Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Lughnasadh meanderings.

Lughnasadh, or Lunasa if you want to write it as it sounds, is the Celtic fire festival that marks the beginning of the harvest. Time of the first cutting of the corn, the gathering of the fruit, the lighting of hill top fires.  Time for us to reap what we have sown.


Traditionally this festival marked the turning of Summer to Autumn and I always wondered why, thought it was a strange time to celebrate something that would not come for weeks - until this year.


Now the relentless turning of the wheel of the year is much in evidence already, as green turns to yellow and orange to brown.


Leaves are crinkling and falling in crispy spirals through air that is veering bizarrely between warm summer and crisp autumn.  Is this what we have sown? Is it truly the case that summer is already all but over on August 1st?


The summer sun has brought the blackberries to various stages of ripeness, I saw some ENORMOUS, fully, sweetly plump black ones yesterday but didn't have my camera.



Rowan berries are reddening apace, ready for Rowan Jelly and bird battles.  I cannot help but celebrate all the beauty of the turning world whilst I also weep for what feels to me like a season come far too early. How long will winter be? How will those bird battles play out, when all the berries are gone and the snow is still falling?


The green grass of spring has become the golden grass of late summer as it rolls towards autumn. The hay was gathered in weeks ago, there isn't any corn around here to harvest, but I can't help but think about Lughnasadh being the Harvest Festival.  Perhaps when what we think of as ancient traditions were new ideas the seasons were always as short as they have been this year, neatly divided up into four exact quarters, no room for long drawn out summer afternoons after July.



I climbed the tower of a local church recently, and looked out over the patchwork edges of a nearby village.




Out towards the edges and the margins, I was wondering about the view, how much or how little it had changed in the last thousand years since that tall tower was built there, wondering if it would be there, little changed or barely recognisable in another thousand years. Fearing the worst and hoping for the best in a tangle of yearning for wildness, for certainty, for change, for a future free from the constant fear of imminent destruction and also knowing that looking down on the land, reaching downwards into the rooted present, the reality of now, and seeing it laid out among the trees and the fields of our endeavours is a much better place to look for wisdom and a more likely place to find hope than searching amongst the tattered old pages of our society.  History is, in that it is accurate at all, a record of how we got into this mess in the first place.



























I heard such a beautiful thing today: I heard a young man say that he had written himself a promise; that he would search deep into himself and far out into the land, to find truth and bring it home to his tribe.



I feel that a future in the hands of men such as this is full of hope, we just need to stop thinking that we know anything much at all, and start listening to our heart hearts and to the land.











Monday, 25 July 2016

The Blessings of Hederows

Sometimes, not very often - because I feel so out of place there, I go to a city. I'm seldom there for long; I don't like the hustle and jostle, the noise and the smells and I easily become overwhelmed by what feels to me like an exhausting, teeming soup of human emotions. 
On the way home, even if it's only been a few hours, I feel as if I'm seeing the hedgerows again after long absence. I'm so happy to see them, the flowers, the green, the trees. I notice more at these times perhaps, than I do on an average day. 


The incredible feathery beauty of Mugwort.  Drink this if you want to dream.


I love the huge variety in the flowers of the roadside - especially the ones with incredibly un-romantic names like 'Hog Weed'. The flowers of this plant are simply stunning, as are the seeds, but the leaves justify the name. 



Look, but don't touch. If you don't know what you're looking at you could mistake this plant for some of it's very poisonous cousins. The sap from the stem of  Giant Hog Weed can cause terrible burns and make your skin photosensitive for life. Hemlock is a deadly poisonous relation who could look very similar if you only half look.  





In theory Hog Weed itself is edible; you can eat the young leaves cooked or raw and can create a kind of sugar from the sap in the stem. You can also eat the roots, but I have to admit that I wouldn't try. Even though I'm pretty confident that this is Hog Weed and not Giant Hog Weed or Hemlock, I'm not prepared to stake my life on it - and that's what you'd be doing if you chose to eat this particular plant! 


I'm so grateful that the hedgerows are not just the beautiful parentheses to the lane that takes me home, they are also my medicine chest. Few things here are really poisonous and many are balm for the returning wanderer's body as well as soul. This one is Valerian, beloved friend to the sleepless.


Here is Feverfew - the best migraine cure I've ever come across. The pink flowers are Red Campion.  


Honeysuckle, amazing for treating sore throats and bringing down a temperature by encouraging sweating. Although you do also have to be careful with this one - apparently some of the the kinds of honeysuckle that have been imported for people's gardens can be poisonous, so make sure you're using our native yellow honeysuckle.  If you've been walking past the same honeysuckle winding it's way with unruly abandon through the same hedge for decades you're probably safe enough, but if you don't know - please ask a herbalist. 


Greater Plaintain or Way Bread grows everywhere here, as does it's sister Lesser Plaintina or Ribwort. Both these plants are as extraordinary in their efficacy and multiplicity of medicinal uses as those other unruly weeds dandelion and nettle. 


Dear, lovely, underrated Nettle. All those seeds are sooo good for you. This much maligned feral beauty, impudent migrant and ignorer of boundaries, is perhaps the most necessary ally of all for our burned out western bodies. Nettle seeds are deeply nourishing and restorative to the kidneys and the adrenals, and who amongst us has not overused their adrenal glands this year? 


Again - a warning - please don't just eat handfulls of nettle seeds for a boost and carry on, firstly you might not get any sleep, as boost you they will. But also, if your adrenals really do need supporting then taking a few nettle seeds won't cut it. You need to make radical lifestyle changes - become the native plant; live in the place that suits your needs, blossom and flower in the appropriate season and then gracefully rest a while before doing it all again. Easy peasy! 
Clearly I jest, but isn't that the root of it? We so need to re-connect ourselves to ourselves, to the land and all our relations. We need to re-align ourselves with the seasons, Her Ways. 


We forget that we are children of the earth.


Sometimes we need things that make us remember. We need to look in a scruffy old hedgerow and see the magics and wonders there and remember to be connected to the body of the Earth, the body of all bodies on this earth and our own bodies. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Eating Earth

Earth;   our home, our larder, our pharmacy. Our playground, our breath, our life.


One of my favourite playgrounds this year has been a hammock strung in the tattered old willow tree that grows in the tiny scrap of woodland where we keep our chickens. Gently swaying as I watch the leaves above me shiver in the summer breeze is the fastest way I know to drop deeply into that state of harmonious bliss that for me is only achieved outside in nature.


Each day, in order to warrant my place among them, I bring my three retired egg farm hens a bunch of dock leaves, which they love. I can't call them ex-battery hens because their lives have never been that awful. They came from the organic egg farm just down the road and they have fortunately never known a life without green things to eat and the freedom to roam over a fairly large area. Watching them this morning my thoughts turned to food (as ever). That clever way in which a chicken turns a dock leaf into an egg!


My neighbours sheep will turn this grass, here cut for hay, into bigger sheep. If you eat meat then you are, in a roundabout way, eating grass. We do, all of us, human and non human, literally eat earth - in that absolutely everything that we consume has it's origin in the natural world and took is sustenance from something that grew in the soil, even if that soil is under the sea.


Those who spend their lives far above the ground, eat those who are smaller and live nearer to it, who in turn eat those who eat leaves, who in their turn drink up their nutrients and water from the soil.



These swallow fledglings provided a hilarious cacophony yesterday, sitting on the guttering at the front of the house.


They were a perfectly timed chorus line of youthful hunger shouting the urgent needs of their empty bellies to their hard working and obliging parents.


When we eat vegetables we eat something that has been grown in and nourished by earth. When we eat meat we eat a creature that was nourished by the plants that grow in the earth. When we drink wine we are consuming grapes grown on vines planted in earth, coffee beans, tea leaves... you get the idea. It's obvious.  There is nothing to eat that is not earth.


Rosemary, nasturtiums, thyme and oregano are all rooted and earthen. When you reach for the jar to flavour your cooking, remember where they came from.




Elderflower and mint are rooted in earth,


You can even eat thistles, although personally I can see no good reason why you would.


You can't eat foxgloves, they can kill you in fact. But these are the basis of one of the most effective heart condition treatments western allopathic medicine has to offer.


Wolfs Bane, Monkshood, Aconite, is another plant that can kill, even the tiniest amount is potentially lethal, yet it is both a herbal and a homeopathic remedy.  Magic.




St Johns Wort, not so good to eat but it certainly won't kill you; an effective herbal remedy for depression.




You can't eat sweet peas either, but they nourish the senses. If ever there was a need for a scratch and sniff blog it's now. If only you could smell the roses......








Or the honeysuckle, twisting it's way through every hedgerow for miles, filling the summer air with the heady scent of heaven.




I found a new word; it is Geophagia, also known as geophagy. This is the practice of eating earth or soil-like substrates such as clay or chalk. Apparently it can be good for your stomach lining in a similar way to bees wax. 



I'd rather have flower salad.

How 'bout you?