Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Demulcent Summer: Mallow

In the hazy, heavy heat of the summer, the Rose of Sharon bursts into ecstatic bloom. Her timing speaks of slippery pleasure and arrival ... the climax of summer's landscape. She retains nothing out of shame or modesty. She pushes into visibility the eye-opening beauty of the feminine divine. Her profuse and large flowers pour over the greenery in tidal waves of pink-cranberry-white-green-pink. Each petal boasts a crisp, cool, slippery texture, resembling the soft supple skin of sacred human kissing spots. Her fleshy presence a dichotomy of uncomfortable summer arousal and cooling satisfaction. The bees are quite literally dizzy with pollen and nectar; the entire tree humming with hundreds of honey bees. In order to reach the sweet nectar they must labor themselves deep into the flower by pushing their hind legs against the sides while burying their heads deep into the middle. Her flowers come in stages, each day opening a new cluster and each evening closing at dusk and dropping finished blooms with a soft thud on the rock path. Her littering of spent petals an offering to her own soil for next years cycle.
It's no mystery why Mother Nature blossoms this beauty right now. The Rose of Sharon is perhaps the largest of the Mallow (Malvaceae) family, providing ample mucilage to us hot humans. The cooling flowers are truly delicious, and a beautiful addition to a wild salad. Crushed, the flowers can quickly soothe an over heated face while gardening, or ease an itching rash or insect bite. A strong infusion (cool water, please!) will coat all of your insides with slippery healing, a perfect remedy for hot digestion, IBS, UTI, ulcers, and hot tempered summer folk. (think: Pitta)
Mallow in tandem with Red Clover would be a most wonderful fertility combination, fortifying the lining of the uterus in preparation for implantation of sperm. Mallow also gives sheen to our skin by increasing suppleness and hydration, and because of it's lovely mild flavor, an easy one to share with children. And exceptional sore throat remedy, combine with some prebrewed Echinacea root infusion and your sore throat will vanish in no time flat.

Rose of Sharon's flowers are the plant part I use, and of other Mallows I believe you can use the leaves as well and of course there is Marsh Mallow root - of which I have not grown or wildcrafted (yet!). I use them (the Rose of Sharon flowers) generously ... as a nutritive plant you really can't use too much unless your natural constitution is already too cold and wet. (think: Kapha) But even those types can stand some Mallow in the heat of the summer.

Hibiscus is a particularly delicious (a fruity-sour taste) and very cooling (some consider it a refrigerant, energetically) Mallow species. The flowers are used in the classic "Red Zinger" tea by Celestial Seasonings, and in many other citrus flavor teas on the market. If you grow your own, you have to bring it inside during the winter months, but she's a patio pleaser in the summer time - that is, if you don't eat all the flowers.

Rose of Sharon's equal directions of upwards and downwards growing patters remind me that her moving energy is mostly neutral, perhaps adaptive; not too stimulating or sedative, but rather "even keel". This is how I feel when I eat and drink of her medicine. And similar to the Rose genus, she feels like a heart soother; emotionally healing and uplifting but without illusion. A gift of Nature indeed.

Speaking of gifts, the Wineberries are ripe and very plump this year, keeping the kids happily picking bowl fulls each day.

And the Wormwood got so tall it began to fall over on itself .... so I harvested plenty and made a long smudge wand for my friend's Lodge.

mmmmm, the smell.
Some wild teas for my women's circle....

My hobby on the side, inspired by my daughter who crochets far better, but less often, than I. These special medicine pouches will probably go to the Red Tent Temple Artisan Fundraiser, coming soon.
Oh yes. And my beloved Catnip, the Don Juan of Cats. I go to him for vibrational healing .... he has the most incredible purr.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I Want One!

An herbal medicine cooker?! Does anyone have one of these?

Medicine Woman's Gathering Announcement

Blessings to you, my friend Kiva, and your beautiful family for offering these healing, transformational gatherings!

All nature, herbal and healing oriented women are invited to journey to the amazing Animá Learning Center and Botanical Sanctuary for the 1st Annual
Medicine Woman Gathering
Aug. 1st - 6th, 2008
A full week of reconnection, celebration and Medicine Woman Tradition lessons and practices – with Tradition cofounder and SageWoman columnist Kiva Rose. Explore the essence as well as practicalities of healing, learn how to use the Animá Medicine Wheel as an aid in diagnosis and treatment, identify and help gather Southwestern mountain and desert plants, join in the processes of medicine making, and feast on native foods lovingly prepared. This event and all Animá opportunities by sliding-scale donation.
For more information and to download the registration form, go here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Memory Keeper

I keep the memories in my blood.
I keep the scents of the plants in my skin, never to wash away.

I keep the records in my bones.
The Grandmothers beckon us to speak
The ancient language of Mother Earth
Who lives inside our bodies
And expresses
And change
The landscape teaches us if only we listen and receive
The gifts
The path
The medicine
The Grandmother is shaking her feathers wildly
To us, now, in command. To become and to step up

It is time
To kiss the tears of our men,
To worship the stretch marks of our bellies,
To sing like Frog Woman from the waters deep inside our needs unmet
To announce our right to remain whole
To scream like Hawk Woman in protection of our territory: Earth!
Our water, our air, our soil, our own Earthly bodies, searching
I heed the call of the woman lost
And found
I let in the medicine through my hands on her flora, her stone, her pitch
I let in the medicine through my cheeks on morning dew, my knees in the sentient river, my heart paying vibrant attention
I keep the memories in my blood,
I tell them
To the girls and to the women and to myself
I tell them to the paper and the garden and the unsuspecting neighbor
I ink them into others when I cast my gaze,
A spell of needed change
Bring it on I say. We are ready. We are strong. We are remembering.

Forest Gypsy

The Russian Sage oil came out beautiful. Lightly clouded with resin and deeply warm and fragrant. In she went to the warm pot with sweet beeswax and large semi soft clumps of Red Pine Pitch. It all softened and blended perfuming my kitchen with the smell of honey, sage and forest. When it was all melted, I strained it through cheesecloth to remove bark bits.
It was thick and syrupy. I stirred it every so often, keeping the pitch melted and suspended in the oil and wax. It cooled over a few hours and became opaque and creamy. I poured it into little pots to finish cooling.
The salve remains a softer consistency, more soft than my usual salves, I think I overestimated how much hardness the pitch would contribute, because I eased by about half an ounce on the beeswax. It's more of a firm ointment than a balm or salve. I like it though. I have a feeling this one will get a whole lot of loving use.
And a special thank you to Darcey who enlightened me on melting pitch into salve or oil.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unstudied Ally: Russian Sage

On the edge of my stone path there is this fragrant beauty. She doesn't grow as huge as the ones planted for borders at local office parks because I have weird soil. But she grows and I love her immensely. Her scent sends me into raptures of ancient memories of tribal spirit, interdependence, healing and medicine secrets. She is one of the few plants that I grow or work with that I realized yesterday I have never read about. I don't think she makes an appearance in any of my herbals and it never occurred to me to look her up on the internet. I never needed to.
Come to think of it, I don't even know her botanical name. "Russian Sage" say the nursery labels. Bah - no matter. She shines with green-silver glory as perfect as a summer full moon. When I pet her she coats my hands with her sticky sage resin, delighting my senses. Her feathered leaves remind me a little of Yarrow, and the ability to heal wounds. Her resin along with a woody lower stem is signature of the woody mints; Rosemary, Sage, Lavender. I am guessing she is a true Salvia; mint (those common names can be deceiving so I never make assumptions - but her traits claim that of the mints which are quite unmistakable). There is something, too, perhaps in the almost bitter nature, that reminds me of Wormwood even though that is an Artemisia. And I think of Juliette Levy's passion for Southernwood and feel akin. But similarities aside, her unique energy is that of a strong female, of long lineage, and of retaining tribal pride.....the blood of the Medicine Woman.
In a quest for some light on my rumored Russian lineage, I sent a quick email to my Dad, who promptly responded. Here is the account: (for your reading clarity I will tell you that "Jim" is my paternal Grandfather):

"Hi Dad, I know this is a strange question, but I am curious if you know any information about our lineage, specifically, that you once told me included a small amount of Russian blood?

"never really confirmed past rumours and I wish I HAD....but I heard that on Jim's (side), a couple or so generations back Jim's grandfather changed name from COHEN to CLARK and married a non-jewish girl. and I am fuzzy, but somebody was the chief gardener for the last Czar, a russian jew. that's all I know. -dad"

"Thanks - very interesting! Always wondered about that. I feel a strong connection to Russian Gypsies :). I'm feeling a need to uncover my lineage with more clarity, in hopes of gaining a stronger sense of self, roots, and belonging. I might go use the genealogy contraption at Borders. LoveA"

"your roots are in the Cosmic Mother and Divine Father"

(Aw! Love you Dad!)

And so it goes with my own self as an unidentified being......

The Russian Sage grows here (CT) better than the Rosemary, Sage, or Lavender; more hearty and larger, flowering more abundantly and both heat and drought tolerant, although she likes good rich soil even if it's rocky. I've taken my first small harvest, and in return will fortify her soil with good organic soil food. My instincts tell me to take care if using her internally, she is strong and somewhat bitter. But for external use she is a powerful effective healer, mending skin and healing rapidly. And so I decide to make a salve.

Into the little pot of warm olive oil she went, yesterday, and has been bathing in it all night. It's turning a gorgeous cloudy light green, just like my Salvia apiana does, indicating the good resins coming forth. The fragrance is sharp and full. Later, I will strain out the plant matter, and melt in some good wads of Pine pitch, making a dense and fragrant healing salve for all sorts of forest annoyances like mosquito bites, slivers, rashes, etc.

If she grows big enough next year, I will bind some stalks together with Lavender to make a special smudge wand. Or maybe I will buy a couple more plants. For now, I will just worship the ground she grows in.

Monday, July 7, 2008

My birthday hike

We hiked up the river to the beautiful Cedar Grove. Here we are at the entrance, exiting the forest. My two kids, the neighbor kids, and me :) behind the camera. I love this spot where the air shifts from a loamy cool to a sweet warm syrup.
We stopped to gaze at a spider.
We stopped at the wishing tree.
I stayed behind to watch a grasshopper sing with it's wings.

The Grandmother Cedars were stunning as always, whispering stories of the ancients.
The water was refreshing and clear, renewing my spirit.
Little spikes of blue flowers cooled the hot meadow. Lobelia of some kind?
The Blue Cohosh has set out berries.
I watched the butterflies dip deep into the Bee Balm.
I harvested some, as well as some Yarrow flowers.
I watched my girl lead the pack into the water. She's a river girl too.
I love the butterfly weed.

the turkey tails on this old log were florescent green!
I got my (blurry) photo taken on a rock.
I discovered a mini-monarda Mountain Mint I hadn't known before. Adorable!

And.... I took over 150 photos. :)

..... it's not over yet, I'm headed up feather path to horsetail mountain now ... where the black raspberries grow. yum! so far it's a good summer b-day.

It's my birthday

I'm turning 33 today. In about an hour. And just like (knock on wood) every year on my day the weather is incredible. The mist is cool and smoky from the river, and the crows are in full flocking force as they move from station to station with their frenzied chatter. The hawks are screaming incessantly on the hill, and the woodpeckers have already made their breakfast rounds to my trees.
The smell of the air is like no other time of year. It is thick with nectar, pollen, fresh water vaporised by sunshine, and deeply breathing plants. I woke up to greet the day and took in large gulps of this air, as it is my healing ambrosia. I must take in enough to strengthen my spirit.

I'm going to sit here this morning in the summer air, and write and read for a while. That's my favorite way of all to start the day.
Then I might take a plant walk or hike to the Cedar Grove. I can't go in the river today because there is e-coli .... upsetting news.... but indeed happens at some point each year.

On my birthday I like to think about where I've been and where I'm going. Who I am and who I am becoming.
I've accomplished another year in homeschooling my children (which often means self) and for that I pat myself on the back. I love having the freedom to allow them a self directed and self aware life. My son turned 9 yesterday (a little birthday gift for me :) and he still has the most magical, funny, and brilliant sense about him.

I've graduated from my Green Witch Correspondence Course with Susun Weed. It took me just over two years, although many of the lessons I had already been passionately pursuing already, so I had a good head start. I have learned a LOT through this course and it has effected who I am profoundly. It has also given me good solid footsteps toward my more authentic self, leading me in a truer outward expression of that. I realised when I sent in my completion letter ... that the whole point of completion really is when you realize that it's never done ... that really it's the beginning as well, another rung of the great spiral. I feel like my medicine bag is getting fuller and more potent. Some of my tools are getting sharp, and some of my visions clearer. Many of the lessons in the course are ones I will be using over and over for my whole life.

I've changed my entire career. Some of you know that before this last year, I was in the throws of a career as a professional dancer; performing throughout the state, teaching, choreographing, and in general staying very busy both creatively and physically. As of June 21 - it was a year behind me. This was a pivotal choice for me, with many deep layers as reasons and motivations for changing ... which I need not bore you with here. The undercurrent of this change is that it granted me the time to watch, listen, and act. The watching pertains mostly to my children and to nature. I've been able to really watch the plants this year, through many more slow changing moments, leading me to some exquisite plant love experiences and wisdom. I've started a weather journal, and so I watch the sky and smell the air and listen to the birds, and record each day my notes.

I listen more carefully, hopefully to other people as well as my deeper self.

I have taken action on some of my more important visions; raising a Red Tent Temple (finishing it's 5th month yesterday!) honoring the wheel of the year with simple or community ritual and ceremony, journaling more, and putting good strong focused energy into the classes I teach for the Wilderness School. One of my most important actions to take was to do less. And so the list stops there.

Where am I headed? I ask my self this question a lot. Sometimes I get a little answer, but more often I get silence. I'm not exactly sure. Sometimes I wonder what I am in such a hurry to get to. I worry that someone might beat me to my own goals, or to my own destiny if that's possible.

I'm not even sure what I'm doing all this for or what to do with what I learn or even how to begin to organize it into something cohesive if I wanted to teach it.

One of my biggest struggles that I would like to gain peace around this year is my sense of home. My sense of belonging and of place. There are glimpses of my world that bring me this feeling of depth and connection that I crave, often they show up here as I write about the land around me and the plants. But I think the blog cleverly trims out the parts that don't belong for me .... many neighbors close by, oppressive cost of living, the land that turns from ecstatic in summer to desolate and dead for many more months out of the year; land that puts my whole being into torpor during that time.

I've never lived in a climate that was without a sure winter. I grew up in Iowa. Yet I struggle to deal with it year after year, as I watch my allies hide away underground, the comfort of the sun leave, the green of the landscape fall away, and the brute of the grey sky and whipping cold set in like the slap of the Narnia Queen. The sting of half my life away is something I cannot come to terms with .... leaving me with an unending sense of UN belonging. Of un place and un home.

I would like to find peace and resolution around this.

Another thing that might change for me this year is work. I may have to return to work, as the financial climate for a family of four is, to say the very least, hostile where I live. It's corporate America, folks, and unless your hubby makes a fortune in Manhattan, you'd better find some tampons and get your ass to work. For us normal folk, good isn't good enough. It's barely enough. So, we shall see where this fact leads me. I can't work full time because we have chosen a life as homeschoolers - and I am committed to maintaining that for my children.

What new things for me would I like to see in this next year? I'd like something to help me bring my learnings full circle - whatever that means. I often think about doing another training, perhaps the Priestess path with ALisa Starkweather, or the Medicine Woman's Path with Kiva Rose, or another path that would be both deeply spiritual as it was wisdom filled. I think I will just have to wait for the right moment to inform me.

I am especially looking forward to my birthday gift. I have requested a day later this month. ... and during this day for some of my close women friends to arrive at my home and teach me something. This makes my heart flutter every time I think about it. A whole summer day to myself, where the women of my 'tribe' stop in at their own chosen moment, to share a wisdom of theirs with me as I grow. This feels like a memory that I have uncovered. I can't wait to discover what they will decide to share .... songs? gardening tips? meditations? a hunting story? It just makes my spirit feel alive. This will be a very special day indeed, and I feel relieved and joyous about celebrating my birthday the way I feel it is meant to be. Modern day birthday structures just make me cringe.

The birds are simply glorious this morning, so full of melody as I watch the sun come out from behind the Hemlock boughs. Still laced in fluffy clouds, the sky is hazy and mild. The vacationers at the riverbank are quiet on Monday mornings for all their weekend parties. The St. Johnswort in it's yellow mini-suns beckons a second round of harvest. The Queen Anne's lace opens right up as if to wish me a personal happy birthday. The black raspberries are heavy on the vines and the wine berries and blackberries are gaining a sweet momentum of their own, readying for their moment in the sun. My children tinker inside the house as they rise from slumber, with their messy cute hair and mismatched jammies. My older one rises late .... for staying up with dad watching sports... or because I think after lights go out, hers goes back on in silent, late night pursuit of a good book.

Happy new year, to me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oh my .... my first drum.

For my Birthday, (July 7) my Mother and Godfather/stepfather gifted me a gift far more than an object.

My first Drum.

I am just taken. I've never had a drum of my own, nor taken classes. In fact I never felt worthy of a drum because I fear the cultural appropriation it implies and I think there is an initiation process that earns one a drum; a sort of rite of passage.... or something I can't put my finger on.
But this drum sings right to my soul ..... the resonance of it's sound vibrates quite literally, right through my skin and blood, into the very marrow of my bones.

I never in a million years expected to be gifted with my own drum. What does this mean? Am I worthy? Can I use this to it's best power? How? What is the drums name? Her medicine? Her gift?

Is it a milestone that I don't see? I'm always changing .... everything either feels like a milestone or a great painful waiting. What shall I learn? What new song will she teach me?

I'm listening, for sure.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

new ID

I suppose I'm the queen of almost identifications lately .... the bird has been bugging me all day since only some of the pictures seemed accurate.

THIS: http://agri.state.nv.us/WestNile/maps/SwainsonHawkL.jpg

is precisely the bird I saw - so I guess it's this Swainson light morph hawk? - never heard of it.

Anyhow - my eyes know what I saw! Darn those incomplete birding books!

Back to plants soon - I promise!

Winged year

I've seen more varieties of birds this year than ever. It's amazing... I've seen everything from Kingfishers, to an Egret, Osprey, Hawks which are common, Northern Flickers and Baltimore Orioles, tons of woodpeckers of all kinds, Turkeys, and many more. But this Northern Harrier Hawk on my tree this morning just took the cake. It's invisible call and evasive flight has been the hot topic of our dinner table for a few days now, trying to identify it. When it showed up outside my window I nearly spazed out - but that would have scared it, so I grabbed the camera instead and snuck out. About 30 feet from my face in the blinking eastern sunrise was this magnificent hawk-owl almost osprey looking bird of prey. The binoculars (far better detail than my lame camera) revealed the distinctive feather patterns of the female, (brown head, owl turning neck, amber fluff collar, spotted chest, and brown wings with a "V" shaped spotted decoration on the back when the wings are closed) and in the distance we could hear her mate calling back, the one with a tricky more osprey looking feather fashion.

The picture above is after she flew across to another tree (below)- but she can still be seen with her lighter colored chest helping to illuminate her. Her cries are distinctive, from short succinct flute-like sounds, to percussive, amplified screams, as well as full on long classic hawk screams that trail off into the hills after sending chills up your spine.
The wings are only slightly bent shaped when seen from below while in flight - and OH so grand!! Can you follow the wings down to the tips? They are longer than it seems since the last few inches are dark brown.

What does this have to do with plant journeys?

These are the perks of plant watching :)

Anyone think there is an auspicious totem message here? I've let go of the red tail hawk thing .... they're everywhere here in abundance. But this one and the recent Egret ... now those are special!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Making do - making good

Plants don't wait for the herbalist to go to the store, or to have jars and cheesecloth and time. They bloom when they bloom and there isn't any negotiating. So when you're the herbalist, and it's the once-a-year moment when your 'first phone call' plants bloom, you'd better be ready to figure something out.

The St. Johnswort is beautiful this year, I haven't seen even one Japanese Beetle. The plants are lush and vibrant, very healthy with lots and lots of buds and blossoms. I've been collecting them a little each day, since they bloom in succession for a couple weeks, giving the herbalist about a month in all. I put the crock on for about 20 minutes, a few times a day, to keep the oil warm and infusing, and liquid. Since the part of this post that is "making do" is the part where you learn that instead of my regular olive oil infusion, I used Coconut oil. I have a lot of it because I bought it to make soap with. And why not? It's a great oil, super long shelf life and tolerant to temperature changes. I can have it liquidy in the summer and perhaps a little jar of it's semi solid red goodness in the cold months.

I add the new flowers and buds each day as I harvest them.

Some of my herbal oils infuse in cool places, some with wilted flowers, some from dry or dried flowers or leaves, and some from just picked flowers sit in the sun for only 10 days. I all depends on the plant, the oil, the season ...... and using your sense and sensibility to determine what will really work. It's not easy to give general directions on infused oils.
I know that my SJW likes it warm - from hot sand, the sun, a double boiler, or a crock pot. The oils I've made otherwise just do not render the same amount of deep red. I use just picked fresh buds and blossoms, and a few of the leaves that tag along.

I adore this oil. I use it for everything. Yet I hoard and protect it at the same time. It's soothing, anti-inflammatory action makes it wonderful for scathed skin, burns, sensitive facial skin, dry patches, and especially on sore muscles, often soothing me more than Arnica. It's also an excellent ant-viral, making a superb lip balm for those who get cold sores. My son swears by it, using it for truly any affliction he gets with good results every time. It doesn't sting, smell funky, or anything else that might turn off a skeptical, sensitive, child.

St Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) grows along dry, often disturbed areas like old building lots, rocky open fields, behind malls, along highways, etc. Sometimes it is really hard to find a good stand that is far enough away from pollution to safely harvest. Old farmland helps or land that's mowed only twice a year. My favorite spot, The Cedar Grove, is amazing this time of year, with many of my favorite plants all growing together in the meadow... the shocking white Yarrow, Lavender Monardas, St. Johnswort, butterfly weed, and all different kinds of clover and asters.
Even a small harvest of SJW blossoms is worth putting up. Now's the time! (at least here in New England) Find what you can in your cabinet .... be it whiskey, brandy. vinegar, oil, lard.... what have you, and fill 'er up. This plant is easy to extract, I've never had a batch go bad in any menstrum.