Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality, Plant Medicine

Consider the Lily: blissful blue Nymphaea.

 

To be engaged by the livingness of nature, the person chosen to walk the green path of healing begins their journey by following the call of a plant. For many, we come to this path through a need for our own healing, and subsequently Veriditas enters into us via whichever plant we first engage with. Along the way our paths are shaped by various plant allies, teachers who remind us of who we are and what we are made of, and where we need to be going.  The following account introduces you to one of my plant allies. My power plant if you will. The first account was written a year ago after my first meeting with the plant. The second part explores its nature more deeply and comes from our second, more recent, meeting. A different sort of monograph develops and will continue to develop as I go to sit with it on an annual pilgrimage.

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Photo taken by M. Carnochan 2019.

The First Encounter.

“My beloved went down to his garden. To the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.”  (Song of Solomon 6:2)

There are plants of power that inhabit this world. Some might think of Cannabis or Ayahuasca or Iboga, or any one of the so-called entheogens that alter consciousness and take you on journeys to kaleidoscopic worlds of cosmic awakening. But in truth any plant might be a plant of power. For some, it might be as commonplace as nettle, or dandelion, or daisy. Rather than how many alkaloids, or psychoactive principles a plant may have, a plant’s power perhaps lies more so in where on your journey it meets you, how it speaks to you, and as equally importantly, your receptivity and response to it.

Almost always, the plant draws you to itself first, and capturing your attention, it begins to sing to you. Your receptivity to its song may be a tiny crack in the door, a trepidatious curiosity that looks past the chain and says, “Um, okay. I’m ready.” But are you truly ready? Do you then just lunge at it, ripping its metaphoric shirt off, expecting it to give you everything and when it does you’ve lost your mind, or do you tread carefully, respectfully, fully aware that it wants to teach you to come home to yourself and you must be willing to let it lead?

So, you check yourself, and when you are truly ready, truly receptive, you allow the plant to determine that first move. It begins to gently caress and coax, and whisper of promised ecstasy as it begins to open those parts of yourself that once for whatever reason, you had closed off. And you begin a dance as old as time, entwining serpentine, senses quivering as parts of yourself that had been shut down or closed off and perhaps long forgotten, begin to open and blossom once more. Or perhaps you blossom for the first time. A heady mix of fear and hunger drives you on as the dance gains momentum. Hunger, because your soul longs to feel the exquisite bliss of liberty, to slough off the old skin of stories that no longer serve you, the old belief systems that tie you down. Hunger, as you strive to open to endless possibility.  And fear, because you know that in this awakening, old stories will emerge, and their demons must be confronted. And so, as the dance progresses and you allow yourself to surrender completely, you find yourself arriving, climaxing, at the edge of reason, where shadows disperse, the imaginal coalesces with myth, and suddenly – electrically – a brightness engulfs you, and waves of ecstatic freedom ripple, pulse, and throb through your consciousness. A consciousness now merged with the vast ocean of awareness that transcends the mundane world.

You have changed. Deep in your core, once hidden things are now exposed. You may not be aware of what has changed, but you feel different. Something -tangible- has awoken. You feel a little more bold than you did yesterday. A little more confidant. A little more free. The plants work is done. The paradigm has shifted. How you carry on with the energy that was generated is now up to you. How will you live your life from this new starting point?

Or does this make you feel uncomfortable?

 

I want to linger, just a little

in the land of the lotus eaters

where well-muscled men

chiselled

from myth

caress my soul

and make love to my mind.

 

Plant medicine is sensory medicine. It asks us to engage our sense perception in our inner, and sometimes outer worlds in order to effect healing. Some plants, like the subject of this story – the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea caerulea), invite us to awaken and explore our sensuality in and of itself. The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘sensual’ as; relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite.

 To be a sensual being – to engage our senses and indulge our appetite, is the first thing we arrive into the world knowing. It defines our experience of the world around us and the level to which we perceive it. As newborns, we have various needs that must be met: nourishment, touch, safety. As newborns, our sensory gating channels, those neural channels by which we receive information about the outside world for processing, are wide open. This is why babies are largely kinetic in their expression. When they encounter something new – a bright coloured ball, dappled light filtering through green summer leaves, the prickly tickly texture of grass on chubby bare feet – their eyes widen in delight or wonderment and their whole body trembles as a result. They may squeal with joy, or draw a long gasp of air, or make some other delighted coo. This is sensuality. In this divorced society, we forget or supress this memory of being, and we tend to equate it only with sexuality, or food (which for some odd reason we have also applied the term ‘sexy’). Yet sensuality is so much more than sexuality. It is so much more than the gratification of the senses. To be sensual is to feel on multiple levels, and to imbue such meaning in our response to this feeling, that others can’t help but notice.

If we turn our attention to the energetic architecture of the body, the sacral plexus speaks to our ability to feel nourished, and therefore to enjoy life. Sitting just below our navel and centred in our pelvis, this energy plexus is the next progression up from our energy centre of survival, security, and feeling protected – our root. When the root is healthy, our next need is to delight in the things that life has to offer because we feel nourished. According to ancient understanding, this sacral emotional energy centre is also associated with pleasure, sensuality, passion, intimacy, connection, and creativity. Passion resides here, for whatever pursuit it may be directed. It is here in its physical cradle that the primal, sensual, sensate being that we once were arose from. I believe that in a healthy, balanced state, this centre for feeling, (and feeling nourished) dovetails with the perception that the heart employs and the depth that it offers to this feeling sense. A heart that gives nourishment must also be nourished. A clear connection between the sacral and the heart is then paramount. Steven Horne equates the sacral plexus with the navel energy centre on the Tree of Life model of energetic architecture. He describes the positive state of this centre as a person being able to feel worthy and deserving of love, of being able to bond with others in long-term loving relationships and feeling confident that one’s physical needs will be met in life. He describes this as the Philia aspect of love (in the Greek definitions of love, this is the familial aspect.) The energy here therefore develops with nurturing, particularly from the mother, and any emotional traumas here such as from abandonment issues can lead to physical issues related to digestion, addiction, infertility and other reproductive concerns.

