour mixture into an airtight container. Cover with a lid. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. Jelly can be refrigerated in the airtight container for up to  2 weeks.

~~~~

Dandelion Blossom Oil
For topical use only. 

Fill a small jar with dandelion blossoms (just blossoms, no stems). Cover blossoms completely with olive or sesame oil, filling the jar to the top. I like to cover the jar with some muslin or cheesecloth and if it’s a mason jar, just use the ring to close it (or a rubber band). This way the moisture from the blossom can escape, preventing mold from forming in the oil. After 2 to 4 weeks, strain out the blossoms. Use as is or make a salve by melting beeswax (1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil) and mixing in oil over a low heat. Pour into jars or tins. 

Dandelion-Jar

 

Poetry/songs/lore

The First Dandelion
from "Leaves of Grass," by Walt Whitman

Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass--innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.

 

Dandelion Bubbles
From Highlights

"Dandelion" 

Highlights-Dandelion

 

Dandelion
Rolling Stones
(Mick Jagger, Keith Richards)

Prince or pauper, beggar man or thing
Play the game with ev'ry flow'r you bring
Dandelion don't tell no lies
Dandelion will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries
Blow away dandelion

One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, four o'clock chimes
Dandelions don't care about the time
Dandelion don't tell no lies
Dandelion will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries
Blow away dandelion, blow away dandelion

Tho' you're older now its just the same
You can play this dandelion game
When you're finished with your childlike prayers
Well, you know you should wear it

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailors lives
Rich man, poor man, beautiful, daughters wives
Dandelion don't tell no lies
Dandelion will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries
Blow away dandelion, blow away dandelion

Little girls, and boys come out to play
Bring your dandelions to blow away
Dandelion don't tell no lies
Dandelion will make you wise
Tell me if she laughs or cries
Blow away dandelion, blow away dandelion 

DandelionSeeds

Further Reading

The Eldrum Tree. Dandelion.
http://www.eldrumherbs.co.uk/content/content_files/profiles_dandelion_taraxacum-officinale.php?state=1

Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Dandelion. 
https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dandel08.html

 

Image Sources:
1. Liz Neves
2. http://bluesolitaire.deviantart.com/art/Dandelion-Wine-Poem-133773013
3. Liz Neves
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taraxacum_officinale#/media/File:Taraxacum_officinale_-_K%C3%B6hler%E2%80%93s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-135.jpg
5. Liz Neves
6. https://www.highlightskids.com/poetry-player-poems/dandelions
7. Liz Neves

 

 

 

 

hawthorn: fierce & gentle protectress of the heart

Dear one, is your heart aching? Whether it be a personal emotional woe, the collective pain, or a physical manifestation of these in the heart organ or heart center, call Hawthorn your new best friend. Just sitting with Hawthorn and gazing at her protective thorns can give one the sense of relief to grief, heartbreak, or stress. Hawthorn is a beauty any time of year, with her May flowers, late summer to autumn berries, and always those magnificent thorns. Read on for more of Hawthorn's magic...

  Crataegus monogyna . Image: Wikipedia

Crataegus monogyna. Image: Wikipedia

 

HAWTHORN (CRATAEGUS spp.)

Lesson:
you are protected, open your heart to love

Offering:
circulation of energy, protection, assimilation

Element & planetary affiliation:
Fire, Mars

Energetics:
sweet, tart, slightly warming (some consider cooling)

 

In Western Medicine (meaning European and American traditions of medicine), Hawthorn is
the ultimate heart tonic. It has the power to both raise and lower blood pressure (this is known as being “amphoteric”). How does it do this? According to herbalist Matthew Wood, it "improves the deposition of lipids in the walls of the capillaries and red blood cells that are squeeze through them.” This cuts down on “irritability” allowing free passage of the blood flow. Hawthorn also helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Hawthorn can help heal a broken heart and is often recommended during times of grief. The flower essence can also be useful in addition to the herb, or alone, to heal emotional wounds.

Symbolism and lore

With its abundance of healing properties, Hawthorn also holds several strong associations. Death, fertility, chastity, marriage, witchery, fae, and protection are all linked to this shrubby, thorny tree. I’d also add longevity to this mix, considering Hawthorns can live 400 years.

Perhaps its association with death comes from the scent of the flowers – some liken it to a rotting fish odor – thanks to trimethylamine. And such the flowers attract carrion insects. Others associate the same scent with sex and therefore fertility. I suppose the association with fertility could also be due to Hawthorn’s ability to cross breed so easily. Or maybe it’s because Hawthorn flowers in May, during Beltane, a time of pagan fertility rituals.

Sleeping under the “May tree” when in bloom is said do bring you to fairyland. The same goes for being amongst Oak, Ash, and ‘Thorn trees simultaneously (see below for Rudyard Kipling's "Oak, Ash and Thorn" poem). Witches are said to be able to turn themselves into Hawthorn trees. Merlin was also trapped in a Hawthorn by a witch.

Birds find refuge in the thorny branches of Crataegus, nesting there to keep away from predators. I learned something fascinating about the true thorns of Hawthorn (versus the "prickles" of roses) from friend and teacher Leda Meredith – true thorns have the potential to become branches. If you look closely at one of these trees you might spot thorns with leaves, flowers, and berries growing off of them. Consider all of that potential energy stored in this healing tree and you begin to get a sense of her power. 

Etymology

The botanical name Crataegus comes from the name given this tree “krátaios” by Dioscorides. The root of this word is “krátys" meaning “strong” or “hard” (referring to the wood).

“Haw” is an old word for “hedge,” and Hawthorn is used in that way. I really like this description of the etymology of Hawthorn from Sacred Earth:

But in the mindset of the ancients a hedge was more than just a living fence; it signified the boundary between the known, safe and civilized world, and the wild woods beyond. The word 'hedge' derives from 'Haga' which is contained in the old name for Hawthorn 'Hagathorn' and shares the same root as 'hag'. The hag, in old English was not just an old, ugly woman, but is cognate with 'haegtesse', a woman of prophetic powers, and 'hagzusa' spirit beings, and 'hedge riders' - in other words, beings that live 'between' the worlds of mundane reality and the otherworld beyond, and who could easily traverse the boundaries between them. Likewise, healers, seers and soothsayers were also considered 'boundary-walkers'. Thus, Hawthorn's symbolism is that of protection, but also as a gateway to this other world of magical beings.

Yes! 

 Clockwise from top left, fruit of clockwise from top left: Crataegus coccinea, C. punctata var. aurea, C, ambigua, C. douglasii. Image: Wikipedia

Clockwise from top left, fruit of clockwise from top left: Crataegus coccinea, C. punctata var. aurea, C, ambigua, C. douglasii. Image: Wikipedia

MORE ABOUT HAWTHORN

Constituents and Nutrients
crategolic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, glavone, sugars, glycosides, flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins, pectin, saponins, tannins, selenium, chromium, B vitamins, vitamin C

Actions
amphoteric, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cholesterol lowering, circulatory stimulant, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, hypotensive, mild sedative, tonic, vasodilator

Conditions
ADHD, abdominal distention, angina, anxiety, arrhythmia, arteriosclerosis, boils, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, fluid retention, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, hypotension, indigestion (esp. stuck food, esp. meat), migraines, palpitations, poor memory, stagnation, stones/tumors, tightness and/or weakness around heart, valvular insufficiency

Botanical Description
From A. Vogel: “The monostyle (single seed) hawthorn is a very branchy, small bush to medium-sized tree with thorny branches. The latter bear oval to rhombic, deeply and three- to five-lobed, dark green leaves. The flowers have five white to pink petals and one pistil. They are arranged in cymes. In the autumn or Fall, they form brilliant red, ovate to spherical berries (pseudocarps), 4mm to 8 mm in diameter and 6 mm to 10 mm long. The mealy, yellowish flesh contains a pip. The end of the berry has a small dimple, around which the remains of the five corolla tips can be seen. The di-style (double seed) hawthorn is very similar. But its leaves are only three-lobed and display rounded, serrate sections. Its flowers have two to three pistils and the berries have two to three pips. The two species cross readily and are thus difficult to distinguish. The hawthorn flowers from May to June. Other species of hawthorn, some of which are also used in medicine, include C. azarolus L., Azaroldorn, with yellowish-orange fruits; C. nigra, the black-fruited hawthorn; C. pentagyna, the pentastylous or five-pistilled hawthorn, with dull, dark purple fruits; and C. laciniata, the oriental hawthorn, with small, pear-shaped, red fruits.”

