Plant Medicine, Whole Food Soul Nourishment

Engaging the Elder Mother

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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 😀

image credit: wikipedia commons.
image credit: wikipedia commons.

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.**

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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!

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

*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’/

Resources:

For dried herbs –

mountainroseherbs.com

australherbs.com.au (bulk)

highlandherbs.com.au

southernlightherbs.com.au

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Whole Food Soul Nourishment

The Fantastic Berry Bombastic ‘I Love My Gut’ Smoothie.

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For me, food should be functional…which is a strange thing to say, but in this day and age..food is a far cry from what it was intended to be. So what does functional mean? It should be highly nutritious, have healing potential, and engage the senses in a positive way. One of my favourite pastimes is making my meals functional. I formulated the following smoothie recipe to help heal my gut wall/gut brain, nourish my beneficial flora, and provide a nutrient dense breakfast smoothie that keeps me going for hours. And it has a pretty colour, and tastes incredible. My 6 year old daughter said it is the best smoothie I’ve ever made. (And her favourite colour just happens to be purple). Depending on the coconut you use, it’s meat may be softer, or more mature – this will effect the end consistency of the smoothie and so this can also be enjoyed as a pudding or smoothie bowl.

Water & flesh from 1 young coconut.

1 scoop (30g) hemp protein powder

2 Tbs chia seeds

1 Tbsp bee pollen

1 Tbsp lecithin powder (non GMO – I currently use Healthforce Nutritionals)

1 tsp L-glutamine powder (I use Jarrow Formulas)

1 tsp slippery elm powder (sustainably sourced)

the inner gel from 1 medium aloe vera leaf (or 20ml bottled fresh aloe juice – Lifestream is a good brand)

¾ cup blueberries – fresh or frozen

½ tsp vanilla bean powder (or 1 vanilla bean)

½ tsp cinnamon (true cinnamon – look for Cinnamonum verum or Zeylanicam verum)

2-4 capsules probiotic (I use and recommend Healthforce Nutritionals Friendly Force) – open and empty capsules into smoothie.

10 – 12 drops fulvic / humic acid (optional but highly recommended)

Add all ingredients to your blender jug and then blend on high for around 30 seconds until well incorporated. Enjoy!

A Materia Medica of ingredients:

Coconut – the water is rich in electrolytes and has the perfect balance of electrolytes akin to human blood. In fact, during WW2 in the pacific, coconut water was used in emergencies to substitute plasma when a blood transfusion was called for. The flesh of the coconut is rich in healthy saturated fat – in particular lauric acid, which is also found in human breast milk and is essential for brain development. Coconut also has anti-fungal properties.

Hemp – industrial hemp contains no THC (the compound that becomes psychoactive when heated) and is a highly nutritious food in it’s own right. The seeds provide a good source of fibre, as well as all of the essential amino acids, and a good ratio of essential fatty acids. It is easily digested and has a high bioavailability.

Chia – chia is an ancient food used by the aztecs to aid endurance and stamina. The seeds are high in protein and the omega 3 essential fatty acid. They are also high in fibre, and forms a gel in liquid which helps soothe an inflamed digestive system.

Bee Pollen – has been touted to be a complete superfood, being very rich in amino acids, B vitamins, and enzymes.

Lecithin – acts as an emulsifier to help the digestion of fats, and is also essential for brain health.

L-Glutamine– amino acid that is present in every muscle cell and assists in providing energy to the cell ensuring quicker recovery. It is also essential tot he integrity of the gut wall, and is used in healing the gut wall.

Slippery elm – an ancient herbal food used by native americans for soothing, drawing and healing inflamed tissue. It is also nutritious, and helps to restore the gut wall integrity as well as helping to tone the entire digestive tract. It is a demulcent.

Aloe vera – soothing gel, cell proliferative helps to heal connective tissue and restore integrity to the gut wall. It is also anti-microbial and immune-strengthening. Helps with hydration.

Blueberries – a low GI sub-acid fruit which is rich in polyphenols – dark coloured blue purple colour pigments which are highly anti-oxidant and help prevent and heal free radical damage by micro and macro parasites and environmental toxins. These pigments also feed and nourish the beneficial flora in the human microbiome.

