Sunday, June 29, 2008

ooh ooh ooooh! (Anagallis Arvensis)

I LOVE finding new plants, and this little beauty peeked out at me while harvesting St. Johnswort blossoms. I thought it was a chickweed, but upon further examination, I think it might actually be a more uncommon (at least here) species of St. Johnswort ............

*update* from Henriette in the comments ... A Scarlet Pimpernel! Wow! Thanks Henriette!

So pretty!
Lots of little black spots on the underside of the leaves...... has an interesting profile on this plant.

River Songs

The morning was hot and muggy, drawing me both to my garden for some messy work and towards a heat-induced crabby mood. Of course the kids had it right, donning their bathing suits before I could finish my inertia driven weeding. It was time to go to the cool water and take the afternoon in for ourselves. I pulled my swimsuit onto my sticky skin and grabbed my bag and towel. We walked by the Sumac and wood chipped hill to the path to the river. I hung my things on a little branch and headed in for healing relief. While I waded through the clear water, I saw reflections of various moments in time. The iron red rocks of my menarche, the fool's gold of broken promises, the polished quartz of river touched memories. I fingered the pebbles in secret hope of finding specimens of our indigenous gemstone Prehnite, an ancient, frosty ice blue-green stone formed inside the trap rock of this river. I have some pieces already.
The swallows dove through the air in acrobatic arcs, the mourning doves cooed from tree boughs. The half sun toasted my shoulders as the current turned me from human to translucent being. The Mother part of me watched my children in the swimming spot. The other girl in me surrendered every stress and logic to the river that held me in place as long as I leaned towards it. An old haunting melody began to swim through me, one I remember sucking thirstily from the cassette until it hardly worked. Her songstress spell began to come back, as if delivered through the alchemy of blood and river water merging. 'down river' she sings, into my legs and back, into my skin and muscles and heart. I feel my throat swell, threatening tears. This precious moment in time, bringing such bliss it nearly hurts.

I let it sing to me, every note as clear as the water, a nature hymn in perfect harmony with today, with where I am in my life. I press my feet gently into the sandy side, next to the great blue herons footprints, peering in to see if I can see what she does. The raccoon prints follow closely behind.

I live down river. Of course I never knew that I would, back 17 years ago when I wore that tape to shreds to render her songs. I live at the base of a 90 mile yet small river, formed by prehistoric volcanoes, and filled with water primarily from rainfall. The crevice of land left to run water for me today, was in fact created during the time when Connecticut was a tropical land in the middle of Pangaea. I feel that loss, the memory, in my bones. That separation of land and that ancient climate change that seems to be recreating itself in new ways today. the memories of water are immortal; as a finite element on this planet, water knows everything. Perhaps the water I soaked in today was Cleopatra's last drink, or the water from the bottom of the Red Sea. Perhaps the water is a direct informant. A hard swims distance down along the summer cottages and giant sycamores, my river spills into the big river, where the serene world of rocky pure water changes into suburban water sport.

Treat yourself to a taste of watery acoustic poetry by Erica Wheeler, download her or use one of your fancy gadgets, you won't regret it. Or you can see a little bit of her on youtube. It's as if you took Allison Krauss and Walt Whitman and squished them together. Or perhaps she's the female John Denver ... but either way, her ability to sing the reverence for nature feels long overdue and unsurpassed. Her first album, From that Far, is the one I speak of above.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blue Cohosh

Blue Cohosh ~ Caulophyllum thalictroids ~

In the woods by my River, the Blue Cohosh has found a private clearing to inhabit. It's somewhere between human and spirit world, I'm convinced, since I've hiked past this very spot countless times, without ever seeing it. And it's not just a few plants, it's a veritable sea of Blue Cohosh. How could I have never seen it? How could I have hiked twice as far just to watch the one Papoose plant I found a few years ago?

