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.”

 

 

Winter Stock-Take, Looking Towards Spring

Here in Connemara we have finished  celebrating the Winter Solstice and on Monday I went to a friend’s house to enjoy an evening  with women friends as it was Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas.  Traditionally  in Ireland, this is the day when women put up their feet and relax or they go out and party with female friends before getting back to “business as usual”.

 

I always do a personal stock-take during the holiday season asking myself – What have I learned?  Did I fulfill my aspirations and the plans that I made this time last year?  What challenges did I meet this year?  Did I have any successes?  Was I happy? Did I make others happy? Did I make a positive difference in the world?

Doing this personal stock-take or reflection, I realise that I have learned a lot about myself, which is good because now I know some of the areas that need improvement and I know my strengths.  One of my plant allies, Fuchsia was a great help and support when I was facing challenges.  I feel so fortunate in having such good friends and allies in the plant world.

 

I fulfilled some of my aspirations and plans for 2019. For example,  I wrote and published my second book – “The Weed Handbook Volume 2”.

 

(which you can buy from this website – along with “The Weed Handbook Volume 1”)

I battled with technology, struggled with websites, became creative with cameras and learned new skills to create my first ever digital herbal course., “Herbs for Winter Wellness”.  This is available on the Udemy teaching platform and here is a link to it:

www.udemy.com/course/herbs-for-winter-wellness-from-danus-irish-herb-garden/?referralCode=C3D8822F078850AA3AD0

I am also thrilled that my other digital course, “Wise Woman, Goddess Training” has also taken off and I have students doing that too.  Here is a link:

danusirishherbgarden.com/wise-woman-training/)

I am happy to be sharing my knowledge about medicinal herbs as well as helping others to reconnect with Mother Nature and at the same time working to heal themselves.

After taking stock of my personal life I must conclude that despite some difficult times during 2019 and despite the let-downs, overall I am happy.  I think I have done some good for the planet and for my community. I have continued to build a relationship with the plant community by co-creating with Mother Nature.  For any one person that I met this year who was unkind and unpleasant, I was supported and encouraged by so many others and they made a bigger impression on me,   Now I am looking forward to 2020 and I intend to have an amazing year, with the amazing people  who are my friends and who I have yet to meet and with more wonderful plants.

To this end,  I have just carried out a stock-take of my apothecary, my home medicine chest, to see what I have and to plan what I will need for 2020.

 

I see that I am very well stocked with medicines made mainly from weeds, plants that grow wild here, as well as a few garden herbs. It is such a  reassuring feeling having so much good, natural medicine.  I am ready now for any event, for any health issue.  I noticed that there are several nervine herbs here – Lemon Balm, California Poppy, Skullcap, St. John’s Wort, Passiflora and Valerian.  I remember being quite surprised by the abundance of these plants and feeling obligated almost, to make medicine.  With so many people under stress these days I am delighted that I have medicine ready to help those with SAD, depression, nervous tension, anxiety and sleep problems. The plants have provided the medicine and those who need it will come.

What I will probably do this coming year is focus more on the plants and herbs that will help with physical problems, digestive issues and pain for example.  I will dry more plants for teas and make some incense from the many beautiful flowers that will be growing.  We do not know what the weather will be like but it is fun to make plans.  Soon it will be time to be looking through the seed packets again!  So much to look forward to and Imbolc, the beginning of Spring will be here before we know it.   Let me know if you are looking forward to growing anything this year or if you have a home apothecary.

 

 

 

Plant Allies to the Rescue!

My spiritual believe is that everything on this planet is sentient and has a spirit.  I suppose you could say I am an animist or a pagan or even a fool if you like; but it is my belief and it seems self evident to me that it is a belief based on fact.  I spend a lot of my time working with plants – growing them, caring for them, observing them and appreciating them.  I  believe that plants are very intelligent and have a lot of guidance and advice for  we humans if we interact with them in a respectful way.  By that I mean, treat them as you would any being with spirit.

 

Our Celtic forefathers believed that trees were the ancestors of man and had a connection to the Other World.  Oak was considered to be the most sacred of trees but all trees offered us healing and guidance and still do.

