Happy New Year, Everyone!
What a strange and difficult year it has been! The Corona-virus pandemic has dominated the news almost from the very beginning of the year, and right up to the end. We are still in the midst of a devastating spike, with both, the danger of an even more virulent version of the virus now in widespread circulation, and several vaccines ready to be administered.
The virus has affected everybody, but in very different ways, depending on age-group, occupation, pre-existing conditions, and where you happen to live. Not only those who actually got sick with it have suffered. The emotional trauma of losing family members and loved ones, of losing a job and one’s livelihood, of finding yourself alone due to social distancing rules, or, crammed together into too small a space with the kids, and no-where to go…it has all taken its toll. We will pay the psychological price for the events of this year for some time to come.
But it hasn’t been all bad for everybody. Many people have rediscovered the importance of nature and the meaning of the ‘little things’ in life. We have leapfrogged into the digital age as schools and businesses have moved many of their operations online. What would have been unthinkable a year earlier has now become a commonplace reality. Many have discovered new interests and learned new skills with the help of online tutorials and MOOCs.
Meanwhile, wildlife has had a chance to recover, a bit, in places that are normally overrun with tourists.
The big question is, how will we rebuild? My hope, and wish for the new year is that we will learn from this experience and re-build a better, greener, more sustainable, and more equitable future for us all.
In this spirit, I wish you, my lovely reader, hope, health, and happiness for 2021!
P.S. If you are interested in what the stars have in store for us in the New Year, check out my post at Astro-Insights for the year ahead.
Are you interested in Astrology?
We are living in turbulent times. If you have ever wondered what is going on with the planets these days, check out Astro-Insights.com for current astrology updates and planetary insights. or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a personal astrological counseling session.
How to cope with stress and anxiety
Have you been feeling tense and anxious lately? It would hardly be surprising, with everything that is going on. It is a normal response to stressful circumstances. But, at the same time, frustration, anger, tension, and anxiety are not healthy emotions. They can get out of hand, lead to bad decision making, overreacting, and, more often than not, an outcome that you do not want.
Anxiety is an instinctual, irrational emotion, and triggered by ‘red flags’ that set off an automatic response pattern. Stress increases the heart rate, boils the blood pressure, makes the hands all sweaty, and everything feels tight and oppressive. An automatic emotional response sets off a physical chain reaction that makes matters worse.
In such a state the mind does not function well. The body is geared for fight or flight, but what if you can’t do either? You are left feeling tormented.
At such a moment the first best thing you can do is to practice mindfulness. Bring yourself back to the here and now. Bring yourself back into your body, away from the fringes of your frazzled emotions, and back into your calm center. Watch those emotions without attachment as they pass through. We only get caught up in that intense anxiety state when we hold on to these anxious feelings and decide to ride the wave instead of letting it roll by. Remember: you HAVE emotions, but they do not define who you are. You can let them go and in doing so, you will be regaining your freedom. Choosing how to respond to a challenging situation is the only real choice you have. Are you going to get stressed out – or breathe deeply and center yourself? Are you going to launch a battle cry – or let it go and walk away, as you turn towards your future?
This, of course, is easier said than done. But it is possible to practice such a state of mind. Mindfulness is a great way to center yourself and to detach from the emotional roller coaster that many of us are experiencing at this time.
Apart from practicing mindfulness, another way to alleviate excessive tension is to do a physical workout. Whether that is by doing some physical chore, or by going for a run or walk. Physical activity really helps to discharge frazzled anxious energy and helps you to get grounded.
After you have discharged that wild emotional energy and have come back to your senses (sensory perception), do some relaxation exercises: deep breathing, meditation, autogenic training…all help to relax the tensed up muscles and to let go of stress and tension.
Reach out to others
Connecting with others is a great way to receive and to give support. Reaching out makes us feel more connected, even if we can’t be close physically, due to Covid restrictions or long distances. Sometimes just knowing that someone out there cares about the way you feel can make you feel better. We are always stronger and better together. If there is no-one that you feel you can talk to, don’t be ashamed or shy to seek professional help. We all need someone to be there for us, at times.
