The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Herbs for the Heart

Apologies for the huge gap since last posting!

With the hawthorn in full bloom, it’s time to celebrate the wonderful properties that hawthorn and other herbs can provide for our circulatory system. As always, please talk to a qualified herbalist before taking any medicine, as there may be contraindications, especially if you are pregnant or are already on medication.

Welcome in the May!

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthus) – leaf, blossom and berry

Hawthorn is a good heart tonic, beta blocker, protects the heart muscle, prevents heart attacks, is a vaso-dilator (peripheral), helps promote sleep and is the best herb for blood circulation.  It regulates low blood pressure, steadies the heartbeat and lowers cholesterol.  It contains chemical compounds that keep blood vessels open, and it vital where vessels lack tone and are inert due to fatty or calcium deposits.  It lessens pain in the heart and adjacent areas, re-elasticates blood vessel walls (through rutin), rebuilds collagen fibres in outer layers of vessels and is a powerful anti-oxidant, as well as being rich in vitamin C.  It reduces inflammation, relaxes the smooth muscles of the uterus, intestines and other areas to relieve congestion and reduces water retention (bloating before period).  It also aids digestion and eases sore throats.

This herb is to be used as a tea, syrup (berries) and as a tincture.

*Not to be used with other beta-blockers or heart drugs/herbs. Please consult a qualified herbalist if on heart/blood pressure medication of any kind.

 

Cayenne (Capsicum annum) – fruit

Cayenne is a brilliant styptic (stops blood flow from wounds). It equalises blood pressure and is good for heart attack or stroke victim recovery as it strengthens the heart and improves circulation. It dilates the arteries and protects from damage. It aids in heat tolerance, stimulates endorphins and is a good treatment for migraines (prevention and cure).  It also reduces the tendency for blood clots. It aids digestion, is a cathartic and also relieves sore throats.

This herb can be used in cooking, in capsule form (powder) or as a tincture (HOT!).

*There are contra-indications with this herb, especially for asthma sufferers.

 

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) – flowers

Meadowsweet is an analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic. It thins the blood, is astringent and also works as a diuretic. It balances stomach acid as is good for treating diarrhoea. It is also good for treating colds and flu, headaches and reduces fever.  It is an excellent pain reliever and is also good for cystitis and urethritis, breaking down kidney stones and gravel.

This herb is used as a tea, tincture, glycerite and compress.

*There are contra-indications present, especially if you are on anti-coagulant medication such as for a stroke.

 

Motherwort (Leonorus Cardiaca) – herb  *Lionheart

Motherwort is a good heart tonic. It reduces blood pressure and lowers cholesterol, also reducing hardening of the arteries.  It is a galactagogue and also a sedative. It is anti-spasmodic and aids in nervous complaints. It also reduces pain from angina pectoris.  It helps treat migraines and panic attacks, and is good for menopause.  It helps correct anemia, flatulence and diarrhoea.

This herb is used as a tincture, tea or powder (capsule)

*There are contra-indications, especially with pregnant women.

 

Gingko (Gingko Biloba) – leaf

Gingko slows ageing and reduces the risk of stroke.  It helps with anxiety and depression, improves blood flow to the brain (good for Alzheimers and demetia sufferers) and is also beneficial for diminishing eyesight.  It helps treat Raynaud’s Syndrome as well as preventing blood clots.  It improves recovery in heart attack victims and those who have suffered head traumas. It also aids with varicose veins and other circulatory conditions.  It is an anti-asthmatic, antispasmodic and an anti-inflammatory, as well as inhibiting immune-based disorders.  It also treats depression, dizziness and tinnitus.

This herb can be used as a tea, powder (capsules) or tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb, please see a qualified herbalist before taking it.

 

Lime (Tilia europa) – flowers  *Linden

Lime is a natural anti-spasmodic. It opens the arteries, reduces high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and eases nervous palpitations.  It helps migraines, relieves sinus headaches, eases stress and nervous tension and helps in cold and flu.  It is very palatable and sweet-tasting – a popular herb with children in France. The cold tea is especially beneficial for hot flushes.

This herb is used as a tea (hot and cold) and as a tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb, especially for those on blood pressure medication.

 

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) – leaf

Rosemary stimulates blood flow to the brain, thereby aiding memory, easing migraines and improving circulation. It eases varicose veins, helps with low blood pressure and helps treat wounds.  It calms anxiety, helps hair regrowth, is an anti-inflammatory and also aids in loss of appetite  and other digestive problems. It works well with liver and gall bladder complaints, menstrual problems, eczema and toothache.  It is also known as a remedy for exhaustion.

This herb is used as a tea, gargle, wine, salve, bath, herb pillow, in cooking and as a tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb

 

Common Circulatory Complaint: High Blood Pressure

Three ways to relieve symptoms:

  1. Diet – change to low in salt and fat, meat-free if possible
  2. Use hawthorn tincture – care must be taken if other heart medications are used
  3. Meditation – mindfulness meditation to calm and reduce stress, creating compassion for self and others

 

Bibliography:

Bruton-Seal, J. & Seal, M. (2009) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Press

Davies, J. R. (2000) Healing Herbs: Hawthorn – Crataegus Monogyna, Penguin

Hopman, E. E. (2008) A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, Destiny Books

Künkele, U. & Lohmeyer, T.R. (2007) Herbs for Healthy Living: Recognition, Gathering, Use and Effect, Paragon


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Wild Foods! Foraging in the British Countryside

This month as part of my Herbcraft course we’re working on the Plant Realm – Wild Food. Here on the Suffolk coast there are lots of wild foods at pretty much any time of the year. With so many to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down to just nine for my course, so I’ve opted for some wild food combined recipes instead alongside nine available foods right now! All of the wild food listed here is found along the coast, heathland and bridleways of my home. It goes without saying: do not collect anything to eat unless you are absolutely sure of what it is.  There are many dangerous look-alikes that could seriously harm you, or even kill you. Also do not eat too much wood sorrel, as it contains oxalic acid that can cause upsets. That being said, foraging for wild food is one of the best and most rewarding ways to fill your plate, especially in the autumn!
Blackberry: found in hedgerows, sweet when fully ripe, tart when ripening. Eat straight off the bush, or use in smoothies, crumbles, eaton mess and other desserts.

Mushrooms: puffball and parasol, nutty and fleshy, found under trees, in lawns, along paths, dry soil. Use quickly after picking, as they don’t last (few hours) – great for frying or in a light batter. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Elderberries: found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jams and wines. Also good as a syrup for winter coughs, colds and flu.

Haws: berries from the hawthorn tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and fleshy. Great for jams and jellies.

Rowan: berries from tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jelly.

Heather: flowers, found in abundance on heathland, sweet and earthy. Nice tea, as well as flavouring for beer and wine.

Crab apples: found along hedgerows and the occasional escapee in the woods, tart. Pectin in apples great to add to any hedgerow fruit for jams and jellies.

Rose hips: hedgerows and forest edges, strangely tart and sweet at same time! High vitamin C, lovely as jelly, also can be made into a syrup for coughs and colds in the winter.

Yarrow: young leaves and flowers, found fields and meadows, along bridleways and forest edges, mild bitter flavour. Use in salads or with flowers as a tea.

Recipes:

Springtime Soup – gather nettles (tops), alexanders (stalks) and cleavers (fresh shoots) in the spring. Fry an onion with alexanders stalks until softened and then add nettles and cleavers to pot, wilting them down. Add water and vegetable stalk, season to taste. Blitz in blender and serve. Scrumptious and packed full of vitamins and nutrients for a good, spring cleanse!

Spring Salad – mix together fresh young hawthorn, dandelion, chickweed, wood sorrel and yarrow leaves. Serve with a light dressing – maybe a blackberry and vinegar dressing from the previous autumn? Late summer/autumn you can make the same salad, just without any tree leaves as they now contain too many alkaloids. This recipe is more bitter than boring old iceberg lettuce, but so much tastier!

Mushroom Fry-Up – simply toss puffball and/or parasol mushrooms with a bit of butter/oil and garlic. Eat on toast or with eggs for breakfast. Gorgeous.

Raw Hedgerow Jam – gather haws, rowan, elder and blackberries along with some crabapples. Take off any stems and put together in blender. Add local honey (about halfway up the fruit) and blend together. Strain through muslin cloth into clean jars and wait for it to set (around two hours). Enjoy on yummy scones! Not as sweet as conventional jams, but equally delicious.