I grow plants and herbs to give something back to Mother Earth, to create more diversity as Connemara is quite a barren place although very beautiful.  Thankfully the herbs or plants that I grow or forage from the wild are healing and I make medicine for myself and family and friends.  A couple of weeks ago I took some kind of bite to my leg – I think it must have been a spider that I disturbed on an outside chair because I was bitten on the back of my calf.  It was itchy to begin with and then my leg swelled and became very hard and hot to the touch.  It began to feel painful when I first walked after sitting down. and my leg looked bruised and black.  Then came  PLANTAIN to the rescue.

Plantain – Plantagus lanceolata or Slánlus in Irish is THE herb to go for if you need to “draw” something out; a sting, venom, dirt, poison, pus or whatever.  He works like a dream and it is so simple to make a dressing.  I grabbed a handle of Plantain leaves from the garden, chopped them and pulverised them to a mush with the pestle and mortar, placed them on a dressing I made from cheesecloth and fixed that to the site of the bite.  I changed the dressing a couple of times a day and after two days my leg was back to normal.  Without the Plantain I have no doubt that I would have had to visit the doctor and he would have prescribed anti-biotics.    Plantain saved my leg, saved me money and saved me time.

Whenever I harvest a plant for medicine I speak or sing to the plant, telling him or her how grateful I am that they have been growing so close to me.  I say that I know what they can do and who the medicine is for and thank the plant for working so well.  This communication is, I think, particularly  important when using plants for emotional issues.

I was very busy recently campaigning against mining happening here in Connemara – a very beautiful and unspoiled area of Ireland.  Within the committee, something sour happened and the group dynamics changed.  I began to feel undermined and bullied and in the end I resigned.  I think I was in a state of shock that such a thing had happened and I turned to some other plant allies, the nervines, to help me get over this.

Borage was included in my tonic because I felt so exhausted from the stress and Borage works to support tired adrenals and to bring courage and joy.

 

Passiflora is a nervine – a herb that supports and tones the nervous system and helps the mind and body to relax.  She is very helpful if a person finds it difficult to sleep.

 

Nettle is always a friend to a woman, at any time in life and at any experience because Nettle is so full of minerals and vitamins and energy and offers the body everything it needs for stamina and energy.  Nettle is very much a supportive and toning herb, a real pick me up.  I felt drained by my experience which is why I included Nettle in my formula.

 

 

St. John’s Wort is rightly renowned for his use as an anti-depressant.  I was not depressed but I was feeling a bit down in the dumps and as St. John’s Wort is one of my personal plant allies I decided to include him in the forumula too.

 

 

Lemon Balm is  a member of the mint family and is ruled by the Moon – which suggests it will be helpful where emotions are involved.   It tastes very lemony – like sherbert  and  is soothing and comforting.  Lemon Balm was the very first herb I ever grew, years ago and I have never forgotten the revelation of the delicious flavour.  Paracelsus suggested it was “the elixir of life” as Lemon Balm has the reputation of aiding longevity.  She certainly helps to reduce the effects of stress for people of all ages; helping children with colic and nightmares and helping adults who are  dealing with stress in their lives.  We know today that stress is a killer and that it compounds other health issues so using Lemon Balm might well prolong life.

Thanks to my plant allies I am feeling hale and hearty and I have had the opportunity to take stock of my life and make a decision to choose to be serene instead of reacting to events.

The Universe conspires with herbs sometimes.  I had just processed my dried Meadowsweet into tea when I heard from a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy.  She did not feel well and wished the treatment was over.  To make matters more difficult, she said,  she had just been informed that not only did she have gastritis, she also had a hiatal hernia.  Meadowsweet began calling to me, “…here I am, here I am!!. ” Meadowsweet is a specific for hiatal hernia and very soothing for the digestive system.  This is because she reduces acidity, tones the stomach and improves the action of the stomach.  She soothes the mucous membranes and relieves irritation and inflammation in the stomach.  There could not be a better herb for my friend’s complaints.

We as a species are only beginning to realise (or remember) that everything is connected and that everything on this planet is one and the same thing.  Once we can accept that idea, it is not at all difficult to accept that plants are wise and want to help humankind and will be the best of allies if we only open our minds to their healing abilities.  Of course, herbal medicine is very good at healing our ailments, such as my spider bite, but they work on so many other levels to bring us back to harmony and well being.  When we consciously engage with them, healing is different…more thorough, deeper – an altogether more spiritual experience.  Tell me about your healing experiences with plants, I would love to hear from you.

 

Lovely Lughnasadh – Enjoying Abundance

Lughnasadh  is a seasonal event derived from the funerary celebrations, games of skill and  animal trading that the sun god Lugh devised to commemorate his foster mother Tailtu..  She was an ancient Earth or Mother Goddess who had decided to clear the land of rocks and boulders so that the people of ancient Ireland could grow their crops.  The hard work that ensued wore out poor Tailtu and she died of exhaustion.  Each Lughnasadh we remember Tailtu’s hard work as we enjoy the first harvest.

Here in Ireland  agricultural shows take place during August and there are  horse shows up and down the country.  Connemara is famous for the Connemara Pony Show which attracts visitors from all over the world who come to seee the finest of our regional ponies who are renowned for their intelligence and gentle manner. Many of the other types of summer festivals taking place around the country are the legacy of Lugh’s original games.

Clifden Pony Show

 

For me, this time of year is especially beautiful.  The colours of the flowers in the meadows and hedgerows are so particularly bright, they seem to be saying “..look at me, I’m here for you..” and there are lots of medicinal plants to harvest.

 

 

           Purple Loosestrife

 

Agrimony

 

So many flowers are really making their colours shine out and the air is perfumed  with the scent of both trees and flowers.

 

                                           Wild Carrot

 

I have been collecting the “weeds” from my garden and from the polytunnel and so far I have made medicine – teas and tinctures – from Meadowsweet, Nettle, Agrimony, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Lemon Balm, Artemesia, Rosebay Willow Herb and more.  If you would like to know more about “weeds”and their healing powers, you can purchase my two books, The Weed Handbook Volume 1” and “The Weed Handbook Volume 2” from this web site.
It is such a relief, as summer draws to a close, knowing that I am well stocked up with herbal teas and tinctures, salves and lotions.  Fruit is in the freezer to bring some sweet delights during the dark days and other vegetables are being harvested and dried or blanched and frozen.  I could have had more but I have been busy with other demands lately.  However, despite those demands, I must return to my garden and finish harvesting and preparing my beds for their rest during winter.  This means hoeing and clearing and adding sea weed which will rot down and release lots of much needed minerals.
To celebrate the season of Lughnasadh it is a good thing to practice gratitude.  One thing I like to do is write down all the lovely things that  I am grateful to Mother Nature for – all those beautiful flowers and trees, warm, long, sunny days and the freedom to be able to enjoy them.  If you can break bread with friends, do it consciously with thanks.  I remember Tailtu’s great gift to us all.

Blessings of Lughnasadh to everyone.

Head Down – Treasure to Find!

During the three days of the Summer Solstice we had the loveliest of weather and thanks to the Goddess it is continuing.  Hurray!

Have you noticed how the energy has changed?  Something has definitely changed or shifted since last Friday.  On Friday I found myself skipping up and down kerbs in the city.  I was having wonderful conversations in my head and noticed I was gesticulating as if I was having a REAL conversation and I had to cop on to myself otherwise I would have had some funny looks.  I could feel energy or excitement brimming up inside of me and I wanted to dance along the streets, laugh, hug people.  I felt SO happy!  It was such a great feeling.  I felt as giddy as a teenager because I felt so full of light.  It must have been the solstice and the sun spot activity.  Or perhaps it was due to all the treasure I had recently found.

All too often we rush through life,,looking ahead to the next chore or activity.  We are always running out of time and dashing about doing.  I can be as guilty of this as anyone but fortunately, because where I live is so beautiful, I am regularly reminded to slow down and take it all in.

 

Looking around and looking down, I discover Devil’s Bit Scabious, English Stonecrop,  Hawkweed and different types of grass.

The purple of Self-Heal next to the white of Clover and the yellow of Dandelion make me think of treasure.    There are more treasures to be enjoyed if I keep looking down.

 

The colours of Red Clover and  Hawkweed along with the pale pink of the Blackberry flower and the blue of Devil’s Bit Scabious are like bright gems strewn in the grass.

 

There are so many stories within our folklore and within modern “morality” tales about people who are so busy searching for what they think is precious or is treasure, that they often don’t recognise it when it is right in front of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Stonecrop  looks like a scattering of fallen stars and Wild Thyme adds bright colour which stands out so beautifully against the green of the grass.  Our wild flowers are a treasure trove that we can enjoy if we go head down rather than looking ahead to what is coming next.  So many of these plants are medicinal or have been included in tales in our shared folk history.  The variety and diversity of size, shape, colour and possible use is quite amazing to see on a short walk.

 

Cow Parsnip with lacy umbels look so fresh and delicate.

I say treasure our wild flowers and keep your head down – so that you can see them.  Be a friend to them…which reminds me; if you would like to make a friend of a wild flower consider coming to my double workshop on Saturday 13 July – Finding a Plant Ally and Making a Flower Essence.  Details here,

How to Find Your Plant Ally and make a Flower Essence – 13 July 2019

And remember, when you are out walking, if you really look, there are many types of friends to be made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medicine and Magic in the May Garden

 

I love the month of May – the whole country becomes lush and green and seems to me to be full of magical promise. Every time I turn around there is a new plant to discover, a new flower blossoming, a new leaf just opened on a young tree.

Some people might say that it is a terrible year for weeds as the heat and the soft rain have really encouraged vigorous growth but lets not forget that many of those weeds are medicinal and magical.

Horsetail – Equisetum arvense is a wonderful urinary herb and is very beneficial to the body in other ways.  He also has many uses in the garden itself; in a compost tea, as a spray for blight and as a spray for rose fungus, so don’t get too het up about finding him in your garden.  Be grateful and put him to use – that is why he is there.  Horsetail can be used in fertility spells which is not surprising when you see how prolific Horsetail is!

Red Clover – Trifolium pratense – looks so sweet and pretty, actually she really does taste sweet.  Try the flowers in a salad.  You can also use this little herb for coughs and skin complaints as well as part of a detox formula.  As for the garden, she fixes nitrogen into the soil so all your other plants benefit from having her there.  Use Red Clover in a spell for Love, Success and Abundance.

Here is Cramp Bark – Viburnum opulus, also known as Guelder Rose, can be seen in many a hedge row and like other trees she is dressing up in her flowers.  Later in the year she will produce bright red berries.  Although she can be used for muscle tension and cramps anywhere in the body, she is in particular a herb for women.  Always take the bark from a branch or a twig and NEVER from the trunk.

Elder – Sambucus nigra – is a tree that just keeps giving!!!  She shares her bark, leaves, flowers and berries!  The flowers and berries are especially prized for relieving upper and lower respiratory problems.  Elder is said to be ” …a veritable medicine chest…” as she can help with almost every physical complaint in some way.  Not only that, she has the magic of being the Crone Tree, a wise tree with much to teach us.  She is the fierce Mother who will do away with harmful negativity and protect us from all harm.

All of the plants mentioned so far are magical,  of course, simply by being who they are and by the way they share their healing attributes with us.

Here is Marshmallow – Althaea officinalis  looking beautifully lush and green before flowering.  You can see just how soft and velvety the leaves are.  I collect the leaves once the flowers have appeared as they make a very soothing medicine for chest problems during winter.

 

This is a real magical plant. Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea – was grown from some wild seed and I have planted several plants around my garden.  I saved seed last year too and now I have about thirty or more little seedlings sitting in the green house.  I would not personally use this as a medicine although it has been used traditionally for heart complaints.  I use it to honour the faeries and the Spirits of Place, the spirits of this land that I am guardian of.  This is one of their plants and I want them to feel at home here.  I am so glad it is in flower this month as May is such a month of faery activity.  As for the magic of this plant, I use the fallen petals to make a magical summer incense with and include it in my Summer Solstice celebrations.

What list of May plants and May magic would be complete without Hawthorn?

