Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amazing Flower Remedies

Have you had the experience of suddenly discovering something amazing and new, and  wondering why everyone wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops? I felt like that on the summer day in England when I first saw a crop circle. I couldn’t believe that all the world’s newspapers weren’t running front page headlines on this incredible phenomenon. I also felt this way when I took my first class on flower essences. These exquisite creations of nature, flowers, are all around us. And not only do they grace our lives with beauty and play a crucial role in attracting insects to propagate their species. They are also potent remedies for emotional and spiritual well-being! What a concept! The flower essence workshop that I took in the 1980’s opened my eyes to a new kind of plant medicine. Since then I have used flower remedies myself and often helped friends decide what ones will benefit them most.

Over the ages, flowers have been used for healing in a variety of ways. But it was Edward Bach, an English physician in the 1930’s, who began to do research on the effect of flower essences on some of his patients with emotional and tough-to-treat physical and attitudinal difficulties. He eventually developed 38 flower essences, addressing many human patterns that get in the way of emotional, spiritual and physical health. For example, Agrimony helps with self-worth, Chicory with inter-personal love, Hornbeam with strength to carry out personal intention, Scleranthus with balance and stability, and the list goes on. Bach Flower Remedies are used worldwide today by millions of people.

In the past twenty or thirty years, other folks have developed their own lines of flower remedies, treating a broader range of human challenges than the Bach remedies addressed.  There are fascinating books on the uses of flower essences in medicine, psychotherapy, social work, crisis care, aging, developmental transitions, child care, and pet care, just to name a few. But what I like is that you can experiment with these gentle helpers, with no fear of an ill effect. This is what is known as vibrational medicine, and there is very little, if any, of the actual flower in the final mix. You make a flower essence with the clean petals from a particular flower, clear pure water, and the sun.

Making Flower Essences is one of the new workshops that we’ll be offering at Wapsinonoc Gardens this summer, once there are a variety of flowers blooming here. Stay tuned for the date.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dandelions! My Favorite Breakfast!

As I was walking to the mailbox this morning, I almost tripped over this healthy dandelion, amazingly growing right in the middle of my gravel driveway! Although my favorite spring food is dandelion leaves, spring has come so astonishingly early this year that I hadn't thought about looking for dandelions yet. But there it was, this intrepid plant, right in my path. And I immediately looked around at my garden's edge and found wonderful lush dandelion growth:
I picked a good handful of the leaves, being careful to choose from a variety of plants rather than depriving any one plant of all its leaves. (Even though this area will eventually be mowed, it feels important to honor the plant this way, being grateful for its nourishment and not taking too much.) A few feet to the north, I saw a stand of bunching onions (one of the first things ready for harvest in the spring in my garden), and pulled several of them to add to the mix:

Now I had the makings for a wonderful breakfast, just what my body yearns for in the spring:

Pick a good handful of dandelion leaves and several bunching onions (you can use regular onions, chives, or green onions instead).
Cut these up in fine pieces and gently stir-fry in olive oil for a minute or two.
Add two beaten eggs to the pan of greens and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until done.
You can add salt, pepper, hot sauce, or grated cheese. Or you can eat it without embellishments like I do.
Yum, yum!

Facts about Dandelions:
Rosemary Gladstar calls Dandelion one of the great tonic herbs of all time, and I agree. Every part of the plant is important to humans. The root is a digestive bitter, nourishing the liver and kidneys. The leaves are extremely high in vitamins and minerals. And the flowers are used in wines and jellies (and children will tell you that holding a dandelion under your chin will predict whether you like butter!). The best thing about dandelions is that they grow everywhere. Now is the best time to harvest the leaves, for they are mild and tender. It you don't at first see any outside, just get closer to the ground and let your eyes scan for those jagged green leaves curling up from the ground. Usually there are more of them around than you think.

Another wild herb that is suddenly coming up and ready for harvest is the nettle plant:
The taste of nettle is not one of my favorites. In fact, I try to disguise the taste with other better-tasting things. In the winter, I make a strong decoction of nettle leaves, oatstraw, and licorice root, chill it, and drink a glass or two a day. Now, though, I can go out with gloves and scissors, and pick enough nettle to add to stirfry, or to make tea. Like dandelion, it is chock full of vitamins and minerals.  It is good for the metabolism, for the reproductive system, the kidneys, for helping with PMS and menopause, and it is a great energy booster.

Note: Yes, this is the stinging nettle that we are taught to avoid. That's why you need to wear gloves and long pants when harvesting. Just bring a large bowl or bag and a pair of scissors with you. Hold the bowl underneath the plant and clip the young tops into the bowl. If you have a stand of nettles nearby, it is good to keep them trimmed throughout the season so that you have a constant supply of young tops for harvest.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Finally, pictures of my newest friend

I have seen the frog three times since my post of a couple weeks ago. The first time I snapped many pictures, but somehow they didn't register on the camera. Maybe this was a frog who didn't want his picture taken! But this morning, there he was on a flat of germinating seeds, and this time the pictures came out fine. He likes the relative warmth of this flat, since it has a warming pad underneath.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plant Helper for coughs and colds

The farmers market is a great place to get fresh healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs. The photo above is my grandson, Henry, tending the Wapsinonoc Gardens stand at the Iowa City market last summer. This winter we have experimented with a farmers market inside a school gym, open every other week. Although sales are not as brisk as in the warm seasons, I have been a vendor at most of these inside markets, selling herbal products like healing salves, medicinal tinctures, eye pillows and shoulder/neck pillows. Last week, one of the other venders (an Hispanic woman who embroiders exquisite and colorful clothes and bags) asked me if I had anything to help her son. He had a cough and congestion that seemed never-ending. After looking through the tinctures on my table, I traded this worried mother a bottle of elecampane tincture for an embroidered hair clasp, and hoped that her son would agree to take a few drops three times a day. Then I forgot about it. 

A few days later, I got a call from another Hispanic woman who wanted some elecampane tincture too! Evidently the first woman’s son was improving on the elecampane, and good news travels fast! These transplanted women were accustomed to using herbs for healing in their native countries, and they were reluctant to take their children to the doctor for every sickness. Yet they were far away from the herb women they grew up with. It felt good to be able to be there when they needed a more natural remedy.

The best news is that herbs do heal. And not only can you grow your own. You can also easily make medicine from them. Elecampane, when it’s blooming, draws all the attention in my north garden. It is a giant of a plant, and its sunflower-like blooms are cheerful and sunny. Some folks might grow it just because it looks attractive, but I grow it for its roots. After the plant’s second or third year, the roots are big enough to dig up, and they are a wonderful helper for chest ailments: coughs, bronchitis, asthma, even tuberculosis! Although you can make a strong tea (or decoction) from the roots, it doesn’t taste very good. So I usually tincture it and have it ready for anyone who needs it.

Directions for making elecampane tincture:
Dig the plant up during the warm season, cut off the top, and wash the root well, using a brush and forceful water. Then dry it thoroughly. This might mean letting it sit out in the sun or in the house for a day to make sure that the excess water has evaporated.  Then cut the root up in small pieces with a sharp knife. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area will be in contact with the vodka. Fill a jar with the pieces of root, and then pour in 100 proof vodka to the top. Put a lid on the jar and label it with the date and the contents. Let it sit for at least six weeks, shaking or stirring occasionally. If vodka is absorbed by the root pieces, add more vodka to cover. When you are ready to decant the tincture, put cheesecloth or some other similar cloth over a bowl and pour the tincture through the cloth, letting the bowl catch the infused vodka. Then pull the sides of the cloth up together and twist and twist, getting every last drop of the precious medicine out and into the bowl. Once you’ve gotten all you can, discard the roots and pour the decanted tincture into dosage bottles or a larger bottle for storage. Keep in a relatively dark place until needed. Tinctures will last for many years.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meet My Newest Friend

I wish I could include a picture here of my newest friend, but I have only seen him twice and didn’t think to grab a camera. The first time was one morning in my kitchen near the stove. I was heading toward the skillet with my scrambled eggs when I noticed something on the floor. It didn’t look like an animal, more like a piece of trash. But when I knelt down to get a better look, here was a living thing, its sides moving in and out. At first I didn’t know what this creature was. It looked emaciated, covered in cobwebs and dust, skinny. But it had the rough shape of a toad or frog (in my house? in the middle of winter?). Even though I live on a farm, I’d never seen a frog in my house, even in warmer seasons. Where did this fellow come from? And how had he survived this long? Assuming that he was in trouble, what could I do but try to help him?

My first thought was to take him outside where he belonged. Then I realized that he would freeze. The temperature was in the teens, the ground was frozen, and he would have no chance out there. So I filled a largish plastic lid with water, and went to the windows looking for flies. Aha, a spider was crawling into a corner and I gently caught him and brought him to what I had decided was a frog, not a toad. He showed no interest. Not even a flick of the tongue. OK, I thought, I’ll just leave him alone for now (I assumed without any evidence that this was a he-frog). I left the water and the spider, and went on with my day. Later I came back to check on the dusty creature and I was delighted to see that he had gotten in the water (it had scum and dust and cobwebs floating on the top) and had hopped off to wherever he lived. I loved it! We had connected, this wild creature and I.

I cleaned out the lid and filled it with fresh water before going to bed that night, and the next morning there was more scum floating on the top. Not only that, but the frog was again sitting by his plastic jar-lid, hanging out in the open. I found a fly and a boxelder bug to offer him, but he was not interested. This seemed to be a self-sufficient sort of frog with a good supply of his favorite insects in residence. (What does this say about my housekeeping, I wonder?)

And so for more than a week, I kept the lid filled with fresh water each night, and each morning there would be evidence that the frog had jumped in and out of it. I never saw him again, but somehow this tentative connection with another life form was a sweet one for me.

And then I had to go away for nine days. Oh my, I thought. What would happen to my frog? (I’m sure HE didn’t think he was my frog, but I had bonded with him and in my mind he was part of my family now.) When I finally got back from my trip, of course the water had all evaporated from the lid, and there was no evidence of the frog. I was sad. Yet I did fill the lid again and put it on the floor before I went to bed. Why not? Stranger things have happened than a frog appearing again after nine days, right?

The next morning I went into the kitchen and turned on the light. Was that scum in the lid? Yes! He was still there, in spite of my absence! I marveled at the feeling of elation that rushed over me, all because of a tentative relationship with a little wild thing. But you take your joy wherever you can get it. And this unexpected alliance between person and frog had caught my imagination and touched my heart. 

I haven’t actually seen my new friend since I got back, just the scummy evidence of his activity in the water each morning. And I forgot to fill the lid last night. But tonight I will remember, and now I know he is not dependent upon me. He is just fine without me, I think, but his life is a little more comfortable and cleaner with my small contribution. And I feel somehow honored to have this slim bond with a wild creature.