British Forager’s Stir-fry: stir-fry alexanders stalks, puffball and/or parasol mushrooms, samphire and blackberries with some garlic (you can use ransomes in the spring, or the ransomes bulb in the autumn). Just before serving wood sorrel and young fresh dandelion and yarrow leaves. A real taste of the British countryside.

Flower Power Teas: Just add water and allow to steep for 3 – 5 minutes with the following – heather flowers, chickweed, rose hips and petals, hawthorn flowers (can use leaves as well in spring – do not use any tree leaves after summer solstice, as they then contain too many alkaloids). Light and refreshing taste.

Breads: sweet chestnut or acorn with beech bread can be made by making nuts into a flour for pancakes, breads, scones and more. Do not eat too many beech nuts as they can cause stomach upsets – good to combine them with other nuts. Full-bodied, nutty and rich taste.

Eg. Making Acorn Flour
• Similar to other nuts, you’ll need to remove the shell of the acorns before you can consume them. There are different ways to do this: Nutcracker, pounding it with a hammer and removing the nut meat, or my favorite way is a two-step process: first cut them all in half with a large kitchen knife and then work at popping out the nut meat using the sharp point of a smaller knife.
• Now that you have all the nut meat out of the shells, you’ll want to grind these down as fine as possible. The old way is to use a big flat rock as your surface (acts as a mortar) and a smaller round rock used to crush and grind the nut (the pestle) into a fine consistency. Since I like to train in the old way but still use technology when possible, I like using my Greenstar juicer or a food processor. The nuts are softer than peanuts and will not damage these appliances.
• Leech the bitter tannins out of them before gobbling them down. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour the acorn meal in it. Let it boil for 5+ minutes making sure to stir the pot so that some of the acorn meal doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom. As an FYI, you could have skipped step 3 and just continued with this step, however I find that it takes way too long to process and wastes too much fuel. By using the ground up meal, it provides a greater surface area and leeches out the tannins much faster.
• After your initial boil, filter out the acorn flour with a cheesecloth or an old t-shirt (even a sock will do in a pinch). I like to place a colander in my sink and then place the t-shirt or cheesecloth over the colander making a bowl-like depression with it. After pouring the liquid into the cloth depression, be careful with the hot water. It’s best to pour cold water into the slurry until it cools off and you can then pick up the cloth filter to help strain the remaining water out. After filtering, you’ll want to do a taste test. Is it still bitter? If so, repeat steps 4 and 5 until the bitterness is out.
• At this point you’re left with essentially a ball of acorn-flour dough. If you want you can use this right away or if you want to save it for later, you can dry it out. To dry it out, simply spread it out flat onto a cookie sheet and place it in the oven at the lowest temperature until it is completely dry, or do the same thing but instead place it outside (this takes longer). Placing it in a food dehydrator also works great. After it has dried out you’ll probably notice that it has caked together (this is due to the high fat content). You can store it as is or further process it by crushing it into a powder (by hand or food processor). This acorn flour can then be used to make pancakes, bread, or added to cereals or soup.
*Acorn flour recipe from Tactical Intelligence Blog: http://tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-make-acorn-flour.htm

Alcoholic drinks: Freeze some sloes or any other berries the night before. Empty half a bottle of vodka or gin (invite some friends around to help you!) and then fill up the bottle with the frozen berries until full. Leave in a cool dark place for a week or longer (if you are able and not tempted to drink it straight way), shaking up the contents every day. When you’re ready, strain and enjoy! Dee-lic-ious.


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Materia Medica – Oak

OAK (Quercus robur)

Plant family: Beech family (fagaceae)

oak acorn leafParts Used: Bark, leaves, acorns, galls (“oak apples” created by gall wasps on leaves).

Soil and Environment: Hedgerows, woods, parkland. Copes well in moist and even poor soil. Interbreeds with other oak, such as sessile and downy oak. Grows very slowly.

Description: 130ft – 160ft (40m – 50m). Lives between 400 – 1,000 years. Circumference to approximately 30ft (10m). Lobed leaves in ovoid-shape. Scaled grey/green trunk with warty branches, scaly “capped” acorns longer than American cousin. Male flowers in yellow-green catkins, female flowers unassuming – both flowers grow on same tree. Due to size, creates a greenish light around it when found in a forest, as it opens up the canopy around it to let light in. Quiet tree, noble stillness, grand presence. Irregular-shaped crown with branches starting low down on trunk. Galls are smooth, globular, brown and perforated.

oakHistory:

Used for building homes, ships, furniture, etc. Bark used in tanning leather and dyeing fabric. Acorns used to feed pigs (and humans when food was scarce). Galls used to make ink. The wood is good for burning and for making charcoal. Oak trees have sheltered many famous outlaws, including Robin Hood and Charles II. Oak is the second Ogham in the aicme of Huath. Oak forests covered most of Europe in vast expanses. It is one of the seven “nobles of the wood” in Brehon law. Associated in Celtic lore with thunder and lightning, oak trees often survive lightning strikes. Their roots reach as deep into the ground as their branches reach high into the sky. Oak was the first tree species to be protected by legistation. It is the chieftan tree of the Druids: Druid means “wisdom of the oak”. The Oak King battles the Holly King at each solstice; The Oak King is the god of summer. Lightning struck oak trees were important in Druid and Celtic magic. Sacred to the goddess Brighid, her original sanctuary in Kildare was a grove of oak trees: Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree. In Greece the rustling of the leaves and branches were used for divination. Woodhenges of Neolithic or Bronze Age were made of oak, such as Seahenge in Norfolk. Sometimes considered the World Tree in certain cultures, it was an axis mundi. Neolithic trackways of oak still exist in Britain. Oak used to be on sixpences and shillings. King Arthur’s table at Winchester is cut from a single piece of oak-tree trunk.

Chemical constituents:

Tannins, tanning acids, minerals.

oak barkActions and Medicinal Uses:

Astringent and good for tightening, drying, binding and toning tissue, reducing excess discharge. Good for diarrhoea, dysentery, eye, mouth and throat inflammations as well as inflammation in the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Good for burns, sores, bleeding. Also good for coughs and colds. Anti-microbial and anti-septic. Also good for sweaty feet, chilblains and anal tears (taken as bark decoction in room temperature bath). Acorn coffee aids poor digestion. Used homoeopathically for alcoholism. Helps reduce fever. Good hair rinse for dandruff and hair loss. Compresses soaked in tea can shrink goiters and glandular inflammation. Anti-inflammatory.

Combinations:

Oak bark decoction with nettle and yarrow make a good women’s tonic. Bruised leaves when applied with comfrey leaves help heal bruises and sprains.

Usage:

Leaves for tea and tincture, bark as decoction, acorns ground and roasted for coffee substitute. Tea and decoction internal use: 2 tsps dried or 3 tsps fresh leaf/bark per cup boiled water up to 3 times per day. Tincture: 1 tsp three times per day. Galls as tincture internally for severe diarrhoea and dysentery. Use decoction as local astringent externally for haemorrhoids. Bruised leaves for first aid treatment in bruises, swelling and sprains.

Contraindications:

Possible contraindication when used with morphine. Possible antagonist to nicotine sensitivity.

Spiritual Aspects:

Oak is sacred to many gods. The Proto-Indo-European word for oak, dorw, became the word for “door”. Oak is a doorway between the worlds, as it lives between the worlds (high branches, deep roots). Celtic priests ate acorns to aid in powers of divination. Oak was popular in the funeral ceremonies of ancient Celts. Acorns kept in the home or carried on a person brings good luck. Oak teaches of strength, even when the worst happens (as they often survive lightning strikes). For Druids they symbolise the ideal way of life, with branches reaching towards the heavens while feet are rooted deeply in the earth. Water found in tree nooks and crannies can provide a good vibrational essence for empowerment, fighting great difficulties, loss of hope or the draining of energy. Oak helps develop inner sovereignty. It can leads to a greater ability for kindness and compassion. Promotes personal responsibility. Spirit ally to connect you with other worlds. Oak is the doorway to new worlds and new perception.


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Rosemary – finally getting credibility from the science sphere?

An interesting article was posted today on BBC’s online magazine, about rosemary and the possibly benefits for dementia patients, among other things.  It would appear that perhaps, finally, herbs are beginning to get the credibility they deserve for treating human ailments. After all, we evolved together, it would make sense, right? Herbalists have been saying it for years… 🙂

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33519453


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Emotional Freedom Technique

As part of my Herbcraft Diploma course, we work with a holistic approach to healing. We work not only with herbs, but with the mental and spiritual aspects of our selves as well.  I’ve always believed that you can’t treat the body without treating the mind and soul, and vice versa. In fact, they are not three separate things, mind body and spirit, but part of a whole that needs attention and healing.

Throughout this month we are working with Emotional Freedom Technique in the spiritual aspect of the course (other aspects this month are anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, and working with the plant realm).  Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, uses a system of tapping on energy meridians found throughout the body much like acupuncture does, just without the needles.  This blog post doesn’t go into the specifics of EFT – if you’d like to learn more, there is a great little book HERE that can teach you the basics.

After lighting some candles and incense, I sat down and tried EFT for the first time. Following the guidelines, I explored an issue that I have had going on nine months now. As a person who meditates regularly, I have a fairly clear view of my emotions and my behaviour, how they work together and how I can change them to live a more harmonious life. But there are always things that try us, that test us, that push us to our limits, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual.

I decided to try EFT on an anger issue that I have had with someone. I’ve been releasing that anger for months now, and some days it is gone, other days it is back when they have done/said something to intentionally hurt/frustrate/undermine me. I have not retaliated, only worked to preserve my integrity and try to find the honourable solution in this situation while keeping boundaries intact. Yet I could still feel anger, simmering within me, and I knew that I had to find some other way to release it. I have sat with this anger for days, weeks, months, wondering if perhaps this anger was something else entirely. It had begun to invade my psyche. Though I had my doubts about EFT, and about whether I really wanted to “tap away” my emotions until they were freed, I had to at least try it before I made up my mind about it.

And so, there I sat, incense drifting about me, Brighid’s likeness before me, twin green candles lit in their silver holders, all my other altar items and fetishes spread out before me. Taking a few breaths, I calmed and grounded myself before I began. I then thought of the phrasing of the issue, and decided upon “Even though I have this anger, I love and deeply accept myself”.

I started the tapping routine, working my way down my face and torso and across my hands. After the first round, I sat for a moment, feeling the energy moving around in my body, kind of buzzing with the flow, yet feeling very grounded. I summoned an image of the person in my mind, and I couldn’t feel much anger towards this person. I envisioned them doing all the things that they had previously done to hurt me, and it seemed as if my anger was far away, too far really to reach. There was still a slight twinge, so I did a second round and checked the results. This time, when I looked deeply within, I saw that the anger was an overlying issue: betrayal lay beneath the anger. And so I worked with the betrayal.

I did two more rounds, stating “Even though I have this betrayal, I love and deeply accept myself”. At the end of these two rounds, my energy was still buzzing, but I could feel an even deeper emotion, wrapped around my heart chakra. Here lay sadness, sadness at the betrayal. So I worked a final round, saying “Even though I feel this sadness, I love and deeply accept myself”.

Sitting still and silent afterwards, I reached for the anger, for the betrayal, for the sadness, and while the first two were now out of reach, there was still a tinge of sadness left within, which led to even deeper feelings of compassion towards this person that had hurt me so. The sadness was not gone, but instead transformed. Having worked with compassion for many years, it was nice to see this transformation occur, as I had not been able to really do it in any other way. Feeling sorry for someone and feeling compassion are two different matters entirely.

Now, when I think of this person, who has spent so long trying to hurt me, to undermine me, to anger me, I feel compassion flowing instead of anger, betrayal or sadness. I see their grief, their hurt, their suffering that causes them to bring it out into the world. The compassion comes and goes in waves, sometimes in a cool, loving wave, sometimes as a small ripple of compassion, but still it is there, transformed into an emotion and way of being that creates less suffering in the world, for everyone.

I wasn’t sure whether EFT would work. I didn’t know if tapping it away would be better than dealing with it head on, sitting with the emotion as I had previously done, meditating with it, holding it deeply and finding love and compassion for myself and the other. I think, with time, I could have achieved the same results with meditation as I did with EFT, but EFT seemed to be a quicker release, cutting across boundaries where the slow and steady method might even come to a standstill.

I don’t’ think it’s a cure-all, and I don’t think it is for everyone. I was sceptical about it working, but I was willing to give it a go. I don’t know if it would work for someone who didn’t believe in it at all, who wasn’t willing to even keep an open mind. All I have to go on right now is my own experience, and that of my teacher and fellow students. My doubts are now gone, and I will continue to use EFT, seeing how it affects me throughout the months to come. Will the anger come back? Will it bite me on the backside? Or has the transformation from anger to betrayal, and betrayal to sadness, sadness to compassion well and truly worked?

Only time will tell.

It is not a substitute for daily meditation, for self-examination, for facing the truths about yourself and others. It will not change your behaviour overnight unless you really well and truly want to change your behaviour. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to change the behaviour of others – why not focus on ourselves instead, living the example? It is often harder to change ourselves than to change others.

Live with an open mind, and with an open heart. We’re all in this crazy thing called life together.


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Nettle – Urtica Dioica

Here is the second herb that I chose for my personal herbal – stinging nettle, urtica dioica.

NETTLE (Urtica Dioica)
Plant Family: (Hamamelids)
nettle-topsParts Used:
Leaves, buds, rhizomes and roots.

Collection season: early spring for leaves and buds until they flower, seeds and roots in autumn.

Soil and Environment: Universal throughout British Isles and most of temperate world, found in forests, woods, river banks, under shrubs and bushes, wasteland – pretty much anywhere. Thrives in nitrogen-rich soil.
Propagation:
Wind-pollinated perennial.

Description:
Up to 5ft tall, with long jagged edge to shield-shape leaf that comes to point at tip. Stinging hairs along leaves and square stalks. Small, creamy-green flowers in long strands, seeds not long after flowering.Nettle 1

History:
An Anglo-Saxon sacred herb (wergulu) and used in medieval times as beer to treat rheumatism. Tibetans believe their sage and poet, Milarep (AD 10252-1135) lived on nettle soup until he turned green. Nettle tops were used as a rennet substitute in cheese-making as they turned milk sour. There are around 500 species of nettle.

Chemical constituents:
Chlorophyll, vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K, folic acid, minerals, bioflavinoids, seretonin precursor.

Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Reduces fatigue, improves stamina, nourishes kidneys, adrenal glands, nourishes immune, digestive, endocrine and respiratory system, increases metabolism, normalises weight, eases/prevents rheumatism and arthritis, good for skin and hair, eases lung complaints such as asthma. Galactagogue. Eases leg cramps and muscle spasms. Reduces haemorrhoids. Anti-inflammatory, alterative, astringent, haemostatic, circulatory tonic, diurectic.

Combinations:
Can be used to “boost” many other herb actions, especially when dealing with immune system.

Usage:
Tea – 2 tsps steeped (dried) or 3 tsps (fresh) in boiled water for 5 to 10 mins three times a day. Tincture is 1 tsp twice a day.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
Protection, self-respect, resiliency and flexibility. Teaches of healthy boundaries while providing deep nourishment. Good meditational tea and also cleansing/purifying bath before ritual.


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Birch (Betula Pendula)

Working on my own personal herbal, I’ve just finished writing up about birch, nettle and oak. I thought I’d start sharing all my research and practical stuff with you, so here is the first “herb” that I chose to start my own materia medica! For our course, we have to choose twelve plants to use medicinally 🙂  I will upload the bibliography for all my research shortly.
BIRCH (Betula Pedula)
Plant family: Birch Family (Hamamelids)
Birch leavesParts Used:
Sap, leaves, bark & buds.

Soil and Environment
Woodland and heath, moor, parklands and gardens. Copes well in sandy, acidic soil and can handle being near the coast (salt). Native to northern temperate regions as it handles the cold well. Propagation by wind.

Birch barkDescription:
Deciduous leaves, shield-shaped with jagged edges. White papery bark with horizontal darker stripes and marks. Base of trunk expanded where it meets the ground, compared to the slim rest of the trunk. Male and female catkins – male catkins produce a lot of pollen and cause many allergic reactions. Light “green” smell, leaves and bark taste bitter, sap is sweet. High energy, talkative tree.

History:
Used for thousands of years in cold, northern climates in everything from adhesives to wine, baskets, yokes, boats and vinegar. Pioneer species when ice caps retreated 10,000 years ago, growing quickly and falling as it is a soft wood, then fertilizing the ground for other tree species. First letter of Ogham alphabet. One of seven peasant trees in Brehon law. Birch was used throughout Europe at Winter Solstice or New Years to “beat the bounds”. Bride’s doll held a birch wand. Entire birch trees were offered in votive pits in ancient times. Twigs used for brooms (besoms). Considered the World Tree in many cultures.

Chemical constituents:
Birch camphor, tannins, triterpine (betulin), flavinoids, saponines, essential oils, mineral salts (calcium oxalate) vitamin C, aromatic hydrocarbons, sucrose. Rich in potassium. Birch sap contains betulinic acid, an anti-tumour cancer treatment.
Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Birch sap is good for kidney or bladder stones, skin conditions and rheumatic diseases. It is also a good spring cleansing tonic and nutritive. Fermented it makes a lovely wine. Leaves and leaf buds good as tea for general detox, urinary complaints, cystitis, rheumatic and arthritic conditions, gout. Good diuretic. Astringent qualities and diuretic properties help with skin problems, sore throats and chest congestion when used as inhalation therapy. Effective germicide. Buds can be eaten for stomach complaints. Insect repellent.

Combinations it can be used in:
Use with sodium bicarbonate to improve tea’s ability to cut through high uric acid levels. Oil and tea combine well together.

Usage:
Birch sap tapped straight from tree and drunk as cleansing tonic. Tea to spring cleanse internally, as well as for gout, kidney and bladder stones, cystitis, arthritis, rheumatism, psoriasis, eczema, fluid retention and fevers. Birch leaf oil for topical use for cellulite, detox massage, aching muscles, rheumatism and arthritis, eczema and psoriasis, fibromyalgia.

Dosage:
Tea – 4 to 5 leaves per cup or mug boiling water, steeped for 5 to 10 minutes, taken 3 to 4 times per day. Sap – 3 tbsps in morning. Oil – use for massage as needed.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
New beginnings, adventure, feminine energy, creativity. Leading on with shining light through the dark forest of the soul. Brings hope and courage to discouraging situations. Aids in clear thinking and provides clarity of purpose. Encourages self-discipline and inner authority. Offering of birch wreaths can be made to water spirits to avoid storms or excessive rain. Good cleansing/purifying bath before ritual or mediation.


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Summer Madness

hawthornThings have been so busy here – I apologise for not posting as often as I’d like!  This month I am studying the heart and circulatory system, and herbs that benefit and aid both.  It’s a lot of hard work, going back and re-learning all my human anatomy and biology from over 25 years back when I was in high school! Thinking about blood, veins, arteries and the like always makes me a bit queasy, but I got through it 🙂

I went out yesterday and collected hawthorn, elderflower and birch leaves. I’ve made a hawthorn tincture with half of the harvest straight away, and am drying the other half of the leaves and flowers in my airing cupboard.  Put the flowers and leaves in a blender and cover with brandy, mix it up and then place in a jar in a cool, dark place for 1 month.  Strain and use as directed.

Hawthorn is such a wonderful plant, medicinally and spiritually. Medicinally, it is a heart tonic, a beta blocker (regulates rhythm and blood pressure), the best herb for circulation, protects the heart muscle, prevents heart attacks, helps promote sleep and is good for heartache (of all kinds).  Special care must be taken with hawthorn is one is one any sort of heart medication – seek out a qualified herbalist if you intend to use this and are on any medication!

Spiritually, it is the favourite fairy tree in folklore.  It is also one of the ogham trees in Druidry.  For a good blog post about the spiritual aspects of hawthorn, please see my friend Danu Forest’s post on SageWoman HERE.  (Note: she states that it is unlucky to bring hawthorn blossom into the house, and I would agree if you are using it simply as decoration – it’s always much better on the tree anyway, and good for bees and other wildlife. However, as a herbcraft practitioner, it is perfectly safe to bring indoors to use in your work.)

The elderflowers I am drying to use with some dried oak leaves I collected a couple of weeks ago, for a tea to treat coughs.  In the autumn when the elderberries are out I will collect those as well and add them to the mix.

The birch leaves I collected for a birch leaf tea, which is a good all around body tonic and quite refreshing.  The bark and sap are also really good spring tonics, but it is too late to collect the sap – it should be done before the leaves come out.  When collecting the bark, do not “ring” the trunk of the tree – instead collect some twigs and branches and use the inner bark of these.

Note: when collecting tree leaves, do so before the summer solstice, as afterward they may contain too many plant alkaloids.  reference: Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine.