Hawthorn, Magical Faery Tree at Bealtaine

One of the most iconic images of the west of Ireland is that of the Hawthorn tree, bent over due to the prevailing winds, looking almost like a graceful woman dancing.

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The Hawthorn tree is also known as Whitethorn and as the May tree.  It is just coming in to blossom here in my garden and during May will be full of white blooms  with their distinctive perfume. Once Hawthorn is in bloom you know that summer has arrived.  Bealtaine, Irish for the month of May, also marks the beginning of summer in the Celtic calendar.

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Medicinally, Hawthorn is taken as a tonic for the heart.  The flowering tops can be picked from May onwards – these include twiglets, flowers, buds and leaves. The berries are available from mid September. As a heart tonic it nourishes and strengthens the cardio vascular system, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, balances blood pressure, tones the circulatory system and acts as a diuretic thus reducing blood pressure.. It helps to open up the arteries as it dissolves cholesterol, it reduces palpitations, and can also be used to treat angina. It is an incredibly safe herb with no side effects or contra-indications.  However, if one is using allopathic cardio drugs one should see a medical herbalist.

Hawthorn can also be used as a tonic for “emotional” heart problems during menopause and in cases of anxiety, restlessness and other emotional pain.

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The flowering buds can be eaten in a salad and the berries can be eaten or fermented into wine.  The leaves and fruit have strong drawing powers and can be made into a poultice to draw splinters and thorns.

Metaphysically the Hawthorn helps to ‘open’ the heart to love and compassion and bestows courage on those who feel vulnerable.

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A lone or single Hawthorn is regarded as a Faery Tree and in Ireland no-one in their right mind would cause any harm or damage to it because they would risk the wrath of the Faeries. Indeed, during Bealtaine, (when the Faeries are especially active), the trees are decorated with bright ribbons, red cloths, shells and garlands.  These are offered to honour the tree and the Faery within and to invoke the blessings of fertility for land, livestock and human folk.

Bealtaine celebrates fertility and abundance, new life, the land awakening.  It is thought to go back to the time when the Celts were nomadic herdsmen, driving their cattle out to the summer pastures.  The Bealtaine bonfire represents the blessings of Bel (a sun god) and the return of the strength of the  sun.  Cattle were passed between two bonfires to ensure health and vitality.  This fire was very much a sacred fire of health and protection and in Connemara and elsewhere, the ashes were sprinkled on cattle, over crops and around dwellings.  Every hearth fire would be doused, put out and relit the following morning with a burning brand from the bonfire to ensure good luck for the coming year.

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Young men jumped over the bonfire to impress the girls, demonstrating their strength and virility. Hand fastings or wedding ceremonies often took place at this time of year, as the sap is rising and burgeoning life is obvious everywhere.  Hawthorn flowers were included in the wedding bouquet to ensure fertility for the happy couple.

Bealtaine and the Hawthorn are unquestionably linked, both representing the beginning of summer, love, light and fertility. During the Bealtaine celebrations offerings of milk, oats and honey would be made to the goddess of summer for the continuing abundance of life and good fortune.

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We are holding a Bealtaine celebration here.  See details on the home page and get in touch if you would like to come along and join in.

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Dandelion – A “Self-Contained Pharmacy”

Dandelion, Taraxacum Officinale, is a common spring flower that can be seen everywhere at the moment, on meadows and lawns, in hedgerows and fields and even growing through tarmac.  There are over 1000 species of Dandelion in Europe alone, with 250 different plants in the British Isles.  The Dandelion can also be found in the Americas as well as in Asia.

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The Irish name is Caisearbhan and it also has many folk names such as Dent de Lion, Cankerwort, Piss au Lit, Piss the Bed and in Ireland, “..the indented one of Brigid”.  It is regarded as a sacred flower of Brigid as it the first wild flower to bloom after her festival of Imbolc at the beginning of February.

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It is regarded by many herbalists as a “..self-contained pharmacy” because it is one of the most useful medicinal plants known to man alleviating many conditions in an incredibly holistic way.  Dandelion was first mentioned in a Chinese Materia Medica in the 7th century.  It was  highly regarded by the  Arabian herbalist,  Avicenna, in the 11th century.  In Wales, at an internationally renowned school of herbalism in the 13th century, it was used as a liver herb.

The whole plant, apart from the stem,  can be used – root, leaves, flowers and sap. It is high in minerals, (particularly Potassium) Vitamins A, B2, C, D and E, Inulin, saponins, essential fatty acids, bitter principle and phytosterols amongst other ingredients.  Dandelion benefits the whole body and it is a spring cleanser or spring tonic – the young leaves especially are detoxifiers.  Working particularly on the liver and kidneys it supports the body as it expels toxins and pollutants thus helping those organs as well as nourishing the body and helping the body to maintain homeostasis.

According to herbalist Juliette de Bairacli Levy, the Dandelion is the

“..most esteemed plant of the herbalist.”

