This months blog party, hosted by Lucinda over at Whispering Earth, is entitled “Herbal Hugs.” Don’t you just love that? Her thought is that, what with all the grey and gloomy January weather, we could all use a little extra support and decadence in our lives these days. As she explains,
The idea is to write about the herbs you find most comforting, supportive, caring and indulgent or the recipes you just couldn’t be without when you feel a little low and just want a big hug from your favourite plant friends.
So with those words in mind, I am going to share some of my favorite plants and most treasured concoctions for encompassing myself in a big herby embrace of plant love. For me, these plants are often those that deeply nurture the body, delight the senses, and uplift and soothe the spirit. But most of all, they are plants that work on that ambiguous place known as the heart – that place where love originates and is received. So make yourself a big cup of steaming tea, pull up a chair, and prepare to be smothered in loveliness.
Roses and Hawthorn for the heart
Rose and Hawthorn have long been two of my favorite plants, and some that I use most frequently in my own apothecary. Both members to the rose family, they are similarly bedecked in threatening thorns which will prick a heedless harvester. You might think that characteristic a little counterintuitive when speaking about herbal hugs and comforting, caring plants – but it is actually part of what makes them so supportive.
Rose and hawthorn are both about protection, and particularly about protecting the heart. Traditionally used as boundaries to protect and guard land or sanctuaries, they offer that sense of enclosure and protection to the sanctuary of our spirit .
Hawthorn protects the physical heart: normalizing blood pressure, protecting blood vessels from oxidative damage, as well as strengthening the heart muscle and guarding against arrhythmias, palpitations and congestive heart failure. Rose works on the emotional heart: soothing the nervous system, uplifting the spirits and infusing the mind with beauty and love – protecting the heart from emotional hurt and healing the pain of loss. By strengthening our heart in so many ways, they give us the sense of security and strength to truly open our hearts to the beautiful joys and sorrows of life; fully experiencing and fully giving from a place of balance.
Rose and hawthorn have also long been associated with love and beauty – the two elixirs of the heart. Hawthorn was used in the Ancient May Day festival of Beltane – the festival marking the beginning of summer and a celebration of fertility and love. Covered in pinkish tinged, sweet-scented blossoms at that time of year, the hawthorn is the perfect symbol to capture the beauty of maidenhood and budding romance. This old proverb tells of an ancient custom of bathing one’s face in the dew of hawthorn on May Day, to ensure everlasting beauty:
The fair maid who, on the first of May, goes to the fields at break of day, and bathes in dew from the hawthorn tree, will ever strong and handsome be.
I hardly have to tell you about rose’s ties to love! A Greek myth tells that rose was created from the body of a beautiful nymph: given joy, brightness and charm by the three Graces; love by Aphrodite; intoxicating perfume by Dionysus; and a beautiful sunny sky to open its blossoms to by the wind God Zephyr. How very true it is – these things are all contained in Rose.
I think that what rose and hawthorn do especially is to help one love themselves – to discover one’s own beauty and sense of grace – to see the beauty of one’s life. Thus, I use them both together when I am feeling vulnerable and hurt – afraid to open my heart; when I am feeling insecure and unkind to myself; or when I can’t grasp the beauty of what surrounds me.
Here’s a few preparations I really love:
Ruby Red Rose Oil
When the summer is high in midsummer and St. Johnswort is in bloom, I like to co-infuse equal amounts of fresh rose petals and St. Johns wort blossoms in oil. (If you can’t wait till mid-summer and have some St. J oil on hand, you can make using dried rose petals by heating them very gently in the oil for several hours, then straining. The scent won’t be as fantastic, but still very nice). Infused with the brightness of St. Johnswort and the soothing, sensual fragrance of roses, it is a wonderful treat in winter when you feel a little low and need a great big dose of self-love.
Hawthorn and Rose Heart Cordial
This lovely cordial provides the antioxidants that protect the physiological heart, and the soothing, stress-reducing effects that protect the emotional heart.
Combine 1 cup frozen black cherries, 1/3 cup each hawthorn berry, schisandra and rose petal, 1/8 cup each hibiscus and rose hip. Grind all the dried herbs coarsely in an electric coffee grinder, and place all ingredients in a seal-able container with 1 cup raw honey and enough brandy to cover (about 1 cup). Let infuse for 1 month or more before straining out the herbs and enjoying.
Ashwagandha and Milky Oats: Deep Nurturing
Often when I feel down, it is because I am worn down. I feel depleted and exhausted, and unable to cope with the stresses that I normally face with ease. It is these times when I turn to the herbs that build and nourish an enfeebled system, strengthening the nerves and adrenals to restore vitality and strengthen the body. I call these the “mothering” herbs, because they give one the sense of nurturing and care that only a mother can.
Oats is the very same that gives us the nourishing seed, but as a medicinal herb, it is picked when the groats are still green and exude a milky sap (not unlike mother’s milk). They deeply nourish and restore function to the nervous system, repairing the myelin sheath, providing minerals and vitamins needed for optimal functioning. They restore energy, uplift the spirits, and reduce anxiety – swathing the whole nervous system in a protective, soothing embrace.
I like to think of the oat plant when I am taking oats – these tender, vulnerable stalks swaying gracefully in the wind, firmly rooted into the ground. By strengthening our vitality, our roots – they allow us too to sway gracefully in the winds of our lives. I like to prepare this herb as a tea, infused overnight to fully extract all those delicious nutritious bits.
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb. The name translates to “the strength of a horse” – insinuating that by taking it, you will receive just that. It strengthens adrenal function, normalizes stress response, builds immune function, calms the nervous system, and promotes deep, restful sleep. It is one of the only adaptogens (herbs that normalize stress response) that calms rather than stimulates, which makes it wonderful for any of us that are chronically fatigued and worn but also overstimulated and anxious, as though one’s nerve endings are worn completely raw to the world.
Ashwagandha milk with rose water and honey
Ashwagandha is traditionally prepared as a powder in warm milk, which amplifies its building, nourishing qualities. To make, place 1 heaping tablespoon into a cup of milk in a small saucepan. Heat gently on low until the milk begins to steam. Take off the heat, and add 1 teaspoon of rose water and 1 teaspoon of honey. Whisk well, and serve with a sprinkling of powdered rose petal and cardamom on top. Drink before bed. (You can add a little whipped cream like I did if you are feeling particularly decadent!).
The Mint Family: Soothing and Delightful
If I had to choose my favorite plant family, it would be quite a toss-up between the Rose family, with hawthorn, rose and all those lovely fruits and berries, and the Mint family with its delightful and delicious aromas and potent medicinal effects. The mint family includes such gems as lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, sage, motherwort, skullcap and sacred basil – a truly all star line up if you ask me!
The mint plants are typically scented with delightful perfumes made from complex mixtures of essential oils that are soothing to the nervous system and digestive tract. I find that they are uplifting – pulling one out of the heaviness of their thoughts and creating a sensation of lightness in the spirit. They bring a little hint of the divine into our hearts and remind us to dance and celebrate rather than be so serious and downtrodden. “Look up!” they say.
I enjoy these plants most as teas, where their delightful aromas create wonderful flavors that muse with the hot steam to soothe a weary spirit and awaken the heart to joy. They are the summer flowers, after all, full of summer time bliss and fairy magic.
Fairy Flower Tea
Combine tulsi, lavender, lemon balm, bee balm and rose petal in a teapot. Cover with hot water, and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Serve with milk of choice and a spoonful of raw honey to sweeten.
Motherwort Skullcap Tincture
These are two mint plants that are not aromatic, but are still amazing. Motherwort is just that – a mothering herb full of soothing, centering energy. It’s Latin name Leonurus cardiaca means “lion-hearted”, pointing to its ability to impart courage and strengthen the heart. It reduces anxiety and heart palpitations, cools and quiets the mind, and balances the female hormonal system – great for menopause. Skullcap strengthens and soothes nervous system function and puts a “cap” on overactive thinking. I carry a tincture made with equal parts of each as my rescue remedy, helping calm anxiety and soothe me in stressful or challenging situations.
Now, go and give yourself a big herbal hug!
And be sure to get some more herbal hug inspiration over at Whispering Earth, where all the blog party posts will be collected and shared.