Autumn Equinox

Autumn Equinox

Happy Autumn Equinox!

At the Autumn Equinox, night and day are in balance once again. The forces of light and dark are in perfect equilibrium. The Equinox marks the end of the harvest season, and we celebrate the gifts of the Earth on Thanksgiving (not to be confused with the American celebration, which takes place in late November). From this day on, the vital earth energy begins to retreat below ground. The days are getting shorter, and summer is over.

The end of the summer marks an intensely busy time of gathering and preserving the gifts of the earth, giving thanks and preparing for the coming winter months. Most of the harvest has been brought in. Now we hunt for nuts and mushrooms.

Autumn Equinox is the time to give thanks, take stock and prepare for the lean months ahead. Stock up the larder and make sure your woodpile is high and dry so that your supplies will see you through the winter until the Sun will be reborn once more.

Image by Sabrina Ripke from Pixabay

Gardening Jobs in September

Gardening Jobs in September

Summer is coming to an end, but that does not mean the end of the gardening season. Quite the opposite! It is time to harvest the fruits of your labour! Zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, potatoes and chillies – there is a glut of veggies to harvest now. Often, far more than anyone can eat. To make the most of the harvest, preserve it now for the lean times ahead.
Check out how to preserve the harvest 

Extending the season

If you want to extend the season to still harvest some fresh veggies until at least the early part of the winter, you should now sow some winter crops.

Salad ingredients

It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to harvest fresh greens even as nature is winding down and retreating for her winter sleep. You can now sow Miner’s lettuce, Lamb’s Lettuce, Asia salad mix, and cress, and radishes.

Veggies for overwintering

Some veggies also appreciate the early start and can continue to grow through the winter.
Spinach, winter peas, broad beans, winter carrots, and if you live in a mild climate, Swiss chard, can all be sown now. But check the varieties – there are always early and late ones and ones that are winter hardy. That is what you want to sow now. You can also plant onion sets now. They will be ready to harvest in July.

In situ or under glass

If you don’t yet have enough space in your plots, you can start the winter crops indoors or in the cold frame.

Propagating

Now is also the time to take cuttings, so you can propagate your perennials and bushes. Take cuttings from this year’s growth that have not become woody yet. They work best if dipped in rooting hormones before planting them into pots. Mix the soil with perlite or similar to improve the drainage.


Happy gardening!



Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Medicinal Uses of Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Medicinal Uses of Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Medicinal Uses of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) 

To this day, opium and its derivatives supply us with some of the most effective painkilling agents used in medicine. These substances bring great relief to those suffering from agonizing pain. But they are also dangerously addictive.

  Parts Used:  Chiefly the latex or alkaloids derived from it
  Constituents: Contains about 40 different alkaloids. The most prominent being morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Papaverine and Noscapine
  Actions: Analgesic, narcotic, sedative, antispasmodic, anti-diarrheal, anti-tussive, diaphoretic, aphrodisiac

 

 Indications: 

The dried latex rolled into pills combined with other substances has long been valued as a highly effective painkiller. As a sedative, opium is used to calm agitated children. People in extreme states of hysteria or who are otherwise mentally or emotionally disturbed benefit from its sedating action. Those suffering from intensely painful conditions benefit from both the pain-relieving and the sedative action as opium will soothe the pain and help the body relax so as to find restful sleep.  

Opium’s anti-diarrhoeal properties are still employed today as one of the most effective agents for treating colic and dysentery. In cases of gall-bladder colic or spasms, opium acts as a pain-relieving antispasmodic. It is still used as an ingredient of cough mixtures as a powerful anti-tussive, invaluable in treating persistent spasmodic coughs (Codeine- alkaloid of opium). In the past, it played an important role in the treatment of tuberculosis. 

In Ayurvedic medicine, opium is valued as an aid to healthy sexual function, as it can relieve sexual problems such as impotency and premature ejaculation.

