A Springtime Walk in Connemara

Walking the dog this morning, I was enjoying the soft spring day and feeling optimistic, fresh and energised.  The Spring Equinox is almost upon us and we should be feeling balanced and in harmony and ready for anything, as there are so many spring tonic herbs available at the moment.   I decided on my walk to stalk Nature, to creep up on Her and see what She was up to.  She was up to quite a lot – it is amazing just how many opportunities there are for health and well being along the boreen that I walk.  Some of the wild herbs are in my book The Weed Handbook Volume 1 and others are in my new book, The Weed Handbook Volume 2. (Both available from this web site – just a hint!!)

As I walked along I came across lots of Dandelion, shining very brightly despite the grey, overcast day.

Thanks to so many people getting the word out, I suspect almost everyone now knows that the Dandelion is a vital food source for the bees recently out of hibernation, not to mention how good it is for people.

 

Look at how bright and juicy these Blackberry or Bramble shoots are!  Just brimming with life and very tasty in salads and juices, a real spring tonic.

 

Another spring tonic,  the lovely Nettle.  Full of chlorophyll and lots of nutrients.  A perfect plant for building the blood after winter.

 

This is Honeysuckle or Woodbine.  Honeysuckle is a powerful anti-viral so if you have a cold or ‘flu, collect some leaves and make yourself a cup of medicinal tea.  You can find out more about her in  The Weed Handbook Volume 2. I think last year she was in bud earlier so I am wondering if we can expect different weather this summer.

 

This little flower is known as Day’s Eye or Daisy and she is closing up as the day is so overcast.  You can see the edges of the petals are tinged pink.  My lovely aunt used to tell me, when I was a small child, that the pink was the remains of the flower’s lipstick after she had been to the Flower Ball.  What other explanation could there be?

 

Usnea is a lichen that grows on trees here in Connemara thanks to the lovely fresh, clean air we enjoy and is a very powerful herbal medicine, treating all manner of infections as he is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial.  There is really no need for anti-biotics if you get hold of some Usnea tincture.  You can find out more about it here:-

www.herbalremediesadvice.org/usnea-herb.html

 

This is Cleavers, one of my favourite herbs.  Another spring tonic, Cleavers removes metabolic waste from the lymph system and from the blood.  She is also making her appearance a little later than last year, in my neck of the woods. It pays to keep an eye on things I think , if we want to make any sense of the weather we are having these days.

When I arrived home I decided to have a look around the garden to see how things were coming along.  Trees are in different stages of budding and it is so exciting looking at them.  The cherries seem to be the earliest in my garden.  I have Sour Cherry,

 

and Weeping Cherry,

 

and Wild Cherry, which is already in leaf!

 

This tree also has a fully opened flower.

 

I am in such a state of anticipation!  I took lots more photographs – of Forsythia and Lilac, of Rowan buds and Guelder Rose.  All the buds are so sweet and innocent, so vulnerable but SO full of potential too.  It is no wonder we use the term “budding” when we refer to someone who is on the verge of becoming something wonderful.  Nature is wonderful.  It is hard at the moment to envisage the garden being colourful and vibrant again, but the tree buds and the stirring hedgerow greens bestow optimism and hope and that thrill of excitement that something is going to happen!!

Any trees in your garden in bud or flower yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danu’s Irish Herb Garden – Spring Intentions and Brigid’s Day

Spring is almost here – only a week until Brigid’s Day Eve which is a great opportunity to check in with the intentions made at the new year.  It is also a good time to make some Spring intentions now that energy is rising as the Earth slowly wakes up and begins to stretch.  I made several intentions, or promises to myself, and as I begin to feel re-energised as Spring approaches, I find myself examining the intentions and adding more energy to them.  One philosophy I read somewhere about intentions or resolutions, is that you should let someone know what they are so that you cannot then lapse or give in and lose face.  So here goes, here are my intentions.

My second book about herbs – The Weed Handbook Vol 2 – has been started and is underway and I intend for it to be available to buy by Spring Equinox.  You can pre-order a copy if you would like.  I am also, almost ready to make available digital Herbal Workshops for those people who live a long way off and would like to attend my workshops but cannot.  My HERb shed should be ready for use by mid summer; and, as the work there continues, I am continuing to beautify the garden with more herbs, flowers and trees.

As Brigid’s Day approaches, I am planning a little ceremony or ritual, dedicating all the work and my intentions to her.  After all, she is a goddess of creativity! I always celebrate Brigid’s Day, following tradition, (the little we know) as well as creating some of my own rituals.

I follow the traditions of making Brigid’s crosses for protection of the home, outbuildings and for the car; a little Brídeog – a small doll made from rushes to represent Brigid – and I make a libation or offering of milk and honey,  and oat cakes, foods that would be associated with Brigid.  I also leave outside a scarf or piece of fabric so that when Brigid passes by, she can bless the fabric with her healing powers.

As the Earth is waking, green herbs are appearing that are tonic and cleansing.  Nettles, Cleavers, Chickweed and of course Dandelion, among others.  I make a small feast of these fresh cleansing herbs and I make a vegetable stew with barley – the traditional grain of old Ireland.  Following these traditions I have created something and crafted something and used fire to achieve my Imbolc feast.

There is very little source material available regarding the Goddess Brigid yet there is sufficient information passed down as myth to know something about her.  If things have been added over the centuries, I think that demonstrates both her popularity and that she is a “living” archetype.  She is regarded as a Triple Goddess of Fire, looking after the hearth flame, the flame of the forge and the flame of poetic inspiration.   She most DEFINITELY was NEVER a blacksmith!!! (One modern day writer has gone to great lengths to work out if Brigid ever worked as a blacksmith!)  Her relationship to the forge was purely metaphorical.  In ancient times, the people who were able to transform molten metals into things of beauty or of great use and value were thought to be working magic with fire and as a goddess of fire, Brigid is patroness of the forge.

Her remit is quite large.  She looks after hearth and home and consequently offers healing and protection; she provides the passion and inspiration needed for creative work and crafting and is also associated with midwifery and fertility.  It is no surprise then that  Brigid is associated with Imbolc which is placed on the Wheel of the Year between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and is one of the eight fire festivals. 

There is some dispute as to what Imbolc actually means; some scholars believe it means i mbolc meaning “in the belly” which could be referring either to the sheep who are about to lamb, thus providing the people with milk; or it could  be referring to Mother Earth’s belly as this is the time when spring crops were sown and when other young were expected.  An alternative suggestion is that imbolc comes from the Irish iomfholc which can be roughly translated to mean a great washing or bathing, that is, a very specific bathing such as for purification for example.  An old Irish manuscript refers to a poem or verse that seems to bear this out,

“…..this is what is proper at Imbolc, washing the hands, the feet, the head”

and of course, springtime is a time of spring cleaning, both internally and in the house.  In ancient times it is quite possible that people did not have the opportunity to bathe during winter or open up their homes to fresh air. By this time, Imbolc, the beginning of Spring, they would be desperate for some fresh, cleansing greens for themselves and be glad of the opportunity to clean their bodies and their homes.

 

The Goddess Brigid is said to have brought magical bees from the Other World to bring sweetness into our world.  Perhaps that is why she has always been associated with Dandelion – one of the first spring flowers that provide the bees with nectar.  The Sacred Oak is another plant associated with her so planting oak saplings would be an appropriate thing to do at Imbolc at the end of winter.

Although Brigid is a goddess of fire, she is also linked to the holy wells of Ireland and there are several holy wells dedicated to Brigid.  It always feels nice to visit one of the wells and ritually wash my hands in the water for purification and to remove any litter or rubbish lying around.  As fire is also associated with purification, I like to light a white candle, sit with it and mediate on the “rubbish” I could release and cleanse away.

How do you celebrate Brigid’s Day  or Imbolc?  Leave a comment below to let me know.

An Bhean Feasa – Beds, Bees and Ox-Eye Daisies!

I am so, so grateful for the wonderful weather we are having as I write this post.  The garden is truly blossoming and I have been working outside every day, planting and re-potting and weeding,  (although that last job will never be done!!!!)  and making a new bed to accommodate all the seedlings that have germinated.

This is a potato and onion bed that I made at the beginning of April using the “Lasagne” method.  It is simply made from layers of organic material. I strimmed first, put down cardboard to smother any perennial weeds and then built up layers of manure, cardboard, grass cuttings, cardboard, top soil, seaweed and then home-made compost on top.
Here is the same bed today,

Just behind it, I finished another bed yesterday.  I started with the cardboard,
Then I added some farm yard manure, courtesy of my kind brother, then added another layer of cardboard.
Grass cuttings followed by cardboard and bark mulch.
Following with more cardboard, courtesy of John Stanley of Clifden, I finished with home-made compost.  I didn’t have quite enough this time so I had to add some shop bought compost.
For some reason, I have gone crazy sowing brassicas and beetroot which I have planted out into this new bed.  There are more to be planted out yet as well as spinach and coriander.  The strips you see around the bed are copper, cut from an old hot water tank.  Hopefully they will keep the slugs and snails from accessing the tender young vegetables.
So, you can see that I have been quite busy.  Walking around the garden I am delighted to report that thanks to the fact that we use NO pesticides, NO herbicides and NO chemical fertilisers, I can see lots of insects.  There are lace-wings, hoverflies, dragonflies and many types of bees, bumble bees and the native Connemara bee.

A Bumble on a Comfrey flower.

One of many on the Raspberry bushes,

More!
I used to think that planting flowers was a bit “surburban” and that I was a “serious” vegetable grower until a very good friend, Colette, pointed out to me that we must plant flowers to ensure that the bees and other pollinators are fed and have habitat.  I am so glad because secretly I always wanted to plant flowers, I just thought flowers were an indulgence.  Now I understand what an important role they play.  Whether they be planted by me,…………

Borage.

Valerian – Valeriana Officinalis

Rose, Rosa Rugosa.

Jacob’s Ladder – with a bee or two feeding on it.
Or perhaps they were strewn as gifts from Mother Nature,

Here you can see that She has provided us with Herb Robert, Speedwell, and Buttercup.

A meadow full of Buttercup, Red Clover, Ragged Robin, Orchids and Self-Heal,

Alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens
And of course, the Ox Eye Daisies

Flowers bring beauty to a garden and to our senses of sight and smell and beauty means love.  If we can appreciate the beauty of our wild flowers, (“weeds” to some), we can love them and recognise them for all they offer.  It is so good to know that so many of them have medicinal qualities or provide food for us AND for the bees.  Thank the Goddess for flowers.
What is your favourite wild or garden flower and why?  Let me know by leaving a comment in the box below.

An Bhean Feasa – A Capricious Spring!

It is said that if  Brigid’s Day is cold, wet and stormy, then the Goddess of Winter, An Cailleach, stays in bed and sleeps on not noticing Spring creeping up on her.  However, if the day is fine on 1st February, the Cailleach gets up to collect more firewood as she means the winter to go on.  This year, here in Connemara, the weather was mixed and we are finding that Spring is very capricious.

 

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Rainbow and rain clouds
During the first part of February we had “never ending” rain which seemed to go on forever and people were questioning how much more the land could take.  Then we had a day of sunshine and I was working in the garden enjoying the warmth of the sun when I noticed the dog was very busy with something under a Hydrangea.  I went to investigate and found this:
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Can you see the Bumble Bee in the Crocus?

 

She must have been one of the first bees out of hibernation but our Ribes haven’t flowered yet, nor has the Blackthorn and there are few Dandelions. I hope she was able to feed from the Crocus before it closed for the evening and wrapped her in purple silk.
The light in Connemara is very special – even magical and you can always tell the season from the effect of the light on the landscape.

 

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 On our walk we saw Daffodils standing proud, golden trumpets wrongly foretelling that warmer weather was coming.

 

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Vinca Minor – a beautiful and medicinal plant is already in flower.

 

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The other signs of Spring were the Monbretia coming up through the grass in a truly bright shade of green.

 

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One of my favourite things to see on a walk, and can be seen all year round, is Moss.  So velvety and soft and so varied.

 

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It makes me feel as if I am looking into a magical otherworldly realm.

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After the brief sunshine, the ominous clouds returned and plunged us back into that miserable greyness.

 

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The wind began to rise and it was bitterly cold, more so than previously.  The Crocuses closed up and the poor Daffodils were beaten down. One of the benefits of the wind is that it dries up the land – but also my face when I’m outside!! Not so pleasant.

 

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The rain returned.  There was talk of snow and storms.  We poo-pooed the warnings here because we rarely get snow and we are on the west coast, far away from “The Beast“!!  But the snow did come.  Certainly not as badly as elsewhere but enough to engender a frisson of excitement.

 

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I hope the Daffodils will spring back when the snow melts.  Strange to think of this happening outside when inside the polytunnel lemons are growing!

 

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Is this because the polytunnel is very effective at creating a micro climate or is such variation due to climate change?  Perhaps it’s the end of the world as we know it, in reference to St. Malachy’s predictions.  It’s a sensitive subject and creates a great deal of debate.  What do you think?  Use the comments box below to let me know.