The Pesky Enigmatic Coronavirus; Preventive Care


Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 11.56.02 AMViruses are enigmatic. They skirt the boundaries. They exist at the edges of life and are very much a part of the animate natural world, an intrinsic part of the web of life. The healer, herbalist, shaman, root doctor or benedetta has the job of remaining connected to the natural world, being informed by it and drawing insight and power from it. In order to do this she must also, like the virus, skirt the boundaries between worlds; between social and cultural boundaries, human and non-human communication, customs, traditions and limiting medical and other beliefs. The healer maintains a heightened sensitivity to the songs, gestures, murmurs of the natural world – the peal of lightning, the flight of a bird, movement of shadow or leaf, roaring of wind, rise of a virus – in order to make contact and learn from the powers of the land, and to bring back meaning to her community.

Jack was a Vietnam Veteran and we spoke together many times across decades about the psychology of war.  One thing he always said was that when it came to war, “Know your enemy” was a foundation concept and everything else came after that. I didn’t really have any enemies at the time, so wasn’t particularly impressed with this admonition. But those words have come back to me recently and I began to consider the profound importance of understanding the perceived enemy.

Suddenly we are faced with this infectious virus and I began to realize how little I knew about viruses in general, and the new coronavirus specifically. Because ignorance generates fear, I decided to discover all I could. Hopefully this information will ease your mind, give you some ideas to work with and perhaps a few useful tools for supporting your health and resisting the virus.

Viruses are ancient. They are our ancestors. They have billions of years of evolutionary history and experience on this earth and far predate both plants and animals. Viruses co-evolved along with bacteria, long before we arrived. In fact, viruses and bacteria share a common ancestor that lived around 3.4 billion years ago, not long after life first emerged on the planet. From this single cell, bacteria evolved in the direction of increasing complexity, while viruses took the opposite approach; they have gradually shed genes to become increasingly more simple. And, all the while, they’ve been changing, adapting, altering themselves to accommodate the climate, temperatures, atmosphere and available hosts for the purpose of reproducing.

Viruses need a host. They cannot replicate on their own and do so only in other living cells. Viruses can’t keep themselves in a stable state, they don’t grow, and they can’t make their own energy. Viruses insert their genetic material into a human cell’s DNA in order to reproduce and they can affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly.

Scientists are still trying to fully grok viruses.  Early on they were thought to be poisons, then primitive life forms, and now they are seen more like biological chemical packages; little envelopes of proteins, acids and other information, but lacking essential independent systems necessary for metabolic functions, the biochemical activity of life.

Viruses parasitize essentially all biomolecular aspects of life. This means that they depend on the host cell for the raw materials and energy necessary for nucleic acid synthesis, protein synthesis, processing and transport, and all the other biochemical activities that allow the virus to multiply and spread.

Viruses mysteriously inhabit a gray area between living and nonliving. In fact, they deeply challenge our concept of what “living” means. They carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection, but lack important characteristics (such as cell structure) that are considered necessary to count as life. Viruses are the constantly shifting boundary between the worlds of biology and biochemistry.

Viruses mystify. They are stealthy, cryptic, cagy and covert. You often don’t know they’re around until it’s too late. When viruses infect us, they can embed small chunks of their genetic material into our DNA. In fact, nearly 10 percent of our human genome is made of bits of viral DNA. For the most part, this viral DNA is not harmful. In fact, scientists are discovering that it actually has a beneficial impact. For example, some viral-repair enzymes, which excise and resynthesize damaged DNA, mend oxygen radical damage, and so on, are unique to certain viruses and have existed almost unchanged probably for billions of years.

Most known viruses are persistent and innocuous, not pathogenic. They take up residence in cells, where they may remain dormant for long periods or take advantage of the cells’ replication equipment to reproduce at a slow and steady rate. These viruses have developed many clever ways to avoid detection by the host immune system. In fact, essentially every step in the immune process can be altered or controlled by various genes found in one virus or another. And, some scientists and researchers, such as Philip Bell of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, contend that the cell nucleus itself is of viral origin.

“Furthermore, a virus genome (the entire complement of DNA or RNA) can permanently colonize its host, adding viral genes to host lineages and ultimately becoming a critical part of the host species’ genome. The huge population of viruses, combined with their rapid rates of replication and mutation, makes them the world’s leading source of genetic innovation: they constantly “invent” new genes. And unique genes of viral origin may travel, finding their way into other organisms and contributing to evolutionary change.”

“May we not feel, that in the virus, in their merging with the cellular genome and reemerging from them, we observe the units and process which, in the course of evolution, have created the successful genetic patterns that underlie all living cells?” Nobel laureate Salvador Luria

COVID-19 – A virus’s core of genetic material (DNA or RNA), is surrounded by a protective coat called a capsid which is basically protein. Sometimes the capsid is surrounded by an additional spikey coat called an envelope. Coronavirus has this spiky envelope. Under the microscope, this particular virus looks like a round ball that has its entire surface covered with spikes. The spikes help it to attach to the cells inside the lungs, which is where it wants to go. In fact, that is the one and only place this particular virus can do its thing, it is that specific. It needs to get inside your lungs to reproduce. Once attached there, it gets itself comfortable…it takes off its coat, bares its teeth and gets down to work. It begins to put information into the cells that allows it to make “photocopies” of itself and the virus begins to replicate. That’s one of its main objectives.

Our objective is to RESIST! Preventive Medicine is the true strength of herbal medicine, so we are going to get back to this point soon. In Part 2 of this series we will discuss what to do if you do get sick.

The World Health Organization has raised the global risk of the new coronavirus to its highest level and is highlighting the necessity of worldwide containment efforts. As of today, nearly 100,000 confirmed cases have been reported. 86 countries are affected and there have been a total of 3,309 deaths. Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch has predicted that the virus could ultimately infect between 40 and 70% of the global population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging U.S. residents to prepare for “significant disruption in their daily lives.”

And, according to news being reported out of China, the virus is mutating. There is now a second strain of the virus being detected. This strain appears to be more virulent than the original strain. The older ‘S-type’ is milder and less infectious, while the ‘L-type’ which emerged later, spreads quickly and currently accounts for approximately 70% of all cases. Scientists fear that the virus will continue to alter its genetic identity to make detection and treatment more challenging.

COVID-19 is turning out to be a remarkably intelligent evolutionary adversary. By exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology selectively bred by its pathogen ancestors, it has already shut down many of our schools, crashed our stock market, increased social conflict and xenophobia, reshuffled our migration patterns, and is working to contain us in homogenous spaces where it can keep spreading. We should pause to remark that COVID-19 is extraordinarily successful epidemiologically, precisely because it is not extremely lethal.” Samuel Paul Veissière Ph.D.


This is not the time for cavalier, casual or inconsiderate attitudes. Nor the time for minimizing the risk or shrugging off the widespread concern. The threat of this virus is very real. Maybe not for you personally, if you are young, vibrant and healthy. But for your immune compromised neighbor, your elderly aunt with hypertension and your diabetic friend, it certainly has the potential of being quite deadly.

This is not the time to panic either, or to act out of fear. Remain calm. It’s good for your immune system, and you might be needed to help others. For sure, at the very least you need to assist the citizenry as a whole, by not participating in the spread of this virus. Our country has not had, nor does it yet have, adequate tests available. We actually have no idea how widely COVID 19 has spread here, or how many might be infected and/or contagious at this point. What we do know, is that our death rate is climbing alarmingly, with 14 deaths attributed to this virus reported in the US as of today.


So…let’s talk about preventative medicine, because that is what we need most right now. What can we good citizens do to curtail the spread of this virus and also what can we do to make infection less likely if we do come in contact with it?

Well, one thing, and probably the single most effective thing we can do, is to stay home! According to a comprehensive studyentitled Non-pharmaceutical Interventions Implemented by US Cities During the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic, the cities that acted the fastest to put interventions in place, had the best result…”the relation of early, sustained, and layered non-pharmaceutical interventions were consistently associated with reductions in mortality.”

This strategy is called social distancing. It means that our most responsible choice or “mode of operation” right now is to stay home, as much as possible, hunker down for a few weeks to curtail the spread of the virus. No indoor public gatherings; no parties, events, public dinners.

Get into Lent! Use this time to rest, restore, maybe work on a project that you’ve put aside. Start some seeds. And, attend carefully to nourishment of body, mind, and spirit.

Most people have to get out to work daily, do not have the option of staying home, and so must follow all the precautions recommended quite carefully…washing hands FOR 20 SECONDS often, not touching your face (as much as humanly possible), or surfaces, using hand sanitizer and wiping down surfaces that you do need to touch, 70% ALCOHOL, no shaking hands right now, keeping distance from others, avoiding close approximation to anyone who is coughing…and boosting your natural immunity.

Since this is an entirely new virus, none of us have any natural immunity to it. And be aware that doctors also suspect that the virus may continue shedding for several days after recovery. The virus appears to be transmitted primarily through virus-filled droplets that infected people cough or sneeze into the air. This means transmission can be reduced through physical barriers, good hygiene and the reduction of mingling.


Preventive care is the true beauty and strength of Herbal Medicine. Here’s a list of easily accessible, protective, nourishing and mostly delicious herbs and foods you might consider integrating in rotation into your daily regime right about now to help boost your immunity and protect against viral infection. You don’t need everything listed here! What do you already have on hand from this list? Start there. You are looking for a diversity of nutrients, nourishment across the board. Sprinkle a pinch of this, simmer a bunch of that…you don’t need a recipe or a formula…be creative, play and love yourself, love your family and friends. Love is big medicine. Keep yourself well hydrated too.


Specifics Garlic, ginger, lemon, cayenne, cinnamon, mints, orange peel, cacao, cannabis.

Warming aromatics such as cardamom, clove, anise, cumin, coriander, rosemary, sage.

Allium family plants; onions, garlic, chives.

Brassicas; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens and kale.

Mushrooms like shiitake, lions mane, oyster, chicken of the woods.

Anthocyanin-rich fruits and berries; blueberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, grapes, raspberries.

Fermented foods; yogurt, ricotta, kifir, kim chee, sauerkraut, naturally fermented meats, olives.

Seaweed. Honey and maple syrup. Vinegar.


Anti-viral activity herbs such as hyssop, burdock, astragalus, lemon balm, St. John’s wort, Echinacea, Japanese knotweed, olive, rose.

Immune enhancing herbs include those listed above as anti-viral and the medicinal mushrooms like chaga, reishi, birch polypore. Adaptogens listed below.

Nourishing herbs like milky oats, red clover, wild grape leaves, nettles, red raspberry leaves, rose hips

Respiratory tonic herbs such as mullein, coltsfoot (see caution), thyme

Liver nourishing herbs; milk thistle, dandelion, licorice, yellow dock

Lymph movers: calendula, cleavers, dandelion, red clover, violet, grape leaves

Bowel movers: dandelion, licorice, cinnamon

Adaptogens: Baltic amber, Eluethero, Codonopsis, Schisandra, Rhodiola.

Skin Care: rose, calendula, lavender

VITAMINS ARE OUR PARTNERS IN LIFE – We need abundant vitamin A, C and D to enhance immunity and resist the coronavirus.  B vitamins help keep you relaxed and centered. Zinc is a specific guard against respiratory illness. I like to get my vitamins from the foods and herbs I consume rather than a plastic bottle.

Vitamin A regulates and maintains a wide range of bodily functions. It is essential for keeping the mucous membranes of the mouth and respiratory passages moist and plump, and thus able to resist infection. Adequate intake of vitamin A also boosts immunity. 

Foods that offer significant amounts of vitamin A, or beta-carotene (a natural pigment found in dark green, orange and yellow herbs, fruits, and vegetables that converts to vitamin A inside the body) include, in order of their content, beef liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, spinach, cantaloupes, kale, broccoli, winter squash, mustard greens, apricots, watermelon, endive, lettuce, asparagus, peas, green beans, corn, parsley, seaweeds, and eggs.

Herbs rich in carotenes include peppermint, yellow dock, uva ursi, parsley, raspberry leaves, nettles, and dandelion greens. Other good sources include kelp, green onions, violet leaves, cayenne, lamb’s quarters, sage, chickweed, horsetail, black cohosh, and rose hips.

Vitamin C is often called the “oil for the machinery of life” as it is essential to so many of our body’s biochemical processes, and literally holds our cells together. Luckily, it’s available to us in a wide variety of foods and herbs. A diet rich in fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs will provide you with plenty of this nutrient. Vitamin C is water soluble, and sensitive to heat. Try lightly steaming vitamin C-rich vegetables to retain this nutrient, or be sure to drink, or otherwise use, the water you’ve boiled them in. If you eat vitamin C – laden foods with herbs and foods rich in iron, you’ll boost iron absorption in your body four-fold.

Bioflavonoids are a group of compounds found, along with vitamin C, in fresh fruits, especially citrus, vegetables, and herbs. Bioflavonoids strengthen the capillaries, those tiny blood vessels that provide the all-important link in the circulatory system between the arteries and the veins. Capillaries deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s tissues and help remove toxic waste, thus providing the network within the body for the essential exchange of body fluids to take place. Capillary dysfunction plays a crucial role in a wide range of ills, including viral infections like influenza and coronavirus.

Foods rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids in order of content (highest to lowest), include fresh squeezed orange juice, green peppers, grapefruit juice, papaya, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cantaloupe, cooked turnip greens, raw cauliflower, strawberries, tomato juice, potatoes, cabbage, blackberries, raw spinach, blueberries, cherries, and mung bean sprouts.

Herbs offering an abundance of these nutrients include rose hips, yellow dock root, raspberry leaves, red clover, hops, nettles, pine needles, dandelion greens, echinacea, skullcap, plantain, parsley, cayenne, and violet leaves and flowers.

Vitamin D is available to us in few foods and is primarily manufactured inside our bodies as the result of a magical interaction between our skin and that ancient and mighty solar star, the sun. Vitamin D is absolutely essential for our body’s health. and is vitally important for strong immune response. Vitamin D regulates the expression of more than 1,000 genes throughout the body. They include ones in macrophages, cells in the immune system that, among other things, attack and destroy viruses.

Vitamin D switches on genes in macrophages that make antimicrobial peptides, antibiotics the body produces. Like antibiotics, these peptides attack and destroy bacteria; but unlike antibiotics, they also attack and destroy viruses. Vitamin D also expresses genes that stop macrophages from overreacting to an infection and releasing too many inflammatory agents – cytokines – that can damage infected tissue.

After the age of fifty, this metabolic process may slow down. Intestinal absorption of vitamin D begins to decline slowly, and the liver may not process this vitamin as well as it once did. The skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D declines as well, with the skin of a healthy seventy-year-old able to make only half the amount as that of a twenty-something. Attend to this.

Zinc plays an important role in maintaining the health of our immune system and helps us resist infections. Some excellent food sources for zinc include chicken heart, lean beef, liver, lamb, beef, dark turkey meat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Swiss and cheddar cheese, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, black-eyed peas, oats, soybeans, peas, chick peas, and lentils. Herbal sources include skullcap, oatstraw, sage, saw palmetto, wild yam, chickweed, echinacea, nettles, dulse, and milk thistle


Pray. Prayers are cool, they are pure vibrations of beauty and love. They connect us to something sacred and powerful, something bigger than ourselves. Praying relaxes us. I like saying the rosary, but any prayers of your choice will do. Wash your hands, say a prayer, an incantation, a holy poem, sing a sacred song…make a healthy spell. Here’s a simple prayer, perfect for right now. Please remove from me anything that is not me. Say it in your ancestral language if possible. Let the resonance sink deep into your cells. Your ancestors are listening. They are there informing you. They faced many viruses in their lifetimes. They have survival skills. Ask for their help. Offer them your love.

Water and salt. These are sacred and protective substances. Pour yourself a bath at the end of the day, add Epsom salts or sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, whatever you have. Soak yourself. Relax. No tub, no problem, do a foot bath.  “Salt does whatever you tell it.” is an old saying among the Benedetti, in my tradition.  Talk to the salt as you pour it into the tub. Tell it what you need. “I need to feel safe. I need protection. I need to be healed. I need your blessing. Please remove from me anything that is not me.”

Spray beautiful aromas into the air around you.  Do you have any rose or lavender or lemon verbena hydrosol? Maybe sandalwood or sage?  Spray liberally around your space.

Burn aromatic herbs such as rose, rosemary, lavender, bay, sage, frankincense and myrrh. Not only does fumigation raise your energy and the energy of your space, it also kills germs! This is an opportunity to bless your space and all who inhabit it. Make it feel clear and high and beautiful!

Wear your Baltic amber necklace, bracelet or anklet. Don’t take it off. Take a drop of tincture once a week in water. Use the oil as a energetic shield. Baltic amber has been known as a protector for millennia. It’s got many millions of years of presence on this earth. It knows how to protect us from viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. We can trust it.

Wear a protective amulet. This can be anything at all, from your Baltic amber necklace to a little brevi bag of garlic and prayers hung around your neck. Keep a small magic bag of protective herbs or stones in your pocket. Hang a poppet doll near your bed. Draw the symbol of Solomon, or the protective Hand of Fatima, or an image of a scorpion on your hand or foot – these symbols have been used as protection for literally thousands of years.

Call your friends. Be a blessing to your community. Be available. Speak comforting words that are true. Find out who needs support and help them get it. Bring someone a jar of tea. You know what to do.

Dare to Dream. Enter the Dream Temple. Incubate a healing dream. Ask dream-maker to give you a dream of guidance or of healing – ask to be shown what you need to know.  Keep trying, don’t give up.


A corona is the rarefied gaseous envelope, the luminous halo around the sun and other stars. The sun’s corona extends far into space but is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as a pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon. It is also observable with a device called a coronagraph. This virus is called coronavirus because it too has a halo, or corona, around it.

The word corona is Latin, meaning “crown”, from the Greek κορώνη (korōnē). Korone…Kore/Proserpina (maiden aspect, greening, vegetative goddess, bringing new life). The Goddess is here.

Corona also means a “garland or wreath”. Our Great Mother Goddess Demeter/Ceres, Proserpina’s mother, wore a corona di spica, a crown or wreath of marjoram and other warming, aromatic spices around her head. The Goddess’s mother is here!

The name Corona is a nickname for a person that is dearly loved by his family and friends. It comes from “caro,” which is derived from the Latin word “carus,” meaning beloved or dear. Our Ancestors are here!

Most of us are familiar with the ancient story of Kore. Kore was a young girl when she was abducted by the God of the Dead, Hades/Pluto and dragged down into the underworld to be his wife.  Her mother Demeter/Ceres was consumed with grief and rage.  She searched for nine days, but no one would tell her anything about where her daughter was. Why? Because Kore was abducted with the approval of Zeus, Ruler of the Gods. Kore’s father. Finally, Helios, the Sun God, (wearing his corona) who sees and knows all, told Demeter/Ceres what happened. Her anger and despair was unbearable. She rejected the world of the Gods and wandered among humankind. In her sorrow she withheld her gifts of fertility so that no crops grew. At this Zeus finally gave in and commanded Hades/Pluto to release Kore. And all the earth turned green again. There’s a deep message here, lean into it.

This virus may actually be our crowning glory, our corona. Clearly the Gods are at play here. Mother, Father and Daughter. The Holy Trinity has entered the theatre and opened a portal. Our beloved ancestors are with us also. We have nothing to fear.

There is an extremely ancient, intelligent alien species invasion going on, bringing new information both to our individual cells, and also to the cellular network around the globe, causing extreme excitement, movement and change, literally deciding who will live and who will die. What falls away and what remains. It is giving death, where death is needed. Think systems here, not necessarily people.

Coronavirus may be presenting itself to us as a tool for viewing…a tool of revelation, divination, uncovering what can usually only be seen in the dark. We’ve all been treading some dark waters these last few years. One trauma or crisis after the other and all the while, we’ve been more or less helpless in the face of it. And just when we think we cannot possibly take any more, here comes a “life” force never encountered before. Providing us with information directly and helping us to see. See what?  Maybe to see how much we truly care for each other. How much we want to live. To realize all the tools we have at our disposal. All the non-human allies who love us, who we can depend on. To see that we are a part of the great and holy web of life…each and every one of us, human, animal, plant, mountain, rock, virus. The weakest among us. The strongest among us. The insured and the uninsured. We are all equal on this earth. And to the Gods. We are all deserving of respect.

We might see now how deeply derelict we have been in our care for the earth and all life upon her. Might see clearly our incredible vulnerability, our dependence on earth, as well as our strength, which we also draw from her. We are seeing clearly what we are up against and with the “information being transferred” perhaps we will also be participating in its dissolution right before our eyes.

And, if the Gods are favorable, we may see the earth greening again, hearing the mother’s cries of joy that her daughter has returned.

These are my musings…I’d love to hear yours. As herbalists, healers, earth lovers, it is our job to lean into the mystery, and try to make some sense of it for the benefit of all.  I’m leaving some links here for you too.  Be well! I love you.

Part 2 comes next week…what to do if you are infected. 

Blessed Maine Herb Farm–_0Sg8ZiI







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The cross-quarter day between winter solstice and spring equinox that we refer to as Imbolc, Candelmas or Candelora, was long referred to as Bear Day among our archaic European ancestors.

bear medicine

“After you take a bear’s coat off, it looks just like a human”.

The relationship between bears and our indigenous European ancestors was exceptionally complex.  In fact, it’s an archaic pan-European belief that we humans descended from bears. And this ursine genealogy is still deeply woven into a rich legacy of Old World European beliefs and cultural constructs.  The sacred she-bear is our mother and was considered the most important spirit guardian of the European shaman. Our beloved Diana was known as a she-bear.

The Sacred Bear played a central role in the most basic rites of our Old World ancestors: the practice of shamanism and earth connection, the healing of the sick and injured, initiation rituals and rites surrounding the hunt.

There are many still-living remnants of this bear genealogy that connect us to our much earlier hunter-gatherer ancestors and their symbolic as well as cultural order. These remnants take the form of traditions, oral tales, folklore, processions and other ritualized performance art such as dance and music.  Our weather forecasting groundhog is a unique American expression of the ancient prophesizing bear associated with this day.

Within the animistic framework of our Old European hunter/gatherer predecessors, in which shapeshifting played a role, bears are seen as shape-shifted humans. The bear mother nurses her young holding them to her breasts just as a human mother does. Bear stands and sits just as a human does. At the same time, humans can and do turn themselves into bears.

Many ancient peoples shared a belief in the magical attributes of bear paws. Apotropaic qualities were attributed to them; they were perceived as possessing the power to heal, to attract blessings and good fortune, to avert evil influences and to protect from misfortune or bad luck.

Our shamanic ancestors, who revered the Bear Mother as a spirit helper, for whom Bear Mother was the most powerful totem, wrapped themselves in the skins of bears, wore necklaces of bear claws, painted bear signs on their faces and bodies, and used bowls, drums and other implements carved in the shapes of bears. They kept bear claws and teeth and other parts of the animal in their sacred Medicine or Brevi bags. They used bear claws and gall and bear grease in their healing ceremonies and in the medicines they made. They danced as they thought bears danced and they sang power songs to the animal. They ate the same plants the bears ate and employed them as their medicines.

Many diverse people and cultures around the world believe that bears have special knowledge of medicinal plants. Humans and bears are both foragers – omnivorous creatures who have existed in the same ecological niche for hundreds of thousands of years, competing for the same food sources.  Bear Medicines, thought to be especially strength building as well as energetically protective, are considered to be those wild plant roots that are exceptionally nutritive… sweet, tasty, tissue building and restorative. Angelica and sweet cicely come to mind.

The bear possesses an incredible memory of landscape as well as a keen sense of smell and hearing, all of which give it a distinct advantage over humans. Nevertheless, both human and bear walked the same trails, fished the same salmon streams, dug roots from the same fields and woods, and year after year, harvested the same berries, seeds and nuts.  We have co-existed with bear through millennia. Our relationship has always been one of reverence and mutual respect.

Celestial Bear as the Guardian of the Gate of Heaven – Our ancestors viewed bears as extraordinarily intelligent creatures, so much so that they were considered to have once ruled the earth. Bears are thought to be supernatural and mystical creatures, divine in wisdom, omnipotent and omnipresent. They have knowledge of the life/death rituals, in part because of the way they seemingly die in fall and resurrect themselves in the spring.  Also, it is believed that bears are capable of understanding human speech.

Because bear possesses the power to hear all that is said, in keeping with our ancestor’s animistic cosmology, it became taboo among our hunters to say the bears’ true name. Instead they referred to it in euphemisms, such as honey eater mangiatore di miele or brown one il marrone.  In our Napoletan language, the word for the Madonna is Marrone.

Good Luck Visits – Contact with the bear itself was thought to be especially valuable in terms of receiving its healing and curative powers. For this reason, as recently as fifty years ago, it was still common for a bear and its trainer to conduct annual visits to local villages throughout the Pyrenées.

During these visits, it was traditional for parents to bring their children and place them on the back of the bear who, under the care of the bear trainer, would take exactly nine steps. Participation in this annual ritual ensured the children were protected from physical illnesses and, in addition, that they would be well behaved. These ‘bear doctors’ made regular house calls to cure the sick and protect households from harm and the visitation itself was believed to bring good luck to the household. There is good reason to believe that similar rituals were performed—with real bears—across much of Europe. Monasteries were directly involved in training the young bears who would go about with their trainers to conduct the healing ceremonies. These activities formed what is called “good-luck visits”.

Variants of these visits and related ritual practices have survived intact into the 21st century. Indeed, they form part of rich legacy of popular performance art whose cognitive roots and cultural conceptualizations reach back to a much earlier worldview that draws its meaning from what now appears to be an archaic belief that bears are our ancestors. The “good luck visits” themselves provided a container for the cultural storage and preservation as well as the oral transmission of the tenets of the earlier European belief system, through reiterative structures typical of oral cultures.

Bear Deity – As Christianity made its way through Europe, a syncretism took place. Residual belief in the Paleolithic bear-deity survived in the material and linguistic artifacts associated with the sites that were originally associated with the sacred healing bears; such as certain hermitages, monasteries, mountain tops and woodland wilderness areas. The wide geographical distribution of these sites can also be seen as a way of mapping the locations of sacred sites where the veneration of bears was once practiced. Linguistic artifacts, or names, associated with the ancestral bear-like qualities of healing and miracle working include Saint Bear, Saint Ours, Saint Ursula and the Ursulines. The Ursulines is a still vibrant religious organization originally founded in 1535 at Brescia, Italy, by Angela Merici. Its purpose was, and still is, the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy.

The Bear Son These tales represent the most common motif found in European folklore. The widespread distribution of the Old European stories called the Bear Son tales, link to the much older ursine cosmogony. The figure of the Bear Son, who is born of a Great Bear and a human female, is identified with a cycle of stories and related ritual performances found throughout Europe, including those called the “good luck visits” as described above.

By 1910 folklorists had documented 221 European variants of the descent of the Bear Son hero to the Under World. This cycle of oral tales is present in all the Indo-European language groups of Europe as well as in Basque and in Finno-Ugric languages, e.g., in Finnish and Saami and also in Magyar (Hungarian) and it is even found among the Mansi (Voguls). The most complete and least disturbed versions of the tales – ones containing the most archaic structural elements – come from former Basque-speaking zones of France and Spain or from the Basque-speaking region itself.

To understand the widespread distribution of the bear ancestor veneration motif it helps to recognize that these are archaic materials emanating from a much earlier European cosmology and story of human origins. In fact, for Europeans, there is reason to suspect that the Bear Ancestor, progenitor of humans, was linked symbolically to the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation.

The constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the great and little bears, are named for their supposed resemblance to bears, from the time of Ptolemy. The nearby star Arcturus means “guardian of the bear”, as if it were watching the two constellations. Ursa Major has been associated with a bear for as much as 13,000 years since Paleolithic times, in the widespread Cosmic Hunt myths. These are found on both sides of the Bering land bridge, lost to the sea some 11,000 years ago.

Our hunter/gatherer ancestors’ assumption that we descend from bears throws a hand grenade into the familiar modern day hierarchical and anthropocentric modes of thought, such as that human beings are superior to animals.

Bear Ceremonialism and the Keeper of Souls The Bear Festivals appear to be ritual reenactments and celebrations of real bear hunts that took place in times past. They are performances that could be interpreted as portrayals of the hunting, death and resurrection of the earthly bear who, in turn, was seen as an ancestor.  The celebration of ritual hunts—including ritual performances that mimed the hunt—was a way of insuring that the community would enjoy good luck, and good hunting, during the rest of the year.

Earthly bears needed to be treated with great respect since the primordial bear ancestor was also seen as the “keeper of souls”. There is a Pyrenean belief that in the Fall of the year the bear gathers up the souls of all nature’s creatures and puts them in its belly where they are kept until Spring, when they emerge once again. If properly treated, the bear releases the animal and plant souls so that its human offspring can live abundantly. Assigning this function to the bear seems to correspond to the concept of a supernatural mother or guardian spirit of all species of animals as well as the rest of the natural world, a common belief encountered among many indigenous peoples around the world.

The celebration of an abbreviated form of the ritual performance was part of the “good-luck visit” itself, where the performers would go from one farmstead to the next with their “bear” or would move through the streets of the village, stopping at designated locations to perform the same play. The latter regularly involves the bear dancing about, chasing and attacking the inhabitants, then being captured and killed; sometimes the instrument used in the play is a gun, in other cases a knife or a spear. The bear feigns its own death, falling down on the ground, but almost immediately—and on cue—it jumps up, resurrected, to begin dancing once again. And the troop moves on to the next house.

During the Easter Octave celebrations on the slopes of Monte Vesuvio in Southern Italy, which take place annually the week after Easter, deep reverence is paid to specific, greatly revered Madonnas with ancient lineage and roots going back to the Paleolithic. I’ve witnessed that, as the cart carrying the Madonna dell Arco in the procession approaches the church in Somma Vesuvio, the entire cart, with the Madonna on it, begins to dance and swirl and twirl around in the street. This may be a remnant of the dancing Bear Mother and the “Good Luck Visits”. These powerful healing Madonnas, often referred to as Sciamana Guaritori (Shamanic Healers), certainly embody all of the archaic associations of the ancient shamanic Bear Mother.

It is time, now, to reclaim the potent friendship and reverence of the Bear Mother of our ancestors. Time to realize that we too can be fierce beyond measure. We, too, can be a healing blessing for our community. Bear Mother is more than an ally and an inspiration. She is a powerful guardian spirit. With all that we are presently facing, in national and world politics, global changes, and personal survival challenges, we need her. We need to become her, as our ancestors did.  We need to act with her agency. Get your claws ready, your thick protective coat wrapped snugly around your shoulders, do not fear to bare your teeth. Today we honor Bear Mother. And we feel her awakening in all of her glory, within us. So may it be.

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A Deep Winter Encounter with Dark Mother

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-9-15-50-am Our Lady of the Dark Night invited me to take a walk with her. Well, to be honest, there was no invitation involved. It was more like an abduction! What really happened, is that she came at me like a Ninja from out of nowhere and grabbed hold of me in broad daylight when I least expected it. She picked me up, slammed me down hard and then unceremoniously threw me across the threshold between worlds, right into a whirlwind. She is not a subtle mother, that one. And, yeah, this is exactly the way she operates.

Dark Mother, known also as Mother of Dream, Mother of Sleep, was right by my side as we spun round and round in the dizzying vortex. Faces began emerging from the misty edges, rising up, one after the other. The faces came before my eyes, lingered for a second and then morphed into another. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of faces, of all colors, expressions, ethnicities and times. Some male, some female, some barely human at all. Dark Mother whispered that these are all the people you have been through many, many lifetimes. See them. Realize your soul is ageless and that you contain within you the wisdom and the resources of countless lifetimes on this earth.

Soon my mother and two favorite aunts appeared, standing calmly to the side, watching me. It was so good to see the three of them! But a crashing wave of fear washed over me just then and before I could even voice my dread, they smiled tenderly and I understood that they hadn’t come to take me away, but to give me comfort. The One Who is Black as Night laughed (a bit loudly and harshly, I thought) and wrapped her arms around my shoulders to let me know I was held in her embrace. The spinning seemed to slow, the slightest fraction of a millisecond at that realization. Still, it kept churning and up and down, round and round, we continued to fly at a dizzying pace.

The Dark Mother does not fool around, she does not waste time, she does not mince words – she gets right down to business. She carries a sword, slashes at things in her way and is wildly unpredictable.screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-9-15-18-amHer main goal is to destroy what is unnecessary. Her power is profound and unfathomable. She is entirely fierce and unrelenting. She is persistent, she knows what she is doing and remains in complete control. She is not a gentle mother. She grabs you by the hair, shoves you around, drags you deep, deep down into the most abysmal places and makes you face truths you may not have wanted to see. This Dark Mother unravels mysteries right before your eyes. She is a radical truth-bringer, life-spinner, a soul-grower, a gate-keeper and her ultimate gift is enlightenment and clarity of purpose. When the Black One has you in her grip you cannot get free until she decides it is time to let you go. And then, poof! The journey is over and you return to your former life, forever changed.

As the whirlwind continued to spin madly, holding me in its powerful grip, my body was continuously pricked and prodded and attached by wires to machines with flashing numbers, beeps, bells and and graphs. Sweet angelic beings wearing nursing scrubs hovered, prayer words from many sources floated in and out from the mists and the ever-watchful, always loving daughters stayed close. I could hear the hushed tones of their voices in the shadows beyond the whirling edges. One of them stayed in a chair by my side through the entire ordeal img_1166

The Mysterious Dark One now sweetly hinted there were some things we needed to take a look at together. Then, without any further warning, she thrust her arm deep into my chest. As my heart flipped and flopped like a fish that has just been brought ashore, she reached in as far as she could and began pulling out long globby strands of goop.

She Who is Fearless and Black as Night let me know that this is unacknowledged grief, unprocessed sorrow and heartache being stored here. It serves no purpose, causes unnecessary suffering and we have to get rid of it. I watched, incredulous, as she continued to pull. And as she pulled, I examined every strand and remembered…shed tears and tried to keep breathing. After what seemed a long time, it could have been several days or weeks, the landscape shifted unexpectedly and now I was surrounded by green fields and gardens, blue skies and beautiful trees, mountains and undulating waters. The air was fresh and clean, there were the sounds of children laughing and playing, birds singing and I could feel the sweet breeze on my skin.

An incredible feeling of love came over me now – it was more love than I had ever been aware of existing before. Love was everywhere and it permeated everything. Everything was an expression of love. And now this Mother of the Deep Down Wintry Depths began to parade before me all the incredible treasures and blessings of my life. My life was filled with so many countless blessings! I was surrounded and protected by love, and she showed me that even the hard struggles had been blessings and precious teachings presented for the continued growth of my soul. As the Dark Lady showed me all the many treasures I have been given, I noticed that, though many were easily identified, some of them I had barely glanced at before, or had never considered to be treasures at all. As she revealed them, though, I saw that indeed, they were priceless gifts, treasures of long standing, many inherited from my ancestors.

It is difficult to put into words the profound feeling of gratitude that washed over me now in this wild maelstrom that still had hold of me. It is even harder to describe the many teachings and revelations that either oozed out of that pounding windstorm or were flung out at me during this dizzying, fast-paced, spiraling dance with Dark Mother.


The spinning eventually slowed, and then finally stopped, and she released me from her grip, thoroughly exhausted. She let me go just as quickly and unexpectedly as she had grabbed hold of me in the first place. Such is the mysterious wisdom, power and grace of this Mother of the Dark Night.

I can say with certainty that my brief, but intense encounter with her has significantly altered my priorities and I am contemplating big changes in my life to accommodate my new perspective. This, I think, was the ultimate gift as well as the directive of The Fierce Black Mother. In this moment I am feeling most blessed to be alive.







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Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.16.18In my role as a Community Herbalist for the past thirty or more years and as Director of the Blessed Maine Herb Farm School of Herbal Medicine, I have occasion to consult with numerous people who are in search of improved health, most dealing with a broad range of physical, emotional and mental dysfunctions and interested in alternative herbal and complimentary medicines.  I use a variety of certified organic cultivated and wildgathered herbs, trees, and fungi, most grown in our gardens or gathered nearby, in the herbal medicines I make.

Seven years ago, influenced by my Polish daughter-in-law Kasia and her family, I began working with Baltic amber…experimenting with and eventually integrating it into my educational programs and health supportive protocols, with exceedingly positive results. I would like to share with you a number of documented case studies from my recent work with Baltic amber, a bit about the medicinal virtues of this unique substance as I understand them, some of the recent science and traditional cultural uses of Baltic amber and the basic methods I use for preparing traditional medicines with this substance.

baltic amber chips

Baltic amber has been verified scientifically as an adaptogen. This is an important starting off place because in order to meet the criteria defined by the word adaptogen, a substance must be non-toxic, produce a nonspecific response in the body, which boosts its ability to resist multiple stressors and exert a normalizing influence on physiology. By definition, adaptogens strengthen the immune, nervous and glandular systems, increase metabolic efficiency and reduce susceptibility to illness and disease.

Baltic amber (succinum) is classified as warming, stimulating, magnetic, slightly sweet and bitter, aromatic and neutral in nature.

IMG_1547Succinic acid – Baltic amber contains 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 is a colorless crystalline solid with a melting point of 185 -187 C; soluble in water; slightly dissolved in ethanol, ether, acetone and glycerin.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 08.02.38Baltic amber was worn extensively by Neolithic women of the Mediterranean regions. They valued the beads as protective amulets and went to their graves adorned with it.  This amber necklace was uncovered by archaeologists from a grave site in my valley in Southern Italia.

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 and 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.

Brief Overview of Recent Science

lined up amber powders

As a bio-stimulant, succinate appears to affect the Krebs Cycle – the sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration. This sequence takes place in the mitochondria, consuming oxygen, producing carbon dioxide and water as waste products, and converting ADP to energy-rich ATP. The Krebs cycle is the central metabolic turntable sustaining the cell respiratory process, and key functions of several of its intermediates, especially succinate and fumarate, have recently been uncovered. The most striking observations have been made while investigating human diseases; especially a set of specific cancers, revealing the crucial role of Krebs cycle intermediates as factors affecting genes methylation and thus cell remodeling.

Anti-tumor effects – Succinic acid ester of α-tocopherol, has attracted attention as a unique antitumor agent, and nanoparticles consisting of TS (tocopherol/succinate) as a novel and effective DDS (drug delivery system) carrier with multifaceted antitumor effects for combination therapy are currently being investigated.

Inflammation – Inflammatory immune cells, when activated, display much the same metabolic profile as a glycolytic tumor cell. This involves a shift in metabolism known as the Warburg effect. Emerging evidence is now pointing to a role for the Warburg effect in the immune and inflammatory responses. The reprogramming of metabolic pathways in macrophages, dendritic cells, and T cells could have relevance in the pathogenesis of inflammatory and metabolic diseases and might provide novel therapeutic strategies. This has implications in the repair and regeneration of cells, inflammation, cancer and neurological disease.

According to other recent studies, succinic acid has shown positive outcomes in both chronic hepatitis and diabetes.

One Russian study involving the hepatoprotective properties of succinic acid included 1075 patients. The control group of 447 received traditional pharmacotherapy drugs while the treatment group of 628 took the succinic acid-based infusion hepatoprotector, remaxol. This group showed a statistically and clinically significant therapeutic effect in the correction of hepatic lesions of varying genesis.

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.

Diabetes mellitus is the most common and rapidly growing cause of end-stage renal disease. Succinate is being shown to have a hormone-like signaling function, which appears to provide a feedback between local tissue metabolism, mitochondrial stress, and organ functions that may play an important role in intercepting the trigger for tissue injury.

IMG_1535Antimicrobial action – At least 18 strains of bacteria have now evolved into “superbugs,” becoming resistant to most of our drugs. And pharmaceutical companies, more interested in profitable blockbusters like Viagra and Zoloft, haven’t developed a new class of antibiotics in 25 years. We’re dying because of it. By 2050, an estimated 10 million people worldwide will die by superbug. Baltic amber tincture, long revered for its antimicrobial properties, and now understood to enhance immunity, may emerge as a major player here as well.

 Traditional Chinese and Unani Medicine using Baltic amber

In the Chinese Materia Medica succinum is listed among the “settling” or “heavy” sedatives. It is traditionally used for subduing fright, tranquilizing the mind, and relieving convulsion. Succinum is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of heart palpitation, amnesia, dreaminess, insomnia, and epilepsy, which is typically diagnosed during childhood, so amber is commonly used in pediatric formulas. Hu Po (succinum) is used as a remedy to “calm Shen.” (Shen is understood as mind, spirit, consciousness, soul and believed to reside in the heart.)

