Sacred Earth

Exploring nature and culture

Nature Notes

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

On the Summer Solstice, the Sun reaches the zenith of its annual journey. We celebrate the longest day and shortest night. It is a magical time: nature is blossoming. The veil between the worlds is thin: sprites and spirits easily cross between them and we may even catch a glimpse of the little folk.

The young Sun-God Bel has climaxed, and his powers are beginning to wane. Lugh is taking over the reign. He will ripen the fruits of the earth and transform the Sun’s power into sugar and starch that will sustain us through the dark half of the year.

At the Summer Solstice, we honour the Gods and offer rituals and prayers. We ask for protection, health, and sustenance.

But most of all, it is a time of gatherings and celebrations, of revelling around bon fires, and of dancing, feasting, and merry-making.

The herbs are now at their most potent, and we should gather our annual supplies.

Spiritually, it is a time to seek guidance by divination or retreat on a vision quest to hold counsel with the gods.

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I have created the Sacred Earth website as a forum for nature lovers of all stripes. Come and join me on a journey down the garden path, and off into the virtual woods, where we will explore, learn and discover all about the intertwining roots of nature and culture.

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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.

Plant Profile:

Cacao can do more – New Uses for an Old Crop

Cacao can do more – New Uses for an Old Crop

In the past, there has been a lot of organic waste from the Cacao harvest. Research has been focused on alternative uses for all the discarded pods and fruit pulp produced during the Cacao bean harvest.

CACAO BUTTER :

A white /yellowish oil, expressed from the crushed seeds

CONSTITUENTS:

Palmitic, Stearic-, Oleic-, Linoleic Acid, traces of Isoleic acid

ACTIONS:

Emollient and nutrient

Non-chocolate uses of Theobroma Cacao

 

Economically, the most important use of Cacao is for making chocolate and cocoa for all our favourite sweet stuff. Cacao fat, pressed from roasted Cacao beans, is a by-product that has its own uses. 

Cacao Butter for Cosmetic and Pharmaceutical uses

The cosmetic industry uses Cacao butter as a nutritionally rich, moisturizing, and emollient fat in numerous skin-care products.

Cacao butter is solid at room temperature but melts at body temperature. Suppositories, meant to dissolve inside the body, are often made with Cacao butter. Lotions for haemorrhoids, vaginal and uterine lesions, or dry, chapped skin, lip balm and wound dressings also frequently contain Cacao butter. 

Internally, Cacao butter can help soothe bronchial and intestinal irritations. In fact, even high quality, high percentage Cocoa and Chocolate has some amazing superfood properties.

 

 New uses from waste products

During processing, the beans and some fruit pulp are left to ‘sweat’ for a few days, which changes the beans’ chemistry, reducing their bitterness and creating the right conditions for their characteristic chocolate flavour to develop. Although the pulp is an essential part of this process, only small amounts are. About 60% of the pulp goes to waste. 

 

Cacao smoothies and juices

But it doesn’t have to. In Brazil, farmers remove much of the pulp to modify the acidity and obtain smoother-tasting beans. The fruit pulp is sold at the local market and turned into various delicious products. Cocoa fruit-pulp jelly is a local delicacy. It serves as an ingredient in juices or shakes. But it could also be frozen and used to flavour ice cream, yoghurt or sold as a fruit juice concentrate. Unfortunately, so far, preserving large amounts of pulp has proved difficult and costly. 

 

 

To find ways to make more of the harvest, besides the beans, would be highly desirable, since Cacao prices on the global market are fickle, putting the small subsistence farmers at risk. 

 

New uses for discarded pods

Traditionally, a certain proportion of discarded pods is fed to animals, but the pods are not very digestible. In West Africa, the discarded pods are burnt to yield potassium-rich ash, used for making soap. But composting them, or making bio-char which in turn could be used to return valuable nutrients to the soil, would reduce farmers’ dependence on chemical fertilizers and reduce their costs. (1)

 

In recent years, research has focused on other alternative products that could be obtained from Cacao without decreasing pod yields.  (Antonio Figueira, Jules Janick, and James N. BeMiller, 1993)

 Gum

One such product is gum, present in both the stem and, to a larger extent, in the pods. This gum has a similar composition as Karaya Gum, which is typically extracted from various Sterculia species. 

 

The food- and pharmaceutical industries use it as an emulsifying agent and fixative. Studies show that Cacao pod gum compares favourably with Gum Karaya. Both contain the same monosaccharides, but Cacao pod gum also contains arabinose and has a higher proportion of rhamnose, making it better suited as a binder for pharmaceutical pills. In this respect, it is even superior to Gum Tragacanth. (Figueira et al. 1992).

 

Due to supply inconsistencies, the demand for Karaya gum has diminished. But Cacao pod gum could provide a superior and readily available alternative that could also provide a secondary source of income for subsistence farmers.

 

References

(1) Using Cocoa Pod Husks to Improve Crop Yields and Soil Quality

 

Figueira, A., J. Janick, and J.N. BeMiller. 1993. New products from Theobroma cacao: Seed pulp and pod gum. p. 475-478. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Figueira, A., J. Janick, M. Yadav, and J.N. BeMiller. 1992. Cacao gum: a potential new economic product. In: Proc. Int. Cocoa Conf. Challenges in the 90s (in press).

Unten, S., H. Ushijima, H. Shimizu, H. Tsuchie, T. Kitamura, N. Moritome, and H. Sakagami. 1991. Effect of cacao husk extract on human immunodeficiency virus infection. Letters Appl. Microbiol. 14:251-254.

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Gardening Jobs in June

Gardening Jobs in June

If you thought that now the growing season is in full swing you can kick back and relax, you are mistaken. June is a rather busy month in the garden, especially if you want to continue harvesting veggies in the fall and winter.

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