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Archive for the ‘Pictures and poems’ Category

 

Lammas, or it’s Gaelic equivalent Lughnasadh, is celebrated today in honour of the first harvest, the wheat harvest. Lammas is derived from the Anglo Saxon for ‘loaf-mass’ but was also known as the ‘festival of first fruits’ as the first berries are now starting to ripen in the hedgerows.

This is a time to be grateful for all the beauty of the natural world; for the harvest of herbs and foods, for the wildflowers and the insects that pollinate them, for our communities of friends and family and for the waters that feed the land and its creatures.

So often the nature of the human mind is to look for what is wrong and find ways to fix it. The coming months are a time to reap what we have sown and dwell in the simple gratitude of what we have, not looking for ways to change it or to make it better but just to be honest- as for most of us there is always more to be thankful for than there is to fix.

As Lammas draws to a close I am reminded of the closing words of the Desiderata:

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

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Your art is to be the praise of something that you love. It may only be the praise of a shell or a stone.
John Ruskin.

This is my little offering for the March Blog Party, the topic of which is herbal creativity. I must apologise if this post is a little rambling and incoherent, it started of in quite a different place to the one in which it ended and I fear the part of it that made sense may have got lost somewhere en route!

It occurred to me as I turned my mind to the topic of herbal creativity that nothing has quite the same creative potential as nature herself. One man who understood this well was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose work is testament to the depth of understanding that can be achieved when we enter into a communion with nature rather than imposing rigid theory upon her. He sought to understand the unity inherent in nature through a technique of contemplative observation which harnessed the cognitive perception of the mind rather than denying its existence. Where as empirical science sought to understand nature through objective observation of phenomena, then impose theory upon it, Goethe understood that pure sensory experience is not possible and that understanding only arises through a meeting of sense perception and mental faculties. What we perceive therefore, arises at the meeting point of mind and matter, “the complete phenomenon is visible only when there is a coalescence of sensory outsight with intuitive insight.”

For Goethe, science “involves not only a rigorous training of our faculties of observation and thinking, but also of other human faculties which can attune us to the spiritual dimension that underlies and interpenetrates the physical: faculties such as feeling, imagination and intuition.”

I wrote a post last year on working with Goethean observation in deepening my relationship with Comfrey which you can read here. This year I found myself captivated by the emerging buds of my favourite Elder and I decided to attempt the process once more.

When working with this technique it is wonderful if you can observe your chosen plant at least once a day as this allows for a deep observation of the subtle changes which are occurring. This wasn’t a possibility for me at this time so I had to content myself with twice weekly visits, all of which still afforded me a magical view into the dynamic processes involved in the life of this beautiful tree.

When I had a little more time I opted to draw the buds as this requires a much more profound engagement and necessitates a far deeper level of observation. Mostly I made do with photographing the changes I observed though and scrawling a few key lines in my notebook. The object here is not to produce a piece of fine art but to engage with what we see in a way that allows for a relaxing of our normal consciousness that sees the plant as ‘out there’ and ourselves as ‘in here’ and enables a kind of flow to arise which recognises both the seer and the seen as being at one.

“I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.”

John Ruskin

Goethe realised that scientific, or indeed any truth is active and not passive, just as the observer themself is dynamic and ever changing. By entering into the flow of the plant he was able to see that each part is a metamorphosis of another. In botany we are accustomed to looking at and identifying different plant parts, such as leaves, sepals, petals and stems. When we pick a plant, press it and make a herbarium specimen -the traditional way of recording plants in botany- we only get a snap shot in time rather than facilitating an understanding of the continual metamorphosis of the plant, how each part belongs to a developing whole which is never static but forever adapting to the environment around it. He explained, “The variation of plant forms, whose unique course I had long been following, now awakened in me more and more the idea that the plant forms around us are not predetermined, but are happily mobile and flexible, enabling them to adapt to the many conditions throughout the world, which influence them, and to be formed and re-formed with them.”  In fact Goethe’s ideas were to become key in the developing theories of evolution.

What a wonderful thing it is to see new life emerging. By practising Goethe’s technique of gentle observation I was able to witness how each part of the Elder gradually transforms into another. How the stem lengthens into buds along its nodes. How from the buds emerge six little leaves parting slowly to reveal the sepals, like hands clasped in prayer, protecting and holding their treasure within.

Slowly, as these hands begin to open we see another transformation has taken place. Somewhere, hidden from sight, the tiny beginnings of the elderflowers have formed. These in turn will open out and become the large, flat, white flower heads that mark the beginning of summer in June. As the year continues to turn they will become the ripe black elderberries that will help keep us healthy all winter long.

At what point in time can we say the elderberry is born? When the first buds appear? When we see those first little clusters that will become the flowers? Or not till later, when they become recognisable as such? We tend to see bud, flower and fruit as separate instances in time and neglect the thread that runs through all, from life to death and back again.

Taking any point in time as static can tend to inhibit understanding rather than promote it, and that is why practising Goethean observation can be so transformative. We stop looking for a phenomena that is inherently existing, as we Buddhists say, “from its own side’, and start to understand that life and its myriad expressions are part of a continuum that is constantly creative, never still, always metamorphosing.

“How difficult it is not to put the sign in place of the thing; how difficult to keep the being always livingly before one and not to slay it with the word.”  Goethe.

Through our own creative process we can start to become one with the miraculous creative process of  all nature.

Please pop back tomorrow when I’ll be posting the links to everyone else’s creatively inspired ideas.

References:

Henri Bortoft – The Wholeness of Nature – Goethe’s Way of Science
Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird – The Secret Life of Plants

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We’re almost, almost into spring, the sap is rising and there is that special zing in the air which signifies the wheel of the seasons turning once more. Everyone is starting to emerge from their wintery hibernation and fresh ideas abound so I thought it would be a good time to celebrate our Herbal Creativity.

This is a very broad topic covering anything that inspires us or encourages our creative side. You might want to share some herbal crafts that you particularly enjoy, a short story or poem inspired by herbs, a herbal drawing or photographs or a recipe that you are particularly proud of, be it culinary, cosmetic or medicinal. This blog party is about ideas you have enjoyed playing with and also about sharing with each other some of the ways in which herbs inspire us in all the many facets of our lives.

If you have your own blog then add your post before March 20th and email me the link at whisperingearth@gmail.com  -I’ll post the links to all the entries here that evening. If you don’t have a blog but would like to join us anyway you can email your piece as a word document to Debs at the UK Herbarium on debs at herbal-haven dot co dot uk and she will add it to the UK Herbarium blog as a guest post.

I also remembered earlier that I am a little late in announcing the winner of my anniversary giveaway. It was Rachel, who wrote the first comment on the post which was nice. I hope you enjoy your oil!

Whilst on the topics of herbal creativity and lateness, here is a painting I did in honour of Imbolc, the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of spring. Imbolc was a month ago now and I hoped to portray the wintery feel that was still all around us at that time but with the promise of spring and potentiality waiting in the earth. It is oft said that the tree already lives in the seed and I like to imagine all the flowers and leaves, already perfectly formed and waiting in the realms of the possible to come forth when the right conditions allow.

 

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner I thought it was about time I posted a suitably romantic recipe for these quick and easy, yet delightfully decadent massage bars. Whatever your feelings about this particular festival, a massage bar makes a lovely gift for anyone and can be used to pamper yourself too as it makes a delicious body moisturiser after the shower or bath

Ingredients:
50g Cocoa Butter
15g Shea Butter
15g Coconut Oil
10g Mango butter (or just use 25g Coconut and omit the mango)
10 ml Base oil
2ml Vitamin E Oil
20 drops essential oils of choice

Add the solid oils to the base oil of your choice (any relatively thin oil like apricot, hazelnut, jojoba or sunflower would do nicely) and melt over a low heat in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and stir in the vitamin E and essential oils of choice. Pour into massage bar moulds (I actually just used large chocolate moulds) and set in the fridge or freezer. That’s it.

