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Archive for the ‘Blog Parties’ Category

So it’s been gloom, gloom, gloom here in Sussex, as in so much of the UK, for most of the summer so far. Whilst I appreciate that Mother Nature’s patterns are greater than I can understand, the continual rain, mist and grey skies have started to feel a bit depressing over the last week or so. Summer is due to arrive in the next couple of days however and I know many of us are looking forward to enjoying a bit of sunshine. In the meantime I’m joining in with Debs and other bloggers over at Herbaholic’s Herbarium for a July Blog Party, the topic of which is ‘herbal sunshine’.

Lavender

Lots of herbs are at their peak during the summer and even though the weather has been poor, plenty of flowers and aerial parts are ready to harvest in the gaps between showers. Some of the herbs that I associate most strongly with summer are the herbal aromatics, many of which are native to the Mediterranean and somehow seem to carry the very essence of the sun with them, even here in this damp UK summer.

Aromatics are herbs with a strong taste and aroma. The aroma is created by volatile oils within the plant and can serve in numerous ways; to attract pollinators, as part of the plant’s immune system or to taste unpleasant to grazing animals. Many plants contain these volatile oils but only those with strong aromas contain sufficient quantities to really be considered true aromatics.

Thyme

What all the aromatics have in common is an ability to open up and move the body’s energy. They help to avoid stagnation and disperse anything that is stuck. They are great at drying dampness and moving the congestion that it often causes and they help us to feel brighter, more energised and uplifted as a result. Many people have commented to me that the weather has left them feeling sluggish and tired over the last couple of months and aromatics are just the thing to get everything moving again.

Therefore some could be used to move stuck catarrh in the sinuses, some to dispel gas in the gut and others to promote sweat and let go of trapped heat in the body. Think of how thyme or eucalyptus feel in the lungs, how peppermint feels in the gut or how ginger feels in the circulation; they all have a quality of movement and dispersing energy. The volatile oils in aromatic plants escape easily into the atmosphere when in the presence of warmth or light, that is why we can smell them in the air on a summer’s breeze. This ability of the volatile oils to move upward and outward reflects what we feel in the body when we take them, they move through us and clear the clogged up pathways as they go!

Mint infused honey.

They have a similar effect on a mental/ emotional level, opening and uplifting us when we feel glum and heavy. There is no doubt that a moderate amount of sunshine encourages feelings of joy, openness and relaxation and the aromatics can help fill that gap when the sun is nowhere to be seen. In fact, many of them are effective nervines such as lemon balm, lime blossom, chamomile, lavender or rosemary.

Many aromatics are warming and therefore useful for people who tend to feel the cold. Some however such as peppermint, rose and lemon balm are more cooling and therefore suitable for calming people who are hot.

Aromatics tend to have a positive effect on the digestion and the warming ones will stoke the digestive fires and improve metabolism. The more cooling ones often help to dispel gas and calm spasms and digestive cramps. One thing that is fantastic about these herbs is that they give their aromatic constituents up easily to a variety of different mediums and therefore make excellent infused oils, honeys, vinegars, teas and tinctures.

Lemon balm

Many of our favourite and best known herbal teas are made with aromatic herbs. Think mint, chamomile, fennel, lemon balm, cinnamon and ginger as examples. Most aromatics have quite a bit of cross over in their actions but some will have a certain resonance with a particular effect or area of the body such as thyme with the lungs, fennel with the digestion and rosemary with the circulation.

Teas that are particularly uplifting when the weather is poor include lemon verbena, lemon balm, rosemary, rose and cardamom as all these have a gently uplifting and cheering quality.

Adding generous amounts of  fresh oregano, sage, thyme, marjoram, basil or rosemary to our food also gives us this wonderful aromatic effect.

Infusing honey or vinegar with aromatic herbs and adding to foods is another lovely way to integrate them into our daily lives. Also, infusing them in oil and massaging them over the body can be delightfully restorative, or use a few drops of an appropriate essential oil mixed with a base oil to enjoy the beautiful aromas another way.