Sometimes it really helps to reach out to your herbal allies. There are many wonderfully calming and soothing herbs, such as
Chamomile – a standard, even for children (do not use if you are allergic to plants of the sunflower family)
Passion Flower – a constituent of almost all sleepy time teas
Lemon Balm – really helps to take that ‘edge’ off and lifts the spirits
Valerian – a bit stronger than the other herbs mentioned here. It can be used for insomnia (a few drops of the tincture will do the trick). Should not be used regularly over long periods of time – give it a break after a week or 10 days.
Oat Straw – a nervous system restorative strengthens the nerves, helping you build resilience
Or, try a relaxing bath with essential oils such as:
Lavender – a truly versatile essential oil! Reducing stress and anxiety are just two of the many things Lavender essential oil can do for you.
Rose – an expensive but exquisite oil that has a long history of use for mood improvement, mental stability, and reducing stress
Neroli – extracted from orange flowers, Neroli is great support for bringing emotional stress related to menstrual or menopausal issues under control and to reduce the associated stress and anxiety.
Bergamot – another citrus oil, Bergamot also helps with stress reduction and lends itself well to blending with other oils, such as Lavender.
or if you can, get someone to give you a relaxing massage. A massage oil blend with coconut oil as a base and essential oils of Chamomile, Lavender, and Bergamot might be just the thing to help you let go of your inner tension.
Caution: For essential oils, the rule is always – it is always better to err on the side of caution. Essential oils are highly concentrated and a little goes a long way. Never use essential oils undiluted directly on the skin.
Essential Lifestyle Choices
If anxiety and stress are constant companions in your life, you should seriously consider your lifestyle. If you are that stressed out you should take a look and see how you can get more balance into your life. Do you have a regular daily rhythm and flow? Do you include nourishing self-care practices in your everyday routines?
One of the most important things you can do is to develop good sleeping habits. The body needs sleep to process all the sensory input and information of the day. Sleep restores its energy. This downtime is vitally important. Set up a pattern that allows you to get plenty of quality sleep. How much is enough? It varies, but 7-8 hours in a 24 hour period is normal and is sufficient in most cases.
A well-balanced diet can also greatly improve the sense of well-being. The emphasis should be on nourishment: lots of vitamins and minerals in the form of fresh, and preferably organic home-cooked foods, along with clean water, juices or herbal teas.
Coffee and caffeine-rich drinks only increase the sensation of tension and anxiety. Try to limit your intake or ditch them all together. Also, sugary drinks, while providing a quick little boost of energy, will deplete your physical resources and nutrient stocks. Alcohol may be an easy option as far as ‘self-medication’ for anxiety and stress are concerned. But it too, make matters worse rather than better. Smoking is the worst of these ‘bad habits’ since it hardens the arteries, thus leading to high blood pressure, which further compounds the problem.
Ditch excessive media consumption
Being glued to the news cycle can be detrimental to our mental health. We are constantly flooded with too much information – much of it depressing. At the same time, we feel helpless in the face of many of the big issues. It is far better to think about the things you care about and find a group of people in your local area that are working on that particular issue. That way you can turn a feeling of frustration and helplessness into action which not only will make you feel better but will also really make a difference. As for the news – take it in small doses.
Mysterious Mistletoe (Viscum album L.)
English: Bird Lime, Birdlime Mistletoe, Mystyldene, Lignum Crucis, All-heal,
German: Affolter, Donnerbesen, Heil aller Schäden, Hexenbesen, Nistel, Vogelleimholz, Heiligholz, Heilkreuzholz, Drudenfuss, Wintergrün,
French: Herbe de la Croix, Gui de Chêne
Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant that sustains its greenish-yellow leaves throughout the winter. It becomes especially apparent once the leaves of its host have dropped. It certainly looks quite strange, this yellowish ball hanging high up in the tree.
Mistletoe’s growing habit is distinctly round. Its twigs bifurcate frequently, and its elongated, oval leaves always grow in opposite pairs. The tiny, inconspicuous yellowish flowers appear in May, but the translucent whitish pea-sized berries don’t ripen until late in the year.