If you live in a warm climate you’ll want to increase the amount of solid oil you use or possibly add a little beeswax or candelilla wax to make it more heat stable as these are designed to melt easily on contact with the skin. Alternatively you can keep them in the fridge. Also beware of using nut oils like almond for people with allergies.

Some ideas for essential oils you could use include the following:
Romantic and floral blend – Rose 5 drops, Ylang Ylang 8 drops, Sweet Orange 7 drops.
Relaxing and uplifting blend – Lavender 7 drops, Neroli 8 drops and Green Mandarin 5 drops.
Earthy and sexy blend- Sandalwood 10 drops, Jasmine 5 drops, Black Pepper 5 drops.
Beautifully balancing blend – Geranium 10 drops, Bergamot 5 drops, Lavender 5 drops.

I used the earthy and sexy blend and it turned out deliciously though you have to take into account your personal taste in oils and the effect you wish to achieve. I recommend consulting a good aromatherapy text to get a clearer idea of which oils will suit your purpose.

And incase you’re still not in the mood for love, here is a selection of my favourite love poems to win your heart.

The Innocence of any Flesh Sleeping – Brian Patten

Sleeping beside you I dreamt
I woke beside you;
Waking beside you
I thought I was dreaming.

Have you ever slept beside an ocean?
Well yes,
It is like this.

The whole motion of landscapes, of oceans
Is within her.
She is
The innocence of any flesh sleeping,
So vulnerable
No protection is needed.

In such times
The heart opens,
Contains all there is,
There being no more than her.

In what country she is
I cannot tell.
But knowing – because there is love
And it blots out all demons –
She is safe,
I can turn,
Sleep well beside her.

Waking beside her I am dreaming.
Dreaming of such wakings
I am to all love’s senses woken.

Untitled – Rumi

Love swells and surges the ocean
and on your robe of storm cloud
sews rain designs.

Love is lightning,
and also the ahhh
we respond with.

Untitled – Simon Armitage

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

There,
how does that sound?

Love – Pablo Neruda

So many days, oh so many days
seeing you so tangible and so close
how do I pay, with what do I pay?

The bloodthirsty spring
has awakened in the woods.
The foxes start from their earths,
the serpents drink the dew,
and I go with you in the leaves
between the pines and the silence,
asking myself how and when
I will have to pay for my luck.

Of everything I have seen,
it’s you I want to go on seeing:
of everything I’ve touched,
it’s your flesh I want to go on touching.
I love your orange laughter.
I am moved by the sight of you sleeping.

What am I to do, love, loved one?
I don’t know how others love
or how people loved in the past.
I live, watching you, loving you.
Being in love is my nature.

You please me more each afternoon.

Where is she? I keep on asking
if your eyes disappear.
How long she’s taking! I think, and I’m hurt.
I feel poor, foolish and sad,
and you arrive and you are lightning
glancing off the peach trees.

That’s why I love you and yet not why.
There are so many reasons, and yet so few,
for love has to be so,
involving and general,
particular and terrifying,
joyful and grieving,
flowering like the stars,
and measureless as a kiss.

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Solstice night this year was apparently the longest, darkest night in 500 years, due to the lunar eclipse.

When all is dark and appears to be sleeping I love to imagine everything that’s going on under the earth, which is also a winter wonderland in its own way.

When we were snowed in recently, this is what I dreamt of.

 

Wishing you all a magical Solstice, an enchanted Christmas and an auspicious New Year filled with many blessings xxx

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Autumn Abundance

What a magical time is autumn. A time of transitions, of change, of gain and of loss, we celebrate the culmination of the years work and we grieve the inevitable endings that follow.

The dark months are coming and the wind howls around our cottage as I write this but now is still a time of abundance and celebration and, most of all, a time for giving thanks to the Goddess of the Harvest for all this Earth has given us.

Harvest Goddess

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This month, I decided to join in the Herbwifery forum’s monthly blog party, hosted by Shamana Flora, the topic of which is ‘Adventures in Herbalism: or What wouldn’t we do for herbs.’