Amber is also traditionally used as part of a formula for alleviating water retention, relieving difficult urination and to eliminate kidney and urinary stones.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, succinum is also used to promote healthy blood circulation and to remove blood stagnation. Succinum is used as a remedy to treat amenorrhea and abdominal mass caused by blood stasis and stagnation of vital energy. Amber is also recommended for lower abdominal pains affecting the genitalia, such as pain of the testes, prostate, uterus, or vulvar region. It reduces swellings and promotes healing.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 19.17.44

Baltic amber is often included in Chinese formulas for treatment of heart disease, because of its blood vitalizing effects; for example, it is combined with ginseng and codonopsis in the treatment of angina. In clinical practice, it is used for patients with heart diseases when the blood is not circulating properly, and at the same time the patient has palpitations and restlessness, such as seen in coronary heart disease. The same formula with amber, ginseng, and codonopsis is prescribed in cases of chronic liver disease to normalise liver function.

025A qi and blood tonic formula for lowering blood lipids, combines Baltic amber, astragalus, pearl, and American ginseng and is used as an anti-aging formulation and as a treatment to aid recovery for cancer patients after undergoing standard medical therapies.

Topical applications of Baltic amber include astringing ulcers and promoting tissue regeneration. Used externally, it is efficacious in the treatment of ulcers, boils, swellings, skin eruptions and infections.

According to Jessica Baker, LAc, RH in her AHG Symposium 2015 notes – Succinum enters the Urinary Bladder, Heart and Liver functions. She claims it is a CNS suppressant that may cause drowsiness and sedation. Her recommended dosage for use is 1-3 grams. She recommends it be taken as an elixir or worn as an amulet and says it may potentiate the effect of barbiturates.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.57.35Unani Medicine – Commonly referred to as Greco-Arab medicine or Unani Tibb, it is a traditional system of medicine practiced in the Indian subcontinent. In the Unani system of medicine, certain plants, animals as well as mineral origin substances are used clinically for the treatment of disease without any side effect. These are considered time tested, centuries old, safe for use and cost effective. Baltic amber is one such medicine and Kahruba is the name used for a traditional Unani Baltic amber remedy used to heal gastric and peptic ulcer.

1511746_10151942490123667_829402414_o-2         Several Documented Baltic Amber Case Studies from my Practice

Woman 60 years old, 125 lbs., 5’5”, active, married, healthy. Complained of tendonitis in wrist and lower arm, pain was intense, limited movement, had been going on for several weeks without relief. Among other things she began wearing a Baltic amber bracelet. She reported that within minutes of putting on the bracelet, the pain in her arm began to lessen. By the next day the pain was completely gone. She wore the bracelet continuously and the pain did not return, despite using the arm freely, which she had not previously been able to do. After several months of continuous wear she had to go to a wedding and decided to remove the bracelet for something more suited to her wedding attire. The next day the pain in her arm returned. She realized she had not put the bracelet back on after the wedding event. She immediately put the bracelet back on and the pain began again to subside. She wears a couple of bracelets on her wrist continuously now and the pain has not returned.

Woman, 45, 140 lbs., 5’6”, healthy, hip pain lasting for several months causing extreme discomfort and inhibiting her ability to walk freely. She wrapped a large Baltic amber necklace around her waist and within ten minutes reported the pain was considerably relieved and she was able to walk freely. After a day of continuous use she reported feeling no pain in the hip at all.

Woman, mid 20’s, about 5’4”, 120 lbs., with severe eczema covering much of her body. Her ankle was severely swollen and the rash was angry, red, inflamed and oozing. She was given an Allergy Ease formulation (containing reishi mushroom, American ginseng and licorice), a rose and Baltic amber cream and wrapped a Baltic amber anklet around her ankle. When I saw her a couple of weeks later her ankle was considerably less swollen, almost normal, and the skin rash was no longer red and oozing but on its way to being completely resolved. She is continuing with the Allergy Ease formula, the Baltic amber/rose cream and the anklet.

Woman, mid 50’s, 5’2”, morbidly obese, complained of difficulties maintaining her energy after eating lunch at mid-day. She said her energy was so low all she could do was lie down after her meal. She tried Baltic amber tincture to see if it would boost her energy levels and we worked on moderating her diet. She reported that within a week of using the tincture, one drop the first day, two the second, three on the third day, up to seven drops on the seventh day, she began noticing much more energy in the afternoon. After a couple of weeks, maintaining her dose at 1 drop per day, she said that she could return to work in the afternoon and sustain her energy until closing time at 4:30.

Woman, mid 50’s, 5’3”, 120 lbs., complained of constantly picking up ticks while working in the garden and natural environs. Her dog she said was also a “tick magnet.” She started taking one drop of Baltic amber tincture in a cup of water once a day. She also gave her dog the same treatment dose. She reported that neither of them has had a single tick on them since beginning the drop of Baltic amber tincture daily.

amber chips

Reported by a sister herbalist: Woman, in her 30’s, 5’7”, 130 lbs., with Lyme disease and co-infections. Used a number of Lyme protocols and nothing seemed to be helping. Began taking Baltic amber tincture, using the traditional Polish method (see below) when she got to 5 drops she began feeling very ill, and the herbalist who was caring for her reported that she was herxing. (Herkheimer reaction is believed to occur when injured or dead bacteria release their endotoxins into the blood stream and tissues faster than the body can comfortably handle it.) The number of bacteria dying off in her body due to the antimicrobial properties of the Baltic amber was overwhelming her and she could not continue. She took a break from the tincture for a week, until she felt stabilised and then resumed taking just one drop daily, in water. She is also wearing a Baltic amber necklace. She reported feeling much better after three weeks of this treatment, her energy level was improved, she feels more vitality and does not experience the extreme muscle aches she was dealing with previously.

Woman, 66, 5’3”, 110 lbs., generally in good health but returned from a trip to India with multiple infections and itchy rash covering much of her trunk, arms and legs, miserable. After several trips to different doctors which produced no help at all, and multiple courses of steroids, after which the rash returned with a vengeance, she began altering her diet, eliminating gluten, using an Allergy Ease formula and wearing Baltic amber around her neck, arms and ankles. She took one full course of Baltic amber tincture, using the traditional 19 day dosage protocol, and applied a cream made from Baltic amber and rose oil over the inflamed areas of her skin. Within a few weeks of beginning the Allergy Ease and Baltic amber treatments her rashes began to fade, the itching subsided and she began to regain her health. She continues to use the Allergy Ease formula intermittently, wears a Baltic amber necklace around her neck, bracelets on both arms and anklets on both ankles. The rash has not recurred and her good health has been sustained. The same woman suffered from recurring shoulder pain that had lasted on and off for twenty years and limited her arm mobility and her ability to lift even a mildly heavy object. After wearing the Baltic amber bracelets she noticed the pain had disappeared and she had full range of motion in that arm and shoulder again and was now able to lift her two year-old grandson, with no problem at all.

Woman mid 50’s, 5’7”, 140 lbs., generally good health…complained of continuous shoulder pain, applied the Baltic amber/St. Johns’wort cream and within minutes began to feel relief. She reported that the pain relief was instantaneous. The same woman later broke two toes, requiring her leg to remain elevated. She applied the Baltic amber cream to the leg to stimulate circulation with very good results.

Young woman, late 20’s, suffering with a bunion on her toe, causing her great discomfort. She put a Baltic amber necklace, wrapped twice around her ankle and reported near instant relief, which kept the bunion from causing any more discomfort, despite walking all around France that winter.

Middle aged, menopause woman, generally in good health, suffering from typical menopausal issues, used the tincture for hot flashes, and “balancing hormones.”  She reported that “It worked very well, and it did seem to make me feel better.  It gave me a little energy lift as well.”

Woman, mid-40’s, average height and weight, used the Baltic amber tincture for heart palpitations. She said “It totally worked to relax the feeling like the heart is jumping out of your body.  It took 2-3 days until I noticed the effectiveness.”

A middle-aged woman emailed me the following message: “I purchased the Baltic amber tincture for the treatment of menopause – specifically for hot flashes, insomnia, and low energy. I did notice improvement in these areas. Even more remarkable was that I made it through the flu and cold season better than everyone else I knew.”

From a student: “I own and wear multiple pieces of Baltic amber daily.  I wear two necklaces for an old compression injury to my neck that causes chronic pain and stiffness and three bracelets I wear around my left wrist for the pain and weakness caused by a severely broken radius that required surgery and the placement of a metal plate.  I also have two anklets that I wear around my ankles to help with occasional Achilles tendon swelling. I have found them to be very effective for pain relief and weakness, and somewhat effective for stiffness.  This effect is very pronounced when I forget to put them back on a few hours after they have been taken off.

amber tincture good Medicine Making

Tincture – we use a 1:5 ratio and cover with 50/50 blend of 190 proof organic alcohol and spring water. Let macerate for at least 6 weeks. Although resins usually require a high alcohol content, succinic acid is water soluble, hence the 50/50 menstruum. Dosage: The traditional Polish recipe is 1 drop on the first day, 2 on the second, 3 on the third, all the way up to 10 drops on the tenth day, then reverse and take 9 drops, 8, 7 and so on until the 19th day when you take one last drop dose. This is considered one full course of treatment. Rest for ten days before starting another course.

Some people, the weak, the very sick, those with multiple infections, may find it hard to go up beyond five to seven drops before feeling ill. Find the comfort level and stay there for three weeks. This may be as little as 1 or 2 drops daily.

Alternately, for treating viral, fungal or bacterial infections, 1 or 2 drops per day in water daily for 3 weeks can be an effective dose. Then take a ten-day rest. For Tick/Lyme prevention, we use one drop daily in water, during the entire tick season, taking a one-week break every three weeks.

We use the tincture to enhance immunity, counter bacterial, fungal and viral infections, to bring down inflammation, relieve pain, calm stress, nourish the nervous, cardiovascular and glandular systems, balance hormones and restore vitality. We take the drops in water, but they can also be placed on the surface of the tongue, held there for several seconds and then swallowed.

Oil – Prepare 1:5 by volume…fill a jar 1/5 with pharmaceutical grade amber chips and cover with pure olive oil. Let sit for a minimum of six weeks. The use of mild heat will enhance the oil infusion…such as a pilot light in an oven, place on top of a water heater, or in a dehydrator, yogurt maker or autoclave set to 100 degrees. It will turn a warm golden color when ready.

amber butterApply the oil directly or mix with rose oil and cocoa butter to make a cream. Apply to the face and skin as a cosmetic aid, for youthful/beautification purposes, to restore elasticity to the skin, and to heal infections, rash and wounds, burns and to prevent scarring. Use the oil mixed with St. John’s wort oil or prepare as a cream to be used topically for pain relief, which is especially good on sore muscles and joint pains. We use this combination as a sunscreen/sun protector also, because both substances are well known to protect against sun burn/radiation.

To prepare our creams we mix infused Baltic amber oil, rose oil and/or St. John’s wort oil with cocoa butter, beating until it reaches a thick, creamy consistency. Essential oils of rose, frankincense, myrrh or lavender are added before whipping to enhance healing, aroma and as a preservative.


Water based medicine – Powder chips and mix a quarter teaspoon to a cup of water, or herbal infusion, mix well…or infuse 1/4 teaspoon of chips in a 8 ounce cup of water, let sit in sunlight for 4 hours…apply as a wash over infected skin, rash, eczema, psoriasis, etc. Strain and use as a spray after washing the face as a rejuvenating beauty treatment.

Dry application of powder – Baltic amber powder can be applied directly to rejuvenate and improve the appearance of the skin, heal damaged skin, counter infection, and soothe rashes. There is a very small chance of an allergic reaction to the powder applied directly to the skin, so to be safe, test on a small spot before proceeding with a full treatment.

IMG_1540In Chinese medicine amber is ground to a powder and swallowed with water or, more commonly, with a decoction of other herbs that make up a formula with the succinum. It is also combined into pills made with powder or extract of the other ingredients. Typical dosing for succinum is 1.5-3.0 grams per day. Because the powder is very fine, to avoid getting it stuck in the throat or inhaled, it is common to stir the powder into the warm decoction and swallow.

Note: Do not use tailings from jewelry making. Only pharmaceutical grade Baltic amber should be used for medicine making.


Jewelry – Wearing Baltic Amber – The highest content of succinic acid is found in the amber cortex – the external layer of the stone. The skin is our largest organ of assimilation and it is known that anything placed on the surface of the skin is detected in the bloodstream and passing through the liver in a matter of minutes. We have found that wearing a Baltic amber necklace, bracelet or anklet is a very effective treatment for pain relief, with most people reporting instant or near instant relief. The amber must be in direct contact with the skin.

We understand that the heat of the body causes enough of the succinic acid to be absorbed from the resin, in micro-doses, something akin to a homeopathic treatment dose, enough to exert its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, immune enhancing and vitality boosting influence. For this reason the jewelry can be worn as a general bio stimulant, as a non-specific, over-all health enhancing agent…we use only natural Baltic amber jewelry for its antiinflmmatory properties, to regulate the thyroid, to enhance lymphatic drainage, to modulate immunity, help counter infection, normalize heart rhythm and boost energy and vitality. Natural Baltic amber acts as a protective shield against radiation, so we wear it to protect against radiation poisoning which is ambient in the atmosphere, and also coming from computers and cell phone use.

We also use Baltic amber jewelry, in addition to or as an alternative to the tincture, for preventing ticks from climbing onto or attaching to the body during tick season, wearing them continuously from early spring through fall. Wearing the anklets appears to discourage ticks from attaching while walking through tall grass or in the woods. We take one drop of Baltic amber tincture daily, for three weeks, take a one-week break and then repeat the cycle again.

I can report that none of our gardeners have had a single tick on them. We also grow a lot of aromatic herbs in our gardens, which we feel discourages tick populations as well. The woodland around the perimeter of our gardens is lush with aromatic cedar, fir, spruce and pine. We have tansy growing freely, hyssop, lavender, roses, wormwood and sage in meandering beds as well.

IMG_1543Living 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. In other words, wherever you place a magnetic current on the body, blood flow is enhanced and healing is stimulated.

Baltic amber’s considerable electrostatic properties are an essential part of its health boosting abilities.  The magnetic property of Baltic amber has been known down through the centuries.  Women in the Mediterranean areas wrapped amber beads around their spinning staffs because of its ability to attract natural fibers such as fleece and linen.  The word electric has its root in electron, the Greek word for Baltic amber.

Baltic amber is respected as a natural ioniser; it possesses the ability to produce negative ions, known to help to ease pain, boost over-all immunity and stimulate the healing process.

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. Wearing a piece of natural Baltic amber appears to strengthen the energetic field of the body, perhaps through its electromagnetic properties and/or this ability to produce negative ions.

Many people report feeling an increased sense of emotional/psychological/spiritual strength and balance when wearing Baltic amber. The jewelry has traditionally been worn as a protective amulet or talisman. For people with disturbed Shen, those who are emotionally sensitive, stressed, suffer from insecurities, those who feel particularly vulnerable, exposed, in pain, depressed and/or frightened, and especially for babies, young children and pregnant women, wearing Baltic amber can be particularly grounding and offer a sense of being enveloped in a calm, protective shield.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 11.14.26One of the things about Baltic amber that I find the most compelling is the fact 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 were on the planet 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 the power of longevity, endurance, and the ability to survive, with strength and grace, any changes that come our way. This is the very essence of adaptogenic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 11.19.53Addendum

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. 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.

12038730_10153274351383667_1561512431111681146_oThis post is the presentation I gave at the Kaliningrad Amber Museum as part of the International Amber in the History of Medicine Conference and Exhibit held in Kaliningrad, Russia in September/October 2015.  The presentation was translated into Russian and this photo was taken of me with our translator, Marina, during my talk at the Museum.  Many of the photos in this blog post were taken at the Amber Museum in Kaliningrad and depict items that are part of their permanent exhibition entitled Amber in the History of Medicine, curated by Dr. Irina Polyakova.

For more on the Myth, Magic, and Medicine of Baltic Amber, readScreen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.16.00 Natural Baltic Amber – Magnetic, Adaptogenic, Universally Applicable

You’ll find our Baltic amber tincture, oil, cream and teething and adult necklaces here: Blessed Maine Herb Farm Baltic amber products


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Mass spectrometry in the characterization of ambers. II. Free succinic acid in fossil resins of different origin.

Author information Tonidandel L1, Ragazzi E, Traldi P. 1CNR-ISTM, Corso Stati Uniti 4, I-35100 Padova, Italy.

KREBS CYCLE – Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Aug;1837(8):1330-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2014.03.013. Epub 2014 Mar 31.

Unsuspected task for an old team: succinate, fumarate and other Krebs cycle acids in metabolic remodeling.

Bénit P1, Letouzé E2, Rak M1, Aubry L3, Burnichon N4, Favier J4, Gimenez-Roqueplo AP4, Rustin P5.

Author information 1Hôpital Robert Debré, INSERM, UMR1141, Paris 75019, France; U.F.R. de Médecine Université Paris Diderot, Paris 75019, France. 2Programme Cartes d’Identité des Tumeurs (CIT), Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer, Paris, France. 3UEVE UMR 861, I-Stem, AFM, Evry, France. 4Paris-Cardiovascular Research Center (PARCC), INSERM, UMR970, Paris 75015, France; Faculté de Médecine, Université Paris Descartes, Paris 75006, France. 5Hôpital Robert Debré, INSERM, UMR1141, Paris 75019, France; U.F.R. de Médecine Université Paris Diderot, Paris 75019, France. Electronic address:

Biol Pharm Bull. 2014;37(2):196-200.

Nanoparticles consisting of tocopheryl succinate are a novel drug-delivery system with multifaceted antitumor activity.

Hama S1, Kogure K. Author information 1Department of Biophysical Chemistry, Kyoto Pharmaceutical University.

Bioessays. 2013 Nov;35(11):965-73. doi: 10.1002/bies.201300084. Epub 2013 Sep 20.

The Warburg effect then and now: from cancer to inflammatory diseases.

Palsson-McDermott EM1, O’Neill LA. Author information 1School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.

[The clinical efficacy of a succinate-containing infusion drug during pharmacotherapy for hepatic lesions of varying genesis: results of meta-analysis].

Mazina NK, Mazin PV, Sukhanov DS.

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Review of biological and pharmacological activities of the endemic Taiwanese bitter medicinal mushroom, Antrodia camphorata (M. Zang et C. H. Su) Sh. H. Wu et al. (higher Basidiomycetes).

Yue PY1, Wong YY, Chan TY, Law CK, Tsoi YK, Leung KS.

Author information 1Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR.

[Metabolic correctors based on succinic acid as pathogenic therapy in chronic virus hepatitis].

Stel’makh VV, Radchenko VG, Kozlov VK.

Ter Arkh. 2011;83(2):67-71. Review. Russian.

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Kidney Int. 2010 Dec;78(12):1214-7. doi: 10.1038/ki.2010.333. Epub 2010 Sep 22.

High glucose and renin release: the role of succinate and GPR91. Peti-Peterdi J1.

Author information 1Departments of Physiology and Biophysics, and Medicine, Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.

UMANI Medicine  A review on gastric ulcer remedies used in Unani System of medicine

Authors: Jamal, Anwar Siddiqui, Aisha Tajuddin Jafri, M A

Pomum ambrae: Amber and Ambergris in Plague Remedies John M. Riddle

Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften

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Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

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Benedicaria – The Blessing Way of Southern Italian Folk Medicine – Part 2 – Gail Faith Edwards

The Practice – novenas, incense, charms & amulets, hand mudras, malocchio and healing tools and rituals.

me and carmella

My rural village, with roots going back beyond the Neolithic, sits at the foot of the highest mountain in our area, Mont Cervati, which means Mountain of the Deer. The deer was a totem animal of the Lucani people and the sacred animal of Diana. In much earlier times this mountain was known as her holy ground, her habitat. Her ancient shrine sits atop the mountain in a grotto and people still walk to it in holy pilgrimage in early August as they have for countless centuries.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 09.05.10Diana is now known as Our Lady of the Snow, but the old ones remember She Who Knows. Diana means heavenly, divine and she is our Lady of the Moon, the huntress, guardian of the woodlands and protector during childbirth. She is luminous, shining, and though she has been renamed, she still carries all the old iconographic associations. She is easy to recognize. She is adored as our defender, our guardian spirit and the one from whom our sacred waters, and hence all our nourishment, flows. She is fertile, fruitful and fecund. She is our Buona Dea, our beloved Maria.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, our Southern Italian family-based spiritual traditions are renowned for possessing a great deal of flexibility and fluidity. As a result, the practices found in Benedicaria vary from family to family and from individual to individual.  What follows are some traditional practices that are universally practiced in our tradition.

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Novenas – A novena is a spiritual prayer ritual conducted for nine consecutive days or nights. We often attend novenas at church but just as often conduct our own novenas at home. Although no two novenas will be the same they do have a common thread…for instance, we usually set up an altar before performing a novena at home. The altar may be a small table or fireplace mantle, which is covered with a white cloth, often decorated with crocheted lace along the edge, according to family tradition; there will usually be one or two white or red candles lit and the altar will hold an icon or a statue of the saint we are invoking. During the novena we recite the rosary, or offer other significant prayers daily during the nine days, to implore help, make a petition or offer thanks for prayers realized.

Incense is an important part of this ritual. Many cultures around the world and throughout time have understood the importance of burning sacred herbs. There are many passages in the bible that tell us that the smoke carries our prayers to God, or Great Spirit.

Myrrh opens the doors to the otherworld; frankincense invites angelic or heavenly protection and is especially uplifting. These two herbs are often burned together in Catholic rituals and used by practitioners of Benedicaria. Many homes have their own unique incense blend.Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 08.47.20

The blend I use is a combination of sacred herbs and trees that have special meaning to me, and that connect me to my home and my ancestors. This incense is a blend of frankincense and myrrh resins, needles and resins of pine, spruce, and fir, cedar boughs and Baltic amber resin. The incense burned during prayers, blessings and healings is often associated with family history and carries a deep sense of place. Another incense I use is a combination of herbs I gather in my Mediterranean homeland. It combines olive leaves, bay, rosemary, sage, and rose. You can find these very special hand rolled incense sticks here: incense sticks

A traditional Southern Italian house blessing incense is commonly made with equal parts of camphor, myrtle leaves and nutmeg. When doing a house blessing ritual we burn the incense, allowing the sacred smoke to flow freely, as we sprinkle holy water on all corners of the house, using a bunch of rue or a branch of rosemary, and pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and the Apostles’ Creed.

The psychological aspects of healing and protection through the use of rituals, prayers, dreams, tools, hand mudras, charms, herbs, amulets and talismans represents an important aspect of traditional Southern Italian shamanism/folk medicine.

Malocchio or the Evil Eye is a concern among people of Southern Italia as it is in many other geographical locations around the world. A headache or fever, with no discernible cause or reason, or a string of “bad luck” is often considered to be the result of having been subjected to the evil eye.

Charms and Amulets – There are many types of amulets used to protect from the Evil Eye or to attract good fortune. One common amulet is the cornicello or “little horn”. This is a long, gently twisted horn-shaped amulet usually carved out of red coral or made from gold or silver and hung from a chain around the neck. The horn is usually hollow and therefore ready to be filled with an abundance of blessings that are being poured into one’s life. The top is often decorated with a gold crown to represent success, mastery and wealth. The blessings of this charm are believed to be many: good fortune, protection, virility, strength, success, abundance, and wealth.

When worn as jewelry it is often perceived as a badge of Napolitano cultural identity. It is also hung on rear view mirrors, often seen hanging in shop windows, carried on key rings and printed on t-shirts. The cornicello is generally worn by men, because of its association with virility, but since it confers many other blessings, women sometimes wear it as well.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 09.09.53The origins of this charm are somewhat of a mystery. It may be Roman in origin, stemming from the myth of the cornucopia or magical horn of plenty that was carried by the Roman Goddess Abundantia, whose cornucopia produced never ending supplies of delicious food and gold coins which she poured out generously on those who pleased her.

There is some evidence that the cornicello, or cornetto as it is also known, may come from the Etruscans as their homes would often display a bulls horn above the front door for prosperity. There was an ancient Etruscan settlement in our valley, and their influence is still felt. I often see a set of bull horns placed above the entrance door to rural homes when traveling around the countryside here. Others suggest its origins extend back to Neolithic times and perhaps even farther back than that.

Ideally the cornicello, as with any magical or protective charm, should be received as a gift, which is thought to maximize its luck bringing potential.

In Southern Italian folk healing and herbal lore rue, Ruta graveolans, is considered a most magical and protective herb. It has many medicinal uses and is a key ingredient in any protective amulet. The cimaruta is a classic Neapolitan protective charm that suspends ancient magical and protective symbols from a triple branched sprig of rue. It is a classic talisman for bringing abundance, beauty and grace into one’s life and ensuring the wearer protection from harm. The cimaruta is traditionally made of silver, the metal of Diana, she who was dearly beloved in this part of the world for many thousands of years.


The cimaruta falls under the category of portafortuna, literally door of fortune or “lucky charm”, a term that can be used broadly to describe practically any amulet or talisman. The charm can be worn by women or men, but is generally deemed to be more feminine in nature.

Arcane symbols sprout from the tips of the three rue branches: a waxing crescent moon, a key, a vervain flower, a sacred heart and a fish. The symbolism contained within the cimaruta is a blend of symbols taken from Pagan, Catholic and peasant folk magic, all of which reflect the traditional folk spirituality of Italy perfectly.

The sacred heart, the fish and the triform nature of the branch are all Catholic symbols, representing Jesus, Christian faith and the Trinity. In earlier times the triple branch represented the triple goddess, maiden, mother and crone. The key and the crescent moon are early Pagan symbols representing Hekate and Diana, two Goddesses especially beloved by the Southern Italic tribes, and associated with healing and magic. Rue itself is a powerful protector against malevolent forces in Italian herbal lore as are vervain flowers, which are believed to attract good fortune.


Amber also has an ancient tradition of being worn as a protective shield, or amulet, in Southern Italia. The earliest trade routes from the Baltic Sea carried amber, or ambra, down into the Italic peninsula and across the Mediterranean to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, where it was also highly prized. The Italians were noted around the globe as the finest amber carvers. In my valley, when archaeologists uncovered graves from 1,500 BC, they found the people had been buried wearing considerable amounts of raw amber. Amber rosaries were and still are, especially prized.

Because amber has a natural magnetic property, it was used to wrap spinning staffs, and thought to attract not only the fibers of wool and flax, but also to bring
good fortune.

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Hand gestures – It is thought that ribald gestures distract an offender from the mental effort needed to successfully bestow the Evil Eye. Since one effect of this affliction is to dry up liquids, the drying of the phallus, resulting in male impotence, can be averted by seeking refuge in the moist female genitals.

Those who are not fortified with phallic charms make use of sexual hand gestures to avoid the Evil Eye. Such gestures include the sign of the fig, or la fica, which is a fist with the thumb pressed between the index and middle fingers, representing the phallus within the vagina. Another protective hand gesture is the le corna, where the fist is formed leaving the pinky and index fingers

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In addition to forming these phallic hand gestures, a statue of a hand in these positions, or a hand covered with magical symbols, are also carried as talismans or placed in the home.

The intentional wielder of the Evil Eye, or the jettatore, is often described as being especially magnetic and possessing a striking facial appearance, with high arching brows and a stark stare that leaps from black or blue eyes. But in truth, anyone can pass the Evil Eye, even unknowingly. Jealousy and envy are considered to be the main culprits and these emotions can cause health disturbances for the object of the envy. To avoid unintentionally giving the evil eye, many people will pass a home keeping their heads down, so as not to look too closely at unique features.