Birds, particularly thrushes, spread the seeds. The fruit flesh of the berries is very sticky (hence the Latin name ‘Viscum album meaning ‘white sticky stuff’). The birds love those berries but the gooey stuff clings to their beaks which they clean by wiping them on the branches they happen to sit on. If the sticky stuff contains a seed then it has found a perfect spot to sprout. Soon it sends out a sucker rootlet that penetrates the bark and taps the sap of the host tree for nutrients and water. The berries, although loved by birds, are toxic to humans.
The Mistletoe is not all that choosey when it comes to its host. Although it is most commonly found on deciduous trees it is also occasionally found on conifers. The belief that it is frequently found growing on Oaks is a misconception that originates in the druidic lore. Druids always collect Mistletoe, which they consider sacred, from Oak trees, but it is actually rare to find it growing there. It is much more commonly found growing on apple trees, poplars, and lime trees.
Mistletoes belong to the family of Loranthaceae, which comprises some 75 genera and about 1000 species. Not all of them are parasitic but many of them are. Three Australian species are even terrestrial.
Although Mistletoe is a parasite and as such is dependent on the host-plant for its nutrients and water, it does not rely on it for carbon dioxide. Since Mistletoe produces green, chlorophyll-containing leaves, it can perform its own photosynthesis. (Technically, it is thus a hemiparasite – it only partially depends on the host plant for its survival.)
As a rule, mistletoe does not kill the host-plant.
HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY, AND FOLKLORE
The mysterious Mistletoe, airborne between heaven and earth, has always been a source of wonder. Where did it come from? How could it sustain itself, without roots, yet bear leaves and fruit, even in the winter, long after the life-force has retreated into the womb of the earth?
The Druids revered the Mistletoe as the holiest of holies, especially when it appeared oaks, their most sacred tree. The Mistletoe was their ‘Golden Bough’, the key to the heavens and to the underworld. The mysterious plant was regarded as the reproductive organs of Thor, the god of thunder, who also presided over the sacred oak tree. In the druidic tree calendar, December 23 belongs to the Mistletoe. It is the day on which it was ceremoniously cut:
Accompanied by prayers the chief druid would ascend into the tree to cut the unearthly Mistletoe with his golden sickle. Utmost care was taken to prevent the herb from touching the ground. The other druids stood below holding up a white cloth on which they caught the branches of the sacred herb. To mark the holy occasion they also sacrificed two white bulls, dressed with garlands.
Thus, the regenerative power of the solar deity was joined in sacrifice to the moon goddess as the female counterpart in this fertility rite. The blessing was meant to bestow abundance and protection against all evil at the birth of the new solar year. On this day the male and female forces of the universe were held in balance by the power of this symbolic union. By extension, this meant a harmonization of all opposites, a state of perfect balance at the turning point of the year. A festival of wild abandon followed the sacred sacrifice.
Much tamer and somewhat superficial remnants of these ancient and long-forgotten ritual enactments have survived even to the 21st century. Mistletoe twigs still hang above the entrance of the home at Christmas time, giving license to kiss even strangers, and thereby receive the blessing of the humble twig – even if nobody remembers why.
In some of the rural, more traditional areas of France young children can occasionally be seen spreading Mistletoe blessings on New Years Day. Running through the village, shouting ‘Au gui l’an neuf’ (gui de chêne – Mistletoe) they dedicate the New Year to the Mistletoe and thus invoke its protective powers.
Mistletoe was believed to fend off all evil, all bad spirits, and harmful witches’ spells. It was sometimes worn as an amulet for protection, fertility, and abundance.
Norse Mythology – Baldur’s Death
Norse Mythology reveals a darker, but related aspect of Mistletoe’s symbolism. The story tells of Baldur, the divine solar hero, son of Frigg and Odin, who was killed by a twig of Mistletoe. It is said that he would not return until after doomsday when he will bring in a new era of light, a new ‘golden age’.
The beautiful young sun god Baldur was plagued by visions of his imminent death. Obviously, he grew concerned. When his parents found out about his troubles they too grew concerned. But his mother Frigg hatched a plan: She would go on a mission to obtain sacred oaths from everything and everybody in Valhalla. And so she went to ask all the elements, all the stones, all the trees, the plants, and even the venomous beasts to promise that they would not kill her beloved Baldur. All swore never to harm the beautiful boy – all except one: the Mistletoe. Frigg never thought it necessary to ask such a feeble plant not to do any harm. She simply did not think that it would be capable of such a deed.
Satisfied with all these promises Frigg declared her son invincible. Henceforth, shooting arrows and throwing stones at Baldur, none of which could harm him, became a favorite pastime among the gods. Indeed, taking shots at Baldur came to be a way to honor him.
But trouble was brewing in heavenly abode. The jealous God Loki somehow learned that the Mistletoe had never sworn that oath. Thus, he went straight to it and enlisted it in his wicked plan. With a sharpened twig of Mistletoe, he returned to the Gods’ assembly, where everyone was having fun taking shots at the invincible Baldur. Only his blind brother Hodur was left out. Slyly, Loki went up to Hodur, asking ‘why don’t you show honor to your brother and take a shot at him?’ ‘I can’t see and nor do I have anything to throw’, Hodur answered. ‘Here, I will help you’, Loki offered, passing Hodur the Mistletoe twig and helping him to direct his arrow. In an instant, Baldur was slain.
The Gods were aghast and horrified, shocked and angered, swearing to avenge the attack. One of Baldur’s other brothers was quickly dispatched to follow him to the Underworld. He was to plead with the Goddess of death, to allow Baldur to return to the heavens.
His plea was granted but under one condition: all the gods and all the other beings of the earth, living or dead must weep to express their sorrow. Or else Baldur would have to remain in the Underworld until doomsday. After hearing this, all the gods and all the beings of the earth, living and dead wailed and wept – all but Loki. And so it came to pass that we must wait for doomsday before the young sun god may return (which, judging by the way things are going, can’t be too far off…) .
This story follows the classic pattern of the solar hero myth, complete with the promise of resurrection and renewal after a period of darkness – a perfectly appropriate myth for the celebration of the winter solstice, which marks the birth of the Sun God.
Mistletoe in Christian Mythology
Thus it is not surprising that the Mistletoe also found its way into Christian mythology as well. It is said that the wood from which the cross was fashioned came from the Mistletoe and that this so upset the pious plant that it retreated into a hermit-like existence, taking up residency between heaven and earth, and becoming parasitic.
Mistletoe in Greek Mythology – Aeneas Journey to the Underworld
In Greek mythology, Mistletoe was also associated with the Underworld. Here, the sacred bough presented the key with which a living mortal could enter the Underworld and return unharmed to the world of the living. The story is told in the annals of Aeneas.
Using the powers of the golden bough the young hero Aeneas enters the Underworld with the ancient Sybil as his guide. His mission is to seek his father to seek his guidance and advice. Eventually, he finds him and receives his teachings concerning the cycles of life and death, for which he had come. Eventually, he returns safely to the world of the living. Mistletoe is the key to his destiny. It opened the gates to the underworld, where the hero is transformed. He returns to the world of the living, spiritually reborn.
Magical Powers: Protection, the key to life’s mysteries, fertility, abundance, blessings, peace, harmony, the balance of opposites, love, transformation. Astrologically this herb is governed by the Sun and Jupiter.
PARTS USED: Leaves and Stems
HARVEST: Autumn, before the berries form
CONSTITUENTS: These may vary depending on the host plant. Viscotoxin, triterpenoid saponins, choline, proteins, resin, mucilage, histamine, traces of an alkaloid
ACTIONS: Anti-tumour, cardioactive, nervine, tonic
INDICATIONS: Stress, nervous conditions, heart problems, epilepsy
Not only the myths and lore of mistletoe are interesting. This herb is also interesting from a medicinal point of view. Most notably it is recommended as a remedy for epilepsy, particularly childhood epilepsy. There are not many herbs that are indicated for this affliction. This treatment seems to suggest a homeopathic approach, as large doses of the herb, and especially the berries, actually cause fits and convulsions. At one point Mistletoe was considered specific for this affliction and was also used to treat various other nervous conditions, such as hysteria, delirium, convulsions, neuralgia. It was also used for urinary disorders and certain heart conditions, especially those related to nervous conditions (stress). In ancient times, mistletoe amulets were worn to ward off epileptic attacks (thought to be caused by possession).
Mistletoe has cardio-active properties that can strengthen the pulse and regulate the heart rate while simultaneously dilating the blood vessels, thus lowering the blood pressure. This alleviates symptoms related to high blood pressure such as headaches and dizziness. However, from the literature, it is not entirely clear in which form Mistletoe should be administered for this effect. Some sources claim that the cardio-active principle is only effective if applied by injection, while others recommend standard teas, tinctures, and extracts. One source states that the active constituents are destroyed by heat and should be extracted by means of a cold infusion. In recent years another interesting property of Mistletoe has caught the interest of science: its cancer-fighting properties. Mistletoe is now regularly used as an anti-tumor agent in naturopathic cancer treatment,
‘The Birdlime doth mollifie hard Knots, Tumors, and Impostumes, ripeneth and discusseth them; and draweth forth thick as well as thin Humors from the remote places of the Body, digesting and separating them’
Recent research has confirmed Mistletoe’s cytotoxic properties in vitro and to some degree in vivo. It also stimulates the immune system response thus increasing the white blood cell count. Both of these properties have brought Mistletoe into focus as a candidate for Cancer and Aids research, which has lead to the development of a Mistletoe drug used in chemotherapy. Studies have shown both equal and better survival rates in patients treated with certain Mistletoe preparations compared to standard chemotherapy drugs. Most importantly, perhaps, the patients who had received the Mistletoe treatment have reported a better quality of life than the control group who had received standard chemotherapy. Mistletoe does not produce nausea and hair loss associated with other cytotoxic chemotherapy agents. However, a possible negative side effect of subcutaneous treatment is a local infection at the site of injection. For detailed study results check out:
Cancer therapy with phytochemicals: evidence from clinical studies
Mistletoe is also said to regulate digestive functions and able to cure chronic constipation, probably via a stimulating effect on the gall bladder and the metabolic rate in general.
Older sources also recommend it as a treatment for sterility and menstrual difficulties. This would make sense where such problems stem from underlying nervous system issues such as stress, tension, hysteria, or fear.
External use of Mistletoe is no longer common, but older sources describe the preparation of a plaster (mix with wax to make an ointment) which can be applied to hardened swellings and tumors. Mistletoe can also be added to crèmes in order to soothe sensitive or sore skin. Such crèmes are disinfectant and soothing while reducing abnormal cell production. Mistletoe thus suggests itself as an additive for lotions designed to soothe psoriasis and anti-dandruff shampoos.
CAUTION: The berries are poisonous. This potent herb is not suitable as a home remedy. Consult a doctor or herbal practitioner before use.
Wintercress is winter-hardy and can be foraged during the winter. It is rich in vitamin C and A and used to be known as an ‘anti-scurvy’-herb.
It’s January – there isn’t a whole lot to do in the garden at this time of the year, but there is always something. Here are some ideas for impatient gardeners.
Plant Profile: Mysterious Mistletoe. This strange evergreen plant has a fascinating mythology and some very interesting medicinal uses, too.
The story of sugar is bittersweet indeed. It’s a tale of brutal exploitation and of environmental devastation and our sweetest addiction.
Fiber plants have long been used for cordage, rope, carpet backing, canvass, as well as for finely woven textiles. Flax, Cotton, Hemp, Ramie, Kenaf, and coconut fibre are among the most widely used natural fibers.
Bold and undeniably conspicuous, the bright red cap with its white flaky speckles gives this fungus away. Every child knows its name.
Since it is nearly Halloween I thought I’d write a post about pumpkins – predictable I know, but nonetheless a fascinating topic.
The Earth Charter is a declaration of 16 fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century.
Jerusalem Artichokes are the perfect edimental, spreading lovely late summer cheer and providing nourishing goodness through the winter. And they are very versatile, too!
Walnut trees (Juglans regia) are acclimated foreigners in our northern latitudes. Their home is in the warm, and fertile regions of south-east Europe, northern Greece, northern Italy, and France, where they are widely cultivated.
Rose hips are packed full of vitamin C and an excellent immune system booster. Most people know the tea, but the syrup is super delicious!
Nothing quite conjures up the magical atmosphere of autumn as the warm, sweet scent of roasted chestnuts. It immediately invokes images of bonfires and harvest feasts.
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