Assumption Day ~ First-Fruits Festival

The special flower of this day is Clematis, the fragrant virgin’s bower.

The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a day of great importance to those who honor Great Mother. It’s a celebration that dates back to our early ancestors, those who honored the Divine Feminine as a way of daily life. Celebrated on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption commemorates Mary being received into heaven and crowned as Queen, and evolved from ancient traditional harvest celebrations held at this time of year, the annual blessing of fruits, herbs and flowers.

Mary assumed the role previously played by Hecate/Trivia and Artemis/Diana, both of whom were traditionally honored on the full moon of August as the protectress of herbs, flowers and fruits, and particularly of grapes and grain. In ancient days the calendar was based on lunar phases and each month began with the new moon, thus August 15 would have fallen on a full moon.

The Feast of the Assumption was proclaimed a special feast day in honor of the Blessed Mother in 600 A.D. in the East, and was adopted approximately 50 years later in the West.

The story of Mary’s Assumption comes down to us from ancient stories called the Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which were written in Syria at the beginning of the third century. One of these stories, called “The Departure of My Lady Mary from this World,” describes how Mary’s body was lifted up into Heaven.

These early stories say that Mary’s Assumption took place at Ephesus, where she lived under the care of the apostle John. Ephesus was the site of one of the most renowned sanctuaries of Artemis and the home of her well-known statue with many breasts, symbolizing the productive and nurturing powers of the earth. Our Mary, well known for her nurturing and protecting qualities, clearly carried on this role.

And the apostles decreed that there should be a commemoration of the Blessed One on the thirteenth Ab (August), on account of the vines bearing bunches of grapes and on account of the trees bearing fruit, that clouds of hail, bearing stones of wrath, might not come, and the trees be broken and the vines with their clusters…

In the East, where the Assumption Feast has its roots, the day is still commemorated with elaborate ceremonies for the blessing of fruit trees and grain. In modern Syria, both Moslems and Christians celebrate the Feast of the Assumption in similar ways. They make bouquets of newly harvested wheat and bake small triangular cakes. These gifts are graciously offered to Great Mother, as was the way of their ancestors for many millennia before Mary.

In many Catholic countries throughout Europe, Assumption Day still marks the period for invoking blessings on vineyards, herbs and grain. Traditionally, freshly gathered herbs are carried to the church on this day to be blessed and then used for medicine and healing or bound into a sheaf and hung in the home all year to protect against infirmity.

Throughout central Europe, this feast was also known as Our Lady’s Herb Day and it marked the start of Our Lady’s 30 Days, a period of special benevolence lasting for one full month. During this time animals and plants were believed to lose any harmful qualities and all foods were considered wholesome. This period of munificence coincides with the Weeks of Comfort, seven weeks following the full moon in the Jewish month of Av during which the spiritual readings are comforting, promising peace and prosperity.

Armenian communities all over the world still bless grapes on Assumption Day and also celebrate it as the name day feast of all the local women and girls named Mary. Large trays piled high with freshly harvested grapes are carried to church to receive the blessings of the priest. After Mass the people assemble in the vineyards to eat grapes and celebrate the village Marys.

When Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption an article of faith in 1950, Carl Jung perceived it as a critical juncture in Western culture; the image of the divine feminine was coming back into the light. The Queen of Heaven was being acknowledged once again in the West.

In Greece, the Assumption is called the Dormition or Kimesis (Sleeping), and is the most important of the summer holidays. During this full month devoted to Mary her icons depict her dead on a bier, with Christ behind her, holding her soul in his arms like an infant.

One description of the Kimesis celebration as held at Kefallonia tells of snakes called “the snakes of the Virgin,” slithering over the sacred icons, the offerings and the people in the congregation. In other parts of Greece the Dormition is celebrated like Easter, with funeral ceremonies and processions for Mary, like those marking Christ’s death on Good Friday.

You might choose to make some time on this sacred full moon day in August to honor Great Mother, as has been done for many,many millennia before us. Step into the timeless dance of feminine grace and beauty, celebrate the harvest and the bounty of Earth Mother, by whatever names or attributes you know her. It is the way we woman have been loving her back for a very long time.

On St Mary’s Day, sunshine brings much good wine. Traditional proverb in the Roman Catholic tradition

excerpted from Through the Wild Heart of Mary; Teachings of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary and the Herbs and Foods Associated with Them.

Through the Wild Heart of Mary www.blessedmaineherbs.com

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HERBS FOR THE RELIEF OF CHRONIC PAIN

Chronic pain often long outlives its original cause. It usually worsens over time and takes on a life of its own. There is probably nothing more debilitating than chronic pain. Defined as pain lasting for six months or longer, chronic pain afflicts 50 to 80 million midlife Americans and costs us over $100 billion in social costs every year.

Recent research has shown that chronic pain is destructive to the body. The longer chronic pain goes untreated, the worse it becomes. Chronic pain unleashes a cascade of harmful hormones, such as cortisol, that adversely affect the immune system and kidney function.

Much has yet to be learned about chronic pain. For instance, doctors used to think that severed nerves could not transmit pain, and nerve cutting was typically prescribed to treat pain. Cut motor nerves cause paralysis, but sensory nerves are quite different. Sometimes damage to these nerves kills them and they stay dead, causing numbness. Sometimes sensory nerves grow back irregularly, or begin firing spontaneously, producing stabbing, shooting, and electrical sensations.

The body’s pain system is plastic and is easily molded by pain to cause more pain. A metaphor that is often used to describe this process is that of an alarm continually being reset to be more and more sensitive. At first the alarm is triggered by an animal, then the breeze, and then, for no apparent reason, it begins ringing randomly or continuously.

Additionally, pain nerves appear to recruit others in a “chronic pain wind-up,” and the entire central nervous system becomes involved, revving up and undergoing a kind of central sensitization. Research at University of California at San Francisco has shown that with prolonged injury, progressively deeper levels of pain cells are activated in the spinal cord.

Most chronic pain in not in the muscle, bone or tissue, but in the invisible hydra of the nerves. Of course, not all chronic pain is neuropathic. There is the shearing pain of inflammation, and muscular pain, or the very real pain of a broken heart. But many chronic pain conditions such as backache, once assumed to be musculoskeletal, are now being revisited and realized to have a neuropathic element.

Many chronic pain sufferers wind up taking huge amounts of anti-inflammatory drugs. The NSAID’S (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen put them at risk for gastro-intestinal bleeding and liver dysfunction, and the newer class of pharmaceutical pain relievers, the COX-2 inhibitors, while an improvement in terms of side effects, still may cause some abdominal distress.

Anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin and Aleve, were implicated in the deaths of 16,000 people in the USA in 2000, due to bleeding ulcers and related complications, according to the Federal Drug Abuse Network.

Research is also uncovering the fact that anxiety and depression are not so much responses to pain, but are the consequences of it. Pain and depression share the same neural pathways, the same circuitry. Serotonin and the endorphins that modulate healthy brain functioning are the same ones that modulate depression. Chronic pain uses up serotonin like a car running out of gas.

Functional-imaging scans reveal similar disturbances in brain chemistry in both chronic pain and depression, and the same medications are used by allopathic physicians to treat depression and pain. Depression and stressful events can enhance pain, and chronic pain sufferers usually respond to stress with more pain.

Chronic pain, it turns out, is not simply a sensory, affective, or cognitive state. It’s a biological disease afflicting millions of people. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding current pain research is whether the pathological cortical reorganization, the cellular memory, the deeply dug chronic pain channels, can be undone.

Scientists acknowledge that treatment can help suppress the abnormal nervous system sensitivity. They also know that it is far easier to prevent the establishment of abnormal channels than to treat them once they have become established. This means that when pain strikes, you must act to relieve it immediately. It is absolutely counterproductive to tough it out.

Do not allow acute pain to become deeply entrenched chronic pain. It appears from the research that substances which nourish, calm, and soothe the nervous system, can help relieve chronic pain. Pain relieving herbs in many cases are the same herbs that are used against depression.


Herbal Allies for Pain Relief

Some of my favorite pain relieving herbal allies include skullcap, cannabis, valerian, turmeric, poppy, willow bark, St. John’s wort, angelica, motherwort, black cohosh, wild yam, lavender, cayenne, kava kava, and rose.

Teas, infusions and syrups, tinctures and elixirs, foods, oils, creams and salves can all be effective herbal delivery methods, depending on the herb and the need.

Essential oils of pine, lavender, peppermint, cinnamon, rose, clove, frankincense, rosemary, ginger, juniper, bay and birch also are traditionally used as pain relievers and are well-documented analgesic agents. Put 10-12 drops of any one of these essential oils in one ounce of a carrier oil such as pure olive or coconut. Shake well and then rub into painful, swollen joints to allay pain and inflammation.

Skullcap Scuttelaria lateriflora – If you suffer from chronic pain, try drinking four to six cups of skullcap infusions daily, or take 10-15 drops of skullcap tincture four to six times daily. Use skullcap as needed, as often as every few minutes, in acute situations. Skullcap quiets the nervous system, and so will be a valuable ally if you suffer from chronic pain. A combination of equal parts skullcap, St. John’s wort, and oatstraw is particularly effective for calming the nervous system, and thus easing pain.

Valerian Valeriana officinalis is another well known and especially effective pain easing and anti-inflammatory herb. I find that 10 drops of tincture in water is a sufficient dose for easing most general aches and pains as well as sedating after trauma.

St. John’s wort Hypericum perforatum – I rub St. John’s wort oil, scented with essential oil of lavender, liberally onto any part of me, or anyone else, that hurts. This simple remedy is especially helpful for the relief of any kind of muscular or neurological pain. I also use 30 drops of St. John’s wort tincture to ease muscular spasms, aches and pains, joint inflammation and nerve pains.

Willow bark Salix spp. – 20-30 drops of willow bark tincture is usually an effective dose to ease the pain and inflammation of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as headaches and muscle aches and pains.


Rose Rosa spp. – is a soothing pain reliever, and any part, whether used fresh, or as an infused or essential oil, tea, tincture, glycerite, or flower essence will assist in the alleviation of any physical or emotional pain. I like rose oil to help heal the trauma after surgery and to heal the surgical incision without scarring.



Angelica Angelica archangelica, A. sinensis
, is rich in constituents that quiet the nervous system, it is grounding and helps establish ease. It’s rich supply of steroidal saponins makes angelica especially effective for relieving pain and bringing down inflammation. This is one of my favorite allies for alleviating arthritic aches and pains, and its antispasmodic properties make it useful for easing menstrual or muscular cramps as well.

The roots of ginseng Panax quinquefolius, angelica, wild yam Dioscorea spp., and black cohosh Cimicifuga racemosa, are all rich in these anti-inflammatory, pain easing steroidal saponins. 20-30 drops of tincture made from the fresh or dry roots of any of these herbs helps ease sore, painful joints. Synthesized steroidal drugs, unlike natural herbs, often have a negative impact on the immune system, and are known to stimulate osteoporosis.

Equal parts of black cohosh, wild yam, and St. John’s wort tinctures are highly recommended for relieving back ache (20 drops as needed).

Anti-inflammatory herbs are usually brimming with salicylates and/or steroids. They can also be nourishing, immune strengthening, bone building, and hormonal balancing. The buds, leaves, and bark of willow, birch, poplars, black haw, and wintergreen are all rich in salicylates, and so pain relieving and anti-inflammatory. Vinegar is an excellent menstrum for extracting the salicylates, one teaspoon being equal to one aspirin.

Sipping ginger syrup or applying a warm ginger (or its especially anti-inflammatory cousin, turmeric) poultice will help ease the pain and inflammation of arthritic joints. Sweat lodges, saunas, water baths, and steam baths, especially when using ginger, are all deeply penetrating and initiate healing energy.

Relaxation therapies are vitally important to those who suffer chronic pain. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and visualizations are all techniques that can be utilized for pain relief.

Gentle, low-impact exercise, such as walking, swimming and gardening, is also an important ally for those whose pains are chronic, because exercise releases feel-good, mood-enhancing, anesthetizing chemicals such as endorphins, and helps to keep our body limber, flexible, and pain free.

Excerpt from Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause; Herbal Allies for Midlife Women and Men by Gail Faith Edwards Copyright 2003 Gail Faith Edwards

Visit the Blessed Maine Herb Farm Herbal Apothecary at www.blessedmaineherbs.com

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Roses

“When the sun fell low in the sky the apprentices gathered Rosa rugosa blooms from the hedge in the garden and the bushes around the cellar house. These they brought to her. She put her writing down and joined them in the herb kitchen. She took a good long look into the bags filled with roses; let her eyes soak in the soothing sight of the cool and colorful white and pink petals piled high. She took a long inhalation from one bag, taking the scent and essence of the roses deep into her lungs, and into her bloodstream. She believed part of the beauty of the herbs was in their subtlety. She knew that by taking the molecules of the herbs in through the olfactory system, she was in fact receiving the essence of the herb into her body, and that it was affecting her physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Of this she had no doubt. The essence of rose was also absorbed by their hands and fingers as they worked at chopping the petals into tiny pieces on the wooden chopping board. They placed these into small jars, and then covered them with pure honey. The light golden amber honey mixing with the slivers of white and pink rose petals was an absolutely mesmerizing sight, so beautiful. They all remarked on it as they stirred it all together with a freshly gathered ash stick. They put the jars of rose honey on a shelf behind a floral curtain, as they did with all their herbal extracts, to protect them from direct sunlight, and each returned to her former task.”

