Star of Bethlehem (ornithogalum umbellatum)

Star of Bethlehem (ornithogalum umbellatum)

Plant Profile: Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

 

Family: Liliacae /allium family

 

I recently took up nature journaling, and when I sat in the garden looking for a suitable motif, I suddenly noticed a Star of Bethlehem growing at my feet. I had seen them in the vineyards many times, but hadn’t noticed them moving in with me. 

Apart from giving them a friendly nod, I had never paid much attention to them. As far as I knew, they were not used for food or medicine; but hang on – didn’t Dr Bach revere this little flower and give it a prime spot as part of his Rescue Remedy formula?

I decided to take a closer look and dropped to my knees to study it in detail. I was immediately smitten by the Star’s sublime beauty and unusual features.

 

What is the Star of Bethlehem?

Star of Bethlehem is a small perennial bulbous plant of the Lily family (Asparagaceae). Its leaves die back even as it begins to flower. After flowering, its energy retreats into the underground bulb. During the ‘dormant’ period, it produces little bulbils that send up their own narrow leaves early in the following spring. The Star of Bethlehem is thermoperiodic, meaning that it needs to go through a period of low temperatures before it begins to flower. 

 

The pretty, star-like flowers appear between April and June. The white petals have a green stripe on the underside that is only visible when the flower is closed. It looks as if the petal has fused with the sepal. But in fact, botanical descriptions of the plant say that the flower is composed of three identical sepals and petals, displayed in a single whorl. It is impossible to tell the difference, so botanists call them tepals. In the centre of the flower is a little crown of what looks like six white petals tipped by the pollen-bearing anthers. They enclose what looks like a little six-pointed star, from which the pistil protrudes.

 

Where does Star of Bethlehem grow?

You can find Star of Bethlehem growing in many places throughout Europe and North Africa. It arrived in the United States as a garden plant, which has naturalized to such an extent that the USDA now considers it a pesky weed.

 

Where did the name ‘Star of Bethlehem’ come from?

The origin of the name is attributed to various stories. The most obvious explanation is its widespread distribution in the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin. Pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem carried the dried bulbs as food. (But fresh bulbs are reported as poisonous to cattle.) Another myth claims that the flower sprung from fragments of the Star of Bethlehem.

 

Is Star of Bethlehem known by any other names?

 

Indeed, it is, but none as charming. Star of Bethlehem is also known as Sleepy Dick, Nap-at-Noon, and even ‘Dove Dung’. 

Nap-at-Noon alludes to the flower’s habit of ‘going to sleep’ in the afternoon and on cloudy days. The name ‘Dove Dung’ seems a bit insulting, apparently implying that the white ‘splash’ of the Star resembles bird doo-doo. It doesn’t, and in fact, it is not a reference to the supposed likeness. Instead, the name is a literal translation of the Latin name Ornithogalum, which means ‘bird’s milk’, a common euphemism for avian excrement. The species name ‘umbellatum’ refers to the umbel-like flower.

 

Star of Bethlehem flower

 

 

History

Gerard describes it as a type of wild onion and quotes Dioscurides, who mentioned that the bulbs are edible. Both the bulbs and the green parts are sold at markets in Turkey (Central, Bulancak) (1). Yet, they are also many sources that claim it is poisonous. So, what is the scoop?

 

Is Star of Bethlehem poisonous?

Biochemical research confirms that Star of Bethlehem contains cardioactive glycosides that are potentially toxic. But further investigation showed, that they do not survive being subjected to digestive juices, which would explain the controversy. An early study published by Arthur Vogelsang in 1961 notes that the effect of Star of Bethlehem is quite different depending on whether it is taken orally or injected. To test his hypothesis and confirm that the coating prevents the breakdown of the cardio-active compounds in the stomach. He compared Star of Bethlehem with Digitoxin and observed that its extract slowed the heart rate to a lesser degree than digitoxin while increasing the strength of the cardiac contraction and the excretion of body fluid. Star of Bethlehem also caused less nausea. Overall, Star of Bethlehem is a gentle yet highly effective heart drug that can be given to reduce blood pressure, strengthen the pulse and increase the discharge of excess fluid. It is particularly helpful for patients that do not tolerate digitoxin well.

 

Note of Caution:

The specific growing conditions, such as exposure to sunlight, water and soil type, change Star of Bethlehem’s chemical composition.

 

Is Star of Bethlehem used homeopathically?

In Homeopathy, the Star of Bethlehem is known by its Latin name, Ornithogalum umbellatum. It is used to treat persistent gastrointestinal problems, such as upper abdominal pain in the epigastric (central abdominal) region, pressure, malignant tumours of the digestive tract accompanied by depression, and feeling drained and exhausted. It is also indicated for patients suffering from a state of nervous exhaustion with high sensitivity to all types of stimuli.

 

What are the indications for Star of Bethlehem Bach Flower Remedy?

For Dr Bach, Star of Bethlehem was one of the most treasured flower remedies. He used it as a go-to Trauma remedy to buffer the effects of shock, such as unexpected bad news, the sudden loss of a loved one, an accident or other traumatic event. It can also help when facing the pain of traumas past (PTSD). It is one of the essential components of Rescue Remedy.

Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Foraging Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The dainty Daisy is a picture of innocence: it seems to have been made for adorning children’s heads. But there is a lot more to these lovely little flowers than meets the eye.

Etymology

The English name ‘Daisy’ means ‘Day’s Eye’ because the Daisy opens its flower head in the morning and closes it at night.

But the origin of its Latin name is a lot more surprising and somewhat controversial. Bellis means ‘pretty’ – an obvious choice for this little herb. But Mrs Grieves thinks it may have been named after a dryad known as Belidis. Another common name is ‘Baldur’s Brow’, linking the Daisy to the Norse Sun God Baldur. Another association links it to Bellona, a Goddess of war. Judging only by its appearance, this suggestion seems improbable, but its traditional medicinal uses give a deeper insight.

Properties of Daisy

Daisies first appear around the Spring Equinox, when the Sun enters Aries, which is ruled by Mars. The ancient herbalists used Daisy as a vulnerary – an herb to treat wounds, and as an anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic,  for treating fevers. Inflammation, fever, and wounds all suggest a ‘Martian’ connection.

Mars also leaves its signature on the taste sensation. The leaves and roots are quite astringent, almost hot, but very unlike the heat of chillies. Instead, it is a spreading, radiating warmth, not a blistering burn.

The leaves are a little rough and moist, and have a demulcent quality. The old herbalists found Daisy’s heat suitable for treating conditions characterized by retracted, cold phlegm. Daisies loosen congestive conditions caused by an excess of cold moisture -as the ancient herbalists would put it.

Modern clinical herbalists have all but forgotten the pretty English Daisy. They use her sister, the Ox-Eyed Daisy, instead. Both can be used for similar complaints. Ox-Eyed Daisies are an excellent remedy for chronic bronchial conditions, asthma, and whooping cough. It is also used to treat nervous excitability and, prepared as a lotion or ointment, as a wound herb.

Wild herbs are not only nutritious but also therapeutic – and none more so than the early spring herbs. They often provide just what our bodies need to restore vitality after fending off winter bugs.

Daisy as Wild Food

 

Recipes

 

Daisy in the Salad:

Daisy leaves and flowers can be added to spring salads. The young, tender leaves are rich in vitamin C, and their heat produces a diaphoretic effect.

Daisy Capers:

Conventional Capers are made from the unopened flower buds of the caper tree (Capparis spinosa.) But inventive foragers use the same method on other flower buds, such as Daisies or Dandelions (only use edible flowers!)

The basic recipe is quite simple:

Pick about one cup of Daisy buds, wash, and cover them with about 500 ml of salted water. Quickly bring to a boil and strain through a cheesecloth or finely meshed strainer.

Place the buds into a stone jar and pour 500 ml of boiling vinegar over them.

Make sure they are completely covered.

After about 4-5 days, pour the buds and vinegar into a pan and, making sure the buds are covered, bring to a boil.

Let them cool, jar and cover with jam cling film to prevent the buds from coming into direct contact with the air and turning mouldy.

Daisy Soup:

Daisy soup is quick and easy to prepare and can be made at almost any time of the year. Use all parts of the plant: roots, leaves and flowers. (Only use the roots if Daisies are prolific in your area.) Picking the plants is easy, but if you have heavy clay soil, be prepared for clots of dirt to cling to the roots, making cleaning them tedious.

Pick about 6-8oz of flowers (roots, leaves and tops), clean well and chop them up (not too small).

Quickly sauté them in a heavy pan with a few drops of olive oil.

Add half a cup of white wine or apple cider, let the alcohol fly off, and stir in 1 litre of vegetable broth. Season to taste and finish off with a dash of cream. Serve with croutons.

Gardening Jobs in May

Gardening Jobs in May

Gardening Jobs in May

What gardening jobs are there to do in May? Where I live, April has been unusually cool and wet. I didn’t get all my April jobs done, and my ‘gardening jobs agenda’ for May is rather full. The wheel of the year is turning, and the garden does not wait.

Potatoes

If you got all your potatoes planted in April, they are probably developing their first leaves by now. It’s time to earth them up now. Cover the leaves with soil, and only let the tops peek out. Repeat this process regularly as the plants grow and develop.

Sweet Corn

If you are planting sweet corn, you can now sow them in deep pots indoors. That will give them a head-start. Transplant them to a sunny spot in June.

Beans

Once there is no more risk of late frosts, you can sow all kinds of beans outside (runner, broad, dwarf). They like a sunny spot, but not too hot. Protect them from the slugs and snails—young bean shoots seem to be their favourite snack. If slugs are a big problem, it is best to start the plants in seed trays and transplant them only once they are strong enough to withstand a slug attack.

