It’s impossibly early. Its dark, and cold. There’s a storm blowing outside and I’ve been woken by the sound of sheet rain pummeling relentless onto the tin roof, while overhanging branches slap against the shed in rhythm with the wild dance. After an apparently unseasonable run of hot, humid weather, these are the winds of change that herald the final birth pangs of summer giving way to autumn. It is a welcome relief.
The equinox looms. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the first appearance of snowdrops signals the beginning of new life, new hope with Spring and there may be a welling up in you, an urge to clear away the cobwebs of winter and do a Spring clean. Sure you could hire someone to do it for you, but there is no personal catharsis in this, and with the coming lighter energies of Spring this is something that we all seem to need to do. Here in the southern hemisphere just now, the Hawthorn berries are in full swing, pomegranates are ripe with their precious ruby jewels, and the leaves of deciduous trees are beginning to turn on their show of gold and crimson hue. And as many plants do, Autumn also invites us to begin gathering our resources for the cooler months, to turn inward on preparing ourselves and our homes. Both experiences of the Equinox draw us to focus on the hearth – both of our homes and our souls. The Equinox elicits a stir to change, to reflect, to set new goals, to learn and to grow.
In less than five weeks, the Passover season will be upon us. I’ll be de-leavening my home and clearing out the physical remnants of bread that I don’t actually eat, and generally decluttering the accumulated flotsam of the previous year. As I do this, I also reflect on the lessons that I have learnt over the past year. What have I learnt? Have I grown, in my character and my spirit? Is there anything that I should have done differently? Is there anything lurking in the shadows that I still need to overcome? How is my relationship with my Creator? This is a time of deep soul-searching and accountability.
An important component of the Passover meal is the bitter herbs. The inclusion of the bitter herbs represents the bitterness of being in the bondage of slavery while we were in Egypt. After the sacrifice of the Messiah (the Passover Lamb), this bondage of slavery in Egypt came to be synonymous with being in bondage to the slavery of this world, to the system that is run by greed and narcissistic lawlessness. The bitter herbs however, are not the focus of the meal, if they were we’d be stuck in victim mentality, and we wouldn’t be able to move forward. This would then become a root of bitterness in our being that keeps us stuck in slavery, often not to the system but to our own negativity.
You see this is the funny thing about bitters, the bitter principle whether it be in a plant, or in life, invites us to change. It stirs us up and ignites a fire deep in our belly, our own personal hearth. Physically, this helps us to digest our food properly, so that we can absorb it and utilise it’s nutrients for our growth and repair. Spiritually, if we allow it, it spurs us to draw closer to the Creator, whose Light helps us to reflect on what we’ve been through, learn it’s lessons and then grow or begin to heal from it.
Many of the bitter herbs are also blood-cleaners and anti-inflammatories.
My last post eluded to the ability of Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) to stir up change. I wanted to make use of the beautiful stately bush growing where I currently live, while it was at it’s peak, so I developed the following bitters recipe based around that. It can be used before meals or whenever you’re feeling a bit stagnant. Take between 1/2 tsp to 1 Tbs depending on taste, and the heaviness of the meal.
Last of the Summer Bitters
Raw, unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother.
2 parts fresh rosemary, flowering tops
2 parts dandelion root (raw – dried or fresh)
2 parts burdock root (raw, dried or fresh)
1 part fennel seeds
1 part dried orange peel.
(optional: add a 1-2 Tbs raw honey or sustainably-sourced vegetable glycerin to add a touch of sweetness.)
Mason jar large enough to hold all of your herbs. (I used a 475ml jar).
Fill the mason jar with the herbs and pour over the ACV. You will need to stir as you pour to loosen the herb so it becomes completely saturated. When you think you’ve filled the jar with ACV, let it sit for an hour and you’ll see that much of the herb has absorbed the ACV and there’s exposed herb left on top. Pour on more ACV, stirring as you go, until you absolutely can’t get any more in the jar. Cap tightly, and let sit for up to 6 weeks. Give it a shake every so often. After 6 weeks or so, strain the mixture through a nut milk bag, and rebottle. I like to use 50ml bottles so I can take some with me wherever I go. It also makes a great gift.