~~~

PRECAUTIONS
If you are using cardioactive pharmaceuticals like digoxin, consult your doctor for supervision. Dose adjustment may be necessary.


 Hawthorn berry jam. Image: China Sichuan Food

Hawthorn berry jam. Image: China Sichuan Food

RECIPES

Hawthorn Berry Decoction
Add 1 ounce of berries to 1 quart of water. Simmer for 20 minutes. Drink 1/2 cup up to 3 times per day.

~~~

Love Me Tender Tea Blend
Makes 5.25 ounces (net weight)

2.5 ounces oatstraw (Avena sativa)
1 ounce rose (Rosa spp.)
.5 ounce hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.)
.5 ounce ginger (Zingiber officinale)
.25 ounce red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense)
.25 ounce cinnamon chips (Cinnamomum verum)
.25 ounce cardamom, hulled (Elettaria cardamomum)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Store in an airtight glass container. To make an infusion, steep 1 to 2 tablespoons per cup of boiling water.

~~~

Hawthorn Berry Cordial
from Wild Foods & Medicine

2 oz dried hawthorn berries
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon dried ginger
4 oz tart cherry juice concentrate
4 oz honey (this could be rose, lavender or hawthorn flower honey)
12 oz alcohol (this could be vodka, brandy or better yet, a tincture of hawthorn leaf and
flower or berry with a minimum of 40% alcohol.

Place hawthorn in 16 ounces of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the water is reduced to 8 ounces. Strain through muslin cloth and place the tea back in a clean pot. Add black cherry concentrate and honey. Heat and stir until honey is dissolved but do not allow to boil. Turn off and allow to cool. Add alcohol, stir ingredients well, then bottle in glass jars and store in the refrigerator. This cordial will last 6 months to a year.

Hawthorn berry is high in a thickening agent called pectin. When making fresh plant tincture, it may become jelly-like. This is less likely to happen if the berry is dried. Pectin is an adventitious ingredient when making jelly and a simple recipe of ground hawthorn berry, ground rosehips and apple juice makes a delicious tonic jelly.

~~~

Hawthorn Ketchup
from Great British Chefs

You can find another recipe for this ketchup in Leda Meredith's book, The Forager's Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles.

500g of hawthorn berry
300ml of cider vinegar
300ml of water
170g of sugar
1/2 tsp salt freshly ground black pepper

1. To begin, remove the berries from the stalks and wash well with cold water. Add to a large pan with the water and vinegar, then bring to the boil. Allow to simmer for approximately half an hour, until the skins of the berries begin to burst

2. Take off the heat and pour the contents of the pan through a sieve to remove any stones and tough pieces of skin

3. Transfer the liquid to a clean pan with the sugar and place over a low heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar

4. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes more, until syrup-like and reduced

5. Season the syrup to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer to sterilised bottles. The syrup is good to use for 1 year

~~~

Hawthorn Jam
from China Sichuan Food

1 pound of fresh hawthorn berries
1 cup sugar or more as needed
1 and 1/2 cup water
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Airtight and clean containers

Wash and rinse your storage containers. Clean the fresh hawthorn berry and then soak in slightly salted water for around 20 minutes. Then wash again and remove the core. Transfer hawthorn into a food processor, add water. Blend until almost smooth but there are some small particles or smooth according to your own taste.

Pour the mixture to a sauce pan; add sugar and simmer for around 80 to 100 minutes. Add fresh lemon juice in the middle. Stir from time to time. Pour the jam into the prepared containers. Leave 1/3 of space at the top of each container to allow room for the jam to expand in the freezer. Seal the containers and let the jam sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Then store the jam the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

For a longer storage time, you can increase the amount of sugar used in the recipe.


 Image: "Hawthorn Tree" by Arthur Rackham

Image: "Hawthorn Tree" by Arthur Rackham

 

POETRY/SONGS/LORE

The Hawthorn Tree
by Willa Cather (1873-1947)

CROSS the shimmering meadows--
Ah, when he came to me!
In the spring-time,
In the night-time,
In the starlight,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Up from the misty marsh-land--
Ah, when he climbed to me!
To my white bower,
To my sweet rest,
To my warm breast,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Ask of me what the birds sang,
High in the hawthorn tree;
What the breeze tells,
What the rose smells,
What the stars shine--
Not what he said to me!

 

From The Traveller
by Kathleen Raine

A hundred years I slept beneath a thorn
Until the tree was root and branches of my thought,
Until white petals blossomed in my crown.

 

Oak, Ash, and Thorn
by Rudyard Kipling

Of all the trees that grow so fair, old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the sun than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn good sirs,
All on a midsummer's morn.
Surely we sing of no little thing
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Oak of the clay lived many a day o'er ever Aeneas began
Ash of the loam was a lady at home when Brut was an outlaw man,
And Thorn of the down saw new Troy town, from which was London born
Witness hereby the ancient try of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.

Sing . . .

Yew that is old, in churchyard mould, he breedeth a mighty bow
Alder for shoes do wise men choose, and Beech for cups also
But when you have killed, and you bowl it is filled, and your
shoes are clean outworn
Back you must speed for all that you need to Oak, and Ash, and Thorn

Sing . . .

Elm, she hates mankind, and waits till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him that anyway trusts her shade,
But whether a lad be sober or sad, or mellow with ale from the horn,
He'll taketh no wrong when he lyeth along 'neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn

Sing . . .

Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin,
But we've been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in,
And we bring you good news by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn
Now is the sun come up from the south, by Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.

Sing . . .

 

 Image: Cicely Mary Barker

Image: Cicely Mary Barker

The Song Of The Hawthorn Fairy
by Cicely Mary Barker

These thorny branches bore the May
So many months ago,
That when the scattered petals lay
Like drifts of fallen snow,
"This is the story's end," you said;
But O, not half was told!
For see, my haws are here instead,
And hungry birdies shall be fed
On these when days are cold.

 

The Hawthorn Tree
by Nathaniel Haskell Dole (1895)

At the edge of the hedge is a Hawthorn Tree,
And its blossoms are sweet as sweet can be,
And the bees are humming there all the day,
And these are the words that I hear them say:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

All the breezes that breathe o er those blossoms rare
A burden of perfume happily bear;
And the songsters revel there all day long,
And these are the words of their merry song:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

And a maid and her lover wander by
As the twilight glories fade and die;
And they pause neath the fragrant boughs to rest,
And above them sways the robin's nest:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree !

We too, they whisper, shall soon build a home
Neath the azure arch of the infinite dome;
And we, all the day, shall sing like the birds,
But with deeper meaning in music and words:
Sweet, sweet is the Hawthorn Tree!

~~~

MORE LORE
from Mandy Haggith

  • Hymen, Greek goddess of marriage, carried a torch of hawthorn
  • Greek goddess Hera touched hawthorn and had an immaculate conception of twins Ares (Mars) and Eris (Venus)
  • Hawthorn-decorated May ceremonies were traditionally scenes of 'lascivious revelry and sexual merriment'

Read more beautiful magic about Hawthorn at Eco Enchantments.


RESOURCES

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants.
North Atlantic Books. 2008.

The Goddess Tree. Hawthorn. Available at: http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Hawthorn.htm

Wild Foods and Medicines. Available at: http://wildfoodsandmedicines.com/hawthorn/

Weed, Susun. Take Heart From Hawthorn. Wise Woman Herbal Ezine. Available at: http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/November08/healingwise.htm

motherwort: an ally for troubling times

Finally, the second installment of Plant Ally Spotlight! Life has a way of breezing by at an incredible pace, ya know? And I hope to continue posting these herbal profiles with more frequency. I'm focusing on plants that we need right now, to heal our hearts in this time of chaos.

May we all learn to turn to our Mother during this time, to the plants and other nature allies. It is imperative, really. I know with direct experience the powerful healing these beings can bring. Without even ingesting plants, by sitting with them and experiencing their spirit, we receive great insight and transformation. They have so many lessons for us, they teach us how to be human, how to simply be. So without further ado, I introduce you to, Motherwort!

there is no better herb to take melancholy vapors from the heart and make a merry, cheerful soul.
— Nicholas Culpeper, 17th Century Herbalist
 Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia


Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Lesson: a fierce and tender heart grows wings

Offering: steadiness, courage, protection, calm

Element & planetary affiliation: water, Venus

Energetics: bitter, acrid, dry, aromatic

 

OH, MOTHER!

The name Leonurus cardiaca comes from the Greek for lion (leon) and tail (ouros). The leaves emerging from the flower whorls were said to resemble lion’s tails. Cardiaca comes from the tradition of using the plant as a heart tonic. Motherwort is so named for its long standing use as a mother’s remedy. It eased a pregnant mother’s anxiety (though it is no longer recommended during pregnancy except in the last 4 weeks as a partus prep as it can act as an abortifacient) and soothes the nerves of a new mother.

In Japan and China, the herb has been linked with longevity. “An old legend states that there was once a town whose spring ran through a patch of Motherwort. All the local townspeople got their daily drinking water from that spring and all of them lived to be over 100 years old.” (http://witchipedia.com/herb:motherwort) There is a saying in Japan “drink Motherwort to the despair of your heirs” and on the 9th day of the 9th month there is a Motherwort festival known as Kikousouki.

The Doctrine of Signatures suggests that motherwort has an affinity to the heart with its thorny flower axils which also grow in a syncopated fashion up the stem (like a heartbeat). The pattern of flowers up the stem is also evocative of the vertebra, linking Motherwort with spinal afflictions. And the hairy flowers suggest this bitter mint is good for the nervous system. And indeed, Motherwort is a helper for those who are remarkably anxious with a rapid heartbeat and/or palpitations. This minty beauty is also a wonderful partner for easing premenstrual symptoms, especially cramps. You only need a few drops of tincture to feel her power.

When I look at Motherwort, I see a protective ally who can show us how to maintain healthy boundaries and a healthy attitude, especially toward mothering. The thorny axils say “don’t mess with mama!” The hardy leaves and stem and bitter principle (allowing for assimilation and digestion) provide an ability to cope with difficult circumstances. The leaves emerging symmetrically from the thorny flower whorls look to me like wings – and what comes to me is “give your heart wings.”


MORE ABOUT MOTHERWORT

Constituents and Nutrients
alkaloids (leonurinine, stachydrine), bitter principle, caffeic acid, diterpenes, essential oil, flavonoids, glycosides (leonurine, leonuridin), lauric acid, oleic acid, resins, tannins, vitamin A

Actions
anodyne, anti-adrenergic, anti-rheumatic, anti-spasmodic, anxiolytic, astringent, carminative,
diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, heart tonic, hypotensive (short term), nervine, oxytocic,
uterine tonic, mild vasodilation

Conditions
anxiety, bloating, cold, flu, fever, flatulence, stress-induced heart palpitations, hot flashes,
hyperthyroidism, menstrual cramps, menopausal insomnia (with passionflower), overstimulated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), white coat hypertension

 

 Image: Unknown

Image: Unknown

Distinguishing Features
I love this description from Witchipedia “Motherwort is an interesting and distinctive member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It grows on a single, tall square stem decorated from top to bottom with opposite leaves. The leaf shape varies somewhat by location, but are generally lobed and palmate. The flowers appear in early summer and are quite unique and distinctive. They appear at the leaf axils. They are the labiate flowers of the mint family but have a rather furry appearance so that at first glance, motherwort looks like a tall plant with bits of fluff tucked into its leaf axils.” 

Precautions
Avoid during pregnancy, except in the last 4 weeks.
Take care with blood-thinning medications as Motherwort may have anti-clotting effects.

 Image: Eleanor Saulys, via Connecticut Botanical Society

Image: Eleanor Saulys, via Connecticut Botanical Society


RECIPES

Motherwort Infusion
Use 1 tablespoon of dried motherwort per cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 20 minutes or longer. Strain and sip as needed.

~~~

Cool as a Cucumber Tea
from Herbalpedia, via Susun Weed
1 oz motherwort
2 oz linden flower
1 oz chamomile flower
4 oz skullcap herb
3 oz borage flowers, stems, and leaves
2 oz marshmallow root
2 oz hibiscus flower

Combine 1 oz of the mixture with 4 cups of boiling water in a teapot or container with a well fitting lid. Let stand for fifteen minutes; then strain the tea and store it in a closed container. Allow to cool; drink at room temperature. During daytime hot flashes, drink 1 cup as often as needed. Or it can be sipped all day. Just be sure to drink the entire amount each day.

~~~

Rested Mama Sleep Tincture
1 part dried Motherwort aerial parts
1 part dried Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) leaves and flowers
1/4 part dried Lavender (Lavandula sp.) flowers
Vodka to cover (100 proof or higher if possible)

Measure herbs by weight and place in a glass jar. Cover entirely with vodka and fill to the top of the jar. Place the lid on and give the jar a shake. Let steep for at least 6 weeks. Strain and bottle in dark colored bottles. Take 1 dropperful (30 drops) in a little water each hour, 2 hours leading up to bedtime.

~~~

Sarawakian Confinement Recipe - Motherwort Chicken
from http://bit.ly/1NjVYta

(I haven’t personally tried this recipe, but I just had to share it. We don’t have a lot of “confinement” recipes or traditions in our culture, but I hope that’s something that changes. Confinement is the time after a mother gives birth and needs to rest and be taken care of. This recipe is perfect for supporting mama through this trying time.)

1 medium sized chicken, cut into smaller sizes
1/2 cup of dry motherwort herb
2 cups of Chinese cooking wine
200 grams of fresh ginger, pounded and extract juice
2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Pound the ginger and squeeze the ginger juice into the chicken. Marinate the chicken for at least one to two hours. Keep the pounded ginger for later use. In a pan, use the smallest heat to stir fry the motherwort. Depending on your heat, it should take from 15-20 minutes until the leaves are very dry, easily broken and aroma starts to penetrate the house. In addition, the leaves should become very fine until that it stick to the sides of the pan. Be patience, too high heat will burn the leaves very easily and the end result is bitter taste motherwort. Therefore, patience is required. Once ready, set aside.

In the same pan, stir fry the minced ginger with medium heat, stir fry until it is dry and aromatic. The main purpose of this step is the same as in the above step, to make the ginger dry and aromatic. Once ready, set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in the pan, place the chicken in the pan, stir fry under medium heat and well combined. Place the lid and simmer the chicken until it is cooked and soft. Note that there is no water used in the pan frying. As you cook the chicken, meat juices will be secreted out and the juices simmer the chicken.

Once it almost dries up, add in ginger and motherwort, followed by the Chinese cooking wine, let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes. If the wine dries up too fast, as more wine to get the gravy.

From the above procedure, you may note that there is no seasoning such as salt or water being used. That is for the confinement ladies where salt is a not supposed to be added to confinement food. For normal home consumption, you can add salt and sugar to taste and replace some of the wine with plain water. Best serve hot with a bowl of hot rice.


 Image: New Hampshire Garden Solutions

Image: New Hampshire Garden Solutions

POETRY/SONGS/LORE

Secret Love. Motherwort
by Frances Sargent Osgood

MOTHERWORT .
Yes! tell him — tell him I am well,
Say that this cheek doth deeper glow,
Than was its wont — but do not tell,
'Tis the heart's fever makes it so!
And tell him how my lip has curled,
And named his name with idle smile;
But do not tell him for the world,
That tears were in mine eyes the while!

(presumably inspired by the Victorian language of flowers, where Motherwort signified concealed love)

~~~

The Chung Ku Yu T‘ui; allusive.
The sad case of a woman forced to separate from her husband by the pressure of famine.
(from The She King [or The Book of Ancient Poetry], translated from Chinese by James Legge)

1. The valleys show the motherwort,
Now scorched in each dry spot.
Behold a wife driven forth from home,
Beneath hard famine's lot!
She sadly sighs, she sadly sighs,
From husband torn and dearest ties.

2. The valleys show the motherwort,
Now scorched where tall it rose.
Behold a wife driven forth from home,
By stern misfortune's blows!
We hear her groans, we hear her groans,
As she her hapless fate bemoans.

3. The valleys show the motherwort,
Scorched in each dampest place.
Behold a wife driven forth from home—
Bewail in vain her ease!
Her tears aye flow, her tears aye flow;
How’er she grieve, ne’er ends her woe!

 


 RESOURCES

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2008.

Graves, Julia. The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures. Lindisfarne Books. 2012.

Weed, Susun. Motherwort - Leonurus cardiaca. Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed. http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/July08/wisewoman.htm

ode to rose: plant ally spotlight

Welcome to a new series of posts highlighting the many virtues of medicinal plants. I aim to focus mainly on plants native or naturalized to the Northeastern US bioregion, with a few exceptional exceptions. 

This month I introduce you to ROSE, a personal favorite whom I turn to again and again for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. The name Rose happens to be my paternal grandmother's name, and my middle name, but that's not why I'm partial to her. There is so much to say about Rose and perhaps there will be a part two in the future. Read on below for her many lovable attributes...

The rose distils a healing balm, the beating pulse of pain to calm.
— Anacreon, 5th Century BCE Greek poet
  Rosa centifolia , image credit:  Wikipedia

Rosa centifolia, image credit: Wikipedia

Rose (Rosa spp.)

Message: you are divine

Offering: passion, beauty, love

Element & planetary affiliation: Water, Venus

Energetics: sweet, slightly bitter, cooling, moist, aromatic

  Rosa canina , image credit:  Wikipedia

Rosa canina, image credit: Wikipedia

A rose is a rose...

Is there a flower with more poems written of it, more lore surrounding it, more feelings evoked by it, than the rose? Rose is the enduring symbol of beauty, romance, femininity, higher awareness, the cycle of life and death, impermanence, spirituality (the list goes on and on). 

Sappho, 6th C BCE Greek poet, called rose “queen of flowers.” I might go further to say rose is the goddess of flowers. Aside from her symbolism, rose is a medicinal treasure. Her scent has the power to turn us on, to lift us out of dark emotions, and soothe the spirit. Rose attar, or pure rose essential oil, is potent yet gentle medicine. It is precious in that it is extremely expensive and intensive to make – 60,000 roses are needed to make 1 ounce of essential oil!

Rose water is a much more accessible and probably equally effective form of medicine. It is most commonly known as a skin toner and as a flavoring in confections from the Near East. The color of the rose is indicative of its effectiveness in redness and inflammation of the skin – rose water or infusion can be applied topically to relieve rashes and burns.

There are other signatures that indicate the use of rose. Her prickles (not true thorns, despite what all the songs say) tell us that she has an effect on the blood – if a plant can prick you and make you bleed, it is likely useful for the blood. Taken internally, rose petal infusion cools and cleanses the blood. In Ayurvedic medicine, gulkand is a cooling summer treat of rose petals mixed with sugar (see recipe below). The slightly bitter aspect of rose lets us know that there is a carminative effect, easing digestive upset. According to herbalist Anne McIntyre, rose petals have the ability to help restore healthy gut flora.

Rose has an affinity with the heart and root chakras. According to herbalist Michael Tierra, rose helps relieve a “constrictive feeling of chest and abdomen” while it “harmonizes blood.”

Rose also has been used for eye complaints throughout history in many cultures around the world – from Native Americans to Asian Indians. Some have even claimed it helps correct far-sightedness. One way to relieve eye inflammation is to make a strong infusion of rose petals, then soaking a cloth in the infusion. Apply this to the eyes, re-soak and reapply for as long as possible. Keep doing this periodically over a few days until the inflammation is relieved.

More about Rose

Constituents and Nutrients
vitamin C, vitamins B, E, and K, essential oils, nicotinamide, organic acids, tannin, pectin

Actions
alterative, anodyne, anticatarrhal, antidepressant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, astringent, carminative, emmenagogue, immunostimulant, laxative, nervine, refrigerant, mild sedative

Conditions
amenorrhea, colds, cough, depression, diarrhea, dysentery, dysmenorrhea, eye inflammation/irritation/soreness, fever, frigidity, headache, hemorrhage (esp. nose, uterus), infertility, insomnia, leucorrhea, mastitis, rash, skin inflammation, sore throat, sunburn, uterine congestion, weakness

Distinguishing Features
From The American Rose Society: “The true roses (genus Rosa) have stipules (usually attached to the base of the leaf), compound leaves, usually with an odd number of leaflets, often produce prickles (outgrowths of the epidermis at any point along the stem) but never true thorns (modified stems, specifically from the buds just above the leaves). They have 5-petal flowers (R. omiensis is an exception with only 4, and cultivated “double” roses have been selected by horticulturists, as desirable “freaks.”) And, unique to the roses, they produce “hips” as their fruit type – a sort of inside-out strawberry, which is a deep, bowl- or snifter-shaped structure formed from the hypanthium. Inside are the hard, angular objects that most of us refer to as “seeds,” but which are actually small fruits (achenes), each of which contains a single seed. Other examples of achenes are the so-called “seeds” of a strawberry or a sunflower. In each case, the shell is structurally a fruit, with a single true seed inside, attached to the achene at one end.”

Contraindications

  • Not recommended for high Kapha types [reference]
  • Some herbalists recommend avoiding during pregnancy due to its properties as an emmenagogue

Recipes

Rose Infusion
Place a handful of rose petals and/or buds in a quart jar. For a refreshing summer cooler, cover with cold water and steep overnight. For a stronger tonic brew, use boiling water. Strain and enjoy!


Simple Rose Water
This is a simple version (not distilled) of a beautiful classic, from Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal.

  • 6 cups fresh rose petals (organic if possible)
  • 1 quart water

Heat gently in medium saucepan, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, steep for several hours. Strain out petals. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

For a home-distilled version, go here.


Instant Gulkand
adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor

1 cup fresh rose petals
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp sugar*
2 tbsp dried rose petals

Grind rose petals with water to make a coarse paste. In a non-stick pan, add sugar and dried rose petals to this paste. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes on medium heat or until thick. Remove from heat, set aside to cool. Store in air tight bottle.

*You can use honey or your favorite sugar substitute as well.

  Meditative Rose , Salvadore Dalí, 1958

Meditative Rose, Salvadore Dalí, 1958

Poetry & Lore

We lovers laugh to hear
“This should be more that and that should be more this”
coming from people sitting in a wagon tilted in a ditch.
Going in search of the heart,
I found a huge rose under my feet,
and roses under all our feet…

~ Rumi


The Rose Family
by Robert Frost

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose-
But were always a rose.


How did the rose ever open its heart
And give to the world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
Otherwise we all remain too frightened.

~ Hafiz


References & Further Reading

Hutton, Frankie, (Ed.). Rose Lore. http://www.roseproject.com/fhutton.html

Warner, Lucina (Whispering Earth blog). The Rose: Whisper of the Divine. https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2010/05/25/the-rose-whisper-of-the-divine/

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2008.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2009.

Graves, Julia. The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures. Lindisfarne Books. 2012.

 

 

 

 

what's emerging /the color of spring...

When we think Spring, usually there's a color that comes to mind. What is it for you? 

Perhaps you said Green, and yes, certainly green is the dominating color of the season. The green grass pops out, no longer covered in a blanket of snow. The leaf buds grow, ready to spring forth; there is an almost imperceptible mossy green hue covering all. But before the first leaves fully unfurl there are dashes of other colors: pink cherry blossoms, purple hyacinths, blue periwinkles, and lots of yellow.

 Witch Hazel ( Hamamelis  sp )  with my friend Olivia Lovejoy as a hand model.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis sp) with my friend Olivia Lovejoy as a hand model.

Yellow, the color of the glowing sun as daylight grows longer and longer. Even before the first crocus pokes up out of the ground, there is Witch Hazel - a glowing beacon of sunshine in the still dark days of winter, a symbol of hopefulness in the stark leafless landscape. Then comes Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) – not a cherry at all, but a Dogwood, it's one of the first trees of spring to bloom. And Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), once called Filius ante patrem "son before father" as the yellow blossom emerges before the leaves. There's also Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), aka "Pilewort" named for its traditional use as a hemorrhoid remedy (I think its emergence in spring comes at an opportune time, after everyone has been sitting around on their bums all winter!).

 Lesser celandine, one of the first yellow blooms of spring.

Lesser celandine, one of the first yellow blooms of spring.

Yellow, the color of the 3rd chakra or solar plexus, where our fire is, our willpower, our boundaries and from where we spring to action. The 3rd chakra is also associated with the liver and gallbladder, and so yellow is also associated with these organs and systems. And wouldn't you know, the bitter herbs that can support liver and gallbladder very often happen to be yellow and some emerge around this time, specifically Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). We think of spring as a time to clean our homes and our bodies through "detoxing." Herbs like Dandelion leaf and root can help, as well as Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) root and Burdock (Arctium kappa) two other common "weeds."

 First little dandy blossom I spotted this year.

First little dandy blossom I spotted this year.

 Soaking burdock leaves the water yellow, a signature for both liver/gallbladder and kidneys.

Soaking burdock leaves the water yellow, a signature for both liver/gallbladder and kidneys.

Of course there are yellow Daffodils, so synonymous with the start of spring. According to Power of Flowers, Daffodil flower essence has a positive effect on those who are in need of a boost of happiness and light. Considering the liver is the seat of anger, and anger is a dominating emotion of spring, Daffodil flower essence could be a nice remedy for this time of year. Forsythia is another yellow bloom opening now, and according to Pacific Essences, Forsythia flower essence provides motivation for the transformation of old, useless patterns of behavior, and is associated with the gallbladder meridian. It's like spring cleaning for your emotions and habits. In addition to these flower essences, I highly recommend the essences from Tree Frog Farm, especially the ones intended for spring energies, such as Dandelion and Liver Organ Energy Meridian blend. (They also happen to be on sale this month. I don't rep for this company, I swear! I just love their essences).

 Forsythia! Image: Wikimedia Commons

Forsythia! Image: Wikimedia Commons

I hope you'll join me in Prospect Park soon to see all of the colors of spring emerging! We have 2 free trial classes coming up this Friday and Sunday. Register here!

spring is for self-care, and nature as healer

Happy Spring Equinox! 

Spring is a time of renewal and growth, and we are balanced in equal amounts of sunlight and darkness. Signs of spring were evident weeks ago here in Brooklyn, with blooming cherry trees, viburnum bushes, crocuses, and even daffodils. And while the plants were responding to unusually warm days in February, at least we can now say, spring is officially here.

 Cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taken February 27.

Cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taken February 27.

With this energy of new beginnings, it's an ideal time to commit ourselves to something new or recommit ourselves to something we hold dear. For me, self-care is rising as a priority at this moment. In taking care of our body, mind, and spirit, we are able to approach everything with more clarity and ease. I notice that when I stop taking care of my self I become tense, more reactive, less open, and hyper focused on the "small stuff." The forms of self-care I've adopted bring spaciousness, subtlety, appreciation for the beauty in all things, and a big picture perspective. 

What can you commit to this spring that will bring you joy?

 Crocuses, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, March 2.

Crocuses, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, March 2.

Here are some of the ways I prioritize my health and well being:

Eating well – recommitting to a real food diet free from sugar, grains, legumes, and processed foods for the next 30 days (here's more info on that if you're interested!)

Moving my body – stretching, dancing, Sacred Warrior training

Tending my body – skin brushing, self massage, making and using homemade body care products (see recipe below)

Exploring the inner world – meditation, journeywork, journaling, reiki

Expressing creativity – drawing, journaling, jewelry making, creating art projects with my son

Connecting with nature – plant meditations, earth touching, listening to the birds, and Gathering Ground classes!

 

 Viburnum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, March 2.

Viburnum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, March 2.

Reveal a new layer of yourself

Snakes shed their skin, leaving behind the old to reveal a new layer of themselves. This is partly why they have been a symbol of spring for thousands of years. We can make like a snake and help our body remove its old skin to reveal our glowing selves beneath. Here's a super simple recipe for a body scrub to help you do just that:

  • 1/4 cup sea salt (course/unrefined)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (I like to use Castor oil, but you could use coconut, olive, almond, avocado, etc)
  • 10 drops of essential oil (optional)*

Mix ingredients in a small bowl. Step into tub and gently scrub, starting at the feet and ending with the scalp (if you don't mind temporarily greasy hair). Take a warm shower or if you have time a hot bath. Step out feeling renewed!

*Suggestions: peppermint to invigorate; tea tree to cleanse; cedarwood to ground; chamomile to calm; orange to uplift.

 

 My boy, age 2, Prospect Park.

My boy, age 2, Prospect Park.

Turning to nature is my number one restorative practice

Of all the self-care practices listed above, perhaps the most accessible and effective one is nature connection. There is something inexplicably healing about being immersed in a natural environment, even an urban one. We are surrounded by nature, or more correctly we are inseparable from nature because we are it. The moment nature becomes an experience is when we engage it. Some of the very basic ways we can do this:

Gaze up at the sky – notice the clouds, the blueness, the stars; simply notice what is above you

Touch the earth – get down on your hands and knees and touch the unpaved earth; if that's too difficult, take off your shoes and step on the earth; what do you feel? 

Interact with a plant – find a plant that you are drawn to, it could even be a house plant. Introduce yourself; now just sit with the plant, exchanging breath; be open to what arises

There are so many more ways to interact with the natural world. And though we don't need science to confirm that it makes us feel good, there have been plenty of studies on how nature connection makes us happier, more in awe, more generous, and healthier as individuals and as a community. (Here's an article from my favorite magazine, Yes! all about it). We always have the opportunity to connect with nature, but spring presents one of the most dramatic times to witness the beauty of the earth. 

I'll be leading some free Gathering Ground classes in Prospect Park this Friday, March 24 and next Sunday, April 2. Perhaps you'll join me for some nature connection?

dandelion
soul of the universe

 

 

nyc parks department, please stop spraying herbicide

Every year around this time I get so angry and perplexed. Along with the joy of warmer, longer, greener days comes the poisoning of plants, people, and animals – by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Year after year, the parks department continues to spray poison in highly populated places, most often places where kids play. A few weeks ago we were walking past our favorite neighborhood playground and posted outside was that dreaded notice.

Cities like Chicago and entire countries like FranceThe Netherlands, and Sweden have banned the use of RoundUp, even before the EU Parliament called for severe restrictions affecting all EU nations. Why?

Problem

The "inert" ingredients in RoundUp that make it a more effective plant killer also make it more effective at penetrating and killing human cells as well. "One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call 'astonishing,'" according to a report in Scientific American.

In the same article, a Monsanto spokesperson goes on to tout its safety and that it's used to "protect schools." Protect schools from a few weeds? I'm trying to imagine a scenario where weeds are hurting people (other than maybe giant hogweed.) On the contrary, many of the so-called weeds targeted by RoundUp are edible and/or medicinal. So instead of hand-weeding, weed-whacking or even just picking these plants to use, we poison them, and ourselves in the process. 

Here are just a few of the plants targeted by the NYC parks department along with some of their benefits:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – All parts edible/medicinal. Roots have been used for healing liver conditions for centuries (at least). Leaves and roots are a non-depleting diuretic. Both are also highly nutritious. Flowers are delicious edibles that have pain-relieving properties when used topically. (See that word "officinale" in the botanical name? That means it was in the pharmacopeia, in other words used as medicine for centuries)

Chickweed (Stellaria sp.) – Anti-inflammatory; helps improve assimilation of nutrients from other foods; helps dissolve cysts and fatty deposits; wound healing. Also a highly nutritious green with abundant minerals and vitamins including calcium, magnesium, and A, C and B vitamins.  

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) – Bitter digestive; antispasmodic, relaxing to muscles; emmenagogue (brings on delayed menstruation); oneirogen (enhances dreaming); traditionally burned as moxabustion in acupuncture to improve chi flow and as incense. Rich in magnesium and calcium, best eaten when young. (Also one of my personal favorite herbs!)

Solution

Now I understand there are times when someone might favor cultivated or native plants in certain places and want to remove so called "exotic invasives."* In those cases, there are inexpensive, safe alternatives to commercial herbicides. Here's a recipe that anyone can whip up with ingredients from the grocery store. In places where there are large stands of unwanted plants, hire goats! Or call on volunteer groups to do hand or mechanical weeding. 

Action

Several groups are actively trying to stop the practice of spraying RoundUp in public places. Here are a few (a roundup, if you will!):

Stop Spraying Cancerous RoundUp WeedKiller in NYC Parks (a petition, please sign if you feel called to!)

The Black Institute

Food and Water Watch (scroll down for another RoundUp petition)

While petitions can be helpful, I feel there's more work to be done to stop these practices. I'm organizing a group of individuals, parents, and children, an action group if you will. You can sign up for updates on this group here.

-----------

*Stay tuned for a future post regarding this choice of words to describe plants and animals and its impact on our perceptions and behaviors.

two cups full

A couple of years back, I was practicing Sacred Warriorship* with my friend Vanessa on a hill in Prospect Park. It’s a hill at the center of the Long Meadow, populated with a few trees, one of which was planted by the Boy Scouts about 100 years ago. I now call this little land feature Compass Hill, some call it Kite Hill, others Roosevelt Hill. (I wonder what the Lenape called it, if this hill wasn’t a contour feature added by Olmstead & Vaux when they designed the park.)

When we practice, Vanessa instructs to find a point of focus, sometimes near, sometimes distant.  Usually for me, it's a tree. I develop a kind of relationship with this tree, based on the impressions it leaves on me – is it telling me to be upright, to stay grounded, to not sway, to be flexible? These are the basic feelings I get from the trees. But this particular tree was saying something else: East. This tree is East, I felt. As I practiced I conjured up the associations with that direction – Air, Spring, Communication. After we were finished, I looked around at the other trees situated around the hill. That’s South, West, North – I spun around imagining the hill as a compass. And then I took out my phone’s compass to confirm. Sure enough, these trees were just about spot on with the four directions. 

When we were all through I approached the East tree to give thanks for supporting me through my workout. As I approached I couldn’t help but smile as I noticed this tree had a feature just at the base of the tree that looked frighteningly similar to… an ear. Of course you have an ear! You are East! So now I call this tree the Great Eastern Listening Tree. 

There was something else I noticed when I approached East tree, a feature that is common around many city trees. Trash, especially broken glass, strewn about the soil around the roots. I started to imagine how this glass got here. In many traditions, gifts are given to trees as thanks for all they give us. I couldn’t help but think, yes, people are leaving gifts to the trees, but perhaps the wrong ones.

I attribute this partially to the noise that bombards us daily, audible and visual – traffic, helicopters, planes, leaf blowers, media, etc. How can we hear the trees properly with so much noise? Of course we can also go to the obvious – it was just some careless kids smashing beer bottles on the ground perhaps to impress their friends. But there's more to it than that, isn't there? Our culture of isolation, our lack of community-structured and age-appropriate rites of passage, our lack of awareness and reverence for the natural world all contribute to a basic disrespect for each other and our shared earth. Most of us are surrounded by the built environment – concrete, steel, brick, glass – and often sitting behind screens for much of the day. We are separated from the material and energetic earth we all evolved from – who of us has our feet in the soil, our hair in the breeze, our nose in the blossoming flowers daily or even weekly? How can we respect what we don't know?

I’m in the midst of reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and she writes about a term used for this type of isolation: species loneliness. She writes, “It has been said that people of the modern world suffer a great sadness, a "species loneliness" — estrangement from the rest of Creation. We have built this isolation with our fear, with our arrogance, and with our homes brightly lit against the night."