Rosa rugosa and other Rosa species, Rosacea family – Rose is a superlative and indispensable herbal ally. Rose…the name itself is such a beautiful sound. Almost like a purr. So soft and silky, yet strong and present, just like the rose.

Roses have prehistoric origins. Native to Asia, the rose is believed to have traveled to Egypt by way of Greece and Southern Italy, where the Romans cultivated it. The Italic peoples wore rose garlands, used roses to crown young couples, and decorated graves and funeral processions with roses. Roses still play a prominent role in Southern Italian culture and tradition today.

The remains of rose petals have been found in ancient sites throughout North America, some carbon dated twenty to forty thousand years old. American Indians used the rose both for its beauty and for medicine.

Mixed with bear grease, the fresh petals healed mouth sores. A powder made from dried petals was applied to fever sores and blisters. Iroquois ate rose hips to treat diarrhea and the Cherokee rid themselves of worms (and relieved dysentery) with an infusion of the bark. Roses infused in rainwater were used to bathe sore eyes.

People all over the world have known and used the rose as a soothing balm, a skin softening agent, an aphrodisiac, a hormone balancer, a heart tonic, an antidepressant, and a nerve tonic throughout millennia.

Roses are antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial and the fresh petals can be used against infection. I sometimes use a few rose petals as a protective covering over a cut or sore. I use an infusion of dried rose flowers as a gargle to relieve sore throat and drink it as a remedy for diarrhea. Honey infused with rose petals is incredibly delicious and a very effective and soothing remedy against sore throats.

Smelling roses makes most of us feel very good. The aroma alone has a therapeutic effect on both women and men. One remarkable thing roses do for men is speed up their sperm motility, thus boosting male fertility. You may have wondered why roses have been offered universally as a symbol of love for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. One reason may be as deep as survival of the species.

Roses encourage procreation. They encourage, nourish and support fertility. Think about all the art you’ve ever seen with roses depicted. They are present as a symbol of health, vitality, sensuality, prosperity, abundance, fruitfulness, fertility and blessedness.

Roses are laid at the feet of the Blessed Mother, even today. In fact, they are called Emblem of Mary. Roses have long been considered a flower sacred to Great Mother; beloved by Isis, one of the flowers of Aphrodite, and said to have sprung from the blood of Venus. One ancient legend tells us that Cupid was responsible for the creation of the rose.

Throughout the ages, the rose has been considered the quintessential expression of love. When Mark Antony visited Cleopatra in her palace, the floors were reportedly covered knee-deep in rose petals. Roses are known the world over as an aphrodisiac. The ancients used both the Damask rose, Rosa damascena, and the Gallic rose, Rosa gallica, in erotic perfumes. R. gallica officinalis is the original apothecary rose, well known and used as medicine throughout Europe during the middle ages.

Roses are renowned for their tonic and regulating effects on female and male reproductive systems. The leaves, leaf bud, flower and fruit (rose hip) of the wild roses, Rosa rugosa, and sweet briar, are rich in phytosterols and bioflavonoids. These phyto-nutrients are especially necessary for us as we age.

Phytosterols act as building blocks for hormones. As long as we are supplying these essential nutrients, our endocrine system is able to do its job of producing the correct balance of hormones for our body, whether it is estrogens or androgens we need. For hormonal help, especially during menopause, I’ve frequently enjoyed infusion, tincture, or honey of rose.

Rose petal infusion relieves menstrual cramping and regular consumption of a simple rose infusion daily can be an effective guard against osteoporosis as roses are strengthening to the bones.

Bioflavonoids are biologically active, brightly colored substances found in plants. The bioflavonoids in roses and their fruits help maintain the health of blood vessels and are favorable to the production of estrogen. They are necessary for the absorption of vitamin C. With a toned and healthy endocrine system, both interest in sex and the enjoyment of it is enhanced.

The Chinese use the flowers of Rosa rugosa which they call mei gui hui, as a chi nourisher and a blood and liver tonic. Blood is the mother of chi, and chi commands blood, which is the essence of life. Healthy, well nourished blood means a healthy body/mind/spirit and good vital energy.

Recipe: A wonderful health building, sex nourishing tonic is a simple rose honey or syrup to which is added a few drops of pure vanilla, ginger, and a tincture of damiana or cinnamon. This elixir is most warming and nourishing, stimulating, energizing, aphrodisiac, and tonic.

Ayurvedic healers consider rose to be cooling and astringent, and so use the flowers to poultice wounds and inflammations. Roses strained out from an infusion can be used to poultice inflamed joints. Use the infusion as a wash over surgical wounds or incisions, or use it as a compress or apply the infused oil.

Rose water effectively eases acne and irritated skin conditions and is wonderful splashed on your face after washing. Roses are esteemed the world over for their nourishing and healing effects on all skin types and are especially kind to aging skin. Roses are a great addition to any kind of face cream, skin lotion, moisturizer, massage oil, after shave, antiseptic spray, or healing salve or balm.

Added to the bath, roses are cooling, refreshing, relaxing, and simply luxuriant. If I have some on hand, a few drops of essential oil of rose is wonderful, but a handful of dried blossoms tied inside a face cloth or piece of cotton muslin and soaked in the tub or basin also works fine. I like to mix sea and Epsom salts with roses and put some of this into a foot bath to relax my feet after working in the garden. It feels so good! I also like combining roses with seaweeds for an extra special body rub or soak.

Infused rose oil, used as a pain easing, nerve soothing, stress relieving, relaxing massage oil, can send the recipient straight to nirvana. Aromatherapists use essential oil of rose to ease anxiety and depression. Rose creates an aroma that is both sensual and relaxing. I like to use a cool poultice of fresh rose petals to help ease a headache, but even just a bit of tincture in a cup of water into which a rag is placed, soaked, wrung out and applied to the forehead will help.

Roses and rose hips possess antiviral properties and help to strengthen immune function, so I regularly add both to most of our winter time teas to help prevent colds and flu. Roses are an excellent, all-around, preventative medicine.

To stay healthy through midlife and beyond, enjoy a strong, fully functioning immune system, protect yourself from heart disease and cancer, and enjoy a mind as sharp as a tack, consider integrating roses and rose hips into your weekly herbal routine.

Rose hips are high in vitamin C, B complex, bioflavonoids, carotenes, vitamin E, and selenium. They also offer abundant chromium, niacin, phosphorus, protein and sodium. These nutrients make rose hips especially nourishing to the brain and help enhance focus, attention, and concentration. All those antioxidants and bioflavonoids help protect us from cancer as well as heart disease.

Rose petals and hips are nourishing to the heart and circulatory system. Try making a cup of rose petal/hip tea a few afternoons a week, or blend some rose petals with oatstraw, hawthorn and lemon balm and drink often to nourish and protect yourself from heart disease, or accumulated stress. Roses and the heart have a long history of working together.

Roses not only nourish our physical heart, but also soothe and heal a broken heart. If you are dealing with the pain of a broken heart, heart wrenching emotional pain, from any source, the pain of divorce, or the break up of a long term relationship, in the midst of menopausal depression, singing the blues, feeling down and out, lost, weary, tired, exhausted and feel you have nowhere to turn, turn to rose.

Rose will soothe your pain, ease your fear, and help restore equilibrium. Anoint your heart area with rose oil often. It encourages awareness of the many manifestations of love and beauty all around us. Keep a potted rose in your home or plant roses around the outside of your house to enhance your ability to love and to share that love in a joyful, open way with others.

Rose glycerite is an incredibly delicious way to enjoy the taste and subtle properties of rose. Glycerin draws out the hormonal precursors, and so a rose glycerite is a wonderful hormonal balancer for both women and men. Try a few droppersful in a quart of cold water.

Making and consuming rose mead is another fun and delicious way of welcoming the spirit of rose into your life. And it’s a great way to take your medicine! Rose flower essence helps us open our wild hearts to love in all its forms, and rose jams, jellies and honeys are fantastic!

I love roses! I gather rose buds and flowers as they appear all summer. When gathering roses, be sure to take only the petals, leaving the center behind to develop into the hip. I tincture fresh rose petals, leaf buds, or hips in alcohol or infuse them in glycerin, oil, or honey. I dry rose flowers and hips on screens and also enjoy stringing rose hips with needle and thread into long strands that we then hang to dry. They look so beautiful hanging in the kitchen, inviting their use.

Fresh or dried rose hips make a nourishing, delicious vinegar. A glycerite of fresh rose blossoms captures and enhances the rose flavor beautifully and a dropperful of rose glyercite in a quart of fresh spring water makes an awesome, delicious, cooling and refreshing drink after working in the garden on a hot summer day.

I find Rosa rugosa very easy to start from seed. I gather rose hips still on the bushes in late winter and break them open, separate the seeds from the pulp, broadcast them on the surface of my starting mix in flats, and gently work the seeds into the top layer of soil with my fingers. It takes two months for rose seeds to germinate in my cool spring conditions.

Seedlings go into a protected bed, placed fairly close together and kept well weeded. In the spring of their second year, they’re ready for a permanent home. They look so beautiful blooming in the garden and around the root cellar. Rugosa hips are big, bright red, and so delicious!

Recipe: Rose Water
Pick rose blossoms on a sunny day when their scent is at its peak. Put into a stainless steel or enamel pot and cover with fresh spring (or distilled) water. Cover and slowly heat to just below a simmer. Turn the heat as low as it will go, and continue heating for about ten minutes tightly covered. Steep overnight. In the morning, strain the beautiful, fragrant rose water off. I add a bit of organic alcohol or witch hazel as a preservative, bottle and keep in a cool dark place. I splash this fabulous rose water over my body to tone and refresh my skin. As a wash it helps heal acne.

Hint: Try rose water in your pound cake recipe, Incredible!

For rose glycerite and rose oil visit our online apothecary at Blessed Maine Herb Farm www.blessedmaineherbs.com

May the roses share their beauty, love and joy with you!

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Organic Herb Gardening and Medicine Making

Organic herb gardening and medicine making can be simple, easy and lots of fun. I’ve spent the last thirty five years doing it! Sure, there’s some hard work involved, but that can be experienced as enjoyable and a form of soul nourishment all its own.

We moved onto our homestead, which we call the Blessed Maine Herb Farm, back in 1977 and as the years passed, have created over an acre of permaculture gardens surrounding our home, herb house and teaching center. Each spring we start new seeds under cover, care for tender seedlings and eventually transplant them into their new homes in the garden or around its wild edges. We also seed many things directly in the garden during spring, summer and fall. We’ve planted woodland medicinals and also assorted fruit, nut and medicine trees and shrubs.

Some seeds need to be covered with soil in order to germinate, others require light. Some need to be stratified, some soaked overnight and others need to be nicked with a knife or abraded with sandpaper before germinating. Some plants like shade and lots of moisture, others thrive in dry sandy soil with a full day of sun.

Good medicine making requires that one pay a great deal of attention to the subtle messages of the plants. One plant needs to be gathered before flowering, another while in full flower, and yet another after flowering. And then there’s the issue of which parts to gather. Observation, research, consulting herbals written by real herbalists and keeping careful notes from year to year will all serve you well here.

There’s much to learn for sure, (I’m still learning!) but it’s mostly knowledge gained by the doing…one learns as one goes along. So don’t be afraid to just dive in and begin. And ask for help as needed.

Sometimes an experienced guide, an elder neighbor who has been gardening for much of her life-time, can be a help. That’s where this present blog entry comes in.

Our Blessed Maine Herb Farm and processing facility has been MOFGA certified organic since 1989. And as is required of any certified organic farm and processing facility, we keep thorough logs of all our growing, harvesting and processing activities. The herb planting and harvesting calendar below details the day to day work in our Blessed Maine Herb gardens from March through early July. I share it with you here so that if needed, it might be used as a general outline for your own herb gardening and medicine making work. Many blessings to you!

March 18 – Today we planted six flats of Rosa rugosa seeds that we saved from last year’s fruits. We dried the rose hips thoroughly after we harvested them, then placed the whole hips in a paper bag and placed that in an airtight container. Just before planting, we break up the hips and separate the seeds. We scatter the seeds quite thickly in a flat or in a well worked bed in the greenhouse. Germination usually takes four to six weeks; these seeds do need a period of cold stratification. I’ve been told that Rosa rugosa cannot be planted this way and do not come true from seed, but I’ve been doing this for years and have beautiful roses.

We also seeded lavender, bee balm, feverfew, mullein, anise hyssop, rosemary, delphinium, ginkgo, codonopsis, lemon balm, lady’s mantle, angelica and yarrow. Most of our herb seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, FEDCO and Horizon Herbs – seed companies with reputations for reliable seeds. The seeds we planted today will have several weeks of cold stratification (a cold, moist period) in the greenhouse and will then germinate as the temperature warms.

March 31 – After a night of heavy snow, the weather is perfect for working inside. We dug more beds in the greenhouse this morning and planted seeds of St. John’s wort, licorice, passion flower, wild marjoram and more Rosa rugosa. We also sowed lettuces and salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi seeds. Next we’ll plant seeds of fresh and dried flowers for pretty summer bouquets.

