Tag Archives: herbalism

Clever Cleavers

Cleavers, Galium Aparine

At this time of year, just before the winter sets in, I like to ally with an herb called Cleavers for a 2 week period to prepare my body for the warrior season of winter. Cleavers, botanically named Galium aparine, are also called Everlasting Friendship, Grip Grass, Sweethearts, Love-man, and Sweethearts. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? While it’s not an aphrodisiac herb per se, there is a lot to love about this clingy little plant friend.

The cleaver plant is found in hedgerows and fields where there are bushes, with tiny flowers and small prickly green fruits. The stems are “hairy,” and stick to animals, other plants, and people passing by it. It is one of the first wild plants to sprout as early as January.

Cleavers is an excellent tonic for the Lymph System.

When we think of winter, we usually think about building up and strengthening our immune systems for potential dangers such as colds, flus, and viruses. That is true. We must also be aware of the importance of the health of our lymph system in building our immunity. The lymph system, part of the circulatory system, “provides a vehicle for the elements of the immune system to travel about monitoring the body’s internal environment and maintaining the stability of the body functions.” (Rosemary Gladstar) Different parts of our bodies are protected by groups of lymph nodes. For example, nodes on the neck protect the head, nodes under the arms protect the chest, and so on. Often the first indication of an infection in the throat is that swollen feeling in the glands (which are really clusters of immune system cells), an indication that the body is waging war on a foreign invader, and healing itself.

A clear, flowing lymph system is pivotal in our overall health and wellness, though it can be prone to toxic buildup or stagnancy. That is because another function of the lymph is to carry various wastes from the liver and cellular metabolism. When the lymph system is overburdened with wastes, it is unable to filter and neutralize waste properly, resulting in inflammation, chronic fatigue, and reduced immune response. Cysts, tumors, prostate infections, urinary infections, and even pimples are also caused by buildup of lymph toxins. When the lymph system is weakened or backed up, the immune system cannot function optimally by any means.

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Celebration of the Changing Seasons tincture, with Cleavers & Milk Thistle

That is why cleavers are such a treasured ally at this time – before winter comes, and also in the Spring, to cleanse the body once more. Cleavers are Nature’s gift to us in relieving lymph buildup. They actually help the lymph system in its job of neutralizing metabolic wastes! Oftentimes, chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and eruptive infections are lymph-related and can be improved with lymph-cleansing. Other conditions related to the lymph are ear-infections, swollen adenoids, glands, and tonsillitis.

Last year, I allied with Cleavers and Milk Thistle for a 2 week period. I made a delicious tincture that I called “Celebration of the Changing Seasons tincture,” featuring these two herbs. Cleavers for the lymph and Milk Thistle for the liver. I felt great, did not have a flu shot, nor did I get sick once throughout the winter. This 2 week Cleaver cleanse in conjunction with exercise, eating seasonally, dressing warm, and allying with other herbs for warmth and nourishment in the winter are all you need to build a fortress of wellness around yourself for winter.

Try cleavers :tea, tincture, infused in vinegar or honey, or fresh in salads.

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Summer of Herbs: Seize the Season

Now, we are in the deep midst of summertime, when it’s brighter out the window than I ever remembered it being, when the Imagecicadas’ crescendoing hymns rise and fall to a rhythm of their own, when the gentle breeze on my second floor apartment permeates the heady scents of the spearmint, lemon balm, sage, and lavender bushels hanging from every which hook I could find to dry them, in the effort to store them and all these things, for the Autumn and Winter. I love infusing herbs in oils, water, alcohol, and vinegar in the sunshine, under the moon, out in the open air, the rain, the dew, the birdsongs, the cicada chorus, because it allows nature to be infused into them. Later on, in a few months when all these intricacies of summer will have passed and I’ll have forgotten how bright it can be outside, I’ll be able to access the energy of summer through these herbal infusions in the forms of teas, tinctures, oils, vinegars, and balms. Their scent will remain secured in glass jars; and scent being the most poignant sense, with the greatest power to evoke memory, will momentarily transport me, calm me, instill hope in me, for a future time and place. I recently learned that the sense of smell is intrinsically linked to the future, redemption, and to the next world, and that is why in the Jewish Havdalah ceremony that is made after the Sabbath, a second blessing for the spices is not made, because scents are already completely elevated and of another realm and plane of existence. Summer’s gift is one of bright light, openness, and carefree joy. A wild, uninhibited bounty of plants and flowers burst from the Earth, offering us more than we can even imagine having. My own tiny garden plot at my parent’s home is no larger than a few square feet, yet the bounty seems to be endless. I believe this is nature’s way of helping us get through the future seasons, by harvesting, drying, and storing herbs and other gifts. Autumn, Winter, and Spring have their own gifts that are each so beautiful and perfect – each so vital. It’s a blessing to live in tune with the seasons, to look into the eyes and heart of each one and determine what is its essence, its teaching. Summer is generous and full. Today, driving with my husband down the bright road, planning a trip out on Long Island to harvest more wild plants, I realized we must seize the seasons.

ImageHow to Dry Herbs:

My favorite way of drying herbs (and the most practical for apartment living) is to gather bushels of herbs from the garden or the wild and tie a string around the stems. Separate the sprigs a bit so that there is room for air to circulate. I then hang these beautiful bouquets upside down from hooks, strings, or even cabinets in the kitchen. They should be kept out of direct sunlight, close to a window where air circulates. If you want to preserve the color of the herbs more, or protect them from light or dust, you can cover the bushel with a brown paper bag, with the stems at the opening of the bag. Then, cut open the bottom of the bag, and cut slits in the sides for more air ventilation. Check if the herbs are ready by feeling if they are crunchy and completely dry. When they are, take them down and pull off leaves into a bowl. Preserve the leaves in a air-tight jar in a dark, cool spot.

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Love Your Neighbor: At-Risk and To-Watch Native Herbs of Long Island, NY

As I began researching the native flora of Long Island, NY, I was fascinated by the diversity, magnitude, and beauty of the many medicinal and healing plants that I found. I was also stunned at how many of the native plants I came across are also on United Plant Savers‘ lists for at-risk or to-watch native plants. The goal in compiling these lists is to raise awareness of the fragility of our native flora and to be able to assist these irreplaceable plants to regrow and repopulate in their natural environment. We can do that by cultivating these plants ourselves and also not purchasing any products which use these plants from the wild, which would further strain the plants’ ability to survive for future generations. Let’s honor and educate ourselves about these amazing plants who are native to our home, what I like to think of as our dear old neighbors, who deserve our respect and our help in their time of need. Here is a list of Native Herbs and Plants of Long Island, NY that are on United Plant Savers’ At Risk or To-Watch lists:

Black Cohosh – an at-risk LI plant. source: everlastingseeds.com

At-Risk Native Plants of Long Island, NY:

Bloodroot –  Sanguinaria canadensis
Black Cohosh – Actaea racemosa (Cimicifuga)
Blue Cohosh – Caulophyllum thalictroides
Slippery Elm – Ulmus rubra
Sundew – Drosera spp.
–Drosera rotundifolia var. rotundifolia
–Drosera intermedia
Trillium, Beth Root – Trillium spp.
–Trillium cernuum
–Trillium erectum
Virginina Snakeroot – Aristolochia serpentaria
Wild Yam – Dioscorea villosa, D. spp.

To-Watch Native Plants in Long Island, NY:

Butterfly Milkweed – Asclepias tuberosa
Gentian -Gentiana spp.
Closed Gentian – Gentiana clausa
–Narrow-leaved Gentian – Gentiana linearis
–Soapwort Gentian – Gentiana saponaria
Lobelia – Lobelia spp.

Wild Blue Indigo – a To-Watch LI Plant. Source: Schaumburg Garden Club

–Great Blue Lobelia – Lobelia siphilitica
–Indian Tobacco – Lobelia inflata
Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum pendatum
Mayapple – Podophyllum peltatum
Partridgeberry – Mitchella repens
Wild Indigo – Baptisia tinctoria

Sources:

Plant Native: Regional Plant List for Long Island, NY
New York Flora Atlas
Wild Flower Center
United Plant Savers

Further Reading & Resources

Long Island Botanical Society
Top 10 Reasons to Use Native Plants in Your Garden
NY Flora Association Blog
NY Natural Heritage Program’s Plant Guides
NY Botanical Garden on Home Gardening

Soon I will be posting a list of Native Flora that are fortunately not at-risk, as well as information about the medicinal and traditional folkloric uses of many of the native flora of Long Island, in hopes that this information will inspire Long Island’s people to turn to the native flora for guidance, healing, and partnership in the old ways, for a better future for all.

Your input is appreciated and encouraged, do you know of any other native plants to add to these lists? Have any photographs of these plants growing near your home on Long Island? Please share!

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The Teachings of the Moon ♡ Full Moon in Cancer 12.28.12

goddesslife.com

This is the last full moon of 2012 (what many Native Americans called the Long Nights Moon) and how suiting it is that the moon dwells in Cancer tonight, its home constellation. Whenever a planet is in its ruling sign’s constellation (for example, the Moon in Cancer, Jupiter in Sagittarius, Mars in Aries, etc.) I think of it like a double-dose of that celestial partnership’s energy permeating the entire cosmos, Earth included. So tonight, as the Moon enters it’s comfort zone of Cancer, we can tap into that divine, intuitive, feminine energy of the Moon in all her glory.

Teachings of Mama Luna.
The moon rules the home, security, intimacy, and emotion. One’s moon sign is often overshadowed by the more popular sun sign,  however acknowledging where the moon was at the moment of one’s birth provides insight into his or her more internal, personal, and private side. I once read that one’s moon sign is the “self” that only his/her truest, closest friends and confidants ever truly know. Yet, these hidden aspects of ourselves are often the force behind so many of our actions and decisions. The moon appears in the dark as a reflection of the light of the sun. Sometimes only a sliver shows, other times not at all.  The moon teaches us humility and reflectiveness, a quiet yet magnanimous force of change and transformation. The moon is ever-changing and exerts a powerful influence over all aspects of life on Earth, as it shifts from new to full in just 28 days, traveling quickly through the zodiacal belt. Women’s natural rhythms are intrinsically aligned with the moon’s waxing and waning energy, along with the tides of all the bodies of water on Mother Earth. Deeply linked to romance, mystery, intuition, and magic, La Luna is representative of the inner soul and life that lies beneath the surface. Each month, the Full Moon embodies the concept of fruition; it is a time for beaming all of our energy and innermost desires throughout the universe in hopes of achieving wholeness ourselves. This Full Moon in Cancer carries a notably reflective, emotional, and feminine energy with it. Known sometimes as the Moon Maiden or Lady of the Night, many cultures associate the moon with the feminine:

The moon, when she was first created, was a glistening jewel. She did not merely reflect light, but rather transformed it and brought out its inner beauty, much as a precious stone glistens with a secret, hidden light all its own. In her own way, the moon was greater than the sun — for the sun only shines from its surface, whereas the moon shone from its inner essence. The sun holds the light that extends outward, whereas the moon holds the light of being. (Kabbalistic reflection on the moon from chabad.org)

…Their Grandmother, Sky Woman, now came to the end of her life. When she died, the Twins fought over her body and pulled it apart, throwing her head into the sky. As part of the Sky World, there her head remained to shine upon the world as Grandmother Moon. (Iriquois Creation Story)

This full moon is an auspicious time to honor the feminine energy within all living things. Each creation contains both male and female energy, and the moon truly exemplifies the power of the feminine that brings transformation and nurturing to the world. Reflect upon the powerful female energy in your life and honor it in your own way tonight. Do you give enough attention to your moon sign? Do you express your inner desires and needs often enough? Are you in touch with the part of you that is intuitive, feeling, and sacred?

Herbal Rituals for the Full Cancer Moon

moonstone ring by Sky at Etsy

☽ Aromatherapy with jasmine and sandalwood. Use essential oils in a bath or in an infuser or simply burn a piece of sandalwood and smudge your space with it. The scents of these fine flowers and trees evoke passions and permeate a positive energy throughout the home. Cancer rules the home, so it’s a great time to tend to your home’s beauty and harmony. Rearranging furniture can often move around negative or stuck energy and bring a new feeling to the space.

☽ Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris is named for its connection to the moon goddess Artemis, protector of the forests. Drinking a tea of mugwort, lavender, hops, and skullcap before sleep is a magical way to induce a dreamy sleep and some say it helps the dreamer recall and understand the deep meanings of dreams. You can make an herb-infused oil with mugwort and massage onto your lower belly, chest, and anywhere where there is tightness or knots. The mugwort helps to resolve deep emotional pain and releases cramping. Tonight is especially special to ally with this moon herb because of the placement of the moon in Cancer!

☽ Moonstone is a luminescent, mystical, and mysterious stone that seems to magically shift colors and hues before your eyes. It looks much like the moon, pearly, glowing, and mesmerizing. Much akin to its ruling planet, this stone is protective for women and gets us in tune with our feelings. Wearing or gazing at the stone can help us to have hope and embrace new beginnings through ancient wisdom.

Blessing. May this full moon, the last of the year, bring you security, protection, and connection to the inherent wise woman/man within you. May your journey to know and love your truest and highest self be filled with love, peace, and deep meaning. Your connections with all earth-kind be from a place of love and respect. As you gaze upon the full moon, listen to the whisper of your heart and the cosmic heart telling you to trust yourself on your journey.

For information about a personalized astrology based herbal consultation by Gem, contact me or visit my etsy shop listing or website at  www.gembotanicals.com

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the whole universe conspires to guide you on your path

syn·chro·nic·i·ty
The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection, coined by Carl Jung.

me holding the borrowed rare book in the bright winter sunlight today

me holding the borrowed rare book in the bright winter sunlight today

I recently started working as a substitute teacher at a local school and one day I was at the computer looking at Susun Weed‘s website, reading about nettle infusions, when the secretary nearby said something about her sister who is an herbalist living in NY’s East Village. My ears perked up and I eagerly asked, “you have an herbalist sister?!” She saw how excited I was and told me about her sister who had studied upstate back in the 60’s with a well-known herbalist, whose name she just couldn’t recall. I had a hunch and guessed, “do you mean Susun Weed??” Her eyes lit up and she confirmed, “oh yes, her!” I was so blown away because I was literally on Susun’s site at that very moment, reading about nettle infusions. So the woman continued, “yes, my sister is an herbalist and she always teaches me about herbs. She’s even written a book about herbs. She told me to drink nettle infusion every day!” By this point I just couldn’t believe my ears. Of all the hundreds of articles on Susun’s website, I was just reading about nettles! We both became very aware of the synchronicity in this moment and felt the excitement grow. As our connection to the plants unraveled, we realized what a bond we share through them. The cherry on top was when I found out that the book her sister wrote was Herbal Rituals: Recipes for Everyday Living. This was no ordinary herb book, but rather a book that has been on my wish list for over 5 years now! It is out of print so I never got myself a copy, but here I am, sitting in my bed, sipping tea and reading the herbal book I dreamed of for so many years.

This is just one of many plant synchronicities that I’ve experienced on my journey, and I know so many of you have these things going on all the time as well. I’d love to hear about your experiences! Feel free to email me or even post on my Facebook wall, I’d love to get a discussion going where we can all share these magic happenings and reap inspiration and guidance from them! I have a strong feeling that many of us also go through common plant synchronicities as well, so it would be interesting to look at those trends as a community!

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