Vanilla bean – a warming herb that acts as a synergist to harmonise the other ingredients.

Cinnamon – a warming herb known as a circulatory stimulant. It acts as a synergistic vehicle to bring blood flow to the digestive tract and enhance the absorption of the other nutrients. Cinnamon is renown for regulating blood sugar levels. It is also antimicrobial and a carminative – meaning that it relieves gas and bloating.

Many Blessings,

Michelle

Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

Slaying the Succubus – A Case Study in Faith, healing, & the link between gut integrity and Sleep Paralysis.

In 1781, the swiss artist Henry Fuseli created an oil painting entitled The Nightmare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightmare) which, depicting a demonic creature sitting on a sleeping woman’s chest, illustrated a phenomenon that both he and many people before and after him know only too well. The demonic creature here is known as the incubus (male), other paintings of a similar theme depict the succubus – or the female version of the demonic influence. The subject of the paintings are depicted in sleep, utterly powerless, often in a state of paralysis. And this parasomnia, this terrifying yet fascinating branch of insomnia is now known as Sleep Paralysis.

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image credit: Wikipedia ‘The Nightmare‘ by Henry Fuseli 1781

A quick Google search reveals that it is estimated that less than 8 per cent of the general population suffers from Sleep Paralysis on a regular basis, or has experienced episodes at some point in their life (although this seems to fluctuate and can be as high as 34% particularly among people with a history of psychiatric disorders). Hence, it’s not something you’re going to hear a lot about in everyday conversation with your average person. I will note, however, that artists seem to experience it more, or at least may be able to articulate their experience more eloquently than others. The 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special entitled ‘Last Christmas’ is a perfect example of the feeling one has deep inside an episode of Sleep Paralysis – particularly the ‘dream within a dream’ form that it often takes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Christmas_(Doctor_Who))  For this reason, as much of a Whovian that I am, this episode hit a little too close to home, but acts as perfect teaching aid when it comes to explaining this experience. Do watch it if you would like to learn how this feels.

So what is Sleep Paralysis exactly? The excellent website The Sleep Paralysis Project gives the following list of what an episode of sleep paralysis looks like; (http://www.thesleepparalysisproject.org/about-sleep-paralysis/symptoms/)

The term ‘Sleep Paralysis’ can describe a range of experiences. These can be varied, though the core symptoms are consistent across cultures. In her excellent book Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection, Shelley Adler provides comprehensive coverage of the associated symptoms. These are summerised below. For an episode to be considered sleep paralysis only symptoms 1-3 may be present. Symptoms 4-9 may or may not be present, in varying degrees of severity.

1. Being ‘Awake’

Those affected report feeling consciously awake during sleep paralysis experiences. It is experienced as part of waking consciousness, not as a dream.

2. Realistic Perception of Environment

The immediate environment surrounding the bed is clearly perceived.  Distinctive elements in the room are observed (e.g. a sleeping partner or a clock).

3. Inability to move

The sense of paralysis is one of the first elements of the experience noticed by the individual. Sometimes this paralysis is attributed to an outside force.

4. Overwhelming fear and dread

A sense of overwhelming fear can accompany the experience. This can be felt so strongly that those who experience it may later struggle to articulate its intensity. Sometimes feelings progress from a sense of foreboding to complete terror and may include feelings linked to death or dying.

5. Sensed presence

Individuals may sense an ‘evil’ or malevolent ‘presence’ in the room with them. This presence may be seen or merely ‘felt’.

6. Chest pressure

The sense of a physical weight being pressed down onto the chest. This can be purely sensual or can seem to be the result of an external presence or force literally pushing down on the chest.

7. Difficulty breathing

This can occur alongside pressure to the chest.

8. Supine position

Most sleep paralysis attacks occur whilst the individual is lying on their back, although studies have shown that generally people tend not to fall asleep in this position.

9. Additional Unusual Sensations

As well as visual hallucinations, sleep paralysis episodes may be accompanied by hallucinations of an auditory, olfactory and/or physical nature. Commonly reported hallucinations include doors opening, animals growling, approaching footsteps, scratching, internal buzzing/beeping, malevolent whispering as well as smells of rotting flesh, ‘death’, decay, damp, mould and feelings of being moved, drifting, rolling, floating, cold or heat. Out-of-body experiences are also sometimes reported.”

Sounds pretty terrifying right? There is a known neurobiological reason for this phenomenon, where the conscious brain wakes up before the hormones that are responsible for allowing your body to sleep (so you don’t literally act out your dreams) dissipate. Please explore the sleep paralysis project site for more information. In the meantime, let me describe my experience. Warning – it’s going to get heavy.

I’ve lived with Sleep Paralysis for 20 years. It roughly occurred around twice/week, sometimes more, sometimes less, often randomly. It began when I was 17, during my HSC (Higher School Certificate exams) at the end of year 12. In full disclosure and some background context, I did have a history of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression that developed in my teenage years. At the time I lived with someone who was into the occult, who appealed to the all and sundry energies of the universe, and who maintained that we had a ‘strong spiritual bond’ and this is why I experienced what I did. Until a year or two before this I had walked in the way of the Word of God (YHWH) since my infancy, but had left this, as teenagers are want to do, when my family home broke down.

My first episode was as annoying as it was terrifying. I lay in bed, having just fallen to sleep, when I was awoken by a sense that there was someone else in my bedroom. I opened my eyes (or so I thought) and my room was filled with people, random odd-looking ghostly people. I screamed at them, but at the moment I screamed I realised that i was paralysed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even open my mouth, or turn my head. I mumbled the scream through a tightly clenched jaw. I was terrified, my chest hurt, it felt like I was being crushed. I was breathing hard, my mind racing, ‘what the hell was happening to me?!’. I screamed again – a few profanities. Suddenly I woke. I really woke up. I sat up in bed, breathing hard, my head hurt and felt like it was on fire. My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, I could still see things – on the edge of the darkness.

Confused, annoyed, scared, i got up and put the light on, and left it on for the rest of the night, as I lay there daring not to go back to sleep, trying to figure out what had just happened.

This then became a regular occurrence. Only the ‘dream’, the demonic hallucination, and the experience would subtly change, from being a whole body experience to eventually jut being localised to my head. Over time, I began to recognise when I would slip from a normal mundane everyday dream into the hallucination that the creature was creating. I became an insomniac out of fear of not wanting to experience the panic of not being able to move, the fear of dying while trapped in one’s own body, in one’s own mind. It reminded me of the voodoo use of Datura, the plant that induces ‘zombie-ism’, the plant once used as an experimental  precursor to general anaesthetic, where people were literally paralysed, trapped in their own body whilst someone operated on them, and they could still feel the response of every exquisitely sensitive nerve-ending. I soon learned that I could wake myself up by crying out to Jesus/Yeshua, and then later banishing the creature, the hallucination, in His name. Around this time, I realised that I needed to remember the Walk of my youth.  And so I turned my heart back to YHWH and Yeshua, and was baptised, but still the episodes continued….only now they became wilder, more intense.

I marvelled that while my husband slept next to me, I was battling against a monster intent on ripping my face off to get inside my skull, or hurling me across the room, such was the intensity of the paralysis. I feared that I would act out my hallucination, and hurt my husband, or worse, when I was pregnant, kill my unborn child. Yet he slept peacefully beside me, waking only when I would emerge from the episode, like someone who had just been saved from drowning and was gasping to catch their precious breath. My children all survived the experience, seemingly blissfully unaware, while I grew more exhausted and battle-weary from endless nights of clenched jaw and hot head and the uncertainty of not knowing when another episode would occur, as random as they were.

I sought a trigger, and discovered that I had multiple sensitivities, not only food-related, but also including EMF’s and electrical smog. As I reduced my exposure, the episodes became less frequent, but still they came. I went to the elders of my church and was anointed for healing. I fasted and I prayed, but still I was plagued with this ‘thorn in the flesh’. I wanted to give up and die, but then I decided to change my perspective. I saw it as an opportunity to stand as the warrior, to fight against the fiery darts of The Adversary. I imagined that God was training me, testing my mettle as each time I would stand by the authority of the Messiah and banish this evil. On a number of occasions I was also able to cast out other people’s demons.

Then one day, our everyday life changed. We were forced to embark on a sojourn, wandering in the wilderness, and the stress of it all became too much. After about 4 years of this, there came a turning point in my personal battle with the demon of Sleep Paralysis. I faced it head on. I looked at it and saw what it really was, and I laughed at it, such as the world will look on, unbelievingly at the  insignificance of the defeated adversary in the time to come. I laughed and told it that it was nothing, that it had no power over me. I awoke from that episode feeling confidant, and thankful.

The next time it happened, I was staying at a friends’ place, sleeping in their family room surrounded by wi-fi and their home theatre system. I fell asleep and slipped straight into an episode, but I was too tired to battle this one. I had been living in a tent and my heart was mourning with the uncertainty of our situation. I cried out to the Abba Father and the hallucination changed, I stood in a barren wasteland, just me facing the creature. I opened my mouth and the voice of God Himself spoke through me. He rebuked the demon, and that was the last I ever saw of it. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night praying in the Spirit in praise and gratitude.

Interestingly, the episodes continued. The creature was gone, but that old familiar feeling of sinking into the paralysis, the dream within a dream, continued, very occasionally. I didn’t have to fight now, but it still happened.

It was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a time when we put all leavened goods out of our lives, as a symbol of our part in the covenant we make with the Messiah as we endeavour to remove pride and sin from our hearts. The stress of the last few years had taken it’s toll and my body was not happy. Peri-menopause became obvious, my food allergies were going berserk, my gums were receding at a rate of knots, and I’ve written of the adrenal fatigue before. I just didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I went to the elders and asked for anointing. I had been praying and i knew that God was healing me. He had removed the demon once and for all. He had healed my teeth (when they should have been decayed from the years of grinding and clenching), and he was healing my stress response. One night while I was pondering why the sleep paralysis continued, a still, small thought came to me; ‘candida’.  It sounds a bit naff, I know. Once upon a time in the kingdom of Naturopathica everything that ailed us was a result of Candida, but we are smarter than that now…or are we?

I decided to listen to the still, small voice. When I looked at the evidence, it was obvious. I was born by c-section, had numerous courses of antibiotics over my life, had been on the Pill (at one very naiive point), had been vaccinated to the hilt, and was stressed out to the max. My gut integrity was shot to pieces, my gut flora was in chaos. All of my accompanying symptoms were congruent with systemic candida. I praised YAH, & immediately put myself on a protocol of herbs and nutrients, and eliminated all refined sugar along with my allergens, which I knew, with God’s blessing, would work and which i’ve used successfully in my previous clinical experience.

The approach is both systematic – working on not only reducing the candida load, but restoring the microbiome, and healing the gut wall, as well as working on the adrenal response; and timely, given the synchronicity of my previous posts on gut health. I love that.

So as YHWH lives I will praise Him and give Him the glory for His compassion and healing. He heals in ways that aren’t always spontaneous. I am no longer having any episodes of sleep paralysis, my overall health has improved, I no longer feel anxious, and if I’m depressed it is mild and something I overcome very quickly, my hormones are balancing, I’m no longer exhausted, I have energy again. I sleep!!  He has slain the succubus.

And so the scientist in me is curious. We know that dysbiosis influences brain function and mental health. We know that dysbiosis leads to multiple allergies and sensitivities, and over the long term it can lead to auto-immune conditions. We know that an alteration of the mind occurs in dysbiosis, particularly with a sensitivity to opiate-like (narcotic) foreign proteins (such as gluten and casein). Can this then act as a portal?

Is there a a direct correlation between the parasomnias such as Sleep Paralysis and gut dysbiosis? Is sugar a trigger in and of itself? Do those who experience Sleep Paralysis more commonly have a background experience in religion or spirituality? I know not everyone faces spiritual attack or experiences the hallucination of one during episodes, but I’m curious nonetheless. It does seem to be quite a common occurrence.

But I’m very interested in doing research around the connection between gut integrity and sleep paralysis, and to see what patterns emerge.

In the meantime, I would love to hear other’s experiences. Demons or not.

Many Blessings,

Michelle x