This week we also began retrieving the bare roots of medicinal plants that we dug from the garden, packed in sawdust and put into our root cellar last fall to store through the winter. We’ve been dividing the roots of valerian, astragalus, codonopsis, lavender and licorice. After careful division, the roots are counted, packed in sawdust, wrapped in recycled grain bags, and sent to FEDCO for its catalog sales. Working with the plants again feels great: smelling the rooty, earthy aromas, having soil under our fingernails, appreciating the incredible strength and beauty of a tiny sprout. Giving thanks for the wonders of new life!

April 5 – We started seeds of delphinium, statice, larkspur, sea lavender and more passion flower this week. The anise hyssop (licorice mint) is up, and so is the wild marjoram, licorice and salad greens. And the snow is coming down!

April 30 – The greenhouse is packed with flats of seedlings, and everything is growing beautifully. Hollyhocks, delphiniums and larkspur are tall and green, licorice is putting out its second true leaves, and the long awaited passion flower vines are finally sprouting out of their dark, moist soil. The beds in the greenhouse are bursting with new growth. Lavender, lemon balm and angelica are all up, and so is yarrow. Anise hyssop and wild marjoram are fantastically lush, but we are still waiting for the lady’s mantle to pop up. Lots of hardy perennials are green and beautiful in the herb garden; everything seems to have wintered over fine. Angelica is sending up lots of new green leaves, garlic tops are up, and we’ve been digging roots of lavender, codonopsis and ginseng for spring sales. Spring cleanup is in full swing, and everyone is either raking or moving piles of wood. This is a good time to plant peas and assorted greens for summer salads.

May 19 – We have been preparing a site for a new shade house for ginseng, which we seeded last fall in the garden and which seems to be germinating well – right through a layer of hay and leaf mulch. I love the way the seedlings emerge, looking like delicate, unfurling claws reaching for the sun.

We’re eating dandelion and nettle greens!

The apprentices have transplanted two beds of wild marjoram and a long bed of anise hyssop in the garden. We’ve also planted three rows of strawberries and mulched them with newspaper and hay.

We’ve all been on our hands and knees in the garden making new beds. After going through with a rototiller, each bed is worked with a fork and is then thoroughly gone over by hand. All roots and rocks are removed to a depth of about 1 foot. We place roots in a wheelbarrow and dump them in a special compost pile on the edge of the herb garden. Rocks are mounded in piles and then collected in pails and either dumped at the side of the garden or used in a variety of creative ways. This tedious and time consuming work makes a fantastic growing area with very few weeds. When the bed is finished and smoothed, we sprinkle a light application of compost, and voila! We are ready to seed or transplant!

Once beds are planted, they are mulched on both sides with hay, usually with damp newspaper underneath. Layering sheets of newspaper, hay, kitchen waste and other organic matter over the soil is known as sheet mulching, or lasagna gardening. This is an effective yet simple and relatively easy technique to control weeds and build soil, and the mulch helps the soil retain moisture and stay cool through the heat of the summer. As summer progresses and the organic matter begins to decompose, we continue to add more layers of hay and other organic matter. Because we don’t disturb the soil, plenty of beneficial bacterial and fungi grow. And because the soil in the planting bed is not compacted, worms and billions of microorganisms thrive, naturally building and enriching soil. The perennial herbs especially appreciate an environment like this. Most of our perennial herb garden is prepared and maintained this way, in a kind of permaculture. Garlic thrives with this treatment, as do astragalus, hyssop, lavender, licorice, mints and fruit trees.

Four apprentices work in the gardens three days a week now. Our gardens are filled with laughter and high energy, and the plants respond with beautiful growth. Bed preparation will continue for quite a while, as plenty of flats filled with healthy seedlings sit in the greenhouse, awaiting their homes in the herb garden. They require constant attention and daily watering now.

Our garlic has been sprinkled with compost and will soon get another layer of hay over that. Jack and I weeded the echinacea beds, and we planted a few more rows of potatoes. He put in some colorful Indian corn, and I planted two beds of calendula, more lettuce for salads, and a long bed of big red zinnias! I have enjoyed working on my hands and knees in the dirt since my childhood. I give thanks and praise for this little patch of earth to plant, tend and enjoy!

May 20 – We’ve weeded, applied compost, and mulched beds of catnip, marshmallow and butterfly weed. We’re just finishing weeding several beds of hyssop. The plants remaining in the greenhouse are growing stronger by the day, and most are ready to be transplanted. Beginning this week they’ll all be finding their way into their new homes in the garden.

Cherry and apple trees are bursting into bloom along the hedgerow lining the driveway. Cheerful yellow masses of daffodils are peaking, and tulips are plump and about to open into sturdy blooms. Today we’re working in the herb house, pouring tinctures into bottles and labeling.

May 29 – We’ve had a full week of cloudy, rainy weather – just perfect for transplanting! We’ve put in a wide bed of lupines and another long bed of hollyhocks. We’ve also been cleaning up the lavender beds – cutting away dead parts of plants and weeding around them so that the fresh new growth underneath has full access to the sun. All of the lavender appears to have made it through winter, and the new growth looks strong and vibrant. After the beds are cleaned up, they’ll get a light sprinkling of compost, and more hay or other organic matter will be added to each side of the beds. We often add leaves of mineral-rich comfrey to these layers, and other soil nourishing herbs that we have in abundance, such as nettle and mugwort.

Zinnias and calendula are coming up strong, and everything we planted in the vegetable garden looks good. I cannot wait to eat the dill and fennel, cilantro and basil, fresh young onions, and all those salad greens. The peas are thick, and potatoes are sprouting through the soil. Yesterday we planted another batch of oats, five long rows of corn, green manures (rye, peas, clover and brassicas), and we put a few rows of cantaloupe in an especially rich corner of the garden.

We’ve begun creating shade for the ginseng beds. Ginseng has been growing successfully here at Blessed Maine Herb Farm for a decade. It now grows in two locations, and both need new shade arrangements. Ginseng requires between 75% and 90% shade and rich soil with plenty of humus.

Today a new bed of licorice will be transplanted, but the hot peppers still have a week or two in the greenhouse before we can put them into their new homes. Bed preparation continues.

June 10 – We’ve been transplanting the last of the perennial herbs – lemon balm, lavender, licorice, rosemary, astragalus, bee balms, licorice and thyme – and lots of hollyhocks, foxglove and delphiniums into their beds. We’ve also planted blessed thistle, milk thistle and more calendula seeds. The oats are now an inch tall and bright emerald green. The apprentices have been diligently caring for beds of sage, lavender and echinacea, and everything in the garden is beautiful. All proceeds at a steady, calm pace.

June 17 – Jack is already cutting hay with his hand scythe on this beautiful, sunny day! The hay looks so pretty drying this morning in long rows across the top of the garden. All plants are growing rapidly now.

The roses are just beginning to blossom. We’ve already harvested and processed several batches of their silky, pink petals, and many, many more will be gathered over the next month or so. When we gather roses from our rugosa plants, we’re careful to lift only the petals, leaving the center of the bloom behind. We’ll come back later to harvest the bright red fruits that form here, the rose hips, in late summer. Meanwhile, we’ve put up jars of rose oil, a jar of rose glycerite, and started a batch of rose mead.

Raspberry leaves are perfect for gathering and drying on screens in the herb house now. Horsetail is also drying on a screen there, and comfrey is ready for its first cutting. We’re eating fresh salads every day. We made flower essences with sage, rose and clematis blossoms.

July 3 – We’ve been weeding, weeding, weeding…And in between, harvesting, harvesting, harvesting…We’ve cut some comfrey and made comfrey oil, and gathered several more baskets full of roses. We must go out every day now to check all our potato plants for bugs. We’ve been going out morning and evening with a branch and gently swishing it against the plants to knock off any bugs. We’re eating dill, fennel, cilantro and all kinds of salad greens from the garden now. Two huge beds of calendula are looking real pretty right now, and the zinnias are growing well also. Soon those beds will be flowering. Our statice and larkspur are now just beginning to come into flower. The foxglove continue to bloom and look fantastic.

Yesterday I potted up 14 baby ginkgo tree seedlings. They look so cute in their little pots. The rose seedlings are now ready for a protected home in the garden where they can grow until next spring when they will be transplanted into their final home. And we still have a hump of delphiniums that must go into the garden on the next rainy day.


The St. Johns’wort is just coming in to bloom here. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be putting up gallons of St. John’swort oil and tincture, and drying a lot too, for teas. Our tomatoes got a good going over the last couple of days. First we weeded them real good, then gave each plant a generous side dressing of well composted manure. Hopefully they’ll start doing something soon!

That takes us through the month of June. I’ll continue with July through the end of the year in another segment.

Enjoy your spring gardening and may your work bring you great joy and an abundant harvest!

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Natural Substances to Protect Ourselves From Radiation

The entire world is watching in horror as events continue to spin out of control in Japan. The country remains in a state of emergency after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck and appears to be facing what could potentially be the worst nuclear crisis in human history. All eyes and ears are now focused on the very real threat of radiation poisoning traveling around the globe. As events at the Fukushima nuclear plant escalate dramatically by the hour, people all over the world are scrambling for potassium iodide tablets and sea vegetables to protect themselves in case the radiation particles come their way.

Yet, in our everyday lives we seem oblivious to the impact of radiation on our health. Many of us are swept up in the euphoria over an endless parade of wireless devices. We actually seem addicted to radiation and completely unconscious of the jack-hammering effect it has on human cells.

Today 285 million Americans have mobile phones and 83 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are “wired” all the time and sleep with their cell phones next to their heads.

Mounting scientific evidence suggests that non-thermal radio frequency radiation (RF)—the invisible energy waves that connect cell phones to cell towers and power numerous other everyday items—can damage our immune systems and alter our cellular makeup and eventually lead to cancer, even at intensities considered safe by the FCC.

It has been know for a decade that RF/microwaves from cell phones and tower transmitters cause damage in human blood cells that results in nuclei splintering off into micronuclei fragments. The development of micronuclei heralds the development of pre-cancerous conditions. Many victims of Chernobyl developed blood cell micronuclei that rapidly turned into full blown cancers.

Numerous animal studies have demonstrated that mobile phone radiation quickly causes DNA single and double strand breaks at levels well below the current federal “safe” standards. A six-year industry study showed that human blood exposure to cell phone radiation had a 300 percent increase in genetic damage in the form of micronuclei.

In addition, industrial activities, mining, and nuclear power activities all release relatively large amounts of usually unseen toxic metals into our air, water, and our food crops on a daily basis.

Radioactive medical wastes are increasingly a source of radioactive metal poisoning and we are exposed to radioactive isotopes released into the air by way of gaseous emissions as well as radioactive substances released into cooling water from nuclear facilities around the world.

A huge pile of research has confirmed that non-ionizing communications radiation in the RF/microwave spectrum has the same effect on human health as ionizing gamma wave radiation from nuclear reactions. Injuries resulting from radioactive radiation are identical with the effects of electromagnetic radiation. In the U.S., deadly high frequency radiation is now blasting from tens of thousands of cell towers and rooftop antennas all over the country. What all this means is that you don’t need to wonder if the radiation from the Japanese catastrophe is going to reach us. It’s already here from numerous ongoing sources.

So in light of these combined threats from radiation poisoning we all face on a daily basis, I‘d like to share with you some proven ways we can protect ourselves and our health and detoxify our bodies.

RosemaryRosmarinus officinalis – Rosmarinus has been revered for its protective qualities down through the ages. It’s now been found that two compounds in this wild Mediterranean plant, Carnosic and rosmarinic acids, naturally deter radiation poisoning.

In a study published this year in the British Journal of Radiology, February 2 edition, scientists in Spain reported finding that nothing fights radiation damage to micronuclei as well as rosemary. The fact that these compounds found in rosemary are fat soluble allows them to provide highly significant protective anti-mutagenic activity. Even the most powerful water-soluble antioxidants lack the capacity to protect against gamma ray induced damage.

In another study published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology, the generation of radiation induced cellular DNA damage to skin from free radicals was the focus. The researchers sought to demonstrate that rosmarinic acid from rosemary would act as a photo-protector both by acting as a scavenger of free radicals and as an inducer of the body’s own endogenous defense mechanisms. They found that formulation of toxic production was delayed by the use of rosmarinic acid, and the protection factor was 3.34 times greater than for other compounds studied, as measured in micronucleus testing.

So, how can we use rosemary to protect ourselves from radiation damage? I’d suggest taking 30 drops of rosemary tincture once to three times daily in a bit of water, depending on your level of exposure. Rosemary infused oil, applied to the skin will also be effective. Use dried rosemary often in your cooking, and drink rosemary teas and infusions.

Foods containing Caffeic Acid – In a study done in India, and published in the 2008 Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology scientists investigated the radio-protective potential of caffeic acid against gamma radiation-induced cellular changes. Lymphocytes were pre-incubated with caffeic acid and controls were not. All the lymphocytes were exposed to different doses of radiation and then genetic damage and biochemical changes were measured. Gamma irradiated control lymphocytes showed a radiation dose-dependent increase in genetic damage and a significant decrease in antioxidant status. Caffeic acid pretreated lymphocytes positively modulated all radiation induced changes. There was no damage caused to the cells whatsoever.

So which foods and herbs contain caffeic acid? Apples (An apple a day…I love the way these “old wives tales” continue to reveal their truths over the eons.) all citrus fruits, and the entire Brassicaceae family of plants, which contain vegetables such as broccoli, mustard, cabbage and cauliflower.

You might consider that a daily bowl of any of the following greens or roots is indispensable for ensuring your good health and protection from all forms of radiation: radish, turnips, shepherd’s purse, bok choi, napa, Chinese cabbage, broccoli rabe, kohlrabi, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cress.

Members of the Brassica family offer uniquely important health-promoting properties. In addition to the wide array of necessary vitamins and minerals they provide, Brassica vegetables also contain a number of especially potent health enhancing and protective phytonutrients.

For instance, certain compounds in these vegetables known as glucosinolates reduce the potential of carcinogens through their ability to stimulate liver detoxification enzymes. These phytonutrients inhibit enzymes that normally activate carcinogens and induce other enzymes that help to dismantle active carcinogens.

All the vegetables in this family are sulphur rich – they contain Sulforaphane, which is actually formed when these vegetables are chopped or chewed. It, too, is known to trigger the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals.

Remember that most of these bioactive compounds are water-soluble; during heating they leach into the cooking water. Because of this, it is recommended to cook these vegetables in the minimum amount of water (as in steaming) in order to retain their nutritional benefits and drink the liquid.

SeaweedsPhaeophyceae

Brown Algae such as the Laminaria and Saccharina, Fucus, Sargassum muticum.

Regular seaweed consumption should be a part of our daily diet and especially noted for their radiation protective qualities are wakame, kelps and bladderwrack.

The negative health effects of radiation poisons can be prevented or suppressed by regular consumption of algin-rich brown seaweeds which slow the bioaccumulation of neurotoxic metals.

Shep Erhart, who runs the Maine Seaweed Company in Franklin, Maine, has been eating, harvesting, working with and enjoying seaweeds for the past thirty years. He taught me that sea vegetables contain the broadest range of minerals of any food – the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and iodine.

A few summers ago Shep took me and a small group of apprentices to one of his favorite seaweed gathering spots on the coast of Maine. One of the seaweeds we found in abundance on that day was Luminaria longicruris, or kelp, a beautiful brown seaweed that grows 4 to 8-foot-long broad golden fronds.

Kelp offers exceedingly high amounts of these minerals, and is an unparalleled source of other essential trace nutrients, particularly iodine. “Our cells and those of seaweed are both bathed in a similar ocean of dissolved mineral matter. The ratio of sodium to potassium is nearly the same in blood and saltwater.” Shep said.

Kelp has been found to have a normalizing action on the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which are especially vulnerable to absorbing radioactive poisons from the environment. A healthy, functioning parathyroid gland means you can absorb all those minerals to your best advantage.

Numerous researchers have discovered kelp’s ability to bind with radioactive isotopes in the body, thus allowing them to be safely excreted. Consuming kelp regularly will offer protection to the cells in your body during and after radiation treatments, after any routine x-rays and most notably during and after any kind of radiation poisoning.

Studies also suggest that kelp has a positive effect on the balance of healthy flora in the intestinal tract, actively destroys cancer cells, and stimulates T-cell production in our immune systems. All sea vegetables are strongly immune enhancing.

Kelp is a versatile seaweed and there are many ways to integrate its use into the daily diet. It is superb when lightly toasted or fried; it can be pickled in brine or simmered in soups; it’s great sautéed; and it’s indispensable in bean dishes, as it helps to tenderize beans, shortens the cooking time and aids in digestion.

You don’t even have to eat it to benefit from its radiation protective and health nourishing properties…just soak in a seaweed bath. The sea greens help to balance body and skin chemistry. Electrolytic magnetic action of the seaweeds releases excess body fluid from congested cells and dissolves fatty wastes through the skin, replacing them with depleted minerals, particularly potassium and iodine. The vitamin K in sea vegetables helps regulate adrenal function, thus a regular seaweed bath or rub helps ensure well balanced hormones and a more youthful physical appearance, in addition to offering its radiation protective benefits. The mucilaginous fiber in seaweed helps to prevent the reabsorbing of radioactive strontium 90.

“Following the bombing of Nagasaki, a group of surviving macrobiotic doctors and their patients avoided radiation sickness simply by eating brown rice, miso and seaweed.

Another excellent source of high quality seaweeds can be obtained from Larch Hanson in Stueben, Maine. Larch gathers his seaweeds from pristine places along the coast of Maine as well.

Adaptogens – those all important natural substances that help the body adapt to stress. In order to meet the criteria as defined by the word adaptogen, a substance must be non-toxic, produce a nonspecific response in the body which boosts the ability to resist multiple stressors, and exert a normalizing influence on physiology. By definition, adaptogens strengthen the immune, nervous and glandular system, increase metabolic efficiency and reduce susceptibility to illness and disease.

Many of these substances have a history of use that extends for hundreds and thousands of years and a huge body of experience has been accumulated and recorded regarding their therapeutic application. Three of my favorites are reishi mushrooms, American ginseng and Baltic amber. You can rely on all three of these substances to offer you protection from radiation poisoning.

Baltic amber – In my experience natural Baltic amber is one of the most indispensible, as well as perhaps the most universally applicable, of the known adaptogens. Warming, stimulating, aromatic, bitter, it is both a potent medicine and an amazingly protective substance and has been revered as such for millennia.

Baltic Amber is proven to act as a shield, providing protection from harmful radiation emitted from computers, cell phones and wireless devices, microwave ovens, electrical appliances as well as radiation emitted from industrial accidents.

In fact, the succinic acid found in the amber cortex, or outer layer of the stone, is employed by European scientists and military doctors to bolster the body’s immunity to radiation from industrial accidents. It is touted in Russia and other European countries for its and cell rejuvenating properties and is commonly used in anti-aging formulations and to aid recovery of cancer patients after undergoing conventional medical treatment. It has been shown to strengthen immunity to ionizing radiation, infections, alcohol and other toxins.

Though not especially well known and rarely spoken or written about in American herb culture, Baltic amber actually has a long and illustrious history of medicinal use in China, India, the Middle East and all of Europe, from the northern Boreal forests to the Mediterranean Sea many people are not only well aware of, but also make regular use of, the vitality boosting and energetically protective qualities.

What is Baltic Amber? Baltic amber is a fossilized resin produced by coniferous trees from the Pinaceae family which grew in Northern Europe around the Baltic Sea 40 million to 200 million years ago.

As atmospheric change occurred and the climate warmed, the conifer trees began exuding large amounts of resin in an effort to adapt to the changing earth environment. As the millennia progressed, these exudations sank to the Baltic Sea floor and gradually, over the eons, became stable through oxidation, the action of micro-organisms and other processes.

Extensively traded since remote antiquity, natural Baltic amber was worn as a protective amulet by the ancient Nordic and Scandinavian peoples, as well as by the Celts, the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean: the Phoenicians, Greeks and Etruscans, the Arabs, Egyptians and the Chinese, all of whom knew and used Baltic amber (succinite) many centuries before the Common Era.

Baltic amber’s considerable electrostatic properties are an essential part of its health boosting abilities. This substance has long been respected as a natural ionizer; it possesses the ability to produce negative ions, known to help to ease pain, boost over-all immunity and stimulate the healing process.

Negative Ions and our Health – Extensive research has shown that our good health is in large part dependent on the amount and quality of the negative ions in the air around us and in our bodies.

The human body consists of billions of cells, each enclosed by a membrane. This cell membrane performs many important roles, such as the absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste. The function of the entire cell and its membrane is enhanced when there are enough negative ions within and outside the cell. This electrical material exchange revitalizes cell metabolism so that optimum nourishment is absorbed and waste material is eliminated efficiently.

According to results of research on negative ions conducted at the Nanzandoh Medical Clinic in Japan, negative ions help speed recovery from illness, slow the aging processes and offer protection from the harmful effects of environmental stressors such as electromagnetic fields and radiation.

And, while this negative ion producing property of Baltic amber’s is nothing short of amazing, it’s not by any means the only thing responsible for its potent healing effects. There’s more!

Succinic acid – Baltic amber has high concentrations of a unique substance known as succinic acid, and with from 3% to 8% succinic acid by weight, is one of the most important natural sources of succinic acid in the world.

It has long been believed that by wearing raw or polished natural Baltic amber against the skin, a “homeopathic dose” of succinic acid is absorbed into the body, enough to exert its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, immune enhancing, protective and vitality boosting influence.

Since the thyroid gland is very susceptible to absorbing radiation poisoning, wearing a Baltic amber necklace or pendant over or near this gland is especially important. I am never without mine. You’ll find more about the many uses and benefits of Baltic amber in another post on this blog.

Potassium iodide – The US government, military, hospitals, etc. stock Potassium Iodide, which is the ingredient added to your table salt to make it iodized salt, in case of a nuclear accident. They suggest that to protect against the negative health effects of nuclear radiation exposure, this substance be taken orally in very small quantities 1/2 hour to 1 day before radioactive iodines are swallowed or inhaled. According to reports doing so will prevent approximately 99% of the damage that would otherwise occur to the thyroid gland. Potassium iodide blocks the thyroid gland’s uptake of radioactive iodine and thus could help prevent thyroid cancers and other diseases that might be caused by exposure to airborne radioactive iodine dispersed in a nuclear accident.

Potassium – carries an electrical charge and is “wed” to sodium in many of the electrical/chemical balancing chores it performs in our bodies. Adequate intake of potassium is critically important when exposure to radiation is a threat because abundant potassium in the blood stream will block rapid absorption of Cesium-137. Food sources of potassium include potatoes, avocado, raisins, sardines, flounder, orange juice, winter squash, banana, apricots, cantaloupe, tomato, milk, salmon, beans, sweet potato, beef liver, peaches, steak, haddock, pork, lamb, turkey, tuna, and chicken. Herbs with high levels of potassium include sage, catnip, hops, dulse, peppermint, skullcap, kelp, and red clover. You’ll also find it in horsetail, nettles, borage, and plantain.

Liver nourishing roots such as American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, dandelion Taraxacum officinale and burdock, Arctium lappa. are loaded with mucilaginous properties and assist with the elimination of toxins out of the body…they act as a kind of magnet, pulling these radioactive elements to them and helping you excrete them through the eliminative organs.

Additionally Panax quinqeufolius, is proven to be radioprotective; it specifically protects human DNA from damage due to radiation particle ingestion, protects human peripheral lymphocytes from radiation induced stress, prevents radiation induced illness and protects against Cesium-137 exposure. 30 drops of tincture in water, once to three times daily should be an effective dose of any of these roots. Adding them to soups and stir fries and making water-based decoctions and/or syrups are all effective ways of using them.

Buckwheat is high in rutin and helps to protect against radiation and also stimulates new bone marrow production.

Research on animals indicates that curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, may help protect against radiation-induced damage to the skin.

Other research has shown that Ginkgo biloba may act as a shield against organ damage resulting from radiation therapy.

Aloe vera is a natural remedy for radiation-induced skin changes, preventing or minimizing radiation-induced skin reactions.

Immune modulating medicinal mushrooms such as, Reishi, Turkey Tail, Matiake, Shitake and Chaga are all very important and well documented to enhance over-all immunity, protect against cellular changes and act as effective protectors against radiation poisoning as well as all manner of toxins that we ingest through out environment. I prefer consuming my medicinal mushrooms in a water base, often decocting them and then adding half of the volume in raw honey, turning it into an optimally absorbed food/medicine. A tablespoon or so of a well made syrup of any of these mushrooms taken once or twice daily, or simply adding these mushrooms to any soups you make, will provide a great deal of reliable protection.

ReishiGanoderma lucidum and Ganoderma applanatum In addition to its ability to protect us from radiation poisoning, Reishi has long been believed by the Chinese to protect the Spirit and to nurture the growth of intelligence, wisdom and spiritual insight. These are qualities we all need living in the modern day world and facing disasters that appear to be occurring ever more frequently. Reishi is a superb anti-stress herb and its effects seem to be cumulative, gradually strengthening the nerves and actually changing how we perceive life. It is routinely used by mountain hermits, monks, adepts and spiritual seekers throughout Asia because it is believed to help calm the mind, ease tension, strengthen the nerves, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, build will power and, as a result, help to develop wisdom. Reishi helps to improve the quality of life by improving the inner life of a human being.

Use reishi mushrooms on a daily basis to assist in developing wisdom, to deepen your connection to our great, abundant and oh, so precious planet…and then take it upon yourself to share your growing wisdom in whatever means you have available, for the benefit and healing of all peoples, plants and animals and for our Mother Earth herself.

I hope you’ve found at least some of this information to be useful to you. My prayer for all of us today is that we focus on all that is good and beautiful, that we radiate light, peace and calm and remember that Great Mother is holding us all in her loving and protective embrace.

You may be interested in our Mushroot Chai Deep Immune Tonic, made with certified organic medicinal mushrooms and American ginseng roots, as well as our line of certified organic tinctures, adaptogen blends and infused oils. You’ll find our offerings here: www.blessedmaineherbs.com/muchto.html

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A day in the life…

Yesterday was an intensely challenging day for me. It started off simply enough; after enjoying a robust cup of coffee, I donned my favorite apron and did a bit of cleaning. I’m still moving into my house here and there is ten months of accumulated dust everywhere, so a little attention to sprucing up each day gives me the sense that I am making progress. Piano, piano, as they are fond of saying here in the village.

My calm routine was soon interrupted by a visit from my dear friend, Antoinetta. She was bearing sad news. A mutual friend’s father had just passed away. This news shocked me, as he had not been sick at all, and just thinking about how my friend and his family must be feeling sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Antoinetta waited while I washed up and changed my clothes and together we walked up the steep cobblestone passageway to be with the family and offer our condolences.

On the way we stopped to sit and chat for a bit with an elderly woman who we found sitting in front of her fireplace, unable to get out of the house without assistance. During the conversation I learned that the woman’s name was Rosina, my mother’s name, and that she was one year older than my mother would be, if she were still alive. For reasons I cannot explain, this knowledge propelled me further into my nose dive. We helped Rosina out of her house and all three of us walked slowly together toward our destination.

When I returned home I had my mother on my mind. I was missing her acutely and despite the fact that I am nearly 62 years old, I felt like a lost and abandoned little girl. I started to cry. I wished my mother was still here with us, and felt especially sad that she had never made it to the village, which had been her life long dream. She would have loved it here! And then I began to feel that I had abandoned my own daughter, who was trying on her wedding dress this very day, and here I was on another continent, unable to be part of such a happy and important occasion. My emotional ship was rapidly sinking…

Realizing I could not sit around feeling sorry for myself (I could actually hear my mother telling me so in my head.) I packed up my lap top and walked down to Claudia’s office space to do some work. I had plenty to do and dove right in. I’ve been giving a couple of webinar classes and had some bugs to work out with the technical people. For the next four hours I sat in the office working to clear our problems. While there, I received photos my daughters sent to me via email of the dress fitting. The dress was stunning and my daughter looked radiant in it.

Finally, at 7:30 last night, I was assured that all was well. I closed my lap top and carried it back up the hill to my house. I was feeling quite exhausted, still a bit low and on top of everything, my back hurt. I made myself a simple meal of mashed potatoes, cabbage and onions, mixed a cup of aqua vino into which I placed some rose glycerite and tinctures of wild yam and rosemary, and then sat by the fire to consume my dinner. After sitting for a while I filled a hot water bottle, took it to bed, said my rosary and fell soundly asleep.

At some point during the night I woke from a most wondrous dream! I was walking through our sacred mountains with my daughter Grace. The trail was narrow and treacherous, we had fear of falling, and there were little animals running under our feet. But all along the sides of the mountain were encouraging messages for us, blessings, if you will. The signs said things like “keep going, the trail will widen and level out soon, there is no need to worry, you are entirely safe. Great Mother is always with you. This way leads you directly into the heart of the Divine Feminine.” Needless to say, this dream brought me great comfort and joy.

And then this morning, when I got up and went out on my balcony to see what the weather was like, as is my habit, I glanced down to see that a big, beautiful bouquet of freshly picked, bright yellow Mimosa flowers had been placed on my doorstep while I slept! My spirits soared!

Today I am giving thanks for dear and precious friends and family who will go out of their way to show they care, for my beloved and amazing mother who even in death manages to send me consolation from wherever she is, and for the profound and deeply nourishing mysteries of love and life itself. This morning I truly feel held in the loving and protective embrace of Great Mother and want to share this joy with you. May your day also be blessed.

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The Presentation

The arrival of February never fails to stir my excitement. I love the increasing light, the surprising hints of new growth and the feeling of accomplishment that goes along with making it through another January! My first born child arrived on a brilliant blue sky day in mid-February. That sealed the deal. February.will always have a special place in my heart.

I love the way February starts out in serious party mode and pretty much stays that way. Right off the bat we’ve got Imbolc, St. Bridget’s Day, Candlemas and Groundhog Day. And that’s just the first three days! Then we have the build up to St. Valentine’s Day!

All of these celebrations represent the expressions of our ancestors and the ways they evolved over the millennia to honor this magical turning point in the seasonal progression, the half-way point between winter solstice and spring equinox. At this time of year we still communally celebrate the elemental energies of fire, light and love.

This cross quarter celebration is traditionally a time of bringing out into the light that which has been hidden, protected. What has been stirred up in your dreams during the long winter nights? What creative fire is burning within you? What light is it that you are now prepared to shine into the world? It’s the time of the Presentation. Manifestation. Make your offering! Clarify your plan. That these days correspond with the new moon this year make them especially potent

I’m usually in my Italian village at this time of year and enjoy participating in the Candlemas celebration at our local church. There will be a large box of candles set before the altar and as we enter the church we each take one before going to our pew. During mass the priest will light a large candle from the altar flame and then each of us in the church will light our candles from his flame, passing the flame until everyone’s candles are lit.

We all try our best to hold our flaming candles upright, so as not to drop wax on the floor. There is a sense of fun and adventure; we chant prayers and sing songs and our candles are blessed and we all carry them home after mass. I usually keep mine on my altar and light it on special occasions to give power to my prayers.

I like the story of the Presentation that is at the heart of the Candlemas ritual. According to the New Testament, Mary and Joseph brought their infant son Jesus to the temple to be presented, or blessed, and carried with them two doves as the required offering. Simeon blessed them and offered a prophecy regarding the mission of the babe in the world. And to Mary he said, “a sword will pierce your heart also – so that the secret prayers of many may be laid bare.” It’s always seemed to me such a frightful moment, a grave foreboding at such a pure and blessed event.

The part of the story that I especially appreciate is that there was a prophetess in the temple at the same time; Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was old school and well on in years. She had been married for seven years in her youth before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving there night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at the moment that Jesus was being blessed by Simeon and began to praise God and spoke of the child to all who “looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.”

I guess I just like that there was an old lady living in the temple, an old, wise woman who still had her feminine gifts of prophecy fully intact. It comforts me to know there was at least one corner of the temple that resembled the cave at Delphi or Cumae, where the women practiced their Goddess loving ways.

Whether you make offerings to Bridget or pray a rosary to Mary, circle round a bonfire with friends and family, sit quietly with a candle on your cozy kitchen table, or simply lift a glass of fire cider toward the east, it is good to remember and give thanks for such basic things as the turning of the seasons, the lengthening days, the birth of a new creative project, the graciousness and wisdom of our ancestors.

May your unique offering to the world be one of peace, grace, enlightenment and strength. May you shine your light brightly for the good of all.

Plants associated with The Presentation are the spring herbs and flowers, especially crocus Crocus vernus, snowdrops Galanthus nivallis, hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis and daffodil Narcissus psuedonarc.

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WINTER TIME HERBAL SUPPORT – PREVENTIVE HEALTH

Ensuring Robust Health Through the Rest of Winter

There may be the slightest hint of spring in the air in some places around the country, but for most of us, especially for those of us in the Northeast, six more weeks of winter is the norm. So this mid-winter reminder of safe and simple remedies for maintaining robust health through the rest of winter seems particularly timely.

The beauty of herbal medicine and I believe its true worth, is in its ability to prevent illness. So in considering what plants we choose to support ourselves through the cold winter months, our primary focus is on those that will safely and effectively help us to maintain robust health and well being. We also need to consider the herbs we have access to in winter; those we have stored and/or can easily afford to purchase.

To create and maintain robust wintertime health our intention needs to be on nourishing the kind of internal balance that naturally resists infection and thus prevent vulnerability to whatever infectious microbes may be going around in our schools, churches, workplaces and other public and private areas we visit.

What follows are some of my personal favorites – those commonly available herbs that help create the kind of internal balance that resists infection and enhances our winter time health and well being. This is the essence of preventive medicine!

Roses, Rosa spp. – One of my most preferred herbs, spring, summer, fall or winter, is the rose. Roses have been used for food, beauty and medicine by people for many thousands of years. Rose petals and fruit simply cannot be overlooked for assisting in the maintenance of vibrant health throughout the winter months. My favorites are the Rosa rugosa, but any wild or organically grown rose will do.

Sweet, soothing Rosa is life supportive and vitality enhancing, immune and endocrine system nourishing, tonic for the heart and circulatory system, brain and nervous system. Roses are indispensable for health. The Chinese say roses nourish chi or vital energy and are a blood and liver tonic. In Ayurvedic medicine they are a recommended remedy for all three doshas.

Rose teas and infusions, glycerites, tinctures, rose vinegar, rose honey, rose sugar, rose salts and syrup, rose mead, as well as rose baths, infused oils and salves all are wonderful ways to consume rose and bring her moistening, softening, health enhancing, vitality boosting properties into your life.

I like to combine roses with many other herbs, depending on the time of year and my needs. Since roses are by nature cooling, during winter I like to warm them up with cinnamon and ginger. The combinations vary in form and content, but usually include rose flower and rose hip tea or a bit of rose hip syrup or rose honey, maybe a few drops of home made vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean and ginger – could be ginger syrup, which I love to make, or ginger tea if I have fresh roots, perhaps a few sticks of cinnamon thrown into the pot – endless variations using these particular herbs present a most warming ever changing winter time elixir; nourishing and energizing, stimulating and tonic. But I’m getting ahead of myself…first things first – let’s start with the skin.

The Skin – The skin is our body’s largest organ. It is our first line of defense and is responsible for both the assimilation of nutrients and the elimination of waste. As such it works in concert with the liver, and is directly related to the digestive system, the nervous system and the immune system. It follows that care of the skin is of primary importance to our over-all health and well being.

During the winter months our skin has a tendency to get very dry so keeping it well moisturized becomes important. A daily application of hand made infused oil of rose is one of the best things to use and actually works wonders to soothe, nourish and moisturize dry skin and therefore help to maintain the health of our entire body.

Rosa oil, aside from being wonderfully nourishing and moisturizing to the skin, is also antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral. This makes it an excellent choice during the winter months for application to small cuts and all those dry spots that crack, scale, and the like. Our skin literally “sucks up” all this rosy goodness. I like applying rose oil to my skin after coming out of the shower. I find the aroma incredibly calming and strengthening in a deep comforting way.

Roses are an excellent addition to any face cream, skin lotion, massage oil, antiseptic spray, or healing salve or balm. Rose water is fabulous when sprayed or splashed on the skin, especially the face, during the drying winter months. Roses added to the bath, especially when combined with seaweeds, offer incredible nourishment – deep cellular nourishment to skin cells.

Seaweeds, such as kelp Laminaria longicruris and others, open up a cellular exchange, pulling out toxins and putting in nutrients, and are an essential element in care of the skin during winter. Aloe vera is another excellent ally for the skin during the drying winter months.

Not only is it important to hydrate the skin during winter, but all the cells in our bodies must be well hydrated in order to function optimally. Plenty of fresh air and water, nourishing herbal teas and infusions and vitality building soups will serve us very well.

To boost immunity and protect yourself from colds and flu there is nothing better than the fruits of the rose, or rose hips! Roses and their fruit are especially nourishing to immunity, offer loads of vitamins, minerals and those all important antioxidants, and offer reliable antiviral properties as well.

Some of the easiest ways to use rose hips are in tea, infusion and syrup. If you want to have fun in the kitchen and create something that will last awhile and serve you very well all during winter, make a rose hip syrup out of that infusion by slowly evaporating it down by half the volume you started with, then add half of what’s left in raw, local honey. Hmm..delicious!

This rose hip syrup can be taken by the spoonful as is or added to all kinds of dishes, drizzled over baked chicken, used to sweeten teas, infusions and other cold or hot beverages, including plain water, even added on top of a scoop of ice cream!

Sore throat – Honey contains considerable antibiotic properties. It is excellent to heal and soothe a sore throat and to ease a cold. One teaspoon of raw unheated honey, straight out of the jar, will immediately begin to ease the pain of a scratchy sore throat and help ease lung congestion as well. In fact studies have shown pure honey to be more effective than most over the counter medicines for healing bronchial congestion and sore throat. Rose honey can be especially soothing and healing for a sore throat. Other effective, especially soothing herbs to ease sore throats include marshmallow, slippery elm and licorice.

SAD & Depression affect a lot of people during the winter months.

Roses will also help to lift the spirit! Many people suffer from a lack of vitality, low energy and begin to feel slightly depressed during the winter months due to the lack of sun. This is especially true in our northern Maine climate. A simple cup or two of rose blossom tea taken daily, or rose glycerite added to water or tea, can go a long way to lifting the spirit, preventing or alleviating mild depression and giving your energy a boost.

Combining those roses with other mood enhancing herbs such as St. John’s wort, oatstraw, lemon balm, goldenrod and lavender will increase the benefits. Lavender tastes delicious and can be added to all kinds of dishes as a seasoning spice. In fact, it’s an important ingredient in many European seasoning blends. Try putting one or two of these herbs up as infused vinegars that you can splash and sprinkle on to all kinds of dishes during the winter months.

Stress - is a common problem brought on by winter…dealing with severe cold, snow storm after snow storm, longer dark hours thus a shorter day, sick child keeping you up all night and you still have to go to work in the morning, driving on icy roads, worries, isolation – all these things contribute to stress.

Roses Rosa spp. and other rose family plants such as hawthorn, as well as lavender, skullcap, oatstraw and passionflower are some of my favorite stress relieving allies. If you bring these herbs into your life and use them in some of the ways outlined above, you’ll notice your levels of stress and anxiety soon being eased.

Oatstraw, Avena sativa, is a fabulous and much appreciated trophorestorative – one of our finest nerve tonics or nervous system strengtheners. Oats are a grain, so a grass family plant, thus one of the foundational plants on the planet. The Poaceae family is one of the oldest plant families on earth and evolved around 65 million years ago.

Sweet, warming and deeply nourishing, restorative oats in the diet assure strong nerves, calm 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 contain high levels of magnesium, offer abundant silicon and calcium, a slew of B complex vitamins, plenty of phytosterols and vitamin E.

An abundance 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. Magnesium is necessary for the electrical body to function optimally, for the heart to beat regularly, and for that elusive quality known as magnetism.

Oatstraw (whole plant harvested in milky flowering stage, dried quickly and chopped by hand) is used to make wonderfully nourishing and delicious herbal infusions. Oatstraw infusions are a great way to get the benefits of Avena sativa and due to its bland and vaguely sweet taste, it can easily be used as the basis of many of the teas you make during the winter months.

Drinking 2-4 cups daily is especially hormone balancing, grounding and vitality building. Tincture is also highly effective, as long as it was made with fresh plant material within minutes of harvest. 30-60 drops daily is a typical dose.

Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata, is an indigenous American herb with a long history of use, primarily as a nourishing herb for the nervous system. The leaves and flowers offer potent calming and tranquilizing properties. In higher doses they are sedative. Passionflower is effective against insomnia and possesses constituents that give it a reliable antidepressant effect. It is soothing to the spirit.

Passion flower is an entirely safe, non-narcotic herb, with mild psychotropic properties, no known toxicity and no known interaction with any pharmaceutical drugs. It is safe to give to children and is recommended as a remedy to treat attention deficit disorders.

Passionflower can be used as a safe, natural and effective substitute for pharmaceutical drugs that affect the brain and/or nervous system and relieve pain. 30 drops in water for an adult, half of that for a child, is a typically recommended dose.

SPICES – Our digestive system can get quite sluggish during the winter months. All the stimulating, warming tropical spices are our allies during the cold winter months. Cinnamon and ginger are winter time favorite spices of mine during the winter as I mentioned above. To help ensure wintertime health, add splashes of spice to your daily meals and beverages.

Traditional Chai is another good combination of warming, stimulating spices such as cloves and cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, so many things…I like orange peel; cocoa is warming, vanilla is super yummy and warming. Bitter spices like cocoa and roots like dandelion, especially when infused in vinegar, give the digestive juices a much needed boost during winter.

All of these warming spices help to keep the digestive system well functioning, the blood flowing and the body temperature up during the winter months. This list also includes the well known Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme. The cold winter months are the time of year to be lavishly adding these spices to your meals – soups, egg dishes, meats, grains and vegetables. Experiment freely…let food be thy medicine.

Recipe of sorts – Last night I threw a handful of dried rose petals into a pot of water, added another handful of a combination of rosehips and hawthorn berries…think soothing, moistening, nourishing, heart strengthening, hormone balancing and immune boosting – I added a few sticks of cinnamon to the pot to warm it all up…brought it all up just before a simmer, and poured it into the French press. A bit of ginger syrup, ah, superb!

Adaptogens are a special class of herbs that are totally safe, can be taken over a long term, have a nourishing and balancing effect on all body systems and most importantly perhaps, they have the ability to help us to adapt to stressors of all kinds, including the stresses of winter.

Adaptogenic substances can be especially helpful in supporting vibrant health and vitality during the winter months. My favorites of the adaptogens are American ginseng, licorice, Holy basil, astragalus, medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, shitake and chaga and Baltic amber.

I have many years of experience growing and otherwise interacting with and observing these particular herbs and substances and so have developed a deep level of personal trust regarding them, hence the reason they’re on my list of favorites. It’s an entirely personal choice!

I’m confident that these substances, when used wisely, will boost overall energy and vitality, improve immunity and greatly aid in preventing illness such as winter time colds and flu.

They are particularly important for people in jobs that require them to do physical labor, work for long hours, or even that require using a lot of mental energy. (Motherhood!) They can be taken as directed and used on a daily basis for months or years, with no negative impact and a lot of positive effects.

Strong Immunity - To keep immunity fine tuned during the winter months, add a ginseng or astragalus root, and/or a few slices of any of the medicinal mushrooms to the soups you make, or to a basic stock from which you will make soups and other dishes. Doing so will greatly enhance the nutrient content and medicinal benefits of your winter time meals. Be sure to remove the reishi and chaga, as they are similar to wood and you won’t want to bite into them!

Astragalus, Astragalus membranaeceus is another of my favorite immune boosting roots. We’ve been growing this plant in our Blessed Maine Herb Gardens for many years. It is a strong, vibrant plant that simply reeks of vitality in every aspect of its growth. Astragalus roots grow quite large in a short amount of time, though it is recommended to wait at least 4-6 years before harvesting it for medicinal use.

Aside from being especially immune enhancing, astragalus is also an excellent ally for strengthening the lungs and improving digestion. Both of these body systems can be especially challenged during the winter months. Astragalus is best taken as a daily tonic to build immunity, rather than during the acute phase of illness.

Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra is also touted for strengthening the lungs and aiding and strengthening digestion, however it is usually recommended with contraindications for people with hypertension. In my personal experience licorice is added in small amounts to formulas and acts as a harmonizer and a peacemaker. This root has a distinctive taste, which some dislike, but has many beneficial actions, so for many reasons may be a good choice to add in a very small amount, perhaps as little as 5 to 10% of your formula.

Licorice is an effective immune modulator, so is an appropriate choice for those dealing with allergies and autoimmune dysfunction as it will not stimulate immunity as much as help it to find its innate balance and strength, its point of health and homeostasis. Licorice is a safe, effective adaptogen with thousands of years of proven effectiveness, when used as directed.

If you do get sick with bronchial congestion – My most used herbs here are rose, mullein, hyssop, thyme, pine and other trees, licorice, usnea, ginger.

Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis, contains a number of camphor-like constituents that help loosen phlegm and another constituent, marribium is a potent expectorant. Hyssop has traditionally been used to treat or counter colds, flu, coughs, bronchial congestion, pulmonary distress, asthma, sinus congestion and the related headache. Hyssop contains powerful antiviral properties and a syrup of the flowering tops can be especially soothing and healing for a raw swollen, painful, throat especially if due to strep. Hyssop is also a stomach soother, aids digestion and possesses mild sedative properties, so can also be used as a nerve strengthening tonic. A dropper full in water is a typical dose of tincture, up to 6 times daily if needed.

Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, leaves are among the first remedies to be thought of in treating congestion and dry coughs, as they are an excellent expectorant. Mullein leaves are especially helpful to make your cough more productive, to bring up phlegm and clear congestion.

Ear ache remedy – infused oil of mullein flowers. Mullein flowers have strong antibacterial properties and have effectively been used to ease ear infection and relieve earache for centuries. Another remedy to treat ear ache is to gently heat a clove of garlic in a little bit of olive oil, let it cool down and while still warm apply one drop to the infected ear. Don’t do this is your ear drum is perforated.

Usnea spp., old mans beard, is a common lichen growing from trees all over the world. Usnea possesses strong antibacterial, and antifungal agents and is also a powerful immune stimulant; more effective than penicillin against some bacterial strains. It completely inhibits the growth of staphylococcus aureus, strep, and pneumonia organisms. Usnea is effectively used against tuberculosis, as well as candida and a variety of fungal strains.

I’m intrigued by usnea because it is actually two organisms in one, both parts living as an integral part of the other. The inner organism looks like a white stretchy thread which is easier seem when the lichen is wet. This inner part olf the organism is a potent immune stimulant. The outside part of usnea gives it its color and is strongly antibacterial.

Usnea is commonly used around the world for skin infections, upper respiratory and lung infections. Can be used as a powder, consumed as a tea or infusion, used as a wash, soak or spray. Effective in tincture form, 30-60 drops, 2-4 times daily to boost immunity and up to 6 times daily to treat active infection.

Drink 2-4 cups of infusion for acute illness. Use 10 drops of tincture diluted in an ounce of water and use as a nasal spray to treat sinus infection. Usnea tincture can be irritating to delicate mucous membranes of the nose mouth and throat, so be sure to dilute before using.

Coltsfoot, Tusilago farfara, literally means cough dispeller. The large, almost round, bright green leaves, sometimes with a spider-web like substance on the surface and white and fuzzy on the undersides, have been used for centuries in cultures around the world as a traditional remedy for the treatment of respiratory ailments such as coughs, bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.

Coltsfoot has soothing antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. The leaves do contain pyrrolizine, an alkaloid that is potentially toxic in large doses, especially to those with liver problems. Those with any liver compromise of any sort, will want to avoid using this herb. However, for the rest of us, since coltsfoot is an exceedingly effective aid in eliminating even a long standing, persistent cough, I feel its use is appropriate for acute coughs and only for short amounts of time. It should only be consumed as a water based medicine, such as a tea, infusion or syrup.

The German Commission E on Phytotherapy and Herbal Substances recommends coltsfoot leaf for acute phase of illness in the respiratory tract, with cough and hoarseness, and mild inflammation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa. I do not recommended coltsfoot as a tincture, because tinctures concentrate alkaloids.


Thyme, Thymus vulgaris has been considered a powerful medicine plant for millennia – antiseptic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, antiparasitic, carminative, expectorant and tonic to the entire body, especially the lungs. Thyme is an exceptional ally against any kind of bronchial congestion; it reliably eases coughs and helps clear phlegm. Many winter time lung congestions are due to molds, fungus infections…thyme’s potent antifungal properties are well known and can be especially effective in countering these infections. 30 drops of tincture in water 6 times daily to treat acute symptoms.

Tree Medicines - Pinus spp. makes a fine decongestant. Sip a tea made from the needles of almost any pine or spruce tree for help clearing congestion. Breathing the vapors/steam from the tree branches broken into small pieces is another way of making use of the lung clearing properties of these resinous trees. Pine oil rubbed on the chest eases congestion as well. Birch twigs can be gathered all winter long and made into nourishing, immune supportive infusions.

Apple blossoms and leaves gathered in the spring and stored are especially useful during winter. The flowers contain an antibiotic principle called floretin, and so will help protect against colds and flu.

All of these herbs and trees for bronchial congestion can safely be used as teas, infusions, syrups or tinctures, with the above noted exception regarding coltsfoot. Typical dose for infusions is 2-4 cups daily. Unless otherwise noted, a typical dose of tincture is 30 drops in water up to 6 times daily as needed.

For the aches and pains of winter, to help relieve pain and inflammation the tinctures or infusions of white willow bark, Salix spp., meadowsweet, Filapendula ulmaria, lavender, Lavendula officinalis and skullcap, (Scutellaria lateriflora) can be effective.

I trust St. John’s wort to help ease most any pain when taken as a tea, tincture, or applied topically as an oil to sore achy muscles, sore, swollen joints and nerve pains. I also like what I call Pain Easing salve, made entirely with St. John’s wort oil to which some warming, pain easing essential oils have been added, something like ginger and cloves, even lavender.


Herbs like American ginseng Panax Quinquefolius, licorice, Black cohosh cimicifuga racemosa and wild yam Dioscorea villosa, are loaded with steroidal saponins which are naturally anti-inflammatory and pain easing. Bringing any of these herbs into your life on a regular basis, in the ways we’ve been discussing here, will go along way to helping your body produce the chemical balance needed for natural pain relief.

That is the short list of my trusted preventive health allies for winter time support. These herbs will help you establish the kind of internal flora that resists infection and disease. You can rely on these, and many other common herbs to help you maintain health and vitality through what can be some of the most health challenging months of the year. Goddess grant you good health!

Blessed Maine Herb Farm

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Natural Baltic Amber – Magnetic, Adaptogenic, Universally Applicable

The actions of adaptogens, those mysteriously potent herbs and substances that have little understood, but nevertheless remarkable effects on the whole body/mind/spirit, continue to hold my attention, stir my imagination and inspire my creativity in the best of ways.

We’ll define adaptogens here as those natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and recall that in order to meet the criteria as defined by the word adaptogen, a substance must be non-toxic, produce a nonspecific response in the body which boosts the ability to resist multiple stressors, and exert a normalizing influence on physiology. By definition, adaptogens strengthen the immune, nervous and glandular system, increase metabolic efficiency and reduce susceptibility to illness and disease.

Adaptogens are exceedingly effective tonics, have a broad influence on the entire body and can be safely used over a long time. Many of these substances have a history of use that extends for hundreds and thousands of years and a huge body of experience has been accumulated and recorded regarding their therapeutic application.

Baltic amber is such a substance. In my experience natural Baltic amber is one of the most indispensible, as well as perhaps the most universally applicable, of the known adaptogens.

Along with other well known adaptogens such as American ginseng and reishi mushrooms, Baltic amber has been a constant and grounding element in my daily life for the last several years. The ancient history and compelling healing properties of this unique and unrivaled adaptogen are primarily what I am inspired to share with you here today.

Warming, stimulating, aromatic, bitter and absolutely beautiful, Baltic amber is both a potent medicine and an amazingly protective substance and has been revered as such for millennia.

Though not especially well known and rarely spoken or written about in American herb culture, Baltic amber actually has a long and illustrious history of medicinal as well as magical/spiritual use. Throughout China, India, the Middle East and all of Europe, from the northern Boreal forests to the Mediterranean Sea many people are not only well aware of, but also make regular use of, the vitality boosting and energetically protective qualities of these ancient golden fossil gems.

What is Baltic Amber? Baltic amber is a fossilized resin produced by coniferous trees from the Pinaceae family. A large number of conifers belonging to different genera are represented in the amber-flora, all given the collective name Pinus succinifera. These include Pines as well as Cedrus (cedar from the Atlas Mountains) and Larix spp. (larch) which grew in Northern Europe around the Baltic Sea 40 million to 200 million years ago.

As atmospheric change occurred and the climate warmed, the conifer trees in the Tertiary forests of northern Europe began exuding large amounts of resin in an effort to adapt to the changing earth environment. As the millennia progressed, these exudations sank to the Baltic Sea floor and gradually, over the eons, became stable through oxidation, the action of micro-organisms and other processes.

Extensively traded since remote antiquity, Baltic amber’s continuous use has been documented to at least 13,000 years ago. Natural Baltic amber was highly prized among the ancient Nordic and Scandinavian peoples, as well as by the Celts, the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean: the Phoenicians, Greeks and Etruscans, the Arabs, Egyptians and the Chinese, all of whom knew and used Baltic amber (succinite) many centuries before the Common Era. Baltic amber gems were not only valued by these ancient peoples for their unique beauty but also for their considerable medicinal and protective qualities.

Protective Substance – Baltic amber was (and still is) worn as a protective amulet for both the living and the dead and countless ancient magical and protective Baltic amber adornments have been found in Mycenaean tombs on the island of Crete, in the Egyptian pharaoh tombs in Tethys and among the burial goods of Tutankhamun and in excavated grave sites throughout Old Europe and the Middle East.

Eastern European people have long believed that amber smoke strengthens the human spirit and imparts courage. Lithuanian tribal people use Baltic amber incense to dispel evil spirits and to bless and offer guidance to the souls of their dead. Newborn babes are traditionally blessed with a smudge of burning amber smoke as they have been for centuries and newly-weds are smudged this way as well. Soldiers going off to battle are also fumigated with smoldering amber as a ceremony of protection accompanied by prayers for a safe return.

Mythology – Many diverse cultures carry primeval creation myths concerning the origins of amber. Ancient Grecian tales recount the story of the Heliades, who shed tears into the river Eridanus as they grieved the death of their brother Phaethon. The stories say that Phaethon was thrown into the river by Zeus as punishment for taking his golden chariot on a joyride across the sky and that the tears of the heart-sick sisters eventually hardened into drops of dazzling amber.

Ancient Chinese myths say that this warm and magical golden substance is the petrified soul of tigers. Primarily a symbol of good fortune and protection, the tiger is also associated with solar energy, summer and fire and is linked to the powers of attraction, protection and illumination.

Legends from the Polish Kushubian tribe, from whom my daughter-in-law Kasia (who first introduced me to the healing properties of Baltic amber) descends, say that amber is the result of great lightning strikes upon the earth. Lithuanian tales recount the unhappy love between Jurate, Goddess of the Baltics, and a fisherman named Kastytis.

In a fit of anger, Jurate’s father threw down a great bolt of lightning that shattered the amber palace on the bottom of the sea and drowned Kastytis along with his fishing boat. Since that day, waves have been endlessly washing fragments from the amber palace ashore and littering the Baltic Sea coastline with small pieces of amber which are the tears that the still grieving Jūratė continues to shed.

Ancients – The Greek poet Homer, writing as early as the 10th century B.C., made several references to amber in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Herodotus wrote about Baltic amber’s electrical properties in the 5th century B. C., they were well known even then, though that particular word would not be coined for centuries. Theophrastus, writing in the 4th century B.C., discusses Baltic amber in his work entitled On Stones. Theophrastus classified rocks based on their behavior when heated, and grouped minerals by common properties, such as amber and magnetite, both of which have strong powers of attraction.

Pliny the Elder tells us in his Naturalis Historia, published circa AD 77-79, that Baltic amber was called “northern gold” by both the ancient Greeks and the Romans and that by the time of the Emperor Nero (54-68 AD) a small amber statuette was worth more than a robust and healthy slave. According to the elder Pliny, a necklace of amber beads was well known to offer protection from several poisons as well as from “sorcery and witchcraft.”

Pliny the Younger recorded that Roman women wore amber pendants as adornments and also to ease “swollen glands, sore throat and palate.” Indeed, the ancient women of the original Italic tribes were especially fond of wearing Baltic amber for both its magical as well as its health enhancing properties. Due to the increasing demand for this magical healing substance, trade routes from the Italian peninsula to the Baltic Sea opened up and some were eventually paved by the Roman army.

Though no one knows the exact routes taken during the time of the Imperium Romanum, we do know that considerable amounts of raw Baltic amber were brought south from the Baltics to the Danube, through Eastern Europe and across the Julian Alps down to the Adriatic Sea and the lands of the Veneti people on the east coast of the Italic peninsula. The Veneti tribe, whose territory neighbored Pannonia, helped to popularize amber among the people of the Italian Peninsula. In antiquity, Aquileia was the largest town in this part of Italy, an important transportation crossroads and practically overflowing with Baltic amber craft workshops.

Towards the end of the 1st century CE, the artisans in Aquileia had mastered amber sculpting techniques. The smallest nuggets were made into assorted beaded necklaces and a great variety of other items were produced here as well, including rings, pins and pendants and coffers to hold them, knife, comb and mirror handles and boxes for cosmetics. Dionysian motifs and scenes were popular as were miniature leaves, shells, fish, and loaves of bread, pomegranates, figs, dates and grapes.

Among the most intriguing archaeological finds in this area of Italy are spinning staffs made of bronze rods with strings of amber beads wound around them. Spinning was the sacred work of women and natural amber was a spinner’s ally because its electrostatic properties attracted the raw fibers of wool, flax and hemp and so helped to lighten the work.

Medicine – Baltic amber has been revered as a medicinal substance since time immemorial and many healing elixirs have been made with it down through the ages. The Persian scientist, philosopher and foremost physician of his time, Ali Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna, 980 – 1037, who’s Canon of Medicine provides a complete system of medicine according to the principles of Galen and Hippocrates and was the standard textbook for Western doctors up until the 17th century, was well versed in the medicinal uses of Baltic amber. He wrote that it was astringent, used to staunch the flow of blood and recommended it as a therapeutic remedy against many diseases.

Albert the Great, also known as Albertus Magnus and Albert of Cologne, 1193/1206, was a Dominican friar and bishop who promoted the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. Granted the title Doctor Universalis by his peers, he is often referred to as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. Albertus Magnus believed that stones had spiritual/magical properties and wrote about it in his work De Mineralibus. He categorized Baltic amber as one of the six most valuable medicines of his time.

The Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicholaus Copernicus, 1473-1543, studied medicine at Krakow University and wrote his graduate thesis on Baltic amber’s potent healing properties.

The terms Oleum succini (amber oil), Balsamum succini (amber balsam), and Extractum succini (amber extract or tincture) appear often in the formulas of the alchemists of the Middle Ages and these items were still listed as medicines in A Dictionary of Medical Science; Medical Lexicon of Official and Empirical Preparations, sixth edition dated 1846, written by Robley Dunglison, at the Boston Medical Library of Medicine.

Succinum was considered antispasmodic and diaphoretic in a dose from five to twenty grains. It was commonly referred to as Electrum, Ambra, Ambre jaune and Yellow Amber, reported to be composed of resinous matter, essential oil and an acid, sui generis; inodorous, except when rubbed or heated, insoluble in water, and slightly acted upon by alcohol. The oil, oleum or Balsamum Succini, also known as Huile de Succin, was said to possess stimulating, antispasmodic, diuretic and rubefacient properties.

Baltic amber oil was an ingredient in British Oil, formulated by the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, which also contained oil of terbinth, juniper and aloe and was recommended as a remedy for sprains.

Russians of today promote Succinic acid in pill form as an important anti-alcohol medicine; a substance that reduces the desire for alcohol. They claim that it quickly eliminates the effects of excessive alcohol consumption; a mere 0.1 gram pill reportedly restores an inebriated person’s motor skill to normal. A tincture made of amber and vodka was thought to increase male sexual potency and the use of this remedy persisted from at least the Middle Ages well into World War I.

Health Benefits: Baltic amber is considered the very finest and most therapeutic amber in the world. It is renowned for its pain easing, rejuvenating and vitality boosting effects as well as its ability to help protect against illness. It is an exceedingly well researched adaptogen, most notably among Russian, Polish and German scientists, and has long been referred to as an Elixir of Youth.

When worn on the body Baltic amber warms against the skin, releasing its therapeutic properties safely and naturally. Baltic amber is used to clear the chakras, to fill the body with vitality, alleviate stress, and is believed to help draw disease out of the body and encourage healing. Baltic amber is a natural analgesic agent and possesses anti-inflammatory properties, so is often used to ease joint pain. It also acts as a natural antibiotic and as we’ve seen, has an ages-old history of use in preventing and treating disease and healing wounds.

The Greek word for amber was ηλεκτρον (electron) and the warm, golden gems were connected to the Sun God, one of whose titles was Elector or the Awakener. The English words electricity and electron both derive from the Latin electricus, which means “like amber in its attractive properties.” These names stem from research conducted in the late 1500’s by William Gilbert, regarded as the father of electricity and magnetism, who demonstrated that amber could indeed attract other substances.

Living tissues possess direct current surface electro-potentials that regulate, at least in part, the healing process. Following tissue damage, a current of injury is generated that is thought to trigger biological repair. In addition, exogenous electrical stimuli have been shown to enhance the healing of wounds in both human subjects and animal models.

Baltic amber’s considerable electrostatic properties are an essential part of its health boosting abilities. This substance has long been respected as a natural ionizer; it possesses the ability to produce negative ions, known to help to ease pain, boost over-all immunity and stimulate the healing process.

Additionally, Baltic Amber is proven to act as a shield, providing protection from harmful radiation emitted from computers, cell phones and wireless devices, microwave ovens and electrical appliances. Today 285 million Americans have mobile phones and 83 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are “wired” all the time and sleep with their cell phones next to their heads.

Mounting scientific evidence suggests that nonthermal radio frequency radiation (RF)—the invisible energy waves that connect cell phones to cell towers and power numerous other everyday items—can damage our immune systems and alter our cellular makeup, even at intensities considered safe by the FCC, according to Cindy Sage, an environmental consultant in Santa Barbara, California, who has studied radiation for 28 years.

Negative Ions and our Health – Extensive research has shown that our good health is in large part dependent on the amount and quality of the negative ions in the air around us and in our bodies.

The human body consists of billions of cells, each enclosed by a membrane. This cell membrane performs many important roles, such as the absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste. The function of the entire cell and its membrane is enhanced when there are enough negative ions within and outside the cell. This electrical material exchange revitalizes cell metabolism so that optimum nourishment is absorbed and waste material is eliminated efficiently.

The reverse also holds true – in the presence of excessive positive ions healthy functioning of the cell is inhibited. As a result diseases such as inflammation, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, allergies, anemia, neurological dysfunctions, kidney problems, cancer and many others can occur.

According to results of research on negative ions conducted at the Nanzandoh Medical Clinic in Japan, negative ions help speed recovery from illness, slow the aging processes and offer protection from the harmful effects of environmental stressors such as electromagnetic fields and radiation.

Additionally, it was reported that negative ions support the health of the autonomic nervous system, promote deep sleep, healthy digestion, effect the production of insulin, neutralize free radicals and enhance adrenal function.

And, while this magical, electrical, negative ion producing property of Baltic amber’s is nothing short of amazing, it’s not by any means the only thing responsible for its potent healing effects. There’s more!

Succinic acid - Baltic amber has high concentrations of a unique substance known as succinic acid, and with from 3% to 8% succinic acid by weight, is one of the most important natural sources of succinic acid in the world.

Succinic acid from Baltic amber was analyzed by Robert Koch (1886), the pioneer of modern bacteriology who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905. Koch confirmed the positive health influences of this substance and discovered that there is no risk of the accumulation of surplus amounts of succinic acid in the human organism.

Succinic acid is commercially produced, widely used and approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration. It was originally employed by European scientists and military doctors to bolster the body’s immunity to radiation from industrial accidents. It is touted in Russia and other European countries for its youth preserving and cell rejuvenating properties and is commonly used in anti-aging formulations and to aid recovery of cancer patients after undergoing conventional medical treatment. It has been shown to strengthen immunity to ionizing radiation, infections, alcohol and other toxins.

Succinic acid is a powerful antioxidant shown to stimulate neural system recovery, eliminate free radicals and modulate the immune system. It is also used to discourage disruptions of the cardiac rhythm and to ease stress. Succinic acid helps restore strength and energy to the entire body, enhances brain function and so helps to improve awareness, concentration and reflexes.

Wearing Baltic Amber – The highest content of succinic acid is found in the amber cortex – the external layer of the stone. It has long been believed that by wearing raw or polished natural Baltic amber against the skin, a “homeopathic dose” of succinic acid is absorbed into the body, enough to exert its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, immune enhancing and vitality boosting influence.

Due to their natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, Baltic amber beads have long been valued as teething necklaces. Worn by babies and small children for countless centuries throughout Europe, the amber beads seem to ease babies teething discomforts and are believed to help calm a fussy baby. The beads are simply worn around the neck and not necessarily chewed.

Raw Baltic amber comes in many shades of yellow and yellow browns, and also white, pale lemon yellow and almost black. Uncommonly one finds red or “cherry amber”, green or blue, but these are rare and highly sought after. Baltic amber is translucent and can be especially beautiful when polished.

One of the things about Baltic amber that I find the most magical and fascinating is that not only does it carry the energy and memory of all those millions of years on earth, but it also often contains bubbles of air that was actually on the earth all those millions of years ago, as well as inclusions of small particles of living matter, such as leaves or bugs that bear witnesses to life on earth 40 to 200 million years ago. These physical traits energetically transmit to me the power of longevity, endurance, and the ability to survive, with strength and grace, any changes that come our way. Now that is what I call adaptogenic!

Another thing I like about natural Baltic amber is that most amber pieces are sustainably harvested in the same traditional ways that have been used for centuries. Raw chunks of amber are stirred up by turbulent seas, carried ashore by waves and collected at ebb-tide. Harvesters, furnished with nets at the end of long poles, wade into shallow waters of the Baltic Sea and drag their nets through seaweeds which may contain masses of entangled amber. Some rake amber up from boats.

Tincture of Baltic Amber
Amber’s antibiotic and disease fighting properties are legendary. It was credited with saving people from the bubonic plague during the Middle Ages. The Prussian Priest Matthaus Praetorius recorded that “During the plague not a single amberman from Gdansk, Klaipeda, Konigsberg or Liepaja died of the disease.” The succinic acid in Baltic amber has proven to be immune enhancing and an exceedingly effective ally in fighting both bacterial and viral infection.

Modern research at the University of Hamburg, Germany, confirms the safe use and positive effects of succinic acid in cellular metabolism. And in Russia, Dr. Veniamin Khazanov of the RAS’ Institute of Pharmacology says “For aged people, succinic acid has proved to be indispensable. It is capable of restoring the energy balance at the cellular level, which is often upset as the years go by, and helps the patient regain his youthful energy.”

Its “hormone-like” effect on the neuroendocrine system, studied extensively by Professor Eugene Maevsky, Deputy Director of the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is notable. Scientists working with Dr. Maevsky have documented studies over the past several decades that consistently support their use of succinic acid to prevent and treat many age related diseases.

Traditional Chinese Medicine also has high regard for the medicinal properties of Baltic amber. Chinese practitioners use it for subduing fright, tranquilizing the mind, for the relief of palpitations, to promote blood circulation and protect against heart attack and stroke. Amber is also specifically recommended for lower abdominal pains affecting the testes, prostate or uterus. An old time remedy called “amber syrup”, a mixture of powdered amber and opium, was used as a tranquilizer and antispasmodic.

Chemistry – In addition to the succinic acid, terpenoids with a wide range of therapeutic actions, aromatic oils, phosphoric and sulphuric acids, a-keto acid and a-hydroxy acid are also present in the alcohol extract. Ethanol extracts of amber have been used therapeutically and with no recorded negative effects, for a very long time.

According to A. Matuszewska and A. John, Department of Geochemistry, Mineralogy, and Petrography, Faculty of Earth Sciences, Silesian University, Sosnowiec, Poland, the succinic acid isolated from Baltic amber stimulates plant organisms, and can contribute to an increase in the yield of cultivated plants

Baltic amber tincture tastes strongly of pine; it is bitter, slightly sweet, aromatic, stimulating and warming. Soluble in alcohol 1:4.

How to use Tincture of Amber
Adults – Take 1 drop on day one, 2 drops on day two, 3 drops on the third day, and so on for 10 days, then drop off one drop each day until the 20th day. Let 10 days go by, and then start a new course of amber treatment, if necessary or desired.

For Children – Follow the same procedure, going only to 5 drops and then reduce one drop per day, as above.

Baltic Amber Oil
Baltic amber oil is widely used as a topical application to the skin, especially the face. Russian scientists report Baltic amber’s unprecedented ability to act as an anti-aging substance. Its ability to restore cellular health and elasticity and inhibit aging of cells has earned it a reputation as a modern elixir of youth.

Amber oil is universally regarded as an especially effective treatment against aches and pains, rheumatic and arthritic joints, swollen limbs and joints, and painful muscles.

Amber oil permeates the skin exceedingly fast, penetrating deep into the tissue, improving blood flow to the area and easing muscle and joint pains. It is excellent added to massage oils and facial creams. I use it diluted in a carrier oil, such as olive or sesame, mixed at a ratio of 1:4.

Antispasmodic and diaphoretic, “Oil of amber has properties resembling those of oil of turpentine, and is sometimes given internally in the treatment of asthma and whooping cough. Mixed with an equal quantity of olive oil, or as Linimentum Succini Compositum, it is used to rub the chest in bronchitis and whooping cough.”

The Classification of Baltic Amber (Succinite) Gemstones

Natural Baltic amber (Succinite) – gemstone which has undergone
mechanical treatment only (for instance: grinding, cutting, turning or
polishing) without any change to its natural properties

Modified Baltic amber (Succinite) – gemstone subjected only to
thermal or high-pressure treatment, which changed its physical
properties, including the degree of transparency and colour, or shaped
under similar conditions out of one nugget, previously cut to the
required size.

Reconstructed (pressed) Baltic amber (Succinite) – gemstone made
of Baltic amber pieces pressed in high temperature and under high
pressure without additional components.

Bonded Baltic amber (Succinite) – gemstone consisting of two or
more parts of natural, modified or reconstructed Baltic amber bonded
together with the use of the smallest possible amount of a colourless
binding agent necessary to join the pieces.

We offer natural Baltic amber tincture, made using medicinal grade crushed Baltic amber and certified organic pharmaceutical grade grape alcohol, following a traditional Polish formula, as well as Baltic amber oil.  You’ll also find fully authenticated Natural Baltic amber necklaces of the highest quality on our website. Both can be found at the following link: Blessed Maine Herb Farm

Some of the photos in this article are used by permission of Kierownik Biura MSB.

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Turn the spotlights off delicate woodland medicinals. Now, please.

It’s November and most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. All of nature is saying it’s time to let go of what you’ve been holding on to. So, I am working on letting go of my worries. At least for now.

I’ve been worried a lot lately. Worried about the earth. Not the earth in the great, big, wide, global sense, but earth in the heart-achingly local sense; as in the woods and fields right here in Maine where I live. This particular bioregion – my little corner of the world.

It’s the woods, and in particular, the delicate woodland plants that inhabit our woods, that I’m particularly concerned about. They are under enormous pressure. Their habitats are shrinking daily. We’ve got logging operations here in Central and Northern Maine like you wouldn’t believe. If you stand on Route 201 or any other major thoroughfare in Maine for just one hour, you’ll see truck after over-laden truck filled with spruce, fir, pine and birch logs cut from our forests rolling by in a never-ending stream.

Our woodland ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate. As the dead bodies of trees are dragged, one by one out of our forests, they are raking up precious soil and uprooting delicate woodland plants and scraping them all indiscriminately out of the forest floor. We’re destroying amazingly fragile ecosystems in a few hours that took eons to create. This is happening every day and has been going on for many, many years.

As if that wasn’t threat enough, we’ve now got overly enthusiastic aspiring herbalists all over the place, eager to show off what they know about little known plants, writing and talking up the delicate woodland medicinals in our forests as if they were in a candy shop raving about tootsie rolls and lollipops. No wonder I’m worried!

Oh, I know, if you’ve just arrived here from somewhere like Kansas or New Mexico, it looks like we have plenty of trees. Trees are everywhere. But if you’ve been here for thirty five years, or a life-time, and have been aware of the constant procession of those logging trucks rolling through at a steady clip for the entire time, you’d be as convinced as I am that there is a silent disaster going on all around us.

Ever hear of the beauty strip? That’s a 20 foot wide swath of trees left along the roadside so that you, the uninitiated, will think those trees go on forever. They don’t. In fact, in many places now, they only go on for about as far as your eyes can see, literally.

What trees we do have here in Maine are young. Many are planted in monocultures, single species tree plantations managed by the paper companies. Most, if not all, of our old growth forests are long gone. And with them the mycorrhizal networks that extended beneath tree and woodland plant roots for hundreds if not thousands of acres, creating a network of nourishment upon which all life depends and sustaining the rich diversity and ecological balance that is also, unfortunately, long gone.

As a practicing Community Herbalist who’s been serving my rural Maine neighbors for the past thirty plus years, I’ve done my fair share of wildgathering all around this area. But I’m proud to say that you would never know I’ve even been here to take a look around. The wild stands I’ve been quietly managing for decades have grown and spread and flourished. But then, the plants that I’ve been gathering have been the wild plants of the open fields, mountain meadows and woods edges. Abundant plants like red clover blossoms and yarrow, St. John’s wort, red raspberry, self heal and plantain, dandelion and yellow dock. Potent healers, all.

Sure, there are lots of medicinal plants in the woodlands here. In our cedar grove there are expanding stands of Smilacina racemesa, False Solomon’s seal, and Veronica, a common creeping woodland medicinal that is dear to my heart, also referred to as Speedwell. Along the stream we find bunches of Gaultheria procumbens, known as wintergreen or tea berry, and Coptis trifolia, commonly called goldthread or canker plant.

And we’ve planted Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh; Panax quinquefolius, American ginseng; Hydrastis Canadensis, goldenseal and Sanguinaria canadensis or bloodroot here.

But these wondrous woodland plants are the plants I tend to sit and learn from, meditate with, employ as teaching tools and use exceedingly sparingly, if ever. In my humble opinion, this is the only ethical and respectful course of action when it comes to our woodland medicinals. I think the same kind of “hands off” policy is called for regarding teaching and writing about these plants as well. Turn off the spotlights, please!

It has been my strict policy over the years to avoid bringing undue attention to our precious woodland medicinals, other than to point them out on an herb walk, discuss their medicinal benefits as well as the challenges they face for survival, and suggest other plants that may have similar properties and actions.

Why write exciting and enticing essays about the stunning medicinal uses of delicate woodland plants that are not commercially grown and available? Plants that we desperately need to survive and do not want to see disappear? Why focus attention on these forest medicines when there are so many others to write and talk about? And why, in the name of the blessed earth, lead the ever-growing numbers of people who are interested in herbs to such delicate, fragile ecosystems and plants? It just doesn’t make sense. In fact, doing so is just how the procession begins; it ends with the same sad ending we’ve seen over and over again; the decline of one precious, irreplaceable plant after the other.

Just think about what happened to American ginseng, once abundant, plentiful and easily found in forests throughout the Northeast down into Appalachia. Then the word got out. Try to find a wild ginseng root now…it’s a very hard thing to do. The ginseng we have growing in our woods has been deliberately planted there and is being carefully protected. Once in a while, I dig a root or two for medicine. The rest remain to nourish the forest floor, the other plants nearby and to spread eventually, so that at least our little woodland areas will once again be plentiful in this amazing healing plant. But what about all the other plants and forest fungi?

Suddenly there’s a flurry of interest in medicinal mushrooms. People are out in the woods hunting for Chaga and Ganodermas, birch Polypores and Reishi, and they are finding them. And gleefully harvesting all that they find. But where will the spores come for next years fruiting bodies if we take all we find this year?

Here’s the thing: Delicate woodland plants like Coptis trifolia and fungi like Piptoporus betulinus (birch polypores) may not currently be listed on Maine’s endangered or threatened lists, but why wait for that to happen? We already know that the places where these abundant woodland medicinals grow are shrinking daily. If there are 5 polypores going up a birch trunk, will you need all five or will just one suffice? If you find a beautiful, lush, abundant stand of Coptis in the woods somewhere, ask yourself, do I really need to dig any of it up? Maybe you could use a bit of oak bark or witch hazel instead.

Wouldn’t it be better to just sit, learn from and admire the plant, absorb the beauty and the medicine energetically? To go home knowing you defended the right of this sweet woodland medicine to continue to thrive, completely undisturbed? Now that is good medicine!

If you’re an herbalist or wildgatherer in the state of Maine you have a responsibility to our Maine ecosystems. This is true wherever you are. You have a sacred trust to protect our lands and the life forms that inhabit it. Please realize the power you hold in your hand, in your pen, in your voice. Please don’t misuse it, thinking these plants are abundant because you’ve happened upon a particularly lush growth. Please don’t be fooled into thinking these plants are not threatened or endangered because they are not listed on official lists. ALL our woodland medicinals are threatened here in Maine. All of them, bar none.

Soon a soft protective layer of snow will fall and the woodland plants will be safely tucked beneath it for the winter months. I’ll rest a little easier then. And my worries for the earth will perhaps become dormant too, like the plant roots, only to rise up with fresh new growth again next spring when life begins to stir anew. For some worries can be appreciated as valuable messages from the wild heart of the earth herself. They are calls to action and must be revisited time and time again.

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