As I think back to the birth of my own two children, I remember distinctly the veil where the mother resides while laboring. I remember the lucid state between human and superhuman, between bawdy realism and sheer sorcery. The place where the curtain of life lifts to reveal the newest masterpiece, but not without agonizing suspense.
I remember the musky mix my mother smuggled towards me in a smallish cup, behind the knit blanket when the nurses left the room. I sucked it in during my few more conscious moments, savoring the sharp and earthy taste, feeling it travel instantly to my blood and stomach, right where it knew it needed to be. It wasted no time getting to work. This is the work of the Cohosh, the midwife, the one who knows labor. In the thick of it, when it all seems dense and crowded and unchanging, Blue Cohosh roots herself deeply in the cool fertile soil in the clearing of the forest. She finds space where there wasn't any, water where you never knew, and dappled shade from the blaring sun.
Blue Cohosh is among our grandmothers who know the secrets of natural childbirth, of shamanic childbirth, and of the true and deep labors of life. She is few on this planet now, struggling to teach her wisdom to the next tradition holders before it's too late. But it takes time. It takes patience, commitment, attention, and a lot of respect. That day I had set out on the trail to recover my daughters black poncho that I had lost the day before. I took the same path exactly. I scoured the trail, checking each spot where I may have bent down or twisted loose the poncho. It was the third day in a row I had taken the trail, and the same one I've taken from my house and back over the last four years since I moved here. I check on the one Blue Cohosh plant each time, watching it change colors, flowering and putting up little dark blue berries. Something about this morning was auspicious. Did the plant recognize me? Welcome me back? Know that I was watching? Perhaps she knew that I'd been watching all this time .... and that I never dared take even a leaf.
You don't pull on Grandmother's hair. You wait for her to offer you a lock.
I touched her soft, paw shaped leaf and thanked her for still growing, despite the vast over harvesting that has taken place. I told her I was listening.
I continued to scour the path and edges for my daughter's poncho. I began to find Blue Cohosh plants here and there, more and more, where I'd never seen them. It's as if they just grew right then and there.
I even found several more pink lady's slipper. But no poncho in sight. I finally just gave up on finding it, and started for home.
In the Northeast, Connecticut in particular, there are a great many rock walls in the forests. These come from the old farmlands, before it became reforested. They are charming to come by, giving a feel for history and for the cycles that both nature and economy undergo. And in this case, it offers a visual distraction from the secret sea of Blue Cohosh I was about to discover. I only saw one plant at first, and again it was if each one grew right before my eyes. Trickery!
I couldn't even believe there were so many. It was a moment to just sit in awe and listen to the stories from this Great Grandmother.
There isn't any wonder why any good novel involving plant lore or midwifery romantically inserts this plant somewhere. It's historically valid and also indicative of the magic it undoubtedly conjures. It's not a casual use herb, illustrated by a few clear factors; the fact that it grows far away from people is a clue that it needs to be handled with care, the fact that even though it's a perennial, it grows only one stem per year, indicating that we need only take a small amount or the plant will not thrive in the future, and the fact that it's not truly abundant - it's not prolific like food plants such as Burdock and Dandelion. It stays in the deeper moist and magical parts of the forest. (Remind you of a certain special body part .... demanding respect?) It's strong medicine.

