The Signs of the Times

The Signs of the Times

Today is a big day, in Astrology. While Astrology is not normally my topic here, I feel compelled to talk about it.

We have all noticed the build-up of political tensions in the last 2-3 years. There have been outbreaks of political uprisings everywhere, from Hong Kong to Chile, from France to Iraq. There has also been a rather alarming rise of populism which promises easy answers to complex questions.

Astrology relates these happenings in the world to the coming together of two pretty heavy-duty planets, Saturn and Pluto, which, as it happens, finally form their closest aspect today.

The energy that these two planets together convey is of restructuring. When certain structures no longer serve their purpose because they have become too hollow, corrupted or meaningless, it is time to rethink them. To be sure, structures are vital, not just on the level of society, but also on the level of our personal lives. Without structure there is nothing and nothing can’t take action. Form and function are always linked. But to serve their purpose, they have to also be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

All planets have multiple faces and even a planet like Saturn, which signifies a tendency to become too rigid, can change. And Pluto, which has a tendency to be quite radical in an ‘all or nothing’ kind go way, can be transformative without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But it takes skill and awareness to utilize the energy of these planets in this way.

What is clear in this picture is the fact that change is unavoidable. Repressing it is not likely to turn out good as repressed energies have a way of biting us in the bum a little bit later on  (when we thought all was under ‘control’). So, how can this energy be used constructively?

Firstly, we need to become aware of it, by examining the aspects of life that seem too rigid to fulfill their purpose. Sometimes we make commitments which later on become suffocating. They no longer work to mobilize us or to provide useful purpose but become a chore and a hindrance to development and growth.

These aspects of life need to be examined. Ask yourself what kind of structure you would need in order to make full use of your creative powers. What is hindering you now and how this can be transformed so that the structures in your life become supportive and facilitating rather than oppressive.

This particular time is not easy for anyone. The planetary dance we are witnessing is having an impact on the geopolitical and well as on the social level. And we are the actors that are acting it out, albeit, most of us unwittingly. It will also have a generational impact and it would be good to consider how the changes that are taking place right now will impact the generation that is born now, or for whom it figures large in their native horoscopes (e.g. Those born in the late 80s and early 90s.).

Something to remember is that no matter what changes are taking place now, they won’t be forever. Time moves on and so do the planets. Somewhere down the road the new structures that are replacing the current older ones, will be reexamined and will also have to stand the test f time.

Nevertheless, this is a time of change. But we’d better be sure that what we bring in to replace the old is truly an improvement and authentic at its core. Just a new lick of paint will not cover up anything that has outlived its function and value.

Above all, remember: if you are going through a difficult patch right now, take solace that these are the signs of the times. That does not mean we should just sit them out. Rather, be brave and take a long hard look at the things that genuinely need changing, but resist the urge to throw everything under the bus for the sheer hell of it.

Change is the only constant.

Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis

Rosemary, which has long been known as Rosmarinus officinalis, has recently been assigned to the Genus ‘Salvia’. That means, it is botanically grouped with the sages. However, the old name is still acceptable, but it is good to be aware of the name change, to avoid confusion.

Most of us know this woody, aromatic bush as a culinary herb, but in fact, Rosemary is so much more than that. It has some quite remarkable properties that are well worth remembering!

As a kitchen herb, Rosemary is an old stand-by: Rosemary potatoes, Rosemary chicken, Rosemary salt, Rosemary lamb, or Rosemary fish are all familiar menu items.  The needle-like leaves have a highly aromatic, somewhat medicinal scent. The flavour is distinctive, somewhat bitter, and resinous, which perfectly complements fatty foods. It ‘cuts through’ the grease. This is why it is used to flavor greasy meat and fish dishes and to aid digestion. Rosemary acts as a token apology to the liver.

Although it is an herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae), its thin, spiky leaves lend it the appearance of some kind of dwarf conifer. Rosemary is at home in the semi-arid climate zone of the Mediterranean coastal region. It commonly grows in the garrigue, the shrubland that covers the lower hills. Its scientific name – ‘rosmarinus’ means ‘Dew of the Sea’. It indicates that this herb likes to be ‘kissed’ by the salty mist coming in from the sea. Others have suggested that the name perhaps alludes to the light blue flowers. A bush that is profusely covered in flowers has the appearance of sea foam on the crest of a wave. Thus, Rosemary has also been linked to the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, who was born from the foam of the sea.

In the Mediterranean, it is one of the earliest flowers to appear in the New Year. Its pale blue flowers blush the wild coastal hillsides, spreading an aromatic scent that awakens the sleepy bees. Rich in nectar, Rosemary is one of their first sources of nourishment. The highly aromatic Rosemary honey is sold at local markets as a highly prized regional specialty.

Rosemary’s intense fragrance and aromatic flavor are due to essential oils, which are obtained not from the flowers, but from the needle-like leaves. As a key ingredient of the ever-useful herb blend known as  ‘Herbes de Provençe’ it is a quintessential item on the herb shelf.

Rosemary bush

Medicinal uses of Rosemary

This essential oil is also responsible for its medicinal properties. Rosemary oil stimulates blood circulation, particularly to the head. It has a beneficial effect on memory. In herbal lore, this property is associated with the remembrance of loved ones, and friends, and those who have recently passed away.

Rosemary’s bitter principle aids digestion. It ‘warms’ the stomach and stimulates the liver and gallbladder. It helps the body to break down fats and improve digestion.

It also shows anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Externally, a Rosemary infusion can be used to cleanse badly healing wounds.

Cooking with Rosemary

Rosemary goes great with roasts – whether you are roasting a goose, lamb chops, or a pan full of root vegetables, a sprig of rosemary transforms the dish and adds a complex, slightly bitter and highly aromatic flavor.

Purification

Rosemary has also long been used as incense, particularly in combination with Juniper berries. This tradition has continued into modern times. It is still sometimes used to fumigate and purify the air in a patient’s room. It is also popular as a cleansing aromatic that is used in sauna infusions, or to scent bath oils and soaps.

Restorative

Rosemary’ is a tonic and restorative. Its stimulating action on the blood circulation and coronary function and can restore vitality and strength to convalescents or feeble children. In the past it was also used as an aphrodisiac that had the reputation to restore a dwindling manhood. Recent research has shown that Rosemary contains

Cosmetics

Rosemary can be added to home-made shampoos or hair rinses. It will stimulate the follicles and promote hair growth. In the ‘still room,’ its essence would have been added to skin tonics, lotions, and oils.

Rosemary Hair Rinse

The simplest way to let your hair benefit from the tonic power of Rosemary is to simply make a strong infusion of 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary leaves to 500 ml of water – infuse with boiling water and steep until it has cooled down, strain and massage into the scalp. Leave it for a few minutes, then rinse it out. It is best when prepared fresh, but it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Rosemary Shampoo

Unscented shampoo bases are readily available at many stores these days. Get one you like and add a few drops of Rosemary Essential Oil to it.

Recommended for brown or dark hair as it will naturally darken the hair over time.

What is the use of New Year’s intentions?

What is the use of New Year’s intentions?

When one year comes to a close and another one comes around, it always feels like the beginning of a new chapter. Although just a date in the calendar, it represents a threshold. At such times many of us feel inspired to aim and focus on new goals, whether it be giving up a bad habit or implementing a positive new one. We make a list of intentions of long-term, medium-term and short term goals. Whatever they are, there is a record.

On the other hand, there are those who think, ‘why bother? I’ll break them anyway!’. The road to hell starts with good intentions, or so they say. But it would the road lead there with or without intentions? Perhaps, but without the guilt, one might say. But is that a reason to not even try? 

The date may seem arbitrary, but nevertheless, consciously marking a threshold to initiate change is a powerful symbolic act – if you mean it. But why should you?

It is better to aim high and miss than never to aim and shoot at all. 

We often regret the things we never tried more than the ones we did try, but failed at. 

At the core of setting intentions is actually some pretty powerful stuff! One could call it magic – the art of bringing about change in accordance with the conscious will.  The underlying idea is that our situation in life is not predetermined, that it is possible to bring about change, both internally and externally. 

Among the typical things that people tend to put on their list of good intentions are items like ‘lose weight’, ‘stop smoking’, ‘go to the gym’ etc.

But how about using this ‘magic moment’ to bring about change for the better not just within the personal sphere, but to also consider how your actions and habits impact the world around you? How are your inner values and outer actions aligned? If you could change something in your environment, what would that be?  And what is within your power to do something about it?

We may not be able to change the whole world, but we are capable of changing OUR world. That change starts with oneself. And when we stop to think about it, we will soon realize the ripple effect that our actions can have. What we do, or don’t do can have great implications that are far removed from our direct sphere of experience.

 ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’

To be sure, this is not as easy as it sounds. It requires a certain amount of self-awareness. If we want to see less plastic in the world, we can start by using less of it. If we want to see more organic produce, we can buy more of it. If we want more sustainable sources of energy, we can switch to a provider that offers it, etc. That is the base-line. It starts with our own actions. The great thing about it? Everybody holds the power to affect this type of change right in their own hands. 

It all starts with sitting down to reflect on what kind of person we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in.  It starts with a vision of possibility.

One of the big issues that have been bothering me recently is all the plastic in the world. It is truly abominable to contemplate the amount of garbage that we have produced in the last few decades (and are still producing) and how this stuff is now coming back to haunt us – as microplastics in our food, in the landfills full of toxic trash and in the silent suffering and death of fellow species that are constantly found with their stomachs full of our plastic garbage. I am ashamed as a human being. I do not want this suffering, I do not want the earth to become toxic in this way. To bring my inner values in alignment with my outer habits, it would require giving up plastics altogether. Sadly that is pretty much impossible in our modern world. But, I am making a commitment to reducing my use of plastics as drastically as I can. I can try to make non-plastic choices when I go shopping, refuse bags, don’t buy takeaways that come in plastics etc. It is of course not nearly enough to stem the tide. But it is a small start – and every journey must start with the first step.

I also set goals for myself – to care better for my websites and by extension, for my readers. That too takes time and commitment, but I am hoping that this channel of communication – the only one I have – is bringing enjoyment and maybe even inspiration to some of my readers. And it gives me the joy to be able to communicate with ‘the world out there – or at least that small section that has found its way to my pages, on their journey through the cyber jungle. I know there are a lot of pages out there by now, so I truly appreciate you stopping by!

But nothing would happen if I did not make a firm commitment to these intentions. The magic of intentions only happens when they are focused,  and followed by action. And they also need a driving force. For me, that force is love. Love for Mother Earth, and for my fellow-creatures, whether human, animal or plant. 

 

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is upon us – the longest night is here!

The trees have lost their leaves and all signs of life have retreated below ground. The countryside is bare. The sun barely rises above the horizon and shines only a feeble light. Birds have departed. The Earth has entered hibernation mode.

Yet, at these dark times, we find cause to rejoice! For deep within the Earth, a tiny light has been born! Fragile as a baby in its crib the new sun-savior god has returned.

We are at the threshold of a new cycle. As yet we do not know if the baby will grow. And yet, it is a cause to celebrate the hope of growth to come.

In the old days, the 12 days of Christmas were a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Spirits and ghosts are passing through, howling frightfully during the night. We huddle together by the fireplace and cherish each other’s company, the gift of family and friendship. They finished on January 6th, when the three sages finally found the stable where the sun-god had been born.

We share the memories of summers past and feast on the gifts we have preserved at harvest time. We dream of the return of the light that will turn the Earth green once more.

Winter Solstice is a festive time despite being the shortest day and longest night. It is a moment of serenity and gratitude for all that has brought us here. And yet it also marks the turning point and harbors the promise of things to come.

This is a good time to count your blessings and celebrate. The wheel of time is turning. The light has returned. Let us cherish this blessing so it may grow strong and return life to Earth once more.

Let them eat…beans?

Let them eat…beans?

Beans belong to one of the most widespread and diverse botanical families, known as the Fabaceae, or Leguminosae. They occur throughout the world as bushes, herbaceous shrubs, herbs, and trees. It is estimated that there are about 619 genera with about 18815 species (depending on who’s authority you accept). Of course, not all members of this large family are edible, but many are used in one way or another, as food, for medicine, as a dye, or for their oil. As a further boon, these plants are able to fix nitrogen in the soil (with the help of bacteria). This atmospheric gas is extremely important for plant life, but they can only absorb it from the soil.

 

Edible members of this huge family come in an infinite variety of colours, shapes, and sizes: peanuts, carob, lentils, chickpeas, green and yellow peas, kidney beans, runner beans, broad beans, black beans, mung beans – and, economically probably the most important of them all: the soybean.

 

Pulses, such as peas, chickpeas, and lentils are some of the oldest domesticated plant species. According to the archeological record, the history of their cultivation both in the Old and in the New World goes back 5000 – 6000 years (some claim even earlier dates).

 

Of special importance are the genera Vigna (Old World) and Phaseolus (New World). They have become so well adapted to our needs that they have lost the ability to disperse their seeds naturally. Originally, seedpods evolved to ‘explode’ upon ripening and drying. But if you have ever grown peas or beans, you will have noticed that modern varieties no longer do this. This is convenient for us but means that the plant/human relationship has become so tight that these species have become completely dependent on us for their survival.

 

What makes the pulses so important  as a food is their high protein content. Plenty of plants provide carbohydrates in the form of sugars or starch, but few provide protein in useful quantities. In regions of the world where other sources of protein such as meat or fish are not easily available, or are not used on religious or ethical grounds, pulses fill the gap. In combination with a staple, such as wheat, corn or rice, beans provide practically all our protein requirements.

 

But, because they are seen as a ‘lower value’ protein compared to meat, they have been stigmatized as ‘peasant food’. While the rich can afford to feast on meat, peasants have to make do with beans and rice. Another reason why they are not welcome in polite company is their ‘musical’ (and smelly) note. Interestingly, green beans are innocent of this effect and do not suffer the same kind of disapproval. Au contraire! They are much sought after in haute cuisine, while in ‘ethnic’ cuisines, rice and beans, refried beans, dhal, black-eyed beans, etc. feature as ‘soul-food’.

 

 

string beans

 

Considering our growing problems of food insecurity, climate catastrophe, and population explosion, beans may yet save our species. At present, most of the grain (and soy) is produced as animal feed, but this is a highly inefficient way of fulfilling the world’s protein requirements: it takes 7kg of grain to produce just 1kg of meat. Many more people’s nutrient requirements could be met if the land was used to grow food for direct rather than indirect human consumption.

 

It would go beyond the scope of this article to discuss each edible member of the Fabacaea separately. Suffice it to say that there are enough varieties to try a different one for every day of the year.

 

But, this would mean cutting back on cattle farming just at a time when more people than ever can afford to buy meat on a regular basis. If trends in Japan can be regarded as indicative, the demand for meat will grow rapidly, especially among the middle classes of the emerging economies. In Japan, (traditionally a fish-eating culture) meat consumption has increased by 360 percent (!) between 1960 and 1990 (Shah and Strong 1999:19). Due to religious taboos this trend is less pronounced in India, but not elsewhere. 

 

Fortunately for our planet, vegetarianism and veganism are spreading, along with a general reduction in meat consumption among ‘flexatarians’. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is driving this change, but health concerns are one likely cause, while the other might be a growing awareness regarding the impact of a meat diet on climate change. Even the UN has called for a change in dietary habits in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions. Livestock produces 14% of greenhouse gases, second only to energy production and more than the emissions produced by all means of transportation put together.  Besides, methane, which is produced by cattle ’emissions’ (burps and farts, basically), has a far greater impact as a greenhouse gas than CO2).

America, Oceania, and Europe are still the top meat consuming regions of the world, on average consuming 3 times as much meat as Asia.

 

 

 

The problem with soy

 

Pulses are becoming increasingly popular and none more so than soy. They have been riding a wave of success. Along with wheat, maize, rice, and potatoes soy are one of the 5 top crops worldwide. Soy is also one of the most likely crops to have been genetically engineered. It is difficult to find any truly organic sources. The reason that the food industry loves soy so much is because of its versatility. Soy proteins and oils are used in an incredible range of things (not just food), which makes it a sure fire, immensely profitable crop. However, apart from the GM prevalence, there are a number of other concerns that suggest soy may not be the solution to all our woes.

 

Most soy is produced for animal food, and just as worryingly, for use as biofuel. This is marketed as a ‘green’ product, but nothing could be further from the truth. Much of the world’s soy is produced at the expense of rain forest, which is cut down to make way for the soy. (see The Perilous Progress of the Soya Bean)

 

Medicinal and nutritional aspects

 In addition to their excellent protein profile (17 – 25%), beans are also rich in fibre, which can help to reduce cholesterol levels. In themselves, they contain very little fat and no cholesterol at all. Thus, they are an excellent choice for a ‘heart healthy’ diet. Many types of beans can be sprouted and produce fresh, crunchy greens that can be used to top soups, sandwiches or salads.

Black beans are rich in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. Researchers have found that the darker the bean ‘coat’ the higher the proportion of antioxidant compounds. Thus, black beans lead the pack, followed by red, brown, yellow, and white beans.

They are also rich in vitamin B1, folate, molybdenum, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, and iron. Soy is rich in calcium. However, there are some concerns over unfermented soy. Another health concern regarding soy is the fact that what ends up in processed foods are mostly isolated soy compounds, such as isoflavones. These act as endocrine disruptors and are considered detrimental to thyroid health. Caution is advised.

Medicinally, the husks of the Phaseolus species rather than the beans themselves are used. Dried bean pods are strongly diuretic and are said to be able to dissolve small gravel and stones in the urinary system. The decoction is recommended for edema, especially where this is due to general kidney or cardio weakness. Old herbals claim this to be the most effective remedy to release excess water from the body. It is thus recommended as a remedy for flushing out uric acid crystals and other metabolic waste products. This is interesting, as beans contain purines, (also found in meats and other foods), which the body breaks down to form uric acid. The shells, therefore, provide a remedy for one of the health hazards associated with excessive consumption of beans.

Such a decoction is also said to be useful for controlling blood-sugar spikes associated with diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Beans themselves are beneficial for diabetics as their energy is released slowly and steadily (low glycemic index due to high fibre content), rather than in one big rush as is common with simple carbohydrates.

 

mucuna pruriens

  

Mucuna pruriens, also known as cowhage or velvet bean, is not commonly used as food, although the young shoots and seeds can be eaten if prepared correctly. This interesting bean contains L-DOPA, a precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is occasionally used as a natural remedy for Parkinson’s disease, in which reduced dopamine levels play a major role. However, self-medication is not recommended, as dosing can be difficult.

The plant also contains dimethyltryptamin and has been used as an additive for ayahuasca preparations.

In traditional Ayurvedic practice, it is known as an aphrodisiac, a claim that is supported by a study involving rats. Apparently, their consumption of mucuna resulted in raised testosterone levels.

Indian medicine uses it to treat cholera, delirium, impotence, spermatorrhoea, urinary troubles, and to expel roundworms. An infusion of the ‘hairs’ that cover the pods is said to aid in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases. Externally,  it is applied as a local stimulant and mild vesicant (Parrotta:2001).

In magical herbalism, it is occasionally used in the practice known as ‘lucid dreaming’.

 

Caution:

 

Although mostly harmless, there are two diseases that are associated with the consumption of beans: favism and lathyrism.

 

Lathyrism is a condition that causes paralysis of the lower limbs as a result of excessive consumption of Indian Pea (Lathyrus sativa). This is not usually a problem when the pea is consumed as part of a normal diet. But in times of drought or scarcity when other foods are less available, it can become problematic. Indian pea, is extremely resistant to drought, and may be one of the few things around that are still edible. The paralysis can be permanent.

 

Favism is an acute anemic condition, which results from eating partially cooked or raw broad beans (Vicia faba). Even inhaling the pollen can cause this condition. Curiously, it only affects males of Mediterranean origin.

Pythagoras may have suffered from this condition as he vehemently rejected beans as a source of food. On the other hand, his objections may have had religious reasons. In Orphism, an ancient religious belief of the Greeks, beans are considered sacred to the Goddess and it was believed that each bean contained a soul. Or, Pythagoras might have considered beans too lowly a food, as even in his days, beans were regarded a peasant food.

 

The flatulence associated with bean consumption only occurs with dried beans. This is due to the fact that the human digestive system finds the oligosaccharides (a complex carbohydrate, which form during the drying process), hard to break down. The effect can be reduced by soaking the beans in two changes of water before cooking them. (soak, drain, soak again, drain, add more water, then boil ). Adding certain herbs and spices, such as epazote (Mexican favourite), fenugreek, cumin, coriander etc. can also help to minimize the flatulence effect.