 

Hawthorn – Cratagus oxyacantha – is so associated with the month of May that her blooms are often called May Flower and Hawthorn often represents the Maypole.  Hawthorn is a herb for the heart, helping with blood-pressure issues and reducing cholesterol as well as toning the heart muscle and the cardiovascular system.

Hawthorn is a Bealtaine plant, representing youth, fertility and conception; falling in love and starting a new generation.  I think that her association with the heart is very interesting because if there is one plant, one flower, that can help open your heart to the Beauty of Nature, then it has to be Hawthorn.

Last weekend I attended a herb conference and all of the international visitors and speakers commented on how stunning they thought the Hawthorn in the hedgerows looked.  One speaker, who had travelled all the way from the Amazon, was astounded by Hawthorn’s beauty and her message to us. They were all touched deeply by the beauty of this lovely hedgerow plant.  Don’t you think that is magic?  That one of our magical trees can affect people to such an extent?

Hawthorn is of course, a magical plant.  Here in Ireland she is a faery plant and even today people still believe that it would be unlucky to cut down or interfere with a lone Hawthorn tree.

Isn’t she graceful? Each lone Hawthorn is said to hold the spirit of a faery, one of the Sidh and they are often found at Holy Wells in Ireland.

The time is here now for us to acknowledge that plants are not only sentient beings and have a lot to teach us; they are also wiser than us.  It is easy to build relationships with plants and during this month of May, when our hearts are touched by the Beauty of Nature, go out into your garden, park, hedgerow, cemetery or any wild place and start building relationships.  Our planet, our amazing Mother needs us to do this, wants us to do this and the plants are waiting for us to do this.

Let me know how you communicate with plants and if you need a little help to get started, have a look at the Weed Handbook Volume 2.  Maybe consider the Wise Woman Training which will soon be available in digital format.

May Blessings of love and fruitfulness to everyone!

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Bhean Feasa – Herbs, Herbs and Herb Walk

Herbs such as this beautiful Chamomile are almost finished for the year.  I noticed one or two flower heads still shining away in the herb garden but unfortunately, some of my Chamomile plants were burned badly by the salt wind after Storm Ali.

This Calendula is more fortunate, being in the poly tunnel and may flower all winter – it has in the past.  What I mean by that is that new flowers will grow as each flower head dies off and makes seed.  Calendula is very good at self seeding so it seems as if it grows all the time.  Just as well as now that I am a Mamo, or grandmother, I can use the flowers to make a lovely, gentle nappy cream, or bum balm for my grandson.

I dried lots of herbs throughout the summer and many are still in their paper bags waiting to be processed into teas, soaps, bath time products and shampoos as well as being prepared for use in the kitchen.

 

Some are still hanging in the kitchen, (and some seeds were hung up today) and others, picked recently, are still on drying racks.

I am actually feeling a little overwhelmed because of the sheer abundance of herbs I have to work with.  Not really a complaint though because it is surprising how quickly they go. Once they are processed there will be more room in the house.  I will be so glad when my herb shed is completed.  I am enjoying calling it the HERb Shed!!

Some of the herbs I grow are used in incense, smudge sticks or amulets and aid the metaphysical body, improve spiritual energy and improve sleep and dreaming.  My favourite herbs for energy work are Mugwort or Artemesia and Vervain, which is one of the favourite herbs of the druids bringing five blessings with it. The five blessings are  Love, Peace, Health, Wealth and Wisdom. In Ireland Vervain is used in place of White Sage which is a plant associated with the Native Americans and has been so over-exploited that it is danger of disappearing.  It makes much more sense for me to use an indigenous plant that I can grow myself and that has connections back to the ancient past of Ireland.

Vervain of course, can also be used in magical rites – keep it in mind with Samhain just around the corner.

I have been invited to lead a Herb Walk on Sunday 14th October during the Connemara Green Festival which is held in Letterfrack.  There are not many flowering herbs around at the moment but it will still be a pleasure to point out plants that are actually healing herbs, that people would have always viewed as weeds.  If you should happen to be in Connemara, check out the Green Festival and  come along on the herb walk – tea and biscuits afterwards!

An Bhean Feasa’s Mission ….An Exhibition

Have you ever felt compelled to do something?  Felt nudged and pushed?  Have you ever had that feeling deep down in your gut that there is something you must do?  I have for some time now and finally, that feeling has culminated in a photographic exhibition “Weeds on the Wall”.

