On the other hand, many people find themselves performing another solstice ritual (though they might not quite see it that way)…by scratching their poison ivy! If you’ve been enjoying the summer so much that you’re now dealing with some poison ivy – or sister ivy as she is sometimes respectfully referred to in the plant community – never fear…
Women's Health and Herbal Medicine
My hawthorne berries are growing plump and ruby at the top of this 5000 foot mountain, and I am still in the bottom lowlands, a mere 3000 feet or so in elevation, strapping thick hiking boots to my feet and pulling on canvas gloves in the pre-dawn dew.
The day for harvest has finally come, and Burdock the Bernese mountain dog knows it as much as I do. Last year around the hawthorne harvest time, I caught him sneaking low-hanging fruit from the tree as I was harvesting. I thought, “What an excellent example of zoopharmacognosy!” because firstly, it’s a wonderful word to think aloud to oneself, and secondly, because truly, he as an animal has this vital canine instinct about what’s good for him. With a purebred mountain dog father, he has a genetic predisposition to heart troubles, the very thing that hawthorne remedies so reliably. And did he know this, when poking his long furry snout unperturbed into the brambly thicket and nibbling on the berries? I think so.
We climb steadily up towards the ridge where the hawthornes reign, Burdock with his backpack and me with mine, both of us stopping to drink from one of the seven springs we cross along the way. Both of us in various states of bedragglement the higher we climb, accumulating hundreds of tickseeds and agrimony burrs, he in his tail and me in my mane, both of us avoiding the falling buckeyes and sweating a bit in the cool September climate.
We have been watching the hawthornes all year. The tree of May, they bloom bursts of white delight in the late spring, beneath which fairies are said to dream in the old Gaelic traditions. When they were in full blossom I gently cut away some of the rosy flowers and leaves, which would be made into sweet, flavonoid-rich tincture for needy capillaries and wanting vessels.
Hawthorne is in the rose and apple family, and it’s obvious: the flowers mimic creamy mini ornamental roses while the seeds hold the same toxic Snow-White compound as their fruity cousins: cyanide. In my understanding, it’s about as big of a deal to consume a hawthorne as it is to eat an apple. Strain out or spit out the seeds, and you’re fine.
Their medicine is sweet, tonic, and red, astringent and life-filled, bioavailable to the cardiovascular system and generous in antioxidants. Compounds from hawthorne are used to create some pharmaceutical heart medicines and have been touted for their safety, effectiveness and lack of herb-drug contraindications. They are considered an adaptogen for the heart, with that mystical phyto-ability to lower blood pressure or raise it as needed, and to aid the cardiac area of the body to do its best job pumping, distributing, and nourishing the blood.
The berries are early this year, and so I must be, too. Hawthorne does not wait around for insignificant wildcrafters to come and take their pick, and neither do the black bears that roam this acreage, and neither do the dark-eyed juncos fluttering to nab the topmost berries that gleam scarlet in the light. Hawthorne does not mind if I have orders to fill and eager berry buyers 3000 feet below its roots and a city and a world away.
Hawthorne lives here, actually lives here, has been born and watered and winded and pollinated and grown up and old and gnarly and reproduced one million berry children here. And hawthorne will continue to live here so long as the mountain keeps kind to it, and the harvesters pluck only what their baskets can carry, and never more.
We pick for hours in that close, high-elevation September sun, so much nearer than than normal, and the basket begins to fold and creak beneath its slowly growing weight. Or, I pick, and Burdock sturdily guards us from bears, or, more likely, sinister chipmunks and dragonflies. The thorns guarding the haws are nothing less than formidable and no match for tender human hands, some of them growing more than two inches in length, jagged reminders that this is the wild of blood-red berries, not merely pricked fingers from a fairytale.
We tumble down the mountain, sliding through rocky creeks and dodging leafy banks, 10 pounds heavier at least, laden but far from burdened. The bears can return to their sweet feast in privacy, now, and I can return to the ear-popping lowlands from whence I came.
But not before a deluge of black Jerseys decides to take interest in our cause. Burdock and I descend upon a pleasantly mooing field of Madison County cows, who turned quickly into an aggressively stomping and MOOING field of Madison County cows as we trundled through their territory. They seemed to be showing far too much interest in my wildcrafted goods than I deemed appropriate for cows, dodging towards either me or the oddly cow-colored dog and then leering backwards with a noise like a tortured primate.
I wonder at this point if cows have some obscure fondness for hawthorne berries that perhaps I wasn’t aware of, and begin to hold my precious bag of loot a bit further away from my side, just in case I needed to toss it to my bovine predators and run like the wind. Surely none of these were bulls, were they? The grab-the-bull-by-the-horns expression came to mind and I was conveniently reminded that none of these cows indeed had horns, so surely they wouldn’t be in hot pursuit of a redhead with a red bag full to the brim with bright red…no! Surely not!
Nevertheless, we weren’t going to risk it. We dart around the herd, running and scattering a few berries in our wake, Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs style, under barbed wire fences and over fallen hemlocks and safely clattering three miles down the mountain.
The day for harvest is over for another year. We will keep watching the hawthornes through the winter, we will go and visit them again when their branches are bare and they look dead and grey, and we will approach them in the spring again, asking once more what heart fruits they will hold for us come autumn.
When my herb teacher, a fourth or fifth generation herbalist, was still a young child in the foothills of the Alabama Appalachians, she learned to use plants to predict the patterns of human disease. As far back as she can remember, she’d always been taught that the particularly dominating plants of that growing season were there to treat the people that lived nearby. And when one plant dominated the landscape for a particular spring or summer, she knew what to expect that fall.
So she put her students to the test. “What have y’all been seeing really growing prolifically, really taking over this year?” she asked us, her second year class at the Appalachian Center for Natural Health, where we study traditional southern folk medicine. “Sumac,” says somebody, and, “Elderberry,” says another. One student pipes up, “I’ve never seen more St. John’s wort than I have this year. It’s everywhere,” and another butted in, “The Queen Anne’s lace is unbelievable right now…it’s always there, but this is different…"
“What do y’all think that means? The sumac, the elderberry, the St. John’s wort, the Queen Anne’s lace? Why are we seeing those more this year than in the past? Is there a reason?” We pondered, stumped. Surely it wouldn’t be because of a climate change or a farmer’s almanac type thing or a planetary alignment. We students were coming from all over the southeast and had seen these plants’ unprecedented takeover from several different states. I wondered if it was just a, “Well, just seems to be a darned good year for that yeller weed,” sort of farmer talk.
But our teacher cracked the subject open: “As far as I can see, it looks like we’re going to be seeing an awful lot of viruses and flus this year.” St. John’s wort, Queen Anne’s lace, and elderberry are of course well-known herbal cold, flu, and virus remedies. All three are excellent anti-virals and the elder combined with the Queen Anne’s lace is a powerful herbal flu and bug support. Sumac berries can also be used to support the body during a viral infection.
This prediction of the illnesses that we have to look forward to in the coming fall raised quite a conversation: do plants exist just to help humans? How do plants communicate with us? What kind of intelligence do plants have? Why do they want to help us? Can plants really predict what people and even ultra-intelligent computer programs cannot?
When our teacher was being trained in herbal medicine, her grandparents were practicing herbalists and would make house calls to their patients, rarely bringing much more with them than a couple of dried roots in their bags. They knew that at least during the growing season, most anything they might use to cure someone could be found in their backyard. So this way of predicting an epidemic based on the botanical life of the area is really rooted in necessity and habit – the herbalist used what they had, and they noticed if they had a lot of something and were using, say, elderberry, more than any other plant that season.
This belief imbues in plants a certain divine intelligence, very like the ‘minds’ or ‘spirits’ of plants that Stephen Harrod Buhner refers to in his books Plant Spirit Healing or The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature. The idea is connected to a very Native American view of all things belonging, everything in its place, every plant with its purpose. It connects us with the plant world in a way that is very real, a way in which we are interdependent on each other, a way in which we need plants for more than just their pretty perfumes and idyllic symbolism. We need them to get through the next season.
As I drive the goldenrod and ironweed sided hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I begin to wonder what this massive field of yellow and purple means. What’s its purpose, besides being a brilliantly stunning crockpot of wildflowers? I know that I’d rather look out and see a roadside lined with Joe Pye Weed than a roadside predicting epic numbers of kidney stone sufferers to come, but still, it is easy to believe in the language of the plants to guide us from disease into nourishment. What could be glowingly more obvious, and yet somehow more subtle to us humans, than the dandelions growing in every lawn in America that cry out to our livers, the vast majority of which could use at least a little love.
Keep your eyes on the plants this autumn. Do you see a correspondence between the proliferation of that patch of plantain and the number of bug bites your family gets? Do you notice a connection between the wild cherry trees and the coughs or sore throats that may pop up this winter?
Let us know! There are no wrong answers, and no nasty weeds.
We’d like to highlight four of the wisest women we know and share how they are doing their part to spread plant love and optimum nourishment of the body and spirit.
1. Susun Weed
Some know her as a women’s health expert, some know her as the founder of the Wise Woman Center, and some know her as the lady with the goats. Susun Weed is a spritely spit-fire of a woman who has forged a name for herself and weedy, abundant herbs everywhere. Susun is unique in that she plays the part of both shaman and scientist – she is equal parts plant spirit and peer-reviewed journal.
We love her holistic approach to wellness that she calls the six steps of healing, in which she incorporates story medicine (the narrative around a symptom or condition) serenity medicine (doing nothing) and occasionally invasive medicine (surgery).
Susan hosts a weekly BlogTalk radio show, in which she invites listeners to call or email in their questions to be discussed on air. She promises that the show will “Enlighten, surprise and delight you,” and in each episode, we’ve never been let down. She is the author of seven books on herbal wisdom, including her latest book on the reproductive health, “Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health the Wise Woman Way.” Find her on www.susunweed.com.
2. Jody Noe
Dr. Jody Noe is an all-round incredible woman and healer. Not only is she a naturopath (N.D.) who runs her own integrative medicine practice, but she is a traditional Cherokee herbal medicine woman who spent years in training with her Cherokee elders. She approaches the body with the traditional indigenous view that all things are sacred, and spirit is in all things, including our beloved herbs and stones.
Dr. Noe specializes in integrative oncology, and is the author of a well-researched tome on the subject, Textbook of Naturopathic Integrative Oncology. Her energetic work encompasses a vast range of healing tools that are both allopathic and homeopathic, including herbs, diet, lifestyle, and spiritual counseling.
Find Dr. Noe online at www.drjodyenoe.com.
3. Corinna Wood
Steeped in the Wise Woman tradition, Corinna Wood is a voice for local foods and medicines which feed both body and soul. Rather than practicing with plant medicine that uses herbs from distant regions or traditions, Corinna’s attention as a community herbalist is on the weeds and wilds in our own backyards. She focuses on attuning women to the cycles of the earth, the plants, and the moon.
Holistic women’s education has been Corinna’s primary focus over recent years, and out of this effort she has led thousands of women from all paths of life into the green world of herbal medicine. Corinna shares her knowledge and her loving connection with mother nature by engaging women in the sphere of plant medicines each spring during her yearly Wise Women’s Herbal Immersion.
Corinna studied extensively with Susun Weed before launching Red Moon Herbs, which has consistently carried out its mission of providing safe, effective and abundant herbal remedies to the community for over twenty years. Corinna now directs the annual Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference, the largest women’s herb gathering in the US.
4. Rosemary Gladstar
If there’s one name that nearly everyone in the ‘herbie’ world knows, it’s probably that of Rosemary Gladstar. But not only is it a nice name to know (who doesn’t like rosemary, after all?), she herself is a wealth of inspiration and encouragement to all wise women who walk along the healer’s path. To list the accomplishments of someone like Rosemary is beyond our scope, but let’s just say the books of Rosemary Gladstar are to some a sort of “gateway” into herbal medicine.
Got a friend who wants to start making body care products for herself and her family, but doesn’t know anything about herbs? Give her Rosemary’s book. Have a buddy who gets indigestion after eating and wants to do something about it, naturally? Give them Rosemary’s book. Her writings are beautiful, easy to understand, and accessible, no matter your level of expertise.
Rosemary also acts as an advocate for the endangered and rare plants of the world. She is the founding energy behind United Plant Savers, an organization that raises awareness for and protects exotic species. Her work in this area has spurred a widespread movement towards using as many local and widely growing plants as possible, whenever we can.
