Herbs, Spina Bifida and other Central Nervous System Challenges

Part 1 – The Backstory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2 – The Herbal Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dosage 30 drops up to three times daily daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Trademarks and the Herbal Community

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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





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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scuola Medica Salernitana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cncbchcgctctrcreEach humor is related to a temperament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree and Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ieiehfhfydtddg The Remedies and Indications for Use

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

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

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

Hawthorn – An excellent cardiac remedy, both curative and preventive, combining all the known properties of the flower, leaf and berry. Amphoteric, normalises blood pressure and heart beat rhythm, dissolves plaque; anxiolytic, a good central nervous system sedative

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

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

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

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

Trees are the outgrowth of the earth.”  Rudolf Steiner


Recommended dosages for mother-macerate

Gemmotherapy Elixirs:

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

Children – 3-8 drops daily

Babies – 1-3 drops daily

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

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

Gemmotherapy Elixirs have a shelf life of four years.

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

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

You’ll find our Gemmotherapy Elixirs at this page:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Oatstraw Avena sativa


Avena sativa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Many Good Blessings to you!

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Alchemilla vulgaris



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.


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.


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.


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

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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