So(u)l Invictus

Last year, around this time, I set an intention of marking nature holidays – solstices, equinoxes, and the pagan holy days halfway in between.  I did pretty well with the 2015 Spring Equinox, writing up a lovely little ritual based on the elements after reading about historical ceremonies and goddesses connected with the day.  I haven’t quite reached that level of ceremony for the holidays since, but hope to begin next year’s round by putting together a weekend retreat to celebrate Imbolc, the early February holiday of fertility, cleansing, and the first signs of early spring.

sad_1But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The Winter Solstice just passed, and with it the darkest day of the year.  I always want to do a mini dance to celebrate having made it through this super challenging time, the several months where all so many of us can do is take Vitamin D, hang out at conservatories, and binge on Netflix in hopes of distracting ourselves from the incredible lack of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun.  We somehow make it through every year though, and learning more about the roots of the holiday somehow make it easier.  Astrology is a particular focus of mine, and the social justice and positivity-focused postings of Chani Nicholas are a particular favorite of mine.

“You can become a source of revolutionary self-love. You can become an unending source of appreciation and acceptance for yourself.”

I’m still working on setting intentions for the new year, but I am certain they will include continued learnings and focus on herbalism, astrology, and magic.  What do you want to manifest in this next wheel of the year?

Right now I’m listening to: Fleetwood Mac, all the albums, always.

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Called back.

Called back.

It has been an EXCEEDINGLY long time since I’ve blogged.  I’ve gone through several iterations of ‘I really just hate how much time is taken up by silly technology, so I should eschew it in order to live up to some ridiculous moral standard I have arbitrarily set for myself’.  But I’m getting over it.  Because I really do write more when I use a computer, and have an audience, however meager and elusive it might be, holds me accountable.

So here I am.  Back again.  ::cue some ridiculous 80s soundtrack::

2015 has been a crazy year of becoming someone I would actually venture to say is an adult.  Part of this has been by choice (setting boundaries in my committed relationships, starting a farm and business with my partner, leaving a job that was meaningful but drained me), and part of it has been completely out of my control (the sudden death of my previous partner).  It’s all given me a pretty solid shake up as to what is important though, in this short life we have on this marvelous blue planet.  So here’s the wisdom I’ll start my new blogging era with, things I have to remind myself of pretty much every day in order to stay reasonably happy and sane:

  1. Do what you love.  Every day.  Gently but firmly leave behind the things that don’t feed your soul.
  2. Practice radical self love first and foremost, so that you have the energy to be a rock for those who need it.  When friends, family, and acquaintances are brave enough to reach out to you, make time for them.  Very few things are as important as this.

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
-Mary Oliver

Things that inspire me right now: Felicia Day’s memoir.  Baking bread.  Herbalism rooted in social justice.  Local businesses standing up against bigotry.

The cleanse of spring.

I am full on into ‘fruits and vegetables omg it’s spring and things are growing’ mode, and enjoying it enormously.  Case in point:

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On the left is sundried tomato and stinging nettle hummus just before blending, and on the right is a banana, pear, parsley, and kombucha smoothie.  I heart my (not so secret) stinging nettle collection spot.

Making delicious healthy things while listening to last.fm radio of the beautiful Neko Case just might be the perfect way to spend a late March Wednesday morning before work.

Does anyone have other favorite early spring wild edibles?  And if you’re from the Cities, would you be willing to share your collection spots?

Community Echinacea Tincture

My latest project endeavors to combine several joys of mine: growing things, herbalism, and community.  I’ve made ten of the little cards you can see at left to give to people in the neighborhood that have echinacea plants in their yard in hopes that they will be willing to donate a plant in exchange for a small bottle of finished tincture.  With the impending fall and winter cold season, I think an immunity boosting tincture would be just the thing to share.  And hopefully I’ll make some new friends in the process 🙂

I’ll have my contact information and a blurb explaining what a tincture is on the back (hence the star), which I hope isn’t condescending, but I don’t want to assume everyone knows what a tincture is already.

I’ve also changed my weekly bread baking routine a bit; rather than doubling the Holden Village bread recipe to bake a large loaf for Ben and me for the week, I’ve been tripling it and baking an extra small loaf or two to give away to a friend.  If you live in the Twin Cities and would like to be on the recipient list for said extra bread, leave me a comment here.  Who doesn’t love freshly baked bread?

Week of Joy, Day 4: Growing Things

If I had to choose which of the seven joy-bringers from my original list is the most longstanding in its exuberance, it would be growing things.  My mother has had a lush garden for my entire life, and a substantial number of my favorite memories of childhood involve climbing trees, creating museums in my treehouse from found natural objects (pinecones were a favorite), and playing ‘Boxcar children’ with my cousins under our enormous spruce tree in the backyard.

My joy in growing things may have grown in sophistication a bit over the years to include cultivation and wild collection of edibles of various sorts, but it is still just as instinctual, an almost primal connection to that which is green and filled with life.  The peas I planted in a pot on the front stoop are a favorite- they are incredibly dynamic, verging on having an actual personality as they grow what seems like inches every day.

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The breadth of my joy in growing things has grown in the past few months as I become increasingly interested in and cognizant of the medicinal and edible value of an extraordinary number of plants.  Many of these have been in my path and yard and travels for my entire life, but until recently I have never really ‘seen’ them.  Example: to the right is lamb’s quarters, an incredibly pervasive weed to most, a tasty snack and remarkably healthful addition to salad to those who know.  And it’s growing in my own backyard!  Right next to the garden!  Though I certainly won’t be cultivating lamb’s quarters any time soon (and wouldn’t ever have to because it grows EVERYWHERE), it’s excellent to know that this buttery green is available as an herbal snack.

The further I delve into herbalism and wild collection, the more resources I discover, sometimes almost by accident.  It began with the excellent EXCO herbalism class I’ve been attending.  Then I discovered a plethora of books on herbalism, plant identification, and alternative medicine, a couple of which I owned already thanks to the fantastic Interpreting the Fall and Spring Landscape classes I took in college, taught by the wonderful Jim Gilbert.  Finally, I find that I pick up many tidbits in random conversations where I happen to mention I’m interested in herbalism and an acquaintance or friend of a friend shares their own herbal medicine or wild edibles knowledge.

Through herbalism and learning the names of wild edibles, plants have become friends, confidants of a sort.  Our exchange is a conversation, one of research beforehand, lots of walks, learning when to take and how to prepare, and being in constant awe and gratefulness for the beautiful diversity of the natural world that surrounds us.  Knowledge truly is power, but a mutual exchange of it rather than any sort of hierarchy.

Left to right: wild ginger, marsh marigold, bloodroot (all photos taken along Minnehaha Creek)

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In my present life there’s only so much I can do to extend the joy of growing things- one only has so much time in the day for wild collecting and space in the yard for cultivation.  However the future holds many possibilities, some more extreme than others.

A journal entry from January 28, 2011:
I want to be an herbalist and a poet and a community builder.  I want to infuse all of my work with spirit.  I want to be more in touch with my body, to do yoga more frequently, to dance freely.  I want to know my food, to remember my dreams, to share with others.  To do all this I will have to not work one day.  When, I do not know, but the day will come and my soul will BE SET FREE.

Such a life is my heart’s true joy, and is coming I think, with time.  But for now, I’m off on an expedition to search for some skullcap along the creek to make an anxiety-reducing tincture ❤

“Earth isn’t this what you want: invisibly
to arise in us?  Is it not your dream
to be some day invisible?  Earth!  Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your insistent commission?
Earth, dear one, I will!”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts (albeit briefly) that I’m becoming increasingly interested in herbalism.  Moreover, it is quite exciting to walk around and feel as though the surrounding plants are friends, or acquaintances at the very least.

Plantain, a common weed to most that grows in impacted soil pretty much everywhere, is particularly useful for cleaning out cuts and helping to remove splinters and such.  I have a clump of it taped to my foot right now in hopes that it will pull out the splinter/stone that lodged itself in my heel on Sunday.

Dandelion!  Previously thought to be even more of a pest than plantain, this plant is almost magical in its food and medicinal abilities.  The root can be roasted and ground up as a coffee substitute (I have not yet tried this because I’m somewhat particular about my coffee- dark or French roast made in a french press is my brew of choice), the leaves are edible and incredibly healthy, the flowers can be made into an oil, and I have been told and am presently testing the validity of the white sap-like substance that comes from the stem being used to get rid of warts.

And last of my new yet common friends is STINGING NETTLE (in all capitals because I decided at this moment that it should be a metal band name as well).  I’m planning to walk down by Minnehaha Creek later today to collect some nettle tops- the larger part of the plant has gotten woody by now- to steam with brown rice, tofu, and mushrooms for lunch/dinner.  Nettles have an amazing amount of protein, minerals, and all around goodness.  Plus most people unfortunately despise them for their sting, so you might be doing humanity a favor by picking them.

Apparently I shouldn’t be surprised by my recent dedication to herbalism as a calling.  Upon reading my college-era Livejournal I discovered this little tidbit, dated January 12, 2006:
“Today I spent the whole of 8th period sitting in my same spot in the Naperville North library (hiding behind one of the bookshelves) reading about herbal medicine. It is so exciting to learn about these things because I am a firm believer in using herbs as medicine rather than chemicals that have been formulated in a laboratory. Granted many of our conventional medicines come from plants initially but nothing will ever be the same as tea and poultices. So I am going to do further research and begin compiling a list. Susan and I have decided that it will be quite grand when we have our own places to live, and my most recent excitement regarding this will be my ability to grow plants in a window box. There is no light for that in my dorm and it makes me miss growing green things. Until then I will drink my peppermint tea, delight in the tingle it leaves in my throat, and gain knowledge about possibilities.”

Everything I am and everything I love has always been there, I think, some of it just takes its time to blossom.

EXCO and Herbalism: how learning should be.

EXCO and Herbalism: how learning should be.

It has taken me this long to finally get to an EXperimental COmmunity education class, despite months of good intentions.  But in a way I’m glad I waited, because I think ‘Some Herbalism‘ will prove to be an excellent example of what grassroots, community driven, and free education can be.

I arrived fifteen minutes late to the first class today due to the silly mistake of thinking the address was ten blocks north of where it actually was.  The living room of the class facilitator was entirely PACKED with well over twenty people, mostly young, lots of crusty punk/hipster type kids, everyone enthusiastic and ready to listen and learn.  In spite of my developing cynicism for the fate of humanity as a whole (more on this later, it’s unavoidable really), I can’t help but think that we must be in for some sort of positive sea change when you can get a couple of dozen people together on a Thursday afternoon to talk and learn about an essential aspect of alternative and local health care.

The topic of this first class was White Oak Bark tincture, and the facilitator not only harvested twigs and purchased enough vodka for us all to make our tinctures, but created a handout describing proper harvesting, uses of the tincture, and a general step by step explanation of creating any sort of bark tincture.  After a relatively brief introduction on the class in general and the tincture preparation specifically, we all got to shaving our bark off our branches and chatting about this, that, and the other.  I’m already expecting to make some wonderful acquaintances at the very least as a result of this class.

This class, like all others in the EXCO ‘curriculum’, is free.  I don’t think I can say that enough, because while I have the utmost respect for most professors and can potentially see myself becoming one someday, I think true skills sharing in a community cannot have a price.  Instead it is rooted in passion and compassion, an authentic desire to share what one loves and knows with others.  Though it’s still at least a year away, I am delighted by the prospect of creating a space for this sort of priceless skill sharing and idea generation in the future house that Ben and I will have.  Education comes in many forms, all of them valuable.

What kinds of classes would you like to facilitate?  What free community classes would you take if they were available?

And now, for a gratuitous picture of an artsy accident:
Thanks to Benjamin for having a camera handy to document the serendipitous uniting of scissors and coffee grounds splash-over.