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.”

 

 

A Brilliant Opportunity!

The world is reeling and in shock at the moment and it can be hard to imagine what the world will be like once this disease, the Corona Virus, has had its day.  I am not worried about the virus because I am using herbs.  The medical profession are feeling helpless because they are powerless without a vaccine.  Herbalists on the other hand,  treat the person not the symptoms and there are lots of herbs that would suit people as a preventative and many that could be used to help people should they contract the disease. This is a brilliant opportunity for people to turn back to herbs for reassurance and it seems that many are.

I am being asked for advice about herbs and healthy living a lot recently but because we are all in isolation and I cannot meet people, and because people cannot go and just pick up medicinal herbs as they might have done, the best thing I can do is recommend lots and lots of Vitamin C (or Vitamin C rich food – fruits and vegetables)

and to look into their kitchen cupboards to see what herbs and spices they have.

There will be something that can be useful and beneficial for this time  For example, many people will have dried Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cayenne, Ginger, Turmeric and Garlic. These are  all herbs and spices with qualities that can help at a time like this.  Some are antibacterial and antiviral , some are  warming or anti-inflammatory.  Herbal teas such as Chamomile can help reduce anxiety as well as promote sweating  should you feel feverish.  Use Sage for a sore throat  and use Sage, Thyme and Rosemary  together or on their own (depending upon what you have) as preventative and immune supporting herbs by infusing them all for at least 20 mins, in a teapot with boiling water.  Take three cups per day if you are worried you might be compromised in any way.  I am not saying this will be a cure, but they may be all you have access to and they will certainly be helpful for some. For all who try using these kitchen herbs and spices you will feel less anxiety because you have done something to empower yourself.  This is a brilliant opportunity to become self-reliant and self-empowered in terms of your health.  Your body knows how to heal itself, it needs you to help it.

 

Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in there is no doubting in my mind, that we have been given a brilliant opportunity to change our lives in really positive ways.  For example, gyms and sports clubs are closed so people have to walk to get their exercise and this gives them an opportunity to reconnect with Nature. Whether you walk along the street, in a  park, in the countryside or at a beach, this is your chance to observe the trees in bud and the spring flowers popping their heads up.  It is a brilliant opportunity to breathe in fresh air and hear the birds.  Seeing Nature as a living system going about her business calms and reassures – Life goes on no matter what.

Rowan buds on the brink of bursting open

 

 

A native bee on a Rosemary flower

 

Dandelion – a great teacher and always brings a smile

 

 

Daisy – reminds us of our childhood – innocence and contentment

 

Lots of people have started putting down vegetable plots and are growing their own food. I am increasing my growing space because I suppose I realise I haven’t been making the most of the space that I have.  Growing my own food increases the diversity of my land, brings back the land from benign neglect and helps me to co-create with Nature.  Growing your own food is one of the most revolutionary things we can do in modern times according to Mr Dervaes.  Watch this!  According to the Dervaes family, growing your own food is empowering and sets you free.  I also love the way they live, slowly and with thought. This little film is well worth watching at any time.

Preparing the land for growing your own food also brings you into a meditative  state and helps give you the time and opportunity to not only observe Nature but to be in her.

At this strange time lots of people are using social media to send positive messages and hopeful messages to one another.  Perhaps this is a sign of community and altruism, “we’re all in this together”; perhaps it is a sign of co-operation and consideration.  Perhaps it will all lead to a better world as many are speaking of this time as  being  a brilliant opportunity to assess their lives and take the time to actually think about the kind of world we want to live in and the kind of world we want to leave our children.

There are many conspiracy theories abounding and it is easy to get sucked into them – and I have been caught up in all that negative thinking.  On my walk this morning though. observing Nature and thinking about the positive events that have already happened and remembering that I believe in the power of the mind, (that is, we create our world  with our thoughts), I decided that this is a brilliant opportunity for me to put my mouth where my money is, so to speak.

I am fortunate to have a very powerful imagination, sometimes it can run away with me!  I am going to work hard imagining a world where we are all free to live a full and happy, healthy life.  Where every decision is made considering our “relations” the plants and animals, rivers and oceans, mountains and bogs that we share this planet with.  I am finding it easy to imagine that we all wake up to the fact that we have been manipulated to be consumers.  We have felt deep down that this consumerism can not be maintained and we know that it does not make us feel happy but we can now put blame behind us, (consumerism was thought to be a good idea post WW2 as a brief agenda to get people back to work and  to kick start economies but it is a promotion that long since reached its sell by date). Let’s leave the guilt behind, (energetically it serves no purpose) and we can start afresh.  We now have a brilliant opportunity to look at our amazing and beautiful world which is so diverse and rich, if we only value it for itself .  Observing Nature during this spring time of renewal and rebirth is the best thing we can do for our future.  Just imagine!

Self-Heal for all of us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

IMG_1657

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.

IMG_1661

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.

dandelion-leaf-ns

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.

IMG_1647

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.

IMG_1646

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.

IMG_1651

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.

IMG_1659

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.

What is Healing? What is Sickness?

I work as a kinesiologist and I am a student herbalist.  Some would describe me as a complentary therapist or healer.  My clients are made up of people who would seek out complementary healers and those who come to me as a last resort because orthodox, Western allopathic medicine failed to relieve or help their health issue.

This week I received some very positive feedback from a number of clients which was wonderful for me to hear and very rewarding.  I felt that my healing path was really helping people.  However, my philosophy is that it is not me who does the healing but that the client accesses their own innate healing ability through what we do in a session together.  A the same time as receiving the positive feedback I had to take my elderly uncle to the hospital and I witnessed the orthodox Western allopathic medicine system in action.  I was not impressed with this “system” and I wondered if the H.S.E and the Department of Health are really and truly in the business of healing or are they in the business of making money.  Galway Hospital feels more like a place of business, like a processing factory than a place of healing.

Galway_University_Hospital There is no peace or calm, no sense of soothing healing. I am  not talking about the staff within this system only the “system” itself.

My observations led me to some philosophical contemplations – what is healing? what is health? what is disease? why do we get sick?  After mulling over these questions I think I am more clear about my role and what I do, the client’s role and the importance of responsibility.

“Health” is defined by W.H.O (the World Health Organisation) as

               “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the  absence of disease or infirmity”.

This seems like a reasonable definition to me but some complain about the word “complete” and others think that an absence of disease or infirmity is enough.  I disagree.  Health is so much more and impacts on the way we behave in this world.

Another definition is

…the level of functional and metabolic efficiency of a living organism.”

That sounds very cold and scientific.  It could as well be referring to an engine as to a living organism.

For me, health has to be holistic , a feeling of wholeness, integrated and balanced in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of self.  Ignore any of these aspects and a person is out of balance and will feel dis-eased.

health circule

It is interesting to note the way the phrase dis-ease, meaning not at ease, with ones self, is now obsolete and disease has come to mean a specific thing, an infection or

an abnormal condition of an organism or part, inherent weakness or environmental stress that impairs normal physiological functioning”

So dis-ease, a state of being out of balance in some way, or a state of being out of sorts for some reason, has become a “disease” or medical condition that can be treated with drugs.  Think about this.  How does this way of thinking affect our health? Where does this way of thinking lead to?

drugs

What is sickness?

 The scientific model assumes we become physically sick because of an external cause such as invading germs, bacteria or viruses or because of an underlying weakness that cannot be remedied, only managed and of course this is true – to an extent.  It is not wholly true though otherwise none of us would be here today.  During the Black Plague of the 13th/14th centuries one third of the European population died. Why not all?  During the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic of 1918 more people died than the 38 million who were killed during the First World War. It is estimated that about 500 million people were infected  with this ‘flu and about 50 to 100 million people died, about 3-5% of the world’s population.  The majority who died  were, very surprisingly,  healthy young adults.   Why was this the case if the scientific model of disease is correct?

sickness

It is vital in my mind, to acknowledge that there are other things at play.  We are not just physical bodies.  We are far more than the sum of our parts.  If a person is happy and fulfilled they tend to recover from illness more fully and more quickly.  Same for the person who feels loved and supported.  It is the same for the person who eats a well balanced diet and for the person who feels a connection to something higher than him or herself.  It is also well known that someone who is in a state of fear feels more pain than someone who is relaxed.  A person with external worries such as the state of their finances, dislike of their job or relationship problems takes longer to get well perhaps because they cannot focus on their own healing.

what-is-health

Focusing on ones own healing is not tantamount to hypochondria.  It is participating in ones healing journey and taking self responsibility.  Many have handed over their personal power to the cult of the expert, the specialist,  and that can be a great idea.  When my lighting fails to come on I call an electrician and when my car develops a fault I go to my trusted mechanic, both experts in their fields.  When it comes to our own bodies though we should be the leading expert but we are told by the medical “system” not to question, to do as we are told, they know best.

I do not mean one should turn away from medical expertise.  I  like to think that if a person retained their personal power,  the medical expertise would work so much better.

What is healing?

There are various definitions ,

..to restore to health or soundness, to ease or relieve”

..to make whole, the restoration of health from an  unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism”

healing-cells

Both of these definitions ring true to me.  As far as the “system” goes it does give pain relief when needed but does it restore people to health and wholeness, to a state of balance?  I do not think it does.  Half listening to someone for about five minutes and then giving a precription is not healing a person. I think the medical practice of the Western world has forgotten what it is meant to do and it has got lost in the “system”.  It is so busy being what it is,  that it has forgotten to listen to patients, to help make their experience one of soothing calm and peace when their lives have gone crazy.

This is when people turn to holistic therapists such as myself.  We could be called in a lot sooner as we work to prevent illness as well as to assist with healing.  The alternative or complementary practitices are based on philosophies  which embrace the emotional and spiritual components of a person’s life experience as well as the physical.  We often work, as I said earlier, with people who have exhausted the orthodox route.  Complementary means

supplying what is needed to make whole or complete”

I believe a truly successful health system which really  puts healing at the top of the agenda, is one which includes the complementary therapies as a matter of course.  To do so would relieve the pressure on the health service as a whole, encourage prevention before cure,  enable more people to stay well,  enable people to have more autonomy, keep costs down and ensure that when orthodox medicine is needed, it is of the absolute highest quality.

