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?

 

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.

 

 

 

Danu’s Irish Herb Garden – Healing for Mother Earth

The weather is growing colder and the nights become darker earlier.  With the fall of leaves, the landscape changes and the trees appear skeletal.  Their nakedness reveals other things within the landscape, things that are usually hidden, such as tussocks and hillocks and animal dens as well as the rocks and stones that are the bones of the land.

At this time of year I think of the Cailleach – the Old Hag, as she takes hold of the dying year and brings the seasonal changes of winter.  She is in charge now until Imbolc, when Brigid, as a maiden goddess, will herald the return of Spring.  The Cailleach’s mode of healing is rest and the deep sleep of winter.

Irish Goddesses are notoriously difficult to make sense of when they are compared to the Greek or Roman pantheons.  They are very rebellious, not really fitting into any of the usual “Goddess boxes” and when we think of the virtue of healing, several Goddesses  have responsibility in this area.  For example,  Brigid is the Goddess of Healing and Airmid is the Goddess of Herbs; and healing in the past always included herbal remedies, salves and medicines.  Healing though, is so much more than oral medicine or topical applications and when we talk about our health and well being, I think we should also include the state of the land/Land as a component of our own health.

In ancient times, the health of the land depended upon the integrity of the king, his wisdom, truth and justice and his care of the land as his bride.  When such a man was king the Land flourished.  At the moment our Land is sick – the Land of Ireland and land elsewhere.  A study has just announced that the fertility of Irish soil has fallen by 40% during this last decade and no-one knows why.  No-one knows why? One expert suggested it may be because we do not use enough fertiliser!!  But surely it is obvious!  When the land is unloved and is only seen as a commodity instead of as our nurturing Mother; when the land is repeatedly poisoned instead of fed and appreciated; when humans neglect to care for the land, is it really any surprise that the Land is sick??

 

Our Land needs healing.  To do this we must actively interact with and communicate with the Land and show love and appreciation.  In the past we left offerings of gratitude, at Lughnasa for example when we gave thanks for the harvest; we allowed our old Mother to rest by leaving some fields fallow – to recover from their hard work.  Trees and shrubs were planted around fields so that leaf fall could rejuvenate the soil.  Birds and wild life were encouraged and tolerated as all life is connected and all beings have their place in the wonderful web of life.  We knew that there were seasons for work, rest and for healing. We are learning now – possibly too late –  that we must rely on all the other life forms to maintain balance and harmony and yet we allow badger culls and hare coursing.  We remove ancient hedgerows and clear fields of bushes and shrubs…..It is a monstrous madness of destruction.

 

The Goddess The Morrigan is associated with death, war and destruction, was seen to incite blood lust and battle frenzy and her motif is the carrion crow.  The crow however, does not create destruction, rather it cleans up after Death has visited.  For me, The Morrigan is also a Goddess of healing who brings peace and calm after the battle, harmony and balance after chaos.  She is also a territorial ancestress of the Land, a sovereign Goddess and she made a rather alarming prophesy. She foretold of a time when there would be “…no flowers in summertime, no milk from the cows, no fruit from trees and no fish from the sea. … the women would be shameless, the men without strengths, old men would tell lies and the politicians would make unjust laws……men would become thieves and there would be no virtue in the world.” 

Will she be right? Is she right?  What can we do?  There is no point relying on politicians to heal our Land, this Earth, we must do it ourselves, one step at a time.  Be a careful consumer and plant something – anything, just keep at it.  Commune with the Land and with plants, become an ally.  Do some healing.  Anyone can heal anything, just go into your heart space and set an intention to heal. Make amends.

I believe that everyone does care and does want justice for the Land and the planet but it is so difficult to change the conditioning of a lifetime.  Change is necessary though.  Call on one of our healing Goddesses or to the Warrior aspect of the Morrigan for help and guidance and you will find a way to do something.

Let me know if you have any good ideas by using the comment box below. For each comment I will send a FREE packet of seeds to you.  (Postage is 1.50e)  These seeds will go someway to healing and beautifying our Mother Earth.

 

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!

Samhain – Summer’s End, Seed Fall

 

Happy Samhain Greetings! 

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It is Summer’s End, the leaves have fallen from some of the trees and they are looking stark and bare.  Other trees are changing their colours and brightening up the bleak landscape, adding yellows and oranges to the palette.

 

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One of the many Hawthorn trees on my road reveals its beautiful feminine wind-shaped glory after leaf fall.

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All around me, here in Connemara, is evidence of Summer’s End.  The bracken has turned brown and the heather has lost all colour.

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Fruit has come and gone.  The Rowan berries were the first to arrive and depart but a Cotoneaster has lots of berries to offer the birds as does a Guelder Rose.

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Our apples are long since eaten but there are still blackberries in the hedgerows.  According to legend they cannot be eaten now because the devil would have spat on them on Samhain Eve.  Small animals will make use of them I hope.

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I love the way the blackberry leaves turn pink adding another colour to the Autumn palette here in Connemara.  It is welcome as we do not have many trees.

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At Samhain we are in the north west of the wheel, a place or time of patterns and spirals. It is the Celtic New Year so it is a good time to meditate on what we have harvested in the past year.  What are the results of our actions?  What negative patterns have we repeated or become trapped in?

patterns and sirals 1

Can we spiral into a better place for the coming year?  Samhain is also known as seed fall and so, metaphorically, we can think about which “seeds” we want to fall and grow for ourselves in the coming year.  Do we want to harvest peace and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness?  Do we want things to continue as they are, a world gone crazy and people totally disconnected from  our Mother Earth?

Here in Connemara I can see the turning of the Wheel of the Year by observing the changes in the hedgerows, in the plant life; from watching the birds prepare for migration, by enjoying the colours and fruits of Autumn. There is an atmosphere of change, a shifting. The sea and sky seem to merge in a different way emphasising that change is coming.  All of these observations and feelings give a sense of peace, a knowing that life continues to spiral on and so there is an opportunity to reconnect.

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According to Celtic belief, a place or time on the cusp of another is a potent and powerful opportunity for change.  The veil between worlds is thin and we can cross to meet with our ancestors and they can come to meet with us.  In times gone by it was traditional to set an extra place at the table to welcome to the Samhain feast, the loved ones who had passed over.  It is also a time of magic because at this cusp we can meet with the spirits of plants and of the Earth.  It is my belief that these spirits are there, like angels, waiting for us to sense them and ask for their guidance.

For me, the goddess who resides in the north west on the Wheel of the Year, is The Morrigan.  She is thought to be a goddess of death and we can see life dying or hibernating, ( a temporary death), in preparation for the winter cold.  She is also a goddess of fertility and the land which to me, is synonomous with the seeds lying in the ground during the cold winter, ready to germinate in spring.

As a goddess of the battlefield, she did not fight but cleared the battlefield of the dead. Her song after a battle was,

“Peace mounts to the heavens, The heavens descend to earth,                                                          Earth lies under the heavens, Everyone is strong…..”

Above all, she is about change and clearing up the “battlefield” of life.  She can clear away our mess and our fear, our mistakes and foolishness and make all fresh and clean again.  The Morrigan is not to be feared, she is to be welcomed with much respect.

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Call on The Morrigan to clear your life of whatever no longer serves you and look forward, with bright blessings to a New Year with the changes you want to see.

Leave a comment about how you connect to Mother Earth at Samhain.

 

If you would like to know more about our Celtic Goddesses and the Wheel of the Year, sign up for the Wise Woman Training.

Magical Seeds of Life – The Thrill of Seed Saving

IMG_2131Coriander Seed

One definition for seed is

” …the fertilised ripened ovule of a flowering plant containing an embryo capable of germination to create a new plant…”

 Seed saving is absolutely vital for a number of reasons and this age old tradition (and necessity) is under attack in our present world.  Only recently, the European government pondered on new legislation to prevent ordinary people like you and me from saving our seeds, from swapping, sharing and giving away seeds.  Having been lobbied by huge agri chemical businesses such as , yes, you’ve guessed it, Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, the legislation was only stopped by people power.  The Irish Seed Savers Association and their compatriots in Europe, along with the public who signed petitions and wrote to our MEPs managed to stop this legislation.  We must all remain alert and vigilant that such crazy ideas are not to  be enshrined in law in the future.

IMG_2121Mullein, Nigella and Nasturtium

We started our garden about seven years ago, as we became more concerned about food security and sharing the belief that growing our own food is a revolutionary act.  We cannot trust governments to protect our food sovereignty because they are so exposed to powerful lobbyists . We are taking responsibility for our own well being  and we are growing nutritious fresh food.  Only yards from field to table.

IMG_1977A portion of our harvest

Now I am taking things one step further – I am saving seed.  At the moment I am only a beginner, saving seeds that are large enough and easy enough to access.

IMG_2124Poppy, Coriander, Marrow, Lunaria, Pea, Mullein, Pink Campion, Calendula, Nigella

I have also saved Kale, Perennial Cauliflower, Purple Sprouting Broccoli various lettuces and Columbine.  Some of these are flower seeds.  I once thought that growing flowers was self-indulgent but now I know that flowers are vital to attract the bees and other pollinators so that my vegetables are pollinated giving me the seed for next year. Saving seed brings us one step closer to Mother Earth and further realisation that we are indeed,  connected to everything – the bees, the insects, the plants, the food,  the planet.

IMG_2127Fennel seeds ready for drying

The thrill of opening a seed case and releasing the seeds into a bowl or container is just fantastic.  It is indeed a thrill to know that by collecting and saving seed I am part of the cycle of life – I am contributing to LIFE and to bio-diversity.  I am happy to know that I am doing something positive and beneficial for the planet.

IMG_2126Pink Campion Seeds (on plate) and Evening Primrose Seeds behind

Saving seed is a time consuming job but it is so worth it.

IMG_2130My box of seeds – a treasure chest!

Seeds can also be metaphorical and we can think about the “seeds” we want to plant in our lives; what do we want to harvest in our lives?

If you would like to purchase any of my seeds, they are 2euro per packet.  Let me know which seeds you are saving by using the comments box below.