The Native Americans weren't stranger to Blue Cohosh. They called it Papoose root and Squawroot, of course. They offered it, often in tandem with Black Cohosh and other forest birthing herbs, to the laboring mother who would either sip the root brew or chew on a fresh root. This latter way was my first instinct, as I wriggled free the one plant I felt permitted to take. I snapped off a tiny end of a rootlet and twirled it around in my mouth. It was rooty and bitter, both moist and dry. I read later that this was not a good idea, that it could cause dermatitis or nausea, or some such reaction, none of which occurred for me. The root, which is the part of the plant traditionally used, is said to be most effective when prepared in water (which would explain the chewing method) and is used to hasten uterine contractions by stimulating the muscles linked to the reproductive system. Perhaps its phytoestrogen content is a contributing factor, I'm not sure. I know that if I take a few drops of Blue Cohosh when my Moon is tense and waiting to flow, it creates instant response. The muscles in my lower back and pelvis relax, and my Moon comes on without a glitch. When I have "labored" too long and hard at something - work, a project, or an issue that won't seem to change - Blue Cohosh hastens the birth of new life that has been waiting to emerge, both literally and figuratively. Both my children were ushered into the world through a Cohosh laced veil. Grandmother Cohosh tells us not to rush precious things, to be consistent, to pay attention, to be committed to your purpose.
Here you can see clearly the 'caps'. These are characteristic of Blue Cohosh, as each year's stalk that grows, leaves its cap upon the rhizome when it dies back for the winter. This rhizome would be at least seven years old.As I hold this wise plant in my muddy fingers, I can feel its vibration, its even rhythm. It smells like autumn air wrapped in a stream washed afghan. It's the discerning glance of an elder, revealing to a youngster whether they are behaving or not. It makes me think of the Grandmother in her lodge, praying for the next seven generations. Being born, myself, on 7-7-75, I consider this my karmic number. I am linked somehow with the rule of the seven generations, or as this experience might suggest, perhaps I am the seventh - now responsible for the next. And so, reverently, I prepare my first ever Blue Cohosh root tincture - with lower alcohol content as to make an effective preparation. It's almost been six weeks .... she awaits her own transformation.
She displayed herself beautifully at my kitchen window for many days, before retiring to the compost. Stubborn old lady!!The gifts of this forest beauty are many. But she needs respect and protection the same as our elders and out dying traditions do. She has many stories to tell us if we listen.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

THEY'RE ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Up in the woods, where the Maidenhair grows, the loose branches creak, and the black cat weaves through my feet, I discover,

My Bees!

I'm convinced actually that they left and came back - because I took the hive apart in the early spring - finding no bees at all. Did I not take it apart enough to know there were still some survivors? Or did they find a warmer place to overwinter, knowing their hive would await them? I'll never know, those mysterious honey bees only reveal enough to make you think they run on pure logic, and then they baffle you with something miraculous.

Do you think it is a coincidence that after a gap of bee-reading time, this is the week I have been reading Letters From the Hive by Stephen Buchmann? A most delectable book I recently acquired from a friend. The introduction begins perfectly, with a quote from Edward O. Wilson's Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species:

"The more we know of other forms of life, the more we enjoy and respect ourselves. Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life."
And this little bit too, I found truly amusing:
"Regardless of dictionaries, we have in entomology a rule for insect common names that can be followed. It says: If the insect is what the name implies, write the two words separately; otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly, and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddicefly, and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an aphislion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and is preeminently a bee; 'honeybee' is equivalent to 'Johnsmith.'"

The author is also an entomologist, which makes for a very stimulating layer to the book.

Oh what is a bee Mother to do .... I feel totally taken by surprise. Unprepared!

I suppose all I can do now is wait, and see how they clean up the hive and proliferate. If the colony gets good and strong fast, there might be a honey flow. The super combs are already drawn out from last year so they shouldn't be too far behind, other than the massive drop in employees. But I have no extraction equipment! Help! Where's that 'friend' when you need them?

I suppose if the bees can trust enough to call this home, then I should trust enough to find what I need too. The river is sweet, the plants are pure and wild, and the air well filtered with deeply breathing trees. Perhaps blessings ~sweetness~ will come my way soon? One can hope.

Oh to hear that scented hum again ...... better than any Italian Aria.

Tonight, when I light my dried herbs so the smoke can curl around my prayer and carry it to Great Spirits hands, I will send out gratitude for the gift. For the second chance to be a bee Momma.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The beauty and humor of my roses

We know there is no shortage of Rose worship, be it herbalists, gardeners, romantics, or otherwise. Yet when the year has turned and they come back as if a dream returned, it brings such blissful newness that it's as though it were the first time they appeared. And since today was the day for me to worship the roses in my garden, I'll join the parade of Rose writers.