Rosemary will be coming to speak to us in October at the Southeast Wise Women’s conference. As a headliner, she will be speaking on some of her favorite remedies and recipes with us, as well as sharing her thoughts on Preserving our Herbal Traditions.
While walking in the forest recently with the kids, we found several of Earth’s bountiful treasures: whimsical witch hazel flower and a few lucky buckeye (Aesculus spp.) pictured here. We see the remains of summer’s leftover reishi (Ganoderma spp.) and lingering dried oyster mushrooms, fresh turkey tail (Trimetes versicolor), usnea (Usnea spp.) on branches fallen, a few clinging hawthorn berries and plenty of wild rose hips for syrups and teas (see both fruits pictured below).
These gifts of the forest offer their abundant fruit to us with no expectations in return, so we choose to give a token to express appreciation.
We may leave dried tobacco or herb from an offering pouch, a few strands of hair or a prayer of thanks. A neat winter gift for our bird and forest friends can easily be made using a pine cone or two as a bird feeder. These are gestures in the season of giving. Replanting the yule or holiday tree of cedar, spruce or pine can be a safe place for wildlife while providing cone seeds or evergreen berries as winter food.
Birds also forage on berries such as hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and black haw (Viburnum prunifolium). All of these shrubs will soon be ready to plant in your garden or forest in early spring. Some of these shrubs have medicinal properties, such as hawthorn for heart health, barberry or Oregon grape as a digestive bitter and wound healer and black haw with its numerous uses, including support during threatened miscarriages or postpartum hemorrhaging.
I am humbled and ever so grateful to Mother Earth’s generosity even in the coldest season, such unconditional giving shared during the lean times is the ultimate example for us all.
Abundant harvests and gift giving year-round,
Jeannie Dunn, Director
The cooling nights reminds us it’s time to get the last of our harvest in or move those sun-loving planters inside soon.
Many get so excited to plant in spring, but autumn is a great time to plant perennials, giving the plants an opportunity to get roots firmly grounded before having to express energy in the spring for leaves, flowers and fruit.
Autumn is also a great time of year to reflect on the year’s accomplishments and visualize those things undone being finished. The cooling temperatures give us time to finish the year’s projects that have been lingering.
If you are walking in the woods now, look for fruits and seeds that you may scatter to help proliferate the species of various forest plants. We like to throw a handful in the four directions in the same environment that the plant is already growing. You can be your own Johnny Appleseed wherever you may be (pictured below left is American Spikenard – Aralia racemosa found in Appalachia).
Another fun thing to do is seed save from your herb garden and organize a seed swap with friends in winter or early spring. We are so fortunate to have a partnership with The Lord’s Acre, a produce garden feeding families in Fairview, NC. Jacquelyn Dobrinska and other volunteers have created TLA herb garden, chock full of medicinal plants. Red Moon Herbs has been harvesting and seed saving from this plot and will coordinate a seed exchange in the near future. Pictured below, center, is toothache plant, Spilanthes acmella, and right, Tulsi or Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum).
We are also busily preparing some locally grown and dried herbs for the upcoming SE Wise Women Herb Conference on October 10-12, 2014. It’s a great time of year to collect some of you favorite herbs such as mint, lemon balm, tulsi, dandelion leaf, plantain and others from the garden or in pristine wildcrafted places. Hang in bouquets upside down with string to dry for your own tea blends to savor mid-winter.
by Jackie Dobrinska
Staying healthy means staying in harmony with the energy of the season. The Tiajitu – the yin/yang symbol pictured to the right – is a map for this. It shows that as we flow into the watery blue of the yin, we must stay connected to the seed of the fiery red. There is yang in the yin and yin in the yang, just as there is light in the darkness and darkness in the light.
To stay in harmony during these darker days of the winter solstice and the weeks that follow we invite you to consider the following:
Get outside. See the light of the sun on a daily basis – for at least 30 minutes. This is especially true for those who work inside or who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun helps increase serotonin levels, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.
Keep Active. Keep the blood moving by exercising your body and joints daily. Stretch, dance and walk. Choose activities that move in harmony with this slower season.
Stay warm and dry. In 5-element theory, winter is associated with the water element and the kidneys. Extreme cold can injure them, leading to emotional imbalances like fear and physical imbalance related to immunity.
Oil your body. Winter can dry the skin. Keeping it well lubricated will keep this organ – one of the largest in the body – healthy, vital and vibrant. (see “Rituals” sidebar) It will also protect our insides from the things we want to keep outside!
Cozy up with tea. During the winter, a plant’s energy is in its roots. We can help strengthen and tonify our own roots by boiling up fresh or dried root teas. Fresh ginger root is a favorite winter tea because of its warming properties.
Eat soups. Warm, grounding, nourishing foods keep digestion in good order during the cold winter season, and good digestion equals good health. Slow cooked roots, stewed whole grains, and salty miso and sea vegetables make excellent staples. (see “Soup” sidebar)
Take your herbs. St. John’s Wort, also known as “Bottled Sunshine” helps support emotional balance, nervous system function and immune system function. Wild Lettuce supports sleep function.
Relax & Sleep! During the winter we must be careful not to run our batteries down with stress and the plethora of holiday obligations. Instead, get plenty of sleep. Take time to relax with baths, body work, and daily massages (see “Rituals” sidebar).
Like the hibernating bear dreaming in her cave, the dark days of winter CAN bring much needed rest and respite when we allow it. Staying in balance means being in harmony with both the darkness and with the seeds of light contained within it. Doing so will nourish and carry you into more dynamic phases of the year, with more energy and ease.
by Corinna Wood
The time of year stretching from Sahmain to Winter Solstice is a dark and often intense time, as the seasons of light turn to seasons of dark. The nights are growing longer, and the dark evenings come early. I so treasure the darkness this time of year and the quiet it brings.
It is especially important for us as women to take extra care this time of year due to the fast paced, demanding lives many of us lead. Mothering, working, caretaking–whatever the tasks may be, it can become overwhelming. Often, we put so much energy into taking care of others, but winter brings us the opportunity to turn that care back towards ourselves – to deeply nourish ourselves and fully feel our range of emotions.
Last night I turned out all the lights in my bathroom; not even a candle was lit. I submerged in the warm tub, connected with my own dark warm womb, and asked for her wisdom. Take a little bit of quiet time on or before the solstice when the Christmas rush is not yet in full force. Whether it be a luxurious bath in the dark or a 20 minute cat nap, feel the womb of the mother. Let her nourish and heal you
by Corinna Wood
During menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, our emotions and perceptions are heightened. There is a primal urge to remove ourselves from the daily routine and allow these feelings to move through our bodies and our spirits. We crave the Moon Lodge.
In traditional societies where the natural order of things was revered, the Moon Lodge offered a retreat, or cradle to receive women when they felt most vulnerable. Women gathered there during their bleeding time. Not an exile imposed upon the ‘unclean,’ rather the Moon Lodge offered a sacred space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feel reverence and connection with the spiritual, to be immersed in reflection, to be still and truly be.
These days, our busy lives don’t always afford us the option of leaving our responsibilities behind for a week, but we can honor this need by taking a Moon Day (or even an hour!), either just before our bleeding begins or at its height (usually the second day). Many women find that taking a Moon Day does wonders to prevent menstrual woes and pains; when we’re already in the Moon Lodge, our bodies don’t need to yell so loudly to call us back there!
With the high incidences of stress-related illness and the women challenged by reproductive issues ranging from infertility to menstrual disorders, it is simply good common sense to take some time to care for ourselves, whether as a preventative or a restorative.
The key to creating a healthy, embracing approach to our life-long lunar dance is to treat it, and ourselves, with the respect and nurturance that we extend to all those we care for. Nourish your body and your soul, and you will be well prepared to nourish others.
by Corinna Wood
Some of you may know the quarterly holidays fairly well – Spring and Fall Equinox as well as Winter and Summer Solstice. If the year were charted in a circle, these points make a cross both down the vertical middle and through the horizontal center of the circle. Between each of these points are what’s known as cross quarterly holidays. These are Imbolc (early February), Beltane or May Day, Lammas (early August) and Halloween or Samhain, which falls halfway between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.
From a medicine-make perspective, this is the beginning of the root harvest. The bulk of our harvest takes place in November and December when perennial plants send their energy down below the ground for the winter. We’ll soon be harvesting dandelion, yellow dock, poke, burdock, echinacea, and comfrey roots.