 

Caution:

Opium, Morphine and Heroin are all highly addictive substances, besides which they are also highly illegal. Excessive use can lead to serious health problems and even cause death. Small quantities can cause severe constipation. The dangerous side of opium is still very much evident today, and not just among heroin addicts. The ‘opium crisis‘ has made a fortune for drug companies while turning millions of people into addicts with apparently legitimate painkillers.

Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only, not as a guide to self-medication or to encourage the use of illegal drugs.

 

Status: In most countries, it is illegal to cultivate Poppies without a licence, although in Europe, it is commonly grown as an ornamental garden plant. However, harvesting opium is strictly prohibited everywhere. 

 

The dried seed pods and the seeds are legal and available commercially. 

 

Plant Profile: Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Plant Profile: Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Image by NickyPe from Pixabay
Opium Poppy Papaver somniferum
Synonyms Opium Poppy, Mawseed, Herb of Joy, Mohn, Klapper-Rosen, Mago, Magesamen, Weismagen, wilder Magen, Magensaph, Rosule

Description:

Opium Poppies are nothing if not showy. Their sturdy stems and large leaves make a stark contrast to their large but oddly flimsy flowers. The delicate petals give the impression of a butterfly that is just about to take off. At the base of the flower sits a prominent, many-rayed stigma surrounded by a mass of stamens. After the flower has been fertilized, the petals drop off, leaving the seed capsule exposed as it swells and ripens like a pregnant belly.

Individual plants grow to between 70 cm, and 130 cm tall. The erect stems and large wavy leaves have a tough, rubbery texture. The leaves are indented and clasp the stem. All green parts of the plant are covered by a greyish-blue waxy substance that is easily rubbed off. Botanists describe this feature as glaucous.

When any green part is cut or wounded, a milky latex oozes out and turns brown as it dries. This substance is known as raw opium.

The seed capsule of Papaver somniferum is almost spherical and has a star-shaped, flattened lid. As it dries, the top shrinks and lifts. Tiny holes are formed underneath the rim, allowing the tiny, white or bluish-black seeds can disperse.

Origin and Distribution

It is difficult to establish with any certainty just where Papaver somniferum originated or who its genetic parents might have been. But, most researchers now agree that the Mediterranean region of Asia Minor is its most likely ‘original home’.

From this strategically advantageous position, they spread east into Asia, south into North Africa and north into Central Europe. Today, poppies are even found as far north as Britain. Poppies are popular as ornamentals, and breeders have developed dozens of varieties of different colours and flower arrangements.

The Papaver genus comprises about 100 species that occur throughout the temperate regions of the world. Poppies like to grow in association with corn. In early summer, the related Scarlet Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) can often be seen in cornfields and verges. This species is much smaller, has scarlet-red petals and small, elongated seed capsules. Although the Scarlet Poppy has historically also been used medicinally, its action is much milder than that of Papaver somniferum.

Opium Poppies are not native to the New World. But when they appeared on their shores, Eastern tribes adopted their medicinal uses, which they learned from the Europeans.

Image by Peter Kraayvanger from Cultural History

The delicate Poppy flowers are beautiful to behold. Their papery petals gently waft in the summer's breeze - alas, it is a short-lived beauty. Here one day, gone the next. The fleeting splendour only lasts a few days before the petals fall, revealing a bulging seed pod.

The seed pods hold a myriad of tiny poppy seeds, a familiar item of the kitchen larder. We use them as toppings of bread rolls and bagels, or as cake fillings. Less commonly available is the delicately nutty seed oil, highly esteemed in gourmet cuisines.

But poppy has a secret power, and it flows within its fleshy stems, leaves and unripe seed capsules: its milky latex.

When it oxidizes and dries, the latex turns brown and becomes what the Ancients knew as 'opion'. This substance has been used for thousands of years. In the days of blood and gore, opion was a god-sent pain-reliever. Even today, the most effective pain relievers are still predominantly based on it.

Thanks to its potent analgesic and hypnotic properties, Opium relieves not only physical but also emotional pain. But woe to those who are seduced by it. Taken too regularly, it entraps the body and chains the mind to addiction, causing delusion, apathy, and even death.

Yet, in the words of Paracelsus:

"What is there that is not poison? All things are poison, and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.”

Our age-old relationship with poppies proves the point. Throughout history, it has brought great relief but also suffering and death.

 

Historical record

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have used poppies since pre-historic times. Archaeobotanists have found charred remains of poppies and opium at Neolithic settlements, burial sites and even in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The latter were even decorated with paintings of Opium Poppy, Mandrake and Blue Water Lily - all considered magical plants connected to the underworld gods.

The earliest written record was found in Sumer and dates back to about 2000 B.C. It refers to poppies as 'Hul Gil' - the Herb of Joy. From Sumer, the knowledge and use of poppies spread throughout the Middle East to Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt, Persia and Greece.

They are mentioned in the famous Egyptian Eber's Papyrus (1500 B.C.), which recommends them as a remedy to calm incessantly crying babies. Remarkably, this use has persisted until the beginning of the 20th century in parts of North Africa and Europe. It certainly kept children quiet, but it also reduced their natural curiosity, thus dimming their wits.

From Hippocrates to Avicenna, Dioscorides and Galen - all the ancient medical texts mention opium as an effective painkiller and sedative.

Dioscorides offers a detailed description of how to obtain the latex:

"Those who wish to obtain the sap (of the Poppy) must go after the dew has dried, and draw their knife around the star in such a manner as not to penetrate the inside of the capsule, and also make straight incisions down the sides. Then with your finger wipe the extruding tear into a shell. When you return to it not long after, you will find the sap thickened, and the next day you will find it much the same. Pound the sap in your mortar and roll the mass into pills."

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Image by
Andy Faeth from Mythology

Poppies were considered sacred to Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, and they guarded the entrance to his drowsy realm. Hypnos is often depicted holding the seed capsules in his hands and adorning his head. He brought prophetic dreams and soothed emotional pain with forgetfulness.

At the temple of Aesclepius on the Greek island of Cos, poppies were used in a kind of sleep therapy. Aesclepius is a god of healing, but the only medicine he prescribed was a potent brew of opium and other herbs, while the therapeutic recommendations were revealed directly to the patients via visionary dreams.

The Romans identified Hypnos with their god of sleep, 'Somnus', who lent his name to poppies scientific nomenclature. 'Somniferus' comes from the Latin 'somnus ferre', - bringer of sleep.

Poppies had a strong association with the gods of the Underworld. In Greek mythology, they were sacred to Thanatos or Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, and ruler of the realm of the dead. Excessive doses of opium can bring eternal sleep.

But they were also sacred to Demeter, the Earth-Goddess, who taught humankind the art of agriculture and particularly the cultivation of grains such as wheat and barley. Demeter was, of course, inconsolable when Hades abducted her daughter Persephone. Only poppies managed to soothe her pain. Poppies love mingling among the cornfields, and their bulging seed pods, containing an abundance of tiny seeds, serve as a perfect symbol of fertility.

Some scholars believe that opium was a chief ingredient of the secret ritual drink served at the Elysian Mystery rites. Unfortunately, the recipe ranks among the best-kept secrets of the ancient world, so we will never know for sure.

Mythology tells us that poppies sprang from Aphrodite's tears as she mourned the loss of her lover, Adonis. In ancient times, her birthplace, the island of Cyprus, was a major centre of poppy cultivation and trade.

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Folk Magic

Poppy's association with the goddess of love is also reflected in its relaxing aphrodisiac properties. Opium was very popular in folkloristic love magic. During the Middle Ages, it was the ingredient of choice for love charms, philtres and potions. Poppies were also tasked with predicting the fortunes of lovers. To learn the identity of a future spouse or divine the outcome of a love affair, the inquirer would write his question on a piece of parchment and place it inside a poppy seed capsule. The seed pod was then placed under the pillow until a prophetic dream would reveal all.

Naturally, love associates with fertility. The belly-like seed pod full of seeds makes an apt symbol not just of fertility, but also of prosperity. On New Year's Eve, giving gifts of poppy sweetbread served as tokens of prosperity blessings, while the seed capsules were used as a fertility charm.

Invisibility was also considered one of the poppy's magic powers. For this purpose, it was included in a magic potion. This use is probably linked to the myth of Persephone. It is believed that Hades' wore a cap of invisibility that resembled a poppy seed pod when he abducted Persephone.

Yet, poppy seeds are also said to be anti-demonic. If one found such nasty creatures hard on one's heels, all one had to do to get rid of them was to toss some poppy seeds in their direction. Apparently, demons and vampires are compelled to count everything. A handful of scattered poppy seeds would keep them busy long enough to allow you to escape.

From traditional herbal medicine to potent pharmaceutical drug and addiction

 

Opium was widely used in the ancient world, but it was Andromachos, the personal physician of Emperor Nero, who popularized it. One day, Nero challenged Andromachos to create a true panacea, a remedy that would ease all pain and diseases. The physician came up with a potent potion consisting of about sixty different plants and substances, including opium, which he called 'Theriak'. Later, Galen refined the brew and renamed it Galene. It became so popular throughout Europe that it rose to the status of a miracle cure. But the potion was expensive, and some ingredients were difficult to obtain, which led to adulteration.

During the Middle Ages, medicine became 'heroic' - in other words, unsympathetic, and patients were expected to simply bear their pain. The use of opium as a painkiller declined. But eventually, Paracelsus revived it by creating a stripped-down version of the original Theriak recipe, which proved extremely effective and soon surpassed even the success of the original. He compounded his concoction into pill form and called it 'Laudanum Paracelsi'.

 

 

Laudanum

He had managed to make his painkiller even more effective by the simple addition of lemon juice. The acid subtly changes opium's chemistry and enhances its anodyne action. For a long time, Laudanum was a celebrated panacea, believed to be effective for every ailment except leprosy.

The somewhat hyperbolic reputation meant that it was often in short supply. But it also pricked scientific curiosity and inspired numerous experiments. It even gave rise to the groundbreaking invention of the hypodermic needle. In 1656, Sir Christopher Wren first employed a syringe to prove the theory of blood circulation. He injected a dog's hind leg with a solution of opium, and sure enough, the drug rapidly took effect over the dog's entire body.

In 1680, the English Doctor Thomas Sydenham revised Paracelsus' potion once again. His aim was to purify the raw drug and rid it of impurities that seemed to cause 'sickness' when taken in large quantities. He added sherry wine, saffron, cinnamon and cloves to Paracelsus' Laudanum and renamed it 'Sydenham's Laudanum'. It was no more effective than the original, but it kicked off a new wave of enthusiasm for opium-based products. Soon every chemist seemed to market their own blend. Venice Treacle, Mithridate, London Laudanum and Dr Bate's Pacific Pills all became popular household names. But the available raw opium could barely keep up with the demand.

Laudanum was as popular as aspirin is today. Physicians routinely prescribed twice-weekly preventative dosing. Alas, sometimes too much of a good thing proves, well..., too much.

 

 

Overprescription and Addiction

It was at this time that overprescription led to the first cases of serious opium addiction. The problem was compounded by the fact that Laudanum was even overprescribed for children. But the problem with an addictive substance such as opium is that frequent dosing increases the body's resistance, and larger amounts are required to get the same results.

In 1700, Dr John Jones published a book called 'The Mysteries of Opium Revealed'. In the course of about 400 pages, he extolled the properties of opium. Describing its uses and effects, he also reported on its pleasant side effects and symptoms of addiction. Although his work was clearly biased and likely to have been influenced by his own intimate relationship with the subject, it did contain a grain of genius. Jones was the first to intuit that opium actually imitated substances that are already present in the body. But it took another 275 years before scientists discovered these substances, which subsequently became known as endorphins.

 

 

Morphine

Debate and experimentation continued. In 1799, Friedrich Sertürner, a young German pharmacist's apprentice, observed that the effects of opium seemed to vary considerably from batch to batch. He became convinced that this must be due to the varying presence of an active constituent in the raw opium. After only four years of experimentation, he managed to isolate such a substance. In allusion to the Greek god of sleep, he called 'morphine'. But he wrongly believed that this purified compound was free of the unpleasant characteristics of opium. He had assumed that morphine was safer because only a tiny amount of it was necessary to induce far stronger effects than those of raw opium. But neither he nor anyone else at the time realized that it was also far more addictive. Soon, several pharmaceutical companies started to churn out morphine by the boatload. At the same time, Wren's earlier invention for injecting opium was perfected and morphed into what we now know as the hypodermic syringe. The improvement was celebrated as a great success, since the administration of morphine via a syringe tripled its efficacy.

The story of opium epitomizes the risk of relying on science to solve all our problems. Sometimes the solution to one problem engenders new ones that we only fully grasp much later.

(The history of poppy also has a very interesting, dark and thought-provoking political aspect, which, however, is beyond the scope of this article. Those interested in this plant and its impact on world history should read up on the opium wars - the consequences of which still linger.

Ayurveda – The Science of Life

Ayurveda – The Science of Life

Ayurveda literally means ‘science of life’. It is one of India’s many indigenous healing traditions. But it is not a science in the western sense of the word. Very much unlike western science, Ayurveda is said to have been divinely revealed.

Ayurveda has ancient roots, dating back at least 5000 years. According to legend, one day, a long, long time ago, the wisest Brahmans came together to meditate on matters of sickness and health, nutrition and well-being. And thus, the Ayurvedic philosophy and the principles of health were conceived in their entirety.

 

 

Balance as a dynamic principle

Ayurveda’s fundamental premise is the unity of body, mind and spirit and the interconnectedness of all life. Health means ‘wholeness’, and the key to health is a balanced lifestyle.

A balanced lifestyle means moderation in all things – physical, mental and spiritual. Imbalance in any sphere of life will eventually affect all aspects of the body-mind. A balanced diet is just as important as being happy and physically fulfilled.

But we are constantly exposed to an interplay of forces that can easily upset our balance. To maintain balance means having to dynamically adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

 

 

Elemental Balance

These interacting forces were conceived as the ever-changing dynamic expression of the elements (fire, air, earth, water and ether).

The Ancients regarded the elements as ‘qualia’. When they spoke of fire, they did not mean an actual bonfire but the essence of fire, expressed in the heat, the flickering flames, and their all-consuming power. The construct of the elements is based on a phenomenological way of perceiving and interpreting inner and outer reality.

Everything in the universe has its own elemental signature composed of a specific energetic pattern. And all living things are interconnected. Herbal remedies and are employed to correct the energetic imbalance.

 

 

lotus

Constitutional types

Human beings are categorized into three basic constitutional types known as doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Although all three doshas are present in every person, one or two usually dominate.

Vata

Vata is associated with the elements of air and ether.
It implies movement and changeability, and its quality is cold and dry. Excessive Vata energy manifests as nervousness and anxiety. Vata individuals find it hard to sit still. They are always on the move. Their minds are quick and active, but they do not always retain information very well. The skin or hair tend to be dry and brittle, and they often complain about cold hands and feet. Their body frame tends to be light and skinny.

Pitta

Pitta is associated with the elements of fire and water. It expresses itself as the assimilation of food and the heat of metabolic processes. It describes a hot temperament that requires plenty of food to fuel the metabolism. The intensity of the inner fire tends to turn Pitta types’ hair grey or causes them to lose it at a young age. The hair and skin are often oily, and Pitta-individuals frequently have strong body odours. Their cognition and memory are usually sharp, but they often have a perfectionist streak. This can lead to a judgmental and over-critical attitude towards others. Pitta-types often have a need to dominate and control.

Kapha

Kapha is associated with the elements of water and earth. It represents structure and substance. In the body, it finds expression in the bones and connective tissues. Kapha energy is heavy and cold. Kapha individuals have heavy body frames and a tendency to put on weight. They move and think slowly and can be lethargic. The skin may feel cold and clammy, and they often have a sweet tooth. Kapha individuals can be kind and compassionate, but they may be overly attached and suffer from jealousy.

We are constantly subject to external forces that can unbalance our equilibrium. Ayurveda aims to rectify symptoms of dosha imbalance. Its tools are mental and physical exercises (e.g. meditation, yoga), medicinal herbs, and appropriate nutrition.

 

ayurvedic medicineFoods are also categorized into three basic types:

  • Sattva – milk and plant products, mild flavours
  • Raja – hot and spicy food, meat
  • Tamas – denaturalized foods, canned food, fast food, alcohol

 

Whether foods are healthy or harmful depends on the person’s dosha constitution.

 

Correcting excessive Vata energy

To balance excessive Vata energy, eat cooked food that is oily, heavy and warm, and preferably sweet, sour or salty. Refined sugars and yeast should be avoided. Vegetables of the cabbage and potato family are not recommended. Raw vegetables are okay, but should be marinated or served with a dip or dressing. Avoid just grabbing food on the go. Eat slowly and keep regular dinner times.

Correcting excessive Pitta energy

Excessive Pitta energy can be balanced by eating a predominantly vegetarian diet consisting of plenty of fruit, veggies and grains. Overly spicy or acidic foods and excessive amounts of salt, oil or alcohol should be avoided.

Correcting excessive Kapha energy

To balance excessive Kapha energy, eat light, fresh, raw vegetables and fruit. Sweets, creamy foods, nuts and heavy carbohydrates should be avoided. Spicy foods are beneficial as they stimulate metabolic processes. But meat, dairy products and citrus fruits and sweet, sour and salty foods should be avoided.

Obviously, these are only the most rudimentary guidelines. To learn more about the principles of Ayurvedic nutrition, see the recommended books or find an Ayurvedic practitioner near you.

Other causes of disease

Ayurveda also recognizes other causes of ill-health that call for different types of treatment.

Accidents:

Physical or mechanical injuries, such as broken bones, call for surgery.

Inflammation:

Infectious diseases and organ dysfunction are mostly treated with herbs and other curative substances.

Afflictions of the soul:

Emotional issues such as fear, hatred, apathy, or jealousy.
Such issues are treated therapeutically. (Aromatherapy, colour therapy, music therapy, charms, dance etc.)

Natural causes:

Old age, hunger and similar are treated with spiritual measures such as meditation, prayer and spiritual practices.

Western science has long struggled to understand these ancient and often confusing systems of correspondences and typologies. They are often labelled unscientific and quickly dismissed. Such philosophies are considered mumbo-jumbo simply because they do not fit the reductionist paradigm. Some modern Ayurvedic physicians have attempted to translate their system into western concepts to gain more acceptance and make it easier to understand.

But Ayurveda has gained popularity in recent years. -no longer a ‘fringe’ therapy, Ayurveda has a firm place in the field of alternative and complementary therapies. No one needs to travel halfway across the world to consult an Ayurvedic practitioner (although many do!)

 

Can culturally alien medical practices be effective, regardless of where and to whom they are applied?

This question deserves consideration.

In rural India, hygienic conditions, even at hospitals, cannot be compared to those in the West. Under such sanitary conditions, it is not always possible to administrate injections safely. At the same time, pharmaceuticals may be regarded with such awe that they are overprescribed, leading to unwanted results.

Although western medicine is universally considered superior to indigenous healing systems, it can fail if the environmental conditions are inadequate. Likewise, Ayurvedic medicine, in the hands of insufficiently trained practitioners, may not produce the expected results. Neither system can simply be transposed to another culture without taking systemic factors into account.

Ayurveda has been practised successfully for thousands of years. But it takes years of study, including the philosophical premise on which it is based. Reducing it to some basic principles does not do it justice and will not produce the desired results.

 

Lead image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay
Lotus image by Phu Nguyen from Pixabay
Ayurvedic herbs image by Seksak Kerdkanno from Pixabay

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