Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc is the time of the light maiden Brighid, a virginal Goddess that appears as the returning light. Quite noticeably the days are getting longer, by a few minutes each day. It is still the midst of winter and yet, if you look carefully, the buds are swelling. Some precocious winter flowering plants defy the odds. Here and there some particularly perky wildflowers are peeking through the snow or old leaf litter:  snow drops, winter aconite or dwarf crested irises, perhaps. Deep within the Earth, the life-force is stirring, the seeds are soaking up the waters of the thawing snow and begin to germinate. The wheel of the year is turning. Slowly the sap begins to rise once more.

Imbolc, or Candlemass in Christian terminology, is the festival of growing light, of cleansing and  purification. It augurs the time of Lent, traditionally a time of abstinence and fasting to purify body and soul.

In the olden days, people would fast or restrict their diets in order to cleanse the body of all the residues of heavy winter foods. To practice a little self-care in this way is to prepare body and mind for the new season.

It is a also a time for scrying and divination, for visualising in your minds eye the possibilities that lay ahead. Take a little time out to prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities yet to unfold. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, on good and bad habits, and on making a commitment to your soul journey. What kind of nourishment do you need to feel fulfilled? What kind of meaning are you giving your life (or want to give your life)? Are you walking your talk?

Imbolc is a good time to charge the seeds that you want to flourish with intention and to foster your inner flame. Take care of that light through the dark of the night. Soon the sun will soon rise again.

 

Ways to cope with Stress and Anxiety

Ways to cope with Stress and Anxiety

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.

Mindfulness

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.

Exercise

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.

Relaxation

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.

Self-Care

Herbs

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

Essential oils

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?

Good Sleep

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.

Balanced diet

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.

Ditch coffee/alcohol/smoking/sugar

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.

Foraging Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris

Foraging Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris

Winter is a tough time for foragers stuck in a northern climate zone. Leaves have fallen and are buried underneath the snow (or, in the mud, at any rate). Berries, if there are any left on the bushes, tend to look wrinkled, blemished, and listless. Nuts have long been gathered and stored for later use.  Those that have been left on the ground are now riddled with worms. So, what is a poor northern hemisphere forager to do?

Well, she might make a beeline for the pantry, where hopefully, she will find jars filled with delicious preserves. Jams, pickles, and chutneys will bring back happy memories of happy foraging days spent roaming through the countryside. Picking the gifts of the Earth for drearier times to come – like these drab old winter days.

Each mouthful of these treasures will lead you down a dreamy trail, not just reminiscing about the summer past, but also of the one to come. Winter Solstice has passed. Although it does not seem like it, spring is nearer than we thought. Three months down the road we’ll be off again, picking the first salad herbs and enjoying the first gifts of spring.

Those who do not live in the permafrost zone may be lucky enough to find a few green things hardy enough to withstand the winter. Cresses, for example, have no problem surviving a mild winter.

Take Wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris – a typical cress, easily recognizable by its typical rocket-type leaves and flowers. This tough little plant can be collected throughout the winter. It can even stay green beneath the snow.

Wintercress is rich in vitamin C and A and was valued as an ‘anti-scurvy’ plant until vitamin C became readily available throughout the year, even in northern climate zones. If you have trouble spotting its large-leaved, deeply lobed rosette during the winter months, you will probably notice it as one of the first herbs that pop up in the earliest spring days.

The leaves are best while they are young and tender, before the plant starts to flower. Young leaves can be added to salads much like rocket (arugula), which has a similarly tangy flavor. As they age the leaves turn tougher, rougher, and rather bitter. If need be, they can be used as a potherb, although it would not be the most palatable one. Boiling the herb in several changes of water may reduce the bitterness, but it would also destroy its texture and diminish its nutrient value. Better just to use it sparingly and in combination with other, less flavourful herbs.

The cress family includes quite a number of herbs that are of interest to the forager. They all start to sprout early in the season. Here is a good page to help with watercress identification: Barbarea vulgaris ID 

Recipes

 

 

Sandwich spread

  • 1 egg (hard-boiled)
  • ½ onion finely minced
  • 30g mayonnaise
  • 100g wintercress finely chopped
  • salt, pepper to taste

Blend the egg and the mayonnaise to make a paste, add the onion, wintercress, salt, and pepper. If you don’t like mayonnaise try crème fraiche, instead.