She writes that it is a safe and gentle herb for all liver and gall bladder disorders.  It is a blood tonic, a blood and lymph cleanser. Dandelion relieves liver complaints such as jaundice, hepatitis, gallstones and other problems. It also helps with diabetes and obesity because of its action on the pancreas, increasing insulin production.  Probably due to its silica content and crystalline quality, it can improve the enamel of teeth.  Juliette recommends a half dozen or so leaves every day.

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The leaves can taste quite bitter, particularly as they get older or bigger so it is a good idea to mix them in with a variety of salad leaves.  The bitterness though, is what makes them so beneficial to the digestive system by stimulating the digestive juices including hydrochloric acid in the stomach, bile and the pancreatic juices which help to promote appetite as well as to break down food to extract the nutrients.

The nick name, Piss the Bed, tells us that the Dandelion is renowned as a diuretic, it enables the urine to flow freely.  Culpeppper says that “..it opens the passages of the urine in young and old..” and in Irish herbal lore it was used to treat diseases of the urinary tract, to wash out infection and was regarded as good for removing gravel from kidneys, ureter and bladder.

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Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics though, which leach Potassium from the body, (a deficiency which can lead to high blood pressure) Dandelion has a high Potassium content which reveals how holistic this herb is, how it can help all the systems of the body.  Working on the urinary system to increase urine output, (for problems such as fluid retention, swollen ankles and high blood pressure) at the same time it strengthens the entire urinary system and can be useful in helping children who are bed wetting as well the elderly person with incontinence.

 The milky sap of the stem has traditionally been used for warts and verrucas and for stys on eyelids.  People have also used it to remove age spots and freckles.  The flowers can be eaten in salads – they taste sweet – and can be made into fritters, beer and wine.  They benefit the pancreas. The flowers are also a beautiful golden yellow, brightening up our world.  Once it has worked on our livers and kidneys, we see improvement in our skin and energy levels too.

Julie Bruton-Seal, a contemporary herbalist, has this to say about Dandelion,

“As a medicine the whole plant is invaluable for liver and gall bladder problems, skin complaints such as eczema and acne. It’s action helps to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, the pain of artheriosclorosis and joints, digestive problems, chronic illness, viral infections and heart and lung irregularities”

In old Ireland, Dandelion was included in a folk remedy called Diancecht’s Porridge, (Diancecht was the Healer of the Tuatha de Danaan) which  was used as a cure for many ills including colds and sore throats and disorders of the stomach. It included hazel buds, chickweed, wood sorrel and Dandelion mixed with oatmeal.  Seems to me to be a recipe for spring time to restore well being after the long, dark, winter.

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You can make tea, decoctions and tinctures from Dandelion to address all the physical complaints mentioned so far. Infused in olive oil it makes an excellent rub for muscle tension and for old stiff joints and also does its bit as an anti-wrinkle moisuriser.  As a flower essence, Dandelion is a Spiritual Warrior plant, working tirelessly to bring in the Light and to overcome the darkness.  Dandelion Flower Essence helps us to increase and energise our own inner light and can be a great support in these topsy-turvy times.

Dandelion is a very interesting plant just for its own sake, regardless of its healing properties.  It is associated with the sun because of its disc of golden yellow, ray like petals which open and close with the sun.  Known as the Shepherd’s Clock in some places because the flowers open around 5am and do not close until about 8pm.

Dandelion is a perenniel plant, self-fertilising and pollinated by wind.  It does not rely on insects at all, yet it still provides sustenance for bees and other insects in the spring time which proves yet again the intelligence and generosity of Mother Nature – and the Dandelion as well of course. When an insect lands on the Dandelion it moves around the flower head from the outside to the inner centre in a clockwise spiral motion.  The spiral is a symbol often associated with the Earth and Mother Goddess and was used often by our ancestors. It is a tough plant, tenacious and undefeated.  You can try to poison it with herbicide, burn it, mow it or dig it out and it will return.  It is incredibly adaptable and grows anywhere and everywhere.

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According to ancient herbal lore it is ruled by Jupiter and also corresponds to the Sun and to the elements of Fire and Air. It has a long tap root which is associated with Earth energy.  The golden yellow flower is associated with Solar energy and its seed head, which is silvery is associated with Lunar energy.  The seeds themselves are like stars.  So in one plant we have all the heavens here on earth.

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The flufffy seed head is often used by children as a clock.  Blow three times and count the seeds that are left or blow, blow, blow – count the breaths or blows til all seeds are gone.  It can  be used as a barometer as both the flower heads and seed heads close if the day is to be wet.

All in all Dandelion is a wonderful plant to have for SO many reasons. It can help the body and the mind and spirit and because it keeps the body clean and toxin free it can also be used as part of a cancer treatment, particularly for breast cancer. This magnificent plant really deserves our appreciation and gratitude.

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