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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

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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For me there is something special about trees in winter. You get to appreciate the beautiful subtlety of twisted trunks and broken branches, the soft hues and the sinewy masses that are normally overshadowed by leaves. I wrote about my appreciation of tree barks here some months ago and this too is part of the fascination of winter tree gazing. But there’s more than that; it seems to me that trees, especially deciduous ones, somehow embody the spirit of winter. Once their leaves drop they cast a spell of sleep and withdrawal across the land- and us, if we are alert enough to perceive it. They look aged, wise and full of secrets, but ones that have no intention of being told until Spring begins to wipe the sleep from our eyes and comb last year’s leaves from our hair.

It’s fun to learn how to spot different trees without being able to rely on their leaves to identify them.

Ash are one of the most distinctive due to their black buds and the ash keys still clinging to their branches at this time of year.

Ash Keys

Oak too can be easy to spot due to it’s lovely ridged bark and twisted branches. It helps too that there are still some leaves, despite the high winds, snow and torrential rain of the past few weeks.

Oak Branches

Beech trees are always a pleasure to spot with their smooth, silvery bark and great sinewy limbs.

Beech trunk

It will come as no surprise to those who have been reading this blog a while that one of my favourite trees to admire at this time is the Hawthorn. These three wind blasted beauties on top of the Downs are some of my favourite trees in the local area.

I love gazing at how the elements and the landscape have moulded them, shaping their stories into form.  Though Hawthorns are abundant in this area, each one is completely unique, just like humans they reflect their own natures and that of their environment.

Winter is generally the least popular of the seasons for it’s cold, dark days and biting winds but if you are open to finding the beauty in nature, you’ll find it year round, even if sometimes you have to look a little harder than others.

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I feel like it’s been a pretty chilly Winter already and we still have a long way to go before Spring. I actually quite enjoy the Winter months but, as one who tends to feel the cold, I always go out of my way to keep warm by wrapping up well and consuming plenty of warming spices in my food and drinks. Apart from Cardamom, which I have already waxed lyrical on, the spice I enjoy most is probably ginger. It’s so warming, revitalising and restoring and is packed with medicinal benefits, as well as being delicious.

I always start my day at the moment with a few thin slices of fresh ginger in hot water as soon as I rise. It helps move the circulation, stimulate digestion and wake me up when I’d frankly much rather still be in bed! Ginger, Zingiber officinale, has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years and is thought to protect against damp and cold, two of the dreaded ‘six evils’. Many people are affected by these in the UK where our climate at this time of year can undermine the immune system, even in those with a warmer constitution.

Ginger is a great ally against cold and flus as it is warming and drying to the whole body but also has a special affinity to the respiratory system where it helps to resolve excess phlegm and mucus. Due to it’s anti-spasmodic and expectorant actions it is great in catarrhal coughs, chest infections or any condition with mucus and spasm. Do be a little wary in dry coughs however or any situation where there is heat coupled with dryness as ginger may exacerbate it. As a general immune tonic tea I love some fresh ginger gently simmered for 15 mins with elderberries and orange peel.

In his lovely guide to Traditional Chinese food energetics, Helping Ourselves, Daverick Leggett describes ginger as being helpful to combat ‘wind cold’, the term given to an invasion of the body by a pathogen such as the common cold which manifests with cold symptoms. He says ‘Wind invasion is treated through the use of the pungent flavour which assists the body to expel pathogens by directing Qi outwards.’

Dry ginger, usually taken as a powder, is considered both hotter and dryer than fresh ginger which is always a gentler option. Even though it’s still considered drying, I often find the fresh ginger to have a very slightly moistening quality too which prevents it being too aggravating to dry conditions.

Botanical Illustration of Ginger courtesy of Wikipedia

In Ayurvedic medicine ginger was referred to as ‘vishwabhesaj’ or ‘the universal medicine’. In The Yoga of Herbs, a lovely recipe is given for making ginger pills by mixing the juice of fresh ginger to powdered dry ginger and rolling into balls about the size of a pea, to be taken three times a day. I really fancy giving this a go, perhaps with a wee bit of honey, so I’ll report back when I do so.

Ginger is also great for other winter ailments such as reduced circulation, Raynauds syndrome and chilblains as it stimulates the heart and circulatory system and helps reduce blood clotting. Some evidence also suggests that it can help in lowering cholesterol. In these actions we can see again its ability to move the vital force outwards to the extremities.

Ginger is probably best known as a digestive remedy however, used by many to relieve nausea, especially during travel. It stokes the digestive fires, stimulating the appetite and improving digestion thus reducing bloating and gas. I like it taken as a tea after meals with peppermint or chamomile. Do be aware however that Ginger is best avoided in cases of gastric ulcers.

It is also a great anti-inflammatory and has a long history of topical use for relieving joint pains and arthritis which can often be worse in colder weather.

Apart from Ginger, my other top tip for staying warm this winter is to buy or make yourself a haramaki. A haramaki is a Japanese belly band that you wear around your middle to keep your internal organs toasty warm. In Asia I always saw people wearing blankets tied round their middles in cold weather rather than big bulky coats and certainly in Chinese medicine, keeping the kidneys and internal organs warm is seen as key to good health by protecting the ‘batteries of life’ which reside in the kidneys.

I bought myself a haramaki this autumn and it hardly feels like an exaggeration to say that it has completely changed my life! It’s incredible the difference wearing one makes to your body temperature. I usually wear mine under my clothes but here I am modelling it over them for you to see.

I got mine from this company here but you can also buy them from these people here. I have recommended them to so many people this winter I am considering ringing up and asking for commission! For those of you with a sewing machine and a bit of free time they are not difficult to make and instructions can be found online here.

Wishing you all a wonderful and warm weekend. 🙂

References:
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Helping Ourselves – Daverick Leggett
The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntyre

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The world outside truly is a wonderland at present.

These photos were taken this evening just as the light was starting to fade which gives them their blue tinge.

Do excuse my lack of herbal posts this week, I’m so excited by this wintery beauty that I had to share some more pictures!

I’ll aim to write something more informative in the next few days. 🙂

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It started snowing here on Sunday. Just a few flakes that melted away in the afternoon sun but it warned us of what was to follow later in the week.

First snow flakes.

Yesterday, the ground was lightly covered, not much, but enough to disrupt the trains and ensure a day off work for my hubby and I. We went for a walk around our village and admired the many beautiful sights of December 1st, the first day of Winter.

Winter Violas in the snow.

Three seasons in one picture: young cleavers, autumn leaves and snow.

The tracks of birds and animals give us a window into a world we rarely get to see and tell us stories of the lives of our fellow beings.

These, I think, belong to the local pheasants.

We walked into a world where the only colour was ourselves and the last of the autumn leaves, blazing a trail alongside us. I felt like we were in an animation in which only certain parts of the artwork had been coloured in.

We greeted some friends who were also out in the snow.

When we reached the top of the escarpment, the light was just starting to fade and looking out to sea, it was nearly impossible to differentiate between water, land and sky.

When we woke this morning, it was to a white and perfect world. The snow as powdery as icing sugar and as high as the top of my wellies.

There is an old country saying that goes, ‘many sloans, many groans,’ meaning that when the blackthorns are abundant with sloes, we’re in for a harsh winter.

Well I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many sloes on the trees as I have this year. Even now, after being attacked by birds and sloe gin makers for many weeks, they are still dripping off the branches.

The last of the hawthorn berries and rose hips look so beautiful and Christmassy against the sparkling white snow. It brings a smile to my lips just to see them.

Now I’m off to build a snowman and shower my poor husband in snow balls!

Wishing wintery love and snow angels to you all.

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Essential Oils are the volatile aromatic compounds extracted from whole plant material. There are many theories about how they are used by the plants themselves; some say they are just metabolic waste products, others believe they are used to attract pollinators with their enticing aromas but many believe that one of their major functions is in protection of the plant from bacteria, viruses, harmful insects and fungi.
One of the primary uses for essential oils in humans is also in adding the immune system. As each plant experiences slightly different environmental conditions every year, the exact chemical make up of an essential oil will always vary slightly which ensures that viruses and bacteria do not become resistant to it. Like us, plants are dynamic living beings who are quick to react to their environment and modify their responses accordingly.
Essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body and therefore can be powerful allies in keeping us strong and healthy. To be able to use these oils in our own healing is a great gift from the plants. They are highly concentrated and as a result must always be diluted for topical use. A 2.5% blend of essential oil to base oil (such as sweet almond, apricot or olive) is a rough guide, though for children 1% is more appropriate or 0.5% for those under 2 years old.
Oils that are particularly nice at this time of year include lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, black pepper, ginger, lemon, rosemary, ravensara and myrtle.

Thyme is a lovely herb and essential oil for supporting the immune and respiratory systems

Here are some ideas of ways you can use the oils to support you in the colder season:
  • Footbaths: A few drops each of frankincense, lavender and thyme diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and added to a hot footbath is a lovely treatment to de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Shower rub: Make a 2.5% blend of your favourite immune suppoting oils in a carrier oil, such as almond, and rub it vigourously all over the body before getting into a hot shower or bath. The steam will open the pores and help you absorb the oils better. 20 drops each of bergamot and lavender and 10 of black pepper in 100ml jojoba would make a lovely shower rub.
  • Chest salve:. A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children, I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children.

A very simple chest rub can be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when burnt in a diffuser or oil burner. Cinnamon and frankincense; bergamot and clove; niaouli, lemon and lavender  or black pepper and ravensara all make great combinations depending on the specific effect you are looking for. A little diffuser on your desk if you work in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Gargle: Dilute one drop of organic lavender or tea tree in a bottle containing 250ml filtered or spring water. Cap it and shake vigorously to disperse the oil. Use this as a gargle at the first sign of a cold or when you get that warning tickle at the back of your throat.

These simple remedies are enjoyable to use and can help keep you immune system healthy during the winter months.

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I’m very happy to be joining in the UK Herbarium’s monthly blog party, the topic of which is ‘emerging from winter with herbs’.

This immediately makes me think of fresh spring growth to tonify and cleanse the system after the stagnancy of winter months. However it’s still a wee bit early for harvesting nettles for soups, cleavers for green juices and chickweed and young dandelions for strengthening salads. So I decided to think about this topic practically instead of intellectually. What am I actually taking at the moment?

It’s still cold outside, though the first glimmers of spring are tantalisingly close, whispering of new shoots and green buds and the gentle stirrings of our own awakening senses. As a constitutionally chilly being I’m still loving my warming herbs but have been drinking less spicy teas and can’t seem to get enough of one of my favourite all time brews, Rosemary and Melissa. Rosemary is a wonderful warming herb and Melissa is also said to improve the circulation and the two together have a lovely, balancing effect on the emotions. Rosemary is a herb of the Sun and Melissa of Jupiter, so they are both joyful and cheering on a gloomy day when we are beginning to wonder if winter will ever end. I often team them up as essential oils too, for use in the bath and massage blends. Together they smell divine!

The other thing I’m having a lot of at the moment is the adaptogenic herbs, especially the Ayurvedic herbs Tulsi, Shatavari, Ashwaganda and Gotu Kola. Though the latter is not always classified as an adaptogen, it has many of the same properties and is classed as a rejuvenating herb, or rasayana, in India. Though I primarily use western herbs that I can grow or forage myself, I do have a somewhat guilty love of Ayurvedic plants, probably born of many happy months spent in India. I had a somewhat unsuccessful attempt at growing Ashwaganda last year but my Gotu Kola has done well so far and, as all my gardening currently takes place in pots, I shall be sure to try again when I have a more suitable situation. Adaptogens are so great during these strange ‘inbetween’ times, neither winter nor quite yet spring, when energies are starting to move in us and runny noses and colds can result from the body ridding itself of the congestion of winter. Inbetween times have a special magic all of their own, like twilight or those strange, still moments during a break in a long journey. Adaptogens are great to strengthen and support the system during times of change as they help us cope with mental, physical and environmental stresses as well as being wonderful for our immune systems.

As one of our feline companions, and soon to be guest blogger, goes by the name of Tulsi, I thought I’d say a little more about this beautiful herb.

The first time I saw Tulsi, often referred to as Sacred or Holy Basil, (Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum gratissimum) it was growing plentifully in a temple in India. Revered as the holiest of plants it is seen by some as the physical incarnation of the Goddess, reborn on Earth for the benefit of mankind. A leaf held in the mouth at the time of death is said to ensure passage to the heavenly realms and watering the plants is thought to purify one of many sins.

Tulsi is antiviral and antibacterial which, along with its immunomodulating properties and high levels of antioxidants, make it protective and strengthening. Energetically it’s classed as pungent, sweet and warm, perfect for this time of year and it has been shown to help rid the body of mucus, aid in the treatment of bronchitis and lower fevers. It’s also antidepressant, so good for banishing those winter blues. Add into the mix its hepatoprotective (liver protecting) qualities and its ability to balance blood sugar and you can start to see why it’s valued as one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. Ancient writings also speak of its efficacy in treating kidney disease, arthritis and skin disorders and its use in purifying polluted air and as an antidote to insect and snake bits.

David Winston and Steven Maimes write in their book on adaptogens that Tulsi is “capable of bringing on goodness, virtue and joy in humans.” I have certainly found this true for both the varieties of Tulsi pictured below. 🙂

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