Good Health and Good Life
Good Health and Good Life

A Champion for Herbs!

Finally, after years of studying, planning and dreaming of becoming a voice for the herbs and plants we share our planet with, my first herbal health course went ahead on Saturday.  It was lovely for me to see how eager the participants were  to learn how herbs and plants can help prevent sickness and help us to recover from sickness.  Plants have been on this planet for 700 million years with flowering plants arriving about 140 million years ago and it is this group “...on which all terrestrial ecosystems today depend including the existence of humanity.” Peter Hochukin University of Zurich, Paleontological Institute.  Furthermore, in the journal SCIENCE Blair Hedges, evolutionary biologist claims “…that plants paved the way for the evolution of land animals by simultaneously increasing the percentage of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and decreasing the percentage of carbon dioxide” So it is very reasonable to accept the latest science, that plants are intelligent and communicative.  Mother Earth provides all that we need via plants – food, medicine, clothing, shelter and tools; and according to W.H.O, (World Health Organisation) 80% of the world’s population relies on herbal medicine as its primary form of health care.

motherearthnotext1

I believe that Mother Earth lovingly provides all the plants we need to stay healthy and consequently to keep the environment healthy.

Everything was ready before the participants arrived, all the ingredients and utensils I needed, with some remedies I had already made to show them what to expect.

 

DSC_0229

I’ve got Thyme, lemons, ginger, onions, garlic, honey, various essential oils, organic apple cider vinegar, beeswax, fennel seeds and other vital necessities.

We began by tasting some Dragon Fire Vinegar which is a folk remedy shared by American herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar.  Equal amounts of organic onions, garlic, chilli peppers, horseradish and ginger are chopped and grated and placed in a large jar.  Organic Apple Cider Vinegar is then poured over these ingredients and left to infuse for a month. This is a very potent, warming, anti-viral and comforting medicine and can be taken by the spoonful each day as a preventative or added to hot drinks should the virus take a hold.  It can also be added to casseroles and stews as well as to salad dressings.  After trying this I took the participants outside for a walk around the garden to identify some kitchen herbs and some wild herbs that are very useful for combatting  colds and ‘flu.  One person said  he was very glad to have taken the vinegar before going out as it was a cold day and yet he felt warm from the inside.

DSC_0238I talked about the properties of Thyme. This is a kitchen herb with powerful healing qualities.  It is an anti–viral, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-bacterial and is also an expectorant and anti-spasmodic.

All herbs have many qualities  and can be utilised for different health issues.Thyme is no exception as the above qualities also make it useful in other kinds of infections.

We drank some Thyme tea, which is a very pleasant drink with that comforting, medicinal taste before going on to try some Yarrow tea which I had picked in the polytunnel.  Yarrow helps colds and ‘flu sufferers because it diaphoretic and astringent.  That means it helps you to sweat out toxins, which brings down high temperature, and as an astringent dries up the mucous membranes when there is a copious amount of mucous or phlegm.

DSC_0237

 

What an opportunity for me to demonstrate the power of herbs; and so especially fulfilling because people were interested.  After a tasty organic lunch, we went on to make a honey throat soother, a cough syrup and a chest rub and I also shared with the group how to make tinctures and tea tinctures.  I have a selection of herbal tinctures already made for my own use and as one of the participants was sneezing and sniffling, I gave him some Elderberry and Thyme tincture.

DSC_0235Garlic had already been used in the Dragon Fire Vinegar and could have been used in the cough syrup and throat soother as well as it so powerful and healing.  It helps with all kinds of infection as well as supporting various body systems such as the cardiovascular system.  A clove cut in two and rubbed over the feet is one way of getting garlic into a child.

I had a wonderful day and was glad to receive very positive feedback as well as some useful suggestions for the next workshop.  I wish I had remembered to tell them all about Raspberry Vinegar which I had sitting on the countertop but forgot to mention.  Raspberries infused into organic white wine vinegar and left to stand in a warm place for two weeks before straining, makes a tasty throat soother and brings a little sunshine during the dark days of winter.  It can of course, be used in any salad dressing or even drizzled over desserts.

DSC_0230

Doesn’t it look lovely?

At this time of year there is not a lot growing.  The Lemon Balm, Oregano and Chamomile have barely resurfaced although it was possible for people to taste some young fresh leaves of Lemon Balm and Oregano.  During the growing year ahead of us, there is plenty of time to grow and  harvest your own herbs in preparation for next winter’s viral attacks. If you suffer with chest infections or have respiratory problems such as asthma, maybe you will enjoy the next workshop!

Yarrow – Magical and Medicinal

polytunnel-2

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.

 

2016-12-08-17-36-29

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.

yarrow-pt

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.