Sacred Earth

Exploring nature and culture

Nature Notes

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice, may your light shine bright!

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. The trees have lost their leaves, and all signs of life have retreated below ground. Frozen in time, the land lies barren. Barely rising above the horizon, the Sun only sends a few feeble rays of light. The birds have left on their long journey to milder climes. The Earth has entered hibernation mode.

And yet, we find cause to rejoice at these darkest times! Deep within the Earth, a tiny light is born! Fragile as a baby in its crib, the sun-saviour god returns.

We are on the threshold of a new cycle, not yet sure if the baby will grow. But where there is life; there is hope.

In the old days, the 12 days of Christmas marked a time, when the veil between the worlds is thin, and spirits pass through. The same is true of the 12 days around the summer solstice. Otherworldly beings are visiting us from beyond.

The Solstice is a time of reflection, of cherishing memories, and of gratitude.

It may not have been an easy year, but there are always things to be grateful for, and hope is on the horizon.

During this quiet space, we reflect on gratitude; on love and care, and on being there for one another. We dream about our ambitions for the year ahead and how to make things better.

The Winter Solstice marks a turning point with the promise of a new dawn.

Count your blessings and celebrate hope. The wheel of time is turning, and the light is returning. Let us cherish and protect this tiny flame of hope. When its fire grows stronger, life once more returns to Earth.

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Hi there! Thanks for stopping by! My name is Kat Morgenstern, and I am delighted that you have found your way here!

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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What is Foraging?

What is Foraging?

Foraging – connecting with nature through the senses

 

I became a forager at the age of 5, and I suspect many of you did, too. My early childhood memories are filled with berries of all kinds: wild strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and above all, blueberries. They covered the forest floor so densely that it was difficult to set down your foot without squashing them. 

The summer holidays were pure berry bliss as I munched my way through the landscape like an insatiable caterpillar.

These early sensuous experiences sowed the seeds from which, in time, my passion for nature sprouted. 

Nothing can forge a deeper connection to nature and the land than such total immersion – learning by smelling, tasting, eating, feeling and playing with what nature provides in abundance. We learn by doing, observing and asking questions about what we can directly experience. These sensory impressions form the foundations of our understanding of the world. 

 

 We learn to understand processes, to see patterns from which we deduce meaning. Such intense observation creates a deep relationship with the observed. We are no longer separated, but deeply and empathically involved. A sense of familiarity and caring develops and gradually grows. A great way to stimulate this learning process is to become a forager.

 

What is foraging?

The term ‘foraging’ is often associated with animals roaming around looking for food. Different animals forage for different kinds of food. A hedgehog looks for beetles, snails and fallen fruit, while gorillas sustain themselves only on leaves. 

 

As ‘civilized’ human beings, we mostly forage at the supermarket. Everything is always available, and most of us have lost any sense of connection to the cycle of the seasons and the different foods they produce – unless they are gardeners, of course. But before we began domesticating wild species of plants and animals, we incorporated a wide variety of wild species into our diets. 

 

Picking berries or hunting for mushrooms is still hugely popular, especially in times of economic hardship. Some of us continue to forage for part of our diets – not just to save money on the grocery bill, but simply because we love it. We love the connection with the land and the variety of foods and flavours each season provides. Besides, wild foods tend to have a vastly superior nutritional profile compared to industrially farmed produce.

 

What are wild (plant) foods?

Wild food plants are simply edible plants that are not under cultivation. But the dividing line between wild and cultivated foods can be very vague. Many wild edibles are the undomesticated ancestors of the plants we find at the grocery. Some wild species used to be cultivated and sold on the market but are no longer grown today. Gardeners even curse them as weeds. 

 

Some fruits and nuts are cultivated and found in the wild. The cultivated varieties are bred for specific traits and qualities, such as shelf-life. Their wild cousins tend to be smaller but are often more flavourful.

 

Whether we can digest any given wild plant is determined by our physiology. Certain plants that would kill us are perfectly edible for other animals. 

 

How to become a forager?

 

Foraging is a skill that must be learnt like any other. 

The best method to learn is to find a knowledgeable mentor or join foraging walks and classes in your neighbourhood.

But there is also much you can learn on your own. 

 

Essential foraging skills:

Learn all you can about your environment

Observe closely, and ask questions: 
What kinds of trees, bushes and wildflowers grow here?
Which animals feed on them? 
Do certain plants always grow together? 
What is the soil like, chalky or loamy, wet or dry? 
Do you know what the farmer sprays on his nearby field? 

Learn plant identification skills

Foragers must learn basic botany and become familiar with the transformative processes of plants. Learn to recognize them at different stages of their growth cycle. Some species are edible at one stage, but toxic at another. 

Learn the seasons

Each season brings forth its special treats, but seasons are not fixed by a calendar. If you know how to read the signs of nature, you will recognize when the time to harvest a specific herb or fruit has come.

Learn how to care for your environment

As foragers, we are stewards of the land, not pillagers. We must not only take but also give back to nature. Remember that you are not the only hungry one out there. Others (human or animal) also depend on the gifts of nature.

Cautions:

 

Never ever rely on your intuition alone! Even deadly plants and fungi may look, smell or taste deceptively appealing!

 

Learning everything you can about your environment is the most essential skill a forager must develop.

 

Always test for allergies before tucking into a foraged feast. The body can be finicky when we ask it to accept foods it has never previously encountered.

 

And finally – knowing your land also means learning about dangers that may lurk in the undergrowth: snakes, insects (ticks!), wild boars, or even bears, depending on where you live.

 

Resources:

 

There are many knowledgeable people out there who teach foraging as a craft – too many to name them all here.

But here are a few useful books. (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Keep in mind that each bioregion is unique. There are many differences concerning microclimates, seasons, and habitats. Obviously, I can’t cover them all. I focus on my local bioregion, which is Central Europe.

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12 amazing superfood properties of Cacao

12 amazing superfood properties of Cacao

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.

 

CACAO BEANS

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

Crushed Cocoa Beans

Crushed Cacao Beans

Image by janiceweirgermia from Pixabay

Diuretic

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.

Anti HIV-properties

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.

Anti-inflammatory

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.

Cardio-Vascular support

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.

Mood enhancing

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.

Cognition

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.

Blood-sugar regulation

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.

 

Weight loss

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.

 

Anti-Cancer

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.

 

NOTE

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.)

References:

(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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