Bitter is a taste that is often missing from the Standard Western Diet, much to our detriment. I encourage you to explore the world of bitters and Be the Change.
Have you ever heard it said that when healing is needed, a plant will show up that bears the specific virtue of meeting this need?
I’ve been sitting here at my computer attempting to find the mandatory texts that I need for an up coming graduate diploma programme that I’ve enrolled in. This week has been a bit of a hormonal rollercoaster. I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m adding to an already burgeoning list of responsibility (something I’ve now identified that is a pattern for me). Because I’m the type of person who distracts myself with academic pursuits when I’m struggling to keep my head above water.
If you’re familiar with my history of sleep paralysis and chronic insomnia (20 years!!), how I managed to pull off a degree and several other qualifications, as well as bearing children, during that period is nothing short of a miracle (No, I’m not blowing my own trumpet, I really don’t know how I managed it.). Suffice it to say, now that that particular issue has been resolved, and I can sleep (oh Hallelujah, how I can sleep!), my brain has a lot of regenerating and a lot of catching up to do. And so, every now and then, I do doubt myself.
And this wonderful ride of peri-menopause seems to amplify what is already lurking in the shadows; anxiety, depression, randomly triggered flashbacks, self-doubt etc etc. Blerg.
But I digress, because as I sit here trying to concentrate, there’s a large Rosemary shrub in my peripheral vision that is commanding me to write of her just now. And she does have a commanding presence. She is at her peak. Her delicate pale blue blossoms speak of gentleness, but really belie the powerful healing that she offers.
‘Boudicca’ she whispers.
I can’t help but be reminded of a full-bodied shiraz, and the aroma of a Sunday roast when I smell or taste Rosemary’s rich pungency (yes, even as a vegetarian). I crush a resinous sprig between my fingers, and inhale deeply. The scent penetrates and infuses my core. It’s warmth diffuses strength into my heart, and comfort to my soul. A richness, on being and acting, but this isn’t the over-the-top excesses of pomp and ceremony. Instead I recall an image of tapestries interwoven with fine threads of gold, which shimmer and dance in the firelight of the hearth. Rosemary is a herb of the hearth, and the hearth belongs to a queen. This is the regal dignity of a warrior queen. A queen who isn’t afraid to cut through the fat, and the crap, to expose the bare bones of truth. Yet she also encourages her loyal subjects with genuine warmth and her own fierce loyalty.
There’s an old folk saying “where Rosemary flourishes, the lady rules’. Perhaps it is fitting then that the owners of this house (and the guardians of this rosemary) are a family of six women.
Evidently this particular rosemary invokes Boudicca, that ancient Celtic warrior queen who stood against the Romans. (I was at a friend’s place for dinner not long after this rosemary started whispering to me, and lo and behold, a novel about that famed queen sat on my friend’s bookshelf. Sweet synchronicity.) Another rosemary may invoke the Queen of Hungary for instance.* Or Queen Esther, another example of dignified strength. Gentle, or fierce, in her persuasion, this is a herb that kindles the inner fire.
In the archetype of the Warrior Queen, there is an element of self-sacrifice for the greater good. A defender of the realm, often with a very personal element. I also see Rosemary for those who give much of themselves but have depleted all reserves.
“Rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”
Ophelia (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)
Rosemary has a long association with the memory, so perhaps it is no coincidence she speaks to me just now. Ancient Greek, and Elizabethan students wore rosemary wreaths to help retain what they were studying. It was also worn at weddings and funerals to symbolise loyalty and friendship – both acts of keeping loved ones at the forefront of our minds.
John Parkinson said of Rosemary..” it helpeth also a weak memory by heating and drying up the cold moistures of the braines, and quickening the senses.” As such, Culpepper placed it under the dominion of the sun, and further extolled it’s virtues as a warming herb, which includes ‘lifting the spirits’ and ‘dispelling the mood’, an encouraging anti-depressant.
It is via it’s action on the digestion, and in particular on the gallbladder that we see this virtue of ‘cutting through the fat’ not just metaphorically, but quite literally. Rosemary helps the liver and the gallbladder to deal with those rich excesses by stimulating the flow of bile. And I suppose this is why it is much used in mediterranean cooking, particularly where meats and oily foods are concerned.
Dr Franck Ledoux (in his book on phytoembryotherapy) refers to rosemary’s ability to ‘eliminate glues (accumulated toxins in the mucous membranes in the form of mucous, tissue oedema, and wastes stored in fat.) And as an antioxidant, she simulates glutathione production and thus helps not only to protect the liver but also the blood vessels, heart, nerves, and brain.
Modern research has shown that Rosemary has an anti-inflammatory action, is anti-spasmodic and can be used in the prevention of asthma, has anti-tumour properties, can be used for under-active thyroid, and is a powerful preventative for Alzheimer’s.
David Hoffman says that Rosemary is “a circulatory and nervine stimulant, which in addition to the toning and calming effect on the digestion makes it a remedy that is used where psychological tension is present.”
This virtue can be applied both internally and externally (as an infused oil or linament for muscular soreness through to stimulating the scalp in hair loss), although I am inclined to observe the energetics of the plant and the constitution of the person for a truly holistic and individualised approach. Rosemary is not one that I would give to a hot, angry, hypertensive sort of person. I might consider her a whole body tonic, for typically cold and weak people (or those prone to debilitation from chronic stress, for example) with fogginess and/or poor memory, prone to bouts of depression and/or anxiety, and poor digestion of fats in particular, where gas and bloating are present as well as general inflammation of the gut.
For someone who has lost heart.
For someone who is stuck.
Or someone who needs their inner flame reignited.
‘Warrior Queen’, she whispers.
Rosmarinus officinalis (Lamiaceae)
‘Dew of the sea.’
Habitat & Description: A quintessential mediterranean herb, there is an imagery evoked just by virtue of this plants native habitat, of an inner strength and resilience. Of ‘resistance to life’s difficulties’ (Ledoux and Gueniot). It is a shrub that grows on dry, stony, and calcerous soil, often on cliffs or hill sides where it is watered by the sea mists (hence it’s name). It also often faces high winds, and is often a pioneer plant of degraded soils. In cultivation, it requires a sunny spot and although it likes well-drained soil, it also thrives in sandy, poor soil. It can handle the heat well, and is drought tolerant.
A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, it is strongly aromatic. You can feel these aromatic oils as much as you can smell them, by the resinous quality of it’s short, sharp, narrow leaf. The leaves grow opposite to each other on slender upright woody stems. It’s small white or pale blue flowers appearing in pairs at the end.
For me, the Doctrine of Signatures is not just about what a plant, or particular part of it, looks like that will tell you what it’s good for. The whole being of the plant communicates what it is here for – it’s preferred habitat and climate, it’s smell, it’s feel and taste, as well as those odd and insistent whisperings of hidden analogy.
Constituents: essential oil (cineole, pinene, camphor, borneo, limonene, terpineol and verbinol), phenolic acids (Rosmarinic), bitter triterpenes (carnosol, rosmanol), triterpenes (oleanic and frolic acid), triterpene alcohols, flavonoids and their glycosides (diosmetin, luteolin).
Virtues: – antioxidant, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, carminative, mild analgesic, increases mental concentration, circulatory stimulant, nervine, cardiotonic, hepatic, antiseptic, astringent, rejuvenative, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, digestive, bronchodilator, emmenagogue (regulates menstruation), diaphoretic (induces a sweat when given in hot infusion), cholagogue (stimulates bile flow), anthelmintic (kills worms), rubefacient (brings blood to an area), relaxant.
*Key Indication:to warm and strengthen, to get things moving and to help things flow, to protect.
headaches from sluggish digestion
flatulence, bloating, and indigestion – especially after a fatty meal.
a tendency to poor peripheral circulation, and feeling cold in the extremities, often with hypotension (low blood pressure).
fogginess, sluggish memory, and poor concentration.
weak and debilitated from prolonged periods of stress or illness, may also experience intermittent depression, and/or anxiety.
spasmodic cold, moist cough.
as a mouthwash.
sore, stiff, muscles and joints (topical)
hair loss (topical)
can be taken as a heart tonic and a brain tonic, and as general body tonic to ensure good digestion, and protect against oxidative stress.
Harvesting: The leaves can be gathered at any time of the year, but Rosemary is at her peak when she is flowering. (Stephen Church says that Winter gathered Rosemary has more of an action on peripheral circulation, whereas the Summer gathered tops are more of a nerviness stimulant.) Gather the flowering tops in summer and hang in a warm dry place in bunches to dry. Once dried, strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place.
How to use:
Infused oil – The fresh leaves may be infused in oil to use as a massage oil for the scalp, or incorporated into a balm for sore muscles. Gather the flowering tops, chop them up and pack them into a jar, cover with organic extra virgin olive oil, or sweet almond oil. Make sure the leaves are fully covered by poking them down into the oil with a chopstick or twig. Screw the lid on and let sit in a warm sunny spot for 2-3 weeks. Give the jar a bit of a shake every day. When the time is up, strain through a nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer into another clean, sterilised jar (sterilise by boiling the jar in a pot of water for 5 minutes). Let the oil sit, so any sediment and water can separate, at which point decant the oil off into a new jar. Don’t forget to label the jar with particularly like when it was harvested and first infused, and then when it was strained, as well as the name of the plant. This infused oil can be used as is, or further incorporated into a balm.
Tincture – It can be made into a tincture of 1:3 fresh herb:menstruum (water/alcohol solvent) ratio with 45% alcohol, and macerate for 2-3 weeks, as well as a simpler’s tincture of packing a jar with fresh or dried herb and then covering with good Vodka and let macerate (sit and extract the medicinal qualities) for 2-3 weeks. Dosage may be from 10 drops up to 2ml/ 3x day.
Tea – I’ve been making myself an infusion of the fresh sprigs as a pre-breakfast kickstarter. I take about 4 or 5 sprigs of the tips, and pour on just boiled water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. You could also use a tsp of the dried herb and infuse in the same fashion.
Often I just like to have a sprig of fresh rosemary sitting next to me as I study or work, which I can pick up and smell when I need to remember something important. And also because I just like the smell. And sharing my space with a green being 🙂
* The Queen of Hungary inspired the invention of a water that was used by her ‘for outward application to renovate the vitality of paralysed limbs, [and] who was said to have been completely cured by its continued use.’ Mrs M. Grieve. ‘A Modern Herbal’.
The Herbalist’s Bible: John Parkinson’s Lost Classic Rediscovered by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
Phytoembryotherapy: The Embryo of Gemmotherapy by Drs Franck Ledoux, Gérard Guéniot.
Plant Profiles: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) by Isla Burgess International College of Herbal Medicine (www.herbcollege.com)
The Elder is one of those plants deeply rooted in the lore and tradition of Western (European) Herbal Medicine. It gives something of itself to span the medicinal needs of all seasons, whether it be it’s clusters of delicate cream flowers in the late Spring/Summer, to it’s deep purple, almost black berries hanging from blood red stems that appear in the autumn and winter. It’s evergreen leaves also offer various virtues to us fragile humans, although more as a soothing topical application.
The species of Elder (Sambucus spp.) most commonly used in our tradition is Sambucus nigra. For those who like the odd tipple now and then, the genus name will be reminiscent of the drink Sambuca – which the flowers are an ingredient of. And it is reputed that the original Pan flutes were crafted from the pithy stems. The Elder also has a rich folklore attached to it, with varied tales of a wizened Elder mother (The Elder Mor) that guards the tree and grants only those who are worthy to make use of it’s medicine. There is a certain presence to this plant that I find to be quite welcoming, and one of the joys of the warmer season is the sight of an Elder in all her blooming glory enticing me to make sweet medicine, and even more delicious sparkling elixirs. So perhaps, I am one of the chosen ones 😀
Either way I am filled with joy and thanksgiving at the bounty this tree provides.
I use the elderberries to make an anti-oxidant, vitamin C rich Winter Immune Elixir. The berries also possess potent anti-viral properties that make it useful not only in prevention of, but also treatment of the dreaded ‘flu. However, here on the East coast of Australia, we are currently beginning the season for the flowers so this article will focus on what I like to do with these.
The flowers, being carefully dried, are traditionally used along with peppermint (Mentha piperita) and yarrow (Achilles millefolium) in the famous tea blend that is taken at the onset of colds and flu. This combination increases the circulation, tones the mucous membranes, is anti-viral and induces sweating, allowing the fever associated with the body’s attempt to fight the influenza virus to break, and release the toxins through the skin. The actions of the Elder flowers themselves are anti-catarrhal (drying up mucous, yet also soothing the mucous membranes) in the upper respiratory tract (nose and sinuses), and so are specific for sinusitis, cold and flu, blocked nose, and blocked ears/deafness associated with sinus problems. They would therefore also be useful in combination with other specific herbs for treating hayfever.
The flowers are also well known for their delicate fragrance, which lends itself to a pleasantly refreshing cordial, sparkling wine, or probiotic elixir. Nothing says summer like an Elderflower Sparkle (Well, many things say Summer, but this is a highlight at picnics on a balmy mid-summer eve). The following recipe can be made two ways, depending on convenience and resources available. It imparts the anti-viral and immune supporting properties of the flowers as well as the synergistic virtues of the accompanying ingredients to provide an all round life-enhancing elixir.
I first made this on a base of water kefir. In short, Kefir is a symbiotic organism that feeds on sugar and in turn cultures or ferments the medium it is fed in, be it water (with sugar added), coconut water, or animal milk (lactose). (Note: the water kefir and the milk kefir are actually two distinct organisms, yet both offer incredible probiotic benefits)*
As my kefir is currently in hibernation (yes, you can do that), due to me being in transit at the moment, I have gone on for convenience sake, to make this on a base of coconut water first cultured with the contents of one potent probiotic capsule.**
Elderflower Sparkle ( a.k.a Galactic Wayfarer’s Famous Ginger Sling)
1 litre of water kefir (cultured and strained of the kefir organism), or 1 litre of cultured coconut water
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced.
½ lemon, sliced thinly.
3-4 dried figs, chopped
1 large handful (about 1.5 cups) of fresh Elder flowers, (picked of blemished flowers and hidden tiny spiders).
Place all ingredients in a 1 litre / 1 quart mason jar, loosely cap or place a tea towel over it, and leave to further culture overnight (again depending on ambient room temperature, this may take longer. I have been known to seemingly forget about it for up to a week and it still turned out well.)
When you see the mix go a bit cloudy, and a bit bubbly (more so if you are using the kefir), it is ready to strain. Add 1-2 drops of liquid stevia if desired. You can drink as is – in shot-size portions, about 100ml, or add as a base to juices or smoothies, or maybe even in place of tonic water with your favourite gin – FYI: mine is The Botanist)
Either way, it’s healing, it’s nourishing, it’s convivial, it’s all good!
*To learn the differences as well as how to nurture and make kefir for yourself, I would direct the reader to the most fabulous fountain of kefir knowledge on the web: http://www.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html
** After trying out a number of various probiotics for culturing purposes, I now favour the Ojio brand of probiotics. It contains 16 strains of implantable vegetarian-based microflora at a count of with 100 billion or 50 billion. Unlike my second favourite Healthforce Nutritionals Friendly Force, the Ojio brand must be refrigerated for optimum potency. To culture coconut water, I typically use a ratio of 1 litre fresh coconut water: 1 capsule. Leave at room temperature overnight (depending on ambient room temperature, you may need to leave it a little longer at room temp. and then refrigerate.)
***If you would like to learn how to make Elderflower champagne, I throughly recommend this recipe, which can be found here: https://theherbarium.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/‘champagne’/