Babies, small children and pregnant women are considered the most vulnerable. When we meet a cute little baby out on the street it is considered best not to make too much of a fuss over it, lest you offend it with the Evil Eye. One way around that is to touch the baby before departing, another is to spit on the ground as you leave, as water prevents the drying up associated with the affliction. These actions prevent the evil eye from being transmitted. Should one fall prey to the Evil Eye, we have healing rituals for removing the condition.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 09.23.39Healing Tools – An assortment of magical tools are employed by Southern Italian Benedicaria practitioners and while these vary greatly depending on family traditions and specific regions, they commonly include antique keys which unite male and female energy, fiber ropes or cords to bind, knives or scissors to cut away illness, and mirrors and various weapons to reflect or scare away malevolent spirits.

 My elders taught me the use of three traditional tools to cure the evil eye as well as a ritual procedure for preparing them. The tools we use are a scissor, a knife and an old fashioned key. Each of these tools is individually dropped to the floor nine times in succession to activate them, and this is done each time prior to their use.

After their activation, the tools are held in the dominant hand and placed on the head, or anywhere on the body that is in pain or discomfort. We then proceed to gently tap or stroke the area. Three times on the left, three times at the center and three times on the right, while repeating a secret prayer. This prayer is unique to each practitioner and depends on your family tradition. It is passed along through the family line, usually by the women to a daughter, granddaughter or niece, but can also be shared with a male relative who is interested in healing. Traditionally it is shared only on two nights per year: Christmas Eve at midnight and at midnight before St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th.

While gently tapping the tools on the body, we recite the special prayer a total of three times. We then pray the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) three times, the Our Father (Padre Nostra) three times and the Glory Be (Gloria) also three times. As I have been taught to do, I recite all of these prayers in my ancestral dialect.

Eggs – Another common healing practice is the use of eggs as a form of cleansing, healing and to remove the Evil Eye. The egg is washed, dried, and then covered in holy water, which is usually obtained from a church. The practitioner prays over the egg, saying the Apostles Creed, the Our Father and three Hail Mary prayers. The egg is then rolled over the body of the afflicted in a loosely prescribed pattern, paying especial attention to any area of the body where pain is experienced. It is believed that the egg absorbs any sickness or negative energy. After doing this for approximately fifteen minutes, the egg is broken by throwing it in the toilet and flushing the remains. It can also be taken out of the house and buried in the ground.

me and rosemaryThe names used for healing practitioners or cunning-folk in Southern Italia vary from region to region, although such names include praticos (wise people), guaritori (healers), fattucchiere (fixers), and donne che aiutano (women who help). At times, they are referred to as streghe (witches), although usually only behind their backs or by those who are either skeptical of their powers or believe they deal in black magic.

Unlike in other parts of Europe, the ways of the Benedetta survived all through the 20th century and into the early 21st century, where they appear to be alive and well.

One important note here is that throughout all of the Burning Times in Medieval Europe, not a single Benedicaria practitioner, cunning-folk or witch, was ever burned at the stake in Southern Italia. These ways were practiced in every home and were neither strange nor unfamiliar; quite the contrary, they were, and still are, commonplace expressions of a unique and ancient culture, a comprehensive synthesis and evolution of spirituality, mysticism and folk healing that took place among an indigenous people across many centuries and is still quietly thriving in the rural mountains of Sud Italia.

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Benedicaria – The Blessing Way of Southern Italian Folk Medicine, Part 1 – Gail Faith Edwards

rooftopsIn the remote mountain villages of Southern Italia, like ours, the old ways still thrive. We are a tribal culture, an indigenous people, descendants of the ancient Lucana Tribe; we are remembered as the People of the Sacred Wood, of the White Light. Our animal totems are the wolf and the deer. Our sacred traditions have been passed along orally, for many thousands of years.Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 14.04.32We speak a variation of the Neapolitan dialect, use hand signals and glances, wear protective charms and amulets, and recite secret prayers that have been handed down through our family lines for generations. We pray with a string of beads called a rosary. We light candles when making offerings, petitions, prayers and blessings. We make novenas and pilgrimages in honor of our beloved saints. We walk together in seasonal processions, singing timeless chants, led by our parish priest. We use holy water and sacred salts to sanctify and cleanse. We anoint, heal and divine with olive oil, pressed from the fruit of our sacred tree of peace and use a multitude of plants to bless, consecrate, nourish and heal.

These ancient ways are our treasures. They are our inheritance. They vibrate with primordial truth and intensity and exist right beside, inside and outside of the rituals of the Catholic Church.

Benedicaria is a relatively new word, coined in the Americas, to describe the old ways of Southern Italia spiritual culture and tradition.Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 15.12.47In the region of Campania, where my village is located, we refer to the old ways of healing, cleansing and religious devotion as Fa lu Santuccio, which literally means, “Do a little holy thing”. We call a practitioner of these traditional healing ways Benedetto if he is a male, or Benedetta if she is a female – both of which mean “Blessed One”. Most of the prayers used in Benedicaria are taken directly from Catholic prayer books.

Our Southern Italian family-based spiritual traditions are renowned for possessing a great deal of flexibility and fluidity. As a result, the practices found in Benedicaria vary from family to family and from individual to individual.429392_10150634691713667_711767825_nThe primary role of the Italian Benedicaria practitioner is that of a community healer, both through the wise use of natural elements, and through spiritual healing. The former requires extensive knowledge of plants and herbs as well as substances obtained from animals and minerals. Spiritual healing is believed to come from an inner power, known as la forza (power), la virtù (virtue) or il Segno (the sign).

1404917_10151797590103667_1063260755_o-2Practitioners of Benedicaria believe that they deal with spirit beings, both benevolent and malevolent. The later includes the unquiet dead as well as supernatural beings who are believed to cause harm to people. The benevolent beings include our ancestors, herbs, plants, trees, mountains, the elements, the helpful dead and our beloved saints, all of which we call upon to help defeat malevolent entities and physical illness.

 The relationship between Stregoneria (witchcraft) and Benedicaria can be puzzling, but in their purest form the two are completely distinct. Many practitioners were raised with or taught elements of both traditions, so much so that it is often impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The practitioner of Benedicaria is generally a devout Catholic who makes no pretensions of being a witch. Benedicaria is a comprehensive synthesis and evolution of spirituality, mysticism, and folk healing that took place among an indigenous people across many centuries.1511746_10151942490123667_829402414_o-2

Traditional medicine or folk healing comprises knowledge systems that developed over many generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness”. In the written record, the study of herbs dates back for at least 5,000 years to the ancient Sumerians who described already well-established medicinal uses for plants.

Indigenous medicine is generally transmitted orally through a community, family and individuals until it is “collected”. Within a given culture, elements of indigenous medicine knowledge may be diffusely known by many, or may be gathered and applied by those in a specific role of healer such as a Benedetta, shaman, witch or midwife.

Three factors legitimize the role of the healer – their own beliefs, the success of their actions and the beliefs of the community.

 Traditional Herbal Use – In Southern Italian folk medicine, plants are believed to posses a spiritual consciousness, what we refer to as the numen or the genii. They are gathered with great respect for the genius loci from which they come. It is this consciousness that lends its power to, and is responsible for healings, blessings and what we might speak of as plant magic. Many plants and trees are associated with saints for this reason. Not only are they thought to signify or represent the saint, but in many cases are considered to actually be the saint in plant form.

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For instance, Matricaria (literally meaning dear or devoted mother) is associated with Sant Anna, (Saint Ann) the mother of Mary. Sant Anna is the patroness of our village; her shrine sits on a hilltop overlooking the housetops and it is she that we pray to for all issues regarding fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and matters involving the family.

1401452_10151804676643667_733394554_oAntibiotic garlic, well known to protect against a myriad of infectious diseases, is seen as San Michele (St. Michael) the protective warrior incarnate, able and willing to go to battle to defend us. My mother told me how, as a little girl, she was sent to school wearing a clove of garlic hung around her neck for protection whenever colds and especially the flu were rampant.

005Hypericum is the healing spirit of San Giovanni, (Saint John the Baptist) whose feast day is celebrated at the summer solstice, when the light of the sun is at its peak. Plants gathered on the eve of his feast day, June 23, are hung in the house for the rest of the year as protection against malevolent forces.

rosebudRosa, the quintessential flower of love long associated with Isis, Venus and Aphrodite, is the emblem of Blessed Mother Mary, Mother of God, and imparts her beneficent, healing energy.

What follows is a brief description of a number of common herbs and trees that are commonly used to bless, protect and promote healing in my region of Southern Italia. This information has been gathered directly from elder people in my village and the surrounding area, from my own personal experience and research over many years and from a recently conducted academic study done by local botanists, entitled Traditional Plant Use in the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano, Campania, Southern Italy, by Riccardo Di Novella, Nicola Di Novella, Laura De Martino, Emilia Mancini, and Vincenzo De Feo, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 15.02.53Marshmallow – Althea officinalis, called Rosa ri li fuossi and A. sylvestris is known as malva (Malvaceae). Common mallow is an herbaceous species common throughout Southern Italia and is one of the most important medicinal species in our folk pharmacopoeia. Its use as a panacea is made clear by a local saying, La malva, da ogni mal’ ti salva, (the common mallow saves you from every disease). The aerial parts of the mallows, prepared as an infusion or decoction, are often used for their restorative properties to treat cold, flu, stomach ache and colic, for the relief of menstrual cramps and as a post-partum depurative. These plants are also used topically to relieve toothache due to dental abscess or decay, to soothe heat and diaper rash, to heal bruises and help drain boils and abscess, and against mastitis. They are also commonly used to treat a number of SSTIs, (skin and soft tissue infections), most of which are typically associated with bacterial infection. In veterinary care, a decoction prepared with mallow and aerial parts of nettle is administered after cow dropping.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 15.05.17Horehound – Marrubium vulgare called maruggē and mentastro (Lamiaceae). White horehound is a perennial herb native to Europe, northern Africa, and temperate Asia. Much like common mallow, white horehound is also an extremely important species in the folk pharmacopoeia of southern Italy. It, too, is considered a panacea and is associated with the following saying, A maruggē, ognē malē struggē (the white horehound destroys every disease). White horehound decoctions are used as an expectorant, hepatoprotective agent, and cure-all. A decoction of the aerial parts is used as a wash to treat several SSTIs, including general dermatitis, athlete’s foot, boils and abscess, cysts and warts in both humans and animals.                                                                     

         1003283_10151512591838667_2058410482_n Chamomile – Matricaria recutita known as Hammamilla (Asteraceae). German chamomile grows throughout our area and is best known for its anxiolytic and sedative properties. The leaves and flowers are commonly used as a relaxant and a sleep aid, as a wash for skin conditions such as rash, as a treatment for acne and dermatitis and also as an eyewash for conjunctivitis. A simple tea is consumed to soothe the stomach and allay nausea. My grandmother, Maria Giuseppa Cammarano Quagliozzi, taught me that chamomile is a “cure-all” and she offered a cup of its tea to ease headache, relieve menstrual cramps and to settle upset feelings. The aerial parts are also used as a yellow dye.

Olive – Olea Europa known as Auliva (Oleaceae). The olive is a relatively small evergreen tree that is extremely long lived and a native of the Mediterranean region. It has long been a symbol of endurance, wisdom and peace. It is believed to be the branch that was carried back to Noah’s ark after the flood and because of this is considered to speak of the renewal of life. The olive is considered a sacred tree that unites humans with the divine. Minerva taught that the oil pressed from its fruit could be burned as an offering in lamps as an act of reverence and devotion. Jesus conducted many of his sermons in the Mount of Olives, which was a sacred olive grove, and the burial grounds for many of his ancestors. On Holy Thursday Catholics participate in a special morning mass during which olive oil is consecrated. This sacred oil, called chrism, is often blended with other aromatics, such as sweet smelling balsam or rose oil, and used during the rest of the year as an integral part of sacramental rites; for Anointing the Sick, Reconciliation, Holy Orders, Baptism and Confirmation. Olive oil has been used to anoint people, places, tools and sacred objects for thousands of years and its use for ceremony, healings and blessings stretches back for millennia. Among the people of Southern Italia it remains the preferred oil for extracting the medicinal properties of plants and also for cooking.                                                                                                    418275_10150634683113667_1715132840_nThe fresh leaves are prepared as a decoction to moderate high blood pressure. Modern science confirms this use and also tells us that olive leaves possess strong antimicrobial properties. In my experience olive leaves are fast acting and effective when used to counter infection. My friend Antonietta told me that her mother would burn olive leaves and use the ash topically to cure skin infections. In Southern Italia we fill jars with freshly gathered St. John’s wort leaves and flowers, called erva ri’ San Giuvanno and erva ri li mahari, cover the plant with olive oil, then place it in the sun to steep for several weeks. This oil is used topically to relieve many types of aches and pains and also as a protective anointing oil when someone is passing from this life into the next.

1492145_10152069743378667_2063817394_oBay Leaves Laurus nobilis L. called Lauro and Alloro (Lauraceae). The bay tree is a lovely evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean. A decoction of the leaves is used as a gastric antispasmodic and for the relief of menstrual cramps. The leaves are made into a digestif, which is taken after meals to assist digestion. Analgesic bay leaves are infused in olive oil and applied topically for the relief of aches and pains. The fruits are heated in olive oil and used in the topical treatment of auricular inflammations, earache. The bay tree has a long history of magical/mystical use. The Sibyls burned the leaves as an incense to enhance trance and their ability to prophesize.

20849_1464575928864_1067470689_1365877_6534449_nRue – Ruta graveolens called a’ruta (Rutaceae). This plant is a hardy evergreen perennial, native to Italia and Southern Europe. Referred to as the Herb of Grace, it has long been used to sprinkle holy water and as an integral element in sacred ceremony. A sprig of rue has traditionally been carried in a little bag or worn around the neck for protection. Sometimes it is combined with a clove of garlic or a pinch of salt. One of my favorite home made charms combines a sprig of rue, a little pinch of ash from the hearth, and a bit of hair from each family member, all kept together in a little red bag and hung in the home to bless and protect each member of the family. Rue is a potent antispasmodic, an emmenogogue and possesses strong analgesic properties. It is infused in olive oil and applied topically as a rub for sore muscles and to relieve aches and pains. The leaves of rue and fruits of Capsicum annum are typically simmered together in olive oil; this preparation is applied topically as an antirheumatic.


RosemaryRosmarinis officinalis called rosmarina (Lamiaceae). Highly regarded as an herb of protection, rosemary grows wildly all throughout our area, both inland in the mountains and along the seacoast. It is one of the most widely used spices in Mediterranean cooking, especially with meat dishes, and is considered a cure-all. Around my village it is planted at the entrance to a home or garden as protection against negativity and harm. A sprig is often burned as incense to clear the air and at night before bed to protect against disturbing dreams.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 15.19.52Poppy Papaver rhoeas known as Papavero and papapiro (Papaveraceae). The red petals are mucilaginous, bitter and expectorant and commonly prepared as a syrup that is used to alleviate cough and hoarseness and soothe a sore throat. Papavero is regarded as pain relieving, sedative, calming, and trance inducing and is sometimes enjoyed as a cordial. P. rhoeas has a long association with wheat and the combination of the two is traditionally used as an entheogen. The red flowers thrive wildly and abundantly amidst the wheat fields here as they have for thousands of years. Their species name is Italian and comes from Rhea, the name given to the mother of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. It was also a name attributed to Cybele, the Anatolian mother-goddess celebrated as Ceres among the Italic tribes. Ceres was known as Demeter among the Greeks and was the Goddess of Grain. Ancient legends tell us of Rhea (imagine red poppies here) descending on the plains near the Elysian Fields in order to console Demeter/Ceres (wheat) after Persephone/Proserpina was lost, and together they bring fertility and growth back to the earth. Ceres was often depicted holding both poppies and wheat in her hands. She was revered as the very ground from which the crops sprung. Later on, as Christianity spread through these lands, Ceres became Mary.

This is an abbreviated version of the presentation I gave at the Viridis Genii Symposium at the Still Meadow Retreat Center, in Damascus, Oregon, in July of 2015.  For the full print version see Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path, published by Rubedo Press.

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Herbs, Spina Bifida and other Central Nervous System Challenges

Part 1 – The Backstory

I was born in 1949 with a neural tube defect, called spina bifida. I had the first operation of its kind, to close the vertebrae, when I was eight months old. Other than a large scar going across my lower back, there were never any visible signs of a birth defect as I was growing up. I was one of the lucky ones.

I do remember the horror I felt at seeing my scar for the first time. I was five years old and playing with my cousins in a full-length mirror. My mother explained to me that the last two vertebrae of my spine were not fully connected at birth and the doctors repaired the problem, hence the scar.

My mother told me a story I was to hear many times during my childhood: She fed me lots of food as an infant so that I would grow big and strong and be able to endure the surgery that was planned for me. Finally one November day, I was wrapped up in blankets, placed into a cardboard box and carried by my father onto a cargo plane that flew us from the Air Force base in Arizona to a hospital in California, where the operation would be performed. The story details included staying in the hospital for a full month, in the care of nurses who loved and cared beautifully for me, and who were very sad to see me go.

As a teenager, wearing a two-piece bathing suit was a problem for me, as hiding that scar and the redness and swelling around it, was foremost in my mind. I needed high-waisted bathing suits to cover it to my satisfaction. My right ankle was weak and my right foot turned regularly. I went through shoes at a rapid rate due to the twisting ankle and wasn’t comfortable wearing heels. I was never offered a brace to support my ankle, though the saddle shoes we were required to wear as part of our uniform in high school did the trick beautifully as they were sturdy and supportive.

But aside from these minor inconveniences, my life developed normally. At no time did anyone in my extended family ever suggest there was anything wrong with me or that there was anything I couldn’t do. I was encouraged to follow my heart, pursue my dreams and believe in myself. So I did. Friends, high school, boyfriends and later, four beautiful, healthy children, a lifetime mate, a fabulous farm and a career I love all came my way.

I was always acutely sensitive, high-strung, dramatic and easily distracted, but never connected any of that to the operation or the scar. Loud noises startled me and large crowds and lots of activity made me to feel nervous. The ocean, woods, fields, desert and plants specifically, calmed and centered me, always. They became my comfort and my lifeline. I was consciously aware of this loving support from nature since I was a very young child. I was also drawn to art and possessed a distinctly creative, artistic perspective toward life. Art, music, drama, writing, and poetry were how I processed information and feelings.

As a young adult, I continued to gravitate toward natural environments. I discovered Yoga and meditation and dreamed of living on a farm, raising kids and animals, and growing my own food and medicine. This is exactly the projectory I followed.

Working with plants gave me great peace. I was at home in a garden and in the wild. As I became familiar with the medicinal uses of plants I began to use them more directly to soothe my sensitive nervous system and to help me focus on various tasks.

I discovered cannabis in my early twenties and have used it regularly ever since. Skullcap was another early discovery, and a plant that has remained at the forefront of my medicine collection. Roses called to me, insistently, as did oats. Lavender, St. John’s wort and black cohosh also became good friends of mine. I began growing and wildgathering these herbs and many others around my farm haven. Later I integrated some of the fungi that grew abundantly in the woods. It seemed the birch trees that I loved so much sprouted growths along their trunks just for me.

Somewhere in my mid forties, after a couple of decades of enjoying a life filled with intense physical activity…running an off the grid homestead, raising kids and animals, cultivating gardens and all the physically demanding work associated with these things, my gait began to noticeably shift. My balance faltered. My legs felt strangely heavy. I began to trip and fall frequently. I woke up one morning unable to move my left foot up or down. I had very little feeling in my feet. My family physician thought I might have MS. She wanted me to see a neurologist. Fearing the worst, I waited a few more years before following her advice. Though I continued to nourish myself on a daily basis with herbs.

When I finally went in for a neurological examination the doctor said I was much too strong to have MS. He suggested an MRI. That’s when I found out about the spina bifida. To say I was stunned would be the ultimate understatement. I was by that time in my early fifties and this was the first time I was hearing about it.

The doctor said I had a tethered spine. Evidently this is a common result of the spinal surgery. He told me there was scar tissue inside my spine and that this fatty tissue growth, which he called a lipoma, was wrapped around a bundle of nerves going down to my legs. This scar tissue, he predicted, would continue to grow until I was paralyzed from the waist down. He told me quite plainly that soon I would not be able to walk at all and would lose control of both my bladder and bowels unless I had an operation to remove the lipoma immediately. His exact words were that I would “start to shit the bed.” These words and this image hit me hard and fear shuddered through every cell in my body. I felt like I had just been handed a death sentence.

The neuro-surgeon he sent me to said the necessary operation would include cutting through two bones in my back to enter the spine, then cutting away the bundle of scar tissue around the nerves. I would have to lie in bed for at least three months afterwards to recuperate and extreme pain would necessitate relying on narcotic pain relievers for an extended period of time. He outlined risks that included complete paralysis and death.

I returned home shaken to my core, in a state of absolute devastation. The word depression doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling. I spent most of my time during the following six months sitting alone in a dark room. I felt like I was being annihilated, that my life was completely over. No longer would I be able to hike in the woods and fields freely, gathering my beloved plants, or take my students on long adventures pointing out trees and plants that I loved and that they might find useful. Teaching at colleges and conferences, traveling independently, all would be coming to an abrupt end.

And what about my kids? They were still so young, barely teenagers. How would we continue to play and have fun together if I couldn’t walk? And who was going to wait on me hand and foot for three months or longer, while I lay in bed in a medicated haze? How would the kids get to and from basketball, snow boarding and track? How would I get in and out of a wheelchair if I were paralyzed? Who would tend the fires, cook the meals and haul the water while I recuperated, or worse, if I needed that kind of basic living support forever after? A million worries occupied my head day and night, my mind was spinning out of control and my spirit was heavy with the weight of fear and unknowing.

In my capacity as a community herbalist I had worked with numerous people who had had back operations and were left in considerable pain thereafter. Many of them struggled with addictions to narcotic pain meds and spent much of their time in a cloudy mental fog, at best. I was well aware of how debilitating such an operation and its after affects could be. I was not in any pain at all at the time, as far as my back was concerned, and certainly did not want to risk trading a relatively pain free existence for the possibility of never ending pain, narcotics and/or complete paralysis.

After months of deep consideration and nearly constant prayer, I decided against having the operation to release the tethered spine. I chose instead to have faith in my ability to heal, to trust in my own life process and embrace my destiny, whatever it was. I decided to turn to Great Mother and to my beloved plants for comfort and healing. They did not disappoint me.

My purpose in sharing all of this with you is to underline my depth of personal commitment to certain natural substances that I have used to nourish my nervous system over the past thirty or so years. I want to share exactly which herbs I’ve used, how I’ve used them and the results I’ve experienced.

I am presenting this information in an effort to provide a number of safe and simple remedies that can be used as both alternative and complimentary medicines for those born with spina bifida.  My goal is to widen the scope of what is generally regarded as accessible for easing the multiple discomforts of living with this particular birth defect and other central nervous system challenges. My hope is that this information will be put to use where it is appropriate and that it will have a positive impact on the health of those for whom it is intended.

I can personally attest to the fact that herbs can and do provide a nourishing and effective complimentary support system for many of the daily challenges faced by this particular group of people who are often dependent on the medical profession and prescribed medications for the simplest of bodily needs.

My first grandchild was born seven years ago with spina bifida and had corrective surgery on his second day of life. This sparkling, cheerful, intelligent little boy has faced numerous encounters with the medical world during his young life, including leg surgery and braces. He is learning to deal independently with bladder and bowel challenges and much more. He has been using herbs as alternative and complimentary medicines under my care since infancy and they have been a Godsend.

I also want to make clear that I am not blindly against surgery of any kind. My twisting ankle finally required the support of a brace, which I wore for a number of years. The brace was uncomfortable, greatly limited my footwear choices and caused my ankle to become deformed. When the pain became too much I finally sought the help of a skilled foot and ankle surgeon who performed an ankle fusion for me. This revolutionized my life, gave me back a huge amount of freedom and left me in considerably less pain and discomfort with every step. Plus I can now wear pretty much any shoes or boots I choose! What a liberation! This surgery was a necessary one that resulted in greatly improved function. So much so, that I refer to it as a miracle.

I will be 66 this month. With the help of a number of well-chosen herbs and prayerful practices, I am still on my feet and walking with the help of a cane. I am playing and dancing with grandchildren now. I work freely around my gardens and wander in the woods and fields, as I have always loved to do. After years of avoiding them, I have begun attending herbal conferences again, sometimes as a student, other times as a presenter. I travel to Italy every year, often accompanied by my now grown children. I do all these things more slowly and quite a bit less gracefully, but I still do them! I remain relatively pain free and I have not begun to “shit the bed” nor do I believe that I ever will.

After sitting in that sweet protective womb of a dark room all those months, held in the loving embrace of Great Mother, I woke up one morning and told myself: “Woman, the fact is you can still walk. So how about you get up, get back to work, do what you can do and forget about the rest.” I took my own advice and I am so glad I did! Sometimes there is no other alternative but to summon all the strength and courage we can possibly muster and carry on.

I realized that when a well-respected, even well meaning, doctor drops a prediction that does not sit well, it is within the realm of perfectly sane choices to decide not to believe it. Denial does serve a purpose. In fact, it may be as good a choice as any other, even when facing serious, life-threatening illness. I’ve read the studies and seen it in action in real life!

What follows is a list of the primary herbs I have found to be invaluable. These herbs, first and foremost, have brought me into deep connection with the earth, from which all healing comes. These herbs have offered me physical as well as emotional and spiritual healing. I consider them my friends and allies and give great thanks that they called to me and that I listened and responded to their call.

Part 2 – The Herbal Allies

Oats Avena sativaTrophorestorative for the nervous system. Rejuvenating and deeply nourishing. I use this herb daily in infusions, usually as a base, blended with other herbs I rotate in combinations, such as skullcap, passionflower, red raspberry, roses, peppermint, holy basil, lemon balm, birch bark and leaves, hawthorn berries, rose hips and more, depending on season, place and what I have available. We grow a lot of oats on our farm in Maine, harvest them in the milky stage and dry them on long screens. I keep a large jar of them on a shelf in the kitchen and throw a small handful into a pot of water, then sprinkle in whatever other herbs I want to use. Milky oats make me feel stable, at home in myself, well nourished and calm. They provide a steadying foundation and impart a sense of equilibrium.

Dosage: To make an infusion place a handful of milky oats into a quart of boiled water, stir and cover and let sit 2-4 hours or overnight. Strain and drink 2 cups per day. Tincture is usually 20-30 drops of milky oats tincture in water as needed.

Skullcap Scuttelaria laterifloraThis indigenous plant is usually referred to as nature’s finest nervine. Its action goes directly to the central nervous system. I use it to tone down excitability, ease stress, to assist with focus, to increase my sense of well-being and groundedness, to relieve pain, to soothe my spirit and to fall asleep. I also use it as a leader; to direct other healing herbs to my spinal column.

Dosage: Drink skullcap infusions daily or as needed, 1-2 cups per day, more if pain is a serious issue. Tincture dose is 10 drops as needed and this can be repeated every ten minutes until relief or the desired outcome is reached.

Rose Rosa spp.I cannot say enough about the ability of roses to nourish and heal, to soothe, astringe and tonify, to create a sense of beauty, ease and grace. I use roses and/or rose hips daily. Roses carry the essence of Great Mother, they make me feel like I am wrapped in her healing cloak, protected, content and at peace. Roses brighten my life and I love sharing them with others.

Dosage: Sprinkle a few roses into every pot of tea you make, use roses freely in baths, as a wash for the skin, for sore eyes, for sores in general. To moisturize the skin apply liberally as an infused oil. Rose elixir is made by steeping fresh roses in a mixture of equal parts brandy and honey, let macerate for 4-6 weeks. Add a few vanilla beans for extra deliciousness.

Lavender Lavendula officinalis Just the aroma of lavender alone is enough to relax me. I keep a lavender pillow in my bed. I use tranquilizing tincture of lavender in a Nerve Tonic formula, along with milky oats and skullcap. I add the essential oil to healing salves and pain easing oils. Lavender is a versatile, dependable nervous system relaxant and a reliable sleep aid. The infused oil is excellent to relieve muscle spasms and other muscular aches and pains.

Dosage: Lavender tea is preferable to an infusion, steep a teaspoon of leaves and flowers per cup of water, 10-15 minutes. Drink to relieve stress and anxiety, before bed to promote deep sleep. Add roses! Lavender tincture, 20-30 drops in water, lavender honey is wonderful, lavender infused oil, apply topically, use as the base for a muscle relaxing salve, just add beeswax…1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil.

Cannabis Cannabis spp. Cannabis is a relaxing, stress relieving, nervous system tonic. It’s been highly regarded as a spirit nourishing plant and has a long history of use in managing depression. When the stresses of daily life begin to mount, an evening toke may be all that is needed to help relax and shed the cares and burdens of the day. Cannabis helps promote deep, restful sleep, is non-addictive and has far fewer side effects than pharmaceutical tranquilizers, sedatives or alcohol consumption. It is also an effective pain reliever. Used topically, as an infused oil, it can be rubbed onto any painful muscle or joint. It has considerable antispasmodic properties, so is excellent for alleviating muscle spasms of any sort. In Ayurvedic medicine cannabis is used as a digestive system tonic and it is widely known as an agent to stimulate the appetite.

Dosage: Smoking, eating, drinking, infused oil, tincture dose is highly variable. Experiment slowly and with small amounts. May cause paranoia.

Black cohosh Actaea racemosa – I have come to love this plant a great deal. I plant more of it every year. It is gorgeous when in flower. I use the roots to counter pain and inflammation; for this use I usually combine it with ginger, turmeric, wild yam and American ginseng. Black cohosh’s action goes directly to the central nervous system so I also blend black cohosh, skullcap and chickweed in a formula intended to keep that lipoma from growing any further. See my notes on chickweed below.

Dosage: 20-30 drops of tincture in water or tea as needed.

American ginseng Panax quinquefoliusI’ve been growing and consuming American ginseng for many years now. I respect it immensely as an over-all nourishing tonic, restorative, rejuvenator and adaptogen. Facing chronic, long-term, irreversible health challenges head-on is stressful. Adaptogens help to modulate the negative effects of stress. They enhance immunity, nourish the nervous, glandular and cardiovascular systems, help boost the actions of other herbs, and offer a great deal of core support.   Other adaptogens I’ve come to appreciate and use in rotation, include licorice, Eleuthero, Schisandra berry, resihi mushrooms and Baltic amber.

Dosage: Eat a piece of ginseng root that is the size of your pinky finger, from the tip to the first knuckle, a few times a week. Tincture dose is 30 drops once daily. Ginseng syrup, a teaspoon to tablespoon daily and elixir, 30 drops or so, are both excellent.

Reishi Ganoderma lucid, G. applanatum and G. tsugaeThe fungi are more like people than plants! They are helping organisms on this planet. They break things down and transform them. They help us to be optimally nourished. They are the ultimate recyclers. Reishi in particular, is a spirit nourishing, immune enhancing fungi with thousands of years of safe use. It is a consistent part of my over-all support system and I am rarely without it. I appreciate it in a simple combination with licorice and American ginseng. I usually make it into a syrup or elixir, which I enjoy adding to a glass of water or cup of tea or cocoa. The honey magnifies the benefits it seems to me. I think of it as a super food for the body, mind and spirit. Other medicinal mushrooms I also appreciate and use often, include the birch polypores, maitake and shitake.

Dosage: One tablespoon of the syrup once or twice daily in water or tea. Tincture, 20-30 drops once or twice daily.

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis Another fabulous nervine, a specific for nourishing the brain and enhancing mental function. It’s a nerve protective agent and has an ancient reputation for reversing paralysis. I use rosemary lavishly…I sprinkle it as a spice on many meals, use it in salad dressings, as a tincture, a tea, a smudge, an oil and add it to my bath along with Epsom salts.

Dosage: Rosemary teas and infusions, 1-2 cups daily, liberally as a spice in cooking, tincture 20 drops as needed, infused oil for topical use, add to bath as dried herb in a muslin bag, oil or infusion.

Chickweed Stellaria media This herb has a reputation for shrinking fatty growths like lipomas and cysts. It’s loaded with saponins, which make suds. Think of a dishpan full of soapy water. You dip in a plate covered with meat or fat and voila, it all melts away. That’s what I am hoping chickweed is doing for me. I direct its action to my spinal column by combining it with herbs that move the energy in that direction…primarily skullcap and black cohosh.

Dosage 30 drops up to three times daily daily.

St. John’s wort Hypericum perforatum – Oh, if only I could count the ways that this herb has served me over the years! Pain easing as an oil, applied topically, it gives quick and often amazing results. I use it both externally and internally to relieve the muscle spasms I often deal with in the back of my left thigh. It works like a charm. Spasms anywhere…including the bladder, call for St. John’s wort. I use 30 drops in water and repeat as often as necessary. I also apply the oil liberally to the scar area…to keep it soft, to enliven the nerves in the area, to inhibit further scar tissue growth. St. John’s wort is a reputable and reliable nervine. It restores nerve function. It imparts warrior spirit. It gives me great strength.

Dosage: Steep as tea, one teaspoon of herb/cup of water. Drink 1-2 cups daily. Add roses! Tincture 20-30 drops, repeat as often as necessary. Oil, apply topically as often as needed. Add some to a hot bath for pain relief.

Baltic amber SuccinicusThis is a relatively new addition to my Materia Medica for spina bifida and neurological system dysfunction. But one I have adopted with great passion after noticing benefits almost immediately since I began wearing it on my body. Baltic amber is a fossilized resin produced by ancient Pinus species trees around the Baltic rim, many millions of years ago. It naturally produces negative ions, which are health promoting and necessary for healthy cellular function. It has a strong magnetic charge; the words electron and electric come from Baltic amber, which was known as electron in ancient times. It is well known that healing occurs beneath a magnetic charge…for instance; bones, fractures and muscle sprains heal faster and more completely. Baltic amber contains succinic acid in its outer cortex, and this is absorbed in minute, I think of it as homeopathic, doses when placed on the warmth of the skin. Russian scientists have categorized it as an adaptogen, and they refer to it as a rejuvenative substance. It is proven to protect our cells against radiation. I can tell you that I feel centered and well balanced wearing it and feel it calms and somehow aligns my nervous system and energetic body. I don’t pretend to even begin to know how it does this. I do wear a necklace around my neck, several bracelets on my wrists and one around both my ankles all the time; I don’t remove them for either sleeping or showering. I recommend a well-made, authentic Baltic amber necklace or bracelet to anyone in need of healing or pain relief, especially those of us who require energetic/neurological system support.

Dosage: Traditional Polish directions for use of Tincture – 1 drop on the first day, 2 on the second, 3 on the third up to ten drops on the tenth day, then nine, eight, and so on until you take one last drop on the last, 19th day. This constitutes one round of use. Baltic amber oil is applied topically to rejuvenate skin, relieve inflammation and pain as often as needed.

Hawthorn Cratageus spp. – a gentle nervine, a sweet heart soother. Dealing with neurological dysfunction can weigh heavy on the heart. Walking less gracefully than most makes us feel conspicuous and self-conscious at times. It takes a lot of courage some days to face daily challenges. Holding the fear of what might come at bay can be taxing and stressful. All of this affects the heart and cardiovascular system acutely. I have befriended hawthorn to help me with these issues. It’s a calming nervine and also promotes the production of collagen, the most profuse protein in the body and necessary for the efficient repair of cells, veins and arteries, tendons, muscles, bones and nerves.

Dosage: 30 drops of tincture or elixir once to three times daily. Drink 1-2 cups of hawthorn infusion daily. One teaspoon – one tablespoon of hawthorn syrup daily.

Note: Check herb/drug interations before using any herbs if you are also taking a pharmaceutical medication.  Seek the help of a professional herbalist if you are unfamiliar with using herbal medicines.

This blog post and those that will follow are part of an extended written piece on Herbs, Spina Bifida and other Central Nervous System Challenges.


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Why seeing seriously ill clients makes me feel good…it’s not what you think!

I’ve been seeing a number of challenging herbal consultation clients lately.   A local doctor tends to send me his patients who either do not want to pursue the care he can offer them or who specifically ask for an alternative or complement to their current protocol. Hence, I see some seriously ill people. And this usually makes me feel good. Let me tell you why.

Take Janice, for instance. Not her real name, of course. Janice is a beautiful, vibrant, woman in her early elder years, full of good energy, well developed skills and plenty of both love and hope. She also has stage four lung cancer. After several radiation treatments she became so sick she made the decision not to continue. She asked her doctor what else she could do. That’s when he referred her to me.

When I met Janice she was sitting in the passenger seat of her car, somewhat hunched over and wearing a wig. Her skin was grey and she did not have the strength to get out of the car and walk the little way to my office. We consulted right there.

Despite her poor surface/exterior appearance, as we spoke I could see a light shining in her eyes…a real lively twinkle. I felt we could count on that twinkle to become a bright light. I told her so…and we began working together. By the time her husband drove her back down my driveway, she was sitting just a bit taller in her seat, had a well chosen package of herbal health support in her lap and was thanking me profusely.

Janice was not hoping to cure her cancer. She merely wanted to get to a comfortable place so that she could enjoy what life she had left. I committed myself to helping her achieve this goal.

Janice’s tongue, mouth and throat were very dry and burnt from the treatments, so I offered her a tea containing marshmallow leaves and flowers, calendula flowers, licorice root, slippery elm and a sprinkling of mint to soothe and heal. She drank the tea cooled and it worked as I expected; she reported right away that it gave her great relief.

astragalus flowersI also offered her a Mushroot Chai Deep Immune Tonic. It is made with a variety of medicinal mushrooms, American ginseng and Astragalus roots, some tasty spices, organic alcohol, H2O and pure Maine honey. I thought it would be a good over-all nourishing tonic for her, something to boost her vitality, heal the trauma as well as enhance and rebuild immunity. These fungi and roots possess tumor inhibiting constituents and that would be working in her favor as well. I do not expect this tonic to eliminate her cancer, but I figure those tumor inhibiting actions might help slow/delay her cancer’s progression while building her strength enough to continue to resist it. ginseng12I gave her a simple lung tonic tincture as well, made with mullein, hyssop and thyme, intended to help keep her air passageways open and lungs free of infection. Mullein leaves are a trophorestorative for the respiratory system and I counted on this simple combination formula to help direct the healing action of the herbs to her lungs and respiratory system as well.

After a week of taking the herbs Janice said she felt nothing less than ecstatic at the results. “Even better than I hoped for” is how she described it. Her throat felt cool and soothed and she enjoyed drinking the tea, sipping it throughout the day. She was beginning to feel stronger and had more energy. A couple of months later, still continuing with the herbal formulas, she had improved so much that she was able to resume her weekly hour-long radio show. Her skin had a healthy, pink glow when I saw her last. Those twinkling eyes of hers were glowing quite a bit brighter. She still has the cancer, but she is living with it.

010Over the last seven or so months that I have been working with Janice I’ve alternated the Mushroot Chai Tonic with an adaptogen blend specifically formulated as a lung tonic. It contains reishi, licorice, American ginseng, Schisandra, Astragalus and holy basil, organic alcohol, H2O and pure Maine honey. She continues to use the Decongestant formula as well as the tea on a daily basis. She reports that her quality and enjoyment of life has greatly improved since she started on her herbal regime.

The one problem Janice has reported increased is the pain in her leg where the cancer has spread. This has begun to impede her mobility. She did not want to take a pharmaceutical pain reliever. At least not yet.

005I offered her a pain easing salve, made with St. Johns’wort, olive oil, bees wax and warming, pain relieving essential oils of bay, ginger, cinnamon and clove for external application. My hope is that the salve will help alleviate the pain enough to extend her comfort and mobility enough to continue getting around her house, going into the studio and so on.

Janice eats well and includes a lot of fresh, locally grown and raised foods in her diet. She has the support of a loving husband and her Christian community. She has an attitude of gratefulness just to be alive. She is actually quite inspiring to work with.

387546_10151348325969143_1452158987_nJanice is looking forward to spring when she plans to visit me on the farm again. She says she wants to see the gardens where I grow these herbs she feels have given her a new lease on life and lots to look forward to.

People like Janice become like living Buddhas…they teach us how to embrace courage,  how to live and love every day in the face of death and still choose to be thankful.

And THIS is what makes me feel so good about seeing seriously ill clients. They live! They thrive! And every now and then they even get all better! And the one’s that don’t get better? They do eventually die…which can be a beautiful healing process all its own.

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On Trademarks and the Herbal Community

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


My friend offered to send a cease and desist letter as well, but I declined, feeling that the party was already well aware of the situation from my point of view. I decided instead to give her time to reevaluate her path and perhaps change course.





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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scuola Medica Salernitana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cncbchcgctctrcreEach humor is related to a temperament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree and Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ieiehfhfydtddg The Remedies and Indications for Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trees are the outgrowth of the earth.”  Rudolf Steiner


Recommended dosages for mother-macerate

Gemmotherapy Elixirs:

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

Children – 3-8 drops daily

Babies – 1-3 drops daily

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

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

Gemmotherapy Elixirs have a shelf life of four years.

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

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

You’ll find our Gemmotherapy Elixirs at this page:


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