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


Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2009 Feb;23(3):403-8. doi: 10.1002/rcm.3886.

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: pierre.rustin@inserm.fr

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.

Int J Med Mushrooms. 2012;14(3):241-56.

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.

PMID: 21516854

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. petipete@usc.edu

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

Bd. 48, H. 2 (JUNI 1964), pp. 111-122

Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20775083

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Oatstraw Avena sativa


Avena sativa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Many Good Blessings to you!

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