There's many reasons why this plant has circled the globe with us! Some plants will always walk close to people and this is definitely one of them.
Let's talk Chocolate
I have met only one person who did not like chocolate and one who was allergic in all of my travels. Have you ever pondered why this tropical plant's seeds are so popular and how places, like Switzerland who cannot grow Cacao, have become well known for their chocolate? Some plants have this ability to inspire humans to accomplish such feats. I've included a recipe for a powdered hot chocolate here that is becoming part of my gifting this year and just had to share the recipe because it's that good. Try it, I'm serious!
A quick peak at some of the benefits include:
That's just a few. More to share in another article later. Promise!
The darker the better is the caveat. Quality matters.
Cultivate a taste for the more bitter, quality made chocolate and you will find that you only need a small piece to satisfy that urge. Poor quality or milk chocolate makes us crave more because the body is looking for the medicine and nutrients which are basically diluted (or adulterated) in these forms. Hence, you have to eat more and more, which increases sugar and caloric intake. This is so not necessary so stick to fair trade, dark, and organic too. Yes, the bars are more on the cost side but actually less expensive on the health maintenance side of the equation. Supporting the families that work hard in the tropics with these indigenous plants deserve to get our global honoring too through supportive purchases. That makes for good medicine all around.
Cacao & Ishpingo Tree Replanting and Prayer Dedication Project
I'm heading to Ecuador in February 2017 to see my teacher Rocio Alarcon who is from the rain forest. She has planned a reforestation project in an area devastated by clear cutting and oil drilling to satisfy our oil hungry country that is destroying many things, one of which is the WATER. This was no small feet either as the government first wanted to plant grass and foreign trees. Rocio presented an impeccably sound ecological management plan for the same area that would serve the area better and it was accepted! We will be reintroducing two native tree species and one is Ecuadorian Cacao (...squealing with toes wiggling... excited is an understatement!). Why is this as important as getting away from oil? The rain forests are needed to maintain our global ecosystem. With 20% destroyed and 20% not functioning well, we have a dilemma. Replanting must happen along with seeking alternative lifestyles that are more energy efficient. It starts one tree at a time.
Should you wish to send prayers and dedicate a tree(s) to your family or any person, place, or cause...
I'm carrying my small Ecuadorian handmade bag from the women of this area with these small, private, sacred, paper, prayer bundles tried with string or twine that you prepare and contain your intimate prayers between you and the Earth Mother. They will be ceremonially dedicated to a tree(s) in honor of who you decide needs such dedicated prayers. The trees are $11 and grown by native women in Ecuador. If your heart calls for this, email me for my address and details (see below). I'm truly honored and so excited to be a part of this. Your name or place or cause will hang on a small tag in the middle of the rain forest in honor of your prayers that will either be buried with your tree(s) or burned in ceremony to release the prayers. Join me in making small actions ripple out for real change to grow.
OK Jen the recipe... Did I mention my favorite recipe for hot cocoa?
This makes a powdered hot cocoa mix without milk. You can add 1-2 tablespoons to warming cow, goat or coconut (my favorite!) milk for the best hot cocoa. The trick here, get the best quality ingredients you can find! It makes all the difference.
-* You decide how sweet but even with 2 cups it is not very sweet. Start with one cup and taste test before adding more. I like it more bitter. Maple granules are great too.
-Place all ingredients in the food processor and whirl until the chips are all finely ground.
-Find great bottles or use mason jars and make a home-made label (with all your known and easy to pronounce ingredients!)
- Add 1-2 tablespoons whisked into a mug-sized amount of warming milk of your choice until steaming hot. Pour and enjoy!
Cinnamon, Cayenne, and Cardamom are traditional additions but other spices can be added to your liking. I'm thinking about dripping some Sweet Orange Extract in my next batch! I also add to Lemon Verbena tea as I was taught by my teacher to drink at 6am on an empty stomach to get all the benefits of the cocoa.
Yes, a more detailed article about Cacao and cultivating intimacy with a tree even though it may not grow near us is coming. Consider this as part of your initiation process ;) The beauty about the plant world is that not all medicine has to be bad tasting, harsh, or hurt in some way. So grateful for this.
Much Love, Jen
ElderMoon School of Herbs
EMS has on-going Herbal Classes, on-line and in-person, to support the expanding desire among us to know the plants intimately as part of one's healthcare system for ourselves and loved ones. Deepening our relationship with the plants is where it all starts. 'Begin anyway' is our mantra. Have a look around and email if you feel called or have questions.
Tree Donations and Prayer Bundles for Ecuador? Email me directly for my address and details at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for supporting small businesses and grassroot projects world wide. Change does happen from our seemingly small efforts. It just may be the only way. xo-Jen
We have made the walk from water to earth many times as humans, yes? I think about how we came from the ocean as a species. We grow in a fluid inside our mother’s wombs similar in makeup to the ocean before we ever take our first breath. And we walk the Medicine Wheel each and every year from the water of the west in autumn to the earth of north in winter, until our very last breath. Every year. And it’s now. It seems so simple, and for me falls easily into being good medicine, to take in nourishment from a sea vegetable that grows in the rich mineral baths of our sweet oceans. Shoring up our reserves is the task here and seaweed from our original mother, the mother of us all, provides nourishment and supports restoration for the deep journey inward during winter where we are asked to crystallize our experiences and feelings into wisdom, all the while meeting the physical demands of colder weather, opportunistic microbes, and a culture that does not support slowing down and honoring such ways of being. We must do it anyway and support each other along the way. Seaweed is here and has been since our beginning, and embodies the support needed to make such a journey. I offer here some simple ways to work seaweed into your life as a practice of honoring this walk from the teachings of the west to the north, and from water to earth.
Kinds of Seaweeds in my Apothecary-Pantry
Sea vegetables spend their entire lives luxuriating in the world’s largest, oldest, most complete mineral bath. They soak it up and are among the richest sources of iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and all other trace minerals essential to the growth and repair of our bodies. Getting precise numbers for the mineral content of each variety is difficult because it varies based on the seaweed type, growing location, water temperature, water depth, climate, and season. Often the exact numbers our scientists want actually fall into ranges which make the rest of us happy.
My pantry and apothecary currently have: Kelp – (Macrocystis pyrifera) ‘Giant Kelp’ and (Nereocystis luetkeana) ‘Bull Kelp’, Winged Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosis), Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Hiziki (Hizikia fusiforme), Kombu (Laminaria japonica)
The Quick List: Amazing Benefits of Seaweed
Our Daily Seaweed Vitamins
Have a look at the teaching video on making my daily Seaweed Vitamins that my students receive in Lesson 6 of the course 'Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons' at ElderMoon School of Herbs. Enjoy!
I grew up in quite a toxic environment among poorly raised apple trees on farms that sprayed often here in the Hudson Valley of New York. As a child we would play in the spray as if it was a sprinkler. Then drink and bathe in the well water and eat the fruit of these poorly mistreated trees. When I walked to the herbal medicine world in my early twenties it became so obvious that chelation of toxins from my tissues was a major task for me.
So I did my homework. I ditched commercial vitamin pills and decided that daily seaweed would start the process of release on the inside while I drastically changed the outside of my life to support a more chemical free footprint for myself and family. We are open systems with our natural world. We take in and excrete what is in Nature. Focusing on remaining open, discerning where and how I will live, and supporting eliminations has kept me from descending into the fear of illness based on such a childhood.
Gingered Carrots with Wild Atlantic Wakame
I leave you with a nourishing favorite from my kitchen. Wild Atlantic Wakame, also called Winged Kelp or Alaria is Alaria esculenta. It grows in thick beds on low surf-battered rock ledges and the company I love harvests by the tides of the full and new moon in early spring before the leaves of the trees have returned. It’s the most challenging seaweed to harvest due its remote locations near rocky islands off the coast of northern Maine. Delicate and easy to eat, I often encourage those new to seaweed to start with this one. It’s delicate in taste and texture and easy to work with.
ElderMoon School Current Offerings
Are you hearing the call to go deep with the plants? Me too. Always! Knowing the plants for healing is in our bones and is our original medicine system. This is the birth place of all other schools of medicine. Come learn how to incorporate simple remedies for yourself and loved ones. Most Courses are Discounted 15% through 11/30/16. Our Give Back: 5% of all course fees are donated to reforestation efforts in the rain forests directly through the smaller organizations of 'TreeSisters' and Rocio Alarcon of 'The Iamoe Center' in Ecuador. Together We Rise.
Walking deeper into Autumn is the calling of now. Some embrace this. Some resist. Truth is, it’s that time. What do your Autumn rituals look like that help prepare your body and spirit for the long nights and deep inner-workings of Winter? It's different for each of us. Moaning may be part it for some and this is a sort of self-soothing mantra that says, 'yeah, this is hard.' There are those bigger questions tossed on the table each year for review and a revisiting of old wounds and stories that seek easing through releasing. Here we are, walking again, to the watery west of the annual Medicine Wheel. What's coming up for negotiation deep on the inside? And what do we need to be getting okay with as this time of year teaches us about the cycles of things?
I'm feeling it: the getting okay with letting go. The getting okay with releasing. The getting okay with grieving a bit to flush the heart and soul. The getting okay with death...
We’re taught to be sun-worshipers. We're eternally encouraged to “let in the light”, “meditate", "sun-sip on the inhale" (drawing in the shards of light as we squint towards the sun), "vacation in the tropics", and "stay up" late with artificial lighting as a way to extend the daytime. So culturally we’re deeply in need of cultivating the desire to know and prepare for our journey into the dark, our time of restoration, our time of visioning and dreaming. It begins now with unloading what is no longer needed.
There are those among us who know and honor this. To name them is tricky. Categorizing people is something I've had to un-learn. Let's just say there are those who naturally tap into their ancient-self, their indigenous soul-self, the self that awakens their endocrine system for being the compass used to navigate the cyclic nature of things versus the brains desire to force life into a linear way only. These people often know darkness and the value of being able to navigate it well. They can vary greatly in age and are of all faiths and backgrounds. They know that death is a part of a larger cycle and to honor release and death is part of how life actually continues to jump up and be.
If your mind is set on the linear journey from birth to death, then winter can easily put you out of sorts. Do you catch yourself whining about the weather, or the microbial world that affords us chelation from our deep tissues, or the fact that it's dark at 5pm now for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere? I speak to this way of being because I too fall into the deep sighing when my body feels cold and everything seems to just take more energy.
Accepting death is not meant to be easy.
There is sorrow to navigate. Grieving is part of this too. Culturally speaking in our ultra-pasteurized and ultra-homogenized ways, we have forgotten how to make something beautiful and delicious that supports life out of our honoring death and grief. We are being asked to call on our deeper, wiser self for some indigenous soul resurrecting around how to honor time as a cyclic being and grief as an "enzyme of the soul that changes our sorrows to a life giving substance that changes us and supports flow and moving forward in life" (Martin Pretchtel, the Smell of Dust on Rain: Grief and Praise). This is what makes life delicious. This is what can help us change our attitude towards the darkening time of the year. Accepting death and grieving losses are also part of the ingredient list required for making that life supporting substance we all crave. And yes, working like this supports that deep sigh too, like a flower floating down a stream, it will support beauty wherever it flows.
So how do we honor Autumn as a way to honor grief and death as part of life?
We practice, practice, practice. Every year. We learn the art of letting go. We learn it from the trees and dying plants, the dropping of seeds, and from the stilling of the Earth as it draws vital energy down deep to prepare. We learn it from the quiet places in our hearts as we allow our tears to flow without question. We learn it from each other as we lean into those that offer assistance and bear witness without analysis and judgment. And we learn it from our ancestors, those who’ve gone before us that do return to support.
How do we prepare to move toward the darkness of Winter?
Our bodies will crave the benefits of sunlight. So give it a little extra love by being outside as much as possible without sunglasses. Fifteen minutes a day does the body good. The natural light through our eyes stimulates the pineal gland deep in our brain to synchronize or re-calibrate our bodies with the Sun and Moon for proper sleep and hormone washes through our blood that we need to be well. Consider moving up and down with the Sun and Moon. Have less and less light in your house each night ’til you get to the Winter Solstice, and then have no artificial light at all that day. This is how we honor cycles. It's considered a tall order for some but so is the lack of synchronicity with these cycles on our well-being. Plan to be home and quiet once it's dark enjoying loved ones and tending creative desires. Our brains actually enter a completely measurably hormone and electrical state that is different when we are fully awake and out and about or deep in sleep. Spending more time during this time of year, in this state of being, supports our immune system and our ability to transition well.
9 Stellar Autumn Ritual Ideas:
Remember: ritual is consciousness in action that helps to shift or change our present moment forward. It is a highly creative and personal process so add to this list and scratch what doesn't work for you. You'll find each year it might change a little. That's perfect! It's your unique dance with the Earth as it changes in rhythm with cyclic time.
#1 : Consider stocking up your winter apothecary or pantry:
#2 Make an Autumn Altar, Ancestor Altar, or Grief Altar:
An altar is a place of honoring. It's a doorway to the unseen and sacred. Clear a space on a windowsill or table or outside. Bring items from nature as well your favorite candles, beautiful bowls, crystals, stones, pictures and any objects you hold sacred. To keep my altars fresh, I visit it daily to tend and arrange new items, bring fresh flowers or food offerings, to pray and smudge or enjoy the glow of the candles for a few moments. Build an altar each day for a week to memorialize different losses in your life. Keep them small and meaningful. Give your altars an amount of time that feels right and then deconstruct them gently with gratitude to clear the space for another time when called to make another one.
#3 Gather Seeds, Final Harvests, Play With Leaves:
You can gather for next year or, if you’re a lazy gardener like I am, gather the flower heads where the seeds are resting and place them where you want that plant in next year’s garden. Make a seed rattle: This year I gathered Poke berries and harvested the small black seeds, placed them in a small glass jar and I rattle a heartbeat rhythm over my body while at my altar to call in the healing of Poke. My teacher Rocio refers to this sound of seeds as the "sound of creation". Maybe you would love to gather the final growth of Mugwort, Lavender, Rosemary, or Juniper and make your own smudge sticks to dry for winter honoring. Maybe play with the leaves by working them into artwork, or piled high for jumping into, or worked for compost, or just look deeply at them each day as they begin to change (it's the cooler nights and shorter days that trigger the color change). Sit with a tree, feeling its leaves dying and falling, its vital energies returning to its roots deep in the Earth.
#4 - Enjoy the Farmer’s Market:
As the days get shorter, I cherish the final weeks at the market. I love when the apples come in and robust squashes and broccoli and greens. I have to visit the soap woman for winter stocking up and gift giving and then there's the cheese man and the bread man and the cut flower woman! I have a market basket and make this a ritual with some cash for honoring my local folks who work so hard to make my world beautiful and delicious.
#5 - Make an Herbal Cordial:
I love and make cordials for winter sips by the fire. Now is the perfect time to start one so they’re ready for your winter celebrations and gifting. My favorite Autumn Cordial this year? Rosehip, Ginger, and Orange Cordial. (Well, it's been a favorite for years actually!) Fill a jar 1/3 full with rosehips (fresh is best, or dried at the health food store), chopped fresh ginger root to bring it to 1/2 full and then zest and fruit of one organic orange. Fill with brandy and allow to sit for a 1-2 months, shaking daily (or a few times a week is fine). Strain and add honey to the sweetness you like, or none at all. If alcohol is not for you then try mulling spices for cider or apple juice.
#6 - Make Special Foods:
My son fell in love with Apple Crisp just this year. He needed some practice working with the peeling and cutting of the apples for baking. Eating this made him highly motivated! We've started making this weekly and it should tapper off soon! Maybe for you this year it's Pumpkin Bread, Corn Bread or Kneaded Bread? My soup making is a ritual that begins every Autumn. Ever since I had my first child I have honored this as soon as I start grabbing my wool sweaters and thick comfy socks and slipper. Every weekend I make a huge pot of something we enjoy all week. I lean on the bone and mushroom stock recipes above as my base and this keeps my bones warm and soul nourished. And I have an already made gift for friends in need too.
#7 - Honor Fire:
Allow the first fire of the season to be sacred. Take your time. Stack the wood, or arrange many favorite candles. I make an initial offering of cornmeal, sage or food I've made to the fire every year to honor the trees and the fire that release the heat for my family to be warm. Plants make their bodies from the energy of the fiery sun too, which we then ingest at every meal to grow ours. As we move toward the cooler months many desire to be more intimate with fire, be it the distant sun, the candle flame, or the hearth fire. Lean into this transition. Honor fire in your personal way.
#8 - Listen to Water:
The rain falling softly in the dark of morning caught me today. Sitting with water and listening to the sound that comes from its dance with our world initiates flow. Season changes often present with congestion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. Creating a simple ritual with water to honor this season of the West on the Medicine Wheel helps us stay in flow. Water is the teaching element of the West. West is the teaching element of Autumn. Drink more water. Visit your favorite water place in Nature and bring a gift. Sit and listen to rain or a stream or the waves. Plan your sacred bathing ritual with herbs or bath salts in the bath during the full or new moon to honor flow. No tub? Enjoy foot soaks the same way. Allow your tears to surface, carried deep within your sorrows, to ease the congestion on your soul as you make you way in this one beautiful life.
#9 - Make a Bitters Tonic:
This was on the top of my list last year and I made so much that I don't have to make more this year. Honoring the making of 'Bitters' is definitely an Autumn ritual for my family. I'm getting it out, strained, and bottled beautifully for taking as a seasonal tonic and when I over-indulge with the heavier eating of the holidays. We need this digestive support to keep our inner digestive fire strong through the dark, cooler times. Bitters will help you. Recipe ideas are in the link. Enjoy!
Maybe choose one thing and dedicate yourself to it in honor of the rhythmic dance with the seasons. While these supports always work wonders, what has amazed me most is the benefit of acceptance around what is happening as Autumn gives way to Winter. This acceptance is cultivated from doing the seasonal work of honoring, releasing, and rooting in. Once we shift from linear time to cyclical time, our perspective and attitude around Winter changes. Some actually are surprised to find themselves enjoying Winter’s darkness just by accepting and embodying a few rituals, maybe even just one ritual, that brings your sacred into your everyday. Walking with you.
Much Love, Jen
Finding your good, right medicine is the walk of the healer. We begin with healing ourselves by connecting deeply to the plants. Come learn the walk of an herbalist that is unique for you. Being a home herbalist is just like being a home cook. We tend our tribe this way. We have the right to know and honor the plants this way. Herbal Courses are on-going on-line and in-person and Discounted 15% through November 2016. New Moon Lodges are Free for Women wanting to learn about synchronizing with the cyclic nature of the Moon.
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine