Early September

As we slip gently into autumn, we look to finish off the business of summer and prepare for winter, knowing that from the equinox, the darkness and cold will grow. Even at the beginning of September there is a nip in the morning air, and the luscious blooms of summer are starting to go to seed.

This is the time of abundance for me, with a profusion of fresh garden produce and foraged food available.  I’m harvesting main crop potatoes, carrots, swedes, turnips and beetroot, as well as cauliflowers, broccoli, beans, the last of the fresh salads, tomatoes, bell peppers, apples and pears. This is one of my favourite months for foraging too, and the hedgerows are bountiful with hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts, berries such as rosehips, elderberries, blackberries, rowan and hawthorn berries, and mushrooms spring up in the woods and meadows.  There are still fresh herbs around too, and I preserve them by drying them by hanging them in bunches in a well ventilated space, or by freezing them in water in ice cube trays (one can then be dropped into a soup or a stew). This is a very busy month when the harvest must be gathered in before the first frosts, and food must be prepared, stored and preserved for the dead time of winter to come, with freezing, drying, canning, jam and chutney making, brewing wines and beers, apple and pear brandy and making my yearly batch of cider vinegar.

Naturally, I also use September’s bounty for making herb simples like blackberry vinegar and elderberry glycerite.

Blackberry Vinegar

2 lb. blackberries

2 pt. malt vinegar

Place the washed blackberries in a bowl and break them up slightly with a wooden spoon. Pour on the malt vinegar. Cover with a cloth and stand for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally. Boil for 10 minutes, cool, strain and bottle the resulting liquid. This is very good for coughs. Quantities can easily be increased, allowing 1 lb. blackberries to 1 pt. fruit.

The same method can be used to make elderberry vinegar. Many people find this very good food colds – drink a tablespoon of blackberry or elderberry vinegar in hot water with a little honey.

Elderberry Glycerite

Ripe elderberries

Vegetable glycerine (food grade)

Strip the berries from the stem, using a fork. To make a glycerite put the berries into a clean jar and pour on slightly warmed glycerine until they are completely covered. Seal and keep in a warm place for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through muslin and store in a dark bottle in a cool place for up to 2 years. Take a spoonful four times a day for colds and flu.

Mulled Hedgerow Punch

3 cups mixed autumn berries (such as blackberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries)

2 litres apple juice

2 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

3 cloves

3 cm fresh ginger, grated

Put all the ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into mugs, serve hot and sweeten with honey, if desired.

ENTHEOGENS

“Standing on bare ground — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space — all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; I am part and parcel of God.”

“ I was totally overwhelmed by spiritual sensations. Every molecule, every cell of the body I was inhabiting started screaming out in ecstasy. Suddenly, with no effort on my part, all of my senses became interchangeable and could perform the activities of any of the others. To my joyous disbelief, I could see with my ears and hear with my nose. I even tasted with my eyes.”

“Such clarity has left me shattered, left to stand naked before what I now know to be, and what I have been told is.  To now be so utterly awake to the knowledge that we all are already in perfect union with the Universe and its universal message of love, I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I have touched the Hand of the Divine.”[1]

“Your mind floats free, enjoying (or being overwhelmed by) images that no longer come from the physical world alone but from an ‘elsewhere,’ a new origin outside of normal reality.  It’s easy to see why you would feel that messages originate with a divine source, since they aren’t connected to a normal reality and can’t be correlated to the environment your senses tell you is there” [2]

Entheogens are substances that contain molecules closely related to human neurochemicals which have been shown to directly provoke mystical experiences. They mostly come directly from plant sources but some, like LSD, are made in the laboratory.

The term entheogen was invented by Gordon Wasson and means ‘god containing’ or ‘god filled’. Entheogens are psychoactive substances which have traditionally been used to induce a spiritual experience of transcendence and unite the user with god-consciousness.  They were used in the ancient world and are still used today in tribal and shamanic societies in conjunction with, or to support, other methods of changing consciousness such as meditation, drumming, chanting and so on. The plants are used as a sacrament, and this is the polar opposite of the recreation or habitual use of drugs in western society.  

Traditional shamanic rituals involving hallucinogenic plants are carefully structured experiences in which a small group of people come together with a respectful, spiritual attitude to share a profound inner journey of healing and transformation, facilitated by these plant allies.

Their ultimate goal isn’t a high or the ultimate trip, but a realisation of transcendence, with the plant taken with intent and expressly for this purpose.  All psychedelic experiences are not entheogenic experiences. Anyone can take psychedelics and see pretty colours, patterns, and have hallucinations. Even if there is some kind of wish-fulfilment ‘spiritual’ vision, such as meeting a beautiful lady or pulling a sword from a stone, there is still the sense of self in the vision, the everyday personality, the observer, the ‘I’. But in an entheogenic experience, in which mystical consciousness is attained, the ‘I’, the ego, dissolves like a drop of water merging with the ocean of the cosmos.

There are four main characteristics of such experiences –

  1. A slowing down of time and a focus on the present moment
  2. An awareness of the interdependence between seemingly opposite things or events, feeling yourself as the unified field of organism and environment
  3. An awareness of the relativity of personal identity, enabling you to see other I-centres as yourself – not your personal ego, but what Hindus call the paramatman, the Self of all selves
  4. An awareness of eternal energy, with the insight that all existence is a single energy, and that this energy is one’s own being

People who have taken the sacred vine ayahuasca have described a sensation of otherworldliness, where the feeling is that things are not as they used to be and the sense of entering into another, heretofore unknown, reality. With this otherworldliness comes feelings of sanctity as the ayahuasca drinkers usually feel they are the recipients of utmost grace. There is the experience of meaningfulnessand insight, where drinkers may “feel that they suddenly understand why things are as they are and discover a true sense of their own lives. Coupled with this is often a feeling of enchantmentand powerful energy, where drinkers come to see that the world is governed by invisible forces, energies, or beings, and that a tremendous force permeates and animates everything. It is also very common for drinkers to feel that they are rediscovering a facet of their existence that is actually very basic; it is as if life had estranged them from themselves and made them forget some very basic things about their very essence. Time and again, drinkers say that the brew brings them “back home” to the true essence of themselves from which they become distanced.

Some think that entheogens act to activate and unblock the crown chakra, an experience described as being like turning on a lamp in a dark room, giving the individual heightened awareness of internal and external realities.[3] Full activation of the crown chakra (even if only temporarily) leads to contact with the universal consciousness. Most accounts of entheogenic experiences describe connection with the ultimate reality, of being free of the body, time and conceptual limits, where all things, all beings, are united as a single whole, a single consciousness.

It used to be thought assumed that hallucinogens excite neurotransmission and overall brain activity, but recent findings suggest that the very opposite may be true, and the colourful effects that hallucinogens give rise to emerge from a brain with less neural activity than normal. Researchers discovered that psilocybin mushrooms decreased activity in several key areas of the brain, including the default-mode network, which is thought to play a role in high-level constructs such as the self or ego.  A relative deactivation of the default-mode network has also been discovered in experienced meditators both during the practice of meditation and in their ordinary resting states. In other words, the entheogenic state, and the state of very advanced meditation, is the same.

There are at least 120 species of plants across the world known to be used for intoxication. Most hallucinogens are alkaloids, a family of around 5,000 complex organic molecules that also account for the biological activity of most toxic and many medicinal plants. These compounds are found in various concentrations in different parts of the plant – root, leaves, seeds, bark or flowers. Since many of the hallucinogenic plants are closely related to deadly poisonous species, and many are fatal in higher doses, you wonder at the tenacity and bravery of their discoverers. 

They have traditionally been absorbed by the human body in an ingenious number of ways – smoked or taken as snuff, swallowed fresh or dried, drunk in decoctions and infusions, absorbed directly through the skin, and even administered as enemas. The Bushmen of Dobe, Botswana absorb the active compounds of kwashi (Puncratium trianthum) by cutting the scalp and rubbing the juice of the onion-like bulb into the open wound. The psychoactive constituents of fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), an hallucinogenic mushroom used in Siberia, pass through the body unaltered, and the psychoactive urine of the intoxicated individual may be consumed by the others, [4] and even the urine of reindeer that have consumed the fungus, is drunk. Some hallucinogens, such as belladonna (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) and datura (Datura metel) have active principals that can be directly absorbed through the skin [5] and were common constituents of the famous flying ointments used by witches.

Nearly every society in world history has used at least one of these hallucinogenic plants in a religious context or used it as a sacrament, a holy communion with the gods, as well as for divination and healing. 

There is plenty of archaeological evidence of psychoactive drug use among prehistoric and early historic cultures. Cannabis seeds and pollen were found at the Mesolithic site known as Abora in Latvia, and cannabis was cultivated around the Oslo fjord and parts of Sweden from the late first millennium BCE. [6] Petroglyphs from the same area indicate mushroom use. A Viking-age burial site with hundreds of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) seeds was interpreted as evidence that the woman there interred was “a priestess, a seer, someone in touch with the other world”. In the Americas, seeds of the so-called mescal bean (Sophora secundiflora) and San Pedro cacti (Trichocereus pachanoi) have been discovered in association with human shelters from the end of the ninth millennium BCE, while peyote buttons (Lophophora williamsii) have been discovered at a site dating to the fourth millennium BCE. [7]

If we look at sacred texts, Gilgamesh, the hero of an ancient Sumerian epic, went on a quest for a miraculous herb, which he eventually discovered only to have it taken from him by its guardian, the serpent. This may have influenced the Bible story which is told with a different slant – it is the serpent that actually offers the fruit of knowledge to Eve.[i] This ‘forbidden fruit’ may have been an entheogen which opened the mind to the god-state. Eating the fruit of the tree of life unites man with the gods and eating it is forbidden in the Bible.

In the Indian Vedas, the same word (soma) is used for a ritual drink, a sacred plant, and its deity. Drinking soma produces immortality.  The Rigveda (8.48.3) says:

We have drunk soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.

The references to immortality and light are characteristics of an entheogenic experience.

In ancient Egypt, the 16th century BCE Ebers Papyrus mentions the use of opium and cannabis. Initiation to the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece probably involved the use of psilocybin mushrooms.

Drugs and magical practices were inextricably related. The Greek pharmakon means ‘drug, medicine, remedy; poison, enchanted potion’, while pharmakeia is translated as ‘the use of drugs or spells; poisoning, witchcraft; medicine’.

The use of psychoactive drugs among indigenous peoples in modern times is well documented. In Siberia, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) is attested from the early modern period,  [8] In the Amazon basin, the ayahuasca drink, has been used for ritual and healing purposes since pre-Colombian times, in Central and North American the use of Psilocybe mushrooms and peyote  is well documented, as is the South American use of the San Pedro cactus (Trichocerus pachanoi).  [9]

Psychoactive drugs are also common in European folk traditions. Mircea Eliade (1970) described the traditional use of mandrake for love magic and healing in his native Romania, and recipes for flying ointments often include psychoactive plants such as aconite, hemlock (Conium), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane, opium and mandrake. Henbane was also used as a common additive to beer until 1516, when the Bavarian Purity Law forbade such brewing practices. [10]

The vast majority of religions in the world have used psychoactive drugs in their rituals. However, in the monotheistic religions, the word of ‘god’ is always mediated by a priest and followers are not meant to seek any form of independent contact with divine realms. Any claim to mystical experience by lay members is a challenge to the authority of the ordained clergy. The Christian faithful are meant to reject the material world in order to embrace the spiritual one, as the two are considered to be diametrically opposed, and drugs are very definitely material and of this world – plant leaves, roots and bark – so trying to find the spiritual though use of the material would have been considered blasphemous.

By the time of the industrial revolution, the spiritual use of entheogens had disappeared in Europe, but colonisation and world trade soon meant that traditional intoxicants such as opium appeared as commodities for sale in European ports, and Thomas De Quincey in his Confessions of an Opium Eater, published in 1821, described his own use and abuse of opium, including visionary encounters with Egyptian and Indian deities. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats and other luminaries of Romanticism also indulged in opium-induced reveries.  [11]

The re-emergence of entheogen-induced spirituality into Western mainstream awareness probably came with the publication of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. Huxley studied both of Western philosophy and Hindu Vedānta, and interpreted his experiences on mescaline – the active ingredient of peyote – accordingly. He believed that there was a shared universal truth behind all the world’s religions, but that though consciousness is limitless for reasons of biological survival it is transmitted to our human selves through the filtering mechanism of the brain, leaving us with only a tiny fragment of our true potential. Mescaline, he believed, cleansed his ‘doors of perception’ enabling him to gain access to what he understood as an unconditioned and primeval view of the world.

ENTHEOGENS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONSCIOUSNESS

It has been suggested that entheogens played a part in the development of human consciousness. Why do plants across the world contain chemical compounds that closely resemble the neurotransmitters of the human brain? The presence of toxins in plants is generally thought of as an evolutionary deterrent to protect the plant from being eaten by animals, but these plants provide pleasurable rewards for the consumer.   Humans should not have evolved the neural circuitry that readily rewards the consumption of neurotoxins, but they have. [12] Drug reward is a paradox. [13]

There may have been a co-evolution of plants and mammal nervous systems, whereby mammals evolved the capacity to make use of the defensive compounds of the plants. This suggests that exposure to plant-based drugs extends far into our evolutionary past, and that mammals have been genetically equipped to deal with psychoactive drugs throughout their history. It seems quite probable that many eons ago, at the dawn of human existence, our early ancestors discovered the mind-altering potential of certain plants during the exploration of their environment for food. It has even been suggested that the ingestion of psychoactive substances may have helped stimulate cognitive developments such as existential and linguistic thinking in our proto-human ancestors.

Some regard the hallucinogenic state as an exemplar of a primitive or primary state of consciousness that preceded the development of modern, adult, human, normal waking consciousness.

PLANT SPIRITS AS MASTERS

When a shaman consumes hallucinogenic plants they create a template, as it were, upon which cultural beliefs and forces may be amplified a thousand times. What the individual sees in the visions is dependent not on the drug but on other factors –

  • the mood and setting of the group,
  • the physical and mental states of the participants,
  • his own expectations based on a rich repository of tribal lore
  • and, above all, the authority, knowledge and experience of the leader of the ceremony. The role of this figure is pivotal. It is he or she who places the protective cloak of ritual about the participants.

The ceremonial use of hallucinogenic plants in tribal societies is (most often) a collective journey into the unconscious. It is not necessarily – and in fact rarely is – a pleasant or an easy journey. It is wondrous and it may be terrifying. But above all it is purposeful. The participants enter the realm of the hallucinogenic visions not out of boredom, or to relieve an individual’s restless anxiety, but rather to fulfil some collective need of the group. Moreover the experience is explicitly sought for positive ends. It is not a means of escaping from an uncertain existence; rather it is perceived as a means of contributing to the welfare of all the people.

The effects are thus often dependent on user expectations and environment, resulting in considerable unpredictability; thus at the extremes, a user might on one occasion experience ecstasy and mystical union with the cosmos, while on another they might endure a hellish nightmare, extreme paranoia, feelings of insanity, and so on – the proverbial bad trip. Pharmacologically active components do not produce uniform effects; any psychoactive drug has within it a potential for good or evil, order or chaos.

Shamans speak of working with plants as working with spirit allies, and there are very definite constraints about the relationship. Plants are linked to the living Earth from which they spring, and individual herbs and plants can be befriended as allies to enable the practitioner to travel to Otherworldly places, and to become in tune with different energies. If the plant is taken with the wrong motives, if it is mistreated or misused, or taken for granted, it may cause discomfort, mislead or seek to gain control of the practitioner. If an enemy is made of the plant spirit, it can destroy.

The plant spirits of entheogens are among the strongest plant spirits, and the most difficult to deal with. They are often much stronger than the would-be user, and the relationship becomes one of slave to master, with the plant as master and user as slave when addiction ensues. Think how strong tobacco is, and how it can enslave the user. If you are addicted to smoking, you have become the plant’s slave. Anyone who uses a plant recreationally or habitually is subservient to a controlling plant spirit and can never use it as a sacred substance.

Remember too that most of the plants I’ve talked about, attractive as they sound in some of the accounts, are toxic, and the dose between one inducing visions and one inducing death, is often very close.

While most of the drugs that are regarded as entheogenic are not physically addictive, entheogens can induce states of consciousness that are regarded as rewarding, and this can lead to overuse. The craving for special experience, for being – yet again – freed from the ordinary and allowed to enter the realm of the gods is a danger, a trap on the path, because overdoing gets in the way of integrating the experience in your life and making it count in a permanent way. Such overuse doesn’t destroy the ego but rather increases it. Users may try to use drugs as spiritual short cuts, with nothing to support them, or use drugs as substitutes for personal developmental processes. Generally speaking, therefore, the spiritual usage pattern is characterized by infrequent drug use, allowing for plenty of time in ordinary life to work with and integrate insights and other material obtained in entheogen sessions. Cannabis in particular seems to lend itself to habitual use and is sometimes described as psychologically addictive.

Entheogen use may possibly result in lasting psychological damage.

The path of entheogenic spirituality therefore appears to be a challenging one, imposing a range of demands upon the self-awareness, willpower, and resilience of those traversing it.

© Anna Franklin, 2005


[1] The first was a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay called “Nature” and the second is from the spiritual leader Swami Krishnapada, and the third is from my own journal on the first time I had a spontaneous out of body experience while in a deeply meditative state.  To me, any of those experiences are completely interchangeable with the other.

[2] David Porush 1993 article in Omni “Finding God”

[3] http://spiritwiki.lightningpath.org/index.php/Entheogens

[4] https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/hallucinogenic-plants-and-their-use-traditional-societies

[5] https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/hallucinogenic-plants-and-their-use-traditional-societies

[6] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[7] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[8] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[9] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[10] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[11] Entheogenic Spirituality Conversations with Psychonauts Petter Grahl Johnstad

[12] http://anthro.vancouver.wsu.edu/research/plant-neurotoxins/

[13] http://anthro.vancouver.wsu.edu/research/plant-neurotoxins/


[i] Soma and the Fly-Agaric, (Ethno-Mycological Studies No. 2), by Wasson, R. Gordon, Cambridge, 1972

14 Uses for Heather

The common heather (Calluna vulgaris), also called ling or simply heath, is a low-growing evergreen shrub growing to 20 to 50 centimetres (8 to 20 in) tall and is found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open situations.  Scottish settlers took the heather to the Americas.

  1. Heather is anti-inflammatory. Using a clean, cotton pad, dab an infusion of heather tops to red, itchy skin.
  2. Add a strong infusion of heather tops to your bath to ease aches and pains, arthritis and rheumatism.
  3. Heather is an antiseptic. Bathe small wounds with heather tea.
  4. Heather is a mild sedative. Sew dried heather flowers into a small pillow that you can place beneath your own pillow to aid sleep.
  5. Take a cup of heather tea before bed as a sleep aid.
  6. Take a cup of heather tea to treat coughs and colds.  
  7. Infuse heather flowers in honey and take a teaspoon as required for coughs, colds and sore throats.
  8. Heather may be helpful in cases of anxiety, stress and nervous exhaustion. Take a cup of heather tea as required.
  9. Heather infused oil or heather salve can be rubbed directly on to arthritic joints
  10. Apply a hot poultice of the crushed flowers to parts affected by arthritis, rheumatism or gout.
  11. Heather is a urinary antiseptic which disinfects the urinary tract and mildly increases urination.  Heather tea is useful in the treatment of cystitis and inflammatory bladder conditions.
  12. A hot poultice made from the flowering tips will ease chilblains.
  13. Heather has antioxidant properties. Rinse your face with heather tea to prevent free radical damage to the skin.  
  14. Dried heather branches are a good fuel for the fire

CAUTION:

Heather is generally considered safe when used topically or taken orally. However, to be on the safe side, avoid medicinal amounts if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Moorland Tea (Heather Tea)

Use 2-3 teaspoons of fresh flowers to a cup of boiling water and infuse for about five minutes.

Heather Strong Infusion

Pour a cup boiling water over 6 tablespoons of heather flowers and infuse for 15 minutes,

Heather Infused Honey

Pour a jar of slightly warmed honey over 4-5 tsp over heather flowers placed in a sterilised, glass jar. Seal the jar and leave to infuse for at least two weeks before use. Slightly warm the jar and strain out the honey.

© Anna Franklin

Helps your skin to heal and renew, fights wrinkles and prevent acne. Gentle antiseptic for cuts, bruises, helps minimise scarring, relieves skin irritations.

Place lavender flowers in a jar, top with oil, leave 2 weeks in a dark place, shaking daily. Strain the oil onto fresh flowers and repeat till perfume strength desired is achieved.  Strain into bottle. Use directly on the skin or pour a little into your bath.

You also can turn your lavender oil into a salve by adding beeswax/soy wax. In a double boiler (or slow cooker) warm the oil. Add wax and melt. The more wax you add, the firmer the set will be. Pour into warm glass jars.

Linden Tea

LINDEN TEA

The perfume of the linden tree and the elder flowers drench the air. Linden is one of my favourite herbs collected this month, used for stress and anxiety; it usually starts flowering around the solstice, and it is in full bloom now:

Linden (Tilia spp.) Tea

2 tsp. fresh new flowers

1 cup boiling water

Put the flowers into a teapot and pour on the boiling water. Infuse for 5 minutes and strain. This is good to drink when you are stressed and need to wind down.

NB: Do not use over a period of more than four weeks. Do not take if you are on Lithium.

Nasturtiums – Food, Healing & Magic

I love nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus): they grow quickly and provide a riot of hot-coloured flowers and juicy round leaves throughout my garden in pots and containers, trailing over walls and fences all summer long. They are good value too, for the thrifty gardener: a single plant can cover three square yards, as well as being one of the easiest plants to cultivate, thriving on neglect, and not even minding whether they are in the sun or the shade. In the autumn, I save the many seeds they produce for next year’s crop.

The sixteenth century English herbalist Gerard considered it a kind of cress because it has a spicy, peppery taste and grows in a similar way, and described it alongside common watercress (Nasturtium officinale), though the plants are unrelated. This is where it gets its common name ‘nasturtium’ (literally ‘nose-twister’ from the spicy taste); it is sometimes still called Indian cress.

Nasturtiums come from South America and the Incas used them as a salad crop. Indeed, all parts of Tropaeolum majus are edible – the flowers, leaves and seeds.  Nasturtium leaves are rich in Vitamin C and contain flavonoids, iron, sulphur, manganese and amino acids, while the flowers contain vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C and as well as manganese, iron, phosphorus and calcium. The pretty flowers have become quite a fashionable garnish for salads today, though this is merely a modern rediscovery of an old practice. The flowers taste slightly peppery, rather like a mild watercress or rocket. The leaves have a stronger, more piquant taste, so pick the leaves young and add them chopped or shredded to salads or pop directly into a sandwich.

Pickled, unripe nasturtium seeds have long been used as ‘poor man’s capers’. (Real capers are pickled buds from the caper bush).

Poor Man’s Capers
Use the still green unripe nasturtium seeds. Drop them into a jar and cover with spiced vinegar.

The flowers, leaves, seeds are used medicinally, but they must be used fresh, which may be why they don’t feature in treatises on herbalism very often. The plant contains compounds that help loosen phlegm, and make breathing easier, so it is useful in respiratory tract infections. The leaves have been found to contain powerful antibiotic, antimicrobial and antioxidant compounds, as well as vitamin C, and may help prevent and relieve coughs, colds and flu, as well as boosting immunity. It can be taken as a tea or vinegar made from the leaves and flowers:

Nasturtium Tea

3 tsp leaves and flowers

½ pint boiling water

Pour the water over the leaves and flowers. Infuse 10 minutes, strain and drink.

Nasturtium Vinegar

½ pint fresh leaves and flowers

1 clove garlic

1 pint vinegar (cider or white vinegar)

Put the flowers and garlic in a jar, and cover with the vinegar (add enough to make sure the plant material is fully covered). Seal and leave for a month, shaking daily. Strain and bottle. or make a nasturtium vinegar and take a teaspoon two or three times a day.

Because of its peppery taste, the astrologer herbalists placed nasturtium under the rulership of the planet Mars and the element of fire. Linnaeus’ daughter Elizabeth-Christine, a botanist herself, noticed that on hot summer days at dusk, the stamens and styles at the heart of nasturtium flowers, emit a spark.  The flowers and leaves can be dried and added to incenses and oils of Mars and fire, or the plant may be used in spells, rituals, incenses, oils and potions for vitality, positivity, strength and recovery after depletion of mental and physical energy, and necessary change.

The plant has a strong protective reputation, perhaps partly from the symbolic shield shape of the leaves, although gardeners know that it is useful companion plant that helps repel bugs from the vegetable patch and orchard; it is said that woolly aphids and white fly are repelled by nasturtiums. Plant a red nasturtium by your front door (or have one in a hanging basket) to deter unwanted visitors and keep negative influences from your home. Daub Nasturtium Tea around your window and door frames for protection.

CAUTION: To be on the safe side, avoid medicinal amounts of nasturtium if pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have kidney disease or stomach ulcers.  

© Anna Franklin, June 2021

What to do with an abundance of roses…?

The garden is full of roses this week. They flop over the fences and scramble up the trellis, their soft, sensual blooms filling the air with a voluptuous perfume. It is easy to understand why they are sacred to so many gods and goddesses of love – Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Eros, Cupid, Inanna and Ishtar to name just a few. I bless the plants and gather armfuls of flowers.

I take them into the house and lay them on the kitchen table and begin to separate the red flowers from the white. I’m reminded that in one Greek tale, when the goddess Aphrodite first arose from the ocean and stepped onto the shore, the sparkling sea foam fell from her body in the form of pale white roses and took root, but later, as she pursued the beautiful youth Adonis, she caught herself on a thorn and her blood dyed the roses crimson red, symbolising innocence turned to desire and maidenhood turned to womanhood. [1] For magical purposes, while my white roses stand for purity, perfection, innocence, virginity and the moon, the red roses represent earthly passion and fertility. Wound together, they signify the union of opposites, symbolism we use at Beltane to celebrate the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, an act which reconciles male and female, summer and winter, life and death, flesh and spirit, and brings about all creation, driven by the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe – love.

However, Midsummer is at the weekend, and roses play a part in our solstice ritual since, like other flowers with rayed petals, they are an emblem of the sun. Like the sun, which dies each night and is reborn each day at sunrise, the rose is an emblem of renewal, resurrection and eternal life, which is why the Celts, Egyptians and Romans used them as funeral offerings. [2] [3] [4] I set aside some to make offerings for dead friends later, and others to make chaplets for Midsummer.

I’m still left with an abundance of blossoms. I take down two clean glass jars from my cupboard and pack both of them with the scented petals I carefully pull from the stems. One jar I top up with white vinegar and set it on the sunny kitchen windowsill. I will leave it there for two weeks before straining the liquid into a clean jar. My resulting rose vinegar can be used as a delicate salad dressing, as an antiseptic wash for wiping down my kitchen surfaces, or dabbed onto my forehead to relieve headaches.  The second jar of rose petals I fill up with one part distilled water to three parts vodka.  I label it and put it in a cool, dark place in my pantry where it will stay for three weeks. When it is ready, I will strain the liquid into a clean jar, and lo and behold, I have made my own rose hydrosol.  I use it just as it is as a skin toner, but I could chill it to make a compress for puffy eyes, or use it as a final conditioning rinse for my hair. Next month I will incorporate some into skin lotions and creams.

The gorgeous fresh petals I have left could be baked into cakes and cookies, made into a delicate jam or a wine for next year’s Midsummer solstice, or crystallised for cake decorations.  Tonight I will drop some petals into my bath to make a relaxing soak after a hard day in the garden, and before I go to bed I will put a handful into the teapot and infuse them in boiling water to make a subtle, fragrant tea, which is mildly sedative and good for tension headaches. 

I spread out more petals on a tray and put them to dry in the airing cupboard. These dried petals are not only good for rose tea later in the year and the usual potpourri, but can be employed in magical talismans, charm bags and incense –  red for love, yellow for Midsummer, renewal and the sun, and white for moon rituals. So many virtues in just one plant, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the rose has to offer. Each day, Mother Nature has a different gift for me.

© Anna Franklin


[1] Jennifer Peace Rhind, Fragrance & Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche, Singing Dragon, London, 2013

[2] Miranda Green, Gods of the Celts, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1986

[3] Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, The Ultimate Guide to Roses, Macmillan, London, 2004

[4] Laurie Brink and Deborah Green, Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context. Studies of Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials, de Gruyter, Berlin, 2008

Love Your Weeds – Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Most gardeners see cleavers as a nuisance weed, climbing and winding its way through plants, involving the laborious pulling out of its clinging, ‘sticky’ shoots. However, it can be used for both food and medicine, making it a valued plant in the past, and still used by herbalists today.

Cleavers has various common names, most of them referring to the plant’s clinging habit – catchweed, everlasting friendship, sticky buds, sticky willy, scratch-weed and grip-grass, to name but a few. The Anglo-Saxons called it hedge rife, meaning a tax gatherer or robber, from its habit of plucking wool from passing sheep. In fact, the specific name of the plant, aparine, also refers to this habit, from the Greek aparo, meaning to seize. The reason it clings is because the angles of its stalks and leaves are covered with tiny, hooked bristles which attach themselves to passing objects, and by which it fastens itself to adjacent plants to climb up them into the daylight.

CULINARY USES

The whole plant is edible, making it a useful pot herb in the middle ages. The little hooks on the stems and leaves soften when cooked, and the whole plant is rich in vitamin C. The leaves and stems can be added to soups and stews, and the tender stems can be boiled and served as a vegetable (best topped with butter in my opinion). For culinary purposes cleavers should be picked while still young and before flowering.  

The leaves and stems make a cleansing and refreshing spring tonic tea. Cleavers belong to the coffee plant family and indeed, the seeds can be ground and roasted and used to make a coffee substitute.  

COSMETIC USES

Cleavers are soothing and cooling, which can have great benefits for irritated skin, used as a compress, poultice or a cool infusion directly washed onto the infected area. An infusion can be used a hair rinse for dandruff prone scalps. It also has deodorant properties and dabbing a cleavers infusion (or simply using the crushed leaves) beneath the armpits can counteract acidic perspiration and sooth the skin of the armpits (especially if combined with lovage). Dabbing a cooled infusion of cleavers onto the affected area can soothe the redness and soreness of sunburn.

MEDICINAL

Cleavers are cleansing, cooling and detoxifying. They have commonly been used in salves, washes, poultices and compresses topically to treat skin conditions such as itching, seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis. The crushed leaves can be used as a first aid treatment for stings and bites. The juice of cleavers has long been used to stop bleeding and to treat wounds and ulcers, scalds, burns, sores and blisters.

It a good detoxifying herb eaten or drunk in the spring.  With this herb, many of its useful properties are destroyed by heating, so it is best infused in cold water (see below). It supports the lymphatic system, which carries toxins from the cells to the organs of elimination. It is also a diuretic, so this elimination via the kidneys will increase urination. Its old reputation as a weight loss herb comes from the fact it promotes urination, but remember this will just be water loss, and not fat!

OTHER USES

The generic name galium is believed to come from the Greek word gala which means ‘milk’, a reference to its use in curdling milk for cheese and yoghurt making. The ‘sticky’ stems were also meshed together to use as a sieve in the dairy.

The plant is commonly called goosegrass, as all kinds of poultry – not just geese – love to eat it, as do cattle, sheep and horses.

The root yields a red dye, when mordanted with alum. (Apparently, birds who eat the root have their bones turn red!)

CAUTION

Cleavers is considered a safe herb, not known to interact with any medications or other herbal supplements. However, as with any substance, an allergic reaction is possible in some individuals; cases of contact dermatitis have been documented. As with all herbs, to be on the safe side, do not use in medicinal amounts during pregnancy or breast feeding or for an extended period.

RECIPES:

Cleavers Cold Infusion

Handful of the aerial parts of cleavers, bruised.

1 pint water

Put in a jug or jar. Leave overnight in the fridge. Use within 48 hours.

Peony – Healing & Protection

The peonies are starting to come out in my garden this week, and I know from experience that this heralds a period of early summer storms – every year, my poor red peony gets its petals bashed off by torrential rain as soon as it flowers! Luckily, the storms have usually passed by the time the slightly later pink and white varieties open. They have a short blooming period in early summer, only 7-10 days, but their beauty and usefulness makes them well worth the space.

Did you know they are edible? The petals, seeds and roots can all be eaten, and were a popular ingredient in mediaeval cookery for those that could afford it. The seeds were used as a spice, and peony water, an infusion of the petals, was drunk. Why not try it? Make some delicious and colourful peony petal tea by infusing some petals in boiling water for 10 minutes. The petals can also be added to salads, punches, lemonades and cocktails, used as a garnish, or used to colour jams and jellies. (You will probably not get seeds on your garden variety peony, as they are usually double petalled, and the bees cannot pollinate them.)

Peonies have become a buzz ingredient in commercial skin formulas, especially those for mature skin. They a chemical called paeoniflorin, which research suggests might reduce wrinkles.  You can try making your own peony petal infused oil to use neat on your skin or add to your moisturisers. (Fill a jar with petals, pour vegetable oil over, and leave for 2 weeks before straining.) Alternatively, make a skin exfoliant scrub by putting some sugar or salt in a blender with a few peony petals, and giving them a short blend. You can add a few drops of your favourite skin oil to this if you like. Drop a few fresh or dried peony petals into your bath for a relaxing soak that will soothe your skin.

Peonies have been used used medicinally since ancient times. In Chinese traditional herbalism, peony root (Bai Shao) is still used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including gout, menstrual cramps, migraine and hepatitis.

In Europe, the mediaeval monks grew them in their herb gardens, while the English herbalist Culpepper stated that the ‘male’ peony could cure falling sickness and the ‘female’ could drive away nightmares.   Indeed, over262 compounds have been obtained so far from the peony, and it has been found to have  antioxidant, antitumor, antipathogenic, analgesic, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulative actions. A decoction of the dried and powdered roots may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, muscle spasms and menstrual cramps, mild depression and anxiety.

It’s connection with healing goes deep. The common name peony comes from the Greek Paeon who was a pupil of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. However, Asclepius became jealous of his clever pupil and sought to kill him, but Zeus rescued the youth by changing him into a peony flower. Sometimes, however, Paeon is used as an epithet of the sun god Apollo, who had aspects as a healer god as the dispeller of darkness and negativity, or of Asclepius himself. The peony was certainly associated both with healing and protection from evil. The ancients believed  that it shone at night giving protection to shepherds and their flocks, keeping the harvest from injury, driving away evil spirits and preventing storms. However, much like the mandrake, its collection was surrounded by taboos and danger. Pliny said “that of necessity it must be gathered in the night for if any man shall pluck the fruit in the daytime being seen of the woodpecker he be in danger of to lose his eyes“.

In the mediaeval period, the peony was used to ward off evil in its various guises. The seeds steeped in hot wine were believed to prevent nightmares, or strung onto a necklace to ward off evil spirits and madness.  The plants were often grown near the door of cottages as they were considered to be able to drive away witches and storms.

In your magical practice, use peony in incenses, potions, and spells of protection, or those used in invocations of healing and the gods of healing. It is ruled by the Sun and the element of fire.

CAUTION: Peony is generally considered safe, though an overdose can lead to a stomach upset. It should not be taken by pregnant or lactating women; peony is an emmenagogue i.e.. it is capable of stimulating menstruation, so there is also a possibility that taking peony can cause uterine contractions, which can lead to a miscarriage. Do not take if you are on blood thinning medication, or for two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Old May Eve

When the Gregorian calendar was adopted to replace the Julian calendar in 1752, and eleven days had to be dropped from the calendar, thus drawing all the dates forward by eleven days, which is why the hawthorn does not blossom now on May 1. This makes 11 May Old May Eve, when the Manx fairies and witches are supposed to be particularly active In Ireland the Lunantishees fairies guard the blackthorn trees and will punish anyone who tries to cut its wood on this day.

Solitary hawthorns growing on hills or near wells were considered to be markers to the world of the fairies. Any human who slept beneath one, especially on May Eve, was in danger of being taken away to the land of the Sidhe.  Hawthorn is so potently magical that it is forbidden to bring it indoors except at Beltane. The flowering of the hawthorn marked the opening of the summer season, the time when people could get out and about, and when young men and women could meet up. May was often considered the month of courtship and love. For this reason, and the fact that the scent hawthorn blossom is supposedly redolent of sex, [1] the hawthorn is associated with love-making. In ancient Greece the wood was used for the marriage torch, and girls wore hawthorn crowns at weddings.

However, while in some circumstances it was considered to be a tree of love, like other fairy trees, it was very unlucky to bring it indoors:

Hawthorn bloom and elder-flowers
Will fill a house with evil powers.


[1] Geoffrey Grigson: The Englishman’s Flora, Phoenix House, 1956