On Trademarks and the Herbal Community

We herbalists have had some deep thinking and considering to do as a community lately and as others have noted elsewhere, it is nothing short of inspirational to see us all coming together; not only discussing the many issues that have been brought up by the Fire Cider fiasco but also mobilizing ourselves to collectively challenge a registered trademark claim on a true folk medicine if ever there was one. What follows is my personal contribution to the ongoing discussion.

1005191_10151599136139143_1325701598_nI began my small herbal products business back in 1989 when I had four kids under the age of ten and was searching for a way to channel my love for the herbs, healing, natural gardening and medicine making into a right and sustainable livelihood to support my family. I began teaching herb classes shortly after.

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11745_10150875098859143_54168315_nFast forward twenty five years…our farm is still going strong, in fact we just expanded our growing area and built a new herb production building. We’ve got a forest restoration project starting this spring on a piece of newly acquired and recently cut-over woodland that we plan to transform with the help of our community into a wild medicinal plant sanctuary over the next several years.

What started as a small herb garden on the side of our house has evolved into four acres of medicinal herbs and next year I hope will be seven acres under cultivation. Over the last couple of years we’ve organized the Maine Organic Herb Growers Cooperative and with four other local farms we are creating jobs in farming for the local community and having a small but positive impact on what is otherwise a pretty depressed area, economically.

Our farm and herbal products business have been growing slow, steady and strong alongside our family all these years and now my grandsons are learning about plant and soil care, making teas and rose water and filling bottles and boxes.

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My herbal work and the unique formulas I’ve created over the years are precious to me. They come to me in inspired moments, are whispered to me by the plants, passed to me in dreams by my ancestors. Some are inspired by the work of other herbalists, from ancient times to the present.

They are all the result of diligent study, much personal work with the plants in their natural habitat and in the gardens, persistent application, observation and experimentation over many years. They began seeping onto paper in the early morning hours while children slept and the sound of their steady, rhythmic breathing brought me comfort and opened a creative portal. Over the years they have continued to evolve.

These simple, unheralded, herbal formulas have benefited many people. Babies have been conceived and born, overheated menopausal women have been cooled, pains have been eased, digestive woes calmed and hemorrhoids, as well as frayed nerves, have been soothed. Simple, quiet, humble work. Deeply satisfying.

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And all the while this wild hearted herbal work, these simple herb tea blends and compound formulas, have also supported and sustained my family; think basics like food on the table here…basketball sneakers, winter jackets and boots, college books…in many ways they represent the many daily sacrifices made along the way to raising a family while creating a self sustaining farm, herbal business and learning center while respecting the earth, the plants, myself and those I serve, work with and care for.

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And, as any small business owner knows, the personal sacrifices never end. Most recently they’ve included draining my savings to construct a GMP compliant workspace in order to confidently remain in business. The alternative would have been to retire…but I’ve been an organic farmer and herbalist all my adult life. There is no retirement for people like me.

What I am describing here, my sister and fellow herbalists, is what can truly be referred to as a major lifetime investment. This is what dedication to one’s craft looks like across time. This is persistence. We’re not talking three or four years of effort here. And I realize, and take great pleasure in knowing, that there are many of us who are walking this same blessed wild heart path with the plants. Operating in similarly small, local community circles, throughout the world. All of these small circles somehow interconnected, nourishing each other, creating our broad and thriving, diverse herbal community.

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At times there are bumps in the road that challenge us to take personal action we might not ordinarily consider. Case in point: a few years ago, when a local former student of mine began aggressively marketing products with menstruums, names and formulas the same as my own and using descriptive language that was uncomfortably similar, I became concerned. (Please note here I’ve had literally hundreds of students all of whom I’ve openly shared recipes and preparation methods with over the years. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support and encourage any student who wants to start an herbal business and move into the marketplace.

However, I do expect them to be creative and express their uniqueness…not to copy my work and pass it off as their own.)

When directly discussing my concerns with the offending party had no result, I consulted with a dear high school friend of mine who is a trademark specialist. She advised me to simply put the trademark symbol next to each of my product names on our website as a way of signaling this person directly and also protecting my work in the future. By doing this I would be invoking common law, the people’s law, to establish ownership of my unique formulas in the common arena.

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The way my friend described it to me, one does not need to actually register the trademark, pay big money and get lawyers involved…the symbol itself presents a clear message…a boundary…it says to students and possible competitors, “you are free to use these exact same herbs if you want to (every product on my website has its complete list of ingredients clearly listed) in any formula you make for your own use, but please do not use this same name with these exact herbs and bring it to market to compete directly against me.”

After weighing my concerns and considering my friend’s advice, I decided this was an acceptable use of the trademark laws and symbol. The way I see it, invoking common law is more a request for due respect than the establishment of exclusive, legally binding ownership…though it is entirely legal…it is using the people’s law to stand your ground, establish authorship, protect one’s work and continue to maintain a vibrant family business that in this case provides herbal medicines to said people.

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My friend offered to send a cease and desist letter as well, but I declined, feeling that the party was already well aware of the situation from my point of view. I decided instead to give her time to reevaluate her path and perhaps change course. She has since found her own voice within the herbal community and I couldn’t be more proud of her. End of story.

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On one of the forums dedicated to the fire cider trademark situation I read a quote by David Hoffman regarding the conflict between business and healing. I have to say, I think Hoffman is 100% right…there is business and there is healing.

If what you really want to do is get out there, create a strong brand and aggressively market your herbal products, get them into stores across the country, and so on, that is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s needed. People go to stores to buy stuff, including herbs, every day.    Just know that you are following a business model.

1001068_10151544457244143_615596437_nIf, on the other hand, you are focused on the healing or educational work you are doing with the plants and your business is growing organically, client by client, student by student, that is another, perhaps more ancient and ultimately I think, a far more satisfying model. The healers’ path. In the end I think it is all a matter of personal choice.

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The fact is we all need money to survive. Earning that money while demonstrating respect for the whole circle of life, including each other, is the challenge and the guideline. We all want to do our work freely and honorably. We want to protect our work and our investments while being fair, honest, upright and ethical. We want to respect our traditions. What I’ve noticed is that these words can mean different things to different people and we are all still learning.

Finding the balance between the healing work and the business, between the desire to serve and the need to earn a buck, these are real life considerations; this is the challenge…one foot in front of the other.

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So, my friends, these current rounds of discussion and cooperative efforts within our community has been really liberating and in my opinion, deeply nourishing to be a part of…I am grateful to be discussing, considering and taking action on these matters along with such an intellectually rich, authentic and wild hearted group of people.  Thank you!

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HERBAL MEDICINE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE

HERBAL MEDICINE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE WITH GAIL FAITH EDWARDS

goldenseal flowerConsider joining me for an outstanding learning experience in the world of herbal medicine. Begin your studies November 4, 2013 with the thoroughly enjoyable and highly praised Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course.

The Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course extends for a full year and a half (18 months) of study and consists of 18 comprehensive written lessons; each lesson accompanied by 4 or 5 weekly webinars per month, approximately 65-72 audio classes in all, with Gail Faith Edwards as your personal guide and instructor. These weekly classes can be downloaded and listened to at any time it is convenient for you.

A three day weekend during the summer of 2014 compliments the distant learning process and is included in your fee; hands-on, in person learning with the plants is critically important and will ground the herbal knowledge you will be accumulating during the course of our correspondence study. The community development, personal contact and relationships with other class members will create a foundation of support that will likely last for a very long time and be deeply nourishing. All meals (prepared with fresh organic ingredients) while on the farm, as well as all plants and materials required for making herbal medicines (jars, alcohol, honey, vinegar, oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, etc.) are also included in your fee.

The entire 18 lesson correspondence course lesson plan is outlined below. The Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course serves as the first half of the 3 year Community Herbalist Program. All students enrolled in this program have the opportunity to continue their studies at the Blessed Maine Herb Farm School of Herbal Medicine in the 3 year Program, if they desire to do so.

polypores“In an unassuming and gentle presentation, Gail Faith Edwards has taught me more practical and hands on knowledge about herbs than I would have thought possible from a correspondence course. She captures the true essence of herbal medicine with her knowledge of folklore, scientific facts, and her wise spirit. Thank you, Gail, for giving me the foundation to make herbal nutrition and medicine a part of my daily life.”

“I can’t believe how much I have grown personally and spiritually. Your herbal medicine class was a wonderful enrichment. You taught me patience and opened my eyes to the wonderful local herbs available right under my nose. I just wanted to thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Gail Faith Edwards has been a wonderful teacher and mentor. Always available to answer questions and give great feedback. She has encouraged, praised and challenged me. Most importantly, as a true wise woman, she has passed on to me the deep, spiritual respect for the earth and all that grows here. My wild heart sings with the knowledge I’ve gained through this course and the memories that have been awakened. Thank you, Gail.”

This herbal medicine home study course is designed to provide you with a strong foundation of herbal knowledge that you can build upon for the rest of your life. Its purpose is to empower you to use herbs safely and with complete confidence to nourish and heal yourself, family, friends and community.

The course offers the serious student of herbalism an excellent springboard from which to build a well grounded career as an herbalist. Nurses, healers and complimentary health care providers have always reported finding this course to be especially inspiring and fruitful for their work. It is expected to be all the more so given its recent expansion and revision.

20849_1464576088868_1067470689_1365881_2905556_nTHE HERBAL MEDICINE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE PACKAGE includes: At the beginning of each month you will receive a PDF file containing the current month’s lesson as well as a list of suggested and required reading. You will also receive, via postal mail at the start of the program, signed copies of two of my books; Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs and Through the Wild Heart of Mary, which will serve as work and reference books.

Each Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course student will have ample individual attention and will find that the direction of the course is tailored specifically to their personal interests and needs. You also have the opportunity for ongoing, unlimited discussion with me via the forum to review and comment on your work and progress, answer questions and offer clarifications and guidance for a full year and a half. This mentoring aspect of the program is invaluable for the aspiring herbalist. Additionally you’ll attend four to five webinar’s per month, focusing on the lesson work we are attending to that month.

The private class forum acts as a support group during the class, if you wish to participate. This will be a place to ask questions, talk over your current learning projects together and post activities, photos and links you would like to share. You will all be focusing on the same material – sharing your work and ideas with each other will enhance your experience as well as help us develop a deep sense of community.

A Certificate of Completion will be awarded to you upon successful completion of the 18 month course. Note that there is no legal certification for herbalists available anywhere in the United States of America.

Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course fee is $2,250.00. A non-refundable deposit of $100 is due upon registration and the remainder is due before the Correspondence Course package is sent. A mutually agreeable payment plan may be made available to earnest students in need. See the links below for the outline.

“I am amazed by the transformation that has occurred in me over the last year since beginning your course. This is a profound, completely unexpected, and much appreciated effect your course has had on me. Thank you so much.”

“This was my first introduction to herbs. I knew I had a LOT to learn, but was so amazed at how my knowledge of herbal uses and the body and its systems had soared by the end of the class.”

rosaseaweedHERBAL MEDICINE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE –                              LESSON PROGRESSION

Lesson 1 – Foundation – The Way of the Wild Heart, Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, The Heart as an Organ of Perception, Choosing an Herbal Ally, Sacred Plant Medicine, Earth Awareness, Women’s History, Great Goddess, Shamanism, Reclaiming our Traditions, Plants and Spirituality.

Introduction to Materia Medica runs concurrently with the following 4 Medicine Making lessons and continues throughout the remainder of the course.

Lesson 2 – Protecting our Herbal Heritage – Harvesting and Processing Herbs – Wildgathering with reverence and respect, ground rules and considerations, techniques for properly drying herbs, appropriate storage. What to look for when purchasing dried herbs. Herbal Medicine Making, part 1 – pills, pastiles, powders, suppositories, washes, baths, poultices and compresses. Delivery, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 3 – Medicine making, part 2 – Water Based Medicines – effective preparation techniques and choosing which herbs to prepare as teas, infusions, decoctions, syrups, meads and fermented beverages, the healing properties of honey & yeasts, herbal water baths, spiritual bathing. Delivery methods, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 4 – Spirit Based Medicines – Making herbal tinctures in alcohol, vinegar and glycerin, using both fresh and dried plant material and experimenting with different preparation methods, how to choose the most effective menstrum and ratios based on plant constituents, decanting and storage, dosages, delivery methods, contraindications.

Lesson 5 – Oil Based Medicines – making infused oils from fresh and dried plant material, cautious use of essential oils, aromatherapy, making salves, butters, lotions and creams. The skin is our largest organ of assimilation. Herbal skin care. Rashes, itches, skin afflictions and herbs that address them.

Lesson 6 – All life, and therefore health, springs from the ground. Introduction to Organic Herb Gardening – The life of the soil, nourishing the soil, seed planting and plant harvesting according to phases of the moon, concepts and practices of permaculture, compost, sheet mulching, weeding and cultivation, the importance of pollinators and planting specific plants and trees to attract them to the garden, Spring Tonics, Basic Botany for Herbalists.

Lesson 7 – Plant chemistry – Herbal constituents and actions, terminology of the herbalist, tastes and herbal energetics, the Vitalist or Natural approach to healing, choosing appropriate herbs to treat the whole person, introduction to case study work.

Lesson 8 – Laying the Groundwork of Nourishment – Nourishing Ourselves to Optimum Health & Vitality, Vitamins & Minerals – well developed information on each vitamin and mineral, the importance of each, what they do, where to find them, specific herbs and foods that offer them, how to recognize and overcome vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Lesson 9 – The Digestive System – Physiology and Pharmacology, what foods and herbs do we consume to support over-all digestive health and vitality and how are they best prepared. In-depth examination of the role the digestive process plays in our health. Planning and executing a health supportive dietary regime. Digestive fire. Vital essence. Bitters. Food allergies.

Lesson 10 – The Reproductive and Endocrine Systems – Physiology and Pharmacology, Herbs for Women’s Health, Herbs for Men’s Health, fertility & reproduction, PMS, menopause/andropause, hormonal chemistry, choosing herbs that nourish, strengthen, tone and balance these systems, delivery methods, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 11 – The Immune and Lymphatic System, Physiology and Pharmacology, herbs to nourish our immunity, herbal antibiotics, herbs, roots, lichen, fungi that enhance immunity, move lymph fluids, methods of delivery, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 12 – The Nervous System & Brain, Physiology and Pharmacology, Nervines and Restoratives, herbs to nourish, strengthen and tone the nervous system, herbs to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, addressing addiction and brain chemistry imbalances, herbal antidepressants as alternatives to Prozac, etc., Herbs for Mind and Spirit. Delivery methods, dosages and contraindications.

Lesson 13 – Chronic and Acute Pain, Physiology and Pharmacology, herbs that relieve pain, applications, dosages and contraindications.

Lesson 14 – The Endocrine System – Physiology and Pharmacology. Adaptogens – the importance of understanding the uses of this unique class of herbs, adaptogens as a bridge between the immune, nervous and glandular systems, their importance in increasing metabolic efficiency and reducing susceptibility to illness and disease. Homeostasis and the effects of adaptogens on the whole body/mind/spirit. Delivery methods, dosages and contraindications.

Lesson 15 – The Skeletal and Muscular Systems – Physiology and Pharmacology, choosing herbs to support, heal and maintain strong bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons and ligaments throughout life. The role of exercise in maintaining the health of our skeletal and muscular frame. Delivery methods, dosages and contraindications.

Lesson 16 – The Excretory System – Physiology and Pharmacology, choosing appropriate herbs to support and maintain the health of the kidneys and bladder, homeostasis, maintaining the balance between acid, water and salt base of the blood, the role of the kidneys in hormonal production, herbal delivery methods, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 17 – Heart, Lungs & Circulation System – Physiology and pharmacology, transporting blood, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, and waste throughout the body. Choosing appropriate herbs to support, nourish, strengthen and heal the heart, nourish the blood and blood vessels, lungs, air passageways, throat, mouth, and nasal passages. Delivery methods, dosages, contraindications.

Lesson 18 – Council of the Herbal Allies – Organs and Body Systems Review. Materia Medica Review. Earth Songs Heal Her – Initiation and Commencement

Correspondence Course Refund Policy: There are no refunds or cancellations accepted once materials are sent.

“Dear Gail, It is a pleasure and a blessing to be a part of your herbal correspondence course. Thank you for the lifetime’s work that you have pulled together to share with us – the hours in your garden; in deep listening to others, to the plants and to your own heart; your hours in research and contemplation; your hours in laughter and dreamtime; in cultivating presence and care in your medicine-making; your hours in observation and attentiveness; your hours in prayer. All of this that you have woven together to share with us, I deeply appreciate and hope to do my best to both receive, integrate, and make good use of in service to myself and others. Blessings to you, Nicole”

Register for the Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course here:  132http://blessedmaineherbs.com/hecoco.html

 

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GEMMOTHERAPY ELIXIRS

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Gemmotherapy

The art & science of the therapeutic use of tree buds.

Our gardens are now doing their slow and lovely dance of seasonal completion,   Though one corner of our garden is joyfully offering up a second crop of purple flowering anise hyssop and there is still an endless and undeniably glorious stream of bright orange and yellow calendula, for most of the garden, there is a sense of being done, of entering into the resting phase…actively nestling in for a long winter’s sleep.

At the same time that the gardens are coming to a close, the trees become radiantly aglow, saturated with light, awash  in color and calling quite obviously for our full attention…come, listen to our sacred stories, be nourished by our ripening fruits, honor our ancient spirits, be healed by our wild medicines.

JDFKDKDUDYDTGYou’ll find more in the forest than in books.  Trees and rocks will teach you things that no master in science will tell you.”  St. Bernard Clairvaux

Some of my favorite herbal medicines come from trees.  Willow, witch hazel, elder and hawthorn.  Pine, birch, cedar, chaste tree, bay and olive.  I love tree resins as well.  Baltic amber, the fossilized resin from ancient trees that grew around the Baltic rim many millions of years ago, the antibiotic pine, spruce and fir resins we collect from time to time and the copal, myrrh and frankincense resins that I love to burn.

Some of my most valued friends and teachers are trees.  Oak, my daily companion, hawthorn my sweet inspiration, apple from whom I receive deep soul nourishment.  My home is surrounded by trees and our farm bordered by woodland on two sides.  The natural spring from which we draw wild water is at the edge of a cedar grove, in the midst of a lush, green oasis, a place filled with alder, poplar, birch, spruce and bird song.

So it was no great surprise that when a book titled simply Treatise on Gemmotherapy; the Therapeutic Use of Buds, by Philippe Andrianne, crossed my path last winter, sent as a gift from a client, I immediately took notice and dove right in.  My imagination was quickly captured, my wild heart filled with insight and inspiration.

I spent a good part of my winter months reading and rereading this book which is now quite dog-eared and still by my side. I researched the subject online. And, as spring approached, I couldn’t wait to get back to the farm, collect the necessary menstruum ingredients and begin making and experimenting with bud medicines.

History – Gemmotherapy traces its roots at least back to the Middle Ages and the alchemists of that time who realized the important therapeutic value of tree buds.  In the early part of the 20th century, an astute student of nature and a Flemish doctor, Dr. Pol Henry, hypothesized that the meristem should contain all of the information energy necessary for the development of trees.  He macerated buds and young shoots in three different but entirely complimentary menstruums and in so doing discovered a way to extract their “quintessential nature” in the form of a concentrated mother-macerate.

The first bud extract Dr. Henry studied was birch bud and he proved that the extract activated the macrophages of the liver and allowed the drainage of Kupffer cells, which when activated are responsible for inflammation and can cause cirrhosis, or loss of liver function.

Dr. Henry’s foundational work was published in the early 1970s along with the results of his clinical studies and after his death in 1988 the term Gemmotherapy was coined to describe the new field of phytotherapy that he pioneered.  Gemmotherapy is widely practiced in Italy and France, with interest growing and practitioners expanding into the USA, Germany, UK,  Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The word gemmotherapy comes from the Latin gemmae, which designates both the bud and the precious stone of mineral or organic origin, such as amber or pearl, and also the rock salt extracted from mines and the resins obtained from an incision made in the tree trunks of pines and similar evergreen species, of which Baltic amber is a fossilized remain.

apaoauaysgdgfbcThe bud contains within itself the whole evolution of its species.  It contains all the power of the future plant.  The bud is embryonic tissue – vegetal stem cells – in a phase of intense cell multiplication containing the evolutionary potential, all of the genetic information as well as the energetic imprint, of the entire plant.

The buds contain more nucleic acid (genetic information) than any other tissues and also contain minerals, trace elements, vitamins and various growth factors such as hormones and enzymes, and especially the concentrated mineral sap provided by the tree in spring.  Regeneration, stimulation, and drainage of cells are some of the key actions represented by the young growth.

According to Dr. Henry, “Gemmotherapy mobilizes the potential biological energy of the elements of the embryonic plant.”  The gemmotherapy extract is a real concentrate of information; it contains all the genius of the tree from which the bud has come.  Thus, the concentrated mother-macerate of Linden for example, offers both the sedative properties related to the flowers but also the depurative and diuretic virtues of the sapwood.  A hawthorn bud extract offers both the medicinal properties of the berries (action upon the heart muscle) and those of the leaf and flower (heart rate).

The buds are freshly gathered in the spring, just before budding, a period of potential energy and maximum concentration of vital elements and then stabilized immediately in the menstruum to ensure the full regeneration capacity and optimal life force, or veriditas, are transferred.

Birch Sap is a vital part of these Gemmotherapy medicines.  This mineral rich ambrosial tree water is referred to as Elixir of Life and seen as the matrix that can receive information and return it, a biological transceiver, a water based communication network that handles the information regulating all life processes, a bridge between cosmic and earth forces.

All water sources flow downward, only tree sap runs up under the pressure of life forces.  While in motion, the sap is driven through the internal vortex that contributes to its revitalization.  Because of its polar structure working like a magnet, the water molecule, when turning on itself, emits a magnetic field.  It is dynamized as it rises through the spiral channels of wood, its capacity for organization greatly enhanced; it becomes a real bio-plasma.

The root of the word sap is sapa meaning cooked wine and evokes knowledge sapere and wisdom sapientia.  Birch sap is rich in trace elements and minerals, carbohydrates, growth hormones and vitamins.  The mineral rich sap is harvested only in spring before the buds open.   It is a clear liquid, like fresh water, with a flavor that is mildly sweet and amazingly invigorating.  I like to drink it straight from the tree.  I also use it to make coffee, tea and infusions during springtime.  I think of it as an invigorating spring tonic, detoxifying as well as deeply nourishing.

Birch sap does not stay stable for very long and because of the natural sugars and yeasts it contains, has a natural inclination to ferment and turn sour.  After setting aside a small amount for my personal use, I stabilize each day’s birch sap collection by mixing it with organic alcohol and organic vegetable glycerin to create the menstruum we use to make our Gemmotherapy Elixirs.

Actions – A primary action of the gemmotherapy elixirs is to stimulate drainage, which is conceived of as a more complex process than detoxification.  It is a process of transformation at the cellular level – an evacuation and integration take place on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels that deeply affects and alters the inner terrain of an individual.  Herbalists refer to a plant that has this type of action as an alterative.

Drainage here also refers to the physiological process of detoxification and means to stimulate the excretory organs; the kidneys, liver and skin.

Among the many highly nourishing phytonutrients contained within the buds are specific enzymes that bind strongly to heavy metal atoms, immobilizing them and preventing them from invading parts of the cells where they could become toxic.

vnvbvnvh The ones who drink from the roots, the ones who do not walk.

The Cosmic Tree – The concept of the Cosmic Tree is found in all major traditions around the world, a living image of the cosmos, forever regenerating, renewing, and reflecting the unity of the universe.  Also known as the World Tree, the Cosmic Tree represents the spatial manifestation of the cosmic forces at work in the universe, endowed with creative power, bringing together mobile and motionless. 

The Cosmic Tree is usually represented by a majestic tree, unique to each culture and geographical location.  For the Celtic people it is the oak, to Siberians the birch, for Mediterranean people it is the olive, to Scandinavians, the ash and to Arabs, the palm.

The Sacred Tree is a portal into the spiritual realms and represents the divine life force which animates the universe.  The ancients tell us that trees have souls, they have a healing touch.  A forest is a sanctuary, a sacred grove, residence of the local deities.

Worship of trees was practiced by our shamanic ancestors. The Catholic Church, unable to separate the people from their adoration of certain trees, built churches at those locations, associated the tree or tree cult with a Catholic saint and Christianized the place.  In this way the Catholic Church preserved all of the most ancient sacred places throughout Europe.

Many myths recount the relationship between trees, a sacred place, or a sacred person.  In Egypt, Hathor was the sycamore, Attis was associated with the pine, the Greek Daphne was turned into a bay tree and Athena taught the people how to grow and use the olive.  Poplar and willow grew at the edge of the Underworld, myrtle among the ancestors.

Ancient peoples say that the sanctity of the tree is often realized in the fermented fruit, the original mythic beverage, the elixir of immortality, the ambrosial nectar, a true universal medicine.  Variations have survived in the form of mead, wine and fermented sap, all of which were recognized in antiquity.

The honored Tree of Life remains known, down through the centuries, as a medicine tree, a healing tree, a special tree of regeneration and rebirth, giver of life, bestower of fertility, receiver of pains and afflictions; and this is confirmed by popular belief, folklore and legends that are repeated through the passing generations.  The tree represents to humans our innermost nature.

Trees were present on this earth many millions of years before humans. In the biblical story of creation trees appeared on the third day, humans not until the last day of creation.  The trees are our ancestors.  They archive events, witness the passage of time and of human generations, metamorphose through seasonal changes and endure over many centuries.

dodpdkdjdhdgThe Celtic peoples arranged their agricultural, social and cultural activities according to a lunar calendar based on trees and the natural rhythm of nature.  Each lunar month of the year is associated with a tree symbolizing the characteristics of that particular 28 day cycle.  There were thirteen cycles per year.

Four Temperaments – European phytotherapy is based on the Four Temperaments Theory, introduced by Galen (131-201) who developed his theory based on the writings of Hippocrates (-377) who was influenced by the Theory of the Four Elements of Plato (-396) who was influenced by the life teachings of the Egyptians.

The Hippocratic temperament, also known as idiosyncrasy, expresses the unique tendency of a living organism to react to external agents. It also refers to the natural character of the person, his or her own true nature and personality. Temperament is a state composed of two integral aspects, one physiological and one psychological.  Temperament can be seen as the constitution of the person, their individual terrain.

The terrain represents the combined aspects of hereditary factors (constitution) and environmental (miasma), and includes the energetic and biochemical levels.  This terrain is not fixed but mutable – able to be influenced and altered.  The terrain can serve as a predisposing factor for disease development or resistance.

The humor is the crystallization, the material manifestation of temperament.  The concept of humor is associated physically to an organic liquid through which temperament is physiologically expressed.  Psychologically it is associated with mood, behavior, psycho-emotional aspects.

Each mood contributes to the expression of a physiological, pathological and psychological temperament of the individual.  The four humors, blood, lymph, yellow bile and black bile, constitute the physical medium but also contain a non-material or “energetic” quality related to the personality.  Being “in a good mood” means having a good balance between these four humors.

Scuola Medica Salernitana

mcmcncbcbcgct The Medical School in Salerno, Italy was the world’s first medical school. The Scuola Medica Salernitana is situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the beautiful Bay of Salerno, in the Southern Italy town of Salerno, not far from our ancestral village.  It was the great gathering place, or melting pot, for medical knowledge in the Western World at the time. Arabic medical treatises, both those that were translations of Greek texts and those that were originally written in Arabic, were being collected in the library of Montecassino and translated into Latin. The work of HippocratesGalen and Dioscorides blended with Arabic medical tradition and practice, as well as with Jewish medical traditions.

45601_10151403145478667_1579219949_n The meeting of all these different cultures led to a great synthesis of medical knowledge. So much so that legend ascribes the foundation of Scuola Medica Salernitana to four masters: the Jewish Helinus, the Greek Pontus, the Arab Adela, and the Latin Salernus. The school taught medicine along with philosophy, theology and law. Women were welcome as both students and teachers and the medical practitioners of Salerno were unrivalled in the medieval Western Mediterranean world.

One noted female doctor and author from this school is Trotula de Ruggiero, accredited with several books on gynecology and beauty care, collectively known as The Trotula. Among them is De Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum, Women Take Care of Emotions, first published around 1100 AD.

The Scuola Medica Salernitana had its origins in the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th century and reached the height of its influence between the tenth and thirteenth centuries.

Because of the school, Salerno gained the title of “Town of Hippocrates” (Hippocratica Civitas or Hippocratica Urbs). People from all over the world flocked to the “Schola Salerni“, both the sick, in the hope of recovering, and students, to learn the art of medicine.

agatatafadae The Garden of Minerva, Il Giardino della Minerva, built to accompany the medical school, was the first medicinal herb garden in all of Europe. The gardens fell into disrepair over time but in recent years have been completely restored.

 I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Garden of Minerva several times and have been awed with its beautiful design, laid out on four separate terraced levels, each with its own water source.  Information regarding humoral classification and energetic properties is written on small metal signs that accompany each plant cultivated there.

The concept of the four humors developed out of this milieu. Here is how the Medical School in Salerno described the humors:

There are four humors circulating in the human body: The black bile and phlegm and bile and blood.  The phlegm if formed of water; of earth the black bile.  The air enters the blood; and fire in the bile.  Blood flows and air absorbs heat.  Phlegm in its course has the freshness of water.

The reciprocal balance between the four temperaments helps to maintain health of body, mind and spirit and ensures the continuity of life.  The concept of the temperaments means that each individual is seen as a whole person.

cncbchcgctctrcreEach humor is related to a temperament.

Blood (sanguine) is related to the sanguine temperament – warm and humid.

Yellow bile is related to the bilious (nervous) temperament – hot and dry.

Black bile is related to the melancholic temperament – cold and dry.

Phlegm is associated with the lymphatic (phlegmatic) temperament – cold and wet.

The prevalence of one of the temperaments constitutes a set of physical and mental abilities, behaviors and characteristics, both internal and external. Plants, food choices, life style and a variety of practices can affect and even bring about a change of temperament.

We might conceive of temperament similar to how we see soil…with careful cultivation we can nourish, correct, balance and bring it into harmony.

Most plants, trees and foods are also classified according to their basic thermal nature: hot, cold, dry and wet and can be connected to one or many elements.

A large part of the art of natural medicine is in the intuitive matching, or joining, of these material and energetic principles and growth patterns, to support positive change within the individual.

Tree and Human

“By its vertical structure, the tree, like humans, rises to the surface of the earth and finds itself in a strange mirror relation because of their strong anatomical and physiological similarity; similarity that can be extended in an emotional and intellectual projection, even psychological and spiritual.”

Practical and functional applications arise from this symbolic thinking.  The psychosomatic action of tree buds on our own verticality, the strength of our framework, our bones and muscles that keep up upright, our psychological health, and the social implications – the tree is a silent companion, friend, teacher, tutor.

“The verticality of the tree found especially in the trunk, finds its equal in the vertebral column supporting the human body,  meeting place between the left and right side, site of our blockages, our fears and denials, where the body somatizes unconscious tensions.

The marrow of the stem is analogous to the spinal cord and bone marrow and the branches are analogous to arms.  Climbing a tree is to connect with a living being, getting away from the ground, changing position, shifting perspective.

Since in nature, the tree establishes communication between the forces of the underworld, those on the surface of the earth and those of the cosmos, it is possible that it does the same in us, through bud extracts, helping us to reach the depths of our own subterranean world, while balancing the spiritual realm.”  Philippe Andrianne

How to heal a human being is identical to healing a tree or a forest.  It us useless to do battle against insects, fungi, bacteria and other pathogens, if the essential is not treated: the forces of life, the formative forces of the body, which is the same in all of nature…what Hildegard von Bingen referred to as veriditas.

“After the glaciers subsided the birch and pine appeared and colonized the tundra.

As the weather warmed in came the hazel, then oak, elm and ash, hornbeam and fir.”

ieiehfhfydtddg The Remedies and Indications for Use

Crab Apple – Stimulates oxygenation of the brain and cerebral circulation, cools excess heat, eases hot flashes and some migraines, facilitates communication between emotions, thoughts & expression, helps with concentration, harmonic balancing, acts as a sexual tonic.

Birch – Used to ease chronic rheumatic and degenerative diseases. Effective anti inflammatory used to ease joint pain and inflammation, lumbago and nerve pains and inflammation.  Re-mineralizes the body, indicated for growing pains in children and adolescents.  Stimulates collagen production, strengthens connective tissue, bones and cartilage, improves flexibility and elasticity.  Stimulates spleen, pancreas and liver.  Hypo-allergenic, anti-allergic.  Antidote against possible side effects of pharmaceutical medications, including chemo.

Grape Vine – Indicated for all chronic inflammations, intestinal, hemorrhoids, as well as dermatitis.  Immune modulating, improves the flow of lymph, tumor inhibiting.   Helps ease joint pains & inflammation. Slows the process of joint deformities.

Honeysuckle – Cooling, soothing and moistening, used to treat upper respiratory infections, dry, convulsive cough, hoarseness, laryngitis – expectorant, decongestant and antispasmodic.  Considered a cardiotonic, brings moisture to joints.

Juniper – Protective – drives away negativity, purifying.  Liver tonic, antiinflammatory.

Horsetail – Strengthens bone matrix, mineralizing, fights against osteoporosis and hair loss, enhances fracture healing and facilitates absorption of calcium, anti-rheumatic, antiinflammatory.  An excellent remedy to help restructure joints, to help heal tendonitis, muscle tears.  Promotes elasticity and flexibility of tendons, muscles, blood vessel walls.  Helps eliminate edema, increases urine volume; helps lose excess water/weight.

Integrated Complex – birch, grape vine, horsetail – To support bone health – re-mineralizing- strengthens spine and bones.  An excellent remedy for hot, swollen, painful knees, hips, small joints, chronic pain, protects joints from wear and tear, helps prevent fractures in elderly.  Enhances immunity, helps relieve pain.

Trees are the outgrowth of the earth.”  Rudolf Steiner

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Recommended dosages for mother-macerate

Gemmotherapy Elixirs:

Adults – 5 drops one to three times daily between meals.

Children – 3-8 drops daily

Babies – 1-3 drops daily

If breastfeeding, give the drops to the mother at the adult dosage.

Pregnant women – Avoid bud medicines with hormonal actions such as oak, sequoia and raspberry.

Gemmotherapy Elixirs have a shelf life of four years.

Gemmotherapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other healing modalities. Generally the drops are placed on the tongue and held there a few seconds before swallowing.  They can also be consumed in a beverage such as water, tea or juice.

The usual duration for a course of treatment is three weeks which may be continued up to three months. Gemmotherapists recommend three weeks of taking the elixir and one week of rest, followed by another three weeks of use, and then a week without.

You’ll find our Gemmotherapy Elixirs at this page:

http://blessedmaineherbs.com/geel.html

 

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Vanilla, cocoa, coconut, orange peel, ginger & nutmeg…

One day, late last summer, the most wondrous and magical thing occurred here on the farm.  A bag full of the freshest, blackest, most aromatic, shiny, moist and pliable, certified organic vanilla beans I’d ever had the pleasure of sharing a space with arrived at my door.…I was in heaven!  A big burst of inspiration for working with vanilla beans ensued and I wound up using them in lots of creative ways and really loving the results.

Infused oil of vanilla is amazing! I love the warm, sensual fragrance and the silky, luxurious feel of the oil on my skin. Combined with roses, it moves into out of this world proportions! With a splash of essential oil of sandalwood, oh my.

When the Roses were in bloom, I combined a basket full of the fragrant blossoms with some of those luscious vanilla beans and made a rose & vanilla elixir with brandy and pure, unheated honey. This heady burst of rose and vanilla goodness has become one of my daily gut soothing, heart warming, soul nourishing daily staples.

One early fall, blue sky afternoon, while creating in the herb kitchen, I discovered to my great joy that vanilla, rose, Baltic amber and aloe vera emulsified into the most exquisite face cream ever!  Lush, re-hydrating  some might say restorative, and literally melts into the skin leaving behind nothing but a rosy glow.   The cream was so fabulous I thought I’d give a simple body butter a try.  Rose and vanilla infused oils and cocoa butter whipped together to perfection…I’m applying it to elbows and heels and anywhere else on my body that needs a bit of softening, moisturizing, emollient action.

Finally, as cool fall weather descended  I decided to create a delicious beverage that would be thick and substantial, warming and stimulating, the perfect cup of something to warm the body on a cold fall or winter day.  I added a hand full of slivered vanilla beans to some cocoa and coconut, blended in some orange peel and aromatic spices and created my new favorite late afternoon tea blend, Tropical Fiesta.   It tastes all warm and smooth – like there’s this laid back party in your mouth.  After a cup or two I feel all cozy, content and mildly affectionate   Tropical Fiesta is more than an unforgettable flavor and a love enhancing drink – it’s also nourishing in the best of ways!

I’ll share my recipe for Tropical Fiesta with you at the end of this post.  First I’d like to share a brief profile of vanilla and the other herbs in this warming and stimulating blend.  I think you’ll find, as I have, that these tropical, but commonly available, spices support our over all physical health, our sexuality, spirituality and vitality.

Vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, is a native American plant and was introduced to the rest of the world only after European contact with South America.  It was traditionally combined with cocoa and was highly valued as a spice and as an aphrodisiac throughout the ancient Americas.  Today vanilla is used homeopathically as an aphrodisiac and to treat impotence.  It lends an exceedingly pleasant, smooth, somewhat sweet and warm flavor to many foods and beverages.

In its early years, tlilxochitl, as vanilla beans were called by the Aztecs, were harvested, fermented, and then dried.  The dried beans were then crushed and combined with the powder of cocoa seeds, or chocolate.  This made the basis for a much loved drink made for only the most special occasions.

The Spaniards took vanilla and chocolate back to Spain where they spread throughout Europe and beyond.  Can you imagine experiencing chocolate and vanilla for the first time?  I’m envisioning lots of happy faces, broad smiles, big hugs and kisses!

Vanilla is actually a very sexy plant.  The word vanilla comes from the Spanish “vainilla” which is a diminutive of the Latin vagina, and refers to the shape and form of the seed-capsule.  Vanilla is a lush vine that can grow as long as 100 feet.  When fruiting, clusters of long vanilla beans that look just like green beans, hang from the plants.  Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a highly complex group of plants with equally complicated, and highly specialized, sex lives.  The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is named for the Greek word orchus, for scrotum, which the orchid bulb resembles.  See what I mean?

The exquisite and singular aroma of vanilla comes from the seed pod and develops gradually as the pods dry, which is an elaborate process of fermentation and drying that takes several months.  As a fermented foodstuff, vanilla beans provide natural probiotics and an enhanced vitamin and mineral content, help balance gut flora and specifically nourish the heart and brain.

Vanilla is an aromatic spice that also offers benefits to the nervous system.  It has a history of use as a sedative, calming anxiety and relieving tension.  The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York reports that some claustrophobic patients’ symptoms are alleviated when they are exposed to the aroma of vanilla.

Its aromatic qualities benefit the digestive system as well.  Vanilla is warming and soothing to the digestive tract while having a mildly stimulating effect on the digestive process.  It has been used to heal ulcers.

Names for vanilla: Italian-vaniglia; French-vanilla; German-Vanille; Spanish-vainilla; Swedish-vanilj.

Cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao  Throughout the ancient Americas, chocolate was considered a food of the gods and was offered to them in ceremony.  As a sacred foodstuff, chocolate was also popularly used among ancient American peoples as an aphrodisiac, usually combined with honey and vanilla.  This custom of integrating the gift of chocolate into sacred ceremony is still very much alive today.

Cocoa beans contain phenylethylamine (PEA), thought to cause its aphrodisiac effects, and theobromine and caffeine, both of which stimulate the central nervous system.  PEA has been referred to as the “molecule of love” by sexual medicine specialist Theresa Crenshaw, M.D., who says that PEA is also a natural stimulant and antidepressant.  According to Dr. Crenshaw, both love and lust increase blood levels of PEA.  Heartbreak causes PEA levels to take a nose dive.

Cocoa butter contains compounds related to aminophylline, a substance known to treat erection impairment.  Aminophylline works to restore erections by opening the blood vessels in the penis to allow more blood flow.  In one study, 36 men with impotence applied a cocoa butter cream to the penis daily.  Almost two-thirds of the men reported complete restoration of erections and satisfactory intercourse after using the cream.  More blood flow means stronger orgasms for the female also, so massaging cocoa butter around the vagina and labia regularly will not only keep these tissues plump, moist, and flexible, but may also increase orgasmic potential.

And, it appears cocoa powder is a protective antioxidant food,  According to Professor Joseph Vinson, of the University of Scranton, his research showed that cocoa powder is loaded with polyphenols and concentrated procyanidins, potent antioxidants with a long history of clinical study.  Recent scientific studies have shown that cacao boosts blood flow to the heart, brain and other organs and has a wide array of protective effects against heart disease. Cocoa is bitter, so it naturally helps to stimulate digestive juices as well.

Coconut Cocos nucifera There’s no need to tell vanilla, but I’ve also been having a love affair with coconut this last year or so!  With its awesome juicy fat fullness, its fabulous coconut flavor and its even energy boost, what’s not to love?

Coconut is heart protective and regular consumption supports healthy heart function.   It improves digestion and eases inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract.  Coconut has the effect of supporting and enhancing the absorption of other nutrients including those all important vitamins and minerals.

Consuming coconut offers a good sustained energy boost to the body.  It is used to produce energy immediately, so supports improved endurance and enhances physical and athletic performance.  Another thing I appreciate about coconut is that regular use appears to promote healthy thyroid function.

Nutmeg Myristica fragrans   Since ancient times nutmeg has been well respected as a stimulating brain tonic and its ability to improve clarity, focus and concentration.  Additionally, nutmeg is an effective sedative and pain reliever as well as a reliable soother of digestive woes.  I remember my mother offering me a warm cup of milk with a bit of honey and some nutmeg sprinkled on top of it as a drink before going to sleep.  Evidently this is a traditional sleep procuring drink throughout many parts of the world.  Nutmeg is calming and relaxing to the entire nervous system and helps you fall soundly asleep if consumed before bed.

Ginger Zingiber officinale is a hot, some may say pungent, biting spice and possesses legendary medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.  It is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, analgesic, antitussive, a circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, hypotensive, antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative, antiarthritic, and an anti-clotting agent.  Whew!

Historically, ginger has been added to food and beverages because it possesses strong antibacterial activity against food-borne pathogens, especially Shigella dysenteriae, Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp.  It is also active against Malaria, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococcus spp.

Ginger has a wide range of beneficial actions in the human body, and is especially warming, carminative and tonic to the entire digestive tract.  Antispasmodic ginger is an effective remedy against nausea, prevents morning sickness and relieves motion sickness.

Ginger is an excellent heart and circulatory system tonic, is energizing, and makes a very fine winter time remedy against colds, flu, and bronchial problems.  In fact, one survey revealed that ginger and honey are the most common and effective home remedies for cough relief.

Ayurvedic tradition teaches that ginger stimulates agni, the divine and creative energy of the body, strengthens the circulation and helps rid the intestinal tract of toxins.  Islamic people consider ginger to be among their most sacred herbs, and the Koran says that ginger will promote digestion and “strengthen sexual activity.”  Ginger’s warming and stimulating action extends to the reproductive organs and it is used as an aphrodisiac in almost every place it grows.  An old Italian rule for a happy life in our old age is: eat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth!

Ginger also helps relieve pain. Researchers found that arthritis patients report pain relief after using ginger. A warm cup of ginger tea will bring on menstruation and ease cramps and uterine discomfort.  One interesting study I found regarding ginger reported that out of 113 women treated for breech position of pregnancy between the 28th and 38th week with topical application of ginger paste over the uterus, 77% were corrected, as opposed to 52% correction out of 238 untreated women.

Names for ginger: French-gingembre; German-Ingwer; Italian-zenzero; Spanish-jengibre; Swedish-ingefara.

Orange peelCitrus spp.  Vitamin and antioxidant rich, orange peel is an excellent tonic for digestion and well as for the respiratory system.

The pectin in orange peel acts as a prebiotic and encourages the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestines.  A little citrus peel in one’s daily diet can go a long way toward grounding good digestive system health and easing digestive disorders. Orange peel has traditionally been used to ease stomach aches, bloating and the associated discomfort, intestinal spasms, indigestion, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea.   It also has a history of use as an anti-spasmodic and acts beneficially on the respiratory system as well.  .

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine uses several citrus peels for specific health support, including those of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata ‘Blanco’) and bitter orange (C. aurantium).

Mature mandarin orange peel, known as chen pi or ju pi in Chinese medicine, is used to improve digestion, relieve intestinal gas and bloating, and resolve coughs with copious phlegm. This peel acts primarily on the digestive and respiratory systems. Immature mandarin orange peel, known as qing pi in Chinese medicine, acts primarily on the liver and stomach.  It promotes good digestion, relieves food retention and abdominal distension, and promotes good liver function.

Common sweet orange (C. sinensis) peel has many of the same constituents as the mandarin orange peel and can be used in all the same ways.

The medicinal action of orange peel is due in part to d-limonene which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also acts as a solvent for cholesterol, which has led some physicians to use it to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones. D-limonene neutralizes gastric acid and supports normal peristalsis, making it useful for relief of heartburn and to ease gastroesophageal reflux, providing a barrier to protect against acid erosion.

Here’s the recipe for Tropical Fiesta – get yourself some nice fresh aromatic vanilla beans and shred into tiny bits.  I used a vitamix and it worked great.  Combine the vanilla bits with cocoa powder and/or nibs.  Throw in some shredded coconut and some orange peel until it looks and smells fantastic. I sprinkle in a generous helping of some warming aromatics such as ginger and nutmeg and top it all off when it’s in the pot with one whole dry red pepper.  I add a bit of  honey to the cup and sometimes make it in half water/half milk.  It makes a phenomenally delicious, warming and relaxing beverage for cold weather!

If you don’t have the ingredients on hand or the time to mix it up yourself, you can get Tropical Fiesta from Blessed Maine Herb Farm already blended to perfection and packaged in a beautifully labeled cylindrical tin.

http://blessedmaineherbs.com/herbteablends1.html

Enjoy!

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Oatstraw Avena sativa

OATS 

Avena sativa

Poaceae

Mid summer here in Maine is all about harvesting grasses.  Hot, dry sunny weather means that farmers are out mowing their fields, large round bales are lining up all along the roadsides and even here at the Blessed Maine Herb Farm the grasses have now moved to the center of our attention.  Our oats have reached the milky stage and so the harvest of milky oat tops is in full swing.

The fossil record tells us that the plants in the Poaceae family, called grasses, evolved around 65 million years ago. There are approximately 600 genera and between 9,000-10,000 species in this family, which is one of the oldest of the plant families.

Plant communities dominated by Poaceae are called grasslands and, depending on their location, pampas, plains, steppes, or prairie. It is estimated that grasslands comprise between 20 – 30% of the vegetation cover of the earth. Recently scientists working in the flooded ruins of an ancient fishing camp in Israel, known as Ohalo II, found evidence that the residents were collecting wild grain, pounding it and possibly baking bread at least 10,000 years before the advent of cultivated crops. Traces of grains were detected in the seams of a grinding stone unearthed at this settlement on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee that thrived 22,000 years ago. This discovery is the oldest evidence found of humans processing cereal grains. Besides the milled grain there was also considerable evidence of charred or parched grains at the site, especially smaller seeds, suggesting that the ancient residents had gathered cereal to make gruel. Clearly grasses in the Poaceae family have provided humans (and many animals) with an essential part of their diet since prehistoric times when Paleolithic peoples gathered wild seeds and crushed them to make nourishing gruels and porridge.  All grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, offer a wealth of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytosterols and are naturally low in fat.

Each whole kernel of grain is a storehouse of nutrients essential to the human diet.

One of the most outstanding members of this plant family is Avena sativa, common oats or oatstraw.  Ancient legend says that Gaia herself was weaned on the milk of this flowering plant. Oats are the seeds, milky oat tops refer to the unripe seeds and the whole plant harvested and dried is referred to as oatstraw. Oatstraw refers to both the flowering milky tops and the stem of the plant combined, (as in whole plant medicine) and is used to make wonderfully nourishing and delicious herbal infusions.  Oatstraw infusions are a great way to get the benefits of oats.  Drinking 2-4 cups daily imparts all the benefits of eating oats and is especially hormonal balancing, grounding and vitality building. All the wild-hearted among us, pregnant women, nursing mothers, babies and growing children, women with busy lives and tight schedules, overworked and stressed-out-men, all benefit from integrating oats and oatstraw into their daily diets. Sweet and warming, calming and restorative oats in the diet assure strong nerves, steady mind, good coordination and balance, excellent reproductive functioning, healthy sex drive, strong heart and circulatory system, strong bones, balanced hormones, low cholesterol and normal blood pressure. Oats are highly nourishing, revitalizing and rejuvenating. Offering one of the highest contents of magnesium of any plant, oats also contain abundant chromium, sodium, silicon, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and selenium. Oats are an excellent source of vitamin B complex, including folic acid, plus vitamins E, K, A and C, potassium and protein. Daily consumption of 2-4 cups of oatstraw infusion, builds strength, balance and vitality. Plenty of magnesium in the diet is implicated in a lessening of the swelling and pain of osteoarthritis and other painful joint disorders.  In addition, magnesium assures the best absorption of the abundant calcium in oats and helps relax the muscles and keep the bones strong.  Magnesium is necessary for the electrical body to function optimally, for the heart to beat regularly, and for that elusive quality known as magnetism.  B complex vitamins are critically important for good mental function and emotional stability.

Oatstraw is an energizer, but it does this cumulatively, building energy and vitality slowly and consistently by deeply nourishing the entire body. It alleviates both physical and nervous fatigue, Taken before bed, oatstraw infusion supports deep refreshing sleep.

Referred to as a trophorestorative, all parts of this common plant nourish and tone the brain and nervous system and are excellent allies when dealing with stress and anxiety as well as depression. Oatstraw can be combined with other nervines such as hawthorn, motherwort, passionflower, chamomile, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, skullcap, rosemary or lavender when treating anxiety.   Since nervines compliment the use of adaptogens, any of these herbs in combination with oatstraw can be safely combined with an adaptogen such as reishi mushrooms, American ginseng, licorice or schizandra when dealing with the effects of severe, long term stress.  Adaptogens can be important allies here, as they assist the body in regulating the use of cortisol which allows it to maintain a healthy, non-destructive stress response, countering the adverse effects that stress has on the body. When treating depression, oatstraw can be combined with nervines that offer specific antidepressant qualities.  These include lemon balm, St. John’s wort, roses, lavender and rosemary.  Nootropics (herbs that enhance cerebral function) can also be helpful when treating depression; some of my favorites include ginkgo, lavender and rosemary. An adaptogen such as rhodiola, holy basil or schizandra can be added to the formula for additional support. Oats’ benefits extend quite naturally to children. They taste delicious, are calming, and promote healthy growth of bones and muscles. A bowl of oat cereal or a cup of oatstraw infusion is a great way for kids to start or end the day.  (According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, grains such as oats, rye and wheat, should not be consumed unless they have first been either soaked – for at least several hours or overnight – or fermented.) I suggest daily infusions of oatstraw and/or a bowl of oatmeal for any child who is easily distracted and needs help with concentration, focus, and the ability to settle down and pay attention.  The addition of some rose hips or passionflower will be a nourishing, safe and simple, yet effective treatment for children with attention deficit “disorder.” Phytosterol rich oats are well known as a love potion, probably due to their ability to nourish and strengthen the endocrine system and regulate hormones. Regular use of oats or oatstraw infusion helps prevent prostate problems and “erectile dysfunction.” Both help stabilize blood sugar levels, and have been used to nourish people with thyroid and estrogen deficiencies, and degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Oats and oatstraw are fabulous for supporting anyone with general debility or deficiency. There is an old saying having to do with “feeling your oats,” meaning feeling frisky and full of life, vitality and sexual energy. That’s oats. Oatstraw is also quite the beauty herb! I like to grind dried oatstraw with almonds and clay, perhaps add some honey and enough water to make a paste, and treat myself to a luxurious facial scrub. Oats offer exceptional benefits to the skin. I place dried oats into a small muslin cloth, wet it in a warm shower and rub over my body to slough away dead skin and leave my skin glowing. Soaking in a relaxing bath with oats will also help soothe skin irritation and ease dry, itchy skin conditions. Add a few roses or some lavender for a real treat. When dealing with varicose veins, drink at least 2 cups of oatstraw daily and use the infusion as a wash, or apply the warmed, moistened herb you’ve strained out, as a poultice.  Be sure to wash with an upward motion, to follow the direction of blood flow to the heart.  Drink the same amount of infusion when trying to alleviate the pain and discomfort of hemorrhoids and use the warm oatstraw infusion as a comforting sitz bath.   In Scandinavian countries, a bundle of oats is hung by the door for prosperity. Old wives suggest keeping a few oats in a magical bag for a prosperous life full of deep satisfaction.  Oat flower essence brings a feeling of stability during times of uncertainty and dissatisfaction. Oats are very easy to grow in ordinary garden soil. Sowing and raking oats into the ground is one of our annual spring rituals on the Blessed Maine Herb Farm; we make it a family affair. I have always relished working up that first patch of soil, the rhythm of throwing seeds from bucket to earth, the sway of our bodies, the sparks of life force flowing from our hands, and the kids (now grown) playing alongside the field. In about a week the oat seeds have sprouted, begin growing green and thick and soon become tall and graceful. In no time at all it seems, we hear the gentle rattle of oat flowers in the breeze as they sing us to the harvest. Oats are true magic and I’m certain you’ll want to plant some. We use certified organic oat seeds, the same that we used to feed our ponies, and sow them very thick so there’s no room for weeds. Oats like to grow this way. If you’ve no room outside to grow oats, just a handful of seed thrown into a pot makes a magical, nourishing, soothing container garden for a city dweller. No matter where you live, do open your wild heart to gentle, powerful, restorative oats.

We gather our oats while the seeds are in the milky stage. At some point between the time the flowers emerge and the seeds harden, you squeeze a plump bud and out will ooze a thick, sweet, white sap that looks and tastes a bit like mothers’ milk. This is the optimum time for harvest.  We tincture our milky oat tops within minutes after harvesting.

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We hand strip the  unripe seeds from the stalks and fill baskets with them, then carry them to the drying room where they are laid out on screens to dry.  If we want oatstraw, we cut our oat stalks as far down as they are green, then lay them out on screens, hang them in bunches, or make them into sheaves like the old-timers did.

Visit Blessed Maine Herb Farm for certified organic herbal medicines of impeccable quality.  Milky oats are is in several of our herb tea blends and in several of our formulas as well, notably in our Nerve Tonic and in our Stress Free Adaptogen Blend

Many Good Blessings to you!

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OUR LADY’S MANTLE

OUR LADY’S MANTLE

Alchemilla vulgaris

ROSACEAE

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Lately I’ve been sitting in the shade of a lovely plum tree here at the Blessed Maine Herb Farm, as the weather has been hot, and I appreciate the cool shade this plum tree’s graceful arching branches provide.  The plum stands right next to a lush and lovely bed of Our Lady’s Mantle and so I’ve been enjoying its presence and watching the many pollinators working the flowers, since the plants are now in full and glorious bloom.

Our Lady’s Mantle has also been showing up prominently in my visits to other gardens, most recently while teaching a class at the beautiful Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine.  This is a plant that I greatly value and I’d love to share with you here some of what I have come to know of this spectacular women’s herbal ally.

Regarded as an herb that offers a wealth of both magical and medicinal qualities, Our Lady’s Mantle spreads her wild-heart-woven healing cloak like a mantle of strength, wisdom and healing.  As her common name implies, she does indeed have a special affinity for women.

Our Lady’s Mantle’s genus name, Alchemilla, is derived from the Arabic word alkemelych  (alchemy), earned by virtue of its wondrous workings. I believe the old wives who say drops of dew (or its vascular secretions) held in the cup formed by the leaves of Our Lady’s Mantle is a magical elixir, enhancing the potency of any medicine it is added to. I like to lick and lap these waters up, and often offer them to visitors so they can experience the subtle healing energies too.

This delicate appearing, yet rugged, hardy and beautifully flowering herb has long been associated with the healing energies of the Divine Feminine in her personification as Earth Mother.  In the beginning of the Christian era the plant became dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Mother.

In Germany, Our Lady’s Mantle is called frauenmantle, as its scalloped leaves resemble a lady’s cloak worn about the shoulders. In France it is pied-de-lion, lion’s foot, for its growing habit: big, wild lumps of lacy accordion-like leaves with delicate sprays of tiny yellow flowers.  In Italy it is known as Madonna Mantello, or the Madonna’s cloak.

ImageIf you look at each leaf closely, you will notice the leaves of Our Lady’s Mantle are actually formed by beautiful connecting hearts.

During the Protestant Revolution, the name Our Lady’s Mantle was changed to its current, more generic form, Lady’s Mantle, in an effort to break the association with Mary, mother of Jesus.  As a devotee of Mary, and in honor of the Divine Feminine from all times and cultures around the world, I prefer to call this plant by its long standing and original name, Our Lady’s Mantle.

Our Lady’s Mantle is an excellent uterine tonic and has a strengthening and astringent effect on the entire female reproductive system. To help regulate menstruation or control menstrual flooding, wild hearted wise women take 10 drops of lady’s mantle fresh plant tincture three times daily for a week or two before the expected onset of menstruation. Constituents such as astringent tannins and glycosides, salicylic acid and other sedatives make Our Lady’s Mantle an effective ally for those dealing with menstrual cramping or uterine discomfort. Our European grandmothers used it to help shrink fibroids.

Our Lady’s Mantle has a special affinity for the breasts and is a valuable ally for women dealing with breasts that are lumpy, swollen, or achy before menstruation. Regular use of this plant – either as a water based medicine consumed as a tea or used as a wash or compress, as an alcohol or vinegar tincture taken internally, or an oil used for external application, will restore tone to sagging breasts.

Poulticing with the fresh or dried plant material works well also.  My friend Jan, dealing with sagging breasts after pregnancy and lactation, applied Our Lady’s Mantle poultices to her breasts several times a week and also massaged her breasts daily with an infused oil made from fresh leaves and flowers. She said that not only did Our Lady’s Mantle tone and firm her breast tissue it also helped ease her daily tension.

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I prepare a formula I simply call Beautiful Breasts, with Our Lady’s Mantle as the primary ingredient, along with dandelion roots, blessed thistle, violet leaves and licorice.  This formula has great success in smoothing out lumpy breast tissue, easing the pain of achy breasts and shrinking bumps and cysts.  Breast Care Oil, applied topically, also contains Our Lady’s Mantle along with dandelion and violet leaves.

Many cultures have used Our Lady’s Mantle to ensure fertility and it is still in common use throughout the Middle East for this purpose. I make a delicious, hormone-nourishing, mineral-rich fertility brew with equal parts dried red clover blossoms, red raspberry leaves, wild grape leaves, and lady’s mantle leaves and flowers. I encourage women who want to conceive to use one ounce mixed herbs to a quart of water and make a full-strength infusion by steeping for at least 4 hours; drink 2-4 cups daily, sleep in the moonlight, and make love often, not just when ovulating. Studies show we’ve got to keep our hormones pumping all month long for optimum fertility cycles to occur. I suggest they begun gathering diapers and baby stuff because they’ll soon conceive.

The tannins in Our Lady’s Mantle help dry up excessive discharges, treat vaginitis, vulvitis, genital sores, and herpes, and heal perinea tears after childbirth. To treat these problems, I make a well-strained infusion for use as a sitz bath. For centuries, healers have used the infusion of its leaves and flowers as a wash or fomentation on wounds, especially those that are old or hard to heal. A blood coagulant, Our Lady’s Mantle quickly stops bleeding.  Its astringent properties mean it will help resolve diarrhea as well.

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Our Lady’s Mantle infusion can be used as a mouthwash after a tooth is pulled as it will stop the bleeding and speed healing.  Used regularly as a mouthwash, it will soothe and astringe bleeding gums and can be used as a gargle to soothe a sore throat as well.  A dropperful of the tincture can be put into water and used as a gargle or mouthwash, the same way you would use the infusion.ImageAncient legend tells us that adding a moisture-laden leaf to any magic pouch will seal your intention and magnify the power within.

Our Lady’s mantle tolerates a sunny spot, but is much happier with shade, such as that provided by the plum tree in our Blessed Maine Herb garden, at least for part of the day. The plant is very hardy here in Maine. We start seeds in early spring and set the plants out eight to ten weeks later.

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The seedlings grow slowly and are a bit difficult to transplant when small, so we usually put them in a small protected bed to grow for a season before going out to their final homes.  Our Lady’s Mantle plants grow to only a few inches in diameter the first year, but thereafter they come on strong and grow quickly. Mature plants produce a cluster of large, green, circular, fan-shaped leaves extending on foot-high slender stems from a base several feet wide. Tiny, yellowish-green flowers appear in mid-summer, springing out in loose clusters above the leaves.  These flowers are much appreciated by florists and home decorators, as they add a nice airy touch to most flower bouquets.

I gather the leaves and flowers of Our Lady’s Mantle during the summer months at the peak of bloom. I tincture them while fresh in alcohol or vinegar, infuse them in oil and in honey and dry some on screens for teas and infusions.

Excerpted in part from Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs by Gail Faith Edwards

You’ll find our Hand crafted Certified Organic Our Lady’s Mantle tincture here: http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

Beautiful Breasts and Fertility Tonic here: http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/comfor.html

Breast Care Oil here: http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/infusedoils.html

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Valerian – Valeriana officinalis

VALERIAN – Valeriana officinalis – VALERIANACEAE

Lovely in bloom and sweetly aromatic, Valerian is a mineral-rich tonic that is exceptionally nourishing to the nervous system.   It is a powerful nervine, carminative, and acts as an antispasmodic agent as well. This herb exerts a remarkable effect on the cerebrospinal system. Valerian is warming, slightly bitter and has mild anodyne properties, so it helps to alleviate pain and promote deep, relaxing sleep. It is widely used as a sedative.

Valerian is an effective tranquilizer that is not addictive in recommended dosages and does not cause morning grogginess.  In my opinion it is a much wiser choice of tranquilizer than pharmaceutical drugs, which can have many side effects, including decreased coordination, decreased mental functioning, inability to concentrate, and memory loss.  Did you know that the risk of breaking a bone is five times greater when using tranquilizers?   In addition, tranquilizers are addictive and drug withdrawal can lead to anxiety, restlessness, sleep disturbance, headaches, and seizures.

Small doses, 5-10 drops of valerian fresh root tincture or half a cup of dried root infusion, have a calming and soothing effect on the nervous system. 10-20 drops might put you to sleep. In larger doses, valerian can cause hyperactivity and headache.

One of my former students, Belinda, is a devoted horsewoman. She told me her horses are high-strung and don’t naturally travel well. She loves taking them to horse shows, so routinely gives them a bit of valerian in their feed before leaving. Belinda tells me her horses are calm and well behaved both during the trip and upon arrival, due to calming valerian.

Hildegard of Bingen, one of my favorites of the “old time” herbalists, recommended valerian as a tranquilizer and sleep aid. Valerian is a superior sleep inducer. To ensure a good night’s sleep I’ve taken 5-10 drops of valerian tincture in a bit of water, or drunk a cup of infusion half an hour before bed. Valerian can become habit-forming so I don’t suggest using it consistently for more than three weeks in a row without a break. Scullcap, oatstraw, chamomile, passionflower and St. John’s wort are all good and effective alternatives.

Valepotriates are the active sedatives in valerian. They are found in all parts of the plant  including its leaves and flowers, but are most concentrated in the root. Valerian’s other constituents include valerian, formic and acetic acids, boneol, and pinene, a glycoside, alkaloids, and resin.

Animal studies show valerian reduces blood pressure and suggest it possesses anticonvulsant properties. European herbalists have long used valerian to treat epilepsy. Several other studies demonstrate valerian’s anti tumor effects.

In magical lore, valerian is considered an herb of protection and an herb of witches. The plant was used to clear the energy of an area, and also for self-purification.  I’ve used valerian flower essence to help develop a calm, serene, well-balanced approach to life.

Valerian is a beautiful perennial plant and grows quite happily in any moist, rich place. In my garden and around the farm, it reaches about six feet tall. The plants have bright-green, deeply toothed, longish leaves that form a rosette the first year. From the second year on, valerian puts up a tall stalk topped with an intoxicatingly fragrant whitish-pink umbel. Just smelling these blossoms is enough to relax me after a stressful day. But the roots are another matter!  Some people love the aroma of valerian roots, others cannot stand it.  It’s well known that rats are attracted to the strong odor of the root. Legend describes the Pied Piper with valerian roots in his pockets as he led the rats out of Hamelin.

There are more than 150 species of Valeriana growing all over the world in temperate climates. It is the species officinalis that is traditionally used for medicine making, though some other species have been used as well.  We start valerian seeds in early spring to transplant out about six weeks after  germination. Valerian’s white roots grow in a dense cluster with many little rootlets and look like a thick head of dreadlocks. The freshly dug roots smell like earth to me, and I love them. I’d say that Valerian just isn’t an herb for those people who find the odor offensive.

We dig valerian roots in fall after the plant has died back and tincture fresh valerian roots in alcohol or vinegar or dry them on a screen in a well-ventilated place, out of direct light. We store the dried roots in a canister or other air-tight container for later use as teas and infusions.

You’ll find our hand crafted MOFGA Certified Organic valerian root tincture here:  Blessed Maine Herb Farm  http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

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ASTRAGALUS MEMBRANACEUS

CHINESE MILK VETCH 

Astragalus membranaceus

Last night I was sharing information about the wonders of Astragalus with my Herbal Medicine Correspondence Course students, as we have just begun our lesson on the Immune and Lymphatic System.  Since it is an herb with inestimable value for so many and with such a long lived and respected reputation, I was inspired to share about it here with readers of the Way of the Wild Heart blog as well.

Astragalus has been growing in our gardens for nearly twenty years now.  It is quite hardy and withstands even the coldest Maine winters. It grows into a large bush, is quite feathery, bright green and very pretty looking, with dainty, fan-like yellow flowers in mid to late summer.

Oftentimes, when closely observing nature, you will notice that the gifts of a plant make themselves known to you in the manner in which the plant grows, the conditions it requires, and its degree of hardiness.  When a plant thrives no matter what, take a deeper look and you may find that it will help you to do the same.  Astragalus strikes me as such a plant. Rugged, resilient, strong, powerful, long-lived, graceful, and elegant.

Astragalus is a tonic and restorative food and a potent medicine plant.  The Chinese have been using this plant to strengthen immunity for centuries. They say it “strengthens the exterior,” or protects against illness.  Known as Huang-qi, astragalus is written about in the 2,000-year-old   Shen Nong Ben Cao Jin, and is still considered to be one of the superior tonic roots in traditional Chinese medicine.  Its name literally means yellow, referring to the inside of the root, and leader, referring to its medicinal potency.

Mildly sweet, moistening, slightly warm and stimulating, astragalus invigorates vital energy, is nourishing and restorative, will strengthen resistance, restore damaged immunity, promote tissue regeneration, is cancer inhibiting, antiviral, adaptogenic, protects and strengthens the heart and the liver, is tonic to the lungs and enhances digestion.

Many scientific studies have verified its immune enhancing action.  Astragalus is a powerful “non-specific” immune system stimulant.  Instead of activating our defense system against a specific disease organism, astragalus nourishes immunity by increasing the numbers and activity of roving white blood cells, the macrophages.  Macrophages are the cells that T-lymphocytes “call” to come engulf invading organisms.

As an immunostimulant, astragalus engages and activates every phase of our immune system into heightened activity.  In one study, the activity of macrophages was significantly enhanced within six hours of treatment with astragalus and remained so for the next seventy-two hours.

In Chinese medicine astragalus roots are said to tonify the spleen, blood, and chi. They are used as a tonic for the lungs, for those with pulmonary disease, frequent colds, shortness of breath, and palpitations. Astragalus is also prescribed for those who suffer from fatigue, from any source, chronic nephritis, night sweats, prolapsed uterus or rectum.

Its tissue regenerating and anti-inflammatory abilities make astragalus an excellent ally to heal chronic ulcerations and persistent external infections, as well as to heal hard-to-heal sores and wounds and to drain boils and draw out pus.

Astragalus roots processed in honey is a specific against fatigue, used to boost vital energy, to nourish the blood, and also against incontinence, bloody urine or diarrhea.

In a study conducted by the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston, researchers compared damaged immune cells from cancer patients to healthy cells.  Astragalus extracts completely restored the function of the cancer patients’ damaged immune cells, in some cases surpassing the health and activity of the cells from healthy individuals.

The extract of astragalus also significantly inhibited the growth of tumor cells in mice, especially when combined with lovage, Levisticum officinale (cousin of angelica). According to a study reported in Phytotherapy Research, astragalus appears to restore immunocompetence and is potentially beneficial for cancer patients as well as those suffering with AIDS. It increases the number of stem cells present in the bone marrow and lymph tissue and stimulates their differentiation into immune competent cells, which are then released into the tissues, according to one study reported in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Astragalus also stimulates the body’s natural production of interferon, increases its effectiveness in treating disease, and increased the life span of human cells in culture.

Astragalus protects adrenal cortical function while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation and helps modify the gastrointestinal toxicity in patients receiving these therapies.  Chinese doctors use astragalus against chronic hepatitis, and many studies have demonstrated that astragalus protects the liver against liver-toxic drugs and anti-cancer compounds commonly used in chemotherapy, such as stilbenemide.  When used as an adjunct to conventional cancer treatments, astragalus appears to increase survival rates, to increase endurance, and to be strongly liver protective.

Astragalus helps lower blood pressure, due to its ability to dilate blood vessels, and protects the heart.  Scientists in the Soviet Union have shown that astragalus protects the heart muscle from damage caused by oxygen deprivation and heart attack.

According to reports in the Chinese Medical Journal, doctors at the Shanghai Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases found that astragalus showed significant activity against Coxsackie B virus, which can cause an infection of the heart called Coxsackie B viral myocarditis, for which no effective treatment exists.  In a follow-up study, astragalus helped maintain regular heart rhythms and beating frequency, and Coxsackie B patients showed far less damage from the viral infection (as much as 85%).

In Chinese medicine, astragalus is often combined with codonopsis.  This compound is said to strengthen the heart and increase the vital energy while invigorating the circulation of blood throughout the body. It is also traditionally combined with ginseng and used as a tonic against fatigue, chronic tiredness, lack of energy, enthusiasm, or appetite, and to ease “spontaneous perspiration” or hot flashes.

Japanese physicians use astragalus in combination with other herbs to treat cerebral vascular disease.  According to a research paper published by Zhang in 1990, adolescent brain dysfunction was diminished more with a Traditional Chinese Medicine formula containing astragalus in combination with codonopsis, than with Ritalin.

Integrating astragalus roots into your diet, especially during the winter months, as the Asians have been doing for years, turns out to be a very good idea. Scientists have demonstrated that astragalus will not only prevent colds, but cut their duration in half. Astragalus possesses strong antiviral properties, and in one study regenerated the bronchial cells of virus-infected mice.

Astragalus has been safely used throughoutAsiafor thousands of years.  The Chinese typically slice astragalus roots and add them, along with other vegetables, to chicken broth to create a nourishing and tonic soup.  Discard the root after cooking, and consume the broth.  No toxicity from the use of astragalus has ever been shown in the millennia of its use in China.

The genus Astragalus is the largest group of flowering plants, with over 2,000 species, most of which are found in the northern temperate regions.  Plants in this genus are amazingly diverse, some are nourishing and medicinal, some useful as raw materials, and others, such as the locoweeds, are toxic.

Astragalus membranaceus grows in the wild along the edges of woodlands, in thickets, open woods and grasslands.  It is native to the Northeastern regions of China, but grows excellently in our Maine soils and temperatures, as do most Chinese medicinal plants we’ve attempted to grow thus far.

Astragalus appreciates deep, well drained, somewhat alkaline soil. Seeds are easily gathered and when planted in the fall require no prior soaking.  They will germinate the following spring as soon as conditions are right.  The seeds have a hard seed coat, and some people nick the covering with a file or soak the seed overnight to hasten germination.  Give each plant plenty of room, as much as a foot all around, and harvest after the fourth or fifth year of growth.  Use whole or sliced, fresh or dried root for tinctures, honey, infusions, syrup, or in soups.

You’ll find our Certified Organic tincture of Astragalus membranaceus here:  http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

Our Mushroot Chai Deep Immune Tonic contains Astragalus and American ginseng along with a selection of medicinal mushrooms, you’ll find it here:  http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/muchto.html

Our Liver Support Blend as well as our Lung and Digestive Blend, both contain Astragalus and can be found here: http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/adbl.html

Many healthful blessings to you!

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The Burning Times

When early Christianity was spreading throughout the lands, itinerant priests and traveling monks used commonly found flowers and trees as teaching aids.  This nature language was easily understood, and in fact, was a commonly shared knowledge among all people.  These agrarian people based their plant associations on deep inherent knowledge of the plant’s physical properties, its growth habit, appearance, aroma, color and form as well as its more subtle energetic qualities.

The lily, so soft and feminine yet strong and resilient, became an emblem of Mary, and associated with the Annunciation.

St. John’s wort, well known for its spirit healing and pain easing  properties is associated with the Passion of Jesus as well as the heartache of Mary.

A deep, reliable knowledge of plants existed, based on generation upon generation of using them and understanding their many gifts, both physical and energetic.  This deep body of knowing acquired over many thousands of years, about nature and specifically about plants, was nearly lost during the several hundreds of years around the Protestant Reformation.

The Inquisition - After purging Europe of most of the religious heretics, most notably the Cathars, the Inquisition turned its attention to “witches.”  During these times many people, especially women wise in the ways of healing with herbs and understanding the language of nature, faced the danger of being labeled as witches.

A lot of misinformation exists about this period of European history, sometimes referred to as the Burning Times.  According to differing accounts, anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 9 million people, mostly women, were executed during these several hundred years.

But a flood of new information on this period has been brought to light, and much of it casts serious doubt on many of the commonly held ideas about who, how many and by what means people were actually killed for being witches during this time.

To the early Christian mind, mares, strigae and lamiae (night spirits) were unsophisticated Pagan superstitions. In the early days of Christianity, the Church officially urged all Christian kings to forbid their subjects from killing women accused of being mares or witches.

The laws of the Pactus Alamannorum (613-623) created penalties for people who hung or harmed witches. The Edict of Rothari, dated 643, proclaimed it un-Christian to accuse women of such things.  These laws suggest that as Christianity spread through Europe, witch hunting declined.

The Catholic Church tried most witches during the Middle Ages, and penalties were actually fairly mild.  The Inquisition’s job was to reconcile heretics, to bring them back into the Church. The records show that an accused witch, willing to acknowledge the error of her ways, was treated with considerable leniency by the Inquisitors. Few witches actually died during this period.

The worst persecutions occurred in central Europe from 1550 – 1650, during the Protestant Reformation, one of the worst periods of religious warfare Europe ever experienced. During the 16th century the rate of persecution and death skyrocketed. The witch trials dramatically decreased during the last half of the 17th century until they virtually disappeared by the end of the 18th century.

The truth is that less than 20,000 executions are recorded in Europe.  As modern day historians studied the records of trial verdicts, they learned that previous estimates of the European death toll had been greatly exaggerated.  Scholars are now confident that somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 witches died during these times.

In his meticulously researched study, Night Battles, Carlo Ginzburg demonstrated that most Italian witches were indeed drawing on pre-Christian traditions and, like the Good Walkers he describes, combined both Christian and ancient shamanic beliefs which were tied to prehistoric agrarian practices.  Many of these practices are still in use today.

Women made up approximately 80% of those accused of witchcraft, though this varied dramatically depending on time and place.  Some northern countries put as many men as women to death, perhaps even more. In Iceland, for instance, 95% of those killed were men. But overall, far more women than men were executed, sometimes as many as 20 women for every one man.

Most of those accused as witches were poor.  But in some places, especially where the witch hunter could confiscate his victim’s property, accused witches are found among the wealthy as well.

A significant number of those accused were herbalists, healers and midwives. Jenny Gibbons, a scholar and historian of Medieval times and the Christian conversion of Western Europe, writes extensively on this period of history.  She says that as many as one-quarter of those accused possessed knowledge of herbs and healing, or used some form of healing magic. Elderly people, unmarried, independent women and widows were assailed most frequently.

European people of the time believed they were threatened by a Satanic conspiracy.  Since Satan was believed to grant his followers both magical powers and great knowledge, midwives, prophets, healers, scholars and even artists could be accused of being witches.  Fear of the curative powers that herbalists, healers and midwives possessed caused these skills to be demonized.

Satan was the father of heresy and encouraged all evils, especially sexual ones, so homosexuals, sexually independent and especially beautiful women and criminals all fell under suspicion. And, since all ugliness was also the work of Satan, the elderly and the physically or mentally handicapped were also suspect.

Although it is hard to believe, Gibbons explains that all segments of European society supported the witch trials. Beginning in 1022, the Church began executing those it considered heretics, people who disagreed with the core of its teachings.  When the Burning Times began, Europeans had already become accustomed to burning heretics and religious dissidents.

The Catholic Church actually killed very few witches. Most of the religious courts imposed non-lethal penalties, like penance or imprisonment. However, the Church did encourage the intolerance and stereotyping that caused the trials, and its practice of murdering dissidents laid the groundwork for executing witches.

The Inquisition played a crucial role in the persecutions by diabolizing witchcraft.  But the truth is that contrary to what we’ve all heard, the Inquisition did not kill many witches. They investigated charges of witchcraft from 1300 to 1500, a time when the death rate was very low. After the Reformation, the Inquisition was quietly fazed out of most European countries.

When the witch crazes swept Europe, the Inquisition existed in only two countries, Spain andItaly, both of which had exceedingly small death tolls. In fact the Spanish Inquisition killed less than 1% of those accused.  In northern Italy several hundred witches were put to death, but in southern Italy there was not a single life lost.

After eradicating the Cathars from France, the Inquisitors turned their attention to witches. They re-defined witchcraft as a heresy; it was no longer perceived as a harmless superstition requiring no punishment.  Heretics were killed.

The Malleus Maleficarum – The earliest witch hunting manuals were written by inquisitors Bernard Gui, Johannes Nider and Heinrich Kramer.  Kramer authored the Malleus Maleficarum with some help from a Dominican scholar, and this book, as well as other witch hunting manuscripts, helped to spread the fear of witchcraft throughout Europe.

The Malleus Maleficarum has been held up as proof of the Catholic Church’s lust for the murder of witches during 500 years of European history.  But, according to Gibbons’ extensive research, this was absolutely not the case.

Heinrich Kramer, also known as Henry Institoris, was a German Inquisitor of the late 15th century.  He was not well respected and his views on witchcraft were considered both weird and extreme by most of his peers, who continually opposed and hindered his trials.

Kramer conducted a large trial inInnsbruckin 1485, where 57 people were investigated. No one was convicted.  The bishop ofInnsbruckwas so disturbed by Kramer’s focus on the sexual behavior of the accused women that he closed down the trial, remarking that Satan was in the inquisitor, not the witches.

The Malleus is usually circulated along with the papal bull “Summis Desiderantes,” which rants against witches and those who oppose Kramer and his co-author, Jacob Sprenger. But Pope Innocent had not read the Malleus when he wrote Summis Desiderantes.  The Malleus was also accompanied by a supposed recommendation from the Faculty of Cologne, the Inquisition’s top theologians.  Both these endorsements are misleading.

Kramer had complained to the Pope about the poor reception he was receiving from other priests, and the Pope, who greatly feared witchcraft, tried to help by giving him the Papal bull. Pope Innocent also asked a Dominican scholar, Jacob Sprenger, to help Kramer write the Malleus. When the writing was completed, Sprenger presented the Malleus to the Faculty atCologne, asking for its approval. Instead, the Inquisition resoundingly condemned the book.

The Inquisitors publically stated that the procedures the book recommended were unethical and illegal, and that its demonology was totally inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. Unconcerned, Kramer forged an enthusiastic endorsement.

The Faculty quickly discovered this and was enraged.  Kramer and Sprenger parted on bad terms, and the Inquisition condemned Kramer in 1490, just four years after the Malleus was published.

It was not the Catholic Church, but actually the secular governments who did most of the killing during these times.  In fact, it was the fortunate witch who was tried by the Church.  The death toll was always lowest when and where the Church ran the trials, and their courts usually killed less than 1% of the people they tried.

The truly damned were tried by the secular courts.  They tried far more witches than the religious courts did; the records show that most of the great witch crazes and trials were carried out by secular officials. These local, secular tribunals were often no more than slaughterhouses and as many as 90% of those tried by these courts were killed.

Documents show that most of the intellectuals of the time not only accepted, but openly supported the persecutions.  In fact, after the 15th century, witch hunting manuals were being written by secular intellectuals.  These manuals, and vivid descriptions of the trials, were among the earliest and by far the most popular books printed in England.

Peasants were also active participants in the trials. They initiated most of the trials and were usually the main witnesses against the accused.  Lynching and vigilantism were common and suspected witches were often brutalized; to break a supposed curse, people slashed an alleged witch’s face with a knife. 

They murdered witches’ familiars, threw rocks at their homes and held their heads underwater until they promised to remove a hex.  And when a professional healer couldn’t cure a disease, he or she often blamed the sickness on a witch.

Because of the intense fear of witches and all things pagan, folk wisdom and shamanic practices associated with plants, healing and nature became suspect.  This great body of knowledge, the wisdom accrued over millennia regarding the healing properties of the wondrous earth and of the herbs, flowers and trees was forced underground.  It went under the surface,  hidden in plain sight, and for the most part forgotten.  But this knowledge was not, nor could it ever be, entirely lost.

This is the wisdom of our cells, formed over eons of co-evolution with all the other life forms on our earth.  This is the wisdom of life itself living within us.  We can trust it.  We need only remember.   Deep meditation with the plants is one way to do this.  There are many others.

For insight into this period of history and the dynamics of the witch trials, I  highly recommend the play Saint Joan of Arc by George Bernard Shaw.

Saint Joan of Arc  Though quite accomplished at feminine skills such as sewing and embroidery, Joan of Arc preferred the life of a soldier. Passionate that France not be lost to the English, Joan donned masculine attire and convinced the King to let her lead the battle in defense of France.  A heroine when good fortune led to success for the French forces, Joan lost the good will of her supporters when she fell in battle.  She was burned at the stake as a heretic and fifty years later was proclaimed a saint.

Consider visiting Jenny Gibbons’ extensive website:  www.summerlands.com/crossroads/remembrance

excerpt from: Through the Wild Heart of Mary; Teachings of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary and the Herbs and Foods Associated with Them by Gail Faith Edwards

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Hawthorn Crataegus spp.

I’ll readily admit to having a great fondness for hawthorn trees. I find them to be particularly graceful and exceedingly magical, I love their compact growing habit, the unmistakable shape they form and all the legends and lore that surrounds them.   And I love their astounding generosity!  Hawthorn trees offer two harvests a season; leaves and flowers in the spring-time, berries in the fall.  This time of year they really call to me.

A wild hawthorn tree has a very sturdy yet enchanting presence and exudes a mighty strength for such a relatively small tree.  I like to say they have charisma.  I often enjoy just basking in their presence, just being with the wild trees we have growing here on the farm through the seasons, admiring their beauty, absorbing their medicine and magic.

Botanists describe hawthorn as a spiny tree or shrub and we’re told that it’s indigenous to northern temperate zones of Europe, Asia and North America.  I can tell you without reserve that its flowers, leaves and berries all make a superlative medicine.  Hawthorn has been a daily ally of mine for years now, but I’m far from the only one who appreciates its unique gifts. Anti-spasmodic, hypotensive, cardiotonic, diuretic and nervine-sedative, the hawthorn tree has quite an impressive history of use throughout millennia.

Hawthorn includes the species C. douglas C. colombia, C. cuneata, C.laevigata, C. pinnatifida, C. monogyna and C. pentagyna.  All are used interchangeably with C. oxyacantha which gets its name from the Greek words Oxus, which means sharp, and Akantha, meaning a thorn, and which is the best studied species of the Crataegus genus..

As a member of the Rosaceae family, hawthorn is incredibly nourishing and like many other members of this plant family, offers exceptional benefits for the heart.

The fruit trees in the Rosaceae family are ancient cultivars that have evolved down through the millennia by natural cross breeding as well as by intentional refinement. Their fruits are the very essences of common, abundant, nourishing and delicious!  They present us with a wide range of nutrients vital for health and well being.  Fruits provide us with an excellent foundation for sound and vigorous health; people who eat an assortment of fruits have a greatly reduced risk of many chronic diseases.

Regular consumption of fresh, cooked and juiced fruits of the Rosaceae family has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and to protect against certain cancers, such as mouth and stomach, colon and rectum. In addition, the risks of both bone loss and developing kidney stones are decreased with frequent consumption of Rosaceae family fruits. such as apples, pears, cherries, plums, blackberries, strawberries and hawthorn berries.

Hawthorn is a trophorestorative for the heart and circulatory system.  Its fruits, or berries, as well as its leaves and flowers, present a remarkably safe and effective long-term heart tonic for maintaining overall cardio-vascular health.

The ancient Italic tribes, Greeks, northern Europeans and Native Americans all made use of the hawthorn tree for its heart nourishing properties. Today, it is one of the most commonly used herbs throughout Europe. In fact, when it comes to the heart and circulatory system, hawthorn is a super star.

In European countries hawthorn berry extract is considered an effective therapy for mild to moderate congestive heart failure.  Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are used by herbal practitioners in the UK to treat hypertension in conjunction with prescribed drugs.

 Regular consumption of hawthorn berries will keep your heart functioning optimally into old age and will especially benefit those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, angina and heart arrhythmia.  In fact, Hawthorn has the unique ability to help regulate both low and high blood pressure.

European physicians began experimenting with hawthorn for heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders in the early 19th century, and since then its reputation as an effective heart tonic has steadily increased.

Today numerous laboratory tests and clinical trials support this use by demonstrating that hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries contain chemical compounds that increase blood flow to the heart muscle, as well as positively affect other aspects of cardiovascular health.

Hawthorn berry, leaves and flowers improve oxygenation of the blood and brain, which has an immediate beneficial impact on energy levels.  Hawthorn’s reputation extends to improving blood flow through the heart arteries, increasing the strength of heart contractions and preventing plaque buildup in the arteries.

In addition hawthorn has been found to relax blood vessels so that blood flows more efficiently, to prevent high blood pressure and to stabilize collagen. Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the arteries as well as the ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Hawthorn cross links collagen fibers to reinforce the collagen matrix of the connective tissues.  If you are healing from any injury or need to improve the integrity of these structural areas of the body for whatever reason, hawthorn will be your trusty ally.

Hawthorn also exhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties; it prevents the synthesis and release of inflammatory promoters such as histamines, serine proteases and prostaglandins.  Hawthorn may be useful as part of a protocol dealing with hyperactive immunity, or allergic responses of any kind, including asthmatic response, allergies to natural substances such as pollen, itchy, inflamed or irritated skin conditions, and for the relief of inflamed joints.  Its anti-oxidant properties help forestall the deterioration of the body associated with aging.

Hawthorn is an excellent nervine; it is calming and relaxing without being overly sedative. It has traditionally been used to ease anxiety and irritability, prevent bad dreams and eliminate insomnia due to stress.  It is also highly regarded as an herbal treatment for those who are hyperactive, have a hard time concentrating, are considered disruptive and cannot sit still.  To enhance the nervine properties of hawthorn combine it with herbs such as rose petals and hips, milky oats, lemon balm and passionflower.

While there are no acknowledged side effects of hawthorn, it is known to enhance the effects of digitalis, making it more potent.  European doctors often prescribe hawthorn to support digitalis and sometimes recommend it as a substitute when digitalis cannot be tolerated or when they want to avoid its side effects.

Hawthorn may also increase the effectiveness of beta blocker drugs.  If you are being treated for a heart-related condition, be sure to let your physician know if you are considering taking hawthorn, as some of your medications may need to be adjusted.

Hawthorn may best be seen as a heart nourishing herb with preventive properties that can be relied upon to slow down the beginning of cardiovascular damage.  It is entirely safe for long-term use and needs to be taken over a period of several months to achieve results. The usual dose is 30-40 drops of tincture three times daily to begin, and then it drops down to twice daily as a maintenance dose after about one month.

The most recent research tells us that our heart is an acutely sensitive organ of perception. Scientists tell us that our heart more closely resembles the brain than a muscle, that it contains millions of neurons, and is in constant communication with the thinking brain. Our heart and brain appear to act in concert, with the heart functioning as the feeling part of our brain.

Learning to open our wild hearts, to connect with the physical earth, cultivating love and compassion for nature, people, plants and animals, touching and being touched, expressing joy and acceptance, all help keep our hearts well toned and functioning optimally.

Heart-healthy foods include fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as sardines, salmon and herring, and flax seed and hemp seed oils.  Other foods and beverages that bring a host of benefits to the heart include herbal meads and fermented beverages in moderation; green tea; nuts and seeds rich in essential fatty acids; oatmeal; seaweeds; antioxidant-rich blueberries and other anthocyanidin-rich fruits, such as blackberries, elderberries and grapes; foods rich in carotenes, such as carrots and sweet potatoes; and potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, apples and potatoes.

Some of my favorite herbs for nourishing and toning the heart include motherwort, dandelion, oatstraw, ginkgo, rosemary, angelica, ginseng, ginger, nettles, hawthorn, elderberry, garlic, lemon balm, red clover, willow and rose.

A poultice of crushed hawthorn leaves or fruit has strong draining powers and has been used for centuries for the treatment of embedded thorns and splinters.

Hawthorn has long been considered a sacred tree and there are many ancient legends linking it to our origins.  Welsh legends tell of the Goddess Olwen, the White Goddess of the Hawthorn, who once walked the empty universe.  It was the white track of Hawthorn petals she left behind her that became the Milky Way.

Old European grandmothers say that where oak and ash and hawthorn grow there lives one wise in the ways of plant medicines.

In Christian times hawthorn became associated with the crown of thorns and also became the flower used in May processions to crown the Virgin Mary.  Long before that it was the maypole and the flowers were  used  to crown Our Lady of Spring, called Flora in Italy, but known by many other names throughout all of Europe.

The hawthorn is a long lived tree, often surviving to 100 years or more.  I think that a strong, wild heart and enduring spirit are just two of the many gifts of hawthorn.  Fertility, good fortune and peace are said to be others.  Hawthorn berry syrup is one of the tastiest gifts, of that I am sure!

Here’s a recipe for hawthorn berry syrup:  pick your berries right off the tree, place in a pot and cover with water by an inch or two over the top.  Very slowly, on low heat, with the pot covered, bring to a low simmer.  Simmer for ten minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for a couple of hours.  Strain.  Pour the infusion back into the pot, again on very low heat, and sit right there until you see steam escaping from the pot.  As soon as this happens you’ve reached the evaporation point…turn down the heat as low as it will go and let the infusion evaporate by half its original volume.  This can take half an hour or all day depending on how much liquid you start with.  When you’ve evaporated your liquid by half, take it off the heat and add one half of what you’ve got left in honey.  If you have 1 quart of liquid you add 1 pint of honey.  Mix well, bottle and refrigerate.  A teaspoon or two daily is a typical dose.  Note: If you use dried berries, ratio to begin with is 1 ounce of berries to one quart of water.

Dosage: Infusions of leaves and flowers and/or berries – typical dose is 2 cups daily.

Tincture is approximately 30 drops up to three times daily for the first month, then once or twice daily afterwards as a maintenance dose.

I usually throw a small handful of hawthorn berries into the teas and infusions I make.  I take the tincture once a day as well and use the syrup when I have it on hand.

Chemistry: Chemical constituents of hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries: include Vitamin C, Flavonoids : Quercetin,  Hyperoside, Rutin, Flavonoglycosyls,Vitexin-4′-rhamnoside, Glycosides, Oligomeric procyanidins (OPC) – epicatechol, Anthocyanidins and Proanthocyanidins, Saponins and Tannins, Cratetegin.  Also, Cardiotonicamines: Phenylethylamine, Tyramine, Isobutylamine, Omethoxy phenylethylamine;  Choline  and acetylcholine; Purine derivatives: Adenosine, Adenine, Guanine, Caffeic acid; Amygdalin; Pectins;  Triterpene acid.

You’ll find certified organic hawthorn tincture at Blessed Maine Herb Farm http:www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

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