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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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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An Herb to Know: Meadowsweet

I love to introduce people to plants they may have never seen before and to share some things about the “common” plants they may not know.  To do that opens up an entirely new world and way of seeing the Green Nations. Opening our eyes, expanding our perspective is invigorating to the Spirit.  Our world is one of such beauty but we can be so caught up in our daily grooves that we miss so much.

With that in mind allow me to introduce you to Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) some of you may have Filipendula_ulmaria_-_angervaksalready made her acquaintance but for those of you who haven’t this is one of the many plants we learn about in the Sacred Heart of Herbalism 8 month herbal intensive and one of my favorites.  There are two species of Filipendula that we find in our area Filipendula ulmaria and Filipendula rubra also known as “Queen of the Prairie” such a lovely name! The F.rubra is a native species that today is used primarily as a garden ornamental but was used extensively by Native tribes for all issues of the heart and as a “love medicine”.  Native Americans also worked with this plant to utilize its astringent properties, quelling generalized diarrhea as a well as dysentery and as a vulnerary.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) has been naturalized in the East and is known to herbalists for its salicin constituent although its levels are much lower (.5%) than the willow species (11%).  Meadowsweet is used as a pain reliever just as you would aspirin for headaches for example but with few side effects than the synthesized compound.  It’s also useful for colds and flus.  Meadowsweet’s anti-inflammatory properties are excellent and a salve, this delightfully fragrant plant can help with achy and arthritic joints….what a wonderful plant to know!  These are just a few of the wonders that are Meadowsweet…

Caution should still be taken not to overuse just as you would with aspirin. Those individuals that should not take aspirin should not take Meadowsweet.

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Yarrow: A Warrior’s Herb

WheYarrow 08_15_15 kg IMG_8170 edit3never I teach about the healing power of medicinal plants I like to share a bit of their history. Learning about the history of an herb, how it traveled to different parts  of the world, how it was used by different groups of people, and the various ways its usage may have changed over the centuries can teach us a lot about a particular plant. When herbalism fell out of common use in this country in favor of the “better living through chemistry” philosophy, much valuable information was lost. As we learn the old ways of herbalism once again, we regain tremendous insight into the herb’s character and important uses.

 

 One such herb is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) which I refer to as the “warrior’s herb”. The genus name gives us a little insight into this characteristic, as is often the case with many plants. “Achillea” refers to the Greek Warrior Achilles, the greatest warrior and central character in Homer’s Illiad. Yarrow has a long history of use on the battlefield and Achilles is said to have taken this potent herb into battle with him where it was used to pack wounds and staunch bleeding, both internally and externally. Today Yarrow’s reputation continues as an “herbal bandaid” and his styptic properties are well founded. Although we no longer take the plant into combat, Yarrow excels in the modern “battlefield” of our workplaces. Energetically Yarrow can help to provide energetic protection in contentious situations and working with the flower essence can assist in helping us or other parties move into a better place , either physically or emotionally.

 

Yarrow-kg-06_13_14-IMG_4531-edit11

 Yarrow, however, is full of mystery and seeming contradictions as he is not merely an herb of battlefields. Ruled by the planet Venus, Yarrow is strengthening to the organs of Venus, the venous system for one, and can be used to treat varicose veins and enlarged veins such as hemorrhoids. By helping to return venous blood to the heart, he takes the strain off the heart and circulatory system. Those herbs ruled by Venus are often used for women’s ailments and Yarrow shines in this application as well, healing menstrual cramps and balancing both scant and excessive menses. Compresses of Yarrow flowers and leaves can be applied to the abdomen of menopausal women to reduce the discomfort and cramping often associated with this crone time. Such is the power that is Yarrow that he is often employed during cold and flu season. His diaphoretic and astringent properties are helpful with sore throats and fevers.

 

 Yarrow is a hardy perennial that is easy to grow and overwinters successfully even in the coldest of winters. A wonderful and crucial addition to any medicinal herb garden.

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The Healing Virtues of Rose

Ruled by the planet Venus, it’s no surprise that Roses have been connected with love, both romantic and spiritual. The energetic quality of Rose is one of love and self acceptance, passion for life and finding one’s passion. Simply meditating on Rose can bring about a dramatic shift in your spiritual and physical vibration. In my work as a Plant Spirit Healer, I work with the Spirit of Rose on a regular basis as most of us can use a little more self love and acceptance.

 

Connecting with Rose daily can help us to be more patient, accepting and loving with ourselves and those around us. Simply spending time in her energy field in the garden brings about a calmer and more centered demeanor. I add Rose Water or Rose Flower Essence to an atomizer to infuse any room with her pure and loving vibration. Doing this especially at night along with Lavender essential oil, brings about a truly peaceful night’s sleep.

 

There is no doubt that all Roses are incredibly beautiful but their beauty is so much more than skin deep. The non-hybridized varieties, such as Rosa rugosa, Rosa gallica and Rosa centifolia to name a few, are loaded with healing virtues that have a long and rich history of medicinal use. It is estimated that Roses most likely originated in Northern Persia then spread across Mesopotamia to Palestine and onto Greece. The genus name, Rosa, comes from the Greek word “rodon” meaning “red” and many old time herbalists like Nicholas Culpepper believe the red variety of roses are more astringent in nature.

 

Roses are known to be cooling in their energy and are used for a variety of conditions and ailments. They are strengthening to the heart and considered a heart tonic. They have been used to strengthen the stomach both internally and topically as a poultice. Their antiseptic quality is healing to the urinary system and can be a helpful part of healing urinary tract infections and scalding urination. Rose infusion has been used to clear heat from the liver and heal conditions such as jaundice.

 

Rose can be taken as a tea for sore throats and an 8 ounce cup of Rosehip tea contains a generous 541 mg of Vitamin C. Paired together, the petals and hips make a tasty way to stop a cold in its tracks. Rose’s astringent nature gives needed relief to inflamed and bleeding gums and mouth sores. Roses can be used as a wash for tired and sore eyes.

 

rose

 Roses are considered beautifying and astringent to the skin. To tighten the skin, spray Rose Water on the face after washing or on a hot summer day for cooling relief of overheated and sunburned skin.Topically Rose petals are poulticed on any type of “hot” skin conditions. Roses are also edible and can be used as a lovely decoration on baked goods, created into a gorgeous syrup, included in salads or infused in vinegar to make an elegant base for a salad dressing.

 

When using Roses medicinally or as a culinary addition, be sure to use only the natural varieties grown organically or without pesticides and commercial fertilizers.

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Chickweed; A Little Star

The botanical name for Chickweed is the Latin binomial Stellaria media. Literally, “little star in the midst of….”.  As we examine her tiny white flowers they certainly look like tiny little stars in the midst of our spring lawns. Often reaching a height of no more than 8-10″ we might miss her entirely if we’re not paying attention and she certainly deserves our attention! 

 

Chickweed favors the cool early spring temperatures and “cooling” is her nature. She loves the cold so much she can sometimes be found even in the middle of winter.

 

Chickweed is edible and highly nutritive making her an excellent addition for those weakened individuals to regain their strength and health. She contains generous amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, chlorophyll and even protein! She also contains a moderate amount of vitamin C. 

 

Her healing properties are most available when eaten fresh or made into a healing tea, tincture, salve or poultice. Her demulcent properties make her lovely to sooth a sore or hoarse throat or even as a mild laxative. Her soothing and nourishing ways bring relief to lung infections, bronchitis, smoker’s cough, allergies and other lung irritations.

 

Here healing power can be felt throughout the urinary system as she share her cooling touch with inflamed urinary tissues, healing scalding urination, bladder infection and cystitis. Chickweed has an impressive history as an aid to weight loss and an anticancer when eaten regularly. Topically, our “little star” eases the skin issues such as boils, burns, wounds and can draw out infection when used as healing poultice.

 

So much healing is available right in our own backyards and yet often ignored in our insatiable search for the next miracle “cure”.  True healing doesn’t come in a pill or a package or in the next fad diet, but it does come with common sense; good food, clean water, fresh air, exercise and a little help from our lovely plant allies.

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This is No “Shrinking” Violet!

Did you know there is an abundance of medicinal plants growing right in your own backyard? A multitude of these plants have been used for centuries as powerful plant medicines many of which are still in use today. One such plant is the oftentimes overlooked but lovely Violet (Viola spp.). Violet comes to us very early in the spring bearing gifts of heart-shaped leaves surely the evidence of her connection to Venus, followed shortly by dainty purple, white or yellow flowers. The leaves and flowers of the Violet plant are edible, quite tasty, and a pretty edition to early spring salads. The tiny flowers hold a delightful sweetness that sneaks up on you and says “Hello, it’s nice to meet you!”.

 

I love to make a tea out of both the fresh leaves and flowers. Violets are mild enough to have a history of use as a medicine for children and are often made into a syrup for that purpose. The leaves are considered demulcent and are soothing to sore throats, dry throats and can help the lungs to release phlegm and congestion. Herbalists of the last few hundred years, often employed Violet leaves as a cure for consumption. Violets have been used for all cancers of the throat and mouth and at least one case of colon cancer is said to have been cured over many months of Violet leaf infusions.

 

Topically, the leaves have been used on skin cancer and are often poulticed for a variety of skin issues. Both the flowers and leaves are employed as a cancer preventative. Violet is a mild and gentle laxative, safe enough for children. The roots are considered emetic and purgative and have been used to replace Ipecac.

 

The spiritual energy of this plant is quite healing as well. Violet is a Keeper of the Violet Ray and as such can bring about profound transformation in our spiritual lives.  Violet encourages us to let go of old, outdated energies and thought forms aiding us to replace negative affirmations with spiritually uplifting and profound ways of thinking and being. Working with the enlightening energy of Violet, I often tune in to new and exciting ideas and methods of healing. This is just some of the magic that is Violet!

 

If you would like to learn more about the sacred medicine plants, be sure to check this page often and sign up for the Green Girl email list to be alerted of future class offerings.

 

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Burdock “the Great”

The Great Burdock (Arctium lappa), or as I like to call her “Burdock the Great” is a transplant originating from Eurasia no doubt secretly hitching a ride from some explorer to the “New World” or perhaps her introduction was more intentional. Were I traveling to distant unknown lands, I know I would want to have this incredible plant by my side.  A biennial, whose large palm-like leaves grow close to the ground and spread in the first year. The delicious taproot reaching down, down into the Earth only to be harvested by painstaking digging preferably with a long, narrow trowel. The most medicinal of these roots can be harvested in the fall of the first year. By the second year, a tall 6 to 7 foot stem emerges as if to reach out and touch the very sky. Pinkish purple thistle-like flowers in summer will give way to the burrs whose ability to latch onto animal fur, hair, clothing, (pretty much any place you don’t want them) have been noted as the inspiration for Velcro. I believe it.

 

Often deemed an “invader” as if it had been dropped from the silver streak of  passing UFO, Burdock is often terribly maligned, her incredible life-giving health benefits ignored or forgotten altogether. Fortunately, some of us know her secrets and make use of her healing ways as often as possible. Burdock has a powerful effect on the liver acting as what would be considered a “blood purifier” working deep into the body to clear away toxins and waste products and skin eruptions like acne and eczema in the process. Burdock is an herb that works deeply, persistently, and often behind the scenes bringing healing to the digestive system and acting as a mild and most tolerable laxative. She is also a lymphatic and is often included in detoxification blends.  Referred to as “Gobo” in Asian cooking which is the root of this plant. The root is considered a blood purifier, liver cleanser, lymph cleanser, blood sugar balancer and helpful for kidney ailments. The massive leaves can be poulticed on bruises or made into a salve for skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema.

 

In the late fall, the seeds can be harvested although care needs to be taken as the tiny hairs contained within the seedy burrs can be quite irritating to the skin. This I also know from first hand experience. The seeds of the second year plant are diaphoretic when made into a tea and are excellent as a steam for the complexion. Quite a few insects and birds also rely on the seeds so be sure to leave some behind.

 

 

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