The Teacup Chronicles

Month: May, 2011

Apple trees in May: Heaven on Earth

Cease, wild winds, O, cease to blow!
Apple-blossom, fluttering, flying,
Palely on the green turf lying,
Vanishing like winter snow;
Swift as joy to come and go.

~Mathilde Blind “Apple Blossom”

The apples have just finished their flowering here, and my heart is in mourning now that the last petals have fallen and their blaze of white and pink has begun to fade from the landscape. Their ethereal beauty is made all the more precious because it is so fleeting, and I have spent the last week trying to drink them in fully, extracting every last drop of joy that I could from their sight, their sweet fragrance, their song of humming bees. There are truly few sights in the world as heavenly as an apple in full bloom in the spring sunshine.

Love has always been closely interwoven into the symbolism of the apple tree, and one glance at their flowers gives a strong impression for why this is so. The immense beauty of the apple blossom, their sweetness and the way that they elevate the spirits and enrapture us are so much like falling in love, the transience of the state infusing every moment with a significance and intensity that makes one not want to miss a single moment.

And how beautiful and befitting then, that the ethereal flowers should then produce a sweet, earthy and nurturing fruit, just in the same way that the heightened state of intense passion one feels when first in love should develop into the sweet, nurturing bond of companionship.

But this process is not limited to romantic love, but to all forms of passion and love in our lives. It is that fundamental process of taking an experience of the divine, of complete love – a feeling of transcendence, ecstasy and revelation – and converting it into something workable and sustaining in the realm of the everyday. We do this with all the forms we experience love – from religion and romance to the creative inspiration that fuels our live’s calling.

The apple also has many associations with the divine. In Christianity, it’s thought that the Tree of Knowledge growing in Eden was an apple, and in Saxon myth, the apple tree was created by Iduna, the Goddess of Spring, to supply the Gods with its fruits offering eternal life. In England, there is the myth of the Isle of Avalon – the Celtic paradise or isle of the blessed  where the mythical King Arthur passes on his death. The name Avalon derives from the Welsh word for Apple (afallen), and while the island itself is said to be shrouded from our view, it is thought to be located on the same spot as the apple orchards of Glastonbury.

In all of these myths, there is the same theme: the apple tree offering a taste of the divine to us here on the earthly realm, an ability to experience a little “heaven on earth.”  When split in half, the apple reveals a 5-pointed star:

which is seen in many religions as a symbol for the divine. Five is a sacred number as there are 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, ether) that comprise the universe, thus the star represents the unity from which those 5 elements derived – the oneness of all things. The apple blossom also has 5 petals.

Of course, humans have always struggled with the gift of the apple. The taste of the divine leaves us hungry for more, and we become so obsessed with the ecstasy and intensity of that glimpse into the divine that we fail to transform it into an earthly, workable thing. We want to stay at that level of spiritual intensity all the time, we can become addicted to it. We might become addicted to falling in love with others, to falling in love with ideas, to falling in love with a religious belief.  It feels as though anything less than that divine state is worthless. Everything pales in comparison.

I was pondering all of this as I made my apple blossom flower essence while the blooms where at their climax. The essence, I thought, must be for that very process of helping us transform our glimpses of the divine into the earthly realm, making them workable and usable in our lives. Bach writes of it being used ,

For those who feel as if they had something not quite clean about themselves.”

He describes the apple blossom person as being one with very high expectations about their body and environment, wanting things to be flawless, perfect. They often feel disgust in their physical bodies, have poor self-image, and are plagued with feelings of things being impure – from their environment and body to their very thoughts and desires.

All of this, to me,  seems to stem from that resistance to transform spirit into the earthly plane. When you are obsessed with feelings of spiritual elation, then you come to resent your physical body and world, feeling that it traps you and contaminates your ability to experience the pure divine. On another level, however, I think that people can also become insecure in their ability to transmit that spiritual knowledge to others, that they will somehow contaminate it in the process. So a person might have a spiritual experience, or feel the sensation of pure love or inspiration, but they are afraid to express it, to transform it into something workable, lest they ruin it or are rejected by others.

So, apple flower essence is for helping us use that glimpse into the divine to create something workable and usable in our lives, helping us become like the apple – serving as a medium for the divine to be present in earthly form. It is used for times when one is unable to convert a spiritual experience or sensation of love into something workable and real – either due to insecurity, or an obsessive attachment to the experience itself.  By removing these blockages, it helps us to let the divine flow through us freely, transforming our experience into the fruit which will nurture others in the realm of the everyday.  It allows us to experience Heaven on Earth.

So, while I do dearly mourn those flowers, I know that their lovely energy will be with me through the summer, working its way  through me until the fall brings the sweet delight of the apples.

Oh, and I almost forgot! Before I sign off, someone was very offended that his picture wasn’t taken for the last apple installment, as he spends far more time in the apple tree than his Sister, and politely asked (demanded) that his photo be taken for this post, as he has a particular fondness for apple blossoms – especially chasing them as they fall from the tree. And, as he pointed out himself, he really is the perfect metaphor for heaven on earth.

Taliesin demonstrates how to be heaven on earth

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A few wild spring recipes

As I sit here, huge thunderheads are rolling through the mountains. This is a truly dramatic spring storm – a nice blob of red and yellow on the radar, flood warnings, tornado warnings – the works. The power’s been flickering on and off, winds suddenly gusting as a wall of rain comes at the house like a black curtain,  the thunder booming and reverberating all around us. Serious business. Both cats are upstairs under the comforter (evidenced by a small tunnel leading to a large quivering lump at the foot of the bed)  and I’m starting to consider joining them myself  after that last crash of thunder. But I thought I should write one last blog entry first in the case that I get whisked off to Oz.

What I have for you today is a sampling of my favorite wild foods recipes made over the spring thus far.  I’m going to spare you  anymore of my usual chitter chatter and get right to the recipes, because the thunder and lightning  are growing in intensity again and I’m afraid I’ll lose power if I’m not quick. Hope you enjoy!

Chickpea Crepes with wild greens sauté and aged swiss

Adapted from The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfield. Serves 6.

This is a simple recipe made for celebrating the clean, fresh flavors of spring. It’s light and satisfying – perfect for those warm spring evenings. The chickpea and buckwheat flours give the crepes added protein, nutrients and flavor –  imparting a wholesome nuttiness that pairs really well with the lemony spring greens. A Swiss or Gruyère cheese complements the greens really nicely and add a bit more decadence to the meal, but could easily be left out.

For the crepes:

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (chives, thyme, oregano, parsley, etc)

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the flours and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the oil and water, and whisk to combine, then transfer to a blender to thoroughly blend ingredients together. Pour back into a bowl and add the herbs. Let rest for 20 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
  2. Heat a large crêpe or sauté pan over medium heat. Very lightly oil the pan with olive oil, and pour 1/4 cup of batter in, tilting the pan around so that the batter covers the entire surface of the pan. Cook until the surface is riddled with bubbles and the edges are golden and drawing away from the pan. Loosen with a spatula and flip. Cook the second side for 30 minutes. (Note: Do not be discouraged if your first crêpe (or 2) is a soggy, sticky disaster, I promise it will get better. By the end you’ll feel like a natural.)
  3. Transfer the cooked crepes to a plate and continue until the batter is finished, being sure to lightly oil the pan in between crepes.

For the greens:

  • 1 pound nettle tops
  • 1/2 pounds Japanese knotweed shoots, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 bunch of asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces or 2 ounces fiddlehead fern tops
  • 1/4 pound ramps with their leaves, chopped roughly
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and add  the leeks. Cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, and then add the remaining vegetables to the pan.
  2. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened but still have a little bite to them.
  3. Squeeze the lemon over the vegetables, and season well with salt and pepper.

To assemble the crepes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Spread half of a crêpe with the vegetable mix, and top with thin slices of an aged swiss or Gruyère cheese, preferably made from organic dairy. Fold the crêpe in half so that you have a half-moon, then fold the crêpe in half again so you have a multi-layered triangle. Repeat with the other crepes and place on a baking pan.
  3. Brush the tops of the crepes with olive oil or melted butter, and place in the oven until the cheese is melted and the tops are browned and crisp.

Serve with a simple side salad (a pile of spring beauty (Claytonia virgnica) in my case) and top with a sauce made from pesto thinned out with olive oil.

Nettle-kopita

If there is anything better than that indulgent Greek dish of spinach layered with filo and feta, it is NETTLE layered with filo and feta. The deep green and woodsy flavor of the nettle is a perfect pair for the salty feta and buttery, crispy filo layers. I’ve used wood nettle (Laportia canadensis) in this recipe, which is a close relative of nettle with a slightly less potent sting that happens to be more abundant where I live than the good old stinging variety (Urtica dioica). 

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds fresh nettle tops
  • 2 1/3 cups feta cheese, organic
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • grated nutmeg
  • 1 package filo dough
  • 1/4 pound butter, melted or 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Blanch the nettles in boiling salted water for a minute or two, then drain well. Once cooled slightly, place in a towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Then chop the greens finely and add to a bowl with the feta, eggs, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lat out one sheet of filo dough in an oiled rectangular baking pan, keeping the remaining sheets of filo covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying. Butter the filo and place another sheet to exactly cover the first, buttering again. If the filo hangs over the side of the pan, don’t worry.  Continue until you’ve layered 5 sheets, and then add half of the nettle mixture.
  3.  Layer another 3 or 4 sheets of filo over the nettles, buttering between each one.
  4. Add the other half the nettle mixture, and then top with 5 sheets of filo – again, buttering each one. If your filo sheets are overhanging the side of the pan, fold them over the top and give everything a final brush with butter. Add a little salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to the top. Cut the pie into 12 triangular pieces.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp
  6. Cool slightly, and then serve.

Backyard Salad

This salad should be assembled based on the edibles you find growing in your backyard. For me, I’ve added dandelion greens and flowers, plantain leaves, wild strawberry leaves and flowers, violet leaves and flowers and the succulent tips of orpine. Toss with a lemony vinaigrette just before serving.

May’s Blog Party: Flower Essences

This month’s UK Herbarium blog party is hosted by Sarah Head of the Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife blog, a wonderfully inspiring and beautiful blog that I highly recommend you all to visit. She has chosen the topic of flower essences, and writes,

What are they? How do you make them? What do they mean to you? The aim of this set of posts is to discover how you relate or don’t relate to flower essences. How do you learn the energetic property of the plant? Do you read a book, discover an internet article or ask the plant to tell you? How do you use the finished essence? Do you use the original infusion or do you use a homeopathic dilution? Have you noticed any difference? What do you use flower essences for? What are your stories? Can you share them with us, no matter how strange or bizarre.

So, I shall set off in trying to answer her questions, sharing a little of my own experiences and understanding of this fantastic realm of spirit medicine that our modern culture is in such dire need of.

What are they?

Most of us are quite familiar with the concept of using plants on a physical realm. We take an herb because we are hoping to elicit an effect on our physical body.  Sometimes we select a plant-based upon biochemical actions – we might choose chamomile tea, for instance, for an upset belly because we know that its essential oils, mucilage and flavonoids have a relaxing, soothing and anti-inflammatory impact on the membranes lining our digestive tract.  Or we might draw on more ancient understandings and draw upon the energetic effects, using a plant based on its moistening, warming, drying or cooling properties. But either way, we refer to the plant’s effects upon the physical plane.

But we are not just physical beings, we are also emotional and spiritual – and so often it is disharmony on these deeper, more subtle levels that gives rise to imbalance and disease on the physical realm. This is where flower essences come in to play, those mysterious vibrational remedies that are said to work on the subtle plane of spirit and emotion, breaking us free of the emotional patterns that can block true healing and hinder spiritual development.

The ability of flowers to impact emotional states and nourish the spirit has been noted as far back as Ancient Greece, but it was Dr. Bach, an English physician of the early 20th century,  that brought them to our attention. He devoted his life to studying the effects of the flowers that grew around him in a quest to discover a more holistic form of healing that could address the spirit. He soon discovered that these flowers offered remedies for all the negative emotional states that caused suffering and lead to disease and ill-health. As he said, flower essences

“raise our vibrations and open up our channels for the reception of our spiritual self. They are able, like beautiful music or any gloriously uplifting thing which give us inspiration, to raise our very natures and bring us nearer to ourselves and by that very act to bring us peace and relieve our suffering.

We know that negative emotions can close us off  and shut us down – they block our ability to open to the world and to experience the true joy of our existence, the true essence of spirit. Each flower targets a specific negative emotional state or pattern – anger, fear, jealousy, insecurity, etc – and gently opens the path for us to move beyond the emotion and reconnect with the joyful, healing nature of our greater self.

How do you make them?

Flower essences were traditionally made by gathering the dew from a flower in the morning sunshine. The warmth of the sun was said to extract the essence of the flower into the dew drops. While quite a lovely idea, this isn’t as practical for the pace of our modern lives – and fortunately for us  Dr. Bach discovered that the same effect could be created by placing flowers in a clear bowl of water in the morning sun. The sun extracts the vibrational essence of the flowers into the water, and the water is then preserved for future use.

Essences should be made in the morning, when the sun has an ascending energy which helps the emotional vibrations of the body to rise.  You simply fill a clear bowl with fresh spring water, and very carefully (using a leaf or tweezers to grasp the flowers so that you do not affect the remedy with your own energy) place the most vital, perfectly bloomed flowers you can find in the bowl until the water is completely covered with flowers (though if you have only 1 bloom available and can’t completely cover the water, I have found that the remedies still do work well.)

After the flowers have infused for 3 hours, remove them from the water with a stick (never your fingers), and filter the water through muslin into a dark glass jar to remove any debris or bugs that have found their way into the essence. Add an equal measure of brandy to the volume of essence you have to preserve. This is the mother tincture.

To use medicinally, place 3 drops from the mother bottle into a 30 ml bottle filled 1/4 with brandy, and 3/4 with spring water. Take 2-3 drops frequently throughout the day in a little water.

Lucinda at Whispering Earth has written a wonderful article on making flower essence that you can also read here.

How do you discover the energetic properties of the plant?:

I usually employ a variety of methods, though I think listening to the flowers themselves is the most important part of understanding the remedy. The flowers are very commutative if one quiets their mind enough to hear them speak, and will almost always send you a message of some kind in a way that is easiest for you to understand. I typically sit with the flowers for a time while my essence is infusing, and see what sorts of emotions, images or memories come up for me.  This allows one to truly experience and understand how the flower is to be used, and I find, is deeply healing of itself.

I usually then check my understanding with that of other herbalists – either through books, speaking directly, reading blog entries, etc. I find this often broadens or clarifies the message that the plant gave me, though wonderfully enough, rarely contradicts it. I always find it completely extraordinary that people across the board will come up with such similar uses in a method that is completely irrational and entirely intuitive.

A personal story: My journey with dandelion

The dandelions are starting to bloom here, and the fields are turning that brilliant blazing yellow which is always one of the most cheerful sites. I have been very drawn to dandelion lately, and have been curious to try her as a remedy for chronic muscular tension and back pain derived from over-work.  I had read several herbalist’s accounts that dandelion flower essence was very useful for those who store tension and stress in the physical level because of an inability to relax and from pushing oneself too hard.

The sun hasn’t been very prolific here of late, so I decided to try making my remedy on a bright but cloudy morning – the only one scheduled for no rain. Sun is ideal, but I thought it might be an interesting experiment to try making a “cloud” remedy, and if the sun does ever come out again, a “sun” remedy, and compare them.

The sun seemed like it was trying to oblige me – it really looked as though it was trying very hard to peek out of the clouds for me.

I prepared the essence, and sat down next to it, closing my eyes and letting my thoughts drift away. Soon the world fell away, and I felt that my body was part of the earth. I could feel my body breathing in unison with the earth, and with the day and night – each breath in brought daylight, each breath out brought night. Seasons came and went. The cycles of the earth felt like seconds and minutes – passing easily before me. Inhale, exhale. Expand, contract. Yang and yin, moving gracefully within the simple alternations of breath, day and night, season, and year.

Soon I felt myself becoming the dandelion, and as I breathed in, my energy moved upward and the flower at my head blossomed fully to the sun; as I exhaled, my energy fell into my roots, where the earth felt cool and snug around me. I continued this cycle of expansion and contraction for many moments, feeling both rooted and supported by the earth, and warmed and connected by the heavens and sun – able to move from flower to root with ease, loving each moment, seeing the existence as a constant cycle and transition between two extremes.

What occurred to me from my vision was that dandelion was demonstrating the graceful transitioning of activity to inactivity, yang to yin, as a unified cycle. Dandelion flowers open and close in a reliable rhythm that has earned them the name of “clock flower”, and the flowers only reach as high as the roots dig deep into the earth. They close their flowers and rest when the day turns rainy, and open again in response to the sun. Dandelion teaches us to move with our own rhythms rather than to strive to rise above them. My meditation allowed me to experience that blooming and reaching towards the sun – (expanding, activity, yang energy ) and going inwards to my the rest and security of my roots (contracting, rest, yin)  we’re equal parts of my existence. I could move between them with perfect ease, understanding that they we’re both equal parts of my whole, opposite aspects of my being that must be balanced to create harmony and health.

Based on this, dandelion seems to be for those who have difficulty flowing with the natural rhythm of life  – of transitioning from activity to rest. They  spend a great deal of energy resisting this natural transition, which creates tension in their minds and physical bodies, as the person literally tenses themselves in attempts to resist the natural  inertia of their body and mind to move from yang to yin, action to rest. These people often place great value on productivity as they have many ideas, great enthusiasm and zest, and the fear that they will not be able to accomplish what they want unless they constantly work and strive. They often feel guilty for resting, and won’t allow themselves time to rest and nourish themselves for fear they will fall into a state of unproductiveness, which inevitably they are forced to do by exhaustion.  Once they do rest, they may find difficulty in moving back into an active state again, feeling unable to cope with their former level of activity.

They continue flopping between the two extremes in this way, moving between extreme tension and anxiety to stay productive, to complete exhaustion and inability to handle their work load any longer.  The disruption in this natural cycle so vital to health makes it difficult to withstand other seasonal transitions as well, and they often find themselves quite imbalanced when the seasons change.

Dandelion restores the natural flow between activity and rest, allowing the person to move easily with the rhythm of their body and of life, finding balance and joy in both doing and being, seeing each part as an equally important expression of themselves.  It is through the balance of root and flower energy that dandelion releases it’s ghost-like seeds upon the wind, a metaphor I think, for freeing our spirit by finding equal footings in heaven and earth. It allows one to let go of the resistance to move with the body’s rhythms, freeing the body from tension as one learns to  flow naturally and effortlessly between action and rest.  Balance is restored, and one finds a healthy balance between productivity and rest, inspiration and reflection, being able to engage in both with joy and full presence and experience their truest self.

You can read the rest of the blog party entires at Tales of  a Kitchen Herbwife on Monday, when she will be posting them all.