Sacred Earth

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Nature Notes

Lughnasad – Harvest Time

Lughnasad – Harvest Time

The time of the grain harvest

Lughnasad marks the beginning of the harvest season. The fruit and vegetables are ripening, and the grain has turned golden. It is usually an intensely busy and happy time, especially for gardeners. The efforts of the early part of the year are paying off. But not this year.

The growing period, from spring to late summer, is fraught with danger. Late frosts can kill sensitive starts, or summer storms may ruin a crop in just a few minutes. A good harvest is always hoped for, but never guaranteed. This year, Lugh has been fierce. Countless wildfires have caused terrible devastation, scorched landscapes and draughts. Others have been flooded and pelted by hail the size of hand grenades. We need the Sun’s warmth and light and without water, there is no life.

 

Lughnasad or Lammas, in the Christian tradition, marks the beginning of the harvest season. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘hlaf-mas’, meaning ‘loaf mass’. Bread and wine are the traditional sacraments of the Eucharist.

 

But harvesting the seeds is only one stage of the perpetual cycle of life. Ideally, the harvest should sustain and nourish us through the winter, when the Earth is barren and still. It must also yield enough to provide the seeds we need to start the cycle again next year. We reap as we sow, but we also sow what we reap.

Facing the unravelling climate catastrophe, we are grateful for anything we can harvest today. But we must change our practices and live more sustainably if we want this cycle to continue and provide for our children and children’s children.

We can no longer afford to ignore the changes that are taking place. We are facing an existential threat – unless we act now. The future potential for our species and life as we know it, lies in our hands.

The future starts now.

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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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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.

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Plant Profile:

Foraging Chickweed

Foraging Chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Once winter has settled in, foraging has come to a standstill. We have to rely on previously gathered supplies. Except, if you are lucky enough to live in a temperate climate zone, there may be at least one herb that defies the elements. You might have spotted it in your veggie plot: a little sprawling herb with heart-shaped leaves and star-shaped flowers that belongs to the Pink family known as Chickweed.

Chickweed is fairly hardy. It defies the elements and can pop up early in the year when other herbs are still asleep. 

 

Chickweed is one of those herbs that gardeners love to hate. They try everything to get rid of this persistent ‘weed’ that pops up anywhere humans have toiled to cultivate the ground. It is only natural. 

 

Chickweed is one of those herbs that blush at bare soil and quickly spread out to cover mother earth’s nakedness. Chickweed binds the soil, prevents it from washing away and drying out – the consequences of standard gardening practices. 

 

Alas, as soon as this little healer herb appears, gardeners grit their teeth and start a crusade. How dare this audacious herb invade their plot?

 

But instead of battling it, you could welcome it as a gift. Chickweed is a blessing, not just for the earth but also for us. It is rich in chlorophyll, minerals, and vitamins that are sorely needed at this time of the year. And all we have to do is clip its tender tops. 

 

Chickweed has a mild flavour and is incredibly versatile. It can be used like alfalfa to garnish sandwiches, soups, and salads. It can also be incorporated into omelets, fillings, sauces, dumplings, or quiches – the possibilities are endless. But it should always be used fresh and finely minced, as the stems can be somewhat stringy. When cooking with Chickweed, bear in mind that it cooks down to practically nothing in no time at all, so just add it at the last moment and don’t cook it for long. Overcooking would only diminish its benefits.

 

Chickweed also offers some valuable medicinal properties. The old herbalists describe its effect as cooling and soothing. They used it as an expectorant for afflictions of the upper respiratory tract, like an irritable cough. The same cooling and soothing properties also calm inflamed sores, rashes, itchy skin conditions, and burns. Traditional herbalists used it to make ointments and poultices for treating eczemas, boils, and abscesses.

 

Sometimes it is made into a tincture, but fresh works best. If you want to concentrate its effect, it can be juiced. But it does not keep very long. It can be frozen, but that will diminish some of its goodness. 

 

Warning: some people have reported allergic reactions to Chickweed collected from chalky soil. Like many other members of the Pink family, Chickweed contains saponins, and these can be toxic in large quantities.

More articles:

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles

Few herbs are as generous as the humble stinging nettle. Inconspicuous, it assumes a modest corner in the garden: untended areas, half in the shade, perhaps near the compost where the soil is rich with nitrogen. Inconspicuous that is, until one happens to brush against it carelessly – which jolts our awareness rather painfully.

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