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Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

The first frosts have chilled the landscape, turning the view outside our window to a scene of subtlety and wonder.

First Frost

After the first frost is the perfect time for picking rosehips which are now a lovely deep red and a little softer and sweeter, perfect for syrup making.

Reder, softer, perfect for picking!

It’s also the best time for picking sloes which are so abundant here in the hedgerows right now, though they wont be around for much longer. Blackthorn, which gives us the sloe berries, is a tree surrounded by folklore and long associated with witchcraft, darkness, winter and the waning moon. The berries and the leaves make valuable astringent remedies and the flowers are said to have a mildly laxative effect, though I have never tried them so can’t offer any more information than this.

Hedgerow Sloes

The berries can be made into a syrup by simmering gently with a little water, straining and mixing with honey to taste once it has cooled. It’s a good idea not to heat honey too much as it destroys the enzymes and, according to Ayurvedic medicine, turns it to poison. You could also heat the juice again with sugar to make a traditional syrup though this would negate somewhat the immune supporting effects of the berries. Take a spoonful daily as an invigorating tonic or to aid in convalescence.

Sloes

The Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, bears such impressive thorns they are referred to in both its English and botanical names. It’s good to take care when picking sloes as they are fairly savage and wounds from them can easily turn septic.

Beware the Blackthorn’s thorns.

This year I am attempting to make sloe gin with honey rather than sugar. This method seems to have worked well with the damson vodka I made a couple of months ago (and sneaked a little taste of last night!)  but as sloes are far more sour and astringent than damsons we’ll see if I get away with it in the gin. As sloe gin is said to be best after six months it might be a while before I can report back on this recipe! Eating sloes raw is never a pleasant experience as my dear friend Sascha, who helped me with the harvest, demonstrates below.

Eurghk!!

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Save Our Forests

There are plans afoot in the UK Government to sell off half our national forests to private firms. I urge anyone who finds this as deplorable as me to sign the petition on 38 degrees. Just follow this link to have your say.

Help save our native forests from greed and destruction

 

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Common Aspen, Populus tremula, is a species of poplar native to Europe and parts of Asia and closely related to the North American Aspen, Populus tremuloides. Known as the trembling or quivering tree, once you know Aspen it’s impossible not to recognise. It’s forever dancing, forever whispering, forever shimmering with the breeze and glistening in the light.

Aspen

I first learnt about Aspen and it’s healing properties through the Bach Flower Remedies where it is used for treating fears and anxiety of unknown origin. It is associated with fear in the doctrine of signatures because it appears to be trembling in the wind. Indeed the aspen is hardly ever still, except when there is no wind at all, and you can hear the distinctive rustling of it’s silvery leaves which are associated with the moon and see them glistening in continuous motion whenever you draw near.
The Celts saw the Aspen as the Whispering Tree. Closely associated with the wind, it carries messages from the ancestors offering deep understandings and a gateway into the worlds beyond our own and the realms of faerie. To sit beneath an aspen and listen to its leaves is to hear a thousand thousand voices, all singing the songs of life and its mysteries.

Aspen Leaves

Though the aspen has been associated with fear, to me the shimmering motion of its leaves seems more one of joy and exultation in the present moment and the gift of life. I find sitting with Aspen an experience of blissful connection. To me it’s a tree of light, totally connected to the divine and dancing its marriage to the consciousness that underpins its existence. Its trembling seems to me to demonstrate its exquisite sensitivity, its awareness of its own mortality and the pure joy and exuberance it experiences in the act of living. Perhaps it heals us from fear because it itself knows no fear, it doesn’t look to the future or the past which is the source of all our fears. It just dances it’s joy for this moment and in doing so, teaches us to shed our habitual worries and anxieties too. Sitting beneath an aspen brings me a sense of wonder and reminds me to celebrate this present moment and to laugh with amazement that I am alive right now, in this moment, what a miracle!

Aspen Sky

Associated with Autumn, it’s good to sit with at this time of year as it helps us to shed our old fears and outworn ideas at the turning of the pagan new year at Samhain (Halloween).
Glennie Kindred writes that Aspen ‘ grows by sending up new suckers which can become new trees. Thus an aspen will create hundreds of interconnecting trees all joined together at the roots, providing us with a clear image of continuity, growth and connection to the source. Linking to the spiritual source, love, is the culmination of a spiritual journey. Everything leads to here and everything follows from here.’
The Celts believed the whispering of the ancestors could lead to visions or messages in answer to our questions. Mostly, I believe the ancestors, through the sweet musical voice of the aspen, are whispering to us to live our lives, live them fully, live them well and live them in joyful celebration of this moment right here and now.

References:
The Tree Ogham – Glennie Kindred
Tree Wisdom – Jaqueline Memory Paterson

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Discovering Spindle

I recently went on a lovely day workshop with Susan Hall of Earth Wisdom entitled ‘The Magical Language of Trees’. Sue was speaking mostly about the symbolism and meanings of the Tree Ogham which includes a series of twenty trees and plants used as an alphabet and system of divination by the Celts. It was really enjoyable learning about the meanings given to each tree in the morning and then spending some time outdoors connecting with the trees themselves in the afternoon. As well as the twenty main trees of the Ogham, Sue explained that there were also an additional five, one of which is the beautiful hedgerow shrub, Spindle, Euonymus europaeus. Of all the trees we discussed spindle was the one I knew least about but, as is so often the way, since that day I’ve been spotting it everywhere I go!

Hedgerow Spindle

A lovely small tree or shrub, it is really in the autumn that Spindle begins to shine due to the incredible hues of the leaves and the berries which are bright pink with an orange seed inside that hangs down and becomes visible later in the season. Many species of the genus Euonymus are poisonous and unfortunately the beautiful berries themselves are toxic however there are a couple of types that are used medicinally such as E. americanus, and the  E. atropurpureus, also known as burning bush. Both these grow predominantly in the U.S. however, where they are commonly known as Wahoo, so we English folk must derive our Spindle healing from her beauty alone.

Spindle leaves

As the name implies, it was used for making spindles and, possibly because of this, it has become associated with crafts and creative endeavours. For the Celts it is thought to have symbolised completing lessons in order to move forward,  as well as sweetness and delight.

Beautiful hues of the autumn Spindle

Whilst in Westonbirt Arboretum a few weeks ago we saw a beautiful winged spindle which had the most fabulous bright pink leaves.

Winged Spindle with Cyclamen

Pink leaves of the Winged Spindle

I would love to make a tree essence from this wonderful plant, especially at this time of year when she is looking so vibrant. I feel it would be useful for accessing deeper aspects of our conscious and being able to express them creatively. Any plant with such a wonderful colour palette has to inspire artistic expression! Though Spindle is so showy right now, the rest of the year she is not very noticeable at all so perhaps it might also be of use in helping people access their own inner beauty at different times of life.

The berries are often the most noticeable, varying from bright to paler pink and containing a vibrant orange seed.

The berries

Pale pink berries

Bright pink with distinct segments

Spindle Seed

I feel lucky to have attended such a lovely workshop and been inspired to meet this new friend and begin to explore the gifts she has to offer.

Isn’t the beauty and variety of nature amazing?

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It’s been a busy week so far gathering the last of the blackberries, the first of the rosehips and lots and lots of lovely hawthorn berries. I don’t think I really have a favourite herbal plant, there are so many to love and admire, but if I had to choose one then hawthorn would certainly be a strong contender.

Beautiful Hawthorn, abundant with berries

The Hawthorn is a beautiful and elegant tree, with a rich lore of mythology and magic behind it, however it still remains very much human in scale. Growing in practically every hedgerow, it’s easily accessible and offers us medicine in the form of its flowers, leaves and berries. Whenever I see hawthorn, which is pretty much everywhere round here, I think ‘friend’.

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is fascinating medicinally because it’s one of the few Western herbal adaptogens, loosely meaning it helps to bring the body into balance, irrespective of whether it is over or under functioning whilst being safe and non-toxic. Widely used as a heart tonic it can help lower high blood pressure and will benefit almost any problem that affects the heart or circulatory system, from high cholesterol to chilblains. It helps to dilate coronary arteries, improving circulation and bringing relief from angina. It also increases the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively by improving the contractility of the muscle and its high levels of antioxidants help to protect the capillaries.

A cascade of berries

What is particularly interesting though is that whilst here in the West hawthorn is used almost exclusively as a heart tonic, it has been used quite differently by other cultures and in other ages. Culpepper, writing in the 17th Century, tells us it is ‘singularly good against the stone and… for the dropsy’ implying it was mainly used as a urinary tonic, possibly because, being a member of the rose family, it has some astringency. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it’s known as shān zhā, it’s been used predominantly as an aid to digestion, to help the body assimilate fats and as an aid to liver function. In Ayurveda the berries are considered sour and heating, so not suitable for Pitta types in excess. In the Yoga of Herbs the authors write, ‘Hawthorn berries are a good example of the stimulatory power of sour herbs for both circulation and digestion. They have a special action on the heart, strengthening the heart muscle and promoting longevity. They are particularly good for Vata heart conditions like nervous palpitations, or the heart problems of old age (the age of Vata) like cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.’

The flowers are soothing and nervine and many herbalists combine preparations of flower and berry to get the benefits of both. You can read more about the flowers in my earlier post here.

Red and shiny and perfectly ripe

I like to prepare my berries in alcohol or vinegar as well as drying a good number for use in decoctions. To make a decoction simmer two teaspoons of dried berries in a cup of water for 15 mins and drink three times daily.

A delicious herbal vinegar can be made by filling a jar with hawthorn berries, either alone or combined with rosehips and covering in apple cider vinegar then leaving to infuse for a month or so before straining and rebottling. Remember to use a plastic lid as metal with go black and nasty.

Tincture can be made in a similar way by covering the berries in vodka or brandy. This year I made a simple hawthorn tincture in vodka and another in which I combined the berries with rosehip and ginger in a mixture of port and brandy, yum. Let infuse for 2-3 weeks before straining and rebottling.

A lovely way to use hawthorn berries is to dry and powder them. They can then be used in numerous ways by adding a little of the powder to smoothies, soups, cookies, breakfast cereal or just about anything else. They are tough though and have a stone in the middle which needs removing (due to toxicity) so it can be easier to just buy them already powdered from a good herbal supplier. If you want to make your own powder you can mash the whole berry with you hands and the tiniest bit of water then push through a sieve, removing the stone, and spread the resulting pulp out to dry on baking paper or silicon sheets. When completely dry, powder in a high power blender or grinder.

Left to right – hawthorn and rosehip vinegar; (top) hawthorn, rosehip and ginger in port and brandy; hawthorn tincture in vodka.

Hawthorn, you truly are a heroine!

Lusach has a beautiful post on making hawthorn berry decoctions here, which is well worth a read.

References:
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal – Nicholas Culpepper
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad

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Westonbirt Arboretum is one of the most beautiful places to admire the changing season with it’s spectacular collection of Japanese Acers and other trees from all over the world. Even though we were a little early to catch the display at its peak, it was still a delight to see the trees beginning to blush from green to yellows, browns, reds and purples, all framed by the bright blue Autumn sky.

When the weather begins to turn and we feel a little glum at the thought of oncoming winter, these fiery hues cheer our hearts and remind us that each season has its beauty and its lessons.

 

 

 

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This is going to be my last elder post of the year (probably) so bear with me!

Today we went to Westonbirt Arboretum and spent a wonderful day admiring all the beautiful, majestic and exotic trees. I loved seeing them, especially the incredible collection of Japanese Acers, though I must confess to enjoying the Native Tree Walk just as much with its wonderful assortment of hawthorns, hazels, oaks, junipers, aspens, pines and birches. One tree that I didn’t notice there was the Elder. Only as we left the Arboretum did I see her, just outside the walls, growing straggly yet strong in the place she likes to be the most… on the edge.

The idea of ‘Edge’ is one I first came across during an introduction to permaculture design and it’s one I come back to, now and again, and understand more deeply each time I do. Edge is the meeting point between any two things, where garden meets hedgerow, where river meets shore, where ground meets sky- these are all examples.

Of course in the case of the Elder it’s also where life meets death, where old meets new, where known meets unknown and where the world of spirit meets the physical world. Elder has always been a plant of the edge, both physically and metaphorically.

 

Walking the Edge

 

In the permaculture philosophy, the edge is where it’s all happening. Change, variety, the arrival of new species – the ‘edge’ often has a greater biodiversity then the ‘middle’ as it is where two different ecosystems meet.

Here’s a nice description of the concept of ‘Edge’ and its use in design from the Permaculture Association.

“The place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this is called ‘ecotone’. This is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge. These ideas are used in alley cropping, shelterbelts and pond design. Marginal could be ideas, views, unusual plants, wild animals or people at the ‘edge’ of society. Permaculture itself has been seen as marginal for many years….”

So this idea of edge can also be applied to new and diverse ideas, to people and to cultures. The margins are where new things begin before they start to spread out and colonise new places.

The edge is always a little bit unknown. Where else would I expect to find the Elder?

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Recently I read these words from the famous and well respected nature writer Richard Mabey on the subject of the Elder (Sambucus nigra). “It is hard to understand how this mangey, short-lived, opportunistic and foul smelling shrub was once regarded as one of the most magically powerful of plants.” Now, I like Mabey and own several of his books but reading this made me seriously re-evaluate my position! She may not be a classic beauty, but look closely and you will see so many aspects of the Elder Mother to love and cherish. Her presence in the hedgerow is such a blessing. She shelters and protects not only her human children, but is also beloved of wildlife and has a key role to play in plant ecosystems as well. She is truly a mother to us all and should be treated with respect, if not veneration, by everyone whose life has been touched by her generosity.

The Elder bathed in late summer sun

Along with other white blossomed trees such as Hawthorn and Rowan, the Elder belongs to the realm of the faeries and the Goddess. I loved discovering this, as all three have been particular favourites of mine for many years.  The Elder represents the old crone aspect of the goddess, as her name suggests, that part of us which is wise, experienced, strong and connected to the world of the unconscious. Part of these associations come from Celtic mythology in which Elder governed the thirteenth and final month of the year. Her place was to guard the gates between life and death, endings and beginnings, the knowledge of the day and the mysteries of the night. Her mythology has always related to those in-between times such as Samhain (Halloween) and Midsummers Eve when you would see the Faery King ride by with his retinue, should you choose to take shelter beneath an Elder tree. Elderberries gathered at Samhain are seen as especially potent medicinally, though there are seldom any left by late October.

Elder Hedgerow

Often, when I come across Elder out walking I have a sense that I’ve strayed into the path of someone venerable and wise and feel I should offer a little curtsey or bow of respect, or at least an acknowledgement in words or in thought. She seems to cooly observe the world, somewhat detached from its folly yet uncompromising in her efforts to help. Just like any loving and aged Grandmother, or anyone connected with the realms of faery, she also has a bit of a sense of humour! There’s often a challenge involved in picking Elder, she’s usually surrounded by a guard of nettles or a hidden ditch for the unwary to stumble down.

Elder Tree

In his highly recommended book The Lost Language of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner describes Elder as a keystone plant, one that helps to establish a community of plants by increasing the health of an ecosystem and making it more hospitable. He says;

“Keystone species, once established, call to them not only soil bacteria and mycelia but the plants they have formed close interdependencies with over millennia. As the plants arrive, the keystone’s chemistries literally inform and shape their community structure and behaviours. The capacity of keystone species to ‘teach’ their plant communities how to act was widely recognised in indigenous and folk taxonomies. Elder trees for example are keystone species in many ecosystems. Among many indigenous and folk peoples it is said that the Elder tree ‘teaches the plants what to do and how to grow,’ and that without its presence the local plant community will become confused.”

This confirms for me one of the key aspects of my understanding of the Elder, that of protection. Not only does she protect and shelter young and newly establishing species of plants but, through the berries she produces in abundance each year, she protects our immune systems during the harshest months of winter. These berries are also rich in antioxidants which are known to protect our cardiovascular system, skin and brain among other things. In folklore, The Elder was thought to protect from witchcraft and negative energies and was traditionally planted at the back of the house, whilst Rowan was planted at the front.

The Elder Protects

For me the Elder speaks of the wisdom of change, the subtle understandings of life and death and the knowledge teamed with deep compassion that only those of great age can possess. We have much to learn from this ‘mangey’ and ‘opportunistic’ old crone. This spirit of the hedgerow who doesn’t quite belong to this world, but fulfils so many duties within it.

Who cares what Mabey thinks. We love you Elder Mother.

Elder Sky

Pop back tomorrow when I’ll be posting a variety of the elderberry recipes I’ve made over the last fortnight.

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Tree Skies

There’s nothing more enjoyable on bright days than to sit or lie beneath a tree and look up at the sky. As the seasons change and the skies flow through them, the views are never the same, though they are always beautiful.

This is one of my favourite ways to view the world.

Oak Sky

Oak and Birch Sky

Yew Sky

Spring Hawthorn Sky

Summer Hawthorn Sky

Ash Sky

Red Chestnut Sky

Linden Sky

Elder Sky

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This month I am hosting the UK Herbarium’s blog party with the topic of Leaf and Blossom, Bark and Berry: My Favourite Tree Medicines. It’s always such a pleasure reading different people’s take on the same theme and this month is no exception!

Brigitte has written a lovely post all about her favourite trees and the medicines that can be made from them. What is particularly great about this post is how she describes her love of both the trees of her native Europe and those of her new home in New Zealand. She includes some lovely pictures and links to lots of great information on Hawthorn, Pine, Oak, Ash, Walnut and Apple as well as her newer friends, Eucalyptus and Manuka. Click here to be spoiled for choice! Also, if you haven’t looked at Brigitte’s Wiki yet I highly recommend you do so as it is literally jam packed with interesting information and recipes.

Lusach has written a wonderfully mouthwatering piece on Hawthorn berries which will leave you rushing to the store cupboard, or the hedgerow if you’re in New Zealand, to gather some berries for a decoction without further ado. She shares great tips on making a lovely brew that is full of goodness without being too bitter as well as sharing her experience and photos of harvesting and drying the berries. Along with the reasons why she loves this ubiquitous, yet precious, medicinal tree, she speaks of it’s importance in these transitional times which is very interesting. Click here for a Hawthorn inspired delight.

You can see my own post on the relaxing and healing properties of Linden blossom below.

I hope you enjoy reading these posts and are reminded of the unlimited gifts that trees give us every day.

Blessing for a happy solstice!

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