Saturday, July 31, 2010
Among other herbs which are poisonous and harmful, Henbane is not the least, so that the common man, not without fear should spit at that herb when he hears its name spoken, not to mention when he sees it growing in great quantity where his children are running at play."
Fear and loathing are the usual responses to this not altogether innocent herb of the nightshade family. All too often is it described as a noxious, evil-looking and poisonous weed that is best avoided. Herbalists of all periods have painted our mental image of this herb in non too flattering terms: A filthy looking plant, covered with sticky hairs, its gray-green, sharply toothed leaves are limp and liverish in appearance. The flowers are bell-shaped, dirty yellow or sickly pale purple and marked with deep purple veins. The whole plant, according to some authors, looks and smells like death. As if that wasn't enough, further evidence of its devilish nature is revealed by the places where it chooses to grow: the rubbish heaps of civilization, ditches and dumpsters, waste-grounds, among the ruins of old castles and monasteries, and most especially, it loves to grow in graveyards.
There are about a dozen distinct species of Hyoscyamos, though it appears that historically only four of them played an important role: H. niger, H. alba, H. aurea and H. muticus. Although it is impossible to determine exactly where Henbane first originated, it is generally thought that it came from the Mediterranean regions of Asia Minor and northern Africa, from where it spread east to Pakistan, India and China. Its migration to the northern latitudes of Europe seems to have occurred at a slightly later date. Some sources claim that the Gypsies were largely responsible for bringing it to Scandinavia and the British Isles. As for its arrival on the American shores, it is generally believed that it came with the Spaniards. Native healers and shamans soon adopted the plant and began to use it much like their European counterparts.
Powerful plants are always treated with suspicion for it is entirely in the hands of the practitioner, whether they will heal or harm. The voices of prudence, campaigning for the eradication of toxic plants, often argue that innocent people and children, who know nothing of their poisonous properties, may inadvertently fall victim to such plants. However, such an attitude is borne out of ignorance. Education, not prohibition or elimination is the best safeguard against accidental poisoning. As Paracelsus rightly said - all things are poison, the dosage alone determines whether a substance kills or cures. Henbane is no exception to this rule.
From time immemorial to the present day, Henbane has played a significant role as an important medicinal and magical plant. Like its cousins, the Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and the Thornapple (Datura stramonium), it contains a potent mixture of tropane alkaloids (Atropine, Scopolamine and Hyoscyamine,) which block the normal neurotransmission of the parasympathetic (involuntary) nervous system and thus, even small quantities can produce rather drastic effects.
When ingested in toxic quantities, the symptoms are: increased rate of heartbeat, dry mouth, dilated pupils, impaired vision, general sense of weakness and debility, headache, dizziness, difficulties in swallowing, stomach cramps, body aches and pains, increased temperature with hot flashes and reddened skin, agitated excitement, sometimes aggressive rage, convulsions, confusion, hallucinations, followed by deep sleep, delirium, or in severe cases, death. The most significant psychotropic effects of Henbane are: A sense of body dissolution or distortion, the sensation of flying and erotic hallucinations. Also remarkable is the total oblivion that follows the period of intoxication. Frequently, the next day the person remembers nothing of what happened.
It is obvious how these properties could easily be abused and why this plant acquired such a sinister reputation. Nevertheless, compared to Deadly Nightshade and Datura, Henbane is perhaps the least toxic, thanks to the fact that it contains relatively little Atropine, the most dangerous of these alkaloids. Indeed, few cases of either accidental or intentional poisoning with Henbane have ever been fatal. The synergy of alkaloids in Henbane is fortunate in that they work quite complementary. Scopolamine acts as a narcotic, somniferant, and anodyne, while Hyoscyamine has a relaxant effect on involuntary muscles and checks mucous secretion. The roots are considered the most potent part of the plant. Egyptian Henbane (H. muticus) is stronger than common Black Henbane (H. niger) and it is from this species that most commercial Scopolamine is derived.
The colorful, though often tragic history of the medicinal and magical uses of Henbane can be traced a long way back. The oldest surviving record, dating to 4000 BC, stems from an inscription on a Sumerian clay tablet. It is also mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus (Egypt, 1500 BC), along with other important medicinal herbs. The Egyptians knew it as 'Sakran' - 'The Drunken', no doubt referring to the plant's intoxicating properties, but perhaps also as an allusion to the ancient practice of fortifying alcoholic beverages with its seeds. This practice was very common. Dioscorides mentions a similar potion, a honey-mead prepared with Opium and Henbane seeds. Henbane-spiked mead was particularly popular among the Celts and Germans - accounts of their notorious drinking orgies bear witness to this fact. Henbane seed has also long been used as an additive for brewing beer. In fact, the name of the Czechoslovakian town of Pizen (German: 'Pilsen') is said to be derived from the word 'Bilsen' the German name for Henbane. Apparently the beer brewed there, known as 'Pilsener', was famous for its 'Bilsen'-induced effects. Eventually however, the authorities put an end to this practice by implementing the first 'anti-drug law' in 1516, known as the 'Deutsches Reinheitsgesetz' ('beer purity law). Modern day Pilsener beer no longer contains any trace of Henbane.
The ancient Greeks knew Henbane as 'Apollinaris' and considered it sacred to Apollo. Many scholars now believe that Henbane played an instrumental part at Apollo's oracle in Delphi. The descriptions of the ecstatic state in which the oracle-priestess Pythia proclaimed her prophecies and reports of 'heavy fumes' during the ritual, leads them to suspect that Henbane seeds were used as incense. Henbane is well known for inducing states of ecstasy, a condition that used to be regarded not so much as a temporary state of derangement, but rather as a state of mind that touched upon the divine. Some writers muse that the scientific name 'Hyoscyamos', which translates as 'Hogbean' might perhaps be a corruption of 'Dioscyamos' which would translate as 'Divine Bean', a reasoning that, considering its status as a sacred plant, makes somewhat more sense. Furthermore, the rationalizations given for 'Hogbean' are rather contradictory. Some writers claiming that refers to the fact that pigs are supposedly immune to the plant, while others directly dispute this claim, stating that it causes them cramps. Still others believe that it refers to the story of Circe, who might have used Henbane to turn Odysseus men into pigs. However, Ovid does not mention Henbane directly, but only refers to 'a brew made from magical herbs'. It is interesting to note that the Celts, too considered the plant sacred to their God of prophecy. According to Dioscorides they called it 'Belenuntia', herb of Bel, which still echoes in 'Beleño', the Spanish name for Henbane.
For medicinal purposes Dioscorides recommends Henbane 'to allay pain and procure sleep'. Other common applications included an oil made from the leaves for treating obstinate rheumatic pains, gout, neuralgia and sciatica. Ulcerous wounds and swelling were dressed with a poultice made from its leaves. It was rarely taken internally, though, except for cases of severe stomach or urinary cramps, when a very dilute extract could be administered. Smoking the leaves mixed with Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was a popular remedy for asthma and nervous or spasmodic cough. Taken in small quantities this would not produce a significant psychotropic effect, but relax the respiratory muscles while simultaneously reducing the secretion of the mucus membranes.
It seems that one of Henbane's most common uses was as a treatment for toothache. It was once commonly believed that toothaches and other maladies were caused by worms. It was thought that the tiny eggs of such worms were inhaled and subsequently lodged themselves in the mouth, where they later hatched and caused toothache. * While some sources simply recommend an extract of Henbane to be applied to a painful tooth (a rather risky treatment), others recite a more fanciful procedure. Gerard describes it in contemptuous terms:
'Drawers of teeth, who run about the country and pretend they cause worms to come forth from the teeth by burning the seed (of henbane) in a chafing dish of coals, the party holding his mouth over the fume thereof, do have some crafty companions who convey small lute strings into the water, persuading the patient that these little creepers came out of his mouth, or other parts which it was intended to ease.'
Given the powerful psychotropic effects this kind of treatment would doubtlessly induce, it is easy to imagine that the patient would readily believe such a hoax. Henbane root was also given to children as an amulet for easy teething and to prevent fits.
During the Middle Ages, Henbane became best known as a 'Witches Herb'. It is said to have been one of the ingredients of the infamous flying ointment. Reports of their alleged activities were generally obtained by torture at the hands of the inquisition and should thus be treated with a measure of suspicion. However, the descriptions of this potion's powerful effects are indeed very characteristic of Henbane's psychotropic action. A reoccurring theme describes how the Witches used this ointment to transform into various animals and fly away on their broomsticks to attend orgiastic rites. Apparently the broomstick served as the means by which the ointment was applied to the sensitive mucous membranes and thus became the vehicle for an erotic flight of the imagination. Henbane also induces a sense of body dissolution, 'as if the soul separates from the body and flies through the skies' which would account for the witches' subjective shape shifting experience and flight to their fabled Sabbath.
But witches were not the only ones to take pleasure in the aphrodisiac properties of this plant. Apparently, incense prepared from the seeds was commonly burned in mediaeval bath-houses. The ambience there could not have fallen far short of what one might expect from the imaginary orgiastic rites of the witches. Needless to say, the aphrodisiac properties of Henbane were also extensively used in numerous charms and love-potions.
Ironically, records found in Lucerne, Switzerland, dating to the 16th century indicate that witches condemned to death were given a 'draught of compassion' - a witches brew consisting mainly of Henbane that was supposed to induce a state of oblivion and insensitivity to pain.
Perhaps some of our modern uses are not so wildly different to those of the past. Although admittedly, its aphrodisiac and visionary aspects don't figure very prominently anymore, the psychoactive properties are still employed in the treatment of some cases of mental disturbance, especially those characterized by agitation and nervousness. Interestingly, during the 60's it seems to have been 'fashionable' to drug women in labor with Scopolamine, presumably 'soothe their agitation' and render them 'oblivious and insensitive to pain'.
Other modern uses include liniments for rheumatic aches and pains and as spasmolytic medicines for gastro-intestinal cramps, griping, and paralysis of the bladder. Asthma cigarettes containing Henbane leaves have, until recently, also remained quite popular. A homeopathic remedy based on Henbane is still available at health food stores and herb shops.
Henbane has many beneficial uses, but its power must not be underestimated. This plant demands respect. In the hands of a knowledgeable and cautious healer it can be a blessing, but in the hands of irresponsible fools it can wreak havoc and even cause death.
The information given here is purely intended as an account of the ethnobotanical history of this interesting plant. It should not serve as medical advice and self-experimentation is not recommended.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Gee, can it really be that August is already here and the harvest season is upon us? Gardeners or foragers will soon be busy picking fruits and vegetables and preserving them for the dark season. Pickled, canned and frozen fruits and veggies, oils, vinegars, jams, syrups, wine and liqueurs will see us through the winter. Though father frost still seems a long way away while we are still indulging in this harvest season's feast of plenty, soon these goodies will serve as reminders of the sweet summer days.
Foragers will delight not only in the treasures of their gardens - if they tend them, but also still find plenty of delicacies in the wilds. While Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) and Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) tend to get scarce by now, Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpum) can still be found here and there. New arrivals on the berry palate are Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) and Elder berries (Sambuccus niger), which will be ripening between now and Autumn equinox. Elder berries are very nutritious and can be preserved as a delicious syrup. The high vitamin content of this syrup is an excellent fortification against winter ailments. They also make excellent wine (for recipes see May 2002), which is even said to be good for rheumatic complaints. The Red Elderberries, (Sambucccus racemosa) are also edible after cooking and can be preserved as jams and juice. However, they lack the medicinal properties of the Black Elderberries. Raw, they are likely to cause an upset stomach. Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are great as jam or can be combined with tart cooking apples to make apple and blackberry crumble. Blackberries and Elderberries can also be combined as a delicious jam:
1kg of berries (half and half)
1kg brown cane sugar
1 tart apple or crabapple
Clean the berries. The easiest method of picking Elderberries off their stalks is with a fork, in a kind of raking fashion. Mash the berries and mix with the sugar. Leave over night in a covered pan (glass or stoneware). Cut the apple into small pieces and simmer with a minimum amount of water until soft, add the rest of the fruits and the pectin and simmer together while stirring constantly. Adding the apple reduces the need for pectin and will produce a more solid consistency of jam. it also adds a little tangyness. Experiment with a bit of lemon peel or spices such as cinnamon, allspice berries or cloves for a more complex taste. After simmering for a few minutes fill the mass into sterilized jars as usual.
The glowing Red Rowan berries /Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) are also edible, though they are unpalatable when eaten raw. However, combined with chunks of tart cooking apples and organic lemon peel they can be processed into delicious jellies. They have also been used to make juice, wine, liqueur and various gravies, mostly served with game. However, it should be noted that large quantities of the berries have a rather stimulating effect on the digestive tract, a quality which does not diminish upon cooking. Soaking the berries overnight in a diluted vinegar solution reduces the bitterness. Rowanberry syrup is an excellent tonic for singers or public speakers as it has a great soothing effect on the vocal chords. Rowan berries are also a rich source of in vitamin C.
Rosehips (Rosa canina) are also beginning to ripen now, but it is best to hold off with the harvest. They are much better once they have been bitten by the first frost. Watch out for Hazel nuts (Corylus avellana)- the window between too early and too late is rather small, and if you are not careful squirrels and birds will beat you to the harvest.
Certain roots are coming back into season now - Ramson bulbs (Allium ursinum), Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), Burdock and Horseradish can all be collected once their flowering season is over. However, roots should always be collected with special care. Never be greedy when collecting roots or bulbs - collecting these parts usually means the end of the plant. Unless the supply is truly plentiful in your area maybe it is wiser to refrain from harvesting the roots to ensure the continuous health and growth of the local plant population.
Leafy vegetables are definitely getting a bit old and tough by now. Still, you might be lucky and still find some young sprouts of Mallow, Daisy, Sow-thistle, Comfrey, or Bistort even this late in the season.
My favorite wild food of the season are Chantereles. Fresh from the forest, there is nothing to compare to their delicate, earthy flavor. They can be used in mushroom stir-fries, gravies or casseroles and are also delicious in omelets or lasagna. Vegetarians might appreciate them prepared as a mushroom /pine nut risotto or vegetarian paella. Also in season are Giant Puffballs, which appear in certain meadows as big, white weird looking blobs. Upon closer investigation the mass turns out to be an edible delicacy, frequently big enough to feed a whole family. Sliced and marinated with garlic-oil they can be fried or grilled like steaks. Delicious!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Plants as Gateways to the Sacred
Since time immemorial plants have played a key role in human spirituality. Their sublime beauty, entrancing scents and sometimes their intoxicating fruits have always suggested a connection with 'the other world', the non - material world of Gods and spirits, demons and devils.
The world's earliest religions were based on earth-centered spiritual cosmologies often featuring trees as the primal source of creative seeds from which all aspects of the manifest universe first arose. Trees also served as the symbolic connection between the different levels of existence, the heavens above in its crown, the underworld beneath its roots and the world of human affairs around its girth. This world-tree and tree of life symbolism is universal and can be found among ancient cultures all over the world.
Beautiful gardens always induce a sense of the sacred and a closeness to the creative spirit, who delights in the play of forms, colors and scents of the creation. Even in biblical mythology heaven is imagined as a paradisaical garden. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and it is often plants that convey the message of divine beauty and harmony.
But plants also played a more immediate role. Good scents were always considered as particularly pleasurable to the Gods, who were thought to delight in sweet, enchanting perfumes. Aromatic incense for example attracts their attention and not only opens their noses to the scent, but also their ears to the prayers conveyed by it. A sweet smelling dwelling was one where the Gods liked to visit, while bad smelling places were associated with nasty demons and other folks from the underworld. Scents also affect consciousness by acting on the nervous system. They can relax or stimulate, vividly recall memories or induce fantasies, dreams and visions.
Some plants also have the power to transport the spirit directly to another dimension. These plants are gate-keepers, they stand at the gate between this world and the spiritual world. Initiates, who partake of them are allowed a glimpse of that other world as they temporarily venture into this dimension. The spiritual world can be terrifying place. Such adventures are not for the faint of heart, which is why they were traditionally the domain of the spiritual guides of a community, nowadays usually referred to as shamans.
The work of the shaman is a difficult and dangerous path. Any 'temporary' excursion into the world beyond can become a trip with no return. Thus, this profession is not something sought after by most people of common sense. It requires extreme stamina and determination, inner strength and endurance of many a physical and spiritual ordeal. Shamans are usually chosen by an inner calling, they have no choice but to serve their community as ambassadors in the spiritual world.
In our western 'de naturalized' society we have lost touch with the spiritual world. Spirituality has become a marketing plot, for sale at weekend workshops by self-proclaimed gurus of any kind of 'intuited' persuasion. Inner experiences on the other hand, in as far as they are real, are often misunderstood as latent insanity that must be medicated and sedated.
We have lost touch with the spiritual forces that could guide us. Yet, in this sanitized, plastic fantastic, virtual world there is also increasingly an often completely misunderstood need for spiritual experiences and transcendence, for experiences that go beyond the material aspects of reality and touch on something 'beyond'. Such misguided desires often result in substance abuse. In the hope of accessing the spiritual dimension and connecting with Gods and spirits many such 'seekers' unfortunately only happen upon the demons of their own souls who, for the sake of a temporary escape from reality ensnare their spirit into addiction and abuse.
This is a sad symptom of a times that have become so divorced from the sacred that a need for meaning and connection to the spirit world results in droves of lost spirits wandering around in the 'in between spaces' of the nether regions, neither finding spiritual wisdom nor earthly fulfillment, - with nobody there who could guide them.
Of course, not everybody who uses drugs or 'sacred plants' to venture into the 'other world' ends up as a derelict drug addict, unable to integrate their experiences, but society's twisted attitudes to the whole issue stigmatizes anybody who has an interest in exploring consciousness as a 'drug freak weirdo', and worse still, casts their endeavors into the realm of illegal activities, thus criminalizing their pursuits.
Obviously there is a true human need for transcendental wisdom and ecstatic experiences. The problem does not lie in the psychology of these misguided souls, nor in the 'drugs' that they use for their escapades. The problem lies in the fact that our society has destroyed any tried and tested paths by which one could access such realities and derive meaningful 'other world' experiences within a socially sanctioned cultural context that acknowledges spirit and matter as equally significant aspects of our human reality.
Since the sixties a small band of courageous scientists and researchers have devoted their work to exploring the frontiers of the mind and are trying to integrate ancient shamanic wisdom and techniques with modern psychotherapy. However, unfortunately their work today is still very much misunderstood by the public and continues to be persecuted by the authorities. The 'war on drugs' is also a war against this kind of work.
As a last consequence to living in harmony with nature, we must embrace the dimension of the sacred as an integral aspect of all manifest reality and encourage the exploration of consciousness that seeks to harmonize the aspects of spirit and matter within ourselves.
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different...No account of the universe in its totality can be final, which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.
shamanWhen the world was still young and the Gods still walked among the people, the healing arts still fell under the domain of the sacred. Back at those distant beginnings of history the people still regarded themselves as a part of a magical universe, in which 'dead matter' was an unknown concept. The natural world was alive with supernatural beings and each animal, plant, rock, tree, mountain or spring was endowed with its own spirit, some friendly, some unfriendly. Even long dead ancestors were a force to be reckoned with. To keep the universe in balance and avert disasters, it was important to maintain a harmonious relationship with all the spiritual powers of this magical world. If the universe slipped out of equilibrium, disease or disaster were bound to ensue. It was the task of the shaman to readjust the cosmic balance if ever it threatened to become unstable. A shaman denotes an expert in spiritual matters who is adept at traveling between the different dimensions of existence and knows how to communicate or fight against demons and spirits. He is the link and messenger between the world of wo/man and the world of the Gods.
Shamanism is indeed as old as mankind. In many societies it continues as a living tradition to this day, yet, it is often poorly understood. In recent years shamanism has attracted much attention among the younger generations, particularly among 'psychonauts' and lost souls in search of a spiritual home. However, shamanism is not, as some mistakenly believe, a religion or some kind of mystical path. There is a deep gulf between ancient and modern practices and it seems necessary to draw certain distinctions. Traditional shamanism has nothing whatsoever to do with new ageism or neo-paganism and cannot be taught or learnt at a weekend workshop, though no doubt such practices or workshops may have their own merits.
Today the word ‘shaman’ is often loosely used to denote a ‘witch doctor’, ‘medicine man’ or ‘sorcerer’, yet, such uses of the term are misleading. Originally the word was borrowed from the Tungus language and literally means ‘to shake’, or ‘to fall into trance’. It referred to a type of Siberian holy man who could enter and leave a state of trance at will and who did so in order to access the supernatural world. Since the practice of ’shamanism‘ is a trans-cultural phenomenon the term is now used more universally and describes a person of any cultural background, who employs a technique of divine ecstasy or trance for magico-religious purposes.
In most traditional tribal contexts the skills and techniques of shamanic practices are passed on through the family line: from father to son or mother to daughter. Sometimes the Gods themselves ‘choose’ a candidate by giving him or her special ‘initiation’ experiences. These often come in the form of serious illness or near death experiences. In traditional societies shamanic knowledge is never pursued for glamour, riches or fame, nor for spiritual enlightenment. It is not a devotional practice and it does not rely on the principle of faith. Shamanism is a very active practice and can at times be rather dangerous or even violent. It demands special qualities of the candidate, the first of which is self-sacrifice (as opposed to new age practices, which emphasize self-realization). It is a calling that must be heeded, as an obligation to one's community. It is an unavoidable task. Often it brings social isolation, since those who converse with the spirits possess special powers, powers that can be dangerous, and which inspire both awe and fear. Traditionally it is against the ethics of shamanism to charge money for spiritual services, though an appropriate gift exchange usually does take place. But in order to earn his living, the shaman must tend his herds or fields besides performing his spiritual tasks.
shamanismHealing is one of the tasks of a shaman, especially where supernatural causes are suspected. The diseased person may be under attack from evil spirits caused by jealousy, grief, avarice or guilt, he may have lost his spiritual balance or his soul may have become displaced or confused. In modern lingo we might speak of psychological imbalances. In modern societies, the traditional role of the shaman has been transferred to and divided between doctors, priests and psychotherapists. However, unlike their modern equivalents, the shaman recognizes the fundamental unity between body, spirit and soul. He recognizes the fact that the causes of physical symptoms must be sought in the spiritual sphere. ‘Psychosomatic disease’ is a label modern medicine likes to give to certain symptomatic conditions. However, modern medicine rarely actually acknowledges the reality of the soul and its suffering, but instead interprets 'psychosomatic' as basically 'imaginary' and therefore non-existent. In today's materialistic world a human being is reduced to his/her physical components, while the spiritual aspect is simply denied. There is usually no attempt to treat the soul. Instead, it is attempted to treat the physical symptom and suppress the feelings of emotional distress with ‘relaxants’ or ‘anti-depressants’.
The shaman on the other hand does not focus on the physical symptom, but instead seeks their causes in the spiritual world. The treatment consists of a ritual or series of rituals, which places the patient at the symbolic centre of the universe and attempts to re-establish the psycho-spiritual equilibrium. The shaman enters a trance. He finds the underlying cause of trouble and the means of treating or neutralizing them. Sometimes this implies a spiritual battle with the demons of disease; sometimes he has to search for a lost soul, which may have become displaced, e.g. due to emotional shock etc. and he has to coax it to return with him to its rightful physical body. Sometimes he has to transfer or banish intruding spirits, which may manifest themselves as irrational fear or depression.
Depending on the cultural background, the shaman employs a variety of techniques to enter the healing trance. Chanting, drumming and dancing are frequently encountered. Entheogenic substances also play an important role as mediators between the upper and lower worlds. Siberian shamans were well known for their use of fly agaric mushrooms while in the Amazon a psychotropic liana, Banisteriopsis caapii is used as the magical healing plant. The methods and techniques differ depending on the cultural context, but the principles remain the same.
In some cultures the shaman also knows and uses healing herbs, whilst in others herbal treatments are carried out by herbalists, who usually are not shamans. When the shaman uses herbs in the healing ritual, he may give these to the patient, consume them himself, or he may simply invoke the spirit of the healing plant. The healing session often begins with some form of inner and outer cleansing, fasting or abstaining from certain foods, or induced sweating or vomiting as a means of helping to rid the patient of stagnant emotional debris, that could hinder the growth and development of his soul. Sometimes the shaman 'draws' the intruding force out of the patients body with a strong element of drama. Western scientists have often taken such drama as 'proof' that shamanism is little more than quackery and mumbo jumbo. What they fail to realize is the impressionability of the psyche. By personalizing harmful emotions such as excessive fear, hate or jealousy as demons the patient has a chance to dissociate himself from them and participate in his own psychodrama, batteling as it were with the shaman to extract and bannish the demons that are causing the anguish. Likewise, when plants are involved in the healing ritual less emphasis is placed on any 'active ingredients' of a particular botanical remedy than on setting the emotional conditions for healing to take place. The healing ritual can take one or several sessions and sometimes involves not just the individual but his whole family or clan. The crucial point is the co-operation between shaman, patient and community to help an individual regain his psycho-spiritual balance as opposed to western systems of medicine in which patients are expected to assume a passive role while the doctor wields absolute power.
For a long time shamanism was too obscure and incomprehensible to modern scientists to be taken seriously. In western societies it still is, though in some more traditional societies medical doctors and shamans are attempting to work together. There are some things pills just won't cure, and equally, there are certain conditions where modern medicine has the most effective remedies. The wisdom of a true healer lies in knowing his or her own limits.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Early in the year the tender feathery leaves of Yarrow appear low on the ground, by the wayside, in meadows, pastures and waste grounds- just about anywhere, in fact. As the year progresses the shoot appear and the soft leaves become tougher, almost prickly. In June the first flower heads develop; grayish white to pink umbels that seem to indicate a relationship to the carrot family. On close examination of their individual little flowers however, one realizes that one has been conned and that yarrow is in fact a member of the daisy family.
History and Mythology
AchillesYarrow derived its Latin name from the Greek hero Achilles, the son the Sea-Goddess Thetis and the mortal King Peleus. Thetis, attempting to make her son invulnerable, dipped him into the river Styx. But afraid to let the infant go completely, his ankles remained vulnerable where his mother had held him, the part that has become known as the 'Achilles heel'. She also wanted to make him immortal by the power of fire, but Peleus disturbed her in her ritual and so she fled back to her father, leaving the infant in Peleus' hands. Peleus gave him to Chiron, the centaur, who had a great reputation for educating young boys in the art of archery and healing. And so, Achilles went on to become one of the greatest, and *almost* invincible warriors, but in the end he died of a mortal wound to his Achilles heel. He was a great student of the healing arts though and Yarrow was his special ally. He used it to staunch the wounds of his fellow soldiers, which is how yarrow became known as 'Militaris'.
Yarrow has been revered as a powerful healing herb and magical plant for centuries. It was used in counter-magical practices to 'drive out the devil' of those who had become possessed. However, to be effective, the holy mass had to be recited over the herb 7 times and it also had to be drunk from an upside down church bell (!). The French name for this herb 'herb de St. Joseph' is derived from a legend according to which Joseph one day hurt himself while working on his carpentry. The infant Jesus brought him some Yarrow, which instantly staunched the bleeding and healed his wounds. Yarrow is indeed excellent for this purpose.
However, conversely it is also said to cause a nosebleed and a bizarre form of love divination is associated with this property in eastern parts of Britain. According to Mrs Grieves, girls determine whether their loves be true by sticking a yarrow leaf up into their nostrils while reciting the following rhyme:
Yarroway, Yarroway bear a white blow
If my love, love me my nose will bleed now...
Yarrow sown up in a little pouch and placed beneath the pillow was hoped to bring dreams of one's future husband if one recited the following charm before dozing off to sleep:
Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.
In China, Yarrow is also used for divination however, the practice is of quite a different order. The ancient oracle of the I Ching is traditionally cast with Yarrow stalks which are thought to represent the Yin and Yang forces of the Universe in perfect balance.
Yarrow was always part of the sacred 9 herb bundle. Originally a pre-Christian tradition, the church at first attempted to ban the gathering of herbs. But when it became apparent that this would be impossible to enforce, they sanctified the practice and even blessed the woman's herb bundles in the church on Maria Ascension day, the 15th of August.
Yarrow leavesA special soup of herbs is the traditional dish for Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. This soup contained 9 holy healing herbs, one of which is Yarrow. This soup was believed to ward off all sickness and disease and dispel all evil influences for the whole of the coming year.
The fresh young leaves of yarrow collected in spring add a lovely, aromatic flavor to salads and soups, or one might add it as flavoring to homemade beer. Before brewing was subject to regulations that mandated hops as the only herb legally allowed to be brewed into beer, the brew was a lot less homogeneous than it is today and many different herbs were used for their flavour and added effect. Yarrow for example, with its bitter, aromatic flavor was a favourite herb to add to Gruit beer, which is reputed to be more intoxicating than regular ale. However, its potency is more likely due to Ledum palustre, Marsh Rosemary, another herb that went into that particular brew. Modern versions of the recipe often replace this hard to find herb with regular rosemary, which however results in quite a different (and less potent) brew.
Yarrow has been distilled to produce an essential oil. During the process of distillation a compound known as azulene develops, which is not present in this form in the actual herb. Azulene gives the blueish color to both, Yarrow and German Chamomile, but of the two, Yarrow essential oil contains more of this powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Yarrow essential oil is used for woman's problems such as irregular and painful periods and to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding.
Yarrow is considered a harmonizing and balancing plant and can be used for emotional disturbances related to PMT or menopause. It is said to harmonize conflicting emotions and may be used for chakra balancing.
Aerial parts, young leaves, flowers
The young leaves can be harvested in the early days of spring when they are still soft, for use in soups and salads. Later they get too tough to be used fresh and should be dried. Leaves and flowers can be harvested until July/August when the plant is in full flower.
Flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins, a bitter glycoalkaloid,
Yarrow is a very useful medicinal herb. As already mentioned, it is a premiere vulnerary that staunches bleeding. The juice or dried powder can be applied to bleeding wounds. A strong tea may be taken for internal bleeding. Its anti-inflammatory action will reduce swelling and heal inflamed cuts or wounds. Internally, Yarrow acts as a soothing relaxant on the voluntary nervous system. It counteracts cramps and spasm of the stomach, abdomen and uterine system. At the same time, its bitter principles support the digestive system by acting on the gallbladder and liver. Yarrow also supports the urinary system and is an effective anti-inflammatory and diuretic in cases of urinary infections, such as cystitis. It is an excellent woman's herb that can bring on delayed menstruation, soothe painful periods and menstrual cramps and reduce excessive bleeding. The fresh juice is recommended as a tonic. Yarrow improves peripheral circulation by dilating the blood vessels. It is indicated for high blood pressure and angina pectoris. It is also one of the best herbs to induce a cooling sweat to reduce fevers. It can also be used for inner cleansing, e.g. prior to a sauna or sweat-lodge. Yarrow's overall cleansing and toning properties, combined with its anti-inflammatory action may explain its use in the treatment of rheumatism. Yarrow can be described as a tonic and alternative that over time will improve the overall function of all the main bodily systems, as well as being of excellent service in the treatment of acute problems.
Some individuals are sensitive to Yarrow and may develop allergic reactions on exposure.
Pine, [English], pinho [Portuguese], pino, piñon [Spanish], pino [Italian], pin, pignon [French], pijn, [Dutch], Kiefer [German], fyr [Danish, Norwegian], tall [Swedish], mänty [Finnish], sosna [Russian], bor, mura [Bulgarian], bora, molike [Serbo-Croatian], peuke, pitys [Greek], çam [Turkish], chir, kail [Hindi], thong [Vietnamese], Matsu [Japanese], song [Chinese]. Pinus cembra, edible kernels = Arve, Pinus edulis, = Pinion, P. sylvestris = Scotch Pine, Forest Pine, Norway Pine, etc.
The ancestors of our present day pines already colonized the earth during the Jurassic Age, 300 million years ago. Like Gingkos they belong to the gymnosperm division, which comprises the oldest type of seed-bearing plants on the planet. People often find conifers difficult to distinguish, as their appearance superficially is very similar. A characteristic mark of Pines is the arrangement of their needles, which always grow in bundles. The number of needles in each bunch varies according to the species. In their useful stage pines all tend to look the same, a pyramidal crown upon a feeble stick of a trunk. Later the crown often flattened out. The lower parts hardly ever show any branches.. The bark tends to be gray to reddish brown, becoming scaly, flaky and deeply fissured with age, though the stems of young trees and branches can be quite smooth. Pine trees, like other conifers, exude a pungent resin, especially where the bark has been injured. The resin is very sticky at first but soon dries into brittle tears. The fresh, sticky resin has a characteristic pineol fragrance, balsamic, yet 'clean' and fresh.
Note: Depending on one's taxonomic point of view the genus pinus comprises between 90 and 120 species. They are treated generally here with references being made to specific species where appropriate.
Habitat & Ecology:
Pines grow abundantly throughout the northern hemisphere. They occur from Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska and as far south as northern Africa, Sumatra and China, but here they are restricted to the mountainous regions. Pines are very hardy and adaptive. Almost no environment is too hostile for them. They find hollows and cracks in the most unlikely places and seemingly defy all the odds by clinging to impossible rocks. The greatest diversity of species occurs in Mexico, Southern United States and also in China. However, the better-known species originate in the northern parts of central Eurasia where they grow profusely.
Pines naturally grow in harsh and difficult environments, often acting as pioneer species that make the ground more hospitable and act as protectors for other, more sensitive species. In their natural habitat they rarely crowd each other, leaving plenty of gaps for sunlight to penetrate the spaces between one tree and the next, thus ensuring a healthy and varied undergrowth development. Pines grow fast and have a light wood and very straight stems which have made them popular as a commercial timber species. Logged areas can re-grow at a relatively fast speed if they are not entirely clear-cut. However, commercial logging companies are often too greedy to give nature time to regenerate. Instead, monocultural plantations are planted in straight rows over vast areas of land, for easy harvesting. Such plantations are biologically dead. The dense growth does not allow for any understorey growth to develop, as no sunlight penetrates to the plantation floor, which, at any rate is usually covered with a dense layer of acidifying needles that make it even more difficult for other species to take a hold. There are no birds or small animals in this kind of 'dead' zone and the atmosphere is the exact opposite to that of a natural pine forest. Where the latter is lofty, serene and inspirational, the plantation is oppressive, forbidding, sad and gloomy.
HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE:
Familiarity breeds contempt. So common are Pines that we hardly pay any attention to them at all, except, perhaps in recognizing them as a cheap and common timber species. Yet anyone who has ever hiked on a warm and sunny afternoon through a mountain forests populated with lofty pines, firs and spruces will agree that nothing compares to their fresh balsamic scent mingled with that of the soft forest floor beneath. Their resinous aroma permeates the air and each breath one takes is like sipping nectar, invigorating body and soul. It elevates the spirit, clears the mind and makes the feet move lightly along the path. With their crowns waving gently high in the sky above, they exude an air of loftiness and serenity and spread a sense of inner peace, tranquility and calm. They embody the essence of resilience and determination, the arboreal image of 'mind above matter'. Growing among rocks and stones where there is almost no soil, beaten by winds and weather, they inspire us to rise above difficulties and persist against the odds. They also show us how: the way to success is inner peace, calmness, serenity - and letting ones spirit rise to touch the sky. Those who are worn with fatigue and stress should make ample use of the refreshing and invigorating power of pines.
In folklore, Pines, Firs and Spruces are often treated as one and the same. They are indeed closely related and for most purposes can be used interchangeably. In mythology they are frequently associated with dwelling places of fairies and gnomes, and thought of as benevolent, refreshing places where tired walkers can safely rest in the protective aura of the tree. They symbolize humbleness, good fortune and prosperity , fertility and protection. Their needles stay green even through the harsh winter months, and thus their evergreen nature has been interpreted as a sign of their vitality. In the olden days, farmers sought to transfer this vital force and its protective powers to their barns and stables by sweeping them with brushes wound from Pine twigs and pinning some above the doors as well. They were thought to ward off witchcraft and protect house and cattle from misfortune, disease and even lightning. In Germany a modern practice echoes this belief. Once the foundations of a new building are laid, the raw structure is crowned with a decorated pine tree, to attract protection and prosperity.
Once upon a time, when winter supplies tended to be much sparser than they are nowadays, the nut-filled pine cones were a very welcome and important source of food. Perhaps the multitude of seeds inspired their association with fertility, prosperity and aphrodisiac powers. It was hoped that this property was transferred by means of sympathetic magic as cattle and children were lightly spanked with the twigs. The apparent life force of Evergreens was especially welcome in the depth of winter, when they alone hold the promise of life's continuity. Pine branches or logs (Yule logs) were decorated and brought into the house to provide light and warmth and to serve as a reminder of the immortal life force. The church tried to suppress such customs but eventually could not keep them at bay. The modern Christmas tree is a novel invention, only a few hundred years old but ties directly to previous pagan customs that celebrated the tree of life.
In ancient Roman mythology Pines were sacred to Attis, the lover of the earth goddess Cybele, who was gored by a boar. After his death he was changed into a Pine tree. At his festival, which was held at the spring equinox, a pine tree was cut and brought into the sanctuary of the goddess. The trunk was prepared like a corpse and decked out with flowers. Tied to it was an effigy of a young man, the image of Attis prior to his mishap. For two days the crowds lamented his death and on the third day of celebrations the priests would offer a blood sacrifice by cutting their own arms. The accompanying music was said to drive the crowds into a frenzy and several of the worshippers would offer blood sacrifices of their own, even to the point of imitating the emasculation of their God, by cutting off their own genitals. Blood and semen are the sacred fluids of life. By offering these to the Earth Goddess it was hoped that the life force (Attis) would be resurrected and thus the fertility of the Goddess restored.
Attis is identified with Adonis and other vegetation gods of the Mediterranean basin such as Tammuz, Dionysos and Osiris with whom he shares his fate and mysteries. His cult originates in Asia Minor but soon developed a widespread following throughout the region, even spreading to Greece and Rome. Similar rituals intended to restore the fertility of vegetation deities throughout the world frequently required a blood sacrifice as part of the grueling ceremony. The reason for this seems to be that these religious rites were essentially acts of sympathetic magic in which the worshippers imitated the course of nature. To grow corn it is first necessary to slay the corn-spirit (harvest), to break up his body and bury it in the life-restoring earth-womb. The spring rites of the resurrected life-force were nothing other than a ritual enactment of these mysteries of life. Later the actual sacrifice was substituted with symbolic offerings, much as the transmutation of Christs body into bread and wine at the catholic mass is now substituted with rice paper. Christ is but the latest incarnation of these ancient deities who signify the cycle of the life-force with its annual rhythm of life, death and resurrection each year at the Spring Equinox (Easter). There are numerous similarities between these ancient cults and the latest modern version, which gives indeed much cause to ponder. In fact, when the Spaniards first arrived in the New World and witnessed one such ceremony of the Aztecs they felt that the similarities between their own and this alien ceremony were so cunningly similar that the Aztecs must have devised it merely as a mockery of their own Christian ritual.
There are several suggestions to link the Attis/Dionysus figure to the pine tree. It seems the most obvious one is the evergreen, immortal nature of pine. In Lebanon the same rites were celebrated, but here the sacred tree was the cedar, as the local symbol of immortal life. Also, both cedars and pines bear phallus shaped cones and the multitude of edible Pine nuts provides further suggestive symbolic imagery. The sacred cedar/pine forests where the rites were celebrated were said to burst into flower at spring equinox, their forest floor being covered by red anemone (Adonis sp.), which were thought to spring directly from the blood spill of the hero/god. Although the Latin name for anemone is Adonis some people believe that the frenzied ritual was induced by fly agaric mushrooms, which would also grow among the pines and cedars, and with their red caps might also allude to the hero's blood. While it is entirely possible and indeed likely that some hallucinogenic substance might have been used in conjunction with these rites, there is not enough evidence to determine just what kind of substance was involved, for while fly agarics may be found among the pines it is another question whether it would make its appearance at Spring Equinox. However, in Greece Dionysus is the successor of Attis/Adonis and his rites were not just associated with ordinary drunkenness, but his wine thought to have been heavily 'fortified' with a variety of other ingredients.
Pines, like other trees were much used in so called 'transfer magic', a folk magical healing rite intended to avert ones pains and transfer them to a tree or in some cases to birds that happened to be passing over the tree. The ritual usually involved scraping a small patch of bark off the tree and placing some token such as hair or fingernails in the hole while pleading solemnly with the tree's spirit to accept ones pains. In the case of pines this practice was mostly used to transfer gouty pains and warts.
On a more modern note, the edible pine kernel (pine nut pr pinon) gave its name to the 'pineal gland', which it resembles in size and appearance. According to eastern philosophies, the pineal gland is the seat of the soul. For a long time Western medicine was mystified by it, but now it seems clear that, though very small in size, the pineal gland plays an important role in regulating individual biorhythms, in itself a rather perplexing process.
Astrological Ruler: Mercury in Capricorn,
Associated Gods: Jupiter, Pan, Dionysus, Attis
Spiritual Properties: Inner peace, serenity, tranquility, rising above difficulties, resistance, vigor, determination, strength, rejuvenation - refreshing mind, body and spirit, purification, cleansing of sacred space and ritual objects, dispel negative energy, crystal cleansing, protection, fertility, birthing, inner strength, understanding, healing rituals, prosperity consciousness, manifestation
Needles, Inner Bark, Nuts, Resin
Collect the needles on a warm and sunny spring day and dry with gentle heat. They can be kept for up to 1 yr, but protect against sunlight and store in an airtight container lest they lose their scent - and strength. Don't collect from the tops as otherwise you will stunt the tree's growth.
Kernels ripen late in the autumn in the second year. Depending on the species they can be hard to collect, either because the trees are too tall or the kernels are too small. Often the kernels drop while the cones remain on the tree. Squirrels and birds usually manage to be the most successful collectors. Only gather where there is plenty and leave plenty more than you take.
Needles: high in vitamin C, sucrose
Inner Bark: Tannin, Quercetin, Phenol
Resin: Limonene, Essential Oil, Terpenes
Kernels - fatty oil
Externally: stimulant, anti-rheumatic, anti arthritic, antiseptic,
Internally: anti-scorbutic, anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant
In Europe the needles are the most frequently employed part of the pine. They constitute a very old home remedy that has stood the test of time. They are especially useful for afflictions of the respiratory system, such as sore throat, hoarseness, persistent cough, catarrh and bronchitis.
An infusion can be prepared by adding 10 parts of hot water to 1 part of dried needles. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey. This brew is also useful for kidney and bladder afflictions.
Externally a strong decoction of the needles can be used as a bath additive, liniment for aching muscles, rheumatic pains and neuralgia or as a steam bath for respiratory conditions. The decoction is made by adding 4 handfuls of needles to 1 liter of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 min. Be sure to cover the pot, as the essential oil of pine is very volatile and likely to escape unless restrained. Strain and add to the bathwater. This is one of the most wonderful blessings of the plant devas to help us cope with our stressful modern lifestyles. It is soothing and refreshing, stimulating yet relaxing. Especially recommended for burn-out syndrome, stress, nervous conditions, muscle aches and pains, neuralgia, headache and all congestive respiratory conditions especially when these are accompanied by fever. The same decoction can be applied as a liniment directly to sore muscles, aches and pains. A favorite old home remedy is pine honey, which is a strengthening, restorative sweetener that helps to loosen coughs and respiratory catarrh. It is prepared by boiling 1kg fresh pine or fir shoots in 4 liter of water. Leave covered to stand for 2 days, strain through a linen cloth. Add 1 lb of raw sugar and 1 jar of honey to the liquid and simmer until thick. Fill into jars while it is still warm.
While Europeans mainly used the needles for medicinal purposes, North American Indians also used the inner bark. They would soak strips of inner bark in water until it became soft and could be applied to wounds, sores, ulcers and burns, which healed without becoming infected. They also used the pitch to make healing ointments and salves.
Dioscurides recommends pine kernels and cucumber seeds taken with sweet wine to cleanse the blood and kidneys, and the fresh cones simmered in sweet wine as a remedy against persistent cough and 'falling sickness'. The pine nuts also have a longstanding reputation as an effective aphrodisiac. (see below).
The essential oil of Pine is produced by dry distillation of the heartwood, needles and twigs, which yield a light, yellow, strongly aromatic oil with the characteristic pine aroma. It is one of the most popular (and cheapest) essential oils, and is a standby home remedy, popularly used for steam bath inhalations to remedy respiratory catarrh and congestion. Added to the bathwater it stimulates the circulation and acts soothing on the nervous system. Pine oil is both refreshing and relaxing and makes one of the best counter remedies for stress, fatigue and the modern malady of 'burn out', especially when accompanied by a cold or flu. Externally, its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action also makes it useful for cuts and sores. For muscle aches or rheumatic pains the oil can be added to a base such as almond oil and massaged into the aching parts. Pine is a high note fragrance which means it is very volatile and its essence easily 'flies off the top'. It can be captured by a 'heavy' balsamic base such as Benzoin.
Perhaps it is the multitude of seeds produced or perhaps it is the suggestive shape of the cones, which gave the pines their aphrodisiac reputation. Most modern sources suggest delicious pine dishes as an appetizer for love-making. The ancients too knew of this stimulating property of pine though they did not rely on the stomach as a transmitter, as this would necessitate eating the seeds for 3 days in a row before testing their strength. Instead, a decoction made of the still green seeds should be used as a douche to wash the 'private parts' (of the female in this case). According to Matthiolus this was said to work instantly by 'making them tighter and more sensitive'. A recipe from India from 1500 has a similar recommendation, though here it is pine bark that is to be decocted, along with cumin and stamen of lotus flowers, to achieve the same effect.
Pine kernels are very restorative and fortifying. They are an excellent addition to the diet during convalescence, though can be equally enjoyed at any other time, added to Muesli or baked into cakes. Pine nuts and Basil leaves are a particularly wonderful combination.
Pine Nut Pesto
* 4oz of fresh Basil leaves
* ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
* 6 cloves of garlic
* 1oz of pine kernels
* olive oil
Place the Basil and Garlic into a food processor and grind into a paste. Add Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese and stir till smooth. Lightly toast the pine kernels and add them to the mix. Add salt to season.
Pine Nut Soup
* 1 onion
* 2 cloves of garlic
* pine nuts
* cream fresh
* chillie pepper
Sautee onion, add mushrooms, grind pine nuts, chili, garlic and salt into a paste and add milk to make it just runny, add to the mushrooms and onion, add a little vegetable bouillon powder and gradually pour in water to make desired soup consistency. Chop basil small and stir into soup, take off flame and refine with a spoon of creme fraiche.
Pine Needle Honey
A favorite old home remedy is the pine honey, which is a medicinally useful strengthening, restorative sweetener that helps to loosen coughs and respiratory catarrh. It is prepared by boiling 1kg fresh pine or fir shoots in 4 liter of water. Leave covered to stand for 2 days, strain through a linen cloth. Add 1 lb of raw sugar and 1 jar of honey to the liquid and simmer until thick. Fill into jars while it is still warm.
Pinewood is one of the most important timber species, valued for its straight growth and fine grain. Much commercial pinewood is derived from commercial plantations and thus thought to be 'a sustainable resource' Their fast growth rate and resilience to adverse climatic conditions all add to their popular demand. However, pine plantations are ecologically 'dead'. They are dark and oppressive places and nothing grows or flourishes between them, not even birds or deer find comfort in their midst. Although it is obvious that we cannot do without wood for all its manifold uses, perhaps we ought to consider different, non-mono cultural methods (e.g. coppicing=managed woodlands) of cultivation along with wood alternatives where possible.
Pine wood is still one of the most important sources of fiber for the production of paper pulp - a terrible waste, considering the length of time required for a tree to grow to a reasonable size. Moreover, there are many plants that could be used as an alternative, with shorter growing cycles, just as serviceable as a source of paper pulp and with much less toxic by-products.
Pine also is the original source of turpentine, which is commercially very important as a solvent for waxes, fats, resins, coutchouc, sulphur and phosphorus, much used in the production of emulsions, paints and varnishes. Industrial Pine oil (produced under pressure as opposed to the essential oil, which is produced by distillation) is used to make non-glossy paints to give a 'flattening' effect and facilitate an easy flow under of the brush. Turpentine is produced by distillation of the resin. The crude residue left after distillation of the oil is known as Colophony or Rosin, deriving its name from the city of Kolophon in Lybia, which was noted for its high quality resin. It is now mostly produced in Portugal and is chiefly used by violinists for rubbing the bow. Formerly Rosin was also known as Brewer's Pitch and used to coat the inside of beer casks.
Observations of the Ponderosa Pine of the Southwestern US have led to the discovery of dendrochronology - determining age by examination of tree growth rings. Andrew Elliott Douglas, an astronomer traveling through Northern Arizona in 1904 used the method to date the construction of Anasazi ruins in the Southwestern US. Since then it has been much employed to track changes in climate and the varying composition of atmospheric gases over the past 7000, which has helped to illuminate questions surrounding global warming.
Tar-water has been used as a remedy for horses suffering from chronic cough and also as an external rubefacient and anti-septic. Internally it is used as a vermifuge.
Although the balsamic aroma of pine resin and the fresh scent of the needles suggest possibilities for a fine incense, this unfortunately, is not always the case. The incense potential varies greatly between species. While some are indeed beautiful others can be distinctly unpleasant when burned. Pinon (P. edulis) and Ponderosa pine make notable exceptions; both their resin and needles have a very pleasant smell. The scent of burning pinon wood is delicious as anyone who has traveled in New Mexico during the winter months can attest; its sweet aroma hangs over all the dwelling places, infusing the air with its warm, inviting scent. In the mountains of Guatemala a local pine species is heavily used as incense. Its resin is mixed with sawdust and formed into little cakes, which are stacked and wrapped in corn husks. These play an important role in ceremonial offerings as the medium by which prayers are taken to the Gods. Generally speaking though, the closely related spruces and firs tend to make better candidates for incense materials.
Insect and Vermin Repellent:
The tar/turpentine can be used as an application against lice. Indians used it to stuff mattresses to repel lice and fleas.
Essential oil of Pine is an important fragrance additive in soaps, detergents, cosmetics and toiletries.
Pine Cones + Alum yield a rich orange dye. Best results are obtained with fresh plant material.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Range: Most of the eastern United States; another similar species of the flower is found in Western states with similar medicinal and cultural uses; found in open woods, thickets, fields, and meadows.
Origin: Purple coneflower is native to Eastern and Central United States
Botanical description: Purple coneflower is a 2-3 foot perennial with large, daisy-like flowers with swept back reddish-purple rays. The center disk of the flower is cone shaped, large and orange-brown in color. The leaves are low on the flower stem, long and tapering with a rough-toothed edge. The flower is unmistakable; it resembles a black-eyed Susan dipped in raspberry juice. When not flowering, the plant is somewhat harder to identify.
What’s in a name: Purple coneflower’s genus name, Ecinachea, is derived from the Greek word for hedgehog, which was inspired by the appearance of the central cone.
All in the family: Purple coneflower is a member of the Compositae family, the composites, which includes the daisy-like flowers, dandelions, chicory, and a host of other Echinachea species that are also used medicinally.
Cultural uses: Purple coneflower has a long history of medicinal use. Native Americans used it as an antidote for snake bit and other venomous bites and stings. It was also used in a smoke treatment for headaches. Purple coneflower was used to calm toothaches and sore gums, and tea form it was drunk to treat colds, mumps, arthritis, and a blood purifier (often a euphemism for the treatment of venereal diseases). Further, it was used as a treatment for pain, indigestion, tumors, malaria and hemorrhoids. After a long period of disregard, purple coneflower has come back into vogue in recent years. It is used primarily as an immune-system booster and it has been used as a treatment for skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis, boils and wounds, burns, cold sores and genital herpes. It is also recommended for use to treat bronchitis, tonsillitis, meningitis, tuberculosis, abscesses, whooping cough, arthritis and ear infections.
Active compounds: alkamides, caffeic acid esters, polysaccharides, volatile oil, echinolone, and betaine
Research: Research has yet to determine what exact compounds in purple coneflower give it its medicinal properties. Early research with purple coneflower and its relatives were done with adulterated or misidentified samples, so results of those tests are unreliable. Although clinical trials have been poorly designed, animal and test tube studies have shown that purple coneflower extracts do fight certain viruses and appear to stimulate the immune system to ward off bacterial infection. Some animal studies have shown that purple coneflower promotes phagocytosis, but the results are not conclusive. Laboratory findings have shown that purple coneflower is effective in healing superficial wounds. More study must be done before any clear recommendations about the use of purple coneflower can be made.
Purple coneflower Administered as:
Herbalists usually recommend the use of Echinacea purpurea in boosting general immunity in the event of colds, flu, respiratory tract infections, and mild bladder infections. Echinacea purpurea or purple coneflower is usually administered in the form of dried root or herb, as tea, standardized tincture extract, powdered extract, tincture and as stabilized fresh extract.
Its beautiful pink-purple petal is edible, making it an excellent salad garnish.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
© Kat Morgenstern, September 2002
Grapes, Grapevine, Vigne, Weintrauben, Rebstock
Cultivated vines are grown in vineyards, preferably a south facing hill with poor, stony soil as vine likes a well draining location - the poorer the soil, the better it seems to thrive, though it is rather picky about its climatic requirements. Vine dislikes cold and damp weather, and will die in temperatures below 18°C,. It is not terribly keen on humidity either and doesn't appreciate too much rain. It is perfectly suited to a dry Mediterranean climate.
Left untended vines grow up to 15 meters high, though they are a scrambling lot that cling to anything that will give them support. In cultivation they are usually kept low. The shoots are being pruned back every year. Sometimes the vines are trained on wires. The stems are very gnarly and twisty with a somewhat flaky brown bark and densely grained wood. The leaves are palmate, sometimes deeply indented or with very jaggy serrated margins, depending on the species. The flowers appear in May/June. They form bunches of tiny white 5 petaled inflorescences that exude a very delicate, sweet aroma. They do not last long however and soon the drupes of juicy berries start developing. Their size and colour depends on the species, but tends to vary from yellowish green to reddish, deep purple black. The berries are smooth skinned and each usually contains 2 seeds (except seedless varieties). Vines can be propagated by seed or cutting. Most European stocks are grafted onto American rootstocks due to the consequences of a devastating blight that once nearly devastated all European vines.
There are also many wild grape species, which tend to be a rather meandering lot. They can grow and sprawl over an extensive area when they are left undisturbed. The berries grow in the familiar bunch configuration, though they are much sparser and boast much smaller berries, which are usually quite sour. Like their cultivated counterparts, the flowers are small and rather inconspicuous.
The geographical origins of vines are still a matter of debate. There are numerous wild varieties that are at home in many different parts of the world. In fact, when the Vikings first happened upon that continent across the sea, now known as America, they called it 'Vinland' in reference to the many wild vines they found there. The cultivated European variety seems to have originated in Mesopotamia from where it steadily spread west and north, especially under the influence of Greek and Roman imperialism, which dominated the region for hundreds of years. Today it is grown in all warm, temperate regions of the world with good success and can be found in Central and Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, Greece, Asia, California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.
Vine cultivation is so widespread in some areas that it occupies 1000s of acres at the expense of almost all other crops.
While wine lovers may appreciate the variety of tastes and textures to tickle their tongues, environmentally it is dangerous to put all ones eggs in one basket and deplete the soil's nutrients by growing the same crop year after year in the same fields. Many commercial vineyards are subject to heavy spraying and fertilization, which only further depletes the soil. An agricultural practice that depends so heavily on chemicals is not sustainable in the long run.
Vine does have a number of natural enemies: e.g. mildew attacks anything green, powdery mildew rots the stalks, shrivels the leaves, splits the grapes and finally kills the vine, red spider mite sucks the sap from the leaf veins, phylloxera vastatrix, the blight that was responsible for destroying crops across Europe in 18th century, attacks the roots, while the cochylis moth grub attacks the flowers.
HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE
The history of grape cultivation seems to be quite ancient, though its precise origin is impossible to trace. The Bible mentions that Noah had planted a vineyard, and he was probably not the first to do so. It seems that people knew and loved their vines as far as at least 6000 years ago. Classical texts abound with praise for vine and are full of suggestions on how to grow them and transform their juice into their beloved elixir of life. The ancient Greeks were the first to popularize the sacred liquid and the Romans soon followed in their steps, spreading vine cultivation all around the Mediterranean basin. By 600 BC cultivated vine arrived in what is now known as France where it was enthusiastically received. Though at first rivaled by Italy, France soon became the most significant region of vine cultivation in the world. However, tragedy struck in the latter half of the 18th century, when an American grower sent some specimen of his stocks back to the old world for study. The specimen turned out to be infested with a devastating blight that caused havoc in the vineyards, threatening to wipe out practically all of the European vine stocks. It was a catastrophe for the vine growers and merchants, not to mention the deprived general public. The cure eventually came from the same place as the blight, when a resistant species was found in the US. Europeans started to graft their stocks onto American rootstocks and thus succeeded avert total devastation. It took some time but eventually the industry recovered and European wine producers are again at the top of the charts.
Historical records suggest that the original wines of the Greeks were quite a different kind of brew than what wine connoisseurs appreciate today. Much thicker and heavier in texture it had to be diluted for consumption at a ratio of 1:3. There is also much evidence to suggest that wines were originally mixed with other substances, such as resins, aromatic herbs and certain psychotropic plants to create quite a different class of powerful intoxicants. In Greece, wine was associated with Dionysus, a wild, shamanic God of ecstasy, whose totem animal was a panther and his emblem a phallic pine-cone tipped wand, as a symbol of fertility and immortality. His rites were wild and orgiastic, culminating in the ritual death of the deity (or a representative) as the frenzied mob of Maenads, (his priestesses), chased him down and tore him apart. Later the sacrifice was substituted with that of an animal (a fawn or fox) until eventually Dionysus became tamed as a deity of grain and wine. The sacrifice was substituted with ritual bread and wine as the sacred substance used to commune with the deity, which is how he was celebrated at the Eleusian mysteries.
The Romans knew this God as Bacchus, a God of wine and intoxication who was worshipped in much the same manner. In Egypt, vine was regarded as a tree of life. Isis was said to have become pregnant after eating some grapes, and subsequently gave birth to Horus. Thus, her brother and consort Osiris became Lord of Wine.
Lucian, in his 'True History' tells a fabulous, though somewhat moralistic tale about a strange vineyard that used to grow on the far banks of a river that ran wine instead of water. The vines had solid trunks, but their upper parts gave rise to beautiful and perfectly formed maidens. Their hair was a tangle of leaves and grapes sprouted from their fingertips, yet if anyone were to pick them the girls shrieked with pain. They sang and lured passers by with kisses, but those who succumbed to their embraces found themselves instantly drunk, and unable to escape they instead took root and grew shoots and vine leaves.
Vine is truly a gift of the gods. In moderate doses it has the power to raise the spirit to states of exhilaration and inspiration, to unlock the tight controls of the mind over the spirit and emotions and open the heart and soul. Countless works of arts have been inspired by it, and countless adventures started from a spark of its enthusiastic fire. Those who abuse its power by indulging in greater quantities than serves them well, will be stupefied and suffer delusion. The ecstasy can turn to frenzy, yet the imbibed person is totally oblivious to his actions. In appropriate quantities however, wine is wholly beneficial to health and spirit and has often been praised for its civilizing effects.
Several parts of the grapevine can be used medicinally. Both red and white wine was formerly much employed as a medium for other medicines for tonic wines and cordials.
Dried or fresh flowers,Berries,Fresh or dried fruit
An oil is expressed from the seeds
The flowers appear in May/June. The leaves should be picked in spring when they are tender, the bunches of grapes ripen from September onwards.
Picked in the summer, the leaves contain a mixture of cane sugar and glucose, tartaric acid, potassium bi-tartrate, quercetine, quercitrin, tannin, amidon, malic acid, gum, inosite, an uncrystallizable fermentable sugar and oxalate of calcium; gathered in the autumn they contain much more quercetine and less trace of quercitrin.
anti-inflammatory, astringent, stops bleeding
An infusion of 1 tsp of fresh finely cut leaves per cup of water is taken for rheumatism, gout, nausea and spitting of blood. In Homeopathy a preparation known as 'Papinorum Extract is made from the leaves and vines. It is used to treat inflammation of the hip joints and for cases of epilepsy. Dried powdered leaves were given to cattle to treat dysentery. A decoction is said to be useful to avert threatened abortion. The astringent property helps to arrest internal and external bleeding, cholera, dropsy, diarrhea and nausea. The decoction can also be used to treat mouth ulcers and as douche for treating vaginal discharge. Red grape leaves are said to be helpful in the treatment of varicose veins, and fragile capillaries. For this purpose leaves are harvested as soon as they turn red and are used either fresh or dried.
An infusion of 1tsp of dried flowers to a cup of boiling water is made to strengthen the nerve dendrons and to support the action of the bone marrow of the spine. As such it can be used internally as a tea or externally as a rub to aid neuralgic function (even recommended for paralysis of the lower limbs)
malic, tartaric, ascetic ascorbic and racemic acids, alanine, alpha linolenic acid, alpha tocopherol, arginine. Oxalic acid in unripe fruits, Ca, P, Fe, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic
fortifying blood tonic, nourishing, stimulates kidney and liver function and thus aids elimination and cleansing, gentle laxative
A popular method of cleansing the body of accumulated toxins is to do a grape fast, an old household remedy to cleanse and gently tonify the body. 2kg of grapes should be eaten during the course of the day, every day for two weeks with little or no other food. (Best to fast one day before embarking on this cure), this is very good for slimmers as it will release water from the tissues, reduce fat, regulate bowel function by stimulating and tonifying the kidneys, purify the blood and cleanse the skin, reduce rheumatic pains, heart burn and stomach burn. It is especially good for people with disturbed metabolism, water retention, dropsy and circulatory complaints. Grapes are a restorative, nourishing food good for anemia and debilitating conditions. The dried grapes are demulcent, nutritive and slightly laxative.
Contra-indications: not recommended for dyspeptics or for excitable, hot-blooded individuals as it may cause palpitations.
Grape sugar is very easily absorbed and thus acts as a speedy restorative in cases of exhaustion and debility as it does not interact with saliva before entering the bloodstream. Acts very immediately.
A lotion was made with the sap (tear/lacryma) to treat weak eyes and specs on the cornea. It has also been used as a skin lotion. Internally it is diuretic.
The vine twigs are very bendy and have been used to make brooms and baskets
A lotion made from the flowers is said to be useful for freckles, the oil is used in soap making
A purplish dye can be obtained from the berries, though it does not last. The fresh or dried leaves yield a yellow dye.
The old wine stocks make useful firewood that impart a special aromatic note to foods grilled or cooked on it, the young twigs make good fire lighters.
An oil is obtained from the pressed seeds which can be used for culinary and cosmetic purposes. It is slightly sticky, thus not very good if used on its own for massage oil. For internal use the oil must be refined before consumption.
Grapes are a wonderful refreshing, nourishing and cleansing fruit that can be enjoyed straight from the vine.
They yield a sweet and tasty juice, which not only makes a refreshing drink but can also be made into jelly, or reduced to a juice concentrate which makes a good sweetener. Most commonly grape juice is used to make wine. The business is enormous and the variation on the theme takes on staggering dimensions, the diversity of flavors and textures is nothing short of phenomenal.
Commonly wines come as reds, rose or white wines, champagne or sparkling wine, each of which can be made from hundreds of different grape species. A special sweet wine is produced by stopping the fermentation process prematurely by adding alcohol to the brew. The grape residues are also utilized: they can be distilled to make a strong 'Weingeist' or 'Eau de Vie'.
There are at least 8000 cultivated varieties of grapes, most of which are grown in the northern hemisphere.
The young tendrils can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. The flowers are also edible and can be prepared as fritters.
The sap has a sweet taste and can be used as a drink, though harvesting large quantities weakens the vines. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves have long been used to wrap foods in to make a finger-food or appetizer, especially popular in greek cooking.
A crystalline salt, Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is derived from the residue of pressed grapes and the sediment of wine barrels is used in making baking powder.
Recipes for grapes, wine and vine leaves could easily fill a whole book of their own. Here just a few little suggestions:
Meat in wine and raisin sauce
Certain meats, especially game are particularly tasty when marinated in red wine. A very hearty and flavorful stews can be made by cooking the meat directly in the marinade. This is especially suitable for heavy meats such as wild boar:
Cut the meat in chunks, roll in flour and quickly pan fry it to seal. Put the meat into a big, deep dish and pour sufficient quantities of red wine over it to cover it. Add Pimento berries, Juniper berries, Bay leaves, lots of garlic and sprigs of Rosemary and Thyme. To give the sauce a fuity note you can soak raisins in it too. Marinate the meat for several days.
Just before cooking add large chunks of onions and carrots and simmer the whole lot for several hours. Serve with potatoes and red cabbage made with apples and raisins.
Stuffed Vine Leaves
1 x 8oz pack vine leaves
4oz long grain rice
2tbsp olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
1tsp fennel, chopped
1tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper
# Drain the vine leaves and boil for 5 minutes in unsalted water, rinse in cold water.
# Cook the rice until tender.
# Sauté onions and fennel in olive oil for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
# Add the rice and mint and season with salt and pepper. When the mixture has cooled down use l tsp to fill each vine leaf.
# Roll up tightly, turn in the ends to make a parcel.
# Place in pan and cover with water. Put a plate on top of the rolls to prevent them from unraveling while cooking.
# Simmer for 1 hour. Can be served either hot or cold with yoghurt or Raita.
No two people make wine exactly the same way. Everybody has their own personal tricks and recipes and only practice will prove what works best for you. The guidelines below are very general, just to give an idea of the process.
Place the fruit into a bucket. Mash thoroughly and cover with boiled, but cooled down water. Cover the bucket and leave for 24 hours. Boil three more pints of water and dissolve some sugar in it (how much depends on the natural sweetness of the fruit and how dry you want your wine). Allow to cool down and add to the bucket. At this stage one might also want to add other herbs or spices, or some organic orange or lemon, peel along with its juice. Add one teaspoon of yeast and one teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Cover bucket once again and leave for a further 6 days, stirring once a day. On the 7th day check to see if a foam is forming on top of the mix. This is the sign that fermentation has begun. If no foam has formed, leave for another day and check again.
Strain the liquid and fill into a demi-john (glass fermentaion jar) using a muslin cloth and funnel. Seal with the bubble bung, half filled with water and leave in a warm place, but protected from direct sunlight. The fermentation process will take several months. During the fermentation process a gas is formed, which needs to be allowed to escape without allowing more oxygen to enter the jar. That is the role of the water-filled bubble bung. After 3 months the fermentation process will slow down. Eventually no more bubbles will rise to the surface. At this point you must taste the wine to see if it is too dry.
If so, add more dissolved sugar and continue the fermentation process. Once the fermentation process has stopped completely and the wine has the right sweetness you can bottle and cork the wine. Store the bottles in a cool place, (about 12 degrees celsius) preferably on their sides. Allow to settle for a few weeks.
Wine Making Resource
Jelly made with yellow grapes and vinegar makes a good medium for home-made jalapeno jelly. Express and filter the grapejuice, add some vinegar and preserving sugar and minced jalapenos. Simmer until the mixture thickens. Add pectin if it doesn't. Fill into sterilized jars and allow to set. The jelly can be seasoned to taste, e.g. with ginger or garlic or star anise.