The idea is to write about any interesting, entertaining or downright outrageous stories from our work with the herbs and wild plants of our craft. We were invited to “share… a story of an adventure you’ve had collecting/wildcrafting herbs…i.e. collecting hops naked in the rain? hanging off a mountainside for elderberry collecting? eluding curious bystanders? etc etc.”

I thought this sounded like a great idea for a blog party but, when I came to consider it, I couldn’t really think of anything that adventurous I’ve done while collecting my plants. Of course there’s the inevitable trespassing, sneaking round under cover of darkness, wading through nettles in shorts, hanging over rivers and crawling around the undergrowth that is part of any wild herbalist’s work, but nothing that would really make a particularly enthralling story.

As I mulled it over however, it occurred to me that my whole interaction with plants and nature is an adventure, one that has transformed my world, my thinking, my feeling and my understanding. I’ve come to think that the true adventures in herbalism are inner adventures, the ones that alter our perceptions so radically that we come out of them utterly changed. Altered and awed.

I can remember very clearly the lightbulb moment when I realised that struggling and straining to learn how to communicate subtly with my plant companions was ridiculous. We are so conditioned into believing that we need to learn new skills through a process of practice and great effort that it never occurred to me that these kinds of interactions are part of our very being, easy as laughing, easy as breathing. Generally, when we think about breathing it becomes a complicated process, but in openness and letting go, the body’s own wisdom knows exactly what to do. The same is true with learning to share experiential understandings with plants. Just as animals interact so easily with their environments, we too are designed to fit into and be a part of a natural world which, in our culture, we are so used to separating ourselves from.

What do you think this one's saying?!

When we spend time in nature, observing with an open mind and heart, subtle shifts begin to creep up on us, everything seems brighter, more shining, more special. We can no longer pass by unaware and unseeing as we start to delight in every little thing around us. Even in the city I find myself stopping, enthralled by a tiny plant growing out of a wall, gazing at the trees in wonder and in gratitude. Something sleepy and wild begins to stir in the blood and we realise that we’ll never be quite ‘normal’ again.

So my greatest adventure in herbalism is the quiet, simple, day to day adventure of appreciation for all the gifts that plants give us, from shelter, food and medicine, to subtle understandings, realisations and the ability to extend our love beyond the the limited boundaries of friends and family, to begin to embrace the whole world, in all its myriad expressions.

We always assume it is pain and suffering that will break us, if we let them. So we avoid pain and with it we avoid much of our true experience, as shutting down will inevitably close us to all our sensations and potential for feeling. If we are lucky and some blessing or miracle happens upon us, then we come to see that it’s not pain that will be our undoing but wonder, and what an undoing it is. Imagine it, imagine a breaking that doesn’t reduce you but rather offers you the whole universe, yielding and divine. That is what the natural world offers us, the possibility of wonder, of surrender, of bewilderment and bliss.

In some ways the plants have already asked a lot of of me, but they have given so much more in return. So in answer to the alternative title for this blog party “what wouldn’t we do for herbs?” I must reply, ‘there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.’ My teachers, my guardians, my friends.

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Comfrey

 

This year I decided to choose a plant to work with closely through the changing seasons in order to get to know it deeply and help me to incorporate some of the concepts of Geothean observation into my work with plants. When finding a new plant ally the idea is to be chosen rather than to choose, to see which plants grab your attention and won’t let go and then honour that choosing, whether you get what you expected or not.

Well I certainly didn’t expect Comfrey, partly because it’s a plant I don’t often work with and partly because I had several other plants around me that I consider close allies and was expecting to be ‘chosen by’.  I’ve been interested in the idea of Goethean observation for some time as it seemed to me a wonderful way of honing our senses, learning about plants and moving beyond ourselves and our limited perceptions to connect to the wider world around us.

Goethe is best known for his literary contributions but, in fact, he was involved in the sciences too for much of his life. His work with plants was so unconventional at the time because he choose to study the species around him in their living environment, rather than dead herbarium specimens, so he could understand how they adapt and change throughout time. This idea of the ‘time-life’ of a phenomenon is a key principle of the Goethean study of plant life, helping us to understand them as changing, adaptive beings rather than something static or objectified. In this way we can be participants, rather than merely observers in their dance of becoming. The idea is to observe the plant as clearly as possible, using all our faculties, blending what Goethe called exact sense perception, or collecting all the available facts, with exact sensorial fantasy, or understanding the growth, metamorphosis and flow of a plant through a more fluid and imaginative process.

As we progress with these practices we move to a space where we can be completely open, allowing the plant to reveal something of its true nature to us through idea and inspiration. The final part of the process is described as being one with the object of perception, allowing a kind of divine meeting that Steiner referred to as “the true communion of mankind.” Drawing is seen as a useful tool in the process because it encourages us to consider all the details before us, exactly as they are experienced, rather than writing on our own perceptions.

My original plan, to draw my comfrey every day throughout the year, has proven a little too time intensive in my ever busy schedule, so I’ve settled for sitting with her every day and drawing when things are a bit less busy. Only a couple of months into the process, it has already been a remarkable one.

A page from my Comfrey notebook.

One of my first, and strongest, inspirations was what I perceived to be a beautiful example of the doctrine of signatures in the leaf of the Comfrey. Comfrey is best known as a cell proliferant, due to its allantoin content, which resulted in its traditional use as a healer for broken bones, strains and skin conditions, among other things. As many of you will know, its folk name was ‘knitbone’ reflecting this ability. However Comfrey is no longer recommended for internal use (though it’s still fine externally on unbroken skin) due to other constituents known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids, some of which may lead to hepatic veno-occlusive liver disease.  In Paul Bergner’s interesting piece on the subject, which you can view here, he explains that, “In HVOD, the cells lining the veins in the liver proliferate and choke off the veins.”

Now it may seem a little simplistic to apply the doctrine of signatures here, but to me, something in the leaves of the comfrey shows us very clearly both how it heals and how it harms, though cell proliferation, despite the fact that these actions are due to completely different chemical constituents in either case. Observe how the markings look just like cells under magnification, stacked one on top of another, growing strong and vital.

Steiner  writes “The human being cannot demand any other kind of knowledge than the one he brings forth himself.” I find this quote so empowering. It can be a challenge to trust our own inspirations and observations when working with plants and it’s so important to learn about their traditional and modern uses to get as wide a background as possible. That done however, we can start to enter into a new and less linear process, one that allows a state of inter-being to arise between ourselves and our green allies and allows whole new levels of understanding to permeate and transform our work and ourselves.

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Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. A wonderful opportunity for herb lovers everywhere to take a moment to express their gratitude to Mother Earth, who gives so generously and provides for all our needs.

I am of the Earth
I am a son of the Earth
I am the trees, the rivers, the rock
I am kin to the Earth’s creatures
I am kin to the Earth’s creations
The Earth is my mother.
William Ricketts

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This month’s herbal bog party, hosted by the inspiring Brigitte of My Herb Corner, is on the topic of My Herbal Treasures in March. Its so exciting to be thinking about all the new life beginning to stir at the moment as I’ve just started my first Spring harvests.

Its kind of an obvious one, but my favourite March herb is probably the dear and wonderfully weedy Cleavers. Galium aparine

Also known as Goosegrass or Sticky Willy, Cleavers is one of the first of our spring allies to appear, though it was perhaps a little later this year than I remember as I only managed my first harvest last weekend. It’s found mainly in woods and hedgerows and, along with its good friend stinging nettle, is one of the first wild herbs many people learn about.

Cleavers is a herb of the moon and is governed by the element of water and this is key to my understanding of how it works in the body. As a medicinal herb it is most commonly used to treat the lymphatic system, a network of vessels which runs alongside the blood circulation carrying waste materials in lymph fluid ready for processing in the lymph nodes and organs such as the tonsils, thymus and spleen. The lymph has no pump of its own so is reliant on the movement of blood and muscles to aid its journey, so exercise is vital for a healthy lymphatic system. It’s functions are primarily to aid cleansing of the tissues and assist the immune system by transporting white blood cells and antibodies.

To me, the lymph relates very closely to the water element in us and, as we know, the moon affects fluids in all of nature by governing flows and tides. The nature of water is to be fluid, we can easily see how polluted stagnant water becomes, and the lymph must also be flowing in order to perform its functions within the body. In the winter we can become more stagnant and accumulations tend to build up, stressing the lymphatic system and resulting in lowered immunity, swollen glands and sluggishness.

Cleavers is all about getting things moving and flowing again. I see it as an initiator and indeed it is meant to be auspicious to drink it before a journey. It doesn’t force change, just gently encourages the body to wake and clear itself, helping to remove excess fluids through its diuretic action. This quality means it is also a good urinary tonic, especially in inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract as it is also anti-inflammatory. Its useful for clearing the skin, partly due to its general alterative properties, and it has been used to treat cancers, both internally and externally as a poultice.

The water element also governs the emotions and Cleavers can help us to gently let go of the past and be ready to embrace the new growth and change that Spring awakens.

Cleavers is covered in tiny little hooked bristles which you can see in the close up below which I took last year, later in the season when the plant was more mature.

I see Cleavers as a plant of youth, not only because of it’s appearance early in the spring but due to it ability to entertain the child in us all when, on long walks, we can engage in the game I never grow tired of, how many cleavers can you stick on someone’s back before they notice :)

I think the real reason Cleavers grab on to us as we go by is because, in a damp climate like the UK, we could all do with a bit of lymphatic support and she is generously reminding us of the great service she can offer.

The plant itself is strong yet supple. It is flexible enough to be twisted round itself and apparently, country folk used to use it in this way to make a sieve for straining milk. It uses its little hooks to grow up other plants to get to the light, yet its strong enough to support them too when needed.

Here are a few ways to incorporate Cleavers into your life, they are always better used fresh than dried:

Cleavers Green Juice
Juice is my favourite way to take them and also the most potent as we are ingesting the life blood of the plant which is an incredible gift. It does require the use of a juicer but if you don’t have one you could whizz it in the blender with some water and then strain, though I haven’t tried it this way. I juice a big handful of cleavers with some apple, fennel, lemon, ginger and celery. This makes a delicious cleansing and revitalising drink for bright Spring mornings.

Cleavers Vinegar
Make your Cleavers into a delicious green vinegar by lightly packing a jar with them then covering in unpasteurised apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic not metal lid (vinegar corrodes metal) and allow to infuse for three weeks before straining and rebottling. This makes a lovely spring salad dressing with a drizzle of olive oil.

Cleavers Salad
At this time of year you can finely chop the young cleavers and add to salads, though later in the Spring they become too tough and stringy. Enjoy them now while they’re tender!

Cleavers Cold Infusion
Many people prepare their cleavers as a cold infusion by popping a handful in a glass, covering in cold water and leaving overnight to infuse. Strain and drink in the morning for a refreshing start to the day.

Cleavers Succus
This one comes from Matthew and Julie Bruton-Seal’s wonderful book Hedgerow Medicine which I would recommend to anyone interested in wildcrafting herbs. I haven’t actually tried it yet but will be doing so soon and as it sounded so delicious I thought I’d include it here. Juice fresh cleavers, measure it and add an equal amount of runny honey. Bottle and label. It will last much longer this way and would be a lovely soothing and effective remedy for tonsilitis.


In early Spring the Cleavers Moon
Draws up from depths of wintery slumber
Our waking tides.
From ripple to wave she speaks of cycles
Of change, of flow,
Of newest growth already held in visions.
She invites us too to grow, along with her,
Weedy and wild,
Supple yet unyielding as the waters she guides
She helps to carry us all.

Some other things to be happy about in March:
My first dandelion.
Young Comfrey leaves appearing.
Fresh, young nettles.

Also Lesser Celandine (or pilewort), Viola and other lovelies are out and about.

Spring love and loveliness to all.

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