Medicine and Magic in the May Garden

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May Blessings of love and fruitfulness to everyone!

 

An Bhean Feasa – Growing Medicine

The wonderful warm weather (ok, hot) weather, has really helped my garden to bloom and blossom this summer.  Last month I created a new vegetable bed using the “lasagne” method, building up a bed with layers of organic material.

This is the bed newly planted on 7 June.  This is the bed below, on 10 July.

Despite the drought, the vegetables and fruit are doing ok so far.  There is some wilting to be sure and the courgettes that are outside in another bed are not swelling as they would do if we had some occasional rain.  Despite the lack of rain though, all the medicine plants are doing great and keeping me busy.  Every day I have to harvest the amazing bounty from Mother Earth.  I have noticed that the most prolific of the medicinal plants growing here are nervines.  The plants that help stress and anxiety.
In the polytunnel, my lovely Passiflora has self seeded in three other places and is threatening to burst out of the door.

The flower is stunning, almost like an interstellar spaceship and is used alongside the glossy leaves to relieve insomnia, relaxing the muscles and easing frazzled nerves.  It is very beneficial if there are physical symptoms related to the tension and anxiety.
St. John’s Wort is shining like a beacon of light, the colour of sunshine and I have already harvested twice in the last couple of days.

St. John’s Wort is an ideal ally for the woman going through menopause as it eases emotional upheaval and aids relaxation. It lifts the spirits and can lower blood pressure.  As a nervine it is especially helpful with nerve pain such as neuralgia and sciatica and its anti-viral quality makes it vital for shingles. I prepare it for internal and external use.

Here is my first tincture and first oil of the year.  These will both turn red within the next few days.
Lovely Lemon Balm, another herb to soothe the nerves and lift the spirits is a little bit scorched but still effective in tea.  It can also help the digestive system if it is upset due to stress.

Lemon Balm was the first medicinal herb I ever grew and I love the way its lemon sherbert taste takes me back to the younger me.  I think I will go and make a Lemon Balm tea right now!
Yum! Delicious. What a lovely lemony and uplifting taste.
In our ancient past, the Celts believed that Borage gave courage and I suppose modern science bears that out.  Borage can calm palpitations and helps the whole body to relax as well as supporting the adrenal system.  I imagine that someone who was fearful about going into battle, might well have felt their courage lifted, literally encouraged by this beautiful plant.  We are currently living in a world so stressful that sometimes we all need a little courage to face each day. Borage is known as a herb to support adrenal burn out for those who have been living in a state of constant stress whilst not realising it.
Now on to many people’s favourite – Chamomile.  This lovely daisy like flower is perfect for the nervous digestion, reducing spasm and tension.  It is a relaxing and sedative herb and is gentle enough for babies and children.
Chamomile is my “go to” herb when I cannot sleep and I used it for my children when they were small during teething and whenever they were fretful.
I believe that Mother Nature brings whatever you might need right to your door and whilst all these plants are already in my garden, they are doing especially well this year.  It could just be the weather or it could be a sign that people are really in need of this medicine.
Of course, what I have outlined here about each plant is just the tip of the iceberg.  Each plant has so much more to offer and to help us with.  If you would like to know more, I am running a workshop on 21 July – Plant Wisdom for All the Family – where I will identify which plants can be safely used to build up a family Herbal First Aid Kit for all the little emergencies that can occur, including problems relating to stress. We will be making teas, tinctures, salves and liniments. Have a look at the workshop page for more information.  In the meantime, leave a comment below telling me which plant you find most useful for stress and nervous issues.

 

Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food

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Yet again it is a gloomy, windy day here in Connemara so I thought I would take  pictures of some flowers that are nevertheless, looking very bright.  I realised as I was snapping away that many of our garden flowers belong to medicinal plants as well as to plants grown for eating.  I was reminded of Hippocrates who suggested that our food be our medicine and our medicine be our food.  With some plants it is not difficult to achieve that recommendation.

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Nasturtiums are blazing brightly on this grey day and also add bright colour and a peppery taste to your salad. They are quite delicious as a food and also, due to their high vitamin C content and anti-bacterial qualities can be applied as a medicine! I love making these connections.

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Raspberry is obviously a food and it is probably my favourite summer fruit and of course it has a vitamin content which is beneficial to our health but the leaves too are medicinal.  The leaves are astringent and cooling and have traditionally been used during pregnancy to tone the uterus and for reducing the risk of haemorrhage.  The leaves can also be used for diarrhoea, mouth ulcers and inflammation of the gums.

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Borage is a plant with bright blue flowers, (sometimes the flowers can be pinkish) and it is the flowers that are used in salads and in drinks.  In times past the flowers were used in the brewing of ale to make the drinkers merry.  The Celts used Borage to increase courage before a battle or a quest.  This food is a potent medicine when used for adrenal stress and can be useful during convalescence.

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I put these Pink Poppies at the entrance to the poly-tunnel to attract pollinators and just because they are beautiful. Their latin name is Papaver Somniferum aka the opium poppy. While they are food to the eyes because they loook so beautiful they can be used as an analgesic or painkiller and for diarrhoea.  I would not recommend any one try this medicine  at home as poppies are very addictive and therefore can be dangerous. Enjoy looking at them and saving the seed for bread making.

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The cheerful Calendula or Pot Marigold flower petals are delicious added to salads and give a lovely colour to a green salad.  As a medicine, it pretty much does almost everything from  cleansing  the lymph system, normalising the menstrual cycle, reducing inflammation and improving digestion.  It is also an anti-fungal and is beneficial to all kinds of wounds, bruises, burns or sprains.  When making natural skin care remedies and cosmetics it would be the first herb I would reach for.

I have taken some liberty with the meaning of Hippocrates’ quotation (as he meant that if you eat well, your food is a medicine, keeping you healthy) to make the point that some of the plants we see as food plants only, actually have medicinal properties as well.

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This final plant, Rose Campion, is NOT a food plant and is NOT medicinal and NOR can I find any magical correspondences for it; but it really does brighten up a grey day so here it is.

If you would like to know more about making your own herbal preparations, I run a workshop every month here in Connemara on the Wild Atlantic Way.  Check out the Workshop section of the website.