Decisions are Beginnings.
Self-observation and self-reflection are definitely forms of self care that I'm finding absolutely require we keep our humor about us. For one, it's not as painful as the self-judgments we toss around so easily. I often laugh more these days as I catch myself in any form of sabotage mode. Then I adopt a third person conversation which delivers quite the therapeutic effects of kind self-talk, even if stern, that has that element of humor. "Oh, look what you're doing now, Jen!", is my chat with a curious and inquisitive laugh. With Valentine's Day here and all the social media and commercialization that surfaces, it's easy to get lost or lulled to sleep in the lousy chocolate, mass produced over priced roses that die in days, moving blood diamonds around more, and yeah, some seriously bad cards with ridiculous prices. I walked away years ago from this. Sorry but it's true. Now visiting flowers and trees wherever they're alive, visiting sacred waters of the Earth and other landscapes that heal us, making handmade gifts, and sourcing cacao from kind stewards of the land, plus other ways that really feel true, well that's another story all together (smile).
The truth is this time of year is triggering for many. Many struggle this month around the heart. What's heavy in the heart for you? Are tears trying to move in that self-cleansing way? Is there a struggle to find the space or language to actually feel into it all and therapeutically convey in some creative way what is happening on the inside? Addictions of all sorts are included in a mass of coping skills we've masterfully honed over the years as avoidance tactics and they rear their head often this time of year in place of embracing dropping deeper into the heart to do some dusting and cleaning. Growth hurts. But the truth is holding on takes far more energy than letting go of heart pain.
As spring walks closer and stirs our subtler bodies, I know for me I feel this as either as a scattered way or a sluggish can't get focused way. Obsessive behaviors, irritation, anxiety, and poor timing crop up among my people too. Complaining and whining are at an all time high. So how do you clock this unique way in yourself and own that there's some simple good medicine for this? The number one medicine for this for me is to get outside, anyway, no matter what the weather is doing to re-calibrate with the natural forces. Bundling up for us cold weather dwellers means pulling out the hardy weather garb, again, but let's face it, 40 degrees feels like spring after this much winter and most of us don a thick sweater instead!
"Go to the Water" is the mantra of my ancestors and I seek this inside and out with hikes to natural water places and also through more spiritual bathing in the tub, and sauna. I also sit with my drum and rattle more, journey and make sounds that carry what I cannot find words for. And I paint for visual release and inquiry. Of late I've turn to our food choices too for my body is giving subtle clues to lighten it up. Salads, raw foods, and fruit look more appealing now. Here's another way that I like to re-calibrate on the inside. Jay and I are starting a Kitchari Cleanse this week, Cyrus is not so game for this yet but he's watching as we prepare for a short 3-4 day one to start. We'll go longer if we want to at the end.
This simple, soupy Ayurvedic cleansing dish is made primarily of rice, split mung beans, seasonal veggies and spices. Sometimes I have to start at the physical and walk step by step. This satisfies that in me. It changed my whole outlook on cleansing and transformed my relationship with food and my body. Instead of feeling deprived, it made me feel nourished. Instead of frazzled and delirious with a headache or nausea, I felt grounded, safe, and secure. Coming off it I feel clear and connected. The idea is to stimulate your natural cleansing processes in a slow, sub-radar like cleanse that doesn't stimulate chelation toxicity (releasing too much too fast for our elimination systems). This is hard for the body and a stress that is not good for us. Seasoned fasting lovers know that this is a muscle that must be exercised slowly or one pays dearly.
The beauty of this dish and cleanse is that you can eat. You can eat Kitchari for a single meal to give your digestion a break or do a full cleanse of 3-7 days where you really begin to release stored toxins and accumulation for safe release from the body. It’s a great introductory or seasonal cleanse because you still get to eat something throughout the day but at the same time it's the most effective tool I've found for healing and soothing the digestive system, increasing digestive fire, reducing bloating, clearing the mind, healing attachments to food, sleeping deeper, and kick starting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. While weight lose is not the goal, that just might happen too.
I follow this cleansing diet for days before the plant diet initiations I go to with my teacher where we sustain ourselves on a few ounces of a single plant elixir every four hours for three days and vision quest with one plant. Eating kitchari from one pot prepared each morning reduces our focus and energy demands on food. Think about how much time we spend on food alone from making the money to getting it or growing it, to planning meals, preparing, eating, and cleaning up. It's all good and communal supporting, yes, but a break to focus elsewhere is also so good for us. This eliminates much and frees up so much time. This is also a great diet for a day or two upon returning from questing or fasting of any kind to support integration and landing back in well.
Creating Your Kitchari Cleanse - Keeping It Simple Is The Medicine
Determine the number of days you will cleanse for with 3-7 days being a good place to start. You can always go longer if you feel you want to. Trust yourself on this.
I love adding the ghee and salt later in the process because it makes the flavor jump up more for me. I do this with simple tomato sauce too by infusing olive oil with garlic, basil, salt and pepper, and pinch of rosemary and stir in just before serving. It's amazing how these late additions retain and pull forth the essential oils in the dish.
This makes about 4-6 servings. Double it if there's more people in your home joining you or to eat throughout the week, though I do recommend making it daily if that's a possibility for you. To accommodate my work schedule I I make enough for 2 days at a time.
My Favorite Kitchari Recipe
Enjoy! Thank you for coming in for a read and may your day be blessed and your re-calibration plans be underway as Spring approaches.
Much Love, Jen
Are you ready to gently infuse your heathcare with simple green plants for healing? It truly is easier than many think because we hold this knowing through our ancestral lines. Beginning anyway is a beautiful way. xo-Jen
Taking a bath to cleanse your spirit is different from taking a bath to clean away the everyday dirt from your physical body.
Ritual water treatments and limpias have unbroken links to ancestral health care practices in many places in the world today. Near lost here in the states with a fascination for ultra-pasteurized ways, thankfully there is a resurrection and a carrying forth in practice among us as we remember and put it all into practice again. We'll begin with the bath.
With this practice of the ritual bath, we are creating beauty and restoration space for gathering up our soul and spirit pieces that can hide from a hard day or experience. These parts of us know these practices as safe and healing and respond quickly to the healing forces we enlist on behalf of supporting wholeness. Spiritual bathing and the ritual bath are meant to cleanse and protect us spiritually as well as within the other subtle and more physical levels. To create the desired effects, there are a few things to consider. When taking a spiritual, ritual bath, you don’t use soaps, shampoos, or do any leg shaving and such. Once the bath is prepared, you are entering a sacred healing experience and space so you’ll want to really think about separating your regular bathing with your spiritual bathing.
When we immerse ourselves in a spiritual, ritual bath, we engage an initiation process to open ourselves up to spirit, or that which we refer to as our Divine.
Ritual bathing implies that water and prayer wash away any spiritual grime — cleansing, clearing, and purifying our body and energetic field. It suggests that we are willing to listen to our higher self and begin to trust something outside of our rational mind and allow the wise inner knowing to emerge. There's an affirmation within the act of planning and preparing that speaks of our openness to ask the universe to assist and transform what we believe needs to be shifted within.
Although spiritual baths can sometimes help alleviate certain physical ailments, especially skin conditions and muscle soreness, they are meant for spiritual healing through release and restore processes. This ultimately affects our physical healing.
If you have open wounds or have just had surgery, do not immerse the wounded area in the water for several days and if you choose to anyway, which is fine for surface wounds, it's wise to sprinkle a few cups of strong herbal infusions and a handful of epsom salt only.
Consider Calendula flowers, Lavender flowers, White pine, Juniper, Oak leaf and bark, Witch Hazel Bark, Rosemary, Roses, Plantain leaf, or Yarrow leaf and flower as infusion choices for skin care to encourage closing wounds. Sea salt will sting any open skin areas with no harm other than it stings. Epsom salts does not. This with speed physical healing and gather the soul and spirit back after such a traumatic event. I suggest a spiritual foot or hand bath for the in-between situations where a full immersion bath must wait or you don't have a bath tub.
Elder Flower, Lemon, Honey, and Coconut Milk Bath soothes everything and guarantees a deep restorative sleep in the wake of anything disruptive. For some practical logistics, keep a fine mesh strainer handy for skimming the herbs out of the tub for composting later. Clogged drains definitely interrupt our sense of peace.
Preparing For Spiritual Bathing
Elder flower sun-infusing in an earthenware pot sits waiting for us. I love to dip fresh bundled wild Mugwort into this sacred Elder infused water and give myself a limpia. Students have reported immediate relief of ailments they come to class with. Love the big "ah ha's" from beautiful simple care skills with deep roots.
Limpias. So what is a Limpia?
A limpia is a spiritual cleansing that is based in the philosophy and practice of many if not all traditional healing practices of indigenous intact, and lost, cultures of humanity. We all have memory within our bones given through our ancestry of each every bloodline to know these practices and feel deeply drawn to them even in some inexplicable but comforting way.
To perform a limpia, the curandera or shamanic practitioner uses herbs, flowers, prayers and songs, and the sacred sound of drum or rattle to help purify a person's mind, body and spirit.
Traditional healers work from a place of knowing that physical illnesses or 'conditions' are 99% rooted in the spiritual body. Fresh plant material is chosen and bundled together and swept over the body gently, and sometimes with a little more than gentle shaking and tapping (to whacking pretty good if needed) on the surface of the body from head to toe and front and back of the body. The herbs are regularly smudged through the process and prayers are softly spoken through the wafting, aromatic smudge smoke. Once completed, the energies are tapped into the Earth for composting and the spent herbs which can look quite black and dingy at times, are buried in a ceremonially reverent way.
My teacher Rocio, a born and betrothed shamanic healer from Ecuador, has traveled extensively teaching the power of daily limpias as part of one’s care for their body, mind, soul, and spirit. For times when the gardens sleep, there are the aromatic pines and fresh culinary plants which carry profound support for daily limpias. Rosemary and Thyme are favorites of mine.
Daily limpias are considered part of self care in many cultures and it's common to see limpia plants available in markets in other countries who retain this honoring of spiritual healing through profound, simple and sometimes daily practices.
Another essential element of the limpia is the smoke of copal, palo santo, white sage, or other plant you consider deeply clearing and protective for this kind of work. Copal is a dried resinous tree sap, palo santo is an aromatic wood that is burned in many different Central and South American ceremonies, and white sage grows here in the states. Do consider tiny amounts for smudge as each of these plants are experiencing threatened existence due to over harvesting. A little goes a long way.
The Simple Acts of Self Care
So it's winter. How do we enjoy a plant limpia in winter? We can. There's always a way. So you have two components here: a bundle of fresh plants, and a bowl of infused water.
We could Sun or Moon infuse fresh aromatics or any dried plant material that calls to us and place them in a beautiful bowl set in a window for as long as feels complete. With dried herbs, these can be slowly simmered for 10 minutes and stirred with spoken prayers before placing in the sun or moon light for cooling and infusing. Crystals, flower essences, essential oils, or drops of plant tincture can be added to the water. Do a little bit of research on crystals as there are some that are best left next to the bowl of water for infusing. Follow your intuitive knowing. My midwife gathered tiny bottles of ocean water from different places around the world. She added 1/4 of the bottle with vodka to preserve it, labeled them and had they lined up near here bathtub to as add to a ritual bath or certainly here for making your waters for a limpia. For the record, one can just do a limpia without the water as well. So you decide what's needed.
Make a fresh plant wand for the limpia. It's simple. Bundle a handful of fresh plant material together, such as fresh soft needled pines, flowers that call, and aromatics such as any fresh spices or mint trimmings that you're growing or have purchased at a store. It's pretty easy to get organic Rosemary , mints, Oregano, Thyme and more these day. I also love parsley for my Yemaya ritual to honor the Ocean.
Then simply work out your logistics of bringing your infused water and plant bundle with you. You can decide to have infused water as part of this or just sweep the fresh bundle through your smudge smoke or essential oil mist and work the fresh plant material over your body. Bring your fresh plant medicine bundle and bowl of infused water to:
If you've not experienced such things as this that may seem strange, know this practice is ancient and the knowing and memory of administering and receiving of such medicine is within each of us. Many are comforted and take to it quite easily. The aromatic plants release their oils for immediate relief and healing as they waft directly through our sinuses to assist the nervous system that is often atrophied or ramped-up and on edge. When participants studying the medicine plants come to class with me, we do this together each morning. Should intensity arise during sharing we may all move to the Mugwort patch and do another limpia on ourselves or pair up and help each other. There are many giggles among those new to this old medicine way but all take to this quickly and feel shifted near instantly. The plants can do this for us when we arrive in their presence open and receptive. I find my Plant Limpias alone or with Sacred Bathing take my self care just a little bit deeper than a smudge sometimes because sometimes life is that intense and demands a bit more from us to stay well.
This is an excerpt from a lesson in "Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" online herbal course. I hope you found this informative and helpful and do send along questions if you need clarification. The rules are rather simple. Follow your intuitive connection with the plants, trust and enjoy. Thank you for coming into my world for a bit today. Much Love, Jen
Offerings at ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine
Thank you for visiting and may your journey be safe and we meet soon. Use Coupon Code: plantjourney10 for a 10% discount off you tuition for 'Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" on-line course AND "Walking the Herbal Path The Earth Medicine Way' live course that begins each year in May. xo-Jen
The ElderMoon Apothecary is slowly and steadily growing like a little carefully tended sapling here. Thank you for supporting creative small business herbalists you love and are drawn to. We are always around, out in the light, in the country and in the city (or hospital like me!), and off the beaten path where we're most comfortable and often sitting with our beloved plants.
Hello Beautiful One. Happy Spring Equinox to you. I delivered a turkey carcass to the wild animals last night and stood in my garden, that has two feet of snow. Thank you for the water! It's my time to whisper to the sleeping but stirring roots and seeds of plants I'm longing pretty deeply for this time of year. Our beloved wood stove, considered a family member here, is still blazing away and such a blessing. My beautiful southern friends are posting Magnolia and daffodil flowers and my whole body wants to crawl through the pic to just peer into the flowers and sit in the sun with them in receptive pose. It's coming, I know. Our bodies know this too and stir as the roots and seeds do. Tiny shimmies and shakes are happening. Can you feel it?
So what is your body saying?
Maybe all is great. Or maybe you've noticed yourself struggling with frequent colds or flus this late in the season, digestive discomfort and GI system trouble, skin outbreaks or mysterious rashes, deep fatigue that comes over you rapidly, cobra dancing with feeling depressed, anxious, or angry with mood swings, sleep trouble, or maybe menstrual irregularity for us women? Our bodies begin the spring cleaning now on the metabolic level and we can join in and help with a few simple remedies from your new or expanding home apothecary. Here's a few herbal and food-as-medicine ideas to support the full swing of Spring.
Medicinal Roots Still Rule
While we need the roots to prepare for winter, we also lean on them for leaving winter and preparing for spring. The following formula is an old favorite of mine but working with any one of these root medicines will do. The body needs a medicine that can dig down deeper into not only our tissues, but also our complicated physiology and psyche, which may also be a bit complicated these days. Taking this 'Hepatic Holy Trinity' formula is a beautiful yet simple master plan for us folks learning to slow down more so we can work and play our lives in a different way. Finding a new rhythm, yes, can look like listening to the cycles of Nature. We all welcome the grounding medicine of the roots too as we release what is no longer needed and strengthen our readiness for the increased activity of the season ahead. Preparation and deep rest with supportive plants is part of the medicine. There are many activities in life that require similar care 'before and after'. Working with winter on many levels and the medicine of the North on the medicine wheel is included in this. Keep this formula in your medicine bag for support down the road.
Hepatic Holy Trinity Formula
This simple formula supports eliminations, digestion, liver and gall bladder health, renal function, and the recycling of hormones for the endocrine system to support sleep and hormonal shifts that are synchronized and smooth. I have found this to be particularly helpful with eliminating excessive systemic estrogen as well, an epidemic in our culture due to many causes that are more than 'menopause'. It's not just for women anymore.
1 part each of Dandelion root, Yellowdock Root, and Burdock root.
-Tincture fresh or died fall dug roots are perfect and these three are usually found growing near each other. Dried root is fine to tincture as well if that is all you have access to. Since a tincture takes at least 2 months to get ready, see the next option.
- If you don't have these in house then purchase a 1 ounce tincture of each and mix them together and take until the bottle is gone.
- Making a decoction with dried roots is easy and may be more cost effective. Purchase 2 ounces of each and mix together in a glass jar and label. Add 2-3 tablespoons to a quart of simmering water and simmer with lid ajar for 20 minutes. Cool a bit and enjoy. Continue for a few weeks until the herbs are gone. Store the decoction in the refrigerator and warm on stove each day for your dosing.
- Try making a spring tonic syrup with the dried herbs. (link below on how)
Dosages: as a tonic take two droppersful (60 drops or ¼ tsp) tincture 1-3x/day; 6-8oz. root decoction per day; 1-2 tablespoons syrup per day. I take the higher doses. Take at night a few hours after food intake. Go to bed early.
Food as Medicine
This formula and variations of it are well known and very easy and efficient for supporting the Liver and Gall Bladder, particularly during seasonal shifts. The recipe is basically a delicious salad dressing and has a wonderful refreshing effect upon the Liver and Gall Bladder. One can drink it periodically as a Liver/Gall Bladder tonic or taken every day for a week as part of a Liver & Gall Bladder flush prior to or after fasting or for tuning up through the seasonal changes. When I prepare for plant dieting and spiritual retreat I will enjoy this for about a week prior. Plan to drink it in the evening or when you’re settling in for the night as this is “rest and digest” food. I make sure I have an empty stomach or haven’t eaten in at least 4 hours. I absolutely love this formula and have enjoyed this for decades now. Not all medicine has to be horrible tasting.
Liver & Gall Bladder Flush
A Short Laundry List
Other supportive ideas for embracing what 'appears' to be a slow spring:
Now lists are just that, lists. This one does not require that we do everything, which could be quite enjoyable but yes, hard to execute. Choose one edible support idea and one pleasurable external idea if that seems easier to embark upon. You can always pick more as long as the stress factor is reduced. You get it.
What else works for you? I love hearing about other delicious ways to support this seasonal shift we crave. We're in this together. Thank you for sharing.
May your journey be safe and beautiful. xo-Jen
Is this your year to engage your inner herbalist?
Take a leap just for you. I did and I'm venturing into a new part of the music world and it's hard and sometimes I find myself shying away from my study time. Getting back on path is a regular practice for us all, right? Here's to trusting you and putting your whole self into it!
Discount 10% Through 3/31/17 Happy Equinox!
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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
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.
Elder – Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis
As we cycle around again to this high solar and masculine time of the year of the Medicine Wheel in anticipation of Summer Solstice, I honor how Elder, connected deep to the essence of woman, is gathering the essence of man through capturing bits of sunlight into her flowers. Ultimately these swell with these bits of light and water and air and earth to create the round berries we cherish taking during the Winter as the sun recedes. These berries strengthen us to endure, to release, and to keep good boundaries as we wane into Winter and the great season of gratitude and release . Cycles and the support through them with feeding across the wheel happens all the time and is embodied in the medicine of Elder.
I've included here a Plant Profile of Elder as is given to my students at ElderMoon School. A profile is just that, and informational writing of my experience of Elder, with practical information I have learned from others and from the plant directly.
Parts Used Medicinally:
Leaves, flowers, berries, bark and some Herbalists have taken in the root but be careful with taking in only small amounts for severely acute illnesses only. The flowers are a prized edible for salads and fritter making, in ancient facial care formulas such as Queen of Hungary's Water, and for making liqueurs and are the base of St. Germain's liqueur made in France. This proves to be a magical, delicate and delicious addition to drinks of all kinds.
Contains: Scientists have isolated proteins that appear to protect our healthy cells from the invading actions of viruses by literally making a protein coating they cannot penetrate. Ongoing clinical trials continue for HIV, herpes and flu.
Medicinal Actions: Antimicrobial, febrifuge, antiviral, diaphoretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory
Common Names: Black Elder, Common Elder, Pipe Tree, Bore Tree, Bour Tree
Habitat and Description:
Elder grows throughout North America and Europe and are quite abundant. Elders produce large clusters of small white or cream colored, delicately aromatic flowers in the late spring, and are followed by clusters of small red, dark purple or black berries. The shrubs can live over a hundred years. Gather the darker berries of black and dark purple; avoid red berry varieties which are more toxic. I stay with the S. canadensis which is more shrub-like and the European species of S. nigra which grows more as small tree. There are many hybridized varieties too but I seek the older known species for medicine making.
Elderberries grow best in moist, fertile, well-drained soil but will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Elderberry plants are generally free of pests, which makes them great for landscape plantings. However, the deer can and do devour them if Elder is in their usual grazing path here in Woodstock, NY. Harvest elderberries in late August through early September before the birds get them all. It is an ancient practice to consider negotiating with birds if you want berries and know howto enter such negotiations as they often strip the bushes while the berries are still green.
Elder took root in the center of one of my vegetable gardens years ago. I deeply honor this plant for healing. I love how the plants work with the insects, animals and particularly the birds in order to be mobile across the land. It makes gardening as an herbalist full of welcomed surprises. It's a different way of gardening and much easier! So Elder stayed there and we adjusted who and what grew around this beauty. She has edible flowers too that make their way into salads, garnishes, drinks of the muddled sort, and fritters!
Ancient Harvesting Practices:
Looking into past harvesting practices will easily uncover many a story about how Elder grows at energetic portals or doorways deep into the Earth and if she chooses to grow near you then she has agreed to be a guardian of your home and tribe. The roots are said to lead to other worlds and are connected to the Mother of us all - the Dark Mother and Goddess of Earth Magic - that reigns stronger during the Winter Solstice time. Her essence resides in the Elder and must be consulted with before harvest or removal of any part or whole plant. Great warnings of mishaps that can ensue if one does not ask abound. It is common practice to ask within the heart and be sure to self-reflect on greed or ulterior motives for this will be seen.
Spiritual and Energetic Medicine:
In pre-Christian times the ancient vegetation Goddess presided over the cycle of life - birth, life, death and regeneration. This rhythm is reflected in the waxing and waning of the moon, the cycles of the season and naturally was also thought to govern the lives of women and men. Thus, in one of her aspects she was revered as a Goddess of the Underworld, who guarded over the souls of the dead. Green twigs of Elder were often placed into coffins or buried in graves to offer protection for the deceased on their journey to the other world. Elders were also planted on graves and in some places it was a custom for the driver of the hearse to carry a whip made of Elder wood to keep focused and safe while escorting the dead to their final resting place. Crowns were woven and worn of tender Elder branches and leaves at Samhain, near Halloween, to facilitate communion with our dead beloved ancestors who do return to visit and assist.
Elder Flower Essence helps one appreciate self and all beings by enhancing the ability to see the value in how things truly are. Elder removes the walls and ceilings of comfort and dissolves judgement and fixed ideas. Elder brings us deep within to our emotional blockages and helps us dissolve these as well. Past life recall as well as accessing blurred events of one's current life is enhanced when necessary for aiding understanding of where one is now and how healing can flow.
Elder flowers and berries are used in herbal medicine to treat colds and flu, coughs, constipation, hay fever, mouth ulcers, sore throats, tonsillitis, rheumatism, herpes, wounds, bruises, and muscle sprains. The berries are also made into syrups, jams, teas, vinegars, honeys, cordials, and wines. They are cherished by children and easy tasting as a syrup, though the natural dominant flavor is sour.
Taking elderberries into the body is widely accepted as a potent antiviral, though please do not take this in place of practicing the best healing art of convalescence. These expectations are too tall for nearly all medicine forms.
Elder flowers make an excellent cough remedy. The flowers are considered a powerful expectorant and make a useful addition to cough syrups as simple infusion with lemon and honey. They reduce phlegm, stimulate the circulatory system, promote sweating, increase urinary flow, and when applied topically, are anti-inflammatory.
Elder flowers are known to soften the skin and are often added to lotions and creams. They help heal chapped skin and are a good addition to hard working hand lotions. Elder flower water can be infused in the sun and moon to drink and bathe the body to rejuvenate the physical and spiritual self. Elder flowers are infused in olive oil or other oils and added to salves for the treatment of bruises, sprains, strains and open cuts and scrapes.
The infused flower oil makes an excellent lubricant for sexual play too; particularly during menopausal times when thinning and drying of the vaginal walls is a complaint. The first medicine for this is cultivating regular sexual pleasure and expression. Yes, this flower infused oil can enjoyed at any age too and sometimes I mix in a bit of coconut oil. I have also mixed it with Comfrey leaf for enhanced moistening and softening properties and Chamomile when sexual expression is hindered by old stories of sexual abuse. These are also infused oils and one may add some essential oils to enhance and direct the aroma and therapeutic actions.
Elder flowers and berries are a good remedy for feverish colds and flu. Gypsy Tea is an old recipe resurrected by Rosemary Gladstar of equal parts of Elder Flower, Catnip, Peppermint and Yarrow for wise fever management which is also so easy to drink for it's delicious! Mixing Elder flowers with Nettles and Red Clover and taken in as a daily tonic by infusion, strengthens the upper respiratory tract and can help ease hay fever and allergies if taken early in the year before pollen season arrives; do add local raw wildflower honey to this for is contains local pollen to help with desensitization of your immune system to your local plants.
Elderberries help rid the body of toxins by promoting sweating (diaphoretic) and urination (diuretic). It can be taken as a laxative in cases of stubborn constipation. Elderberry syrup is popular to take in the treatment of coughs and deep lung congestion. For added strength, I sometimes combine with Thyme into a delicious syrup. Percussion (drumming) over the lungs on the front and back of the body is an added help and wise ancient practice still utilized in critical care settings of the hospitals today. Elderberries are a rich source of vitamin A and C. The berries can be dried for use as a nutritious food. In days before oranges and other citrus fruits were commonly available, elderberries were made into wines and syrups and taken to prevent scurvy.
Elderberries are also juiced and applied as a hair dye to impart funky blues and purples to lighter colored hair.
Elder bark was sometimes given to promote vomiting historically. The bark is also a liver stimulant, hence the emetic properties, but in today’s herbal medicine practice it is rarely used for this purpose and has been replaced with ER visits for giving charcoal and nasogastric tubes to empty the stomach. Poison control centers are fantastic resources for how to get the poison out. Vomiting can sometimes do more harm. No matter how you look at it this is an unpleasant situation and the road one must endure should anyone be found in such a situation.
Elder leaves can be poulticed for wounds in emergency situations but should not be taken internally as infusions. Applying as a poultice is localized to a small area and poses no harm. When crushed and rubbed to the skin, they will keep insects away for up to an hour; many aromatics will too and I love Rosemary and Lavender for this too. Carole Guyette, in her book Sacred Plant Initiations, has an entire chapter dedicated to Elder plant dieting for deeper healing with Elder. She describes making a sacred anointing oil she calls ‘Green Oil’. It’s made by soaking fresh green chopped leaves in warm olive oil until is changes to a beautiful green color, about 4-6 hours. Strain, re-bottle and place on your altar for when needed in sacred ceremony and moments.
Elder wood is hard and close-grained. It is used for making skewers, toys, and quickly carved flutes once the pith is removed in younger shoots.
Remember too - the more flowers you harvest, the less berries you will get later in the summer so think of this as you plan your medicine harvesting. Elder returns every year so you need only enough to get to next year's harvest.
May you enjoy this Summer Solstice and seek the company of Elder in bloom or in whatever stage it is at. Even if only to seek the company of and sit near one of these ancient medicine keepers to enjoy the sunshine. Sip tea from her berries or flowers, warm or cool, and know I am too and am in celebration of this high holy time of the Sun. Blessings, Jen
Lemon (or Orange), Elder Flower & Honey Liqueur
Elder Flowers are the color of butter and smell sweet and just a bit spicy but delicate. Their beauty fades fast, however. You will need to pick them before noon, as the aroma fades once the afternoon sun hits the flowers. Time is quite important: You want to make this liqueur within an hour or two of picking the flowers to get the best effect. I fill my jar while picking and often make in the garden in order to encourage the essence forth in the moment of harvesting and making. This really could not be any easier!
ElderMoon School Herbal Classes
Are you ready to deepen your walk with the plants as medicine keepers and make this part of your primary healthcare for yourself and your family? Maybe you're longing to design your own apothecary with potent medicines for when needed? Maybe listening to the plants directly is a calling for you. Take a look at our on-going herbal classes.
There's a start anytime on-line course to get you started or begin the process of tightening the weave of who you are, right where you are with the medicine plants. In-Person courses start each May in Woodstock, NY. where we walk together for 13 Moons and learn how to find you own way of moving with the medicine plants as an Herbalist for yourself, family and loved ones. Full descriptions below.
Spring Equinox 2016 - Honoring Balance & The Spaces In-Between with Cream of Watercress & Asparagus SoupRead Now
Equal light and dark is one of the gifts of the Spring Equinox. Honoring balance is something I'm thinking about by carefully looking at what's needing balancing in my world. Balance is a dynamic state anyway. Even scales wobble or need a hood to reduce the wobble. We don't live there. Maybe nothing does, or maybe we swing through it and sometimes pause a bit and oscillate around it until the full spectrum measures 'balance’? They’re calling for snow for the Spring Equinox. It's not a new thing here for New Yorkers. It makes me turn to the soup pot again with soft, understanding eyes. I'm not sure how to survive without my soup pot. I most likely could, but not well. The markets are rolling in asparagus and watercress and I love them both! Potatoes from the fall are still around and needing to be consumed so the balance of fall and spring, in one pot to feed our bones, is the way of our weekend within this tribe.
Many are still moving the flu around so the bone broths and thyme, with all the luscious green, help boost our resistance while offering flavor and keeping us in flow with Nature. My dearest friend, Caroline, taught me this recipe with watercress we would harvest in the watery areas we knew of. She was one of those people you are blessed to know, who showed me deep sisterhood at a much needed time, dragged me to my first herbal conference, and then pointed the way for me. Life did an about-face and she was suddenly gone in an accident and many lives changed forever by knowing her. She died on Valentine’s Day decades ago now. I always make this soup in honor of our time together as deep sisters, in gratitude for showing me the herbal world before she had to go, and in great anticipation for the blooming of the Magnolias which was her favorite flower that brought her deep peace from chronic pain. She comes forth through these blooms for me and the worlds are more interwoven than we think when I sit with Magnolia and fill my belly with one of my favorite soups from my dear sister, Caroline.
In deep honor of these days, may you enjoy welcoming Spring and our swing through 'balance' in your way. xo- Jen
Honoring the Plants as Medicine Keepers
Interested in deepening your relationship with the plants as medicine keepers? Full descriptions are available in the links below. Thank you for sharing. xo-Jen
It's our way this year. It's all about the pull of spring and the return of the warmth. Winter is ebbing now and seed buying, garden planning, burning the greens of Winter Solstice, cleansing the home a bit, filling our bellies with delicious feasting food, and acknowledging the return of the sun is Imbolc in action.
With Imbolc, on February 1, we usually begin the night before with preparing a family feast and light up the home after a good cleansing This holy day is the actual marking of seasonal change where the first pull of spring is felt and the return of the sun is noted. We honor the successful passing of winter and the rebirth of the Sun. It is also a day of celebrating the Celtic Goddess Brigid, whose name literally means 'she who rises'. Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Protection, Wells & Water, Midwifery, and she is strongly associated with Oak trees. If you can make it with your hands, Brigid rules it. She is a triple Goddess, so we honour her in all her aspects. This is a time for communing with her, inviting her in with graitude for her protection and guidance so needed at the start of anything. At this time of year, many light multiple candles, white for Brigid or your Divine, yellow or red for the Sun returning, and I love a midnight blue one for gratitude and release of the past year and to remind us of the passing of winter and the entrance into spring, the time of the Sun. This is a good time for initiations and birthing new ways. It is also a festival of light and of fertility in many cultures, and so I also honor the Goddess Amaturasu of Japan as a bringer of Light in spring.
So the hard work of beginning another year occurs at Imbolc. Possibilities are endless and eternal at this time. The whole year stretches before us and we have the power to mold it into whatever we desire. Imbolc is a good time for gaining inspiration, releasing more of the old to bring in the new, getting more realistic about those New Year's resolutions that I rarely bother with, creating and increasing the warmth and love within a household-relationship-family (since we are most likely still cooped up together), creating prosperity, and welcoming personal growth.
Each year our family picks 'a something', an action, a sharing, and a feast to honor this sacred time of Imbolc as the fire of spring begins to return. It's not as grand as the Equinox in expression for us. There's more of an intimate, quiet acknowledgement as we continue to move through; much like birth is at it's best. Here are a few ideas our family enjoys:
~Bake something outrageous or so comforting on Imbolc. Feasting with friends and family is part of each high holy day. Traditional foods for this holy day, called a sabbat, include bread and dairy. I've got my eye on making bannock in honor of my Scottish ancestors. Cheese making is another we have enjoyed to honor the flow of milk from the birthing mothers of the animals we humans tend for their milk. There are some goat cheeses and yogurt cheeses that can be made overnight. Straining ricotta over night and sweetening with lemon zest and honey is one I love!
~Check out your candle supply and take note of what you're running low on. Our holiday this year was enjoyed with many candles and I already did some of this.
~Do a little 'spring' cleaning, and open the windows for ten minutes to let some fresh air in. Smudge the house and play loud, sacred music you love while you clean to break up the stagnant energy and cleanse the space. Wash windows and mirrors. Seek out dusty cob webs. One hour of this makes an incredible difference in how our homes feel. We do this as a tribe and it goes quick with all hands in motion.
~Plant and seed catalog shop by the fire. Bless the seeds you've chosen for your spring garden for beauty, food, or medicine. Plan a new garden with diagrams and all. When will you start some seeds? Now is the time to plan. What plants are calling to be near you or want to be moved around this year? Now is the listening and visioning time as we await warmer days. Gardens are live paintings, art in action, never done and always changing. They have a collective voice or an essence you can connect with.
~Brew a pot of herbal tea from last summer's bounty and enjoy it as you reflect on the personal goals you've accomplished in the past year. What's nudging you this year and deeply on your mind for manifesting in 2016? Good thoughts become and need our time, right?
~Light a gathering of candles on Imbolc to inspire the Sun and Spring to return. I'm trusting your always safe and tend your candles. Clean out your fireplace and get it blazing if it's still chilly. Burn the Holiday/Yule greens to send winter on its way with gratitude for not only being here but for trusting it will come again.
~Make a new altar in honor of Imbolc. Tiny is perfect if space is limited for it's all about your planning and feeling when created. This altar can be a source of support right through to Spring Equinox. Include items with deep meaning for you, and have family add to it over the next few weeks.
~Hang or refill birdfeeders. Food gets scarce now for the birds at this time of year. The bears are not awake yet so hanging suet and seed is a perfect Imbolc gift for those of us that move in and out of dreaming daily.
~Honor your Divine. Brigid is the Celtic triple goddess of fire, healing, protection, and poetry, and is often celebrated on Imbolc. Read or write poems, or read from your favorite author by the fire with a medicinal brew or a special herbal cordial.
~Make something in honor of Imbolc like a Brigid's Cross, a dream pillow, or a new medicine pouch.
-Visit a greenhouse or arboritum! I need this and make it a regular weekly thing come February thanks to a local garden center that has a massive yearly functioning one for our community. My soul jumps up and gets rejuvenated when I go in there with the plants. I worked in greenhouses all my teenage years and the memories are priceless when winter feels too intense.
There is only your way.... Celebrating this is all about your desires and your way. There is no right or wrong so allow your creative fire to emerge. Recognizing such holy days is much like walking a compass for the year and staying synchronized with what is moving around and affecting us. There are eight holidays each year with six weeks in between each; Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Fall Equinox, Samhain, and Winter Solstice. These are globally recognized and root into all cultures. I don't know about you but I'm all for more holidays in this culture. If you look close enough you'll see that some we do have are synchronized with this ancient compass; such as Groundhogs Day and Candlemas... yes, Imbolc.
Beer Bannock - Our Bread for Imbolc
The flatbread ‘cakes’ of my Scottish ancestors were oatcakes and barley bannocks. Wheat bread, although aspired to, was very uncommon. Ordinary households did not have ovens and baked on an iron girdle hung over the fire right into the 19th century. This replaced a bakestone placed on the embers directly in the fire, which had been the method of making bread since prehistoric times. Wheat was seldom grown until late in the 18th century, for oats and barley were more reliable crops. From a flatbread that was an everyday staple, the traditional bannocks of Scotland have changed much in character over the years.
The ‘old method’ relies on heating up milk with some butter and salt, and adding the barley meal (flour) when it's hot. This swells the meal and makes a pliable dough. If you don’t have a girdle, the bannock can be cooked on a heavy frying pan. It should be crisp on the outside and just slightly moist within. It was eaten hot, thinner than the version I am making here, and crispy. Think of traditional barley bannocks as a Scottish version of the many flat breads from India made entirely with local ingredients.
I love following the tradition of embellishing the "plain", bannock in this case, with sugar, spices, dried fruit, cheese, cream or yogurt, fresh herbs, and seeds for festive occasions such as Imbolc. Bringing the memories forth and infusing them into our modern experience is a form of deep honoring, right?
Beer Bannock Recipe
3 cups flour; you can use gluten free and add 1 tsp of xanthum gum powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 stick of butter melted and cooled a bit; any fat/oil you prefer will work here too.
1/4 cup sugar, honey, or maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12oz beer; homebrewed with herbs is my first choice; locally brewed and dark is my second
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS: First of all, it's great plain so you can start there.
1/3 cup raisins, minced dried apricots, or dried cranberries , 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, 1 teaspon caraway seeds - any or all
1/4 cup minced scallions, 4 oz. gorgonzola, cheddar, or goat cheese, sprinkle of pepper (pic above)
-this is a campfire recipe I adapted to the kitchen; if on a campfire you flip after 10 minutes to finish each side.
-otherwise preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-place flour, baking powder, salt, and your sweetener of choice into a bowl, mix in about 1/2 of your butter and it will be a bit lumpy.
-stir in the beer; mix to a soft sticky dough; now add your additions if you like some.
-warm a 9" cast iron pan on the stove and add some butter to coat; coat your palms with butter and gather the dough up and transfer to the pan patting it in place; you could also rustically roll them like scones.
-Bake 20-25 minutes; check for done with toothpick as usual. Start checking at 15 minutes if shaped individually. These are delicious with stews, soups and a fresh salad. Oh yes, and more butter or soft cheese for serving, if desired. Enjoy and Happy Imbolc from my tribe to yours! xo-Jen
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Midwifing the Sun Back into Being
One way we can honor the Winter Solstice is by creating a releasing ritual at home or in circle with family or others in order to release what is out of date, outmoded and no longer serves you and therefore the greater whole. Winter Solstice is the shortest day, and longest, darkest night of the year. It holds the promise of the Light, just on the other side of it, beginning to return. We help birth the Sun back into being just by simply releasing what is no longer needed. We are deepest and longest, on this very day, with the Divine Feminine within her dance with the Divine Masculine, which peaks on the Summer Solstice. This ancient practice honors the dance, the medicine generated from their dance, and helps us open to healing. We need only to make ourselves available through simple, intimate acts with our Divine. Creating an altar, making releasing bundles, time together, and sparkling celebratory drinks are our way on the Winter Solstice. My third son was born today and this deepens the already special night that it is for our family. He always tells me he's from the Sun. I believe him.
Being an herbalist means I deeply desire to fill your belly with something nourishing, especially when we work deep in the darkest time of year. My celebratory contribution this year to my tribe includes Elderberry Bellinis and Elderberry Sparkling Water. I share in the hope that you'll fill your belly with the goodness of Elder. xo-jen
Elderberry Bellini & Elderberry Sparkling Water
1-2 tablespoons Elderberry syrup
Mix gently in a beautiful glass and enjoy!
Elderberry Sparkling Water
(The Non-alcoholic Bellini)
Yes! Simply use sparkling water with your syrup. Children rave over this and delight in having beautful drinks in elegant glasses with their favorite grownups. As I'm writing this, I'm sipping this one... it's in the pics and so good! The Prosecco is in the frig for tonight.
Our immune systems often get taxed this time of year, right? Elderberry provides. Elder shores up the boundaries in all directions to the possiblity of passing colds and flus around as we celebrate through the holidays. This is such a delicious, gorgeous, and easy way to celebrate. Who said medicine usually tastes awful? Never with Elder!
– Quick & Easy Elderberry Syrup Recipe–
1 cup fresh (or 1/2 cup dried will do) Elderberries
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup raw wildflower honey
½ tsp fresh chopped ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ tsp Cinnamon powder
Making Winter Solstice Releasing Bundles
This is another way to honor the releasing season we are in. As we reflect on the year passing and what worked, what bloomed, what was a complete bomb, and how we may have tripped ourselves up, making bundles to burn today solidifies our accepting of our part in it all. It's a simple act with deep rippling effects on so many levels.
Here's what you'll need to gather to make your releasing bundle:
What if, in this release, the inspiration and energy comes forth to fund your forward motion towards a dream for yourself? What if your dream-made-reality is actually connected to the whole as your gift to making this world a better place? Would you choose to step forward through the simple act of letting go? I pray you do. xo-Jen
Day of The Dead ~ Dia de los Muertos ~ Samhain
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine