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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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.
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
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.
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 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.
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Medicinal and Therapeutic Properties of Cacao
This article is about some surprising medicinal benefits of real Cacao – the stuff that chocolate is made of.
It may come as a surprise, but Cacao is actually pretty healthy. (It’s my favourite ‘superfood’. 🙂
If you are interested in the history of Cacao and how we have come to love chocolate so much, take a look at this article about the cultural history of chocolate.
PARTS USED: Dried seeds and seed shells.
HARVEST: Cacao pods take about 5-6 months to mature. The harvest occurs twice a year, from September to February and May/June, even though there is always ripe and unripe fruit on the same tree.
CONSTITUENTS: Fat, Amino Acids, Alkaloids (Theobromine, Caffeine), Riboflavin, Niacin, Thiamine, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamins A, C, D and E, polyphenols.
ACTIONS: Diuretic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, anti-depressant, nutritive anti-inflammatory, antioxidant
In Central America, a tea made from crushed Cacao seed shells called ‘nibs’ is used as an effective diuretic. A strong flow of urine is a sign of health and vigour, and any substance that produces this effect is praised as an aphrodisiac, enhancing male potency.
A pigment extracted from the husks has anti-HIV properties. In vitro studies have demonstrated that polymerized flavonoids present in the husks reduce the damaging effects of HIV. Apparently, they prevent the virus from entering the cells (Unten et al. 1991). But once inside the cell, the virus replicates normally.
Cacao is incredibly rich in polyphenols, antioxidant flavonoids that have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
Animal studies also suggest that Theobromine and Theophylline can ease inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract, such as asthma, by dilating the lungs and thus helping to relax the air passages.
But unfortunately, most of them are lost due to the standard methods used to process Cacao Beans.
Apparently, eating chocolate can be good for your heart health! In 2015, a study found that habitual chocolate consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular health issues, providing it is of high quality with a high cacao content. (2)
Cacao can relax and widen the arteries, thus reducing blood pressure and improving blood circulation. Combined with its ability to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, it can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Skincare from within
The Cacao phenols are also good for the skin. They improve blood circulation to the peripheral cells and improve the smoothness of the skin by helping to hydrate it from within. Long-term use is also said to protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
The higher the Cacao content, the better it is for your well-being. Have you ever wondered why you are craving chocolate when doing demanding mental work? It’s your body telling you what it needs: High Cocoa chocolate (min. 65%) has nutritional and stimulating properties that make it a good ‘pick-me-up’.
The flavonols in Cacao improve mood, alleviate symptoms of depression and reduce stress. One study of pregnant women even showed this stress-reducing effect to be conferred to the babies. It is also popular as comfort food to soothe PMS symptoms. Another study showed that older men can benefit from the regular consumption of high Cacao content chocolate, reporting improved health and well-being.
Even better, high Cacao content chocolate improves cognitive functions by increasing the blood flow to the brain. The beneficial flavanols can also cross the blood-brain barrier and directly benefit the neurons. For those suffering from cognitive impairments or neuronal conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s, high Cacao content chocolate is brain food.
The findings are promising, suggesting that more research is warranted.
High Cacao chocolate can even have a positive effect on Type 2 Diabetes symptoms. The unexpected findings showed that flavanols can slow the carbohydrate metabolism and uptake in the gut, while stimulating insulin secretion, lowering inflammation and aiding the transfer of sugar from the blood to the muscles.
Interestingly, high cocoa content chocolate actually has a positive effect on the body mass index (BMI). Chocolate eaters (min 81% cocoa) lose weight faster than people who do not eat chocolate.
Several animal studies indicate that a flavanol-rich Cacao diet lowers the risk of cancer – especially breast, pancreatic, liver and colon cancer and leukaemia. However, more research is needed.
Immune system stimulation
Another counterintuitive finding is that Cacao contains antibacterial, anti-enzymatic and immune-stimulating compounds that can have a beneficial effect on oral health.
It must be stressed, that all of these benefits only apply to high cocoa content chocolate that is very low in sugar, or without sugar. The common candy bar has NO health benefits. On the contrary, chocolate candy can be harmful.
(In case you are confused about flavonoids, flavanols and flavanols, they are actually different compounds. Take a look at this article to help clear up the confusion.)
(1) 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.
(2) (Kwok CS, Boekholdt SM, Lentjes MA, Loke YK, Luben RN, Yeong JK, Wareham NJ, Myint PK, Khaw KT. Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart. 2015 Aug;101(16):1279-87. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2014-307050. Epub 2015 Jun 15. Erratum in: Heart. 2018 Mar;104(6):532. PMID: 26076934; PMCID: PMC6284792.)
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