Sacred Earth

Exploring nature and culture, ecology and eco-psychology

Nature Notes 

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox

Happy Spring Equinox!

A new cycle is beginning – but what a strange beginning it is, with half the world in lock-down! The earth is waking from her winter retreat. Persephone is returning to the upper world and life is ready to burst forth again. At Spring Equinox, the forces of light and dark are hanging in the balance. But with every passing day, the sun is gaining strength now. Birds are returning and are singing their little hearts out to welcome the spring. Buds are bursting and Mother Earth has donned her cloak of early spring flowers as she turns the land verdant and fertile once again.

This is usually a joyful, busy time, full of expectation. This year is a little different. It feels cathartic, rather than light and joyful, the way it usually does. And still, the garden is calling, eager to receive the seeds as soon as the soil has warmed up. This is also a time of spring cleaning, purification, painting and decorating. It is a time to get ready, so everything is set on GO! These are things one can still do, locked down or not, in anticipation of the coming spring. 

Physically, that means boosting your energy with the fresh vitamins and nutrients of the early spring herbs. And this is especially true this year. Boost your immune system and don’t give that virus half a chance!

Mentally, this is a time to be strong and focused. Check on everything that you have planned for and make sure that the pathway for your intentions is clear.  The crisis will pass eventually and there is a light on the other side. Good planning prepares the way to success.

Spiritually, the Spring Equinox augurs new beginnings. We can turn a page and make a new start. It is also a time to celebrate the eternal life-force and the powers of self-renewal. 

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Current issue

Burdock – Arctium Lappa

Burdock – Arctium Lappa

Foraging Burdock

Burdock may not be the prettiest herb, but it is certainly one of the most eye-catching: With its huge heart-shaped leaves that form an impressive rosette during the first year and tall stalk that forms in the second year often reaching a height of more than 5 ft tall, it is hard to overlook this plant. Even if you are oblivious to the plant-life around you, if you have a dog, chances are that you have at least made acquaintance with Burdock seeds. The sticky burs cling to fur by little hooks and are quite difficult to brush out.

Velcro – biomimicry at its best

Ingeniously, Burdock’s burs have inspired the invention of Velcro. The sticky tape has been modeled on Burdock’s hooks. This is a fine example of biomimicry. Nature has invented so many incredible forms to serve all sorts of functions. And she solves such tasks often far better than we could invent. 

But this is only one of the amazing properties that this Cinderella plant has to offer. Burdock is rarely welcome in the yard, much less in carefully groomed gardens, despite the fact that bees and butterflies just love it for its generous supply of nectar.

If you keep your eyes open in early spring you will notice Burdock’s leaves first. The huge rosette of heart-shaped, somewhat wavy leaves, sprouts as an expansive rosette that somewhat resemble rhubarb leaves, but grow much more closely to the ground. Burdock is biennial, which means that it does not send up its flowering shoot until the second year.

When to gather Burdock

Foragers diverge in their opinions as to the best time to collect Burdock. Roots are usually collected either in spring or in the autumn. The autumn roots are best as ‘foraged food’. In spring, the vital power has risen into the stalk, leaving the root a bit depleted. However, the actual medicinal compounds are more concentrated in the roots at that time. For foragers, autumn gathered roots and spring /early summer gathered leaf- and flower-bearing stalks are best. Don’t leave it too late lest they get tough.

The leaf stalks can get quite stringy. It is best to peel and cut them and to pull the strings out. They are best in soups, casseroles or pies and give them a flavor that is reminiscent of artichoke when cooked.

The leaves are not used for food. They tend to be coarse, bitter and tough – not exactly enjoyable. The only exceptions are the very young fresh shoots, which appear early in spring. The roots, on the other hand, are delectable, although it requires a determined effort to get them out of the ground. The long taproot needs to be lifted with a digging fork. Once brought to the surface they must be thoroughly cleaned and peeled to cut away the tough, outer skin. The white root flesh itself has a slightly sweetish, nutty flavor that is sometimes compared to Jerusalem Artichokes. The roots are excellent when thinly sliced or pureed. They can be added to stir-fry vegetables or to stews and soups.

Burdock as a healing food

Burdock, like so many of our wild weeds, offers both nutritional and medicinal benefits.

In Japan, Burdock is cultivated and sold as ‘Gobo’ on the market. One can sample it at Japanese Restaurants where it can sometimes be found as a component of sushi rolls or as a side dish.

As a healing food, the root is particularly recommended for those with metabolic syndrome or for people who suffer from diabetes. Burdock root is rich in inulin, a dietary fiber that is not broken down by the small intestines but nourishes beneficial bacteria that populate the colon. Inulin thus acts as a pre-biotic that helps to normalize the intestinal flora and to balance the blood sugar levels.

Burdock as an aphrodisiac

Perhaps the Japanese like it so much because they are in on its secret. Burdock is said to fortify the body, and to give it endurance. This staying power has given it the reputation of having aphrodisiac powers, for which it is highly valued in Japan.

 

Burdock as a tonic energizer

But Burdock does more than just turbo-charging the libido motor. Its overall action can be described as ‘purifying’. It doesn’t so much add extra energy than remove that which blocks its free flow. Burdock stimulates the metabolic rate. It thereby gently, but persistently activates and tones all the organs of elimination, and induces a process of inner cleansing.

Its energizing quality is hard to describe. Perhaps it is best likened to putting a good, sustaining log on the fire, such as oak or apple. A log that burns slowly and steadily and develops an intense, but even heat, as opposed to e.g. pine, which burns in a flash. Burdock’s energy activates all the functions of the vital organs, thus improving, cleansing and toning the entire body. For this purpose, the fresh root is infinitely more powerful than the dried material.

Burdock as a liver tonic and blood cleanser

In medical herbalism, Burdock root is considered a ‘liver herb’. One of the most important jobs that the liver performs is that of detoxing the blood. Burdock is of great aid in this regard. It is often used to help promote proper elimination which clears toxins from the body. Such toxins are often at the root of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and similar.

Burdock as a wound healer

One of the less well-known powers of Burdock is the fact that it makes an excellent vulnerary. For this purpose, both, the freshly grated roots, or the fresh, mashed leaves can be applied as a poultice to wounds, bruises, and badly healing sores. Simultaneously, an infusion or decoction of the root can be given in order to help the body rid itself of impurities and to facilitate inner cleansing by supporting the liver and the kidneys.  Burdock and Nettle root extracts are made into a hair lotion to prevent the loss of hair.

Burdock’s anti-tumor activity

In the alternative healing community it has long been used for treating cancer.  Various salves and decoctions are on the market, but the best known in this category is a tea known as ‘Essiac’ of which Burdock is a key ingredient.

Recent research has shown that both the seeds and the roots of Burdock have anti-tumor properties. However, Cancer is a serious disease that should be treated by a competent medical professional.

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5464502/

Burdock hair-tonic

Burdock is said to stimulate hair growth as well as soothe an irritated scalp. One can prepare an easy rinse by making a strong infusion of the bark. Alternatively, the freshly pressed root juice can be blended with oil and applied as a tonic hair pack. But, make sure to lather the hair well before rinsing it all out with water, otherwise, you will end up with an almighty mess.

Burdock with its huge, heart-shaped leaves

Recipes

NOTE: Beware that handling the stalks without gloves can stain the hands. Use gloves for picking and preparing.

Creamy Burdock leaf stalks

The leaf stalks of the first year’s growth make a fine vegetable. Cut off the leaves and chop the stalks into smallish chunks. Steam in a little bit of water with some salt and sugar until tender (no longer than 10 minutes). Make a rue with the cooking water and a little butter and some oatmeal. Add some Crème Fraiche, an egg or a little cheese.

Burdock Bake

The same kind of idea can be modified to make a kind of burdock bake: Prepare some Bulgur wheat and mix with the stir-fried leaf stalks (take care not to overcook the stalks). Make a ‘custard’ with 2 eggs, crème fraîche, a little bit of milk and melting cheese, mix with the Bulgur and burdock and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. This recipe can be adjusted to taste: add other vegetables, such as onions, sliced carrots and garlic, and season to taste.

Au Gratin

Similarly, Burdock stalks can be prepared ‘au gratin’. Leave out the Bulgur wheat and just layer the pre-cooked stalks. Pour a mixture of seasoned eggs and crème fraîche over the stalks and sprinkle with cheddar cheese or similar. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.

The leaves are usually a bit bitter and most people don’t like them as a vegetable. However, the young shoots are edible, especially when mixed with other, mild greens, or added to a cheese omelet. They can also be added to soups.

The roots are hard to dig for, but make an excellent root vegetable, which can be roasted, pan-fried, mashed like mashed potatoes or added to soups. 

Dandelion and Burdock Beer

(from ‘The New Herbal’ by Richard Mabey)

https://amzn.to/37oEdKl (amazon)

Dandelion and Burdock Beer is an old, traditional spring tonic in rural Britain.

Ingredients

  • 1lb young nettles
  • 4oz dandelion leaves
  • 4oz fresh sliced, or 2 oz dried burdock root
  • ½ oz bruised ginger root
  • 2 lemons
  • 1-gallon water
  • 1lb + 4 teaspoons demerara sugar
  • 1 oz cream of tartar
  • Brewing yeast (use amount according to instructions on the package)

  1. Put the nettles, dandelion leaves, burdock, ginger and thinly pared rinds of the lemons into a large pan.
  2. Add the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 min.
  3. Put the lemon juice, 1 lb sugar and the cream of tartar into a large container and strain on the liquid from the pan, pressing down well on the nettles and other ingredients.
  4. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Cool to body temperature.
  6. Sprinkle in the yeast.
  7. Cover the beer and leave to ferment in a warm place for 3 days.
  8. Rack off the beer and bottle it, adding ½ teaspoon demerara sugar per pint.
  9. Leave the bottles undisturbed until the beer is clear – about 1 week.

Plant Wisdom:

Why Hawthorn is your heart’s best friend

Why Hawthorn is your heart’s best friend

Plant Profile: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

When the Hawthorn dapples the hedgerows with its pinkish-white blossom, we know that spring is here to stay. Typically, Hawthorn starts to flower at the end of April or the beginning of May, which is why it is also sometimes known as ‘Mayblossom’ or simply as ‘May’. Linnaeus originally named the species Crateagus oxyacantha, a combination of kratos, meaning ‘hardness’ (of wood), ‘oxus’ which means ‘sharp’ and ‘akantha’ for ‘thorn’. But there is ambiguity over which precise species Linnaeus meant and thus this old name has been rejected. The new name is Crataegus monogyna, which refers to the fact that this particular species only has one seed.

Description

Hawthorn grows as a small, hardy tree that rarely grows to more than 30 ft. It is a member of the rose family, in the extensive genus of Crataegus. Taxonomists still argue over the actual number of species that belong to this genus, but conservative estimates range from about 200 to 300 species. Hawthorns are quite ‘promiscuous’ which results in many cross forms that some botanists consider mere variations, while others deem them separate species.

During the flowering season in late April or early May the small, white five-petaled flowers grow in showy clusters that cover up almost every inch of the tree. The deeply cut, 3-lobed leaves are about 3″ long and appear before the flowers. They are dark green on top and paler bluish-green underneath. In September, an abundance of bright red ‘haws’ glow in the hedges, looking very much like ‘mini rose hips’. Although edible and attracting much wildlife they are not especially palatable to humans.

Habitat and Ecology

The genus is most diverse and widespread throughout North America. But it is well represented in the entire Northern Hemisphere, including all parts of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and even China. Crataegus monogyna is not native to North America.

Hawthorns are most familiar as hedgerow trees. They are undemanding as far as soil conditions are concerned, but prefer full sun. They may be found in open woodlands, along their edges or, most distinctively, as lone trees on open hillsides.

For wildlife, a hawthorn hedgerow is an ideal habitat: the thick, dense and impenetrable tangle of thorns provides a safe habitat for many small animals and birds.

Crataegus monogyna is not native to North America, but it was introduced there as a hedge plant, in the 1800s. Birds have been instrumental in distributing their seeds far and wide. They seem to prefer these berries to those of the native varieties. The advance of industrial farming in North America has pushed Crataegus into decline. No longer valued as a hedgerow plant bordering fields to protect against soil erosion it is now viewed as problematic and invasive.

Hawthorn berries

History

Hawthorn is so common throughout the country that it hardly needs a description. Unassuming and inconspicuous, its petite and straggly appearance does not really inspire awe. Like an old familiar friend it waves its windswept branches from the top of a hillside or greets us as we pass it on the old familiar track. Yet, there is something quintessentially British about this tree. It is hardly surprising that its ancient roots are deeply entwined with the myths and folklore of our ‘Dreamtime’.

Etymologically, the name at first seems to indicate nothing more than a utilitarian function for which indeed it is still very commonly employed: Hawthorn makes a superb and quickly setting natural defense. A dense thorny Hawthorn thicket is quite impenetrable. Its fast development (appropriately it is also known as Quickset or Quickbeam) aids this purpose, as does the fact that its branches become increasingly dense the more they are cut or eaten.

But in the mindset of the ancients, a hedge was more than just a living fence. A hedge signified the boundary between the known, safe, and civilized world and the wild, mysterious wild yonder. The word ‘hedge’ derives from the old English ‘Haga’ also found in Hagathorn’, which is another name for Hawthorn. Both share the same Germanic root ‘hag’.

Etymology

In old English, a ‘hag’ was not just an old, ugly woman, but is cognate with ‘haegtesse’ – a woman of prophetic powers, and ‘hagzusa’ – spirit beings and ‘hedge riders’. These wood sprites were thought to reside in the ‘between worlds’, ie, between the worlds of everyday reality and ‘the otherworld’. As spirit beings, these sprites could easily traverse the boundaries between the worlds. Likewise, their human counterparts were the healers, seers, and soothsayers who were also thought to be able to travel between these worlds. Thus, Hawthorn signifies protection, yet it is also seen as a gateway to the spirit world.

In folk medicine, its primary use is for protection against all manner of evil spirits, and demons who were apt frighten hapless passers-by. Carved hawthorn amulets were worn for protection or hung above doors to keep bad spirits at bay.

Mythology

Hawthorn features in both pre-Christian and Christian symbolism. In Christian mythology, it is said that the crown of Christ was made of Hawthorn. Some authorities have claimed that the Holy Spirit has a certain peculiar affinity with thorn trees. The burning bush apparition mentioned in the Bible is thought to have been a thorn tree.

In British Christian mythology, the most famous Hawthorn is the Glastonbury Thorn, which could long be seen as a lone figure on the slope of Wearyall Hill. (Sadly, vandals have destroyed this tree.) According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, an uncle of Jesus, had traveled to Britain with the intention of finding a place to bury the holy cup (grail) that had held the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. When he first set eyes on the Holy Isle of Avalon, he struck his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill. At once it burst into flower. Joseph of Arimathea took this as a sign to establish the first Christian Church of England right there, where today lies the little market town of Glastonbury.

Descendants of that original miraculous walking stick have been transplanted as cuttings and now decorate various Christian sites around the town. To this day, these special trees burst into flower not once, but twice a year: first in May, when it is right and proper for all Hawthorn trees to flower, and then again at Christmas, to mark the birthday of Christ.

Hawthorn Blossom

Folk Traditions

Hawthorn is also associated with the old Beltain custom of ‘fetching the May’. Beltain, which takes place on May 1, is a celebration of spring and the return of the life-force that rejuvenates the land. Hawthorn’s abundance of flowers that burst into blossom just at the right time seems eminently suitable to mark this glorious time of the year. People would tie colorful ribbons into the branches of the tree to symbolize their prayers and wishes.

The flowers exude a peculiar smell that is often likened to the odor of rotting meat. Hawthorn is fertilized by insects that are attracted by the smell of carrion, a smell that has also been associated with the plague. This is why, despite the fact that Hawthorn is very much loved, it is never brought inside the house.

The scent has also been associated with the perfume of sexuality, which better fits its fertility connotations in association with the Beltain celebrations. Whatever one might associate with the scent, it is unlikely it will go unnoticed as the flowers announce their presence from afar.

Food uses

The flowering tops can be used for making a heart-friendly breakfast tea (see below). 

In the autumn, the tree is laden with hard, red berries that look like miniature rose hips. Unfortunately, Crataegus mongyna is rather mealy and not very tasty. The meager pericarp layer is extremely dry and almost devoid of flavor. There are, however, related species with much better-tasting fruits. Some are even juicy enough to process into a jelly. If need be Hawthorn berries can be dried and ground into a kind of flour substitute. However, as they contain no gluten this is not a flour to make bread with. 

Medicinal Uses:

From an ethnobotanical perspective, Hawthorn is a very interesting plant. Since it is a very large and widely distributed genus people from China to Europe to North America have used their specific native species in similar ways.

Parts used:

Flowering tops, ripe fruits, leaves

Collection:

The flowering tops are harvested in May. Dry quickly in the shade to avoid discoloration. The berries are collected in the autumn. Dry quickly and thoroughly to prevent mold.

Constituents:

Fruit: saponins, glycosides, flavonoids, cardioactive glycosides, ascorbic acid, condensed tannins.

Flowers: cardiotonic amines

Crataegus does not contain any single active constituent that phyto-pharmacologists will get excited about – it sports no ‘super compounds’ that can be developed into new drugs. Instead, it is the unique synergy of its composition that creates its marvelous effects – and which so far has defied replication in the laboratory.

Hawthorn is most valued for its tonic action on the heart. It has an undisputed regulatory, or tonic effect that provides an immensely useful and safe remedy for beginning cardio-vascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, particularly in developed countries.

The flowering tops as well as the berries are medicinally active. They regulate the blood-pressure via a dual action: they stimulate both the coronary arteries and the heart muscle itself. They dilate and relax the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure, while gently stimulating the heart muscle, increasing the pulse rate. This takes the pressure off the heart muscle and thus improves its overall efficiency.

Hawthorn relaxes the nerves that supply the heart, which helps to relieve the symptoms of stress, tightness in the chest and angina. It also regulates an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and palpitations. Hawthorn is a valuable supportive long-term remedy for the general weakness of the heart caused by infectious diseases such as diphtheria or scarlet fever. It improves the overall function of an aged and tired heart muscle. It may be used preventatively and is especially recommended for people who are under constant pressure and stress, or remedially, for those recovering from a heart attack.

According to Chinese and Japanese studies, Hawthorn clearly shows a positive effect on the whole coronary system and can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, one of the most significant contributing factors of heart disease.

Hawthorn improves the peripheral blood flow, thus improving oxygen supply to the limbs and to the head. In combination with Gingko it has a beneficial effect on memory.

Hawthorn has also been used for nervousness and as a digestive tonic to help ‘move’ stagnant food (Chinese medicine) and to aid the digestion of fatty foods. It is also considered useful as a diuretic and a urinary tonic. The old herbalists seemed to value this aspect of Hawthorn’s healing virtues especially highly.

Hawthorn is the best overall heart tonic available in the herbal pharmacopeia. It is even recognized in allopathic medicine and is included in the ‘Commission E’ list of medicinally useful plants. Its gentle, tonic action and safety record make it an ideal and safe herb for conditions afflicting an aging coronary system and heart. But it is an alterative and tonic remedy, which means best results are achieved when it is taken over long periods of time. Instant results should not be expected. It contains no digitalis-like compounds or other cardio-active constituents that build up in the body over time. There is also no record of drug interference, even with other cardio medicines. Thus, Hawthorn tops or berries taken as a tea or tincture can be taken over long periods of time without ill-effects. (Of course, allergies are always possible, but with this herb, they form a very small exception to the rule.)

Ref: Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249900/

UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS/MS Characterization of Phenolics from Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata (Hawthorn) Leaves, Fruits and their Herbal Derived Drops (Crataegutt Tropfen)

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nikolai_Kuhnert/publication/320325764_UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MSMS_Characterization_of_Phenolics_from_Crataegus_monogyna_and_Crataegus_laevigata_Hawthorn_Leaves_Fruits_and_their_Herbal_Derived_Drops_Crataegutt_Tropfen/links/5b1926700f7e9b68b4255af3/UPLC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS-MS-Characterization-of-Phenolics-from-Crataegus-monogyna-and-Crataegus-laevigata-Hawthorn-Leaves-Fruits-and-their-Herbal-Derived-Drops-Crataegutt-Tropfen.pdf

PHENOLIC CONTENT AND ANTIOXIDANT ACTIVITY OF CRATAEGUS MONOGYNA L. FRUIT EXTRACTS

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8193/140b3f344ce5633451fe0e5d63499cd1a40f.pdf

Heilpflanzenpraxis Heute, Siegfried Bäumler, Elsevier 2007

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