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.

 

Mid Summer – An Abundance of Beauty

I always find June to  be quite a wet month (today is no exception) but a sunny Monday and Tuesday led into a dry Wednesday, 21st June, the high point of the Summer Solstice and we were able to enjoy a bonfire last night with some good friends who arrived unexpectedly.

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I was celebrating the beauty and abundance of Mother Nature and celebrating the fertility of the land. Giving thanks to the Sun for the warmth and light that enabled the plants to grow.

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Looking at the meadow where we had our bonfire, you can see many wild flowers including Buttercup, Sorrel, Red Clover and Self Heal as well as the ubiquitous  Ox-Eye Daisy.

I was also giving thanks for the growth of the many plants that I have sown or planted and that are full of mid summer energy and ripeness.

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The bee on the Passionflower is very happy too. Mid summer is the perfect time to harvest herbs or medicinal plants as they are full of healing energy.  My house is taken over by plants drying.

 

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They are hanging in the kitchen,

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They are all over the therapy room, on the plinth,

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on the floor and even on an armchair in the living room.

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There are more, already dried, that I am chopping up very fine to make into teas and as you can see, many bags to get through.

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Mid summer is that most perfect time of year here in Connemara, when the colours of the plants are so vivid and the scents of plants such as Honeysuckle/Woodbine, Lavender and Rose are so delicious. This is the time when Mother Nature’s abundance becomes really visible and the hard work of transforming her gifts into edible delights and medicinal tonics begins.

 

Life, Death and Re-Birth

I am currently preparing for my next herbal health workshop, (taking place on Saturday 25th March)  which is about helpful herbs for the menopause years. It occurred to me that what we women experience as The Change, or the peri-menopause, is in fact a time of rebirth.

However difficult this time may be for women, ( and believe me, I know!!!) I do think it is a time for women to return to themselves.  Our children are grown and have probably left the family home which means that a woman’s time is her own once more.  We have reached a time in our life where we can choose what it is we want to do, want to be and we can have fun without being tied to those  responsibilities that exist when our children are dependent on us.  Unfortunately, our society regards the older woman in a rather negative fashion.  We are seen less as a fount of wisdom and more as an old biddy; someone who is feeble, vulnerable and not worth listening to, someone disempowered.  The wise elders of our society are often told to shut up because “…you’re too old, you just don’t get it.”

Many indigenous societies, on the other hand,  view their elder women as wisdom carriers or wisdom keepers,  who are responsible for passing on their knowledge to the next generation, who are appealed to to settle disputes, to make decisions for their tribe and to  oversee ritual thus keeping their culture alive.

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One reason why we have lost respect in the West is because we fear the ageing process.  Advertising campaigns and the media tell us over and over again, whether they are selling a car or selling a loan, promoting a grocery shop or a holiday, that only the young are beautiful.  If you do not look young and beautiful you are not worthy of respect.  We have swallowed this view and accepted it without questioning. Quick! Buy an anti-ageing cream, reduce those wrinkles!

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Look at this rock.  If we accept that this is the ‘face’ of Mother Earth, what do we see?  Fissures and grooves worn into the rock by sand and sea over aeons of time.  Her “wrinkles” do not make her any less beautiful, indeed they tell us a story of sunny days, stormy winters and we can imagine all that the rock has been exposed to. These lines, like ours, tell a story.  Does Mother Earth fear ageing?  I doubt it very much because despite her age she chooses to be reborn every spring time.

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I am afraid this picture is a little out of focus but you can see that part of the Cherry tree looks dead and brittle and yet there are a couple of new buds on the verge of bursting into flower.  The tree may look old and dried up but there is life in it again this year.

We women must stop worrying about wrinkles and ageing and focus on the life still within us.  With life expectancy increasing all the time – the average age of death is around 80 years –  we must put our lives into perspectve.  If we reach menopause between, lets say, 50 and 60, then we have years and years left to be productive, adventurous  and enthusiastic about life.  Lets face it, we would look ridiculous if we had the smooth skin of a sixteen year old when we have the life experience of a 6o year old.

As we are encouraged to attempt to look younger than we are, what is the pressure on younger women like?  They are encouraged to not grow  up at all and are under pressure to remain eternally youthful.  I just watched a documentary last night about young women undergoing labiaplasty – cosmetic surgery on the vulva!  It is absolutely horrific to think that women are being encouraged by trends to hate their bodies to such an extent that they have part of their most intimate and feminine parts cut away. Their surgery denies their womanhood and makes them look like a pre-pubescent girl.  What is that all about?  On one side of the world women are forced into female circumcision because of  a misogynistic culture and on our side of the world, young women are opting for similar surgery because they don’t feel they look good enough!! It is crazy!

Being different is ok.  We shouldn’t all look the same.  Ageing is ok too.  After all, many women, in fact many people, don’t have the option to age so we are incredibly fortunate to reach an age where we have some lines and wrinkles.

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Part of my workshop on Saturday 25th will be to teach people about herbal remedies that can be useful for relieving the menopausal experience but I will also be facilitating discussion about health and fitness and the importance of viewing menopause as a rite of passage.  If we see it as a rite of passage, like the onset of menses or giving birth, then we will feel more powerful and happy within ourselves. Menopause is not the beginning of a decline towards death but is the commencement of a new age, an age of personal power, a rebirth.

I believe it is vitally important that the women of my generation who are in the peri-menopause, or have reached the menopause must come together, rediscover our power and teach our younger sisters that they are beautiful, that their bodies are perfect and that we with our wrinkles are also beautiful and perfect.  Any time that we adopt a negative view of ourselves or another woman we are complying with a misogynistic patriarchal world view.