April 2012 Article:
“Family Medicinal Gardens”
by Mary Morgaine Thames
“The lesson from both our agricultural and medical experience is remarkable for its consistency: Ignoring the evolutionary attributes of biological systems can only be done at the peril of ecological catastrophe.” – Marc Lappe When Antibiotics Fail
One of my greatest hopes and visions for humanity’s future is that each family or neighborhood will have their own medicinal garden plots. At its best, all the medicinal needs of a family will be met from their own garden and at the least, each family or individual will have a clay pot where they can grow one herb that supports their well-being. I believe this will become more and more essential as the health care system of this country grows even more corrupt and impersonal, unable to administer true, adequate care for its citizens. We are the ones responsible for returning the medicine to ourselves, our families and our communities.
It is a powerful and revolutionary act to grow your own herbs organically, make useful medicines from them and share the bounty. Imagine if everyone in this country had a personal connection with one plant as a medicine. The quality of your medicine, the opportunity to support ethical harvesting, the independence of doing it yourself, the chance to make less of a footprint on an overburdened planet and the relationship you will have with the plant itself are just some of the benefits of growing your own. So, if you have never grown and made medicine before, here is a calling to you. And if you are already tending the family medicinal garden, may you be inspired to keep it going and know what important and wonderful work this is!
Start by looking at the resources available to you. Move slowly and simply, so you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. Vision your garden space, whether it is in containers, your yard or a community plot. Ask seasoned gardeners and turn to the library for books that explain the steps of growing herbs without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. (Living with Herbs by Jo Ann Gardener, The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar, The Herbalist’s Way (aka The Village Herbalist) by Michael and Nancy Phillips, The Green Guide to Herb Gardening by Deborah C. Harding and any books by Richo Cech, wonder medicinal herb grower in Oregon, are some to look for).
Having good soil is imperative for a plant’s ability to adapt to weather variables and to mature healthily. Build your soil year round, adding nutrients and bio mass as needed. Be intentional about what plants you want to grow by researching ones that are a match to illnesses or weaknesses you may have. For example, if depression is an issue for you, grow St. John’s wort or lemon balm. These are also powerful for fighting the herpes virus. If your child has earaches, grow mullein. Or if you are plagued by digestive problems, plant fennel.
Pharmaceutical antibiotics are overused and often unnecessary if an herbal antibiotic were administered diligently. Echinacea and garlic are potent antibiotic plants having an intelligence that manmade antibiotics lack. Herbs know which harmful bacteria to attack without killing everything in your gut. Sage is a splendid herb to grow and tincture or make a tea for healing a sore throat. Feverfew can cure migraines. You get the picture. Pick at least one plant and go for it. Experiment and enjoy the process. Eventually, your plants will be growing you!
Mary Morgaine Thames is an ever-evolving student and teacher of deepening our relationships with plants through the experience of tuning into our authentic selves. For over eighteen years she has been practicing and spreading the news of sustainable living and creative expression, through writing, classes, and community service. Through her business Earth Dancers, she leads camps, classes and workshops on "Living Well Inside and Out".
March 2012 Article:
by Mary Morgaine Thames
If something is growing in such abundance that we call it a weed, doesn’t it make sense that we investigate whether it is agreeable as an ally for us humans? I would think that a culture so technologically advanced would have at least mastered relationships with the basic plants in their yards and streets. Yet when I speak of the common weed plantain, people often think that I am referring to those weird bananas in the grocery store. We humans are such a mystery.
Plantain, of the Plantago spp. in the Plantaginanceae family, is a cosmopolitan weed, found pretty much everywhere except Antarctica. I personally don’t think anyone should be allowed to graduate from elementary school if they cannot first identify plantain and know how to use it. It will serve them well for the rest of their life.
The plant’s habit is one of hugging the ground in a basal rosette of leaves that can vary between quite broad to long and narrow, displaying parallel veins similar to a monocot. It is an herbaceous perennial with inconspicuous flowers on tall spikes that produce little seeds that you may have unknowingly used before as a bulk laxative.
One of plantain’s common names is White Man’s Footprint, as it sprouted in the footsteps of the New World colonists to repair disturbed earth. Plantain is sometimes referred to as “nature’s band-aid” because not only does it cover bare ground, it also sooths and heals our wounds miraculously well. The drawing power of plantain to pull out splinters of all sorts and heal any infection associated with it is incredible.
Several years ago in the woods behind my home, my dog was bitten on her leg by a copperhead snake. I immediately macerated some plantain and placed it on the fresh bite, followed by several more applications of plantain, sage and fennel, and watched the wound respond without infection or much swelling. The leaf of plantain binds to toxins/poisons and extracts them while simultaneously offering antimicrobial support, which makes it a popular remedy for stings, bites and other injuries to the skin. If a fresh plantain poultice is applied immediately to a wound, it can help ease the pain.
Chewing on a plantain leaf and then gently massaging your gums and teeth with it can prevent dental problems. As a nutritional addition to your salads (or cooked with potherbs) it contains a plentiful amount of vitamins A, C and K and cleanses the blood. A persistent upper respiratory infection, particularly those that create yellow or greenish phlegm, can be healed from taking tincture of plantain. I combine plantain with calendula to make salves for babies’ bums so they do not get diaper rash. Steeping plantain in witch hazel for a couple weeks can then be used to sooth torn skin and shrink hemorrhoids.
On the other spectrum of plantain use, my dear friend Cheryl and I once were singing and dancing around in an abandoned homestead site full of broad leaf plantain, when we felt called to dig up some and dry smudge one another with the whole plant. We felt as cleansed as if we had been baptized in the river Jordan! I mention this story to remind you that there are many ways we can engage with the plants, art and ritual being two ancient ones. I leave you with a little fashion potential for plantain, so try it on!
Gather a basket full of the broadest leaves of plantain you can find. Use embroidery thread to sew them together the width of your waist, and then add layers of leaves to this plantain belt to make it the length you want. Because of their tough fibers, they will hold up without ripping, but this outfit only lasts for a day so make it merry! Show up at the next Beltane potluck and dance in honor of the plants~
February 2012 Article:
by Mary Morgaine Thames
Greet the mighty Mustards, more formally known as the Brassicaceae, for within this family one species alone, Brassica oleraceae, can be kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kohlrabi, depending on how it is cultivated! For example, a cabbage is a terminal bud that is bred to swell while kale is made to open. This family knows how to maximize the permaculture design principle of obtaining yields through added value. ‘Tis the season for wild food from this family so keep an eye out.
Mustards are cool weather plants, and one of my favorites from this big old family is watercress (Nasturtium spp.), available to harvest from streams in the dead of winter. The mustards are easy to identify by their flowers, both simple and quaint, with four petals, 4 sepals and 6 stamens and seedpods that spiral up the plant’s stem in a raceme.
Wild mustards like the cresses, pepperweeds, silver dollar plant, shepherd’s purse and garlic mustard are some of our early spring flowers, giving the landscape new color after a winter’s cold. They make great additions to salads and often when I see one in seed, I break open the pods and chomp the seeds right there on the spot. They are powerful and spicy and give a surge of vitality into my bloodstream. You can get these benefits in a more civilized fashion if you like, by harvesting mustard seeds to make your own mustard condiment.
Homemade Mustard Recipe
5 tablespoons wild or cultivated mustard seeds
Enough vinegar and water to cover seeds
Wild mustard greens optional
Salt to taste
This makes a small batch. If you like it, increase the amount of seeds next time. Barely cover the seeds in a half vinegar/ half water liquid and soak over night. Change the ratio of this liquid if you want a more vinegary mustard. Optional step-Add in aone-fourth to half a cup very finely chopped wild mustard greens if you are going to use the recipe within a week’s time. Grind all ingredients together, and add salt to taste. Does great as an ingredient for salad dressing or to flavor a stew, and of course as a sandwich spread. People must love mustard because worldwide it is estimated we eat 700 million pounds of it annually. Enjoy Mustard Mania!
The genus Brassica produces more agricultural foods than any other in the world, including collards, turnips, radishes, broccoli rabe, mustards, horseradish, arugula, rutabagas, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, totsoi and rapeseed (canola). Yet there are over 300 more genera in the Mustard family, all of which are edible (this is not to say all taste good, however). Some members of the Brassicaceae family are planted as ornamentals, like sweet alyssum, candytufts and wallflowers (avoid eating their seeds.)
Nutritionally the mustard vegetables give us plenty of vitamins A, C and E, and are good sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Medicinally the paste of mustard seed has been used to relieve sore muscles or toothache, as an appetite stimulant and as a poultice to break up congestion through its rubefacient properties (improves localized blood circulation by drawing blood to the surface of the skin).
How many mustard relatives can you find growing around you? Thomas Elpel’s book Botany in a Day and his website www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com can help with identification and Marc Williams’ website www.botanyeveryday.com also has more detailed info on Brassicaceae plants.
For me, one of the greatest forms of freedom is to know what is edible in the plant world and what is not. And since all members of the Mustard family offer some kind of nourishment, it is worth getting to know them and greeting them with thanks whenever you see one.
January 2012 Article:
“Plants as Allies”
by Mary Morgaine Thames
Welcome into to the greatly anticipated year of 2012! As we earthly beings undergo intense opportunities for change and transformation, let’s make it a priority to build our relationships with the plants in our yards, streets, gardens and woods who so humbly and quietly give of themselves eon after eon. We cannot survive without them, yet they can survive without us. Be intentional and give someone you love an herbal footbath to gently remind them of how connected we are to the plant world.
What you’ll need:
-A bundle of fresh herbs or a handful of dried
-2-3 gallons of water, boiled
-Small tub for soaking (I like the Rubbermaid dishwashing tubs)
-A smile or a song or both
Gather plants in season, or have some dried herbs on hand to make a strong brew. Lavender, Rosemary, Nettles, Violets, Plantain, Birch twigs, Calendula, Lemon Balm, Red Clover, Valerian, Roses and Pine are some of my favorites. Add them to a pot of water that has come to a boil, turn off heat and let steep until the infusion comes to a temperature that is comfortable to soak feet in. Strain and add the water to the tub. Have your friend or family member comfortably ready to soak their feet in it. You can massage their feet if that feels good, and sing to them, or just give them the space to be quiet and relax and be enchanted by the plants. When done, have them take the plant matter and the footbath to the garden if there is one, or at the base of a tree, taking a moment to also release something in their life that is no longer in their best interest.
Often I will ask people, “Are you into plants?” Most answer that they love them but don’t know much or spend a lot of time with plants. I then ask them to think about their clothing; the buildings in which they work and dwell; the food they eat; the art and entertainment they enjoy; and most importantly, the air they breathe. It becomes apparent we are inseparable from the plant world and use it all day long and with that awareness comes a sense of urgency linked with responsibility. On an ailing planet we can help make a positive shift by cultivating a conscious relationship with the plants themselves. When we have an authentic relationship with plants we are more likely to protect the environment in which we all live, rather than polluting it by consuming distant products to fill our need for connection.
What if you did not take quality time to listen and talk to your partner, child or closest friend? Your relationship with them would wane, and eventually, no matter how much you loved them, the relationship could not really grow or deepen. It would probably end. It is the same for anything in life- if we want something to be a strong part of our lives then we have to dedicate time and energy to it consistently. Thinking of Plants as Allies kindles the spark within us that can nourish whatever level of engagement we want to actively have with our green friends.
There are a myriad of ways we can develop our connection to the plant world. The first step though is in acknowledging their importance in the web of life here on earth. If you love the union of earth and sun and the uniqueness of their photosynthesized creation in forests, meadows, grasslands, oceans and deserts then stand up for the plants, and like the Lorax, speak for the trees in a way that moves you.
Maybe it’s making herbal medicine that gets you regularly engaging with plants, or perhaps it’s preparing wild or organically grown foods. Collecting, drying and pressing plants to make books, collages or card art, or learning about them for natural dye or paint is another way to unite with our allies. If you are a hand crafter, the plants may speak to you through their fibers, or through their wood for carving, or the making of mandalas for meditation and peace practice. Maybe you are fed by a spiritual practice of burning dried bundles of plants in the sweat lodge you made from bamboo, or you are a healer who washes wounds and sores in plant infusions. If beauty is your calling, the plants can teach you how to care for skin, hair and nails. Mathematicians can get lost in the forest marveling over the Fibonacci sequence. The love of games, architecture, philosophy and music can also be expressed through observation and direct interaction with plants.
The goal is to make a daily personal and direct connection with plants through whatever medium is your calling. You don’t have to be an herbalist or avid gardener. Step away from your computer, Facebook, your iPhone and its apps, and be with what is truly sustaining you, less it be swiped away while you weren’t paying attention. Wash as many people’s feet as you can, and remember to soak your own, and you cannot help but remember it is the more simple things in life that are our greatest allies.
November 2011 Article:
“The Merry, Gold Calendula”
by Mary Morgaine Thames
Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold but not to be confused with ornamental marigold (Tagetes spp.), has a bright orange or golden flower that emits rays of happiness. In the language of flowers, calendula speaks joy. A member of the Asteraceae family, the flowers are the parts used for medicinal purposes and they are quite resinous and loaded with petals.
This is one of the easiest medicinal plants to grow from seed and will brighten up any landscape. If you honor your calendula plants by continually picking their flowers as they open, this herbal ally will keep blooming for you even past the first frosts. Indeed, the name calendula was given to the plant after the Latin word for calendar, referring to its long flowering season. I have had calendula bloom in my North Carolina mountain gardens from early April to mid-December.
To me, the taste of calendula alone is unpleasant- both slightly bitter and acrid, but others disagree. In herbal infusion mixes, however, it enhances the flavor and sweetness of tonic herbs. One of my favorite ways to ingest calendula during the winter months is by adding the dried petals to simple soups and stews. The effect is both warming and uplifting, bringing into our internal organs an herbal dose of sunshine.
Winter Calendula Stew
2 quarts of vegetable stock, homemade if possible
3T olive oil
1 onion, sliced
3 carrots, chopped in small rounds
1 parsnip, diced
5 small yellow potatoes, diced
1 bunch kale, cut finely
1/3 cup dried calendula petals
garlic cloves, minced
salt/pepper to taste
Sauté onion, carrots and some of the garlic in the olive oil and 3 T of the veggie stock, until onions are almost clear. Add parsnip and potatoes and sauté two more minutes then add rest of veggie stock. Bring to boil, add salt and lower to simmer for 20 minutes. Next add kale and rest of the garlic, using your own discretion of how much garlic you want in the soup. Stir well, cook for 5 minutes, then add calendula, simmering stew for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat. Serve with joy on a cold winter’s day~
I believe in calendula because of my own personal experiences with it, which is the best way to find out the healing properties of herbs. Spirits are lifted when I serve this stew; my child never had a diaper rash because I cleaned her daily with an infusion of calendula; my family’s swollen lymph has subsided with calendula tincture; mouth ulcers I had healed rapidly from calendula gargles- these are some of the stories that affirm how appreciated calendula is in a family apothecary.
Calendula makes a wonderful vulnerary first aid medicine because it soothes pain and reduces swelling while simultaneously acting as a bacteriostatic (meaning harmful bacteria is kept away from the wound so it can heal itself). A salve, cream or infusion of the flowers can be applied to the infected or injured area. It is specific for skin ulcers, eczema and slow healing wounds. For mild burns, use a fresh calendula poultice or compress to support the area. When used timely, calendula can prevent the visibility of scar tissue.
Used in formulas or alone, calendula will relieve and heal internal or external irritations. It is certainly a great friend of skin because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and alterative properties. Sore and cracked nipples respond to attention from calendula and it can cure pink eye. Internal ulcers related to digestive stress, spleen issues and inflamed mucous membranes are subject to disappearance when the grand calendula keeps showing up at their door. Try using the essential oil for acne or add it to the bath to relieve your nerves.
Like a daisy chain, calendula flowers are fun to thread- a simple gift you can crown someone with to brighten them from the inside out. See how many calendula flowers you can gather next growing season, and play with all the amazing things you can do with them!
October 2011 Article:
"Red Clover- Lady in waiting"
by Mary Morgaine Thames
One of the first to begin blooming in spring and the last to fade in fall, Trifolium pratense, or red clover, is a short-lived perennial and abundant herbal ally found in the legume family, Fabaceae. She has alternate leaves in three leaflets (hence the Latin name Trifolium), with a pale V marking in the leaf center. The species name of pratense means “growing in meadows” and there, along with other open, sunny spaces, is mostly where you will find red clover. I am unsure why the common name is not more fitting, as the flowers are more pink and purple than red. I have seen this plant blooming well in both totally dry and wet places, which chants to me, “Adaptability!”
I absolutely love to use red clover and have had her for almost two decades as an ingredient in my daily green tonic infusion mix. High in phytoestrogens, she is a lady-in- waiting, ready to be picked to offer up her myriad of services to women, men and children, both young and old alike. Full of nutrients and minerals like thiamine, niacin, calcium and chromium, and a deliverer of antioxidants like Vitamin E, red clover is an alterative herb, meaning the functioning processes of the body are gradually and beneficially altered by removing metabolic waste products.
Skin eruptions like eczema and psoriasis can be healed by red clover by helping reduce mineral deficiency and by alkalizing the blood. She works as an expectorant, for asthmatic relief (the flower can even be smoked), and as an aid for a drippy cough and whooping cough. Cancerous growths have been inhibited by the genistein constituent in this plant.
Red Clover tincture, folkloric method
Need: one glass jar with lid, wax paper, vodka or brandy and fresh or dried red clover blossoms
Stuff jar almost full with blossoms and pour enough alcohol to cover herb. Red clover does not need a high percentage of alcohol (30-40%) to extract its properties, unlike some herbs, so brandy works fine for this plant and has a sweeter flavor that compliments the flower taste. Place wax paper over jar opening and cap with lid. Put in a cool, dry, dark place. When possible, shake intentionally once a day while sending good thoughts to the medicine. Strain the blossoms from the liquid after 2 to 4 weeks. Compost herb, pour all remaining tincture back into a clean jar, label and store. Bottle medicine as needed. Take for a couple of months as red clover needs time to create significant change in the body.
In the herbal community, there is disagreement over the power red clover has on estrogen receptors in the body. Some say the plant is to be avoided when estrogen-sensitive conditions are present like breast cancer, uterine fibroids or ovarian cancer. Others insist the isoflavones in the flower aid the healing process of these dis-eases.
Recently, while at the 2011 Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in New Mexcio, I learned from Robin Rose Bennett, a wise woman herbalist based out of New Jersey and NYC, that red clover removes exogenous estrogen. This supports my intuitive belief that red clover works with balancing the hormones whether they are in excess or diminished. Most importantly, as with any herbal ally, spend authentic time with the plant yourself in quiet observation and bring it into your life to come to your own understanding and experience of the plant. One thing I know for certain- when I see, smell and taste red clover, I feel uplifted and nourished.
Because of the coumarins found in red clover, people with coagulation disorders (blood does not clot easily) should use caution in taking red clover. On the other hand, red clover is a helpful stroke preventative. She improves the elasticity of the arteries, one of the reasons why this herb makes a good blood purifier.
Use red clover if you want to boost your fertility or are on the other end of the spectrum and need relief from uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. In olden times, folks used red clover to drive away evil spirits.
Red clover is almost everywhere and easy to pick, so engage with the lady and make an infused oil for massage, a fomentation or poultice for skin eruptions, a vinegar for salads, or a tincture or infusion. May you take in the gifts from this gentle, humble lady~
September 2011 Article:
“Honoring our Elders”
by Mary Morgaine Thames
When I was first learning how to use herbs, I was told by different teachers that if there was one plant to make certain to ask its permission before harvesting, Elder was it. I was taught that it was the Grandmother plant of the fairy world, and if I took from it without asking, I could be in danger of the Queen of Faye coming to humble me with lessons in respect. Maybe some of you don’t believe in the fairy realm, but I took this seriously. Have you ever had anything of yours just ‘mysteriously’ disappear? Maybe it was because you were disrespectfully messing around with the plant ‘kindom’- think about it.
Whether you talk to fairies or ignore them, the plants still clearly exist before us and in late August and early September, Sambucus canadensis, the elder trees (or shrubs, to be botanically correct) in our neck of the woods are loaded with fruit and await the dispersal of their seed by human, animal or bird. The purple-black color of the berries is quite unique- a sure sign of the medicine they carry.
It’s easier to tell who the Elder tree is when in berry, but some of the other characteristics that distinguish this plant ally are its small multi-branched trunk of gray bark with many raised bumps called lenticels (breathing pores) and its pithy, arching, opposing branches. Attached to these are deciduous, pinnately toothed leaves. It can grow up to 15 feet in height and prefers living in sunny, damp locations.
Elder is a recent victim or recipient (however you want to look at it) of the modern day, high-tech DNA research for determining plant family placement. It used to be classed in the Honeysuckle family called Caprifoliaceae but now is in the Adoxaceae, as we common people try to keep up with all this name switching.
“Elderberry cookies- Simultaneously fight colds while having a yummy treat”
Ingredients: (Always opt for organic ingredients when possible)
11/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup grade B or C maple syrup
1/3 cup unsalted butter or safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dried elder berries, 1/2 cup if fresh
1/3 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine oats, flour and salt and mix. In a bigger bowl, mix together the butter/oil, syrup and vanilla. Add the dry mixture to it. Then stir in the elder berries and chocolate chips. Form into small balls and press on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Elder berries are often made into a kid-friendly syrup for winter colds, sometimes in combination with wild cherry or elecampane. I think of Elder up there with Lemon Balm as one of the best remedies for children’s ailments. Both the berries and flowers may be tinctured to yield their gifts, or covered with boiled water for a deep purple infusion.
The root, bark and twigs of the plant are toxic because of cyanide-producing glycosides that, if ingested repeatedly, can accumulate over time in the body and cause unwanted effects on the heart and central nervous system. The flowers and berries, once heated, tinctured or fermented, are the safe and useful medicinal part of Sambucus. One of the most pleasurable drinks I ever had was in New York state at my friend Amelia’s home when she popped open a bottle of elder flower cordial. What a delight!
A sorbet can be made from the berries as well as yummy Elderflower pan-fried fritters. Make wine or mead with this herb, too, or a skin wash for tired eyes and blemished skin.
Both the Elder flowers and berries are helpful for inflammation relief, hayfever and sinusitis. Many herbalists believe the flower contains more potent medicine than the berry. Elder certainly enhances immune function and is great at warding off influenza. It is diaphoretic, a sweat-inducer, helping rid the body of toxins when fever is present. The lists goes on and on of all the health-supporting effects Elder has on the body, so I invite you to further explore making and using this medicine yourself if you haven’t already.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, maybe you remember that the most powerful wand, which becomes Harry’s in the final battle, is called the "Elder Wand". Wands made of Elder branches have been used for centuries in folklore for divination rites. Though tempting, it is important to remind our children not to turn that wand into a little flute, because of those glycosides mentioned earlier. Children and Elders can be quite compatible though, as long as they honor them.
August 2011 Article:
by Mary Morgaine Thames
Just follow the bees. They know where it’s at.
In mid-summer, multiple species of bees can be found in abundance in the center of sunflowers, drawing from a seemingly endless supply of nectar. They drink, rest and even sleep there. When I see a bee doing its thing with a sunflower, I am reminded to bask in the simple things in life.
Native to the Americas, Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower, with its bright yellow rays and reddish-brown disk center, blooms all summer long in gardens, along roadsides, around birdfeeders, and in prairies and other open spaces. Cultivated varieties can reach heights of 20 feet, although they average between 3 and 6. It needs full sun to bloom, in tune with the meaning of its genus and Greek name: helios = sun and anthos = flower.
As simple as the flower looks, it is a member of a most evolved and the largest family of flowering plants in North America, the Asteraceae. What looks like one flower is really hundreds, sometimes thousands of flowers, all packed efficiently in a spiral formation, following the Fibonnaci sequence, with each floret able to ripen into a seed. Now that is some reproductive genius!
Sunflowers are a beautiful example of letting food be your medicine. The seeds are the most nourishing part of the plant, exceptionally high in Vitamins E and B1. Eat them raw, soaked, roasted or ground for subtle differences in the flavor. With 27 grams of protein to every one cup of seeds, it’s no wonder this is the flower on the Vegan Society banner. High in magnesium, the counter balance to calcium, and selenium, a trace mineral that aids in cancer prevention, sunflowers pump out the volume in disease prevention.
You can sprinkle the ray flowers on salads, make the seeds into a nutritious butter spread, sprout the seeds for delicious greens, ground them into flour or grind the husk into a coffee-like drink. Apparently, the young flower buds can be steamed and eaten like artichokes (another Asteraceae family member). The pressed oil is used for baking, margarine, salad dressings, and soap making. Unrefined high-oleic sunflower oil can withstand cooking heat up to 320°F and still hold the integrity of its molecular structure. Native Americans used the oil for their hair and also mixed it with natural dyes to make paint.
Sunflower Seed Basil and Violet Pesto Recipe:
-Enough basil and violet leaves to pack a food processor
-Half cup sunflower seeds
-One/fourth cup olive oil
-One/fourth cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
-1 clove raw garlic
-Salt to taste
Roast sunflower seeds on low heat in skillet for 10 minutes. Place seeds, organic olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in food processor and pulse. Add wild-crafted violet leaves , fresh basil and salt. Blend. If you want it thicker, add more leaves at this point. Creamier- add more oil. Play with the ingredients to meet your taste. The sunflower seeds are a great substitute for the usual pine nuts and parmesan. They are more abundant and local, and packed with flavor and nutrition.
The leaf of the sunflower has been used as a tobacco substitute. Both the leaf and flower have small quantities of insecticidal properties and were commonly used during pioneer times as a malaria preventative. The seeds work like quinine for dispelling intermittent fevers and James Duke writes in The Green Pharmacy that the seeds also have a chemical called phenylalanine that reduces pain by disturbing the chemicals that give us pain perception. He also addresses SAM, another chemical in the seeds, that relieves pain and has anti-inflammatory properties that help arthritis. The sunflower seeds have an affinity for throat and lung ailments- sore throat, cough, tonsillitis, bronchitis, tuberculosis and asthma.
Anastasia, the mesmerizing Russian boreal-forest wild woman who is documented in The Ringing Cedars of Russia series, says every garden should have at least one sunflower, and I think the birds and bees would agree. Magically, the sunflower is said to protect our soul and attract joy and happiness. The plants have been use to extract heavy metals such as uranium and lead from the soil, dry up excessive moisture around home foundations, as a yellow dye, lifebelts (the pith), animal fodder and for fiber.
Try standing in a field or a patch of sunflowers, and like the Incas and Aztecs who worshipped them, see if your vibration is not lifted to another level.
June 2011 Article:
Saint John’s Wort, herb of the Summer Solstice
by Mary Morgaine Thames
Saint John’s Wort is under the celestial sign Leo, and the dominion of the Sun.”
-Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, mid-1600’s
Walking along an old railroad bed in upstate New York, summer solstice 2001, I first met the sunny plant of St. John’s in full flower and growing in abundance. Even though I had used this plant ally both in tincture form and as an external oil, I had never met it in its own habitat, and the feelings I received when I saw its bright yellow clusters of little flowers were joy and relief. There is no replacement for the health benefits that arise from getting to know a plant while it is in its whole form.
Later I bought a 4” pot of St. John’s that I planted in my garden and within two years it had grown into a patch several feet wide and made it’s way to the lawn. That was fine with me, because I wanted its essence around and harvested the flowers for medicine, but do be aware of where you choose to plant it, especially if you have any livestock nearby for it can be poisonous to them.
Botanically, St. John’s is in the Clusiaceae family and is called Hypericum perforatum. There are hundreds of species to this one genus, many of them ornamental varieties which have no medicinal value. The herb St. John’s is native to Europe but has naturalized in the states, growing with ease in open woodlands, roadsides, fields and abandoned lots. It is a perennial that grows 1-3 feet in height, with a sessile (directly attached to the stem) leaf full of translucent dots that contain hypericin, among other good things. When held to the light, the leaf looks like a fairy took a miniature hole puncher and went to town, hence the species name perforatum. The flower petals have the same dots, or glands, along their margins and when crushed, exude a red pigment that smells wonderful.
The summer solstice occurs annually in late June, the time when the sun has reached its zenith in the sky and is the closest to the northern hemisphere as it ever gets, before it begins its slow descent south which eventually leads us into winter. Saint John’s Wort is also in its height of flowering at this time, and with its golden star-flowers full of stamens that look like rays bursting forth, the sun’s uplifting energy is captured on earth in the form of a humble flower.
As a medicine, it is no wonder this herb is used to relieve depression and anxiety, among many other important roles. I speak from personal experience of its power to help heal the downward spiral of depression. In combination with rose, yarrow and angelica, it can remove dark emotions by bringing light back into the soul. It is also a specific remedy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
My teacher Matthew Wood taught me that St. John’s was also one of the top herbs to use for any trauma involving nerve damage, including tetanus. It has the ability to heal severed nerve tissue by quickly regenerating the damaged areas. Using it internally as tea or tincture and externally on the wounded area is highly effective here. It is a mild sedative, calming and soothing, and an analgesic (pain reliever), in part because of its capability to enter the body, find inflammation, and reduce it. It is one smart, helpful plant.
Although it is not as well-known for this property, St. John’s is an expectorant, removing unnecessary phlegm from the respiratory system.
And last but not least, something St. John’s is growing in popularity for, is its anti- retroviral activity, particularly with AIDS and the herpes simplex. Simply taking the tincture at the onset of a cold sore can prevent its full flare up.
There are contraindications of the use of this herb in conjunction with certain pharmaceuticals, for light sensitive individuals, and pregnant and nursing moms. If none of the above is currently relative to you, make or buy some St. John’s Wort Oil and massage the sweetness of the summertime into your heart or loved one’s back, giving yourself or them a double dose of happiness.
In the Press
With winter, gardeners who use permaculture technique tune into nature-based environmental cycle Paul Clark, Asheville Citizen-Times, Nov. 17, 2005
WNC Parent profiles Earth Sprouts! Herb Camp for Kids march, 2010