The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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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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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.


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Hayfever/Seasonal Allergy tea

So as part of the coursework I have to create a hayfever tea, which is handy as it would appear that I now have hayfever for the first time ever! I created two teas, one for daytime and one for nighttime, as the daytime one contains nettle (urtica dioica) which can be a diuretic, and I didn’t want to be running to the loo all night 🙂

Daytime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), nettle (urtic dioica), eyebright (euphrasia officianalis) and elderberries (sambuccus nigra).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

Nighttime tea recipe:

Equal amounts of plantain (plantago lanceolota), elderberries (sambuccus nigra) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).

Steep in one cup of boiled water for 10 – 15 minutes and then drink.  Can be sweetened with a teaspoon of local honey, which can have an homeopathic effect as it would contain pollen from the area in small doses.

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Plantain is a great antihistamine, and nettle boosts the immune system. Elderberries and flowers are great for coughs and colds – I didn’t have any flowers to hand but did have some berries.  Eyebright works well for coughs as well, and can be applied as a poultice or eyewash, however, only organic and well-strained infusions should be used on eyes – if in doubt, don’t use it! Chamomile is to help give a restful sleep, which is also a good immune system booster.

As dairy products create more mucous in the body, it is best to avoid dairy during hayfever season. If you simply cannot live without, goat or sheep’s milk or cheese is better.  High fat food should also be avoided, and fresh vegetable and fruits should be eaten to boost the immune system.  Exercise gets the lymphatic system going, and helps circulation, releasing toxins, again helping your immune system.

I’ve been taking the tea for a week now, and my sinuses have cleared almost straight away. I still have a cough, and may switch the elderberries to elderflowers to see if that makes a difference for me personally.

On with anatomy and physiology homework!


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Drying rack up and running!

So, I’m using my airing cupboard as a drying rack – here in the UK, many houses also have their hot water tank in their linen cupboard, and call it an airing cupboard. Not only great for keeping dampness and a musty smell away from your linens and towels, but also great for drying herbs in a warm, dark place! In this photo I am drying stinging nettles (Urtica dioca) and plantain (Plantago lanceolata) for use in hayfever tea.

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