 

Warmth-loving plants: Tomatoes, Peppers, Courgettes, Aubergines

Your tomato, aubergine and pepper plants are probably growing fast now. There comes a point when they seem to yell, ‘get me out of here and plant me into the garden!’ Resist the temptation unless there is no more danger of late frosts in your growing zone. But, to appease them, you can harden them off. Take them outside during the day, but bring them back in at night until night temperatures are reliably around 10 °C.

You can also still sow cucumbers and melons—but keep them warm and protected for now.

Salad Veg and Greens

Sow batches of salad vegetables like radishes and lettuce, Swiss chard and Arugula/Rocket, to ensure a continuous supply.

Root crops

You can still sow root crops such as carrots, beetroots, leeks and turnips.

Winter Veg

Sow Leeks and brassicas for overwintering. It is best to start them off indoors to protect them from slug- and insect attacks.

Kitchen Herbs

It is also the perfect time to sow warmth-loving herbs such as basil and coriander. Protected them against attacks from ravenous slugs.

Weeds

May is lush! Everything sprouts and grows – including the weeds. But no need to curse them – if you can’t beat them, eat them! Check your garden weeds to see if they are edible and could go into a ‘foraged’ dinner. Bishop’s Weed, Stinging Nettles, Ground Ivy, Wild Garlic and Dandelion are all excellent in the ‘wild food cuisines’.

Flowers

Sow annuals like Californian Poppies, or nasturtiums in any gaps you might have in your borders for extra colour in the summer. The bees and insects will thank you.

Maintenance Jobs

There are always maintenance jobs that need to be taken care of:

  • If you have a pond, check for pondweed and algae and clean it out if necessary.

  • Build supports for climbing plants.

Keep bird feeders and birdbaths clean.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Check out SeedsNow for your organic gardening supplies.

 

Happy Beltane!

Happy Beltane!

On May 1, we celebrate Beltane, the festival of spring.
Mother Earth is donning her lushest gown of flowers and blossoms, and birds are singing from the trees. The heart rejoices as the spirit soars!
At Beltane, we celebrate the magical powers of creativity, fertility and abundance – the sheer miraculous beauty of life.
The God and the Goddess who preside over the undying force of life are in love, turning the land green and lush wherever they go. Every fragrant flower – a kiss and a blessing of their adoration.
Let’s share in their passion and celebrate the miracle of life! Beauty, love and merry-making are their rituals. Taste the zest of life!
If you have a garden, you witness and partake in this magic as you nurture your young seedlings. Pouring energy into your budding projects produces a similar experience of participating in this magic of creating. The magic of manifestation lies in the nurture and love that nurtures the seed ideas.
Take time to reflect on nature’s generosity and practice gratitude and mindfulness to attune to every nuance of this blessed time of the year.

Photo credit: Image by Ronny Overhate from Pixabay

Easter/ Oestara

Easter/ Oestara

Easter is a festival of sacrifice and resurrection. We commemorate Christ’s sacrifice on the day he died on the cross as Jesus, the man, to be resurrected as Christ, the son of God and redeemer of mankind. That is the official story. But the cross, which signifies the crucifixion, is an ancient symbol that predates Christianity by thousands of years.

The cross symbolizes the cosmic order: the four directions and the axis of time and space. Esoterically, it also signifies the surrender of the ego, which is bound to the material world.

 

Pre-Christian Origins of Easter

In the ancient world, sacrifice was not a celebration of death, as it may seem, but of life, as a way of giving back, so life may continue. Death and rebirth were merely the two sides of the same door. The mystery was symbolized by the Ouroboros, the dragon-snake, which eats its own tail, and thus continuously regenerates itself.

For a sacrifice to be meaningful, it had to be of value, something special. Any old rat would not do! A sacrifice was a gift to the Gods!
Only the king himself was deemed worthy of being sacrificed. But in time, Kings changed the rules. They wanted to be special, but not THAT special. Instead, they offered up their firstborn. That proved unpopular, and animals now had to play the part.

Oestara

At Oestara, when the Earth renews itself and puts on a fresh green robe, an innocent lamb must now bear the burden of honour. This tradition has survived: a lamb roast is still the traditional centrepiece of the Easter feast – a distant echo of an age-old sacrificial tradition.

Easter is a movable feast – a clear indication that this festival predates Christian times. It always falls on the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox (Worm Moon). The pre-Christian festival Oestara honoured the Goddess Eostre, a Mother Goddess known by many names: Ishtar, Astarte, or the Great Mother Kali.

Her sacred ‘Moon Hare’ (a symbol of fertility) has become the ‘Easter Bunny’. The eggs are a symbol of life. Traditionally, eggs would have been dyed red, the colour of blood and life. Giving red-dyed eggs is a blessing: A gift of life and abundance!

May your potential unfold and blossom! Happy Easter/Oestara, whichever you choose to celebrate!

Source:

The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara G. Walker, HaperCollins, 1983

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