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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://blessedmaineherbs.com/herbteablends1.html

Enjoy!

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Oatstraw Avena sativa

OATS 

Avena sativa

Poaceae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Good Blessings to you!

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OUR LADY’S MANTLE

OUR LADY’S MANTLE

Alchemilla vulgaris

ROSACEAE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Valerian – Valeriana officinalis

VALERIAN – Valeriana officinalis – VALERIANACEAE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ASTRAGALUS MEMBRANACEUS

CHINESE MILK VETCH 

Astragalus membranaceus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many healthful blessings to you!

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The Burning Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hawthorn Crataegus spp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assumption Day ~ First-Fruits Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the Wild Heart of Mary www.blessedmaineherbs.com

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HERBS FOR THE RELIEF OF CHRONIC PAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Herbal Allies for Pain Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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