Wintercress ‘Spinach’

  • 250g wintercress
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 20g sugar or honey
  • Salt, pepper, coriander, bay laurel, cloves

Wash and chop the wintercress. Sauté with the minced onion and spices with just a little butter. Add a small amount of bullion if need be.

Wintercress Salad

  • 150g Wintercress
  • 1 mozzarella cheese (200g)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Vinaigrette
  • Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper

Chop up the wintercress, slice tomatoes, mince the onion and garlic and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Mix well and serve with a simple vinaigrette.

Gardening Jobs in January

Gardening Jobs in January

Winter is a trying period for gardeners. At the latest by the middle of the month, they are itching to do SOMETHING in the garden! But the life-juices are dormant beneath the surface, the ground is frozen and covered in snow. There isn’t a whole lot to do. But there is always something.

Prepping

 

Cleaning up the Tool Shed

You might also want to use the quiet time to organize the tool shed, and do some maintenance work. Make a note of materials you might need for projects you might be planning for later in the spring.

Planning the garden

Use the quiet time of the year to dream and prepare for the season ahead. What do you want to grow and where? Survey and organize your seed library and make a plan: What would you like to grow this year? What worked well last year? Maybe there are some new varieties you would like to try? Check your favorite seed suppliers and get your order in early.

Start planning – find seeds at Seeds Now

Or join the Seed Exchange network: https://exchange.seedsavers.org/

For impatient gardeners

If you are really impatient and have a frost-free cold frame you can start some early varieties of lettuce, kohlrabi, and radishes. Or, if you don’t have a cold frame, why not build one?

If you live in a cold climate zone and want to grow species that normally grow in much warmer regions, such as aubergines or peppers, you could start them off early. A corner in the basement could be modified and fitted with a grow light. Neutral white light LED strips will work well.

Bird Feeders

Finally, don’t forget the birds. They happily visit your feeder. It is a great joy to watch them and attracting them to your garden will also help you later when they forage for insect larvae.

Making Birdseed Feeders

Making Birdseed Feeders

How to make Birdseed Feeders

During the winter, birds don’t always find enough food. To help them through these times of scarcity, why not offer them some ‘birdseed feeders’. They are really easy to make and much appreciated. All you need is birdseed (you can use pre-packed supplies, or mix your own, using a blend of edible seeds, nuts, and dried fruit, such as sunflower seeds, buckwheat, oats, millet, linseed, wheat, cracked peanuts or hazelnuts, raisins, etc, some hardened vegetable fat, suet or tallow.

Birdseed Cookies

To make ‘Birdseed cookies’ you can use Christmas cookie cutters.

Materials:

  • 250g of hardened coconut fat
  • 500g of birdseed mix
  • string

Method:

  • Melt the fat in a saucepan
  • pour in the seed mixture until the fat is almost completely saturated
  • Stir well.
  • Allow the mixture to cool until it hardens to the consistency of peanut butter.
  • Line a baking tray with baking paper and arrange your cookie cutters or shapes
  • Now you can spread the seed mixture into the cookie cutter with a spoon or spatula
  • Use a toothpick to poke a hole through which you can thread the string once the cookie has completely hardened.

 

birdseed

Flowerpot feeders

These are also easy to make. You’ll need small terracotta flowerpots with a hole in the bottom

Materials

  • 250g birdseed mixture
  • 500g suet or hardened coconut butter
  • a swig of sunflower oil
  • small flowerpots
  • forked twigs
  • string

Method

Take a forked twig and pull the straight end through the bottom of the flowerpot.

Fasten with a piece of string and pull the string ends through the hole as a hanger for the flower pot.

I used a second, short twig to fasten it securely. The forked end of the stick should stick out at the open end of the pot.

Make the seed mixture as before, but add a little swig of sunflower oil (not too much!) to keep the seed mixture a little bit softer.

Allow the mixture to cool until it has the consistency of peanut butter.

Fill the pot with the fat/seed paste and allow it to harden some more so that it won’t drip out of the pot.

Now find a tree or better still, a bush that is not accessible to cats (e.g. hawthorn tree or elderflower tree) to hang your ornaments and flowerpot feeders.

flowerpot feeder

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