Keep Cool with Peppermint!

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is believed to be a hybrid between Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and Watermint (Mentha aquatica). Commercial cultivation of peppermint began in England about 1750.

The versatility of medicinal plants has long been a source of fascination and wonder. Many times, an herb or remedy will get a reputation for curing this or that ailment and suddenly everyone assumes that’s all the plant does. Feel depressed? Take St. John’s Wort. Have a cold? Echinacea. Headache? Feverfew. Most, if not all the time, that’s only one way to work with that plant. It may not even be what the plant does best.

Take Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) for instance. Many people think of Peppermint purely as an herbal beverage tea or as a food flavoring. Something you might find in grandma’s cupboard and yet Peppermint has a whole array of health benefits and medicinal uses. In fact, Peppermint has been considered an important medicinal plant for thousands of years from ancient Egypt to Western Europe and England where it was first grown commercially around the mid-18th century.

It’s difficult for me to think of Peppermint and not conjure up its lively taste. That sharply pungent yet cooling flavor is due to the very high menthol content. Higher, in fact, than its cousin Spearmint. It’s the high menthol content in part that gives Peppermint its relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue such as that found in the digestive system, easing stomach aches, gas, and indigestion. Those who suffer with ulcers and IBS maybe also find relief in a cup of Peppermint tea or enteric coated Peppermint oil capsules.

Peppermint’s healing attributes don’t stop at the digestive system. Peppermint can ease headaches from the common cold, flu, and sinus congestion. An herbal steam of Peppermint leaves can go a long way in clearing nasal congestion along with a soothing cup of tea. It can enliven a fatigued mind and improve overall mood. In the summertime, Peppermint can bring cooling relief in the form of iced tea, fomentation, or diluted essential oil blend dabbed on the wrists or pulse points.

Growing this plant is pretty easy and it can even be grown in pots to have the fresh herb on hand. Nothing beats fresh Peppermint added to salads and fruit salads in summertime. One of my favorites is Peppermint added to a bowl of watermelon. Yum!

Watermelon with feta cheese and fresh Peppermint leaves, a summertime favorite!
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THIS is my medicine

As you’ve probably already guessed from this website, I love plants.  Medicinal plants have been a long time focus and calling although all plants are healing in their own wonderful and varied ways.  This blog post has been a very long time coming.  Its first stirrings began many years ago and came again while harvesting St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) flowers in the bright, warm, embracing sun in the summer of 2015.  It had been a trying year full of unexpected changes as my mother had died suddenly in the very early and sleepy spring.  Anyone that has experienced grief especially the raw grief that comes on abruptly unexpectedly leaving you breathless in an instant as all the oxygen in your universe is viciously sucked away in one soundless swoosh.  My experience certainly didn’t pale in that regard.  It left me feeling as tiny as a fish flopping around outside of its safe, natural borders into unchartered, foreign, and wholly un-supporting terrain.
 
Spending time with the plants was the only thing I wanted to do.  The only thing that still made sense to me and brought connection.  In that unfamiliar rawness being around most human beings was too painful.  One of most influential people that would ever be in my life was gone.  Blink. Gone.  The burden of needing to act “normal” was too great.  Conversely, the plants had no such expectations of me.  They welcomed me, open arms, grief and all and never wanted me to be anything other than what I was. In case this is new to you, plants have consciousness, they have spirits.  They have presence and in that presence is a profound healing beyond words and at times beyond comprehension or intellectual explanation. This level of healing needs no explanation. It only needs to be experienced, trusted, and honored for what it is.  What is needed is awareness and the willingness to learn a new language.  What is needed is to be open to the plant’s energy and consciousness and to how it is speaking to you and then to embrace and hold that experience close to your heart.
 
I found myself spending much time walking the Medicine Wheel, meditating with the plants, singing to the plants, playing my flute, and harvesting the plant’s gifts.  I especially found myself spending much time with St. John’s Wort, or St. Joan’s Wort as she prefers.  On this particular day I was harvesting St. Joan’s Wort in the baking Sun to be made into a healing oil.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  She has been one of my plant allies for several decades.  Early on She drove away “seasonal blues” and calmed sciatica pain and sore muscles.  Over the years I’ve had the privilege of sharing her medicine with so many people through classes and remedies from her bright yellow flowers that turn red when bruised or steeped in oil.  Making St. Joan’s Wort oil and salve has become a catharsis for me, a rite of passage, and just one of the ways that I keep reconnecting with Her power year after year.  The year my mother passed I found myself drawn to her over and over again.  A strong drawing not out of balance but a gentle knowing that She was there waiting for me daily. I would seek Her out making flower essences, oils, solar infusions, and many times solely for the purpose of being in Her energy. This particular afternoon had been one of those moments that should be frozen for eternity the connection is so complete and profound that a timelessness drifts over like a summer breeze a completely welcoming surprise.  As I bent to examine the bursting yellow blossoms it suddenly occurred to me that I was healing.  I was working through the feelings surrounding my mother’s death one day at a time with the help of this absolutely amazing and powerful plant. I’d noticed over the months, that my energy and vitality were returning.  At times I was even laughing and the deep and heavy sadness was lifting.  In this beautiful, profound “ah ha” moment that burned deep in my soul I realized on an even deeper level that THIS is my medicine.  This.  All of it.  Being in relationship with the plants, connecting, being on the Earth, harvesting in the way my ancestors have done for thousands of years.  Simple, beautiful, and profound.  This.  This was my “medicine”, my power.  I’ve been teaching about medicinal herbs and doing healing work for well over 30 years and yet there is always room to stretch farther, to go deeper. 
 
Even now I can feel Her roots working their way into my soul, into my Being.  And I smile.  This is the nature of the sacred medicine plants when we approach them with love, with gratitude, devoid of ego, and with an open heart. Bringing our whole selves with us; broken, bruised, and wounded.  Or happy and joyous.  It doesn’t matter.  They react and relate to the authentic.  To the real.  To the childlike.  To humility.  To me it requires a complete giving over of the self and allowing oneself to be led.  To be guided.  Allowing yourself to “not know”.  Letting it be okay to not have all the answers.  That is where we become teachable.  It is the place where the everyday and the sacred collide stretching on into eternity.  This is where we embrace the Divine and in doing so we touch the sacred within ourselves.  This is the place where we truly connect with the sacred medicine plants.
 
On this Summer Solstice Day, the Day of St. Joan’s Wort, I head out again to find Her. Seeking out her wisdom, her strength, and her medicine. Honoring her in whatever small ways I can to give back for all the incredible gifts she has given me, gifts I know I will never be able to repay.
 
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Beyond Earth Day 2019

I probably attended my first Earth Day celebration a little over 30 years ago. Celebrations then had more of a hippie, “we feel great cause we’re loving on the Earth”, light-hearted vibe. The biggest focus was on reducing, reusing, and recycling with some information on endangered species and biodiversity thrown in for good measure. The terms global warming and climate change weren’t the buzzwords they are today as it would still be another couple of months before James Hansen, then Director of the NASA Goddard Space Institute, would report on the “greenhouse effect” to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and its damaging effects on our global climate.

Fast forward 30 years and recycling paper, plastic, and remembering our reusable bags are just not going to get us there. One of the most alarming facts we must contend with is the passing of the 400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a few years back and its resultant increase in global mean temperature. In the last 100 years or so our world has warmed an astonishing 2 degrees Fahrenheit as CO2 levels have spiked from around 300ppm to over 400ppm. While this may not seem like much but remember we’re talking about a global average. The implications of a 2-degree increase has major impacts on global weather patterns with the creation of “superstorms”, the unpredictability of local weather patterns, crop’s viability, and water availability. All of this affects everyone everywhere and as the polar caps continue to melt unabated at an alarming rate, we are losing precious coastline every day creating both safety and exponential economic issues. If that isn’t enough, we now have something called the “Pacific Garbage Patch” a thing most of us couldn’t even conceive of a mere couple decades ago, and pollution found at the deepest depths of our murky oceans threatens marine wildlife, food sources, and livelihoods. What’s further frightening is how normalized these reports have become and how many people remain asleep behind the wheel as we steer ourselves off the proverbial cliff. The changes once predicted not to happen for another 50 years, are happening now. We’ve seen over and over again, that governments and corporations are failing to act in any real meaningful way with most failing to act period. To the point of even continuing to portray global warming as a perpetrated hoax rather than honoring the scientific data and actual evidence our world normally marries itself to, instead preferring to cherry pick the information that’s convenient.

For most of you reading this, I probably don’t need to rehash the evidence or convince you that climate change is real. It’s here, It’s not going away no matter how much we stick our collective heads in the sand, and not enough is being done about it.

Waiting on a Hero

Here’s where the story gets tricky. Most of us know this but what we don’t know is what that will mean to our futures. Basically no one does. Not even our learned scientists. These are paths we have yet to tread in our human history. The last time the CO2 in the atmosphere was this high, humans didn’t exist. During the entire course of human history CO2 levels have never been at this level and so we really don’t know the implications. I for one, would prefer not to find out. I’m a creature of habit and I’d be happy to stay in our little Earth bubble for a while longer thank you. The bigger question; what do we do about it? One thing I think we don’t do – we don’t wait for anyone else to fix the problem. There is no hero. No one is going to swoop in and save us. And by us I mean you, the person reading this blog. No one is going to save you or your family, and here’s the rub…or your children or your children’s children because let’s face it, they’re the ones that are going to have to pay this piper. They’re going to be the ones to reap what we’ve sown. Things may get annoying and even downright uncomfortable for us but it’s going to be down the road that this Earth may become uninhabitable. At least for humans anyway.

If we’re going to avoid this worst-case, doomsday scenario we need to change miles beyond reusable bags and metal straws. Don’t get me wrong, those steps are important, but we need to think way beyond that. Here are some of my thoughts for how we begin make this change.

Change Hurts but it Doesn’t Have To

I feel there are a few major areas that we need to be focusing on right away. One is replanting trees as much as possible. They are our greatest allies in reducing the carbon in the atmosphere. Although other chemicals in the atmosphere are more toxic, CO2 is the most abundant and the most obvious solution is to remove it from the atmosphere en masse and trees and plants are the best viable options at this juncture. Several organizations agree with me on this point. You can check them out here:

The Nature Conservancy Plant a Billion Trees Project

The Nature Conservancy Plant a Billion Trees Project

One Tree Planted

One Tree Planted

Ecoasia

Ecoasia

Learning about tree planting and what some of the above organizations are doing is a great start. Donating funds is an even greater step but don’t stop there, plant some trees of your own! Learn about your climate and trees that are native to your locale, hearty, and good carbon sequesters. Much of the temperate climates of the world were once covered in deciduous forests and as important as planting trees is the process of reforestation. Planting trees is a part of that process but it’s learning to think like a forest and to restore what has been lost. Not just trees but understory, riparian buffers, and creating forest gardens that mimic forests in structure and function.

Secondly, developing a “can do”, self-sufficient mindset is not only a good thing it may be a necessary thing. As the climate continues to change and therefore become less predictable with ensuing dramatic weather patterns, learning to function in changing times can be not only helpful but potentially critical. Knowing what plants grow in your area, what other food sources are available, knowing how to forage and survive may one day be life-saving. Along with that leaving a part of your land wild will provide food and shelter for bees, native pollinators, birds, and other mammals allowing you to connect with the land in a meaningful way. For too long we’ve been strangers in a strange land, sadly ignorant about this thing we call “Nature” as if humanity’s decision to leave it behind was one we could make without disastrous consequences. Learning to grow our own food moving away from the massively destructive corporate farming agro-giants will impact our world in such a beautiful and powerful way. More importantly, learning to farm in a new way working with the Earth in less disruptive ways.

Thirdly, we to need to stop giving money to corporations that don’t give a crap about the Earth. That’s for starters but truly beyond that, we need to begin thinking beyond the capitalist model. It just doesn’t work. It inspires maniacal, genocidal greed and a state of sociopathic narcissism that has become another one of those cringe-worthy, new normals. How can we continue to support corporations that poison the Earth, want to monopolize our food supply in the form of nutrient deficient monocrops, and continue to party like it’s 1999? They have yet to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee, but I can GUARANTEE you if you stop giving them your money, they surely will. We’ve tried holding these companies accountable and all we get is a bunch of greenwashing. Instead adopt a self-sufficient attitude towards creating your own personal care, health, and cleaning products or shop local with those small businesses that do care and have made the environment like yours truly and others.

And finally, we need to recognize the inherent Spirit and consciousness inherent in Earth and all Her creations. We need to relearn what it means to be human. We as the most modern humans to date have yet to truly come home to this planet and our legacy has not been a good one. We comprise significantly less than 1% of the world’s species and yet we’re responsible for killing off 83% of the world’s species. We need to recognize our own destructive natures and instead of solely pointing fingers, we need to see this as our responsibility. Yes, you reading this blog and me the writer of this blog. We all need to get on board and recognize our one common denominator is this planet, the air we breathe, the food we eat, this place we depend upon. Because for all of our superficial differences and petty disagreements we all call this place “home” and it’s time we start acting like it.

Click here to learn more about how Green Girl Herbs & Healing is working to live more sustainably on Planet Earth. 

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Lessons from the Garden: Learning to Appreciate the In-between Places

This time of year is a classic time of contradictions. It’s still summer and yet we’re bombarded with a deluge of

Comfrey Harvest from the Garden

Halloween décor. I think I’ve already even seen some Christmas items being snuck in while I’m still trying to enjoy the last chords of summer!

Ancient and indigenous cultures understood
the transitional times from one season to the next and although we no longer seem to honor those times, they still exist in nature. One doesn’t simply wake one morning to suddenly find, it’s autumn. There is a rhythm and a cadence to changes in nature. First, we notice the Goldenrods are beginning to bud and finally bloom. Then we may notice a leaf here or there that turns yellow. Then a few nights of chillier temperatures and days that end a little earlier, the light just beginning to show the most-subtle of shifts. Nature has a grace about her in this time of late summer when the humidity has lost its bite and yet sunshine still abounds. Coming soon we’ll find glorious purple asters and other floral and seasonal treasures to savor.

Learning to revel in these moments keeps us in touch with the real pace of life. Not the rushed imposing interpretations of marketing professionals. Get outside, explore your world and notice the changes. How do you feel about the late summer? Do you enjoy basking in the softer rays of sunshine? What’s going on in your garden? Are you having a second or even third crop of Comfrey? Or perhaps you’re harvesting the last of your tomatoes and have planted fall veggies.

 

Late Summer Sun

What about in your internal garden? Are you taking the time to pause and notice the subtle changes in the season and how that affects you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? If we’re paying attention, we’ll notice that nature prompts us when it’s time to begin making changes. As the temperatures cool, it’s a good time to begin adding back in more warming and cooked foods, preparing our bodies for autumn and finally winter. Stocking up on fall and winter remedies before we need them is also a wise activity for this time of year. I have my Elderberry Syrup supplies ready to go and the Elderberry Tincture and Fire Cider is macerating in jars just waiting for the exact right time to strain off the herbs and bottle for fall and winter consumption.

Herbalism is about so much more than taking this herb for that ailment. It’s about reconnecting to the healing plants, the Earth, and the seasons in ever deepening ways and living according to those natural rhythms so long forgotten. So be sure to take some time in this in-between season to savor the last of the warm sunny days and summer pleasures while beginning to turn an eye toward prepping for the seasons to come and if I can help you in any way to ease that transition, be sure to drop me a line.

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Lessons from the Garden: Allowing

I love gardening. It’s a passion, a meditation, a place that reconnects me to the Earth over and over again. I find that as I enter the garden, I step into a magical world out of reach of time and space. A dramatic shift takes place in my consciousness as the garden itself speaks to me. Some of my most profound insights are realized while gardening or wild-crafting.

I have a Medicine Wheel Garden that is about 35 feet in diameter. It’s quite a lot of space that I haven’t quite filled yet and perhaps I never will. It’s a work in progress that I believe most gardeners can relate to. “What’s a Medicine Wheel Garden?”, you ask? A Medicine Wheel Garden is a garden arranged within a circle with, at a minimum, stones marking off the four directions, north, east, south, west, plus the direction of center, or “within”, marked off at the center of the circle. Stones are also designated for Grandmother Moon, Grandfather Sun, Mother Earth, and Father Sky. Depending upon how detailed, the Medicine Wheel may include stones around its circumference, each one representing a different quality.

The Medicine Wheel is a sacred space, a tool for spiritual growth, it’s a teaching tool, a healing vortex. Given their sacredness and connection to the Creator, planting medicinal plants within this framework is a natural interpretation of this space. Plants can be arranged by their elemental association, north=earth, east=air, south=fire, west=water, center=spirit or ether, or in a random pattern. Most often I’ve found the plants tell me where they’d like to reside, not the other way around. I may have an idea of where a plant would do best but very often the plants will know better. I’m not entirely certain what is their criteria for placement as it often defies gardening logic as I know it. I’ve seen plants defy their usual requirement for sun, and water and show up in the unlikeliest of places. I’ve placed plants that require 8 hours of sun in the sunniest spot in the garden only to watch them die off and relocate themselves a few seasons later in a completely inappropriate spot. Thriving. Go figure.

I teach Medicine Wheel Gardening. Again, one of my favorite topics to teach. It’s a challenging topic to share in a way because there are so many layers to the Medicine Wheel. It requires a lifetime of learning and openness. Whenever we enter into sacred space in a conscious way, be that for ritual or gardening, everything that happens becomes synchronistic, and if we’re paying attention we can find the lessons. Such as it is for me in the garden. When I teach Medicine Wheel we talk about design and I hand out templates for students to work on their garden design but I always mention to leave room for the unexpected. We may plan the garden in a particular way, full of specific plants that we’d like to thrive in our garden, we give them exactly what they need to grow, the right sun, soil, fertilizer, water, and yet they may still fail to thrive. Why? They just do not want to be in that spot. Oftentimes there is no logical reason.

Likewise, I like to see what “shows up”. I keep room for the unexpected. I never plan so much into the garden that there’s no room for my wild visitors. If I did that I would miss out on a lot. The first year I planted this garden I noticed there were an abundance of Violets (Viola cucullata). Many home owners and gardeners consider these plants a nuisance and will rip them out but their flowers are truly lovely, and tasty and their medicinal benefits are quite impressive (read blog post on Violet here) and I try to eat some of them every day. By the second year the Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) had shown up (read blog post on Goldenrod here) in all her early autumn glory. Another useful medicinal in addition to being a stunner. Followed shortly by Fleabane (Erigeron pullchellus), Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), and one of my very favorites St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Had I stuck to the “plan” stubbornly refusing to deviate, I would have missed out on so much beauty, and healing and the native bees would have missed out on important food sources. This attitude of co-creating with nature has allowed me to notice how plants show up year after year and excitedly wait to see who will be a new visitor each season. It’s allowed me to be present to the complex relationship between plants and insects. As the garden and land has been allowed to grow in a more natural way, other beings have been drawn to the area. Wild turkeys, hummingbirds, chipmunks, a couple of skunks, a raccoon, and various other critters have become regulars in our little homestead. It’s been one of my greatest joys to watch this interaction. “Allowing” has given me this opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have a plan, in gardening as well as in life. I admire people that have a vision that they tenaciously stick to through whatever weather and charge fearlessly ahead. But I’ve also seen people trample over the beauty, and sometimes other people, on the way to the “prize”. I’ve seen many people miss out on the journey in pursuit of the end goal. And we’re never really guaranteed that end goal. Many things can happen along the way. We’re also never guaranteed that if we do indeed reach it, that it’s going to fill us up inside. Oftentimes when we trample through goals and ideas we lose sight of ourselves, our needs, and self-care can suffer so much along the way that by the time we do get there we barely recognize ourselves anymore. In life as well as in gardening, it’s often the unexpected twists and turns along the way that make life colorful. “Allowing” is full of flow, gentleness, and grace. “Allowing” acknowledges that there is a Higher Force at work in this Universe and our best selves are realized when we learn to dance with it rather than forcing our will along the way.

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A Wise Elder

Every August I watch in anticipation for the deep purple berries of the Elder Tree. It’s technically not a tree at all but a tall growing shrub reaching heights of up to 12 feet. My obsession begins early in the summer at the end of June when the effusive flush of the fragrant inflorescence form into panicles of creamy white. Remarkably beautiful are the flowers that I can’t bear to harvest them plus I love the berries too much! These white blossoms have a special magic and medicine all their own, often being made into flavorful concoctions such as Elder Wine or Elder Flower Cordials, or into foods such as Elder Flower Fritters. Their medicinal uses are impressive as well for they are considered diaphoretic and carminative in nature and useful as teas to help resolve colds and flus quickly often reducing their duration by several days. Recent studies also suggest that Elder flowers have anticancer benefits and may help to support eye health.

The berries are a gift from the Earth when I can get to them before the deer and the birds but of course I always make sure to leave enough for my wild friends. Infinitely delicious are the berries, that they have been used in cooking pies and jams for centuries not to mention Elderberry Wine and jelly! Elderberries have impressive antiviral properties that are equal to or greater than modern vaccines without the side effects. Elderberry Syrup can be taken throughout flu and cold season as a highly effective preventative remedy and it’s delicious too! I take the Elderberry Syrup all season as it keeps me from getting ill and I feel great from all the antioxidants contained within. High in anthocyanins, Elderberries are a wonderful tonic for the heart and for supporting healthy eyes as do many of the darker berries such as Bilberry which were used in WWII by British fighter pilots to improve their night vision. Likewise, Elderberries may provide support for those with type 2 diabetes.

The native variety of the Elder is Sambucus canadensis, the bark of which was used by the Mahican tribe as an emetic and laxative. The flowers were used to sweat out a fever, as a blood purifier, and for skin related issues, the berries as a tonic. The Iroquois used the bark to relieve headaches. The naturalized European variety of Elder is Sambucus nigra which is very similar in appearance to the S.canadensis and is used interchangeably.

Much folklore exists around the Wise Elder Tree and in ancient times it was considered bad luck to cut one down but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Elder is ruled by the planet Venus and the Element water and in fact, you can often find them growing near a stream. Given Elder’s close association with water, it would seem it’s no accident that dowsing rods were often made of her branches. She has been used for divination, protection, prosperity, and contacting elementals. It is said that by sitting in meditation under this revered herb, you can connect with her Spirit who will answer a question for you.

Although all parts of the plant have been used medicinally, the leaves and stems are generally considered toxic and it is not advised to take these parts internally although historically they were used as a strong laxative and to soothe mucous membranes. The uncooked berries can cause stomach distress and nausea for some people so be sure to either take in a tea or other cooked or processed formulation.

Click here to purchase a bottle of Green Girl’s Awesome Elderberry Syrup!

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Goldenrod, fall allergies, and other fairytales

Nothing heralds the coming Autumn for me like the very beautiful and showy yellow flowers of Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis, Solidago spp.). Although, Goldenrod, in all her golden glory, is the scapegoat for fall allergies, it is actually the common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) with its inconspicuous green inflorescence also blooming at this time that is usually to blame. Goldenrod has very little pollen and what pollen it does have is very dense and sticky in order to be carried off by insects that visit. Ragweed on the other hand, makes a profusion of pollen that is distributed on the wind. Solidago canadensis is a Native perennial that spreads rapidly through its rhizomes. Often found in dense stands, there are approximately 60 species of Goldenrod in the Northern Hemisphere found in all states except Hawaii, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Goldenrod is also found in nearly all of the Canadian provinces. Goldenrod is found in moist meadows, near waterways, and prairies in locations with full or part sun. It ranges in height from 1 to 7 feet with bright flowers arranged in drooping panicles.

 

ragweed-09_05_14-kg-img_5630-edit2Many Native American tribes utilized the Goldenrod plant for a variety of ills including the Iroquois who employed infusions of the roots and flowers for pain. The Potawatomi made a tea from the blossoms to bring down fevers. Other tribes used the plant topically to treat snakebite, and the root for burns. Indeed, Goldenrod is rich with medicinal healing powers and with its astringent qualities can be used to quell fall allergic reactions as well as cold and flu upper respiratory mucus and fevers. Goldenrod can be taken to help tune our immune systems for winter and as nature is so wise, she has arranged that Goldenrod is available for us just in time. Goldenrod is a friend to the urinary system and healing to the kidneys, coming to the aid of those suffering with urinary gravel or stones, and frequent urination. A tea can also be taken to prevent gravel, kidney stones, nephritis, and issues of the prostate. Goldenrod is an effective digestive and possesses anti-inflammatory qualities. As a cleansing herb, it is helpful in the treatment of arthritis. Goldenrod can be used as a tea or tincture and the seeds are an edible trailfood. All Goldenrods are safe to use and many can be used interchangeably.

 

Goldenrod is an important food source for native pollinators in the fall allowing them to store up food for the winter. As with all plants, Goldenrod also performs important functions for the land. As a phytoremediator, Goldenrod helps to stabilize the soil and revegetate disturbed areas. Goldenrod is a friend to both human, insects, animals, and Earth. Leaving areas to remain wild allows this important medicinal and other useful plants to show up. If you have a yard or field, consider leaving at least a part of it free from mowing and pruning, nature will thank you for it!

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Plant Communication

Plant Communication. What does that phrase conjure up for you? Scientists gathered around in rooms full of plants hooked up to polygraph machines to measure the minutest of fluctuations? Your quirky Aunt Tilly who speaks to her houseplants? Or a weathered medicine woman performing mysterious rituals with strange brews made from powerful plant medicines? Plant Communication can involve all or none of these things and you’ll find that it can be as varied as the people doing it.

 

To help describe plant communication or plant consciousness let’s travel back to a time when humans were in awe of the natural world and acutely aware of their dependence upon her. Their senses weren’t dulled by daily sitting in front of a computer screen, TV, cell phone, or e-reader. The natural world was their constant home, their survival, and they were in touch with the tiniest of fluctuations in that environment. Native American, and other cultures living close to the Earth, recognized (and still do) that all of nature has a “spirit”, a consciousness, a personality even. This consciousness of nature was recognized in all beings, the stone people, the animals, the insects, the elements such as sky and fire as well as plants. These beings were understood as being equal to humans. No greater, no lesser but equal. A part of a whole organism that worked in harmony with each other. Each being had its own lesson to teach, its own “voice” or song, its own vibration, and each being was honored and treated with respect. It was understood that we as humans can interact with these beings of nature. Of course most often plants don’t speak in the way that humans do but have a language of their own. Many modern humans have forgotten this language and stopped communicating with nature but the connection is not completely lost. It is the language of the wind, the water, the falling leaves in autumn, the opening of the flower, the falling of the rain, the rays of the Sun as they touch the Earth. To those that have not lost this ability, nature is continuously engaged in communication. It speaks to a part of our spirits even though our minds don’t usually comprehend the message. It is the language of the Heart. For others it is possible to learn to hear these messages, to open to these communications, and truly it is time that humanity did listen, for nature has much to teach. Lessons of cooperation, of how to get along with one another, and even answers to many of the current challenges we face such as climate change and energy shortages. Nature is the greatest builder and innovator ever to exist and we would do well to listen to this wise teacher.

 

tree-native-plant-garden-nybg-06_08_13-kg-img_1261As we spend more time in nature and most especially consciously in nature, we can tune into these plant energies and know things that science is just beginning to catch up with. This type of knowledge is a “knowing” that surpasses the mind and penetrates into the Heart and Spirit. When I was a child I spent much time in the woods and fields of my childhood home and the backyard of my grandmother’s house both of which were home to a few most beloved Maple Trees. I climbed those trees from the time I was a small child right up to my teenage years. In the spring and summer lazy afternoons were spent reading, daydreaming, and simply be-ing in the trees. Autumn, raking leaves into enormous piles to jump in. I always loved the different point of view of being up high and examining the tree bark and leaves up close. Trees were never inert things but were my friends and companions. I had a sense that the trees held me and not coincidentally they had broken several careless falls that could have been disasters. In those quiet moments with the trees I had a sense or a knowing of their presence. Within that presence, that energy, there was a communication. The trees spoke to me. I felt no need to share these conversations, but accepted them and they became part of the secret knowledge I carried inside of myself. I knew that once you were introduced to one tree that all the trees would know you. Most especially the trees of that particular species. Today, science speaks of the underground network of mycorrhizal fungi that helps the trees to communicate with one another even so much as warning of predators and sharing needed resources. I think soon they will discover that this network extends much further than previously thought and many other things they currently believe is not possible.

 

This communication extended to plants as well. Many family photos show me as a young child engrossed in intently gazing at a plant or flower. I often had potted plants on my window and my dad and I grew enormous gardens from the time I was small. As an adult I found that I could often engage with a plant and know what its name was or what its uses were. This is a type of knowledge that must be experienced to be fully understood. Spending much of my life wandering throughout the natural world, getting lost in backwoods, obscure trails, and forgotten fields, has taught me more about our environment than any other resource. Spending days consciously focused on this energy I was able to feel the unconditional love that radiates from all of nature. That is a mind blowing experience. So palpable is the energy it is undeniable and defies mere words.

 

To me plant consciousness and plant communication are nearly one in the same. Once we become aware of how plants communicate, then we become aware when communication is happening. Plants communicate physically via hormones and reach out to humans via scent. Energetically they communicate through conscious energy which can be received as a knowing, a vision, or a dream. Likewise, we can open communication with plants and all of nature. We do this by moving out of the ego and into our heart space. Spending meditative, quiet time in nature will make us more receptive to their messages. One of the most important elements I find to plant communication is an open heart and a receptive mind. Once we believe we know everything about a particular topic or when our ego is engaged to the extent that we feel we “know it all” then we become unteachable. In the study of Zen Buddhism the idea is to practice having a “beginner’s mind”. A beginner’s mind is open and receptive, an empty cup. We’re not coming to the work with a cup that is already full but one that is empty and thirsting for knowledge and most especially experience. From that place of being, there are many techniques we can learn to help to open this channel and facilitate communication and healing. If you’d like to learn more about Plant Communication, sign up for the Green Girl email list to learn about upcoming classes and be sure to view the the Calendar on this website.

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PLANTAIN: A BACKGROUND TREASURE

plantain-kg-06_09_14-img_4490-edit1-814x1024If people knew that the cures for many of their ills were growing right in their own backyards, I’d like to think they would put down the glyphosate, the lawn mower, the “weed wacker”, and let it grow!

 

Plantain is one of those backyard jewels that everyone should befriend so vast are its healing medicines and uses as a food source. The Plantain I’m speaking of here is not the fruit that resembles a banana but rather the green plant found growing profusely in waste places, most suburban yards, and even in abandoned city lots.  Plantain, maligned as a “common weed”, is often the target of broad spectrum and selective herbicides designed to eradicate it from the “perfect lawn”. The non-native Plantain was originally brought to this continent by early colonists as it followed them wherever they went. So intertwined were their paths that a common name for Plantain was Englishman’s Foot.

 

Many varieties of Plantains exist throughout the world. In the Northeast alone we can easily find several varieties most of which are used interchangeably. The two most common Plantains in our area are Plantago major or Broad Leaf Plantain, and Plantago lanceolata or Narrow Leaf Plantain. Broad Leaf Plantain can reach heights of 6 to 18 inches while Narrow Leaf Plantain’s height can range between 10 and 23 inches. Both plants have low growing basal leaves with parallel veins that form grooves along the leaf surface. From the center stalk an inconspicuous flower is produced followed by edible seeds. All Plantains are edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The younger leaves and seeds are preferred for eating as the leaves can toughen with age. As with most wild plants, Plantain’s nutritional profile is impressive with notable amounts of Iron, Calcium, Vitamins A, C, and K making it a nice addition to summer salads.

 

Planplantain-salve-img_2180-edit3-website-1024x973tain shines as a highly valued medicinal. Historically it has been used as a folk cancer remedy and is still used today in Latin America for this purpose. Its demulcent properties are soothing to the entire intestinal tract and are used to heal ulcers, indigestion, and IBS. The common constipation remedy psyllium comes from another species of Plantain, Plantago psyllium. Plantain is soothing, in fact, to all mucous membranes including throats, and lungs making it effective during colds and sore throats.

 

Plantain is probably most well-known for its anodyne properties that will quickly take the pain completely out of any manner of bee or wasp sting, even the sharp discomfort from a Stinging Nettle encounter! Children especially delight at making a field or “spit poultice”, made from chewing up a leaf and then placing the gooey mass on an insect bite or burn. Plantain is excellent at drawing out poisons from bee stings and will even help to avoid a reaction. So effective at extracting substances that it can be employed to draw out splinters.  Its antimicrobial and skin rejuvenating properties make it an effective first aid salve for burns, bee stings, nettle stings, spider bites, and minor cuts and scrapes. I make sure I always have a Plantain Salve on hand for first aid situations. You can purchase Plantain Salve here and be sure to check out the Baked Plantain Recipe below. This is one of my favorite Plantain Recipes that I share in my wildfoods cooking class – enjoy!

Happy Herbing!
Karine aka “the Green Girl”

 

Baked Plantain
Fresh large plantain leaves (washed and dried)
1 cup whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1 1/2 cup water
1 egg
2 tbsp. wheat germ
2 tbsp. spiked salt (or a variety of spices of your choosing)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine the flour, water, egg, wheat germ and spices into a bowl and mix well.
  3. Dip leaves into the batter and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Be sure to not to overlap for best results.
  4. Bake 5 -10 minutes if the leaves used are very large. If the plantain leaves are smaller then start watching them at about the 3-4 minute mark to ensure they do not burn. Serve warm or once cooled!
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Wild About Wormwood

I’m a plant nerd for sure. I get wild about plants. Last week I was out plant shopping. For medicinal herbs, this is a rarity. Other than the occasional flirtation with a hybridized Chocolate or Pineapple Mint, all of my medicinal herb plants and seeds are purchased online. Sometimes I get lucky and find a rare gem in some forgotten corner of the Hudson valley and I get giddy. No, I mean I literally get giddy. So yeah, last week I was giddy. What was the object of my enchantment you ask? “None other than the winsome wormwood!” she says as Harry Potter fans everywhere perk up their ears. If Wormwood has not been mentioned in the popular tomes, she certainly should be. As full of magic, mystery, and medicine as any controversial herb and with a dazzling past to match! I have your attention now, yes?

 

Artemisia absinthium. Yes, that Artemisia. The “green fairy”, the once outlawed absinthe said to have driven scores of Parisians insane, rumored to cause tuberculosis, epilepsy, and even blamed for Van Gogh’s insanity. Not to ruin a good scandal but Wormwood’s bad boy reputation is completely overblown. The thujone in Wormwood that gives it its hallucinogenic properties, is also a neurotoxin in high doses, causing seizures and eventually death. The thujone is most high in the concentrated Wormwood oil. Thujone levels in Wormwood oil are around 40% and even small amounts of the oil can cause irreversible damage. Thujone levels in Absinthe were a mere .003% not likely to cause a problem. What is more than likely to blame for their debaucherously driven behavior would be Absinthe’s 70-80% alcohol content as Wormwood is only one of a number of herbs concocted in the famous potion. Although Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century, it grew in popularity initially with French soldiers in the 1840’s who had been given the drink to cure malaria for which Wormwood is a traditional remedy. Making its way to America, Absinthe found a permanent home in New Orleans where it is still a featured spirit today at such notable establishments as The Old Absinthe House. Prior to that time, Wormwood had been used medicinally as far back as Egyptian times and is named in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient medical text that is over 3,500 years old. At around the same time, China was also using Wormwood infused medicinal wines. Wormwood is said to have been a favored herb of Artemis who gifted it to Chiron, “Healer of the Gods”, whereby Wormwood became one of his most important healing herbs.

 

Back to my obsession. I fall in love with plants for a variety of reasons. Sometimes simply because they exist. I could  lose hours in Wormwood’s foliage so irresistible is her silver, feathery leaf. The form so similar to other Artemisia’s, certainly one of my favorite plant genus. For all her power as a medicinal, and an enchantment, Wormwood’s leaf formation divulges a certain softness. Perhaps this she bestows along with her protection on those who appreciate and love her. Her history as a protective herb is a long and varied one but her capacity as a healer is most impressive. One of the most bitter of plants, Wormwood has been utilized as a digestive bitter and a tonic for all ailments of the stomach and digestion. Her effect on the liver is notable as she is said to cure jaundice, hepatitis, and mythologically as an antidote for Hemlock poisoning. Like her sister, Mugwort, she is a diaphoretic and will help to bring down a nasty fever. As another of Artemis’s herbs, she has a history as a women’s herb and considered an emmenagogue. She is a competent pain reliever and will bring much needed rest. Most impressive are her abilities as an anti-parasitic. So much so that she is often found to be more effective than modern antimalarial drugs. Such as it is with plants. They can go where pharmaceuticals can’t. Such is their magic. I don’t find magic and medicine to be in opposition to one another. In fact, I don’t believe you can have true healing without magic and wonder and Wormwood brings that in abundance.

 

As with all powerful healers, caution must be taken. It is recommended to take Wormwood only under the care of a competent Herbalist. This herb should not be taken by pregnant women or in large doses but certainly invite her into your garden to bless you with her beautiful healing graces.

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