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.

Springtime Simplicity

Today is La Feile Brigid – Brigid’s Day, a day that always feel special and exciting to me as it is also Imbolc, the first day of Spring.  There is a sense of anticipation in the air which is exciting because it feels like a renewal, a fresh start, a change.  I was at my horticulture class today and when I returned home the sun was out and I was inspired to walk around my garden and have a check on it.  I had left the garden alone since the end of autumn, apart from a little winter pruning here and there, because I had learned that it is better to leave old plants in place as insects and other creatures use them for shelter.  Consequently, my garden looks a bit neglected and a bit bedraggled.

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As you can see here, there is not a lot growing and the storms have knocked down the fence.

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All the trees and bushes are bare but there is some colour from the Dogwood

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It is difficult to see with all the bushes being bare, but this is a corner of my dedicated Brigid’s Garden.

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And here is one of the first Dandelions, not yet in flower.

Dandelion is a flower associated with Brigid so it was lovely to see it today on my little meander.  Thinking about Nature,  you come to the conclusion that it is something immense and complicated and really we, humanity,  have no idea how it all works.  Then, just by quietly observing, you realise that is all quite simple really.   Just allow Mother Nature to do her work and help out whenever you can.  Do simple things like leaving plant material for the hibernating insects, leaving dandelions alone so that the bees can feed when they awake after winter hibernation.  The goddess Brigid is renowned for bringing magical bees from her orchard in the Other Realm so that we would have sweetness in this realm.  Perhaps that is why she is so fond of the Dandelion.

Imbolc – the beginning of Spring, that sense of anticipation in the air, a sense of good things coming and Brigid is, in popular folklore, regarded as being the bringer of plenty, helping things to grow and overseeing new beginnings and fresh starts.  Every spring we make a fresh start in the garden, helping things to grow.  We “spring clean” our homes ready for all the good things that are coming; these are simple and age old activities that enable us to feel renewed.  Spring greens such as Cleavers are appearing and they can be cleansing and nutritional after the heavy winter fare.

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Cleavers can be included in a simple green juice or eaten fresh like spinach.  It spring cleans the system.

For me it is important to trust that All Is Well – I use the phrase as a mantra sometimes.  I hadn’t been in the poly tunnel for ages and when I went in today I got something of a surprise.. .

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Lots of lemons on the lemon tree!  Despite a miserable and grey winter!  I had been worried about the tree but it was fine. What a gift on such a day.  Just simplicity at work.

Life can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it.  Why not make it simple and avoid the stress?  Life is too short, as a friend of mine recently found out, so simplify things.  We can only find space in the house for so many things, so stop worrying about wanting to buy more.  We can only wear so many clothes at one time.  We can only be in one place at a time.  Our children are only here and then they’ve grown and gone.  As Springtime begins, we have a great opportunity to make a fresh, and hopefully, simple start to the rest of the year.  Be happy and enjoy all the blessings of Brigid on this special day.  Use the comments box below to let me know how you celebrate La Feile Brid.

Dandelion – A “Self-Contained Pharmacy”

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

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

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

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

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

“..most esteemed plant of the herbalist.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to know more about herbs, consider signing up for a Plant Wisdom herbal workshop. If you would like to comment on this blog, please do so on the Facebook page.

Yarrow – Magical and Medicinal

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I’ve been working in the poly tunnel for the last couple of days, tidying up and emptying the beds and I have yet to wash down the plastic.  We have had this poly tunnel for six years now and some of the wood along one of the raised beds has rotted away.  I have taken a leaf out of my friend Colette’s book and I have replaced the wood with stone for a number of reasons.  One, there is plenty of stone here in Connemara anyway so it won’t cost me anything; two, the stone acts as a passive solar heater, keeping the soil warm which should give great encouragement to next season’s seedlings; and three,  there should be fewer pests because no rotting wood to house them.

 

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I am growing a number of herbs here in the tunnel, including Bay, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Sage, Parsley, Coriander and Yarrow.  Yarrow is a very useful medicinal and magical herb but I should have kept it in a pot because it had gone crazy, spreading and taking over.  It had pushed its way into the Lavender patch and I have had to be ruthless and pull lots of it out.  (I feel so guilty when that happens).  You can see the empty space around what I have left and I have put in two Pink Campion plants just behind it as they will fill the space and attract bees and other pollinators.

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Yarrow, Achillea millefolium is a valuable herb to have to hand, particularly if you work with sharp tools.  The Warrior’s herb, named for Achilles who fought at the battle of Troy and healed his comrades’ wounds using this plant.  His mother was the goddess Thetis and she did not want him to go to war.  To bestow immortality on him she held him by the heel and dipped him into a cauldron of magical waters but the place where she had gripped the heel was left unprotected and this is where he was wounded.  We talk about our own Achilles Heel when we are referring to an inherent weakness and our Achilles tendon runs up the leg from the heel.

Yarrow, also known as Bloodwort, is an excellent herb for bleeding wounds and nosebleeds.  Another of its common names is actually, Nosebleed.  To stop a nosebleed simply bruise some Yarrow leaf,  roll it into a nasal plug and leave in the nostril until the bleeding stops before gently removing it. In the past, Yarrow was also used to start a nosebleed in the same way, to relieve headaches and migraines. With wounds, providing they are not too deep, put Yarrow into or on the surface of the wound to stop bleeding. It can also prevent infection due to its anti-microbial and anti- bacterial properties.

For women, Yarrow can help with both scanty periods, heavy periods and menstrual clotting.  It works to lower blood pressure too because of the way it tones all blood vessels.  Consequently it can also be remedial for varicose veins.

As it is so astringent it can be used where there is diarrhoea and to tone up a weak digestion.  Yarrow is a renowned febrifuge herb which means that it will reduce fever and it does this by encouraging sweating, releasing toxins and increasing urinary flow.  Like the majority of herbs, its components work with intelligence within our bodies to heal where healing is needed.

 

img_0167As a  magical herb Yarrow is renowned for its protective qualities.  Bruise a few leaves and place in your navel to ward off negative energy or psychic attack.  It can be included in a smudge stick for the purpose of clearing negative energy from a house or person. Holding Yarrow in the hand stops all fear and brings courage.  In medieval and Renaissance herbalism, it was believed that all plants were ruled by the planets and had other correspondences as well. According to these correspondences Yarrow is Feminine, under the power of the Element of Water and is ruled by Venus.  As such it is used magically in love spells.  Young girls would throw stems of Yarrow into the fire and look into the flames hoping to see their future man.  Some would recite a verse, “Good morning, good morning, good Yarrow and thrice good morning to thee, tell me, before this time tomorrow, who my true love will be”.   In Ireland and in France, Yarrow over the eyes could aid clairvoyance or by drinking an infusion ones psychic powers would be improved.

Bridesmaids carried Yarrow to weddings and if a bouquet of Yarrow was placed over the bed of the wedded couple they would at least enjoy seven years of wedded bliss.

If you would like to know more about the properties of Yarrow  and the many ways to use it, consider signing up for one of the herbal health courses on offer.

Caution:  Not to be used by pregnant or nursing mothers or children under 5.