In this way we can go to the sun… even if the sun won’t come to us!

 

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This month’s blog party is hosted by Ali over at Eldrum Musings and is all about sharing aspects of working with herbs that are personal to us. She writes ,”What do you do that makes your herbalism uniquely yours?  This can be an experience, a subject close to your heart, even a herbal ally that you work with more closely than any others – whatever resonates most with you!”

There are so many different facets of working with plants that I enjoy it was something of a challenge to decide what to write about. After some pondering however, I realised that it is this very multi-faceted quality that makes herbalism so completely fulfilling to me.

Perhaps the thing I love most about herbs and plant medicine is that is feels both deeply personal and completely universal all at the same time. What I mean by this is that my relationship to the plants feels at once both fresh and unique as well as profoundly ancient; something entirely individual yet something shared by generations of people since our very beginning. I have encountered so many talented herbalists, wild foodies, gardeners and other plant folk- in person, through books or online through blogs and websites. Each one has so much in common and yet also an entirely unique way of expressing our love for nature and the plants.

For me herbalism is the twine that bound together all the things I had been interested in from childhood to the present day. During this time I considered and experimented with many ways of expressing the desire I felt to be of service in the world and work with people, animals and plants in one capacity or another. From volunteer work with NGO’s to courses in environmental and citizenship education, to care work, gardening, volunteering with animals, painting and drawing, writing, studying health and spiritual explorations – it was herbalism that wove together all my seemingly disparate interests into one whole. Nowadays, whether I am drawing a dandelion, writing an article, seeing a patient, teaching a class or meditating with a plant I get to incorporate all the many facets of life I most enjoy under the heading of ‘herbalist’. Whether I am in the garden, in the kitchen or in the clinic there is a feeling of connection to the plants that infuses each aspect of my life.

There are so many things to love about this plant-entwined journey, whatever direction it may take us in, but at the centre of it is always the simple truth that being connected to nature is part of who we are. Flowing with the seasons, the comings and goings of life, knowing and using the plants in any number of ways, these are things our ancestors have done for millennia and our part in it is just another thread of the whole.

I often hear or read people asserting the need to reconnect to nature and, whilst of course I see the immense value in what they are saying, for me it misses a vital point- that we are not and never have been disconnected. We are nature and the effort is not in the coming back to her but in the dream of staying away. Somewhere along the road to our modern way of life we celebrated the idea of humans as separate and superior to nature and this has become so ingrained in the collective unconscious that we feel it is the normal way of being.

The flow of our own lives is no more and no less than nature and we are one with that flow, whether we embrace it or not. From personal journey to universal connection, the herbal path is the thread that this life and its expression is woven from and one I am ever grateful for.

 

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There have been some beautiful posts written in celebration of Earth Day this year and each one has a slightly different flavour. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have, it is very special indeed to be reminded of how many people feel a deep and sacred connection to Mother Earth and wish to acknowledge her as part of their own being.

Leslie at Comfrey Cottages has given us a lovely lesson in the inspirations behind Earth Day, how it began and how it has grown to be a world wide event. You can read her post here.

Michael over at the always entertaining Mad Crow Herbalism has reminded us of the many ways we can strengthen our connections to the earth, even if we live in the middle of the city. Read his ideas and reflections here.

Sarah has encouraged us to plant some wildlife friendly cowslips in our gardens with this delightful post here. I do love cowslips, don’t you?

Susan at Stardragonfly Herbals gives us a virtual tour of her herb garden and reminds us why everyday should be Earth Day here.

Maggie has shared some thoughts and a lovely piece of poetry with us for her Earth Day contribution here.

Bridget at Arigna Gardener has reminded us of the wise and beautiful Earth Commandments. How wonderful if we were to hold these in mind just for a moment each day. Read her post here.

Over at The Sage Butterfly there is an Earth Day Reading Project and giveaway running throughout the month of April all about books that have inspired us to live more sustainably or feel more connected to nature. You can find out more about it here. 

Danielle has written a delightful post in praise of spring wild foods gathered from the woods behind her house that will be sure to have you drooling. Read her beautiful post here.

Finally my own post, an ode to the South Downs, can be read below or here.

I also came upon this post today by one of my favourite artists, Jackie Morris. Sit down for a few moments and listen to her magical story of the Snow Leopard, a perfect way to pass a few special moments on Earth Day.

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I have lived the majority of my adult life in East Sussex and over the years have come to love the South Downs with their soft rolling beauty, their expansive views over fields and sea and their wide variety of wild flowers and grasses. As today is Earth Day I thought it would be a fitting time to pay tribute to a part of the Earth that I feel so connected to.

Our house nestles beneath the chalk hills of the South Downs on the clay of the Low Weald, with views stretching out to the sandy soils and remaining pockets of ancient woodland of the High Weald to the north. The variety of different soils and environmental conditions in this part of the world make for a fascinating array of plant and wildlife, all within a relatively small area, including heath, woodland, wetland, farmland, the coastal regions as well as the chalk downland itself.

The North and South Downs, with the Weald between them, lie across a good part of southern England, running east to west, forming a series of hills, ridges and valleys. Interestingly they were formed from one large upfold of the Earth’s surface which has eroded away at different rates due to the different rocks contained within it. This diagram (borrowed from the ever helpful Wikipedia) shows how the Downs have eroded away to form the furrowed landscape we know and love today. 

The dense clay soil of our garden changes to thin chalky grassland only a short walk up towards the Downs. As the soft clay was most easily eroded, these areas form the lowest points in the area and support different types of plants due to holding more water and nutrients. The old saying ‘as different as chalk and cheese’ comes from the distinction in areas like this between the thin, chalky soil of the Downs themselves, only suitable for rough grazing by sheep, and the dense clay which would support the lush pastureland suitable for cattle farming and therefore, cheese making.

As different as chalk and clay, or cheese.

The chalk of the Downs, laid down over some 20 million years, is made of a soft white limestone that is formed from the skeletons of long passed marine creatures, interspersed with bands of hard flint. It never ceases to amaze me how these hills that seem so solid and unchanging are made from the bodies of creatures that lived nearly a hundred million years ago. It is a daily reminder of inter-being and connectedness, how everything we see only is because something else was, how nothing and no one is alone or apart, how everything flows into one and we are all a part of each other. Above all it is a reminder that, in the scope of history, my own concerns are but small ones.

The escarpment that shelters our house is one of our favourite places to walk and we spend many hours gazing at its beauty, picking herbs and dreaming.

Walking up it you are rewarded for the steep climb with wonderful views of the surrounding area, mostly fields and small patches of woodland with reservoirs and waterways glinting in the distance.

You are sure to meet a curious sheep or some of the friendly resident wild ponies on route…

and at the top you are greeted by the sea, stretching away before you to the South.

Even though the soil on chalk downland is thin and dry, it is still one of the richest habitats in Western Europe. It is characterised by its springy grass, kept short by grazing animals, with patches of scrub mostly made up of hawthorn, blackthorn and gorse. Many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that do not do well in other conditions, thrive here on the lime rich soils. Poppies, cowslips, yarrow, scabious, round headed rampion, self heal, clover and bedstraw carpet the slopes at different times of year as well as a wonderful collection of native grasses. Many of these species are threatened which is why it is so important to conserve chalk grassland habitats. Much of the South Downs is now a national park and there are many conservation efforts underway which is heartening. My husband and I are both members of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, one of the 47 local Wildlife Trusts that cover much of the country. You can find out your local branch here.

These flowers attract a number of rare butterflies and insects too like the beautiful chalkhill blues.

The history of the Downs is rich and fascinating and archeological evidence shows they have been inhabited for thousands of years. Once upon a time they were covered in forest but it is thought the majority of trees were cleared as much as 3,000 years ago. Flint mines, hill forts like the one pictured below and numerous burial mounds have utilised and altered the landscape long before the Romans came.

