A day in the life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ensuring Robust Health Through the Rest of Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet, warming and deeply nourishing, restorative oats in the diet assure strong nerves, calm steady mind, good coordination and balance, excellent reproductive functioning, healthy sex drive, strong heart and circulatory system, strong bones, balanced hormones, low cholesterol and normal blood pressure. Oats contain high levels of magnesium, offer abundant silicon and calcium, a slew of B complex vitamins, plenty of phytosterols and vitamin E.

An abundance of magnesium in the diet is implicated in a lessening of the swelling and pain of osteoarthritis and other painful joint disorders. In addition, magnesium assures the best absorption of the abundant calcium in oats and helps relax the muscles. Magnesium is necessary for the electrical body to function optimally, for the heart to beat regularly, and for that elusive quality known as magnetism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Maine Herb Farm

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Natural Baltic Amber – Magnetic, Adaptogenic, Universally Applicable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Classification of Baltic Amber (Succinite) Gemstones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Menopause as Shamanic Journey – Part 2

The Wise Ones Say
…Hear the voices of the wise ones calling across the ages. Let the soothing sounds of their wisdom stories inspire you, and show you the way.

Wise ones the world over refer to the first phase of our midlife passage as isolation. They call it the descent. They know it as a down time. They say it is the cocoon. This is Persephone being dragged down into the underworld, the dark world of Hades. This is the dark night of the soul.

During this often painful part of our midlife journey we may yearn for time alone, may literally ache to simplify our lives, cut our losses. Both women and men may become irritable, preoccupied, scattered, and suffer memory loss, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia. Feelings of regret, remorse, and depression are common during this time.

If you find yourself sinking into the black hole of depression, consider surrendering to it and allowing, perhaps even welcoming, the descent into your deepest nature. Depression can often be a call from deep within, is often the soul’s yearning for deeper meaning.

Give yourself the time and permission to go into the darkness willingly, to uncover the wisdom lying there. Uncover your deepest strengths, your deepest truths, the stuff of which you are made. Reclaim your authentic voice. Allow this brush with Saturn to enrich and empower your life, even as it breaks you and brings you to your knees. This is the shadow side, and intimacy with it will bring depth, weight and measure to your soul.

Often, midlife depression accompanies emotional growth and indicates that some serious, life-altering changes need to be made. If we ignore the call of the wise-one-within for midlife change, we may remain depressed, stagnant, and immobilized for the rest of our lives.

Use your growing shamanic awareness to traverse this terrain carefully as it winds and turns, like an underground tunnel, until a light is seen. Dance on the edge, balance on the rim for awhile, even fall between the cracks, just have faith, the light will appear. This is a good time to get to know, and use regularly, an array of safe and effective herbal allies that will nourish your spirit and help keep you grounded.

Herbs such as lavender, rose, lemon balm, cannabis, skullcap, and St. John’s wort all have solid reputations as allies that nourish the spirit. Revitalizing ginseng and angelica are also excellent friends during bouts with depression and general low energy.

The continued growth of our human consciousness, and the consciousness of our planet, requires that we give in to our soul’s longing at this time of our lives. We are being challenged now to process lingering emotional baggage that we may not have had the time or inclination to deal with before. Doing the work we are being called to do during the initial phase of menopause prepares us for, and leads us into, the second phase of this human evolutionary process, which is death.

Though death is a difficult concept for us to confront willingly, given our culture’s repulsion and denial of it, we are actually being called upon during the second phase of our midlife passage to face death, and all that death represents, head-on. We are being challenged to become like the Buddhist monk, who lives with the constant awareness of death on his/her shoulder.

We are being asked to summon all the courage, strength, and grace it takes to give death to our former selves, to who we have been. Midlife is a time of dealing with loss and learning to let go. We must bid farewell to our youthful promise, the richness and fecundity of our childbearing years. We may be called upon to say goodbye to a beloved parent or spouse. No matter how death, and the mysteries surrounding death are presented to us, we must give ourselves permission to mourn our losses.

Doing this work requires time alone and a lot of thought, support, and psychic energy. When we have fully examined each and every part of who we have been, cried over all our many disappointments and losses, raged and ranted over all the should haves, could haves, and would haves, all those dreams that never quite materialized, the love that didn’t last, or was taken to soon, and finally put them all to rest, it’s done.

We are ready for the third phase of this ancient, eternal passage, this shamanic mother-father-rite, our re-emergence, reintegration, and recommitment. Our midlife renewal. We have undergone a complete and utter metamorphosis. We are reborn, have given birth to ourselves anew. And this is as it has always been, and shall always be.

Did you know that hot flashes and night sweats, experienced by both men and women, are kundalini energy rising up the spine, transforming our circuits, altering our brain chemistry, physically and energetically calling forth enlightenment and wisdom? Did you know that the hormonal and chemical changes that are going on in our bodies and brain during midlife are affecting our minds and spirits and doing the same thing? Literally making us wise. It’s true!

Our culture, for the most part, doesn’t acknowledge any of this. Our culture denies the spiritual aspects of midlife and completely ignores the fact that well joined couples often experience menopause together. So few couples remain together long term, that few of us realize the depth of the hormonal interplay between a man and a woman who have been loving one another over many years.

A couple’s hormones become completely coordinated and interdependent with one another over time, and produce a constantly fluctuating array of hormones in response to one another. Energetically, and hormonally, a well-joined couple is one united blob in a constant feedback loop.

In one study of eleven monogamous heterosexual couples, the testosterone levels in the male partner rose to their highest levels simultaneously with the ovulation of the female partner. This was the case in twenty-five out of the thirty-two cycles studied.

During midlife, intense hormonal changes are happening to both partners, individually, and in concert with one another. We are partners in a long, slow dance, an incredibly drawn out process of renegotiating and rewiring our relationship for the next phase of our lives together, our elder years. More than any other relationship in our lives, our intimate relationship with our mate can be counted upon to illuminate old wounds still in need of healing.

It takes a lot of time, space, attention, true listening, patience, forgiveness, and especially love, for couples to make it through these midlife changes with a renewed sense of love and commitment to their lives together. We all know that the relationship between a man and woman who share a loving bond is a living entity with a soul, intelligence, and energy all its own. It is a great and magical mystery, a sacred thing, due utmost respect, proper nourishment, and care.

I learned to nourish myself in many ways during my menopausal years, to support the deep cellular changes this transition brings. I gained a number of gentle, consistent, effective, and truly nourishing herbal allies I will consider to be lifelong friends. You’ll learn about using them to support the transformative processes of midlife, for women as well as for men, over these next few weeks in these pages.

Coming up next, The Chemistry of Menopause.

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

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Menopause as Shamanic Journey – Part 1


From a shamanic perspective, menopause is an initiation process into ageless and ancient midlife mysteries. Why look at menopause from a shamanic perspective? Because shamanic awareness implies deepening, as well as developing personal power, or spirit power. Not power over anyone, or anything, but an inner strength, a power from within.

Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause from a shamanic perspective is walking a beauty path of inner knowing and self realization. Soul work. We are talking about a natural, chemically induced, spiritual growth process, an age-appropriate initiation that connects us to every other human who ever lived to midlife on the planet throughout time. This ancient passage also links us in an unbroken line back to the ceremonies held by ancient indigenous peoples throughout the world, such as the ancient Goddess cultures, the early Mesolithic hunting-gathering societies of Eurasia, and New World cultures.

Like all true shamanic initiations, menopause is a complete metamorphosis that consists of three distinct phases. In today’s world, if you are a woman presenting early menopausal symptoms, your medical doctor may refer to the first phase of this initiation as peri-menopause and offer you hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) to ease the symptoms.

If you are a man, your midlife changes likely bewilder you, and may drive you to take pharmaceutical antidepressants to mask your pain. You can certainly choose these routes if you want to. But please consider another option. Consider a life-affirming, life-honoring surrender to the natural world. Consider Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause from a shamanic perspective.

Allow your unique passage, your sacred story to unfold, unsuppressed, before you. Honor the soul of your menopause and welcome your changes. Allow your menopausal/andropausal symptoms to point the way toward the nourishment you need.

Heart palpitations? Nourish the heart. Uptight? Anxiety-ridden? Jumping out of your skin? Nourish the nervous system. Depressed? Nourish your spirit. Generally run down? Feel like shit? Nourish your immunity. Trust the infinite wisdom of your body/mind/spirit.

Allow yourself the opportunity to choose a path that will bring you to the door of self realization, self acceptance, and self love. A path that will lead you into relationship, and therefore connection, with Mother Earth and all your relations. A path that will bring you into resonance with the medicine plants, the nourishing, tonic, and blessed herbs. I encourage you to choose a path of healing and nourishment, a path of beauty, a path of grace.

This ancient path, abundantly strewn with luscious and nourishing herbal allies, I will be laying our before you here over the next few weeks. Blessings on your journey!

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

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Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis – Fabaceae

It turns out that sucking on a licorice stick is a great way to take your medicine.

I’ve been formulating with this herb these last few weeks and doing quite a bit of research on it this past year. Licorice has an amazing array of therapeutic uses and a safe history of use that extends back for several millennia. Here’s a bit of what I’ve discovered about the uses of this delicious root thus far.

Licorice is a highly regarded adaptogen with thousands of years of recorded use in China, the Middle East and Europe. It was written about in China as far back as 3,000 B.C., where it was used to “strengthen the bones and sinews, enhance muscle growth and strength and heal wounds.”

The Greek botanist Theophrastus mentioned licorice in his classic work entitled Enquiry into Plants written in the third century B.C. He proclaimed the roots to be sweet and wrote that they were being used specifically for those with dry coughs and respiratory illness.

Dioscorides, one of my favorites of the ancient herbalists, who wrote De Materia Medica, gave licorice its Latin genus name, Glycyrrhiza, which literally means “sweet root.” He used it for those who suffered stomach distress, and also to heal the throat, liver and kidneys. These uses for licorice roots are still in practice today.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine licorice is referred to as the peace-keeper. The Chinese class it among their superior herbs, which is very similar to the definition of adaptogens today. It is very commonly added in small amounts to Chinese herbal formulas and is considered exceptionally useful to stop diarrhea, relieve fatigue, stimulate the appetite and soothe gastric irritation.

Throughout Europe licorice is used to treat dry cough, dry mouth, wheezing and lung problems such as asthma and bronchitis. It is also used to counter bacterial infection and as a gargle for sore throat. Licorice is known to counter toxic poisoning from pesticides, herbicides, lead and pharmaceutical drugs.

Licorice is considered a nootropic agent, which is a substance that acts on the mind, improving cerebral circulation and enhancing memory and mental function. It is excellent added to formulas intended to benefit the brain and mental functioning, improve memory, clarity, concentration and focus. It is said to help harmonize the body/mind/spirit connection.

Licorice offers antiviral properties, is an effective antihistamine and acts as an anti-inflammatory with its rich stores of steroidal precursors. The roots also offer an abundance of antioxidants, are demulcent, expectorant, and have demonstrated considerable tumor inhibiting properties.

Licorice is a supreme liver tonic. It heals liver damage, is hepatoprotective and is called for in treating hepatitis and cirrhosis.

It is an excellent herbal choice for countering stress and repairing the damage stress causes in the body. Licorice is effectively used to treat adrenal insufficiency, modulate elevated blood sugar levels, and ease the frequency of colds and flu.

It is a proven immunomodulator and therefore of special benefit to those with any autoimmune disease, cancer or chronic fatigue syndrome. In cases of over-reactive immune system licorice will reduce the excessive immune response. Where immune function is low, licorice will help to boost the sluggish response.

These tasty roots promote the production of estrogen in the body and so have long been used to balance hormones and reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause. Licorice roots offer special health benefits to breast tissue and have been used to plump up and beautify the breasts for centuries.

Licorice offers significant benefits for those suffering with any kind of digestive dysfunction. It works to heal irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases, including Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is an excellent remedy for any inflammation or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, gastritis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, ileitis, leaking gut syndrome and is a very good digestive tonic. It is exceedingly soothing to the entire digestive system.

Licorice is also an important herb to use for all allergy related skin problems. It helps boost the body’s natural steroid production and counters inflammation and irritation. It can be used topically to treat skin sensitivity, itching, rashes and inflammation, and also taken internally.

Contraindications – Licorice roots have been safely used for thousands of years. However, there are some cautions. It is best avoided by those with hypertension. Excess use can cause a condition known as hyperaldosteremia, where a person retains sodium, loses potassium and develops high blood pressure. Moderation, and use as directed is advised.

Recommended dosages:

Tincture – 10-20 drops three times daily
Standard infusion – 4 oz. twice daily internally or use as a wash or soak.
Syrup/honey – 1 tablespoon 2-3 times daily

Caution –Do not use with potassium-depleting diuretics, digoxin or MAO inhibitors.

Note: Licorice reduces the toxicity of steroids such as prednisone.

For MOFGA/USDA Certified Organic licorice tincture visit our website: http://www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

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A Prayer for Today

May all those who lost their lives on this day rest in eternal peace.

May all those who feel great pain today find comfort.

May all the world find peace and joy.

May all our hearts be filled with love. Amen

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Aloe Vera – Healing Plant

Aloe Vera – Aloe Barbadensis Miller

The word Aloe in Sanskrit means Goddess.

Known by such names as healing plant, miracle plant, burn plant, first aid plant, lily of the desert, jelly leek, plant of life and plant of immortality, Aloe vera and related species are well loved and widely used around the world.

Originally a native of South and East Africa, this remarkable healing plant flourishes in warm, dry climates such as the Mediterranean. I’ve seen many humongous Aloe plants rising up from the mountainsides throughout southern Italy where I spend my winters. Home in Maine, we grow our Aloe in pots on a sunny windowsill.

A member of the Liliacea family, Aloe vera is a succulent perennial, grows in a clump and has long, spiky, grey-green leaves. The yellow-orange tubular flowers bloom at the top of tall spikes that emerge from the center of the plant. There are approximately 400 species of Aloe, but it is the Aloe Barbadensis Miller, or “true aloe,” referred to as Aloe vera, that possesses the most remarkable healing properties.

History – Aloes have a history of use going back for at least 5,000 years. In Ayurvedic medicine Aloe vera gel is considered to possess estrogenic properties, and this may be one of the reasons the plant was so highly esteemed by Indian, Arab, Egyptian and Mediterranean women. Aloe was known and widely used in Asia, and is found in the folklore of the Japanese, Filipinos and Hawaiians. Its name is derived from the Arabic word alloeh, meaning bitter, most likely due to the bitter liquid found in the leaves.

A Sumerian clay tablet found in the city of Nippur, written around 2,200 B.C., documents the first recorded use of Aloe vera as a laxative. A detailed account of Aloe’s medicinal value is found in the Egyptian Papyrus Ebers, dated about 1,550 B.C. This document records twelve formulas combining Aloe with other substances for the treatment of both internal and external ills.

The New Testament tells us that “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” John 19:38-40

The master of Roman pharmacology, Dioscorides, 41 A.D.-68 A.D., expanded his herbal knowledge and skill as he traveled throughout the lands with the Roman army. He observed that the whole aloe vera leaf, when pulverized, would stop the bleeding of wounds and attributed to its juices “the power of binding, of inducing sleep.” Dioscorides further noted that it “loosens the belly, cleansing the stomach” and was used to treat boils, ease hemorrhoids, heal bruises and dry, itchy skin conditions, was good for the tonsils, gums and mouth irritations, and that it was an effective medicine for the eyes. By the year 200 A.D. Aloe had become an essential and vital part of Roman medicine.

The plant was brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 1600s. It was planted in gardens and used extensively by the missionaries as well as by the indigenous people as a universal healing agent. Aloe was officially listed as both a purgative and a skin protector by the United States pharmacopoeia in 1820.

Medicinal Uses – During the 20th century countless studies were conducted around the world demonstrating Aloe vera to be therapeutic as well as curative for a wide range of ills. Among them, Aloe has been shown to heal as well as to prevent radiation burns, cut the healing time of fire burns by at least half, and heal ulcers, dermatitis and skin diseases caused by parasites.

Aloe successfully heals cuts, blisters, sores and acne. It greatly improves skin texture and helps eliminate dryness, itching, eczema, psoriasis and other skin diseases. Studies have shown that aloe regenerates skin cells, eliminates scarring and promotes regeneration of natural skin color.

It has effectively been used as a treatment for peptic ulcers, lung disorders, chronic leg ulcers, periodontal disease, seborrhea and hair loss. Aloe is effective against ringworm and other fungal infections, abscess, inflamed cysts and hot spots.

Studies performed in the 1960s and repeated in the 1980s confirmed findings that Aloe is highly effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus viridaus, Candida albicans, Corynebacterium xerosis, and the five strains of Streptococcus Mutant, and that it is nontoxic. Furthermore, Aloe quickly relieves pain, eliminates soreness, irritation and swelling, and is a very effective treatment for herpes and shingles. Researchers concluded that Aloe is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent and is effective against a broad spectrum of micro-organisms.

Studies conducted at the Chicago Burn Center demonstrated the ability of Aloe vera to heal third degree burns and frost bite up to six times faster than accepted modern medical treatment. Dr. Heggars, M.D., who directed the study, concluded that these healing effects were due, at least in part, to the steroidal compounds and salicylic acid present in the whole leaf. He found that Aloe eliminated scarring; normal skin color returned, and the hair follicles were completely regenerated, allowing for re-growth of hair in burned areas of the skin and scalp. Aloe was found to be more effective in preventing and controlling infections than Silver Sulfadiazine.

Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute concluded that drinking Aloe vera juice helps improve protein digestion, promotes balance of digestive bacteria, relieves indigestion and reduces acid stomach. They also found that it helps normalize bowel movements, controls yeast infections, can be a benefit to those dealing with irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, and that it has no toxic effects.

Researchers from Okinawa, Japan, reported in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research that Aloe contained at least three anti-tumor agents, emodin, mannose and lectin. When Dr. James Duke, the well known and much beloved herbal educator, was with the United States Department of Agriculture, he approved the use of Aloe mannose as a treatment of soft tissue cancer in animals and of feline leukemia.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Aloe vera is considered a cool, moistening, Yin tonic and used to allay irritation, inflammation and infection and also to relieve congestion.

A Pharmacy in a Plant – Aloe contains at least 140 individual substances – no less than 70 essential nutrients, including a wealth of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein, phytosterols and amino acids.

Aloe vera juice offers vitamins A (beta-carotene and retinol), B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin), choline, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherol) and folic acid; plus the minerals calcium, chlorine, copper, germanium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, silicon, sodium, sulfur and zinc.

The plant also contains the organic acids chrysophanic, salicylic, succinic and uric and all-important polysaccharides, long chain sugar molecules such as acemannen, which act as immune stimulators and anti-inflammatory agents, as well as enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase, and resins.

Phytosterols such as B-sitosterol, a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cholestromatic, which helps to lower cholesterol levels, and lupeol, a potent pain reliever and antimicrobial agent, are also present.

Among Aloe’s ingredients are at least six potent antiseptic agents: lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamonic acid, phenols and sulphur. All of these substances kill or control mold, bacteria, fungus, and viruses which helps explain Aloe’s ability to eliminate many internal and external infections.

Aloe also contains at least 23 polypeptides, or immune stimulators, and so is active against a wide range of immune system diseases. These polypeptides, together with the anti-tumor agents Aloe emodin and Aloe lectin, make Aloe an effective ally for the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Acemannan, a constituent of aloe gel shown in laboratory tests to have strong immune-stimulating and potent anti-viral activity, is thought to mimic the function of AZT, and is currently being tested as a promising adjunct to AIDS therapy. When 20 ounces of Aloe vera juice was orally administered to 69 AIDS patients per day, symptoms eventually disappeared in 81% of these patients.

Directions for Use – Aloe vera is simple to use to treat external conditions, such as burns, wounds and skin afflictions. The clear gel inside the leaf has an immediate soothing effect and places a protective coat over the affected area, speeding the rate of healing and reducing the risk of infection. This action is due in part to the presence of aloectin B, another immune stimulating constituent present in the gel. To obtain the gel, cut a leaf in half along its length and apply the inner pulp to the affected area.

The yellow sap that oozes from the base of the leaf when it is cut is called bitter aloes. This bitter sap contains anthraquinones which are a useful digestive stimulant and act as a strong laxative. Anthraquinones also bind to calcium in the urinary tract and significantly reduce urinary calcium crystals. Aloe can be used to prevent stone formation and reduce the size of kidney stones.

Aloe juice, made from both the skin and gel of the plant, may be a useful therapy for those with diabetes type II, as laboratory studies show that it can stimulate insulin release from the pancreas and reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels in the blood. Throughout history Aloe juice has been mixed with water, milk, wine, honey and many other substances to make it easier to use and more palatable, with no loss of effectiveness.

Remember that it is the synergistic relationship between all parts of the plant that make Aloe vera such an amazing healer. Most authorities agree that there is no single agent responsible for Aloe vera’s ability to heal, and therefore using the whole leaf is most effective. In antiquity the whole plant was used, rather than one or another of its parts. The leaves were often ground up and cooked to preserve their medicinal value when traded across long distances. Successful modern studies have used either a combination of the sap and gel, or the whole leaf.

Household benefits – Aloe plants improve air quality, and when grown in pots inside the house, help remove toxins from the atmosphere. The plant has a strong reputation in the magical realms; because its leaves emerge from the base of the plant in groups of three, it has been associated with the sacred Trinity since the most ancient times. Additionally, Aloe vera is believed to protect the home and its inhabitants from the evil eye and when kept in the kitchen, helps prevent culinary mishaps.

Caution: People with heart disease, kidney disease, or electrolyte abnormalities should not take aloe internally. Topical use of Aloe is entirely safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding but oral use is not recommended.

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, Bertha Canterbury/Rosina Publishers, 2009


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