For the last number of years my mission has been to tell the world about the wonder of herbs.  The plant spirits have been nudging me, urging me, whispering to me to get the message out there and I have tried, offering workshops in herbal medicine and more.

The prompts continued and I began to think more consciously of what else I could do.  Talking to friends, about health issues and the state of the health service, I understood that there was something else I could do.  I became aware that many people were unable to recognise which plants growing wild in Ireland (and elsewhere) could be used in herbal medicine.  I felt that if people knew the plants, they would be empowered to take responsibility for their own health.  Once a person uses herbs – that is, any plant that benefits our health – then they become more conscious of their environment.  Once a person has a vested interest in their environment, they will take more care of it and be protective of it.

I decided to photograph some of these wild herbs and have an exhibition so that people could see the plants and learn their names and discover how beneficial they are.  This decision was made a couple of years ago but unfortunately I could not afford to have an exhibition, the cost of framing made it impossible for me.  Then,  in January this year, as providence would have it, I found some frames in a shop in Galway – just the type I wanted and VERY affordable.  Strange that there were only just enough for my purposes??!!

I have spent the summer photographing wild plants  – medicinal herbs – that grow in my garden and in the surrounding meadows, verges and fields.  Most of them are instantly recognisable but are nevertheless unknown.  By that I mean that the majority of people have lost their connection to them, have forgotten their names and their benefits.

For example, one of the photographs in the exhibition is of a plant from which aspirin is derived.  People take aspirin for a number of reasons, to reduce aches and pains, to get rid of headaches, to thin their blood, to reduce inflammation and to reduce fever.  Those people are (hopefully) aware that the benefits of aspirin have to be balanced with the side effects – bleeding in the stomach, gastrointestinal ulcerations, heartburn, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, rash, drowsiness, bloody stools, vomiting……. the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you can get relief for your headaches and fever, aches and pains and inflammation without the side effects and for no financial cost?  Wouldn’t you prefer to use a natural, herbal medicine which is safe, tried and tested?  The only investment you have to make is to care for the land and observe when the plants are ready to harvest.

As for my plan – to have an exhibition – the frames had materialised and I had taken the photographs but who would come?  I am not a photographer and I am unknown.  Then….. Beth to the rescue! (www.bethtrepper.com) My friend Beth is a professional photographer of international repute and has a great love for Nature and for plants.  She decided to exhibit during the Clifden Arts Week and agreed that I could share her space.  How sweet is that?

Our exhibitions have Irish flora in common as Beth is including Irish dried flowers around her mixed-media, fine-art photographs. Her exhibition, entitled “Amid the Green Wood” reveals beautiful maidens and mysterious forests which resonate with our ancestral memories of a magical past time.

Another friend, Patricia Wallace, is a writer and a poet and when she heard what I was doing, she responded by writing an incredible story, “Willow”, that she will read at the opening of the exhibition.  It is a story for today, haunting and captivating and will, I believe, inspire people to think differently about the plants that we share our environment with.

All was coming together and then the plants suggested more.  How will people remember us after the exhibition they asked?  I thought at first that I would put up as much information about each plant as I could, but discovered that there would be more writing on the wall than photograph so I decided to jump in at the deep end and write a book, “The Weed Handbook Volume 1 – The Medicinal and Magical Uses of Connemara “Weeds””.

It is a small book, 60 pages long and it describes each of the thirteen plants in the exhibition.  I also include information about where the plants can be found, what ailments they can be used for and the methods of how to use them. Thanks to The Digital Office for the printing.

Mission completed – at least it will be next week.  The exhibitions will be open from Friday 14th September until Sunday 23rd and the book will be launched on Monday 17th September at 6.30p.m which is when Patricia will read her story.  If you are in Clifden for Arts Week, (www.clifdenartsfestival.ie) please feel very welcome to pop in to see us at The Hair Gallery on Bridge Street. (Thanks Joanna). The book is for sale at 5euros and can also be purchased through this website – go to the Workshops bar in the menu and scroll down to Shop.  Looking forward to meeting you.

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.