Returning to this place of sensuality, Steven also describes that people with emotional wounds or blockages in this centre tend to live too much in their head, avoiding the body and physical life. Unfortunately, as the waters have been muddied around this area and sensuality has become synonymous with sexuality, much detrimental conditioning, rigid belief systems, and trauma has caused the sacral centre and the heart to close for many people. For them, only guilt and shame reside here. Their feelings, and their ability to feel, to create, and to be passionate about life has been cut off. Repressed.

Incidentally, in my own personal journey, I fractured my sacrum when I was eleven years old, at a time when I had just begun puberty and the shift in hormones and thoughts around my own sensual experience in the world began to emerge. The impact of the fall also left me with a permanent slight twist to my pelvis. This, along with birth and inherited trauma to the associated energy centre, created several wounds or blockages.

Therefore, do we dare to gently – tenderly – coax it open once more? Do we dare to allow ourselves to feel? To allow ourselves to be nourished and to enjoy life?

Sometimes the universe conspires against you – or perhaps secretly with you, and a plant begins to sing those first ethereal, enticing notes of its siren song. Sometimes this plant might be one that you least expect, and sometimes its reputation precedes it, its song recorded in the annals of antiquity. Nymphaea caerulea,or the Blue Water Lily is such a plant as this.

The ancient Egyptians also succumbed to the Blue Water Lily’s spell. It’s also known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile, being indigenous to the region, and perhaps its first recorded use was by the Egyptians. We see it adorning the walls of their temples and their tombs as a key motif in their artwork. It is a recurring motif in their funeral rites, erotic art, and rituals for healing. In fact, the dried flowers were found scattered all over Tutankhamens mummified body when his tomb was opened in 1922. Across the Atlantic, the Mayans also adopted the water lily into their ceremonial life, and we see it as a recurring motif in their artwork as well. For the Egyptians however, it represented surrender and rebirth. For one who has had the pleasure of swimming amongst these ethereal blooms on a warm Summers day, it is easy to feel why they were so revered. How captivating the scene of bathing amongst the papyrus reeds beneath an azure desert sky with the Lily’s heady scent infusing the air, a beguiling note played on the zephyr. Sublime. This is the Lily’s essence. Relaxing and euphoric. Often described as narcotic in nature, it is not the dull and heavy cold sedative that we might associate with the Opium Poppy and her chemical children so often employed to numb the pain of living in our harsh and cruel world.  Nor is it the intoxication of alcohol and loss of self-control. Instead, it is simply a surrender into bliss, a gentle ride on a long and undulating wave of euphoria. A sensual experience that invites us to be who we are on our truest and deepest level. And to release any fear, shame, or unhealthy guilt attached to that. Blue Water Lily simply invites us to be our core essence, our ethereal integrated self. To be reborn.

The element of most obvious association is water, mutable and fluid, with the Blue Water Lily perhaps being one of its most archetypical plants. I really love Keith Robertson and Danny O’Rawe’s description of the qualities of the water element in their book Celtic Herbal Medicine(2018);

“ Water energy is moving and cleansing. Without the Water of Life nothing can grow. Water is a remarkable solvent that should really be a gas at room temperature, but its molecules are bound by light hydrogen bonds and so they follow each other up the capillaries of trees and over waterfalls in a gleeful dance. Water in the body surrounds everything bringing nourishment and taking away waste. It demonstrates its emotional nature by giving us the precious water of human tears. It is centred in the kidneys and the urinary tract but is also associated with fat, our drainage and immune functioning lymphatic system and our sexual life which requires emotional connections and fluid lubrication. If we are unable to let life flow around and through us as it should we can experience problems in these systems.”

 This dovetails beautifully with the essence of the Sacral energy centre. From these aspects alone, we can begin to see where the Lily is going to begin its interaction. Interestingly many of the flower essences used for healing the emotional wounds of the sacral/navel energy centre are lilies. Matthew Wood also says that many of the lilies can be used interchangeably when treating issues in these areas.

 

The Second Encounter.

When I first met the Blue Water Lily, it was during a five-hour swim at a special swimming hole known as the Tea-tree Lakes situated in the sub-tropical climate of northern NSW. As I floated and swam and chatted to my friend who I was with, I kept feeling drawn to go and swim amongst these lilies that shone like jewels in the midday sun. At intervals, I’d breathe in deeply the exquisite fragrance. I drank in the Lily’s essence as it wove its way into my soul, and the most notable effects lasted a full three months after this first beautiful encounter. It inspired the piece written above, and yet I didn’t feel ready to publish it at the time. I still felt stuck, as though I was still seeking to do it justice. So, I began to work with other preparations of the plant over the course of the year.  I experimented with drinking a tea made from the dried flowers, and taking drops of a spagyric tincture made from the fresh flowers. But that initial meeting and the stirring it caused within me paved the way for the second meeting not four days ago. And I feel that it had to work through the physical and clear the inherited shame and guilt related to sensuality then in order to reveal the deeper insights which came next.

The insights which followed have come much from observing the Doctrine of Signatures of the plant (that is, ascertaining its tissue and organ affinities or its sphere of action by its appearance and how it appeals to the senses). As the physical healing of the emotional wounds held within the spheres of physical sensuality gave rise to the heart-connection of compassion, this then opened up a higher vibration again, because suddenly I had the eyes to see it. That of the spiritual lessons to be learned and internalised.

“Consider the lilies, and how they grow. They neither toil or spin, and I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:26)

The context of where the plant chooses to grow is as much a part of the Doctrine of Signatures as what the plant looks like, how it feels, how it tastes, how it smells, and how it sounds. In this regard, the Blue Lily that lives within my heart grows in a freshwater lake (a remnant of sand-mining carried out in the region many decades ago) close to the beach, so it has a sandy bed to anchor its roots into. The lake is situated within an indigenous reserve surrounded by groves of Tea-tree (Leptospermum and Melaleuca spp.) – Australian natives, and the lake’s water is tinged a rusty colour because of the tea-tree’s tannins and oils. The tea-tree itself carries many medicinal properties and an interesting history. Many will be familiar with the essential oil extracted from its leaves which has anti-septic and anti-fungal properties, as well as being an uplifting and refreshing scent.  The tea-trees are so-called because early settlers used the leaves as a substitute for china tea (Camelia sinensis). The Australian Bush Flower essence of the Peach-flowered Tea-tree (Leptospermum squarrosum) is for people who experience extreme mood swings, who have trouble committing to and following through with various projects due to becoming easily bored, and hypochondriacs. It helps people take responsibility for their own health without being pre-occupied by it.

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Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019

Even from this brief look at where the lily grows, we see a picture emerging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sandy bottom is symbolic of the foundations we ‘build our house on’. Our core values and belief systems, and what we put our trust in. It has been written;

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, shall be like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not do them, shall be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”

There are two aspects to where the lily puts down its roots that illustrate these words. The first is that in propagating the lily, it needs a soil mix of coarse sand, aged manure, and loamy potting mix. This creates a muddy, nutrient rich mire from which the seed can sprout and begin to send up its leaves and then finally a long upright stem.  This mix needs the manure to hold it together or it will break up and the soil will float away when watering. The Lily itself doesn’t like to grow in turbulent or fast-moving water. Perhaps because it knows that it could quite easily get swept away. Once the roots are established though, in a lake, damn or pond, it snuggles in quite contentedly around the waters edge. Where it grows in the tea-tree lakes, the edges of the lake are re-enforced by the roots of the tea-trees, providing some stability, protection, and a foothold in which many of the lilies take root. This dependency is interesting in itself.

Water is usually symbolic of the emotional state of a person. Dreams of turbulent and rough seas often belie some inner emotional turmoil, whereas dreams of still millponds and lakes usually typify satisfaction or contentment around a situation. In this context, the lakes are still and serene. Swimming and floating there is very calming and relaxing, and a very peaceful experience. The lakes are away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation – even that of small country towns. The people who visit sense and respect the serenity, keep to themselves and sitting almost hidden amongst the groves of ti-tree, reveal themselves only to swim in blissful meditation. Occasionally, clothing is optional for some visitors but still a sense of peace and respectful distance pervades.

The water, being tinted with the constituents of the ti-tree is like swimming in a herbal-infused bath. After swimming there, people comment on the softness of their skin and hair, the freshness of their scent. It’s a cleansing experience. The worries and foolishness of the world is washed away.

From here the lilies verdant green round leaves float on the water’s surface, a covering for small freshwater fish, a landing pad for the iridescent dragonflies that dart and hover across the lake, or a shelter for small frogs and other tiny creatures seeking rest. Green is the colour of the energetic heart. It symbolises abundance, fertility, welcome and compassion. The fact that much of the vegetation that covers the planet is green echoes the compassion of Divine providence.

Green stems – sometimes single, sometimes a few, then arise straight and upright from the centre of the plant, with a single bud on each stem that blossoms into the Lily’s most precious jewel – it’s flower. The flower is ethereal, radiant and captivating – in design, to look at and to smell. The purple/blue hue of the petals are symbolic of intuition and spiritual vision – the ability to see both the forest and the trees, and the holographic pattern that sustains all of creation. The petals are arranged in a radiating pattern – like a bright and glorious star that permeates all things, sees all things. The centre of the lily flowers is, quite literally, its crowning glory. The bright white-merging with golden hue of its stamens reflect our crown, where we are infused in the womb with the light of Life and we connect with the Divine. (One could argue that it’s golden yellow centre could also reflect the solar plexus and its representation of intestinal fortitude and core grounding and connection between the spiritual and the physical, and perhaps it has that aspect as well, but my initial sense was of the crown and its openness to the Divine. The pattern of colours invokes a sense of the ethereal rather than the material) It also speaks of our Higher calling, or purpose in life. Again, we see these stamens tipped with the indigo of intuition and spiritual vision. We might also see the merging of male and female in these patterns. The divine expression of both attributes complementing each other.

I had opportunity to meditate on and integrate this deeper, more embodied essence of the Nymphaea caerulea two days ago. Having ventured some 700kms north of our home to sit with the Lily, and catch up with family and friends, my plans for the rest of our visit were thwarted when my car broke down. I was forced to cut my trip a couple of days short, as the car was unable to be fixed by the roadside assistance mechanic and the best option was to have the car towed all the way home. So, during the wait for the initial Roadside Assistance, and then the tow truck, and then the 8-hour journey back home in the cab of the tow truck (thankfully it was air-conditioned) I had ample time to reflect. I realised that the things of the man-made world are foolishness and unstable. The Lily reminded me to rise above this, to wash away my bad attitude and wash away the worries associated with my car breaking down and the initial panic of what I needed to do about it. It reminded me to have compassion for my sixteen-year old son who was my traveling companion and also had his plans to spend time with his friends changed. Above all it reminded me to put my trust in a Higher power, my Creator and God who sustains all, and for some reason allowed this to happen. It allowed me to raise my consciousness.  As it turned out, if anything could be gained from the experience, it gave me opportunity to consider the Lily and how it grows, and I gained the vision to see its patterns and its teachings. To me this is true euphoria, because it doesn’t just reside in the sacral/sensual centre, it connects the spirit, the mind, and the body and points the focus back to the Divine to let it guide me and direct me.

The Blue Water Lily is a glorious creation. A beacon of peace, of soul nourishment, and a deep joy, a hope in a turbulent world. Perhaps next year, I shall make a flower essence from it and make it available to all. In the meantime, its scent lingers on my nose, its quintessential nature lives in my heart. The journey continues. I hope that you also have the opportunity to meet with this beauty and infuse your life with its joy.

Many blessings,

Michelle

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Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019.

 

Nymphaea caerulea (Blue Water Lily, Sacred Lily of the Nile)

 

Constituents: volatile oils, apomorphine, flavonoids, kaempferol, phytosterols, alkaloids, posphodiastrates, nuciferine, nupharine, nupharidine, quercitin, nymphayol, starch, tannins, catechins, and saponins.

Tastes: sweet, astringent, bitter

Fragrance:a sheer, light earthy-floral, musky, slightly green, sultry, sweet-aromatic, sensual, ephemeral.

Energetics: Cooling

Tissue/Organ/System affinities: mucous membranes, pancreas, nervous system, digestive system, urinary and reproductive system. Sacral plexus. Heart centre. Crown and Pineal energy centres.

Virtues: euphoric, mild sedative/hypnotic, anxiolytic, astringent (flowers) demulcent (rhizomes), cardiotonic (flowers), mild bitter.

Parts Used:Flower, buds, stem, rhizomes, leaves.

Traditional Preparations & Usage: dried flowers steeped in wine. The dried flower smoked. Water infusions of the leaves and flowers. The starchy rhizomes have been traditionally eaten. It is also used as a water purification plant. Used extensively in Ayurvedic and Unani Tibb medicine in digestive disorders, to calm the emotions, as an aphrodisiac, and as a cardiotonic. It has also been used to regulate menstruation, in leucorrhoea and other female discharges. It has also shown anti-microbial and immunomodulating actions and the seeds, flowers and leaves are infused in a topical wash for the treatment of skin infections.

Potential Therapeutic Uses: Researchers in India found in 2016 that the seeds and rhizomes proved effective in controlling the blood glucose and lipid levels in persons suffering from Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Combines well with: rose and damiana (self-nurturing, useful for menopause)

 

References;

 

http://entheology.com/plants/nymphaea-caerulea-blue-lily-blue-lotus/

https://ayalamoriel.com/blogs/smellyblog/tagged/blue-waterlily

https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311932.2016.1249172

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304395869_PHARMOCOGNOSTIC_STUDIES_ON_NYMPHAEA_SPP

 

 

 

 

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Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

What is Love? (Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me, no more.)

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all belief, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am none at all. “

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Image Source: Michelle Carnochan

 

 

There is a lot of talk about love in this world. Numerous songs have been written about it, endless poems and stories, movies, and all manner of art have been inspired by it. We particularly like using the word to express our feelings toward each other, toward our favourite food, puppies, the latest fashion, the latest miracle product that everyone is using, and anything else that we fancy.

 

I really really love chocolate.

So why don’t you marry it?

 

We seem to have lost the meaning of Love. Yet every living thing from newborns to those passing on, and every stage of life in between needs it.  As much as there is a survival instinct within each and every cell of each and everything living thing, I believe there’s also an instinct for love. On some level, we all crave it. It makes us feel good, to give love as well as to receive it. Sometimes – all too oftentimes – this need, on both accounts, is unmet, perhaps due to ignorance, to previous hurt, or to anything that has closed our hearts. You see, in order to receive and to give love, we need to acknowledge that we also need to be vulnerable. We need to have an open heart. We need to be able to feel. Because Love is a verb. It’s an action, a way of being and doing and seeing and thinking and feeling, and living.  It is the fundamental principle, and the most radicle (and in today’s world – radical) foundation for optimum wellbeing. So with that in mind, I thought it would be a good place to start in an exploration of the holistic foundations to good health. Consider this Foundational Principle #1.

The ancient Greeks identified at least four types of love, and several expressions associated with love-like feelings. Although I have it on good authority from an authentic source that there is only one word for true love (agape). Nevertheless, I find all of the expressions attributed to love interesting because I found that they can be correlated with the five elements of air, water, fire, earth, and the quintessence or ether (or life force that animates and permeates all things). These are the same five elements that the ancients recognised as the basic building blocks of the entire universe, and which we explored in my previous post on the energetic architecture of our constitutions and tissue states. And like the interplay of the elements that make up our individual architecture, they can become a little imbalanced, some can become a little too dominant, or not engaged enough. But let’s explore these correlations a bit deeper.

 

Love is Elementary.

 

Eros (ἔρως)= Fire. Intense, primal, that initial spark of romantic love. Passionate. Can burn out quickly or become lustful if not supported by the other elements.

Storgè (στοργή) = Water. Kinship, organically flowing between family members, such as a parent and a child. The familiarity of family, and good friends.

Philia (φιλία) = Earth. Brotherly love, grounding. The deep and shared experience between friends. Denotes loyalty and comradeship.

Ludos = Air. Playful young affection. Euphoric. Laughter, banter, light, and carefree.

Agape (ἀγάπη)= Quintessence. Selfless, compassionate Love. Empathy for all beings. Godly, or the Highest form of Love.

Three other forms were also identified, two of which are expressions of imbalance in the elements;

Pragma = A Deep understanding and harmony between two people. Long-lasting love. Really a combination of Storge, Philia, and Agape, that develops out of Eros and Ludos.

Mania = Obsessive love. Stalking, jealousy, co-dependency. Unbalanced Eros.

Philautia = Love for oneself, taking care of oneself. If not kept in check, can lead to narcissism.

Let’s focus on the foundational concept of the Quintessence, the Vital Force that expresses itself through these bodies of ours, and enables us to function in the world. This is manifest in the Agape type of love. It is foundational, because we ALL need it, the world as we know it REALLY needs it. I believe, to that end, that it also represents the goal of optimum wellbeing – to have love for everyone, to have compassion on all living beings. I think, perhaps, that it should permeate all of the other types of love that we express and receive, keeping their elements in balance so we don’t become manic/obsessive or narcissistic, or led astray by lust. We become whole when we become Love. So let’s look at what that is, and what it isn’t. Some of you may recognise these.

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

Love is peace.

Love is joy.

Love is gentle.

Love is faithful.

Love isn’t envious.

Love is not proud.

Love is not full of itself.

Love does not behave indecently.

Love doesn’t seek things for itself.

Love is not provoked.

Love does not reckon with evil.

Love rejoices in truth.

Love covers all, believes all, expects all, endures all.

Love never fails.

Love does not murder.

Love does not have extra-covenantal/commitment affairs.

Love does not steal.

Love does not lie.

Love doesn’t want what someone else owns.

Love sets us free.

Love is merciful and forgiving.

Love makes recompense.

Love is fair toward both poor and rich, treating them both equally.

Love is hospitable to the native as well as the foreigner.

Love does not slander, or gossip.

Love does not take vengeance.

Love cares for the poor and the stranger.

Love is grateful.

Love picks up a wounded enemy out of the ditch and cares for them.

Love is dignified.

Love is integrity.

Love is humble.

Love is wise.

Love listens.

Love feels.

Love hears the still, small Voice inside.

Love heals.

Love is not confusing.

Love is uplifting.

Love is discerning, but does not discriminate.

Love is not idle.

Love is fruitful.

Love is laying down one’s life for a friend..

..…as well as for one’s enemy.

 

Love, agape love, is true love. It is the yardstick by which we should measure our relationships with others. It brought the universe into being, and it sustains it. Being born of it, we can access it if we turn back to it’s Source, and we can then work to cultivate it within ourselves, for ourselves and toward each other. The world doesn’t seem to know this love very well, but it really really needs it, so maybe we should start to focus on being that change we want to see in the world. Maybe we should put down our weapons, tone down our voices, stop listening to those that divide us, lift up our hearts and begin to simply be Love. Are you with me?

Plant Medicine

St Johns Wort: A plant for Summer Solstice.

 

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Come mid-November, and my heart begins to listen intently for the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. That first call is electric, generally serendipitous, often fortuitous, but always most highly anticipated. The year is not complete until I hear it. It’s the call of Hypericum perforatum, or Saint John’s Wort, as it’s rugged blossoms appear like a beacon in the landscape, to signal the coming of the light in it’s fullness at Summer solstice.

Staring transfixed out of the passenger window as we take the kids on a Sunday country drive, my eyes are busily scanning the passing landscape – a million miles a second – searching diligently amongst the ever-shifting hues of greens and browns for that golden bloom. There’s a luminosity that emanates from this wort. This, I find, is a plant that speaks to the soul. All plants do on some level, but this one – like rose – goes deep. When this plant speaks to me, my heart hears it, but it’s my solar plexus that responds. This plant speaks of nobility, and fortitude, strength, and joy. It’s a plant for people who need to develop some real nerve. A plant for people who need more sunshine in their lives. And, coincidentally (or maybe it was by design), it’s a plant for people who need their physical nerves repairing, and soothing.

As one approaches the plant, or sees it from a distance, it appears at first to be a bit unruly, scraggly, rugged – and it’s often found in rugged landscapes, often besides roads in gravelly soil. Surrounded by other scraggly species. It’s chosen area of growth indicates poor soils. On closer inspection however, Saint John’s Wort stands tall and upright, growing between one-three feet in height. There’s an order to it’s lance-shaped leaves, ‘greener-on-the-topside’, that grow along a many branched stem, which viewed from above takes the image of a cross. When held up to the light, the leaves reveal tiny holes or perforations. This is a key identification feature, and gives Saint John’s Wort its second latin name perforatum. The whole affect of St Johns Wort is topped off with a crown of golden flowers, green and yellow buds, and flecked here and there with the russet-coloured remnants of former glories. The flowers are 5 petalled, a little rough-edged, and from their midst spring up several stamen surrounding a carpal with three slightly shorter styles. They are all of the one golden yellow. When held to to the light, the flowers can be seen sprinkled with something like microscopic drops of dark blood. These ‘specs of blood’ are the oil glands, which if we crush a flower or a bud, will leave the signature deep purple-red resinous stain on our fingers. When we infuse the fresh flowering tops in oil for topical use, the oil takes on this blood-red hue.  The same occurs when we infuse the fresh flowering tops in alcohol or water. The whole impression of the flower, is of a radiant sun; the solar plexus, or the light in the core of our being.

North American herbalist, Matthew Wood says that it takes it’s common name St Johns Wort from the fact that in the European tradition it begins flowering around the catholic feast day of St John the Baptist, just before summer solstice.  Whilst there are traditional pagan associations with the ‘Green man’ signalling coming summer abundance, I am drawn by the similar characteristics of this plants overall essence to the figure that was John the Baptist. In the Biblical account, he appears as a rugged individual, dwelling in the wilderness, wearing a camel hair garment, and living on wild honey and locusts (or carob pods or locust beans  – depending on whichever translation you prefer, or bioregional botanical knowledge you might have). No doubt he was a little unkempt in appearance. A little non-conforming to the society of the time. And yet, on closer examination, we find a noble and upright character. A man who had real nerve. His was the voice that cried out in the wilderness that the prophet Isaiah spoke of centuries before, heralding the first coming of the fullness of Light into the world. A beacon of righteousness if you will. Even that Man who carried the Light, Yahoshua HaMashiach (who the Hellenes call Jesus Christ), said this concerning this John:

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft garments? Look, those wearing soft garments are in the houses of kings. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. ……Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than Yohanan the Immerser [John the Baptist]…”  (Mattityahu 11:7-14 The Scriptures 1998 ed. Institute for Scripture Research)

 

In those times past, when plants had as much psycho/spiritual significance as they did physiological (you know, in those wonderfully sage times before medicine separated from common sense, and when the humans understood that mind/body/and soul could not be separated without actual death occurring), St John’s Wort garnered lore for it’s apparent ability to offer protection from various nefarious influences. These included -but were not limited to – protection from witchcraft, little people (fairies), evil spirits, and possibly even alien abductions (folklore didn’t stop in the Middle Ages – it just shape-shifted to accomodate the same denizens dressed in the garb of the modern era.). It’s Greek name Hypericum also implies this belief, meaning ‘above the icon’, or as Matthew Wood ponders, possibly eluding to it’s ‘power ‘over the image’, or spectre.’ Nowadays, it has been much hyped in the natural health world as a remedy for depression. Having suffered from severe depression, I can attest that the black cloud that embraces the soul is something like a dark spirit that drags you down into even darker depths. Which possibly also makes one more vulnerable to even darker spirits showing up. The light of St John’s Wort does give some hope, but there are different types of depression and St Johns Wort has a far wider scope of healing and should be applied with discernment.

I find it to be particularly effective in the depression of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the depression associated with hormonal changes such as peri/menopause. A depression that comes from, or is associated with anxiety, tension, frustration, of trauma, or being cut off. For S.A.D I like it combined with Calendula and Lemon Balm, as well as addressing vitamin D and magnesium status. For menopausal depression, it works well when combined in equal parts with Damiana, Rose, and Tulsi. Both of these combinations can be taken as infusions or blended tinctures made from the fresh plant, although I find that the act of brewing a pot of tea infuses a pro-active measure into the treatment, which is often lacking when feeling depressed.

Oftentimes the plant’s appearance gives us a clue as to what it may help us with. Here we can think of the radiant resemblance of the flower with the solar plexus. Herbalist, Sajah Popham, combines St Johns Wort with Wood Betony (Stachys betonica) in gut healing protocols to address the often allied psycho/spiritual notion of a lack of boundaries, intestinal fortitude, and/or lack of trust in gut instincts, which are most often present in people experiencing Leaky Gut syndrome. I have since used this combination on myself as well as clients, and have found it to be a nice, effective pair to base a formula around. By it’s action on the nerves of the solar plexus, and relieving tension in the liver, it also regulates digestion. The solar plexus is the seat of our willpower, and our ability to stand firm in our convictions. It is a central nexus for the nervous system – ingeniously placed within our core, and hence gives us the saying, ‘to have the nerve’ to do something.

In Herbal Medicine, we class it as a trophorestorative nervine and a thymoleptic. A trophorestorative is a herb that repairs, regenerates, and restores function to a particular organ. A nervine is a plant that has a particular affinity for the nervous system. A thymoleptic is a plant that uplifts the mood – as we have seen previously in our discussion on depression. As a trophorestorative, St Johns Wort will help the body to repair nerves. It was once thought that neurons were one, if not the only, cell in the body that could not regenerate. With St Johns Wort we know that this is not the case. The homeopathic exploration of this aspect of St Johns Wort has given us the key indication of it’s use in repairing nerves involved in spinal injury especially the coccyx, and injury to the head. I have seen this miracle occur in a young man involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Although he suffered a very serious head injury, he sustained no brain damage or damage to the spinal cord at all. He was given the homeopathic preparation of Hypericum (SJW), along with the infused oil in topical massage, and a homeopathic preparation of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) to help heal the broken bones he did sustain. His recovery was remarkable.

In this regard, St Johns Wort is a reliable vulnerary. A vulnerary simply means that it is wound-healing, for which it was traditionally used in Europe. Parkinson says;

 

S. Iohns wort is as singular a wound herbe as any other whatsoever, eyther for inward wounds, hurts, or bruises, to be boiled in wine and drunke, or prepared in oyl or oyntment, bathe, or lotion outwardly, for being of an hot and drying quality, with subtill parts, it hath power to….consolidate or soder the lips of wounds, and to strengthen the parts that are weak and feeble.” 

Once again, homeopathy gives us the key indication of it being especially helpful in healing puncture wounds, and preventing tetanus. We see this signature in the tiny perforations that are revealed in the illuminated leaves. It is used to heal cuts and bruises, and is often used topically to speed up the healing of surgical scars. In this regard of healing puncture wounds and surgical scars – where there is trauma to the nerves, it is an exceptional ally in alleviating nerve pain.  Nerve pain is typically sharp and shooting, like lightning. It is used for post-operative pain and neuralgia, and inflammation of the nerves. I have also found it very useful in cases of sciatica, as a topical massage oil along with adjunct therapies. The nerve pain associated with shingles may also be relieved, both from the perspective of relieving inflammation and soothing the nerve itself, as well as exercising some specific anti-viral activity.

Other organ affinites include the bladder, as well as heliping the liver to detoxify – often through the relief of tension in these areas. For this affinity for the liver, it is noted that St Johns Wort doesn’t always play well with pharmaceutical drugs, and so caution should be exercised if you are (or the person you are recommending this plant to is) taking other medication. For the bladder, it is a welcome ally for bedwetting children (specifically, in my experience, where there is underlying stress).

 

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The annual harvest of St Johns Wort is something that I look forward to with mounting joy. That first glimpse of the golden bouquet is a glimmer of hope. Here in Victoria, it signifies the end of the long, cold winter that bleeds into only a slightly warmer spring. The watercolour tones of that season finish in stark contrast to the sunbaked shards of dry grass and brown earth that now dominate the landscape. Summer is here, says the St Johns Wort. And I am thankful. Oh how thankful I am to harvest just enough to infuse in oil, just enough to tincture, and just enough to dry for the winter to come. Just enough to replenish my dispensary, and just enough for the people who need it. I take a little from each plant community I visit, in order that the community may continue and produce future generations. Nothing more, nothing less than what is needed. There is a mindfulness that accompanies each harvest. A dreaming that we drop into as we come into relationship with the plant. It must be this way, in order for our hearts to hear what the plant speaks. And this one speaks of warmth, and strength, and brilliant hope.

 

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Energetics: warming, resinous/oily, drying, ‘balsmic’ (Wood)

Tissue States: indicated in dry/atrophy, wind/tension, cold/depression (see previous post for a discussion on the tissue states).

Herbal Actions: Nervine trophorestorative, thymoleptic, vulnerary, nervine anti-inflammatory, has some anti-viral action (especiall useful in shingles), nervine digestive tonic, liver detoxifier.

Methods of preparation and administration:

Harvesting: First of all, make sure you’ve got the right plant and have identified it correctly. Then, take only what you need, and never more than 10% of a community. If there’s one community, but it’s small, hunt around in the same general area. There will likely be more. Be mindful of pollution and potential weed spraying, particularly on road sides and around built-up residential areas. Also consider the health of the plants. Do they look healthy to you? If more are damaged or blemished than not, it’s probably not a good community to harvest from.

When the SJW that wants to help you has found you, use your fingers (watch out for hidden bugs – spiders seem to like SJW), and pick the flowers and unopened buds and the uppermost leaves. I find using secateurs quicker, particularly if my children are joining me. Which they typically do, because that’s homeschooling. I generally clip off the flowering tops about 2-3 cms below the lowest flower or bud. I quickly inspect them and hold them upside down, and gently shake them to make sure any creepy crawlies can leave. This will also return any early seeds to the earth for new growth the following year.

After harvest, if tincturing or infusing in oil, I immediately do this in the boot (trunk) of my SUV. I have a bag that contains all of my foraging/wildcrafting and processing tools in it, so I’m ready to work at a moments notice. I also carry an old pillow slip to keep the plants in that I want to dry for later use. These plants, I generally clip off with a longer stem of about 10-15cm. When I get home I then lay them out on a large piece of butcher’s paper, garble them (sort them for blemishes, missed bugs, and whatnot), and then get them ready for drying.

Drying: This is an artform in itself, and to ensure the quality of the herb is maintained and minimal medicinal value is lost, its execution has to be meticulous. For St Johns Wort, I use a dehydrator set between 75 – 95 degrees Faranheit (around 40 Celsius). If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can hang your herbs in tied bunches from rafters or under a covered deck or verandah, out of the sun. Or you can dry them on a flat screen in the shade on a warm day. You need to bring them in at night so the dew doesn’t cause them to mould or rot. It can take one to several days to dry to crispy depending on the temperature and humidity. Once fully dry, cut the herb into small pieces and store in a dark coloured container in a cupboard or out of driect sunlight. (This process of cutting them up into smaller pieces is called comminution.)

Infusion: use the fresh, or dry flowering tops (fresh will be better, but only dry will be available in the cooler seasons). Steep 1 tsp in 1 cup of just boiled water for 5-10 minutes. Drink ½ to 1 cup 1-3 times/day.

Tincture: Best made as soon after harvest as possible, tincture in a menstruum (solvent) of 95% alcohol. In the US, this is branded Everclear. In Australia, I’ve used a 95% alc./vol. rectified spirit called Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany (it’s Polish). They keep it under lock and key at Dan Murphy’s, and they look at you funny if you say that you’re a herbalist and you need it to make tinctures. Ironically, it says that’s what it is used for on the label. When I’ve been a bit more flush, I’ve used cane sugar ethanol acquired from Wilmar Bioethanol, but you need to be a practitioner with a TGA exemption certifcate to obtain this liquid gold. It’s currently priced at AUD19.95/litre, and the minimum purchase is 20 litres.  If you do choose to use a 95% alc./vol., you’ll end up with a 1:2 or 1:3 tincture. This means you’ll use 1 part of the herb to 2 or 3 parts of the menstruuum. So for example, if I harvest 100g of flowering tops, I’ll need 300ml of menstruum to make a 1:3 strength tincture. Because you’re using fresh plant material, the water content in the plant will dilute the alcohol and give a nicely balanced tincture that will draw out constiuents that are both soluble in water and alcohol. If you use dry material, then you would need to add water to the alcohol to make up the difference. There are calculations involved in that process, which I will, at some point, devote an entire blog post to. But for now, with fresh SJW, you don’t really need to worry about that. So having said all that however, if you simply can’t access a 95% alcohol, then you can use the folk method of stuffing a jar with the herb and then filling it to the top with a good quality brandy or vodka. This is a perfectly acceptable substitute and you can do this with the fresh or dry. Keep in mind however, that if using dry plant material, you’ll need to add more as it will soak up most of it. The alcohol percentage will be around 45%, and the rest will be raisin or potato skin water. This is okay. Some professional herbalists do actually prefer to use brandy-based tinctures and they still get optimum results. So whichever method you choose, fill a sterilised canning jar with your herb and your menstruum, cap tightly (use a rubber sealed glass flip-top canning jar, or if you have to use a glass mason-type jar, put some baking paper, or cloth between the glass and the metal lid, so the alcohol doesn’t corrode the metal. You don’t want rust in your tincture. Some people blend, or bruise the herb with the menstruum before putting it up in the jar. This may allow you to get more herb in – particularly if your using the folk method, but it’s really up to the individual. Matthew Wood says the plants like to be tinctured whole. Once you’ve got it in the jar and secured the lid on, place in a dark cool cupboard to macerate (infuse). It will be ready to use after 14 days, but again, some herbalists leave it for a whole lunar cycle, others for 6 weeks, and others (like me when I forget), just leave it to do it’s thing indefinitely, using only when needed.

Once you’ve decided it’s ready (have a taste every so often to see), strain it through a nutmylk bag or muslin cloth, or a doubled coffee filter over a large glass bowl or jug. Squeeze and press as much of the tincture as you can out of the remaining herb (also known as the marc). If you happen to have a spare kitchen table wine press lying around, you can use this to good affect in getting those last few drops out. Then compost your marc, or incinerate it to make a spagyric (another post will be forthcoming on that process as well. Promises, promises). Bottle your newly strained and filtered tincture, and please remember to label it with the name of the herb, date, alcohol percentage, and whether you used dry or fresh material. I usually also add where it was harvested from and when. (I also put a label on the macerating herb before I strain it)

A standard dose would be between 5-30 drops 3x/day depending on who and what it is for. (Children use ½ to ¼ of the adult dose). 

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Infused oil: This is used for topical application, and I typically infuse my oils the way you make a tincture via the folk method. That is, stuff a sterilized jar with your herb and then pour organic extra virgin cold pressed olive oil over it until the jar is full and no plant bits are exposed. If you’re using fresh plant material, keep in mind that water and oil don’t mix and fresh plants often contain a fair bit of water. You might like to let the plant wilt a little before infusing in the oil. This isn’t the same as allowing it to dry, but it does release a little bit of the water and can prevent spoilage from mould. Some plants do better dried first and then infused in oil. Like Calendula for example. But for our purposes with capturing the healing benefits of SJW, we need to use the fresh flowering tops. Again, like cooking, there is an art in working with the ways in which the plants can express their medicine. Some folks like to warm the herb/oil in a crockpot/slowcooker or over a bain marie to start the infusion process, or let it infuse like that for a week. Like making a tea or water-based infusion, the heat draws out the constituents. I tried this method once with SJW. I felt like I was cooking the herb and the oil, and that didn’t feel right, so I went back to doing it the way that I was taught and which I knew well, that of allowing the securely lidded (again, same as the tincture) jar of infusing goodness to sit on a sunny windowsill to allow the sun to warm the oil and draw out those blood-red constituents. It is, after all, a herb of the Sun. SJW is pretty much the only herb I would do this with though. Most herbs are happy to sit somewhere warm and dark (or covered in a brown paper bag) to do their thing with the oil. Let the oil infuse for a couple of weeks. I like to do it for a month, and I did have one jar which I forgot to strain and filter for about 3 years, but it was stored well (I took it off the windowsill after a month), and it was still good. Once it has infused to your liking, strain and filter as per the tincture. Fresh SJW infused oil, once strained will still be cloudy. You’ll need to put it back on the windowsill to let it settle, and once it has, decant the clear red oil into a bottle. Cap tightly and label, label, label with the name, date, and type of oil used.

Dosage: well, this is for topical use, so you can either make it into a salve, balm, or ointment with other plants specific to what the salve, balm, or ointment may be for, or you can use it as is when needed. It’s great for cuts, bruises, muscle aches, spasms, neuraligia, sciatica, shingles, around puncture wounds (while also taking the tincture internally), on hard deposits under the skin, scars, for paralysed limbs, diabetic neuropathies, after spinal or head injury if possible (and/or take the tincture or homeopathic Hypericum internally), and may be useful, if not just a nice massage oil for people with Multiple Sclerosis.

Other prepartaions of St Johns Wort include the flower essence and the homoeopathic, and the spagyric tincture. While these are traditionally thought of as having more of an affect on the subtle body or psycho/spiritual aspects, they can be used just as well for the physical indications. If that is all you have access to, or if you or that someone you know is more sensitive to material doses, then this will be how SJW will work with you.

So with that I will bid you the blessings of the Solstice, and I hope your life is graced with the joy of St Johns Wort as well.

Resources & References:

Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. North Atlantic Books; 1st Ed. 1997.

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

Bruton-Seal, Julie. & Seal, Matthew. The Herbalist’s Bible. John Parkinsons Lost Classic Rediscovered. Merlin Unwin Books. UK 2014.

Buhner, Stephen. Herbal Anti-Virals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Storey Publishing. North Adams, MA. USA. 2013.

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Horizon Herbs. Oregon USA. 2000

Easley, Thomas & Horne, Steven. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books. USA. 2016.