The introduction of this term brings the relief of a diagnosis; I somehow feel better for having the words to describe this sort of deprivation I may have been feeling for much of my life. There's so much more to say about this, so much more that Robin describes very articulately. If you're interested in the concept, I recommend reading more of her work. 

Robin also writes about how much the earth gives, and what do we give in return? Most of us go about our days consuming whatever we please without much thought as to how the earth has provided this food, clothing, shelter that keeps us feeling safe and secure. What do we have to give, but thanks?

Since I had the pleasure of meeting the Great Eastern Listening Tree, I started bringing gifts, usually various herbs – cinnamon chips, fennel seeds, lavender buds – to lay at the roots. I whisper secrets in his ear (and ask participants to do so in Gathering Ground classes as well). It finally dawned on me just a few weeks ago that I had another gift for this tree. So I set out on a Wednesday afternoon to begin giving. And by giving, I mean taking. I sat under my tree friend for about an hour or so, picking out the bits of glass and other discarded goods (bottle caps, a shredded tennis ball, two pennies that were cut, a dime, etc.). I filled large coffee two cups with trash, two cups that were trash themselves (I picked them out of the trashcan).

IMG_5827.JPG

I feel like I'm just getting to know my tree friend and just beginning to understand what it means to give back to our community of multiple species. It just might be a lesson I'll continue to learn for the rest of my life. 

*For more about Vanessa's amazing transformative work, visit her at Sacred Warrior.

 

simple herbal vinegars

I've had an interest in the idea of traditional healing ways for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until 2008 that I began my path to understanding what that kind of healing really is. One of the first herbalism classes I took was the Art of Herbal Medicine Making with Robin Rose Bennett, Wise Woman herbalist based in NJ. (If you're curious about making your own herbal medicines, I highly recommend this class.) Before meeting Robin, I don't think I realized I could make my own medicine – at the time I relied on whatever I could get from a health food store.

Making your own herbal medicine has a multitude of benefits. It's empowering, it's cost-effective, and it really comes in handy when you're suffering from an easy-to-ease ailment (minor wounds, muscle aches, colds, sunburn, etc.). And it's also really darn simple to do. One of the simplest ways of getting healing herbs into your body is to cook with them. Another way to do this is to make an herbal vinegar. 

Super simple herbal vinegar recipe

1. Figure out how much vinegar you'd like. But don't worry too much. If you have extra you can share it with friends. 

2. Get your ingredients: good quality organic vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar best), herbs (fresh or dried).

3. Get your equipment: a clean glass jar with a plastic lid or some waxed paper if you've got a metal lid. A clean bottle to store your finished product in. A narrow funnel.

4. If you're using fresh herbs, fill the entire jar with small bits of your herb of choice (below is a list of good ones to start with). The best way to prepare the herb is to tear it up with your hands, so you get good and familiar with it. And if you want to put good energy into your medicine, sing while you make it. Or at the very least hum. Or think happy thoughts. 

If you're using dried herbs, fill the jar about halfway.

5. Now fill the jar all the way up with your vinegar. Give the mixture a few stirs with a chopstick or spoon to be sure all the air bubbles are out. Then put on your cap. If it's metal, put some waxed paper under the cap to prevent corrosion. Give the jar a couple of good shakes. Do this daily if you can, for at least 2 weeks (and up to 6 weeks or more). 

6. You can taste the vinegar periodically to see if it's to your liking. When it's all good and infused, strain off the vinegar and use a funnel to pour the finished product into a lovely glass bottle. You could also use the vinegar with the herb bits in it – it's up to you.

 infusing herbs in an old peanut butter jar

infusing herbs in an old peanut butter jar

Herbs to infuse

Here's a short list of herbs you could infuse in vinegar, along with some of their actions. Stick with one if this is your first time. If you're feeling adventurous, combine 2 or 3.

  • Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale) – diuretic, digestive
  • Nettles (Urtica dioica) – nourishing, tonic
  • Mugwort* (Artemisia vulgaris) – digestive, emmenagogue
  • Parsley* (Petroselinum crispum) - nourishing, digestive
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – digestive, antimicrobial
  • Lavender† (Lavandula spp.) – calming, antimicrobial

*Not recommended for use in pregnancy. Parsley is generally okay in small doses in food, but not large medicinal doses.

† Use lavender sparingly, it can be overwhelming. Fill the jar only about 1/8 of the way with lavender buds and infuse for 1 to 2 weeks.

You can also use herbal vinegars topically, as a skin toner or hair rinse. Some herbs that are great for this application are: chamomile, rose, lavender, rosemary, and nettles.

Make a spring tonic vinegar with Gathering Ground!

This coming Sunday, January 31, we're hosting a gathering in Prospect Park to celebrate the midway point between winter and spring. Yes, winter is almost half over! We'll be making an herb-infused vinegar that makes a great spring tonic. Just bring a jar and join us!

Gathering Ground spring registration is open!

update to spring session - now for families with toddlers!

Dear ones,

With the warming weather and the emerging spring ephemerals, I'm getting super excited to share Gathering Ground with you all. 

And considering feedback I've received from you, the spring session will now be suitable for families with toddlers!

So that means, while you take in the lessons of healing plants, your little ones will be having tea parties, building nests, and making stone soup. While you sit in silent meditation, your child will be exploring teepees and setting fairy traps (they might just come by to give you a smooch while you sit, too). 

The Spring Session starts May 7. Sign up here!

Parents with pre-ambulatory babes, fear not - we will soon offer classes just for you, too. Stay tuned!

 

welcome to gathering ground!

I am so pleased to introduce you to Gathering Ground, a way for new parents to connect to themselves, their children, and their world, creating a sense of calm, renewal, and stability in our busy urban lives. Gathering Ground is your opportunity to sloooooow down, breathe, and see the beauty in the mundane. Coming this spring, I'll be leading groups of families with wee babes through mindfulness activities in beloved Prospect Park. The first session lasts 8-weeks and is open to parents with toddlers. You can sign up for those on the Register page. Future sessions will be open to parents of pre-walking babes, too. 

We'll walk and notice. We'll sit and notice. We'll learn about the healing plants that grow all around us, even in our densely populated and developed city. We'll discover our true nature, inside and out.

stellan-dirt.jpg

In addition to 8-week sessions, I'll be offering seasonal parent-only and family workshops on how to incorporate healing plants into our daily lives. And I'll be teaching at the New York Botanical Garden, and will feature those classes on the Classes page. 

As a new parent, it's easy to focus entirely on your new babe and forget about caring for your self. I know, I've been there. I'm excited to serve new parents on this journey of discovering who they are in this new role, who their babe is, and how everyone fits into the wild wide world around us. 

I'll be posting in the journal weekly. Please sign up for the newsletter if you'd like to receive monthly updates and special offers on workshops and sessions. 

Thank you for being here! 

~ Liz