Iron age hill fort

Though I have always found the Downs to be breathtakingly beautiful and a wonderful place to wander, it took time to feel really connected to them. Being first and foremost a lover of woods and glades, the high chalk hills with their incessant, pummelling winds felt somehow too intense and I would always seek out the most wooded areas to walk in.

Since moving to our current home however, I have come to see the very essence of Mother Earth in the sweeping lines and curves of the escarpment we view from our windows each day. Just like people, the land wears the forms of its history and narrative. It has been shaped by life and death, by rock and by salt sea winds, by wildlife and farmed animals and by the hands of many humans.

And it in turn has shaped our lives and our hearts in numerous ways, some of them too subtle to name.

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I had forgotten entirely that it was my turn to host a blog party this month until I received a gentle reminder from Leslie over at Comfrey Cottages (thanks Leslie!) so please accept my apologies for the slightly short notice.

As April 22nd is Earth Day, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to host a blog party with that theme. It is open to everyone who would like to join in and the topic can be anything that reflects some aspect of our relationship to our beautiful Mother Earth. You might like to share sustainable or wildlife friendly gardening tips, ways to save water in these dry days, a recipe that honours the bounty of the Earth at this time of year, a picture or poem that speaks of your relationship to the Earth, photos, natural healing advice, inspiring books… anything that you feel moved to write about will be just perfect.

To join in simply write a blog post on your chosen Earth Day related topic and email me the link by April the 22nd at whisperingearth@gmail.com. I will share all the posts on the evening of the 22nd (UK time).

Even if you don’t fancy writing a post, you can make a pledge for Earth day here.  The aim is to get 1 billion pledges of small acts that help to change the world. A wonderful way to focus our intentions and ensure that every day is Earth Day.

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This post is part of the July Blog Party hosted by Danielle over at The Teacup Chronicles. Check her blog tomorrow for links to the other entries.

The idea for this blog party was ‘cooling drinks for the dog days of summer’ so it may come as a surprise to some that I have chosen to write about herbal teas (well, I am English after all). I drink teas come rain or shine and there are many lovely cooling herbs that make fine summer teas. Now I know the UK isn’t famous for its scorching weather but folk from hotter climates also enjoy teas on even the warmest days of summer. In India I drank chai, in Morocco it was fresh mint tea and in Mexico we used to have a lovely cinnamon infusion. Some of these drinks, as well as being taken hot, also contain warming spices which we associate more with winter drinks but these can actually open up the pores enabling you to cool down more effectively. Such is the magic of herbs.

To make the perfect cup of tea it’s ideal to use filtered water as the taste will be purer. Warm the pot with a little hot water first, discard then add about a tablespoon per pint of your chosen herbal mix. Pour over hot water that has just boiled but ceased to bubble and leave to infuse for 10/15 mins to extract as much benefit from the herbs as possible. If you need a sweetener then add a little honey after pouring when the tea will have cooled enough to avoid destroying its beneficial qualities. Ayurvedic medicine warns strongly against heating honey. Sip slowly and with gratitude for the multitude of wonderful herbs available to us.

Some of my favourite summer herbs include:

Chamomile - Soothing to the digestion and the nerves, chamomile is a lovely after dinner summer tea and helps calm overheated, irritable children (and adults).

Rose - Cooling, toning, calming and full of love, rose is lovely mixed with gently moistening herbs like Lime blossom and mallow or cooling diaphorectics like elderflower for a harmonising summer treat.

Sweet Woodruff – Cooling, mildly cleansing, good for the digestion and relaxing, this herb is a lovely addition to many summer tea blends with its mild and pleasant taste.

Sweet Woodruff

Elderflower - Cooling, diaphoretic and soothing to the upper respiratory tract, elderflower also has a light and pleasant flavour which is ideal for summer teas.

Hawthorn Blossom - Calms the nerves and opens the heart, if you like the taste, which I do, then this one is a winner.

Lemon Verbena - One of my favourite herbal teas, alone or in combination, not only for the delightful, refreshing taste but for its ability to calm digestion, fevers and nervous tension or anxiety.

Lemon Verbena

Borage - Demulcent, cooling and anti-inflammatory as well as strengthening to the adrenal glands, borage makes a nice addition to blends of summer teas as it doesn’t have much of a flavour by itself.

Lemon Balm - The perfect summer cup of tea! Delicious by itself or with other herbs like rose, other mints and lavender, it uplifts the spirit and cools the body and mind.

Mints - Spearmint, garden mint, peppermint, apple mint, ginger mint, chocolate mint… the choice of mints is endless! My favourites for tea are Moroccan mint and spearmint but I use various others too. What could be more refreshing than a cup of fresh mint tea? It’s also delicious as iced tea, chilled in the fridge with a little ice added before drinking.

Spearmint

Fennel - A great digestive tea, fennel has many uses, from boosting milk flow in nursing mothers to respiratory congestion and lifting low libido. It’s a tasty addition to tea blends and works well with other digestive herbs like chamomile.

Calamint - Sweet, aromatic and warmer in nature than some of the other mints, Calamint is also a good diaphoretic, digestive and expectorant herb.

Marshmallow - One of the best herbal demulcents, Marshmallow is lovely to include in blends for people who get dry in the summer.

Marshmallow

Lime/ Linden Blossom – Calming, cooling and moistening, this is a delicious tea for those who are stressed out and over worked or are having trouble getting off to sleep.

Calendula - Healing, anti-inflammatory and useful to the immune system, Calendula petals add a splash of colour and many benefits to any tea formula.

Lavender - Another great nerve soother and digestive herb, Lavender can help headaches from the heat and is lovely taken just before bed to help ensure a relaxing night’s sleep.

Lavender

Some summer tea combinations I particularly enjoy include:

* Lemon Verbena, Sweet Woodruff and Spearmint.

* Fennel, Calamint and Lemon Balm.

* Elderflower, Rose and Borage.

* Linden, Chamomile and Hawthorn Blossom.

* Apple mint, Monarda and Calendula petals.

And to finish, for those who know the old ditty…

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And when it’s time for bed,
There’s a lot to be said,
For a nice cup of tea!

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This month our blog party is being hosted by the multi-talented Sarah over at Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife with the topic of Flower Remedies.

A flower remedy is a very subtle form of medicine that works on shifting mental and emotional patterns which may be the cause of unhappiness or physical ill health. The flower is infused in water, usually in bright sunlight, and the resulting remedy is thought to contain the beneficial qualities of that flower on an energetic level.

Flower remedies tend to divide herbalists into two camps as there is no accepted scientific rationale for how they work. It’s possible this may change at some point however as we discover more about such things as the memory of water and the effect that subtle energetic signatures can have on the healing process. In Masuru Emoto’s inspiring book, Messages from Water, he records images of the crystals formed from samples of water exposed to different words, images and music amongst other things. One of his experiments involved exposing water to chamomile and fennel and the resulting water crystals give us a fascinating insight into how flower remedies might possibly be working with us.

Crystals from water exposed to chamomile.

Crystals from water exposed to fennel.

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For now however I content myself with the fact that flower remedies seem to work well for many people and that I myself have experienced a huge amount of benefit from their use.

Flower remedies are a subject close to my heart as they are really where my journey into plant medicine began over a decade ago. I discovered the Bach flower remedies in my local health food shop and began reading and studying about them and slowly adding each remedy to my collection. I also began making my own remedies from flowers in my parents’ and neighbour’s gardens. I still have a bottle of the first essence I ever made, a spring daffodil remedy, though I have not used it in years. From the Bach remedies I went on to using the Bush remedies which I studied both here in the UK and in Australia when I was in my early 20’s. Nowadays I mostly use a series of essences I have made over the last 5 years or so from local wild flowers along with some Bach remedies from Healing Herbs and tree remedies from Green Man Essences.

We all know the joy of looking at a flower in bloom, it can dispel our feelings of gloom or despondency and make the world seem a brighter place. This is a subtle kind of healing, our presence and conscious awareness of the beauty around us in that moment  shifts us away from negative thought patterns. For me, flower remedies work in a similar way. When we take a few drops on our tongue, we are imbibing something of the beauty and unique qualities of that flower which can help replace the vibration of fear or anxiety with a moment of clarity and peace. This is why flower remedies are said to work better if you take small doses frequently rather than fewer, larger doses as each time we take a small amount we are shifting ourselves away from the negative state. If we continue to do this over a matter of weeks or months then the more positive state becomes habitual for our minds. The mind is a creature of habit and the more we replace a negative thought habit with a positive one, the more natural it will become for us.

Early in the year, whilst hanging out with my favourite Elder tree, I received a clear impression that this year I should focus on making moon remedies, that is flower remedies infused with moonlight rather than sunlight. I loved this idea and have been impatiently awaiting the few clear nights we’ve had around  the times of the full moons. This last fortnight has seen me make two new remedies, one by sun and one by moon.

First was a Wild Rose remedy. Roses are one of the most joyful sights of the English hedgerows, the ones around us have been spectacular this year, and roses are a flower I never tire of making essences from.

Rose is of course the flower of love and all rose remedies will open and heal the heart in some way. I find the wild rose has all the simplicity, joy and innocence of youth and as such it helps to bring us back to a time when love was a more natural way of being, rather something we had to strive for. With all it’s prickles and tendency to ramble where it will over the hedgerows there is also much of the resilience and fearlessness of youth about this plant which is common as a weed but still carries a rare ethereal beauty. I also find it a very spiritual remedy, helping to clarify and lighten my awareness and facilitate meditation.

This remedy was made using the sun method which I have explained in detail here.

Valerian is the Queen of my garden at the moment and I’ve been enchanted by how she shimmers in the pale moonlight. So I wondered out a few nights ago, torch in hand, and set some flowers infusing

Valerian by day.

As I was working the next day I decided to leave it out all night, collecting it after three hours would have meant too little sleep for me to be able to function! So I gathered it up just as dawn had broken. I don’t think any of the neighbours spotted me at this early hour, rummaging about on my knees dressed in my husbands boxer shorts and T-shirt but, if they did, it will no doubt only confirm what they suspect already.

And by night.

The moon’s energy is so different from that of the sun that the resulting remedy, though similar in many ways, felt like it had a different mode of action. It felt more softly diffusive than the solar remedies, not so distinct in its properties but like it slowly seeped through onto the different levels of being.

The leaves of Valerian are dark, moist and dense yet the flower heads grow so tall and upright. They seem very strong and vital yet the individual flowers themselves are the softest and palest of pinks.

To me it seems like a remedy which helps us to rise above negativity and transform dark thoughts into clarity, understanding and love. One of the aspects attributed to the moon is that of seeing clearly during the confusion and darkness of the night which would contribute to this facet of it’s healing qualities.

The Valerian flowers grow tall on fairly fine stems and the pale flower heads open up to the sky. The leaves however grow close to the ground and the roots are strong. Reflecting these qualities I feel that Valerian flower remedy would be especially helpful to ground those who are spaced out or would benefit from being more rooted in the here and now.

Flower remedies are a wonderful addition to any medicine chest. they can help to calm and centre, to inspire and uplift and they can be made from any flower that calls you. Dr Bach’s vision was that his system was simple enough for us all to be able to use to treat ourselves and our families. Flower remedies can also be used with pets and with plants too,  watering well with rescue remedy is helpful for a plant that has been newly transplanted or is stressed for some reason.

Don’t forget to read all the rest of the entries for this months flower remedy inspired blog party, the links to which will be posted on Sarah’s blog on Monday.

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