When the day is perfect and the blossoms are plenty, I remind myself of the preciousness of the moment. In the blink of an eye they will be withered and gone, making way for the winter's hips. Since I am not working right now, I have to be a resourceful herbalist. I have Rose tinctures from previous harvests, so I am not too bothered by not having alcohol.
I am leading our Monthly Maiden Circle tomorrow night, so I gathered some for a cool tea for the ladies. I also still had some apple cider vinegar left, so I made a Sunburn Vinegar with Roses, Peppermint, and Lemon Balm, reminded to me by Kiva's recent Rose post.
Not being able to resist the urge to eat the roses, I made a decadent snack. I happened to have bought whole milk vanilla yogurt, so it was new with all the thick cream on top. I spooned just that into my bowl, and adorned it with bananas, shaved dark chocolate, and rose petals. Talk about heart food.
I have to admit I've been smitten with Rose for some years. As a teen I didn't like it at all, probably because I had smelled too many bad rose perfumes. You really have to be around real roses to get the full effect. When we moved here, I was in love with the fact that several rosebushes were already established. I had become familiar with the sensual, heart healing, aphrodisiac and balancing properties through my studies in aromatherapy. In fact, if I think back further, I remember my Mom's Rosy Glow Face cream that she made when apprenticing with Rosemary Gladstar, back in '93 I think. To this day I adore her Rosy Glow cream. I followed in her footsteps, studying not just how to make a rose cream to die for (or live for!) but all about her incredible multi-talented healing properties. How she is revered in Ayurveda for deeply balancing the blood and uterus, how in Europe she is revered for her delicate tea, and in Mayan healing will stop a birthing mother from a dangerous hemorrhage. When sadness sets in, she pulls the hormones into a softer space. When anger strikes, she tames with clarity and a steady pulse. When heat fogs, she cools. When hurt scathes and cuts, she cures and settles. Any ailments of the eyes are soothed and relieved, and any baby would be amiss of daily ails with only rose remedies. My summers would now be incomplete without my annual jar of rose petal jam from my Mom, who gathers them from the scented beaches of Cape Cod. The Rose is truly an apothecary unto herself. I once started "A Rose Apothecary"and maybe someday I'll actually finish it. The small Rose Apothecary pictured here is one of my most favorite little old herbals.

The lessons from Rose are many. While moving in slow motion through the heavy, thorny boughs, I pondered what Rose wanted me to know. I had one of those unpoetical moments, where a commercial came to mind instead of a profound voice. Mind you, I watch next to no tv, so unfortunately the commercial is also outdated. Remember the saying "don't hate me because I'm beautiful"? Yeah, that one. Rose is trying to tell me something about beauty, I realize. See, I'm that girl. I'm the one who looks stunning on stage, and peculiar in person - kind of like the Seinfeld girlfriend who was hideous at one angle and stunning in the next. It's blessed and cursed me as you probably guessed. I get it from both angles, both men and women, and myself. I get the one's who leave me confused when they jokingly say "you're too pretty. bitch." or "I hate you". Then there are the ones who I'd like to be friends with, but flat out avoid me because they can't be with someone with the potential to steal their spotlight. From the guys, well you pretty much can guess all of that. So without getting dreary here, I'll just say I was very lonely for most of my childhood and adolescence.

Rose seems to understand perfectly. There is a time and a space for beauty, which is basically when it feels like showing up. When it does, it does it unabashedly and with sheer exuberance. It does so with uniqueness - not "perfection". It does so with prolific, unbounded love and generosity. It does so with clear boundaries. It stays as long as it plans, and then leaves.

Why then, should I shy away from my beauty? From feeling beautiful? From feeling beautiful, and generous, and clear, all at once? Rose teaches me to be self centered - not ego centered. Rose reminds me to exist as abundant, romantic, blessed, creative, and feminine. And, of course, not to take everything so seriously.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Day in the Life

This little vignette starts at about 4 am. it sequentially illustrates the morning, mid-day, end evening, from the same point of view.

I should

just plan to work during bad weather.

I'd get A LOT of work done.

The weather here is ridiculous. Not anything suitable for a nature girl. As I speak the rain pours down, just as it has done 80% of the last two months. In May, it rains anytime any day. In June, it rains during the afternoon and/or evening. Since the rise of global warming, the storms are more frighteningly strong and more often.
I know - it's not Alaska, and it's not Davenport Iowa dealing with a flood.

But it's a ball and chain nonetheless, to the herbalist trying to study plants and trying to merge with the Earth.

I wanted to sleep outside.

I wanted to grow some vegetables.

But between the rain and the short growing season, forget it.

WHY do people live here anyway? I have to ask. Unless they have a low mortgage and a very high income - oh, and love to work overtime - there just doesn't seem to be a life.

I ask my self daily: where do I belong? Where is home? Where will I be living my purpose most fully, blissfully?

As I stated in my last post, I get no clear answers. I LOVE the small but brilliant community I have found here - the people. But we live so far away, with no real closeness or co-existence. No Eco-village or "I can bike to your place" - everything requires a car, or a trucker, or a plane. There is NO getting around the rise of gas. It's not just cars - it's everything. The source of my computer to talk to you right now, the trucks for groceries, the heat and water and toilet and .......... you name it. And because we are so trapped in oil-ville, it has sufficiently - and ironically - rendered us immobile. We can't SAVE enough to change it. Sometimes I really hate this place. It makes me so angry.

What's a green girl to do? Move away? Ignore this land? Ignore her calling? It's not just me you know - I have a family.

And even with a wonderful, loving, close family - I am starving for intimacy and depth. For accountability and reflection, for direction and leadership, for a place who will welcome me into my power without jealousy, critique, or judgement. And without raping my wallet to say I have accomplished something wonderful.
I love this land - for three months of the year. Does that make any sense? To be able to be actively engaged with the land, for 1/4 of the year? The rest stuck inside?


Apothecary Sale

Dear Friends.....

In an effort to raise a little money for this year's Women's Herbal Conference, which my Mom and I go to every year, I am posting a few apothecary items for sale. This is an especially vital year, since it will be the first time my 11 year old daughter will be attending with us. Three generations of herbal wisdom!

You'll notice that I am putting up large sizes of extracts, and have paired the skin care. If I sold little $5 dollar things, it just wouldn't be worth my time, or worth your shipping fee. Pay pal will automatically add the shipping costs when you check out.

Also, please note there are only two of each item available. The pay pal buttons are located at the very end of the post, please pardon the annoying space between buttons, it's not a dramatic pause, just an html thing I can't fix :)

Green Blessings!

Gentle, all purpose herbal salves. Triple Goddess heals with White sage, Elder flowers, and Lavender leaf. Weed Witch heals with Comfrey Leaf, Lavender blossoms, and Mugwort. Set of two salves (one ounce of each come together), for $10 plus s&h

Omnipotent Herbal Extracts, 4oz size. Goldenrod Blossom, Yarrow Blossom and Leaf, Red Rose blossom, or Cleavers fresh flowering tops. Vodka or brandy depending. Each label is simple and handwritten, and each item sold with the understanding that you hold the responsibility for using it wisely and properly. Each: $30.00 plus s&h.

An exquisite herbal facial set, classic Amrita style. A pink and white clay mix for a perfect mask - self mix with avocado, honey, yogurt, or your favorite hydrosol. A rich facial cream whipped with fragrant Goldenrod blossom infused oil, unrefined beeswax, jasmine flower wax, aloe, and hydrosol. Delicious. Duet: $30.00 plus s&h


Herbal Extracts:

Which Plant?

Facial Care: