A Lesson from Mother Nature

You know that thing that people tell you, about how time goes faster and faster the older you get? It’s really true. As a child, I luxuriated in summer days, letting the sun kiss me and nature embrace me. Now it seems like an entire year fits into the length of a childhood summer. The earth spins, my head spins and what?! The autumnal equinox is here, on my aunt’s would-be 90th birthday, if she was still on this earth.

Along with her birthday comes the annual event that I host in her memory, in honor of the work she did to help women thrive: the BotanicWise MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. The end of summer, beginning of fall, missing my aunt and the Women’s Conference are all wrapped up in one big feeling in my heart this time of year.

It is hard to describe the magic that occurs when a rainbow of 300 women and some plants gather together for the weekend.

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Recently I hosted a webinar, “Herbs for Women” featuring Rosita Arvigo and Deb Soule. Both of these amazing women will be teaching at this year’s conference and during the webinar we laughed as we reminisced about the last time Rosita taught for BotanicWise. That was 4 years ago.

That year, as the conference date approached, I was feeling pretty chill about everything, and proud of myself for being so relaxed. It’s no small endeavor to host an event like this, especially in the beginning when I had no clue what I was doing. So I was feeling pretty cheeky. Since this was my 5th year, I had learned a thing or two, and everything was falling into place beautifully. This was back in the years when I held the event on my farm… outside... under tents... “All-Weather” tents, we might say? Yeah, I was younger then.

“Who cares about a little rain?" I’d say. "I am NOT going to worry about the weather.”

Well, Mother Nature clearly wanted to get my attention, and maybe knock me off my high horse, because when I finally did check the weather, it was not pretty. Rain and high winds were the forecast. Every day the prediction worsened until we had near-hurricane winds and temperatures nestled in the low 40s.

Now, I have a some sturdy Norwegian blood, and I don’t mind the cold, but forty degree temperatures for an outdoor event? Really? I began to stress about keeping everybody warm, especially my teachers. Rosita was returning from Mexico and had this tiny little suitcase and a thin poncho sort of thing, geared towards Mexico cold, not Pennsylvania cold.

"I will be fine," she insisted.

I looked at her dubiously. Long story short, when it started snowing and blowing, even with the noisy heaters in the tent, she wasn’t fine and we wrapped the shivering Rosita in a down coat.

I learned a few lessons that weekend:

#1 —> I DO care about the weather! I moved the venue off my farm to the Kempton Community Center, a venue complete with real buildings and heat. I also shifted the date to one week earlier. Both moves have made a huge difference!

#2 —> I learned about how enthusiastic and resilient plant lovers are. The rapt attention of the students and the heart and soul which the teachers poured into their classes (despite the near freezing weather) was astounding.

Everyone left that event feeling exuberant - inspired and full to the brim with joy.

The fabric of connection and community that we wove together as we faced the adverse weather still remains. That’s the magic of how plants bring us together and teach us about community… and togetherness… and about what sings to our hearts… and about love.

Year after year, no matter what the weather, that’s what happens when we gather together. Sweetness…

Like the breath of a summer meadow when the grasses and wildflowers are in bloom.

Rosita tells me she’s bringing plenty of warm clothes this year, even though she won’t need them. We’re cozy as cats at the new venue!

For those of you who are ready to experience this plant alchemy, I cordially invite you to join us next weekend for the best herbal weekend of the year. Okay, I’m biased. But, this conference stands out from the rest because it’s a smaller more intimate group of women, with LOTS of up close opportunities to meet the teachers, find inspiration, and feel part of a family of plant loving women determined to make a difference and bring some love, light, and healing to the planet.

For those of you that need more convincing that these teachers are worth meeting, check out our free virtual classroom —> “Meet the Teachers” <—

Don’t miss out on this unforgettable weekend! —> Register today <—

Getting Hipsey with Roses

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Last year I started what I hope will expand into a medicinal botanical sanctuary. Besides the classic culinary herbs, rosemary, sage and thyme, which make a wonderful dispensary in themselves, I planted ten Rosa rugosa bushes. This wild rose is a humble and hardy plant. It grows along the New England coast, setting it’s thorny self - it is a pricker bomb! - against the assault of wind and sea. In June, the 3- 4 foot shrub bedecks itself with simple hot pink blossoms which ooze with fragrance.

Many an herbalist has clambered over the rocky seacoast in search of the Rosa rugosa petals. They are delicious and nourish the heart, offering a sense of peace.

As a symbol of love, rose petals can sustain us through episodes of grief or stress, especially if we feel that tension in the chest.

I like to think of this plant as a hardy old woman who has withstood the stormy times. She has a thorny side and sets clear boundaries with others, and yet her heart is also wide open, loving with a wisdom that comes from time and heartbreak. If you are having a rough day, imagine this elder-woman stepping into your kitchen with her medicine bag. She would make you a cup of rose petal tea, sit with you and listen with all her heart. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us.

Making simple remedies, such as rose petal tea, really isn’t that complicated or time consuming. Even so, summer flies by so quickly and I often find myself too distracted to follow up with even simple plans to harvest and make medicine. When my roses bloomed in early June, I picked a few handfuls and set them out to dry, but I think they are still sitting on the shelf collecting dust. Fortunately, some of the best medicine makers I know, make a fabulous rose elixir, sweet and delicious. Try Woodland Essence (Rose Glycerite half price right now!) or Avena Botanicals Rose Petal Elixir, if you want to experience the heart-lifting power of the floral side of this botanical.

The upside of neglecting my flower harvest is that the bees were busy, and the bushes (now 4 feet tall) funneled all their energy into seed production and produced the most glorious rose hips I ever saw. We have had a lot of rain this summer. The hips produced by Rosa rugosa, which typically tend to be large, are ginormous this year thanks to excess moisture. Really fat and juicy.

Rose hips are loaded with seeds as hard as rocks, so when I pick them I like to nibble around the edges, savoring the sour leathery fruit and spitting out any stray seeds. This sour flavor is the sign that your hips are rich in Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids.

Eating rose hips, or drinking as a tea, is a wonderful way to boost immunity and support the integrity of blood vessels, decreasing bruising, spider veins and hemorrhoids.

Until today I have never made a product out of rose hips, even though I have seen many recipes for them, from jam to syrup to face cream. While making dinner (chicken parm), I grabbed a small saucepan and got my creative juices flowing.

Here’s what I made, and I don’t mind saying, it tastes divine!

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Getting Hipsey Honey

Ingredients:

1 quart large fleshy rose hips, stems and greens removed

2/3 cup water

1/2 - 1 cup honey, depending on taste and plumpness of hips

Make it:

  • Dump prepared hips and water into blender, food processor or Vitamix. Blend briefly. You could at this point pick out seeds, but I didn’t. Transfer into medium saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

  • Grind cooked hips and water with a food mill. I used a tomato sauce maker and the seeds nearly broke the thing, but it worked. Let me know if you find some easy way to remove all those seeds!

  • Return seed-free pulp to sauce pan and add some of the honey. Gently heat and stir, just until warm enough to blend together. Taste. Add more honey if needed. Taste again and smile! Use the honey in tea, on toast, on a banana, or over raspberry ice-cream. Sigh!


Interested in learning more about Plant Medicine? Join us at the BotanicWise MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference, Sept. 27-29. Register by September 1 to be eligible to win a ticket to the private Teacher’s Dinner!

Elder Magic

Look carefully as you drive along rural meadows next to wooded stream beds and you might spot the first of the elder blossoms.  Deb Soule insists that this plant is magical, and I have to agree withher. In fact, after a little digging I found plenty of lore surrounding the mystical qualities of this shrub. Planted near wells and the doors of just-married, much superstition surrounded this plant in European history.  Witches that spring out if you cut it down, were also warded off by the shrub itself. In Germanic societies elder became the symbol of life and death, as well as luck and protection.  

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel. &nbsp;Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel.  Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I had my own magical experience with elder many years ago.  The perfectly ripe flowers at my grandfather's farm were ready for harvest, but I was so exhausted I had trouble motivating myself to get them. Since flowers don't last long, I forced myself and soon was immersed in the tall spindly branches loaded with ivory flower clusters. Quite suddenly I felt the sensation of gentle hands on my back and shoulders and a great happiness filled me. By the time I had finished my task, my energy and spirit were restored. Perhaps just the act of getting outdoors and doing something I love helped me feel better, but I feel convinced there was a bit of magic in the air about those bushes. 

Traditionally the flowers of this plant have been used for nasal and sinus congestion. Steeping the fresh or dried blossoms makes a refreshing tea that helps alleviate inflamed mucus membranes.  This is my go-to tea for head colds and sinus infections. However the flowers have many wonderful culinary uses, originating in northern Europe.  From batter-fried umbels (that’s what the flower clusters are called) to cake imbued with a cordial of the blossoms, the taste is unique and possibly acquired.  These days I have less time to make medicine, or even forage for wild foods, but I never fail to pick the elder blossom and make my favorite Scandinavian specialty: Elderflower Salt.  This traditional recipe can be adapted to suit modern tastes.  I simply toss the separated flower clusters with celtic sea salt, garlic scapes, lemon rind and a bit of red pepper flakes.  After curing in the sun, I store this salt in pretty jars, perfect for spontaneous gifts to herbal friends. It makes a marvelous rub for grilled meat, fish or veggies. 

The berries of Sambucus nigra have also been used by herbalists for centuries to ward off flu.  All kinds of delicious concoctions can be created from the berries, but always they are cooked before ingesting, as the raw berries are somewhat toxic. Two of my favorite elderberry tonics are Elderberry Elixir by Avena Botanicals and Elderberry Syrup by Tooth of the Lion Apothecary.  While the first is sweet and delightful to the palate of a child, the second is an artful combination of yarrow, goldenrod, elderberry and ginger. It makes a delightful before-bed-aperitif. 

I am gathering a collection of recipes using elder flowers and berries and would love to feature yours.  Feel free to email me, or make a comment here, and toot your horn a little if you have a product to sell.  I will be posting all recipes on my online forum, GingerJuice.