Language Please!

When I was younger, if someone cursed or swore in conversation in a pub, the landlord would call out “Language please!” prompting the person to be circumspect in what they were saying.  Actually, anyone who was offended might say the same thing.

I have always enjoyed language.  I have been reading since I was four or five and you could call me a book worm.  I easily get lost in the words and I really enjoy rich, descriptive language as well as informative and factual reading.  I also enjoy tracing the etymology of words.  Enchantress for example – a word that might be used in stories to suggest a witch or the sort of woman who might lead a man astray, actually means one who chants and traditionally women would chant when they were working together.  They might be working with textiles, weaving or washing clothes;  or in a garden; perhaps they were all spinning together (spinster!!).  Unfortunately, the early Church did not like women to be chanting together in case they were calling up demons or exercising their power and so the word enchantress now has negative connotations.

The etymology of a shanty or song, such as a sea shanty is interesting.  You could expect ‘shanty’ to come from the French verb chanter – to sing but it is thought to come from chantier – a naval work camp or lumberjack’s hut.  You see how interesting etymology or the study of the history of words is!

Language is both an art and a science.  When I studied Literature in college, our lecturer gave us a facsimile of the original copy of a poet laureate’s work.  There were scribbles and crossings out where he had alternated between different words as he must have thought one word carried more weight than another or perhaps conveyed more meaning. I found this very interesting because I had assumed Poet Laureates just wrote poems – just like that!  Of course not…they craft their poems. I also remember writing an essay on the language of Thomas Hardy and ended up lost in a very boring text book about the scientific structure of grammar.

I am writing about language today for a number of reasons, reasons which mainly make me angry.  Let’s start with the word “weeds“.  Weed is derived from the old English weod – meaning grass, herb, weed. You could say it was one of those catch-all words, meaning anything that grew that was smaller than a shrub or tree.  Nowadays the word has only negative connotations which means many people inadvertently destroy the natural medicine that is growing outside their door.

Other words that make me really angry are words like “factory” when someone means abattoir .  Phrases like “Agri-Industry”  are just oxymorons and make morons out of the people who use them. “Stock” is a word that used to mean goods that were held in stock, i.e in a shop or warehouse.  Now the word is also used to describe animals going to the “factory”.  Those animals are not things and nor are they commodities in my mind, they are living beings!! Our beautiful trees, that used to cover so much of Ireland and were so important to the people that they created an alphabet, Ogham, are now regarded as yet another industry.  Our beautiful trees which were once regarded as living elders and wise ones are now just lumber, timber or cubic metres of logs.  Of course we need wood for heating and furniture, building and paper; but our woodlands and forests, our beautiful trees have been reduced to just being a component of industry and have been dragged to the factory floor.

Worst of all, of course, are those words that trick and deceive people; words such as “cases” or sentences like “..due to the increase in cases“.  Such sentences are deliberately mis-using a word and are re-defining it to obtain a specific reaction.  It is important, when we are bombarded with media at every turn, to be discerning and to really listen.  Don’t just hear the word, listen to what is actually being said. Listen to the tone of the speaker, are they making sense? Are they being logical and truthful?  Are they tripping and stuttering over their words?  Are they using fancy, obfuscating words that people do not understand? Are they twisting their words so that they cannot be held accountable?  Words can become propaganda and unless we really listen to what is being said and make discerning judgement we can be hoodwinked.  We can be tricked into thinking that a “factory” is not a slaughter house.  We can be tricked into thinking that agriculture, which is defined as – the practice of cultivating the soil, growing crops and raising animals has become an industry (which is defined  as the process of making products using machinery and factories).  How did we end up with and accept, an oxymoron such as agri-industry?  We didn’t listen!!! We didn’t question! Remember those little “w” words – who, what, why, when, where?

Words create everything don’t they? “In the beginning there was The Word”.  Once something is named, we all know it.  If a plant is called Hawthorn, then we all know it by that naming word. If it is called Fuchsia, then we know it as Fuchsia.

Words have power so we must be careful what we wish for.  We must guard our tongue in case we say something we might regret, because words carry energy.  To spell a word is to make a spell.  We must look at meanings behind words to know if the language is helping or hindering us.

Language can be beautiful as well of course and beautiful language is poetry.  Nature poetry particularly uses language to describe our amazing, diverse, incredible world.  There is also the “Language of Flowers” and there are words and phrases which evoke feelings of belonging and connection,  Mother Nature, Mother Earth. We all belong to Mother Earth, we are all relations so therefore we are all connected and if we are all connected, surely we are all one.  If we are all one, then let us use language please, to tell the truth and to spread only love.

My 5 Favourite Herbal Remedies

Whenever I use a medicinal plant, it becomes my favourite…until I use another medicinal plant. Plants are like that – they really make friends with you and when you imbibe them in whatever form, they become your favourite.  I recently posted a film to YouTube about Lemon Balm because I had just had my first cup of Lemon Balm tea of this year and I remembered it was my favourite tea of all.  Then I remembered all of my other favourites and thought I would put together a short list of at least five of my favourite herbal remedies and why I love to use them.  These are not in any order of preference, they are all of equal status to me.

Thyme – Thyme is so beautifully aromatic and so hardy.  I grow it in the poly-tunnel and outside in the herb garden.  I like to use Thyme in my cooking for the flavour it gives to stews and casseroles and to roast vegetables.  During the winter though, Thyme is one of the best remedies to prevent coughs and colds.  I always make Thyme tincture because of the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties as well as the antiseptic properties; not to mention the soothing and warming Thyme brings to a chilled body.    If Thyme is taken at the onset of a cough or cold usually that’s it, they are nipped in the bud.  If the cough does take a hold, Thyme is a wonderful anti-spasmodic and expectorant which means he helps to make the cough productive and gets the phlegm up more easily.  This quality can also help with health issues such as asthma or whooping cough.

Thyme can also be beneficial for sluggish digestive systems and the astringent properties can help with diarrhoea.  You can use Thyme for many of the body’s systems – genito-urinary , respiratory, digestive, and endocrine system. Thyme can be used  for both internal and external problems including fungal infections and wounds.  As a nervine Thyme can  relieve tension and anxiety and aid sleep.

If you do not have Thyme tincture ready when somebody comes down with an infection, then make a Thyme tea, it is really delicious and the aroma itself can make you feel better almost instantly.  The aromatic oils that are released when Thyme is burned, (or Thyme oil is put into a diffuser) can cleanse the air preventing infection from spreading.   For me Thyme is a favourite because of the wonderful taste and the  incredible healing properties. I use it every winter at the first shiver or sign of a sniffle and it works like magic.

 

Plantain is also called Slán Lus  in Irish which means Herb of Health and Plantain certainly brings health to many of the body’s systems.  The digestive system, the urinary system, the endocrine system, the respiratory system and blood system all benefit from Plantain.

Plantain is cleansing and soothing and breaks things up such as old, hard, deep phlegm that might be stuck in the lungs. I particularly love Plantain because of the way he draws out infection, pus, splinters, insect stings and other foreign bodies and heals the wound, preventing infection. I have many amazing stories of the incredible work Plantain has done in relation to drawing.  One story for example was my husband’s back.  A small lump developed and got bigger and bigger over a couple of years.  The doctor said it was probably just plasma and water and that it could be removed surgically if it became a nuisance.  When the lump became large enough to interrupt my husband’s sleep Plantain came to the rescue.  Repeated poultices over a couple of days drew out the water and plasma and took the lump away.  Today my husband’s back is flat and smooth again.

Both internally and externally,  Plantain can also be employed to reduce bleeding and haemorrhage so can be useful for deep wounds or heavy periods. The juice of Plantain can be used to relieve dry and tired eyes and for ear ache.  For children, Plantain is a Godsend when there is ‘glue ear’ and for anyone with sinus issues, Plantain would be the most likely herb to help.  My experience with Plantain shows me that Plantain is formidable when dealing with infection and drawing out poison and infection.  I make poultices for boils and ulcers, and for wounds or scratches.  Plantain tea or tincture used as a mouthwash can relieve gingivitis and clear mouth ulcers.  Try chopping young leaves in to your salad.  If you have an insect bite or a small wound, even a spot on the face, chew up some leaves and make a spit poultice.  Hold this in place for a short while – 10-15 minutes or up to half an hour and repeat if necessary.

 

Hawthorn is another favourite of mine, not only because of her action on the physical heart and cardio-vascular system but also because of her metaphysical action.  Hawthorn surrounds my land and recently we have discovered a circle of Hawthorn in a special place.  Each Hawthorn bush has its own distinctive energy, some being quite masculine, others being feminine and soft.  In fact, the Mother Tree of our garden is a very old Hawthorn.

For the heart and the cardio vascular system Hawthorn is a great tonic herb relieving palpitations, easing angina, reducing high blood pressure, raising low blood pressure and reducing cholesterol build up in the arteries.  Hawthorn’s  vasodilatory effects means that oxygenated blood gets to all tissues of the body and therefore health issues such as poor circulation and poor memory as well as mental confusion are all improved.  Hawthorn has a beneficial impact on the Vagus nerve too  which in turn leads to an improvement in any heart irregularities such as a rapid heart beat.  The way that Hawthorn affects so many benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system makes it the number one herb to consider for any heart problems.  In some countries, I have heard, Hawthorn is used as a prophylactic for people over fifty!

Apart from helping with the physical heart Hawthorn is also renowned for helping the heart on a metaphysical level.  In other words, when there is a spiritual or emotional problem affecting a person, Hawthorn can help.  When the heart feels heavy due to grief for example, Hawthorn is a gentle and supportive healer.  If a person finds it difficult to feel love for their own self or feels a disconnect from others, Hawthorn can help to “open” the heart,  restore trust and allow love and compassion to flow.  Hawthorn can help to heal a “broken heart” following a failed love affair.

Apart from the benefits to the heart, Hawthorn is also a wonderful nervine, reducing anxiety and stress and aiding restful sleep.  Hawthorn can also be used for digestive issues and as a diuretic to relieve fluid retention.


California Poppy is another special favourite for a number of reasons.  I grow this beautiful flowering herb in the poly-tunnel because she does not too well outside due to the harsh salt wind.  I really respect plants that have tenacity and California Poppy has a lovely, soft determination.  She is determined to colonise the poly-tunnel and I can’t complain because she has so much beauty, attracts pollinators and also makes a fantastic herbal remedy!

California Poppy is a wonderful herb for reducing over excitability and fractiousness in children when they are too “wired” for sleep.  For adults too, California Poppy allows the mind to relax and stops those thoughts and worries that go round and around and keep us awake.   This is due to the anti-spasmodic and sedative actions which also help relieve aches and pains in nerves and muscles. Tension and pain, stress and anxiety are also soothed away due to the actions of this lovely plant.

California Poppy can also help children with bed-wetting issues.  Children’s cuts and scrapes can be soothed by California Poppy as she has anti-microbial properties,  Persistent coughs are relieved due to the anti-spasmodic properties of Californian Poppy and there has been some research that suggests California Poppy may help the elderly with memory and concentration due to her action on the heart.  The aerial parts of the plant are most commonly used, ie those parts above ground although the root can be used for tooth ache and dental issues.  I love it when all parts of a  plant can be used – roots, aerial parts and seeds because you are engaging with the whole plant and that makes any medicine more effective.  All of this plant can be used, safely and effectively because it is so gentle.  I just love to see it coming up and I love popping open seed heads to save the seeds.

 

Looking through the ‘photos I have in the media library for this website, I saw so many “favourites” I almost couldn’t choose.  There was Meadowsweet, Mullein, Vervain, Rose, Dandelion , amongst others – I almost settled on Dandelion but in the end I decided to go with Nettle.  I love Nettle as she offers so much to so many in so many ways.  Man, woman and child can all improve their health with Nettle due to her medicinal properties and she also tastes so good in soup and pesto and stews.  I believe Nettle is a true representative of all the abundance our Mother Earth provides for us.  From Nettle we can obtain food, medicine, clothing and possibly shelter if Nettle was considered in the same way that Hemp is.  That’s just my thinking and I could be wrong – but there are new technologies that can do incredible things with plant material that would benefit the planet.

Nettle offers protection to us physically through working with us to prevent illness; and also metaphysically as she is a warrior plant, ruled by Mars.  I feel very safe knowing that there is a Nettle patch at each side of my front gate.    Apart from providing us with food, medicine and clothing, Nettle also provides us with fertiliser to grow other foods.  I use Nettle to make a compost tea and you can put Nettle chopped  into the compost bin.  One of the loveliest things about Nettle is that she provides a home for at least five species of butterfly.  The small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady and Comma all lay their eggs on Nettle.  The first time I saw all the caterpillars I was taken aback by the quantity of them but am delighted to know that there is so much diversity in my garden.

There are so many health benefits that we can enjoy from Nettle  as the plants are full of vitamins and minerals.  Nettle cleanses the blood, (among many other things) so is ideal to be eaten at this time of year when the season is changing. Fortunately it is possible to have several harvests of Nettle during the year.  I use it fresh for tincture and dry it for tea and you can find out more about Nettle in my book The Weed Handbook Volume 1.

|i grow medicinal herbs in my garden, those that I cannot find growing wild.  Lemon Balm for example, Marjoram and Basil.  My real favourites though are the wild plants – they have so much dignity and energy and they heal so effectively.  There are so many too.  On herb walks I have led, sometimes we barely move more than a couple of feet because there are so many medicinal plants growing wild.  Herbal medicine makes so much sense to me for a number of reasons- we share DNA with plants so our bodies recognise them and work with them; we have used them for millennia and survived;  they are cheaper (often free) and much safer than pharmaceuticals;  using herbs enables you to connect with the planet; herbs have natural intelligence and know what to do; making herbal medicine means you are empowered and responsible for yourself.

All of the five herbs above can be made into teas and tinctures and salves.  They can be used in metaphysical ritual and ceremony too. Some of them are delicious as teas, Nettle, Thyme and Hawthorn whereas the California Poppy and Plantain can be more bitter – but that is a good thing so don’t let it put you off.  I do hope you will consider using herbs more regularly in your life.  The more herbs that people use, making medicine themselves, the more likely it is that people will start to look after this wonderful planet.  Do you have any favourites of the moment?  Leave a comment and let me know.

 

 

 

 

Sacred Water, Sacred Wells

I recently visited a local Sacred Well.  Unlike other Holy Wells in Connemara, this one is no longer visited for a ‘pattern’ or for a saint’s day.  It is largely forgotten and ignored and as far as I know, I am the only person who visits it.  I go to it for a number of reasons, not least because it is SO beautiful, so magical and so neglected.  I love opportunities to connect with the land in different ways and to connect with my ancestors and visiting a well like this enables me to do those things.

There are Holy Wells all over Ireland and the majority are associated with saints and their healing powers.  One holy well might relieve headaches and another holy well might relieve blindness or stomach aches or some other ailment.  Almost every well in Ireland has a tree close by, more often than not Hawthorn but you might also find Ash, Holly and Oak. If the well had a reputation of offering healing and was associated with a saint, people would perform a “pattern” – a ritual walk around the well saying prayers.  The people would walk deosil or sunwise as they prayed and made offerings, perhaps a coin or something else precious to them;  and if they had a problem with their health, they would wrap a rag or cloutie on to the tree close by.  This little rag symbolised the ailment they hoped would be healed and as it rotted away, so would their ailment go; or perhaps they might leave rosary beads or a holy medal tied to the tree as an offering.

It has saddened me very much when I have seen plastic tied to a tree.  Once in Meath, close to the Lough Crew monument, there was a stand of Hawthorn trees covered in clouties made from black bin bags!!!  Obviously a group of people used something handy – perhaps a black bin bag from a coach on tour – but to my mind this was totally disrespectful to the trees and to the spirit of the land as well as to the Goddess that the monument celebrates.

In Irish mythology there are several tales of magical wells.  One of the most well known is in the cycle of tales about the Fianna, a band of warriors led by Fionn Mac Cumhail.  The story tells us that a Hazel tree, (that was the first thing to exist in the universe and contained  all the knowledge within the universe), was growing close to a well known as an Tobar Segais – The Well of Knowledge.  This was because hazel nuts would fall into it.  A beautiful salmon lived at the bottom of the well and had eaten some of the nuts, consequently becoming the Salmon of Knowledge.  By accident or perhaps it was fate(?) Fionn tasted the salmon and was immediately filled with all of the  knowledge of the Salmon, the Well and the Hazel tree – you will have to read the story for yourself!

Another story tells of Bóann, a young goddess who wondered why she was not allowed to go to her husband Nechtan’s Well of Inspiration.  No one was permitted to visit this well apart from Nechtan, (it being the same well where the Salmon of Knowledge  had lived) as it could be dangerous to approach because the water would gush out and cause injury.   Bóann decided to break the taboo because she knew that this well was the Source of All Wisdom and contained the Mother River of all the rivers of the world.  She approached counterclockwise and the waters of the well rose up and burst out becoming the mighty Rover Boyne, washing Bóann down to the sea.  There are other endings to this story that you may like to search out.

There is a similar story about the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland.  Another young goddess, Sionnan also went to visit the Well of Inspiration and when she lifted the lid of the well, the waters gushed out, flowing rapidly and drowning Sionnan.  The rapidly rushing water became the River Shannon. These young goddesses did not die though, they were transformed through the knowledge they obtained and became immortal.

 

For the ancient Irish, Water was a sacred element.  It flowed through rock and opened the earth and it was believed that it must have magical powers and the ability to connect this world with the Other World.  The people then, knew of course, that water was life and that water was healing.  After all, we began life swimming within the womb and without water our worlds, inner and outer, would not exist.  Water is the universal solvent so it can dissolve rock and metal, it can wear away large areas of land and can evaporate into steam or fog, seemingly to disappear.  Water can hold memories and perhaps that is why the Sacred Wells are so important, as they connect us to a past when we knew the Earth was alive and so were the trees and the plants and the stones and of course, Water itself.

Water has been used since antiquity to cleanse and to bless, to purify and renew, to wash away and release.  We can tell our problems to a stick or write them on a piece of paper our and let it go in the water.  As it is washed away to the sea, so is the problem washed away.  This is a very therapeutic ritual.  The element of Water is associated with the Moon and many of us can feel the pull of the moon, at certain times, affecting our emotions.  Perhaps this is because Water represents our emotional body which should be flowing freely rather than becoming stagnant and causing us harm. By tuning in to our watery side we can release negative emotions and restore flow to our psyche.  Speaking of the psyche,  Water connects us to our deep unconscious – the place where our souls know everything,  In ancient Ireland poets connected to the element of Water for creativity,

“…the place where poetry was revealed was upon the brink of water..” (John Matthews.) www.hallowquest.org.uk/  Those liminal places, shorelines, river banks, by the side of a lake (or by the River Boyne – above) were the places where three elements came together – Air, Earth and Water – and created a magical place of otherworldliness and inspiration.

On the Celtic Wheel of the Year, Water is placed in the West at the Autumn Equinox.  According to Tom Cowan,  wp.riverdrum.com/?page_id=6 “…water runs downward into the Earth, like the setting sun…(it) seeks its resting point as the sun seeks its evening rest below the horizon”.  The Equinoxes represent balance and at the  Autumn Equinox, Water represents balance as it finds its level in any container. The  Autumn Equinox is a time when we can experience balance as we take time to reconnect with our deep inner selves.

As Water is indeed a Sacred element I would encourage anyone to remember that and to bring that sacredness into the mundane.. Bless the water before drinking or using for cooking and contemplate gratitude because water IS life.  When you wash or bathe bless the Water with thanks for its cleansing and purifying, soothing and rejuvenating qualities.   Be mindful of how many times a day you use water and give thanks.  Can you show your appreciation by cleaning up a beach or riverside?  Spend time with a favourite body of water and see if you can sense the spirits that reside there.  Can Water tell you anything you need to know – after all it has been used for divination throughout history.  If you have access to a well or to a spring, revive the custom of decorating it with flowers and leaving votive offerings such as coins or a gift from Nature such as a pebble or shell.

In these troubled times I will leave you with some words of wisdom from the Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, www.johnodonohue.com/

“Water enjoys freedom.  It disperses itself evenly wherever it lies.  There are no entanglements or nets at the heart of water.  It does not know the conflict and contradiction of differentiation.  Sometimes the presence and effect of friendship and love is like the dissolution that water brings.  Love unties and dissolves whatever is caught, hardened or entangled.”

 

 

Keeping The Light Shining

 

The Winter Solstice was one of my highlights of last year, 2020.  After a year of gloom, doom, despair and darkness for many,  the Solstice was an opportunity to really celebrate the Light.

 

 

Candle light and lamp light brightened the house during the holiday season and it is always lovely to have such soft lighting when relaxing.  Our Solstice celebration also included lights or torches made from Mullein stalks that I had saved from harvest time.

 

 

You can see how brightly they burned!  They lasted for a good time too – maybe an hour or more – so I was very pleased with them.  I felt it was more important than ever to celebrate the return of the Light after such a dark year.  The Solstice occurred on the night of the conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn.  I had read a lot about this conjunction but I am not an astrologer so I won’t attempt to describe any of the forecasts.  You can read about this conjunction here and here  astrologyking.com/jupiter-conjunct-saturn-the-great-conjunction/  darkstarastrology.com/jupiter-conjunction-saturn/         

Suffice it to say, things are going to change but HOW is not known, it depends on us and how we think.  Throughout this last year I, like many, have felt anxious and fearful and I am sure there have been many dark nights of the soul for people. The lack of light during winter certainly did not help.  For me, I was not anxious about a virus or becoming ill because I am confident in my immune system and good health.  I have been anxious about what it all means.  There seem to be so many agendas, so much censorship and propaganda; so much fear generated and so many theories about what is actually going on.  Censorship and confusing information from governments and health experts have given me particular concern and I have felt a darkness spreading towards our future.  Consequently, at the Solstice I made a vow to myself, to not only welcome in the Light but to be the Light!  If we are to manifest a future that serves everyone, brings Peace and good will, a future of equal opportunity and mutual respect for the planet and for all people, then I think we must focus on the Light and not on negative possibilities that haven’t yet happened.

There are many plants throughout the year that will help us to shine our lights, not least St. John’s Wort and, coming very soon, Dandelion!  These plants are allies who will help us to shine the Light within us.

 

 

I do believe that we all have a Light within.  Some people might call it Divine Light others might call it Star Light or Love Light.  It has actually been scientifically proven that we do have a Light body made up of bio-photons. Here is an interesting article.  wakeup-world.com/2013/07/12/biophotons-the-human-body-emits-communicates-with-and-is-made-from-light/   

 

There are many definitions of Light but for me, the Light that is within us is a deep, deep Knowledge.  The Knowledge that we are part of this planet, that we are part of each other and that deep down we know that this is the Truth.  In ancient Ireland, the Truth was seen as a magical force that could bring forth healing.  One could argue that we all have our own truths and that truth may differ from person to person.  Perhaps, but I say, strip away all the conditioning, all of the religious dogma and political, social and cultural propaganda that we have all been subjected to and the deep Truth within all of us will shine like Light.  This Light or Truth, can heal us and heal our planet and heal our relationship with all our plant and animal relations.

So rather than continuing to worry, I am training myself to be in the now and more importantly to visualise and imagine, to really work to  manifest a bright, light filled future.  I want the best for my children, I want them to be free and happy.  I want all of us to be happy and free, free to be how we are meant to be.

If we keep our Light shining and resist the morbid temptation to worry and imagine the worst; if we remember  to call on our plant allies to support us then our Light will overcome any darkness and help us to manifest a better world.  Our energy and personal power will manifest the Light rather than feed the darkness.

Marianne Williamson’s poem has been with me for a long time and I would like to share it with you:

Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

 

If we consciously shine our own Light then the Light will spread and all will be well.  The plants are already doing it even in January!

Medicinal Spices of Christmas

 

 

 

I know, I know, I know and I am sorry.   It is far too early in the year to be mentioning the C word.  It is the right time however, to be making “The Cake” – which I did last month.

Making the cake and enjoying the most gorgeous of seasonal aromas,  ( the cloves, the orange, the cinnamon and mixed spice, the nutmeg and the brandy….mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm), I was reminded of the medicinal qualities of many of the cake’s ingredients and thought it would be a good idea to share them because we often forget what a powerful pharmacopoeia we have in our kitchen cupboards.  I was also reminded that spices can come from very far afield and we have been using them for a very  long time both as medicine and in cooking.

Spices have been used in medicine and in cooking for  at least 3000 years.  They were used in China, Egypt  and in the Middle East for centuries.  The Romans brought spices west as they expanded their empire and the crusaders brought them  again in the middles ages.  Spices come from China, India, Indonesia, South America and elsewhere and in the past were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them.  Nowadays any household can enjoy spices and hopefully, indigenous people around the world are no longer being  killed and wiped out, for having land that produces spices, as was the case during the spice wars during the 17th and 18th centuries.

I find it interesting that the spices we use, particularly those we use at Christmas time, are very beneficial for the digestive system along with other complaints.

 

After mixing butter and xylitol, ( we avoid sugar, particularly at this time of year!) I start adding some beaten egg and flour and with the flour, the spices.

CLOVES – Eugenia caraphyllus  and Syzgium aromaticum  This spice takes his common name from the French word “clou” for nail because he resembles a little nail or tack.  The Clove is the dried, unopened flower bud of the Clove Tree and has been used for nausea, flatulence, vomiting, worms and toothache.  Adding Clove to food can help avoid these complaints as he is both antiseptic and a natural anti-biotic; and can reduce distressing symptoms as he stimulates the digestive system.  The spice can also be drunk as a tea or added to another tea or favourite warm drink.  For toothache – which I hope you won’t have from eating too much sugar! – can be eased by holding a Clove in the mouth next to the tooth or put some Clove oil on to a small piece of cottonwool and hold that on the tooth.  This will numb the pain but it is only a first aid remedy until you can get to a dentist.

 

NUTMEG – Myristica fragrans – is, to me, very exotic.  I love the smell and I love using him with vegetables.  I also put Nutmeg in the Christmas cake.  Again, this is a spice that aids digestion, preventing gas and fermentation of food in the stomach and helps ease nausea and vomiting. Nutmeg also supports the liver and kidneys as they work to remove toxins from the body.  Nutmeg is an anti-bacterial spice and can improve memory.  As a muscle relaxant, he can also help relax a tense stomach making digestion easier.  Nutmeg is not commonly used in medicine today because too much of it can be toxic.  A little in the cake is just enough!

 

 

CINNAMON –Cinnamonum zeylanicum – is a spice that everyone is familiar with.  I use her to bring out the sweetness in the fruit.  Cinnamon is another spice that warms up the digestive system and prevents a build up of gas as well as  helping to expel gas.  As Cinnamon is an astringent she can help with diarrhoea as well as nausea and vomiting and can relieve pain the bowels.  We can also use her to  balance blood sugar levels that helps us to prevent diabetes as Cinnamon “eats” sugar and increases the metabolic rate.  The cardiovascular system is improved and cholesterol lowered by this anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory spice.  Wonderful at any time of the year and in any dish!

 

MIXED SPICE – There are various blends of different spices in a “Mixed Spice”.  This blend contains the above spices already mentioned as well as Ginger and Fennel.  Guess what?  Both Ginger and Fennel are both digestive spices and will help you avoid discomfort over the festive period.  Fennel –Foeniculum vulgare is a stomachic which means it is a specific for the stomach,  easing cramp,  relaxing, reducing flatulence and improving appetite and overall digestion.  Ginger – Zingiber offincale promotes gastric secretion, warms the system, relieves an upset stomach and nausea and, as all the spices do, also relieves flatulence!!

It seems to me that we could be using medicinal gifts from Nature without even realising.  The Sage and the Horseradish that people may use in their stuffing and sauces are also very beneficial in the digestion of meat and fats.  As we feast during the Winter Solstice or at Yule or Christmas, we can be assured that in using these spices we shall not suffer with indigestion, within reason of course. They can all be added, not only to the Cake but  to warm drinks, in combination or separately.

I think we are learning that over-indulgence at this time of year does not really do us any favours.  Enjoying our food, taking time to slow down and to really appreciate all the subtle flavours is much healthier.  We will be giving thanks for the generosity of Mother Nature who provides us with the remedies that allow  for a little self-indulgence!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Samhain Celebrations – Feasting and Communing with the Ancestors

I’ve been busy this last week updating and sending off the Samhain module which is part of the Wise Woman Training Course.  danusirishherbgarden.com/wise-woman-training/  I am delighted that so many are engaging with this course which goes around the Wheel of the Year.  I have always enjoyed Samhain.  As a child the possibility of magic and mystery and the potential opportunity to see a ghost made me look forward to Hallowe’en – as I knew it then.  Now, as an adult my understanding has changed and I celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year.  Samhain is SO much more than the nonsensical Hollywood version which is really, just another attempt to denigrate women – “evil witches and hags”; whilst at the same time trying to separate us from Nature and from our Dead.  The terrible fear around death at this moment, all over the western world, is because we have lost our connection to the Dead and we have forgotten that the soul is immortal.  To many people today, death seems to be THE END, something to fear.  Whereas, if we celebrate Samhain instead of Hallowe’en,  (with all its commercial, nasty plastic and diabetes-inducing sweets),  we feel comforted to know that those we loved are still with us even if they are elsewhere.  We can sense, through our intentional celebrations that they are close by.

The traditional celebrations include saving a place at the table for the Ancestors to join in the main meal.  I set an extra place and put out food as if a corporeal person was there and then after the meal I offer that plate to the Nature Spirits.  The meal is conducted in silence so that if our ancestors want to speak to us, we are more able to hear them.  It is also traditional to leave whiskey and tobacco at the fireside should the Ancestors want to sit by the fire once we are in bed.  These little acts give us the chance to do something again for our loved ones and to let them know that they are alive in our hearts and minds.  Perhaps if we sit by the fire quietly we will sense their presence and feel comforted.

This year, as always, I will create an altar that celebrates Samhain.  This altar will represent the New Year, the Ancestors and Seed Fall . ( danusirishherbgarden.com/2017/11/Have a look at this older blog post) I will include photographs of my Ancestors and perhaps some items of sentimental value that connect me to them.  In the evening, with the beginning of the new day, we will begin our feast.  We often start with a root vegetable soup – carrots, parsnips, turnip, onions and potato.  The sweetness of the root vegetables makes us feel a little brighter now that the nights are getting dark earlier.  The feast always includes Colcannon, one of my favourite dishes and we have so much kale growing it would be a shame not to use it.

 

This year I have made something for the first time, which I will be putting on my Colcannon and my veggie sausages – Hawthorn Berry Ketchup.  

This has been made from the last of the harvest.  Going out to collect or forage the last of the summer and autumn fruits reminds us again that life is cyclical and that there is life in death.

That actually, there nothing to fear.  I added some late Blackberries to my ketchup and here is how I made it.

I rinsed the fruit and removed the stalks from the Hawthorn berries with a fork

I then placed all the berries into a pan with some water and Apple Cider Vinegar – organic of course  –  brought to the boil and simmered for half an hour or so until the berries had split.

The next step was to strain the liquid through a sieve into a clean pan, pressing the fruit through too.  Quite a laborious job.

I then added some sugar and spices to the mixture, brought it back to the boil and simmered until it had thickened.  Then I poured it into a sterilised bottle and labelled it.

 

I made up my recipe by amalgamating about three others so here it is – adjust it as you will.

1lb/500g Hawthorn berries and some Blackberries, 300ml ACV, 300ml water, 1 small onion finely chopped, 175g (-250g) of brown sugar, (I used about 200g) Salt, Fresh Black Pepper and spices – I used Chilli Flakes, Cumin, Coriander seeds crushed, and pinches of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.  Herbs that I grow myself in my garden and that called to be a part of this.

At the feast, we will also enjoy an Apple Pie and a traditional cake –  the fruit Breac.

The fruits and the vegetables  of the Samhain Feast connect us with the harvests and lead us to remember how much abundance we receive from Mother Earth. Samhain is also known as Seed Fall as so many plants are going to seed with the promise of more abundance to come later in this New Year.  As the winter progresses we can feel nourished by Mother Earth and feel safe to go within, to assess how we did this last year and to make our plans and set our goals for the coming year.  As there is little to be done out on the land, we can now take the time to commune with our ancestors and to heed their wisdom.  The Grandmothers and Wise Woman of our past communities marked the seasons, acknowledged Mother Earth  and shared the wisdom of the Ancestors.  This female power has scared the patriarchy for centuries if not millenia and thus those wise women and grandmothers have been reduced to “wicked witches” and hags who consort with hobgoblins and demons.  This is a ploy to make us fear the dark,the Ancestors and Mother Earth.  We are told to stay in and shut the doors when we should be out dancing under the moonlight!  Here in Connemara  it is very stormy – you can feel all that elemental energy!!  It is so rejuvenating and awakens our wild, natural selves.  Will you go out and dance under this Samhain Full Moon?

 

 

 

An Ode to Autumn

 

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom friend of the maturing sun,

 

I can still remember John Keat’s poem To Autumn even though I was in school when I last read it.  It stayed with me, I think, because Autumn has always been one of my favourite seasons. I was born on the Autumn Equinox and naturally, whenever it was my birthday it felt as if it was a new year – which it was in a personal way.  With school starting just before my birthday – a new school year, (and then I became a teacher so had the same experience through work),  Autumn has always felt exciting and rejuvenating.  The smell of Autumn is so distinctive as well and smells go deep, deep down into memory, into the oldest part of the brain.  I can remember smoke from gardens as people tidied them up and burned leaves and whatever.  The smell of the frost in the morning also added an air of anticipation.  The difference in the light,  the sense of change,  of stepping over some invisible threshold, has always piqued my imagination making me look forward to whatever is coming next.

 

This year is a BIG birthday! So big I can hardly believe I have spent so many decades on this planet.  I look back at all the years of loving Mother Earth and feel very grateful that I found my way home to her.  Growing up without a garden I never imagined that one day I would be growing trees and flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables; that I would be saving seed and doing my best to create a little paradise, yet here I am!

The Autumn Equinox represents the second harvest, the fruit harvest, and this year in particular, I am contemplating all I have harvested in my life and what seeds I intend to sow in the years coming.  With talk of a serious recession, I am intending to sow many food seeds in 2021  because I think it is a good idea to be a little more self-sufficient.  I also plan to sow metaphorical “seeds” for the things I want to see grow in the world.

 

After all the freshness of spring and early summer with their busy-ness and thrust to action; then the heat of summer proper, there is something relaxing about Autumn.  The work is done – almost, (it’s never really done in a garden), and the sun is visibly “maturing” as the year ages.  Even though some plants are dying back, there are still the joys to be had from collecting blackberries and harvesting apples from our trees.  The last of the courgettes have just been discovered under a mass of leaves and there are still potatoes, kale, cabbage, leeks and chard to harvest as well as some herbs .  Lots of flowers have gone to seed; Foxglove, Mullein, Rose Campion for example, although Evening Primrose is still holding its own and Fuschia is still spilling its ruby-red dancing flowers. The roses are also still going strong and I have been pleasantly surprised this year by some flowers that have just emerged.  I am not sure what they are – some kind of bedding plants that were just leaves when I bought them.  I was disappointed during the summer that they had not flowered and now, suddenly, boom!! – lots of bright pinks and purples.

 

Thinking of red, there are Hawthorn berries too.  More abundance to be collected and dried for medicine.

It is during Autumn when I really feel and appreciate the abundance of Mother Nature.  I feel a sense of fulfilment looking at my jars of chutneys and relishes;  my dried herbs for medicinal teas and bottles and jars of medicines all supplied by Mother Nature.

 

There are also lots of Nasturtiums still flowering, adding their own colours to the Autumn palette.  I collect them for making Nasturtium Vinegar.

After a month of infusing, this vinegar will be ready to treat sinus problems and head colds.  It can also be used as a prophylactic as it is full of Vitamin C,  just take a spoonful each day if you are prone to head colds or blocked sinuses. Soon it will be time to make  Fire Cider Vinegar and once that happens I will know we are on our way into winter.  In the meantime, I continue with the harvest and start to make soups and tasty veggie casseroles and stews.

I really love this time of year as there is so much of everything which feeds the body and the soul.

Which season do you prefer?

 

Magical Mugwort – Artemesia!

Tonight there will be a Full Moon and I was thinking of the plants in my garden that are ruled by the moon or associated with the moon.  Cucumber is one such plant as are Californian Poppy and Poppy; Chamomile, Willow, Chickweed, Cuckoo Flower, White Rose and Mugwort. These plants are cooling and moisturising,  sedating and they bring pain relief.  Quite a number of plants ruled by the Moon (or that have an association with the Moon), are also beneficial to women for their menstrual cycles and more.  One of my favourite plants associated with the moon is Artemesia or Mugwort.

Artemesia vulgararis, also known as Mugwort (because she was once used to flavour beer and beer was drunk from mugs), is actually ruled by Venus but is strongly associated with the moon.  In some astrology, Venus is seen to be the Daughter of the Moon and there is an interesting article about this here.

 According to Culpepper, a herbalist should know which planet rules which plant or herb so that one can correctly choose which plant or herb is most suitable for the individual.  As Venus rules those  bodily parts specifically relating to women, it makes sense to choose plants or herbs that are ruled by Venus – or by the Moon as we also know the connection between women and the lunar sphere.  When we look back in history we see that older civilisations were very in tune with the cycle of the moon and her effects on the oceans and tides as well as women’s bodies, as discussed here 

 

Mugwort  is used to help regularise the menstrual cycle and as such can be of benefit to young women who have just entered puberty and perhaps have irregular or difficult periods.  Mugwort was also used during labour to help bring the baby safely as well as to safely deliver the after-birth.  I make an infused oil of Mugwort to use as a massage oil for the labouring mother – it’s good for sciatica pain as well!  Mugwort can help a woman at any time in life by balancing hormones and helps during menopause by reducing anxiety due to the action on the nervous system.  

Mugwort, being a bitter herb is beneficial for the digestive system.  For those with eating disorders or with anorexia, Mugwort can help nudge a person back to good appetite.  If a person is trying to overcome addiction – to both alcohol or narcotic drugs – Mugwort can help during withdrawal.

 

 

Thinking of the Moon, on this evening when the moon is full, I remember that I prefer the name Artemesia.  This plant is named for the Goddess Artemis, an ancient Greek Goddess who is patroness of the hunt, the forest, vegetation  and all the wild animals.  She is often depicted as a woman with a bow and arrow although Homer referred to her as Mistress of the Animals as she is also protecting the young animals from hunters .

 

Artemis is also renowned as a goddess of hearth and home and as a protector of  women – helping during childbirth and also to preserve young women’s chastity from the unwanted attentions of men.  Artemis is a Goddess of the Moon, her twin brother being the sun god, Apollo whom she had helped to deliver, hence her role in assisting women in labour. As a goddess of nature and vegetation she is found dancing in the wilderness, under the light of the moon with all the animals of the forest with her.  She loves wild dancing with trees and with her companions the tree nymphs.  When Orion the hunter was chasing one of her nymphs she called on her father, Zeus, to save them.  He changed the seven nymphs into a cluster of stars that we know as “The Seven Sisters” or the Pleiades.  Here in Connemara, there are several Holy Wells named for the Seven Sisters of the Seven Daughters…..is there a connection??

 

Reading about Artemis makes me feel very attached to the plant Artemesia.  She is such a beautiful, tall, graceful plant.  Her connection to the moon is apparent in the silvery undersides of her leaves and the silvery appearance of her flowers.  I have her growing in a part of my garden that is dedicated to the Irish Moon Goddess Aine.  I find that Artemesia makes a tasty tea and her powers of protection can be claimed by making a smudge stick.  Artemesia is also harvested for use in divinatory rituals and for vivid dreaming.  It is traditional to include Artemesia in a dream pillow or just put her straight under the pillow.  I have made a flower essence from Artemesia and I take it when going to bed, setting an intention to receive wisdom and teachings from the Goddess in my dreams.

 

How do you use Artemesia?

 

Growth – It’s a Funny Word, that!

Isn’t it wonderful in springtime, when we observe the growth in the hedgerows and fields and in the parks and in our gardens.  We feel a deep down, almost primeval feeling of relief,  that life is continuing, that plants are growing again after winter.  I think that sense of relief is carried in our genetic memories.  The sight of spring growth lifts the spirits and promises us that the light is returning.  Plant life needs the light of the sun for energy, for growth.

 

We start off some of our seeds in February, tucking them up in modules of compost, looking forward to the day when we spot signs of growth.  Outside, we notice the greening of the land, with the growth of Dandelion, Cleavers and young Nettles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh buds on trees also tell us that there is growth as do the flowers that appear as the Earth warms and we head towards summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing growth in Nature like this is so heart affirming.  We look forward to the growth of our vegetables and to  the fruit on the trees.  Harvest time is a natural outcome of all the growth during the summer.  Watching our plants grow – the vegetables, the fruit bushes, the herbs and the trees; enjoying the colours and scents of the flowers is like watching our children grow.  Nothing gives more satisfaction than seeing a child grow from infant to adult or seeing the garden grow over the seasons.

With harvest time at Lughnasadh, growth slows down and we begin to harvest our crops.  All the effort has paid off.  We are grateful to the sun and to the rain.  We are grateful to the plants.  We are grateful that we have had the opportunity to enjoy the weather and the fruits of our labours.

 

Later, as we reach Seed-Fall or Samhain, (the end of summer), we harvest the final crops and our seeds.

 

 

Plants die back and it is time for the Earth to rest.  It is time for us to prepare for winter.  We know that it is only natural that growth cannot continue.  It would be wrong if it did.  Imagine if our children kept growing but never reached adulthood, it would be worrying and unnatural.  Imagine if plants kept growing but we never reached harvest time, we would be hungry!  We refer to various bodily complaints in terms of unnatural growth – an in-growing toe nail for example is very painful.  An overgrowth of facial hair on a woman can be very distressing.  Often cancer is described as a “growth”. Such complaints cause stress and pain and are the result of some imbalance within the body; something gone wrong.  The natural cycle of life is for all living things to come into being, grow and then die off.  Then the cycle begins again. We can see these cycles in the seasons, in the natural world and in our selves.

An economy is a system in which the production of and consumption of resources are managed.  Every day we are given news about this system – which, by the way, is not alive.  It is an idea, a method, a system of organisation.  We are told that we need growth, we need the economy to grow.  The growth of this economy is dependent on producing and consuming more and more and more.  Unlike natural systems, the economy must keep growing, it must never cycle or relax or end.  The objective of our economists and politicians is to convince us that the economy is a “being” which must be fed.  To feed this non-living system, method, idea,  necessitates plundering our natural world.

Environmental groups and  green parties also talk about the necessity of economic growth as if they can achieve two diametrically opposed outcomes.  They do know that caring for the planet cannot be done if one is seeking economic growth, based on a system that manages the production and consumption of our planet’s resources.  Extraction, pollution, throwaway this and disposable that, destruction of habitats, 24/7 anything you want on tap, (most of which we don’t need but are trained to want) is an exhausting treadmill of pointlessness for us and for the planet.

It is quite simple.  There is no such thing as infinite growth – we know that when extended growth  happens in Nature, something is seriously wrong and out of balance.  We cannot have a happy planet, a healthy environment, (internally and externally) if we are in exploitation mode.  Life would be so much simpler, happier, less stressful, if everyone made do with a little less, slowed down, rested and looked forward to the return of “summer”.

 

Focusing Intention and Attention

 

We are living in strange times at the moment and many people have found that with the  extra time on their hands they have been able to reflect on their lives.  Some have taken up yoga and meditation or are watching movies and soaps. Me?  I have never been busier! This lock-down has compelled me to spend more time outside in the garden.  I have built more vegetable beds; I have sown more seeds; I have planted more trees, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBIE86dVq5A)  and I have had my head down working.  I have been very busy doing things.  It has almost been as if, because the world is in lock-down, on a go-slow, I have had the opportunity to catch up.  But catch up with what?

When I was living in England, before I came home to Ireland, I lived in a house like this,

and I only had a tiny back-yard garden.

Here in the west of Ireland, the fields are small and are called gardens.  When a person here is talking about a garden they mean a field, not a lawn with some flower beds.  My garden here originally looked a bit like this, (though not as bad I am glad to say)

as this poor garden is just neglected.

For the past eleven years, give or take a year, I have been working with my garden, trying to co-create a place of peace and beauty. I have hungered so long for such a place, a place where I could grow my own food, connect with Nature and encourage bio-diversity.  As I work, I speak to the plant spirits asking them to grow well and to thrive.  I sense, out of the corner of my eye, that spirits of the land are looking on.   I focus my intention on what I am doing and on the plants.

Just before lock-down, we went to visit a very dear friend who has an outstandingly magical garden.  We always come away full of hope and inspiration and lots of great ideas and encouragement.  Her garden is a true labour of love and it shows.  You can see what I mean here –  bealtainecottage.com/about/.  Another friend of ours inherited a well established, mature garden with a beautiful ancient woodland at its edges, a  real olde worlde garden,  anglersreturn.com/home-amenities.php.  These gardens have inspired me so much, to the point where I work, work, work to “catch up” and I have only just realised that I am so busy doing the gardening that I am not just being with the garden.  I am focusing my intention on the garden,  on the outcome of my work; but I was not focusing  my attention which is quite different.

 

My intention is to create the beautiful garden of peace that I mentioned.  Focusing my intention seems to be working. I took a break the other day, a lovely warm day of sunshine and blue skies.  Sitting down and glancing around I really looked at my garden, really saw it..  I was quite surprised to see how lush and beautiful it is.

 

 

 

 

It dawned on me then, (and I feel so stupid about this), that intention is brilliant when it is focused and it achieves a lot.  My intention has created a lovely, wild garden with trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables and fruit. However,  my garden needs my attention as well.  If I really want to co-create with the spirits of the garden and with Mother Nature, I must be attentive to them.  Just as a child needs attention to help it develop confidence and grow,  my garden needs my full attention to enable it to feel really loved and  really appreciated.

Professor Emoto showed in his experiments with water crystals that if something is ignored it pines away from neglect.  If something is shouted at and cursed it will just survive.  Best of all is that which receives loving attention.  (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehlw-9PJkIE)   I believe that showing my garden loving attention will result in a much deeper, more sacred relationship with the land for me; and that will lead to us, my garden and I, enjoying a wonderful life of co-creativity together.