Wider Circles – Community Connections & Remembering the Journey Here

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Last night Ini and I walked around the homestead and I’m not sure what it was, but we started saying Remember when…

Prepping signage and plants to bring with us to the festival

Remember when..

This was just a scrubby field with a huge oak and hickory in it?
When our neighbor came up one time with his discer and we walked behind it picking up rocks (which did nothing…) When you got naked and started pulling out what we thought was poison ivy, but ended up being aromatic sumac and I screamed when it touched your butt.

Remember that winter we slept outside when we came back after traveling and our yurt was moldy.. How we started off without power and carried water up the hill from our spring…

When we were just talking about getting a high tunnel.. starting a pond.. building the solar shed. Remember year after year when we dug beds and half of the soil was rocks..

Remember when we met at OUR ecovillage and sat by a fire one night realizing how closely our dreams aligned and decided to try it together…

All of the hard work, literal blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this…

Wider Circles

It’s all coming together in another turning of the revolution as we reach out into the community to share ourselves and some of the fruitions of the homestead.

send ya straight to our instagram!
I got a stamp! Business cards

In making the final preparations to vend this weekend, we’re seeing just how much we’ve set into motion and how we can bridge with the community. It’s extraordinarily exciting!

Thanks for being a part of the journey!

Mustard Oil Bomb for the Sore Lactating Boob

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It’s common knowledge that cabbage will help relieve breast pain in swollen, clogged and lactating breasts. Mastitis is a painful condition that plagues many moms, my sister being one of them. In order to help her, I’ve started researching What exactly is going on when a cabbage leaf helps relieve swelling in a painful breast.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the very interesting scientific findings that relate not just to women’s boobs, but inflammation of other types. This also relates to your taste buds and insects.

An article released by the BBC in their Science Focus magazine set me hot on the trail.

Furthermore, a recent study at a Cairo maternity hospital suggests that cold leaves reduce the engorgement that can lead to mastitis. Most advocates agree that the leaves need to be chilled, and some recommend cooking them first to release chemicals from the cells.

So how do the leaves work? The cold helps, especially when alternated with a warm compress. But the key may lie in the fact that cabbages contain glucosinolates. Enzyme action converts these to pungent isothiocyanates, collectively referred to as mustard oil. And mustard oil has long been used as a home remedy for swelling.

Do cabbage leaves cure mastitis?

Glucosinolates

Cabbage (as well as many other cruciferous vegetables) contain phytochemicals which “are chemical compounds produced by plants, generally to help them thrive or thwart competitors, predators, or pathogens.” [1] They can be used as poisons or medicine.

The two most common phytochemicals in cabbage include sulforaphane and other glucosinolates, which have been proven to have beneficial effects regarding carcinogenesis, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases. [2]

Yet this doesn’t explain the title “Mustard oil bomb”. The inflammatory action occurs when the cabbage leaf is masticated, torn or otherwise crushed, and an enzymatic conversion takes place turning the Glucosinolates into Isothiocyanates.

Chemical structure of some Glucosinolates and their Isothiocyanates Derivatives

Isothiocyanates

Because of the enzyme Myrosinase, Glucosinolates turn into Isothiocyanates in a bomb like cacophony! In 1980 Philippe Matile discovered this and called it the “Mustard Oil Bomb” “because it like a real bomb is waiting to detonate upon disturbance of the plant tissue.” [3]

This happens when an insect chews it (this plant defense accounts for the reaction to begin with), when a human grinds it with a mortar and pestle (accounting for some of the delicious mustard flavors), and when humans chew it bringing the zing of watercress and other pungent & noteworthy flavors out in cauliflower, turnip, radish, horseradish, and wasabi.

Your taste buds can thank the damaged plant tissue for their titilation!

Mustard Oil Bomb

The benefits of this enzymic reaction in the cruciferous vegetables is a subject of much study. You can read a detailed account of the actions of Isothiocyanates here. The authors of a recent study titled, Daily Consumption of Well-Cooked Broccoli May Affect Glucosinolate Metabolites and Inflammatory Biomarkers, confirm some of the benefits of isothiocyanates in saying,

Consumption of Brassica vegetables is inversely associated with incidence of several cancers, including cancer of the lung, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, and ovaries. Brassica vegetables are a good source of many nutrients, but the unique characteristic of Brassicas (Broccoli in particular) is their rich content of glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that are converted to isothiocyanates (ITC) by an enzyme in the plant called myrosinase, which is released when the vesicles containing myrosinase are ruptured by chewing or cutting. The isothiocyanates are considered to be the active agent for cancer prevention. 

Furthermore

It is now widely recognized that these mechanisms are multiple and include at least the following: alterations of carcinogen metabolism due to changes in the activities of drug-metabolizing enzymes; induction of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis; inhibition of angiogenesis and metastasis; changes in histone acetylation status; and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory activities.

Glucosinolates and isothiocyanates in health and disease

If that is not enough reason to eat your Cruciferous family veggies, I don’t know what is! These things pack a major punch.

Isothiocyanates & Inflammation

Yet, for our purposes with inflamed breast tissue or clogged milk ducts due to mastitis, let’s hone in on inflammation & isothiocyanates.

One study, testing the isothiocyanates in Moringa leaves found that,

Both of the isothiocyanates described above significantly decreased gene expression and production of inflammatory markers in RAW macrophages

Stable, water extractable isothiocyanates from Moringa oleifera leaves attenuate inflammation in vitro

Now this is cool as well because they found that the isothiocyanates were stable for 30 days in a water solution.

Stable, water extractable isothiocyanates from Moringa oleifera leaves attenuate inflammation in vitro

This is exciting because, theoretically, macerated cabbage leaf in water may also be stable at 37 °C and a breastfeeding mom could blend some up and leave it in the fridge for an easy breast-relief.

Mastistis is a painful condition that some breastfeeding women go through. A long held tradition is to use cabbage leaves on the breast to relieve inflammation. This has been proven to be effective in a recent study, THE EFFECTIVENESS OF CABBAGE LEAF APPLICATION (TREATMENT) ON PAIN AND HARDNESS IN BREAST ENGORGEMENT AND ITS EFFECT ON THE DURATION OF BREASTFEEDING. This study found that not only was pain reduced, but so was hardness of the breast.

Finding the scientific roots of the efficacy of cabbage is very interesting and can lead to the creation of useful products for breastfeeding moms (like this creme) or at least some peace of mind when they are placing sheaves of cabbage on their breasts. It is still up for debate whether a slightly cooked cabbage (thus sparking more of the enzymic reaction) or cold cabbage, but I suppose in breaking the cabbage up and fitting in on the breast, plenty of crunching happens leading to the enzymic reaction.

Rest assured curious moms, this tradition also finds confirmation in science and the same “Mustard oil bomb” which sparks our tastebuds and deters pests in the garden! In this case, it is medicine and not poison.

Plants for Finding Lost Things: Salvia divinorum

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For this fortnight’s Natural Medicine Challenge on the Steem blockchain we are asked to write about Valerian, Salvia divinorum or Thyme. I love each of these plants so it’s hard to pick just one to write about, but I have an untold story concerning one of them.

SALVIA LEADS CHEMISTS ON A PSYCHEDELIC EXISTENTIAL JOURNEY

@Riverflows planted the seed with her own post Diviner’s Sage Musing: Salvia Divinorum, Poetry and Bird Tongues – Plus, The Importance of Reverence for Plant Medicines & The Poison Path. Her post is excellent and includes many paragraphs from my own Salvia “mentor” Dale Pendell- go give it a read!

Dale Pendell is the human tongue for so many plants that humans have had complex relations with. As a researcher/scientist/poet, he has a unique perspective. @Riverflows did a great job weaving with his words and you can read his whole Salvia Chapter from his book Pharmako/poeia here. I have probably read it hundreds of times for I traveled with Salvia for about a year in my 20s and his book was a resource to me.

First things first, through writing this I’m not suggesting, condoning or encouraging the use of Salvia divinorum. It is illegal in most states of the US due to an outbreak of YouTube videos that scared lawmakers into thinking Salvia is the new LSD that will make countless youth do stupid things like jump out of windows.

That said, I will share my experience with the plant which I used prior to it becoming illegal in the state I was in.

Salvia divinorum Luna clone as discovered by Daniel Siebert

Salvia divinorum, as its latin name depicts, is a Sage relative in the Mint family, that group of square-stemmed wise and useful plants that have walked with humanity for a long, long time.

Unlike most Salvia plants, this one doesn’t grow easily from seeds. In fact, its method of growing is along the surface of the earth. It doesn’t have a very strong stem and a branch will actually fall down near a mother plant, set down roots and in this way vegetatively propagate. In this way, Salvia d. has crawled along the surface of the earth in the places it is indigenous to (Oaxaca, Mexico). As I was working with this plant during that year long stint this struck me as very conducive to its healing powers (more on that, later).

In Oaxaca, the Mazatec people have used this herb in healing divinatory ceremonies and continued to do so even under threat from the Catholic church. This “Diviner’s Sage”, as it is also called, went underground and became amalgamated into their worship of the Virgin Mary – hence the name La Maria that Salvia also goes by. This happens a lot when a dominator culture seeks to erase a very rooted, place and plant based culture – the people simply pretend to follow along with the new ways while disguising their original beliefs. Thank Goddess that some of the best traditions aren’t wiped out by this covert survival method.

A Year of Salvia

For anyone who knew me during that year, I talked about Salvia a lot. I was communing with her 3+ times a week and introduced her to a lot of people.

I had had one of those rare experiences of divination when using Salvia and so it meant different things to me than to other people. To me it really was a sacrament, it was like stepping into an ancient temple and hearing the far away tinkling of a bell. I knew things when we were together and they were helpful things, things I needed help knowing at the time.

As Dale Pendell writes,

The Ally:
It is when you are really stuck, when you really don’t know what to do, when you are nearing the edge of funk and self-destruction, that the leaves are the most powerful and the most precise. And symmetrically, for one not seeking engagement, for one seeking diversion, the plant is not much fun. Outside of her sacred context, la Pastora has surprisingly little to offer. It’s not a spectator drug.

Pharmako/poeia: The Salvia divinorum chapter by Dale Pendell

First a bit of backstory

There have been times in my life when a plant will call to me and I intuitively know that I need to take it. This has happened to me countless times. Whether tulsi, dandelion, schisandra, hibiscus, garlic, the drink ayahuasca or others. I have plants call me. They say, “Let’s work together for a while. Take me into your body. You would benefit from me.” So I listen. I listen to the words my body speaks to me and heed the beckoning tendrils of plants that come my way.

Salvia did this. I had no experience of Salvia, had no friends who had tried it and knew relatively little about it, but it called to me so I answered.

I was in a huge huge huge funk during this time. I was a wee bit suicidal, out of sorts, out of purpose, searching and going through a major ego crisis/dying back thing which was really painful at the time, but which was ultimately perfect. It was during this time that I tried Salvia for the first time and I will simply say that she showed me a way out.

Diviner’s Sage

As you’ve caught on, Salvia goes by a lot of different names. Seer’s Sage is another and it is for this purpose that the Mazatec people employ her traditional use.

A lot of people don’t have this experience. Instead they’ll leave their bodies for a short time. In the Erowid vaults you’ll read plenty of stories by people who turned into a chair leg or went into a fractal universe… for 15 seconds (it happens fast.) Salvia isn’t very popular for this reason (after people try it at least once) and I probably wouldn’t like it if that was the only sensation I had.

But that’s not what happened to me.

I’ve looked all over for people who had an experience like mine, but to no avail. But part of me thinks that this effect it has on me might be why the shamans have worked with this plant for so long.

The Ally: 
With the leaves there is no place to hide. That is why it is good for finding lost objects or for identifying thieves. It is a poison that illuminates poison: use it to find dis-ease.

Pharmako/poeia

image source

For anyone who remembers reading My Natural Medicine Healing Story this was right around that time. I was breaking out of my Christian conditioning, I had quick soccer (which I had played for 14 years at the age of 21) and changed universities. It was a time of upheaval and I felt lost.

There had been two magical people I had met, but I exploded so much inside when I was around them that I avoided them like the plague. I was riddled with anxiety and was a walking question mark. I was in the perfect position to need Salvia’s help.

The first time I tried Salvia

I was sitting on my bed in broad daylight and smoked some (later learned that it is better to be in the dark when you try it as it’s very much an inward experience that one should close their eyes for and the dark helps focus.) I had no idea what to expect, but the experience hit me sooner than I thought it would and was over before I could laugh. But laugh I did! It was the first time I’d laughed in months! Because I had seen/heard something in the inner landscape during that brief encounter that helped me see my way out of my pain.

This is what I remember: When I took that hit, my head immediately went backwards and to the left. There was a pulling feeling and as my head went up, there were two “angels” waiting for me there.

They were like big pulsing wise spirit beings (I’ll call them angels for lack of a better word) and they communicated to me in such a direct manner that I instantly knew what my problem was and how to get out of it.

I came down reeling from this encounter feeling light hearted and bubbly. I was giggling at myself and crying at the breaking feeling I was receiving for finally knowing how silly I’d been and that I was tying myself in knots.

It was time to reconnect with those two magical people I mentioned above. The message was so simple, but I had forgotten. I knew that it was my ego-fear holding me back and that these people held some keys for me in my life. This, of course, turned out to be true, but not in the ways I could’ve predicted. Nevertheless, it was important for me to know these people and my fear of seeing my reflection in them and so keeping myself from them was an obstacle I now saw through.

Salvia and I went on like this for the whole year. Of course, she couldn’t take the steps for me to change my own life, but she helped me see again and again the next steps on my path. By the end of that year I was unstuck and on my path, a path that has led me to where I am today.

A month or two after I tried Salvia for the first time, my friend offered me a 4 foot tall Salvia plant and I was able to work with the fresh leaves. It was synchronicity at its best as Salvia’s workings in my own life were so much about connection and relieving myself of the alienated & left-out feeling that had haunted me from my youth. Salvia’s inability to propagate easily from seeds (she has sterile seeds mostly) made it necessary that we connect with others, ideally in person, to take & share the medicine. One couldn’t easily order a plant online and it seemed Salvia was forcing us humans to get out of our digital worlds and connect.

Since that year, I’ve tried Salvia a few times, but really don’t feel the need for her any more. She’s really there to See when things are murky or cloudy and you need a way out and I’m forever grateful for her for helping me that day on the bed and that whole year when I was the most stuck I’ve ever been, to the point of thinking about dying.

Though these plant medicines are increasingly made illegal within our modern culture (because what the lawmakers do not understand or want to control, they criminalize), it is our human birthright to have access to these experiences.

I would not be the person I am today without my experiences with entheogens (an alternative word for psychedelics literally meaning full-of-the-god, inspired) and humanity would be healthier and better off if we still had initiation rituals (that indigenous people have practiced since time immemorial) where people encountered themselves through the lens of these ancient human allies.

In a time where the cries of the earth are so loud because of our crazy immature human behavior, these medicinal plants speak to us, through us, they heal us, and teach us! And, immature a species as we are, we drastically need their healing. I’m glad to see a continual revolution of these medicines and yet I’ll also drop a famous line by Alan Watts that is one of my favs,

Once you get the message, hang up the phone.

For these plants are not purely an escape, but they can teach us and it is possible to get burned out or go to them too much when we need to be living and doing the ground work. I know it’s hard to keep doing the groundwork at times and I see a lot of these plants like “purpose refreshers” if we forget at times. But if I learned anything about taking a plant medicine that much for a year I did learn that that plant is not me and it is me who must make the changes in my life, that the plant is my ally, but not myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about the chemical constituents that make Salvia active, I suggest looking into the research of Daniel Siebert who runs Sage Wisdom and is an extensive researcher of Salvia who is bringing together people from all over the world. I have tried his extracts in the past and they’re the real deal!

Happy Brain

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This winter I got back into meditation through taking part in a 10 day Vipassana meditation course at their Texas center. I had been to my first course (and served a couple after that) in 2013 and felt like it was time to get back into it. I was looking for something to help my mind become happier, to stabilize my mind, to train it. I had positive benefits from the first course I took, but with time the practice had drifted away.

In this article I’m going to share some interesting scientific findings that recently came across my path, but they simply serve to bolster that which is already lived experience for me, namely the lived experience of becoming happier, more peaceful, loving and not as easily riled. It’s cool when science confirms lived experience, eh?

[image source]

Wild Elephant Trainer

Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana meditation to the world after it had been hidden for many centuries, often talks about the mind like a wild elephant. Oftentimes when we first start meditating, we have the classic “monkey mind” – the mind that is always running off the trail and finding tangent after tangent to play with. Distractible is putting it mildly.

When one sets an intention to train the mind, as in training a wild elephant, we have to remember that this is what the mind does – how it naturally behaves in its wild loose state and to have unlimited patience and compassion during the process of bringing the mind back to a focus point, in this case the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nostrils.

What strikes me about this practice is that while the natural inclination of the mind is to get loose and run wild (there is some gratifying feeling in letting our minds wander), my mind actually feels clearer and more healthier the more I train it. I can literally feel it becoming stronger, calmer, sharper and increasingly more intelligent.

By now this is heavily corroborated by science,

“What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before,” said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university’s new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. “Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.” It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

Meditation Gives Brain a Charge

In his study, in which they hooked up monks with 10,000-50,000 hours of training (15-40 years of practice), they found never before seen gamma wave activity in a healthy person. The researchers concluded that “the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students” (who were training for 1 week and also took part in the study.)

Furthermore,

The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levels of gamma waves, he added. This “dose response” — where higher levels of a drug or activity have greater effect than lower levels — is what researchers look for to assess cause and effect. In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.

Davidson’s research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) on the meditating monks, Davidson found that their brain activity — as measured by the EEG — was especially high in this area.

Meditation Gives Brain A Charge
From the study, The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging.
They found that “Meditation training can enhance various cognitive processes, such as emotional regulation, executive control and attention, particularly sustained attention. Therefore, thinner cortical thickness of brain regions in meditators, including the lateral and medial parietal areas, may be associated with their enhanced cognitive functions through meditation training, such as improved attention and self-perception.”

The Trained Mind

Discovering that the trained mind has different activity and makes more efficient connections than an untrained mind is groundbreaking in my book. We can train the happiness centers in our brain through meditation. How revelatory!

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. [source]

From my own experience, I’ve noticed increased overall wellness and contentment. Can this come from a healthier mind?

I have come to believe that it can and that our mind’s behavior patterns are very trainable. The way we think and the way we train ourselves to think change our perception of reality. We see things not as they are, but as we are – comes into play here.

Letting the Good In

This leads me to another article I came across today by Rick Hanson, PhD. I would highly recommend giving this PDF 5 minutes of your time.

from Taking in the Good

He writes,

  • Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
  • Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory.
  • • Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more memorable than a 1000 good times.

This tells us a lot about how our brain works – how it is wired for survival, yet letting our survival brain run things isn’t going to make for a happy brain. In the PDF I link above, he goes through some helpful techniques on training your brain to imprint with the positive experiences and talks about bringing them to mind more often in order to create a happy mental atmosphere, one in which we believe good things are going to happen to us. The law of attraction is at its peak when we start thinking like this.

Train your Brain for Happiness

So much of our seeking in life is in some way geared toward making ourselves happy and safe. In many ways, these simple and basic pursuits make the world run round and yet I would wager that it isn’t the mirror objects outside of us which can bring us happiness, but what is happening inside of us. That’s why this type of research and practice is so revolutionary because it shows us a way out.

We have the skills, we have the tools and they are free! Vipassana is FREE to anyone and each person who sits a 10 day course sits and eats and is lodged by the money people before them have given. If you are looking for a course to train your mind, I do recommend this one.

Though it is hard to train ourselves, the tools are abundantly available and they are as simple as sitting still, breathing and focusing. That’s a cause for celebration!

Have you experienced benefits from meditation practice or training your brain toward happiness? Please share in the comments!

Do Bees Self Medicate on Plant Medicine?

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This week in the @naturalmedicine contest, we have a very cool and unique contest. We’re invited to write about 1 to 3 plants, namely Basil, Elecampane and Plantain. Wow, how fun! Check it out!

I have had some thoughts running through my mind as I learn climate change statistics surrounding insects. It’s grim and we need to do something quickly lest populations of insects continue to decline in rapid numbers. I wrote more about some of these side effects yesterday in Unbelievable Stats about Climate Change.

Yet what I want to focus on today, especially concerning the variety of Basil I’ve chosen to write about, Holy Basil, is the effects that adaptogenic (more on this term soon) plants have on insect immunity.

What’s an Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are becoming widely known and more often used every day, which is fantastic news for humanity.

Adaptogens are stress‐response modifiers that increase an organism’s nonspecific resistance to stress by increasing its ability to adapt and survive. 

Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals

It is frequently said that adaptogens help bring the body’s systems into balance and each day more research is coming out about these amazing plants. Our herb of focus today, Holy Basil, is a supreme adaptogen – one of the best!

Holy Basil

It is well documented that Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum, is beneficial for the human organism. It’s one of my favorite plants and we grow her every year (well she comes back reseeding with vigor!) each year. We’ve written previously about here, here, and here. And we also sell a tincture of Holy Basil through @homesteader’s coop in our shop.

Our love for her really is incomparable, which is name she often goes by- the incomparable one!

If you’re interested in learning a more in depth profile that is scientifically comprehensive and contains historical lore, I suggest reading this article, Tulsi Queen of Herbs.

Yet, my interest today goes beyond the human realm, where the amazing immune supportive and boosting, holistic system adapting effects of Holy Basil are well documented.

Today I want to learn some new things about insects and their relationships with plants and if through growing adaptogenic, medicinal and immune-boosting plants in my garden, I can help strengthen the immune systems & disease resistance of our insect neighbors.

The Research

I have been researching for an hour so far and the first article I’ve found referencing any organism benefitting from adaptogens is this article: Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans.

The adaptogens studied in this article are Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola and C. elegans is a common nematode found in compost and garden soils. The researchers did find that the adaptogens elongated the lifespan of the nematode. The researchers concluded:

Based on these observations, it is suggested that adaptogens are experienced as mild stressors at the lifespan-enhancing concentrations and thereby induce increased stress resistance and a longer lifespan.

(source)

Let’s see what we can find surrounding insects’ immunity related to adaptogens, if anything.

Plants do affect immunity of insects

The first research paper I found referencing insect health relating to the plant they were eating is this study, Host plant variation plastically impacts different traits of the immune system of a phytophagous insect.

Basically they took a species of moth larvae and fed it different types of grapes and charted their immune responses. This paragraph stood out to me.

Antibiotic chemicals in host plants may indirectly provide protection against microbial pathogens to herbivorous insects, which could then maintain higher levels of immune defence against a range of other pathogens.

While I mainly saw an enormous amount of bees, flies and other flying insects on the pollen of the Holy Basil – rarely does our Holy Basil have any pest issues on the leaves, this is hopeful news that the constituents in the host plants have the ability to change the immunomodulation of the insects they’re in relation with.

I think in order to have any direction in my research, I’m going to have to focus in on a specific insect relationship and thinking of Manuka honey, which is well known for its incredible potency due to the Manuka flowers the bees feast on, I’m inspired to focus on bees, their honey and nectar.

This honey is a superfood sought out by humans and it is well known that their pollen, nectar, propolis and royal jelly are beneficial for humans, but what about the health of the bees that are the “intermediaries” so to say?

My line of thinking started to head this way as I saw soooo many honeybees on our Tulsi plants flying around with bright reddish orange Tulsi pollen collected on their legs! We know honey and propolis are amazing for human health, but is this benefitting the bees?

Honeybees world round are facing a lot of diseases and threats from Colony Collapse Disorder and pest issues. Out of 5 healthy wild swarms that we caught last year, only 1 is still with us (2 absconded and the rest died for unknown reasons – most likely because of hive beetles and weak colonies.)

I am so concerned with this research because I have a hunch that by growing medicinal plants with potent nectar & pollen, we can help boost the immunity of our insect populations.

Pollinator habitats are all the rage – and that’s a great thing! Many of the popular high nectar and pollen plants that are on popular lists are medicinal as well.

Insect Immunity

Here’s what we know about insect immunity:

Insects have diverse mechanisms to combat infection by pathogens. Many insects are protected by a layer of antimicrobial secretions on their exterior, and by a gut environment that is hostile to pathogens. When pathogens move beyond these defences, the epithelium is often sufficient to stop further progress. Should pathogens defeat the morphological defences of insects, they are often met by efficient cellular and humoral immune defences. Insect immunity shows many parallels to the innate immune responses of humans and other vertebrates, involving a diverse set of actions including the secretion of antimicrobial peptides, phagocytosis, melanization and the enzymatic degradation of pathogens

Further, insect immune pathways share both an overall architecture and specific orthologous components with the innate immune system of vertebrates 

This suggests both a shared root for these immune pathways and selection to conserve many components over hundreds of millions of years. 

source(emphasis mine)

This similarity in our immune function bodes hopeful for my hypothesis.

Nectar used as Medicine by Bees

Goldmine! Jackpot! I didn’t know the scientific wording for the question I was asking. Turns out I needed to research: secondary metabolites can reduce bee disease.

The following studies confirm my hypothesis that medicinal nectar & pollen is medicinal for bees.

Nectar chemistry mediates the behavior of parasitized bees: consequences for plant fitness

These results suggest that pollinators may be able to use nectar chemistry to self-medicate in the wild.

Previous research has demonstrated that insect herbivores can self medicate, changing their foraging behavior when parasitized and resulting in an increased consumption of secondary metabolites (Singer et al. 2009, Abbott 2014). Combined with the discovery that consumption of catalpol can lower Crithidia infection of B. impatiens (Richardson et al. 2015), our results suggest the interesting possibility that bumble bees may self medicate with iridoid glycosides when challenged by natural enemies, increasing visitation to flowers with high iridoid glycosides in nectar relative to uninfected bees. This potential self-medication behavior is not unique to bumble bees. For example, honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) increase their collection of plant resins (propolis) with antibiotic function in response to nest pathogens (Simone-Finstrom and Spivak 2012), and have been shown to increase consumption of nectar secondary metabolites with antibiotic properties when parasitized (Gherman et al. 2014). Our foraging experiment suggests that parasitized bumble bees return to the nest with greater quantities of nectar iridoid glycosides than uninfected conspecifics, ingestion of which should lower their Crithidia parasite load (Richardson et al. 2015). Bumble bees are social insects and workers make foraging decisions based both on individual and colony needs; we could thus have underestimated the importance of parasites in shaping bee foraging behavior, since many individuals from infected colonies show no sign of infection themselves (Otterstatter and Thomson 2007).

http://burfordreiskind.com/wp-content/uploads/Richardson-et-al-2016-Ecology.pdf

Essentially there is abundant research noting that bees under various types of health threats seek out medicinal properties of plants!

Here are some other notable studies:

‘Bee’ healthy: NMSU researchers study medicinal benefits of oregano for bees

What’s wonderful about this study is that they’re promoting the distribution of Monarda fistulosa (Bee balm or wild oregano), a very popular pollinator AND beautiful plant! (Actually this study is still in process, but I will be following its progress here. And here is a video talking about their research. Right along my lines of thinking and own observation!!!

Bee Disease Reduced By Nature’s “Medicine Cabinet,” Dartmouth-Led Study Finds

Flower pharmacies help bees fight parasites
& Secondary metabolites in floral nectar reduce parasite infections in bumblebees
& Consumption of a nectar alkaloid reduces pathogen load in bumble bees

Medicinal value of sunflower pollen against bee pathogens

Increased Resin Collection after Parasite Challenge: A Case of Self-Medication in Honey Bees?

Pharmacophagy and pharmacophory: mechanisms of self-medication and disease prevention in the honeybee colony (Apis mellifera)

The Wrap-Up

Based on the findings that bees certainly seek out plants based on their qualities, I think there is good reason to assume that bees would benefit from the proven antimicrobial (Antimicrobial Activity of Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) Essential Oil and Their Major Constituents against Three Species of Bacteria) and various other health benefits from the nectar and pollen of Holy Basil. The camphor, eucalyptol and eugenol within Holy Basil are the likely components and many medicinal herbs share these benefits so it makes an even stronger case for widespread medicinal herb gardens!

In many studies, bees that were parasitized or had pest or disease threats to the colony sought out specific constituents in plant nectar and pollen which boosted their immunity. While this information isn’t surprising and fully confirms my hypothesis, it is great to have it confirmed by science. How exciting!!

Bees do self medicate!

2019 Interns at Mountain Jewel Permaculture Homestead: The Details

Homestead, naturalmedicine, permaculture
  • Natural Building
  • Permaculture/Holistic Living
  • Perennial Agriculture/Food Forests

Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.

At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!

We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)

Garlic harvest

What can an intern expect?

As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.

You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)

Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.

Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…

In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.

On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.

Early summer garden

 With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.

Wren making a cleaver’s tincture

As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!

Our western edge

What do we expect?

In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.

Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.

We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)

Sunset on Ozark Mountains surrounding our homestead

We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.

This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.

Mountain Jewel inspired art by https://lauraleesart.com/

What time frame?

We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed.  In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as  opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.

For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.

Lodging and Food

Lodging

Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.

We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.

Food

Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.

We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time). 

During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.  

*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.

As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.

Shiitakes we grew on oak logs

Transportation

A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.

Ini with a harvest of wild Paw Paws

To Apply

Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to mountainjewelbotanicals@gmail.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.

Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel

Forgiveness as an elemental aspect of enlightening

Uncategorized

Ozark Sunset

When I started meditation I was hoping to gain more peace, clarity and love in my life, but I couldn’t know if this would happen or in what form it would take. So many of us want more of these things in our lives – and we go to great lengths to have them, yet they can still evade us.

I remember hearing a story of a local farm near us. A woman had been farming there for many years alone, selling medicinal seeds, veggies & grass raised beef for market. A man more than 20 years her junior announced that he would like to live at her place, help her and search for peace. At that time in my life I wondered at his desire for peace above all. Certainly at that time in my life peace was not a goal I had for myself.

Yet, as life goes on, different things look appealing. After an especially tumultuous year we may find a more peaceful existence is exactly what we’re after. When I started to continually think of going and sitting a meditation course, I knew it was time. Time to turn over a new leaf; time to get serious about sculpting my life and asking myself if I was happy and if what I was doing was working towards that end. Turns out, I wasn’t and it turns out that meditation was indeed just the ticket. Thanks again to my stellar intuition, that keen mysterious sense, for leading me in exactly the right direction once again.

What I did not expect was that forgiveness, of self and others, was going to play such a crucial role in my happiness, peace and enlightening.

I’m still not quite sure what people mean when they talk about enlightenment as an achievable state. Speaking as one who has not achieved it nor lives from that state, I can only guess. Yet my use of the word as an action verb fits precisely because I’m using it as a descriptor. I quite literally feel myself getting lighter.

Though this wasn’t a goal, per say, I think it has a lot to do with other feelings of peace, harmony and more joy and love flowing through my being. As energetic blocks lift off or energetic channels start flowing once again, as they naturally do, much of what we held on to or thought of as essential to “who we are” just doesn’t take on that much importance anymore.

This leads me to the assumed topic of this article: forgiveness.

Though I never thought I held grudges, as I started to practice Metta in the evenings during the server course at the Vipassana, I realized the blocks I had to letting go of certain things that I held against people, even groups of people.

One of the practices is to “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and another is to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally.” As I began searching myself, the walls and linings of the internal caverns, when evoking these two phrases, I realized I had a lot of blocks toward these exercises. Let the fun begin!

Thich Nhat Hanh, a popular meditation guide and writer, has this to say about anger,

“When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.”

Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.” (in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames)

Though he is pinpointing the experience of anger, it is true that when we perceive someone has wronged us, the go-to action is to get them back. Though the slight might have taken place long ago, we hold on to it. I had done this for years with certain people. I thought that it was my way of “holding them accountable” or even seeking justice. What I sort of knew, but didn’t quite understand was that this act was also holding on to me, weighing me down.

I still don’t fully understand the nature of justice or proper accountability, and I’m not going to get into that complex subject. Also, please don’t take my words as a “should” or “shouldn’t” kind of advice. Human life is a complex thing and what I am practicing I am not saying you should or shouldn’t do as well. I’m simply sharing where I am currently regarding my process of forgiveness or letting go.

And here’s what I’m learning:

All of these years I have been holding on to things inside against certain people and groups of people, carrying them inside with me, weighing me down.

I let a little peep of possibility in toward forgiveness and I started with someone quite close to me, Ini. Ini and I have had our great moments and we’ve also had our moments of struggle, of deep quarrelling, frustration, feuds and anger. We’ve been to the highs and to the lows – it’s one of the blessings of our strong relationship that we go all over the place, leaving no stone unturned in the realm of human experience.

He was one of the people I held a lot of anger against for perceived slights, injustices, and wrongs. He’s also one of the people I love the most in this world and I wanted to work on healing our relationship, into bringing real love, peace and joy into our home and on our homestead. One of the reasons I wanted to work more on myself is because it is our dream and goal to hold space for people at our homestead and I want to be my best self for myself, each other and for the numerous souls we will walk beside throughout the years. I want to walk my talk and really provide a space of true healing, not masking or going through the motions.

Almost immediately after going through the exercises: “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally,” I felt a lightening occurring toward him and more love, gratitude and peace alongside it. It actually nearly felt miraculous and in that moment I realized that when holding a grudge against Ini was meant to “hurt him” or uphold some sense of justice, it had been hurting me all along and I was carrying it like a stone.

Soon, after practicing this in different scenarios, I realized this practice is nothing short of miraculous and I would feel a tingling sensation of energy lifting off my body as I practiced in earnest. Alongside meditating, I started to notice big changes happening inside of me, and since I have come home, they have spilled forth into my daily life and relationships.

Of course I had heard it said that a lack of forgiveness hurts you more than the one you intend it toward, but I wrote it off, as is the case with many of those things that are easy to talk about and harder to practice.

In the beginning of doing this practice (and sometimes now, too) a lot of voices will come up reminding me of why this person isn’t worthy or deserving of my forgiveness. Centered on the other person, these voices remind of me unforgiveable instances and debts that have never been sufficiently paid. Surely this person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, or at least not yet- not until they have paid!

Yet one thing is certain, we cannot control the other person’s willingness to seek help, forgiveness or to change. This cycle can repeat forever! We think that by holding a grudge something is done to the other person, but actually that something sits inside of us, working. And, in these instances, we are the only person whose actions we have control over. It is actually a gift to myself to start the gears of the cycle of pardon.

And how many people have I hurt or harmed as well – either intentionally or unintentionally? The cycle of hurt may never stop and we all will work out our suffering on one another until we learn that that only perpetuates the cycle.

As for me, I’m very grateful to now have this technique to practice. Enlightening, an offshoot I didn’t suspect coming from meditation, is a wonderful process.

New Homestead Product! St John’s Wort/Hypericum Oil

Uncategorized

We have missed each of you! As I sat (I went back to serve a Vipassana course) during a meditation session, sometimes my mind would wander to the herbal realm where I envisioned homestead offerings I would like to share this year. This product I am sharing today was something that I put into motion around the summer solstice, as this is the time of year that this plant shines!

You may even remember my post about it:

DIY Herbal Medicine: St John’s Wort Oil (Vlog & Photos)

Even taking a glance at this post reminds me of the bright medicine that midsummer holds, and especially how lovely it is to take a deep (energetic) whiff of it during winter! Encapsulating the suns energy through making herbal medicine at this time is a treat for our future selves.

I finally went about making a label for this product. I kept it quite simple:

Made using onlinelabels.com design software.

And now I am ready to offer this amazing product!

What is Hypericum Oil?

According to many sources, hypericum oil has been used for a long time. It’s one of the medicines lauded from the beginning of herbal records. In fact, people respected it so much that it was said to repel evil spirits (perhaps today interpreted as its antiviral and antibacterial properties) and depressions of all types.

Used internally it is well known these days for a natural antidepressant. I experimented with this in Autumn and was pleased to be able to concur as its gentle healing properties became known to me almost immediately!

The herbal oil, used topically, however, brings another aspect of this magical plant’s potency: wound healing. Whether a burn, a wound, old or new scar tissue, inflammation from inflamed sciatic or other nerve troubles, sore muscles after a hard day’s work, arthritis, St John’s Wort oil (long known as Hypericum oil – scientific name Hypericum perforatum) is your ticket!

Simply massage some of this amazing herbal oil into your skin and truly the effects make themselves known quite quickly. I’ve never had nerve pain, but I do know a thing or two about tired and sore muscles and I find quick relief after rubbing some on (or having Ini do it.)

Homesteader’s Coop

We’ve decided to offer this exclusively at the @homesteaderscoop to start because we love this community and thing it’s an amazing development. It’s an ethical, sustainable, verifiable business model initiated and developed by some truly inspirational and quality people. Not to mention, it’s a coop that doesn’t take any cut from the vendors or buyers! Using Steem blockchain as its revenue generator (through posts and delegations), we are able to try our hand at being a part of a collective and truly sustainable business.

I only have a handful of this product for sale so get one if you find yourself drawn to its longstanding healing nature and a little dose of peak Sunshine from the time of the solstice!

of the wild things: bear the herbalist, teacher and friend

Ecotrain, naturalmedicine, permaculture
“When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grows stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know?”
Mary Oliver in Upstream
In many North American Native traditions the bear is renown for leading humans to the medicinal roots. In early spring, once leaving his hibernation, he shrugs off the stagnancy of winter in search of that which will cleanse, invigorate and purify. These plants have been held as sacred “bear medicine” to the peoples and we have learned many things from the animals who instinctively use these special plants for themselves.
Osha or bear root is the first such plant that I have used within this context. Hailing from the high altitude Rocky Mountains in Southern Colorado & Northern New Mexico, Ligusticum porterii is a sacred and supremely useful plant. Often overharvested for commercial sale, we must tend the wild populations that we consciously harvest these roots from. The bears are known for digging these roots in spring.
(pic of osha)

Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers?

I know many of you do, dear readers, and still I think this is one of the most important conjuring questions of our time.

In a world replete with the splendors and side effects of globalization we will again be called back into place, to know a place well and develop relationship with it. This doesn’t mean only one place (for many of us are transitory) and it also lends itself to the cross hairs of similarity found all over the world (in this I am speaking of what Susun Weed calls “camp plants” or those plants that follow humans around wherever they go, ie yarrow, wild roses, plantain, chickweed, dandelion, etc).

If you do know about the plants near you, do you know how to use them and in what season and especially do you know which plants not to use? 

Excitement

For myself, I feel no small excitement when forging these relationships and I do believe it springs forth from a deep well the desire to share this information. It’s in our cells, our DNA this urge to share. That’s why people do “wild plant walks” (check for local ones near you) and we really haven’t totally lost this information over time. With that said, it is time to bring it to a larger scale, to reinvigorate this age old connection of which the bear reminds us.

The old people knew and they observed the bear, had relationship with him, and learned from him. He is both teacher and friend. What a joy and gift to resurrect these bonds and glorify the knowledge contained therein.

The Witch: Is She Still Among Us?

naturalmedicine, writing

What being a witch means to me.

I remember when I read Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s Witches, Midwives, and Nurses (which you can find here). I was coming out of the dark age of my own upbringing. A Christian anti-pagan haze was lifting, and as I explored different histories and realized how the picture had come to be over millennia, I was both innervated and afraid.

I was afraid because out of my upbringing I had been told to fear the witch, the one who practices magic, who manipulates casting mysterious spells and conjuring the powers of the dark. Oddly enough, I had just met a woman who was to become a mentor of mine — and she was most definitely a type of witch. Whether “good” or “bad” I was going to find out.

Witches are known by many names. Also sorceress, healer, “old wife”, medicine woman, bruja, to name a few. Men can also be witches, wizards or magicians, but today I am focusing upon my journey and, specifically, some herstory.

As Ehrenreich and English write,

 The witch-hunts left a lasting effect: An aspect of the female has ever since been associated with the witch, and an aura of contamination has remained—especially around the midwife and other women healers.

Witch Hunts

I am coming late to the witch post party. In fact, the @naturalmedicine challenge has already ended and I haven’t had a chance to read most of the other posts. You can find them here. So I’m not sure who, if anyone, covered the witch hunts and the lasting scar that this has had over the psyche of women and also clouded future generation’s ideation of the witch & her role in society. Viscerally, however, at my gut, I have a feeling that to many when the word witch is spoken we think of a “bad woman” – she who is out to get us, do us harm or put a spell on us that goes way out of our, and perhaps her, control.

The extent of the witch-craze is startling: In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries there were thousands upon thousands of executions—usually live burnings at the stake—in Germany, Italy and other countries. In the mid-sixteenth century the terror spread to France, and finally to England. One writer has estimated the number of executions at an average of 600 a year for certain German cities—or two a day, “leaving out Sundays”. Nine-hundred witches were destroyed in a single year in the Wertzberg area, and 1000 in and around Como. At Toulouse, four-hundred were put to death in a day. In the Bishopric of Trier, in 1585, two villages were left with only one female inhabitant each. Many writers have estimated the total number killed to have been in the 7 millions. Women made up some 85 percent of those executed—old women, young women and children. (Source)

The violent history against those women (and men) who were dubbed witches is the cause of this bad connotation with the witch. The political, religious, medical and other reasons for the witch hunts are a post unto itself, but again I will direct you to the aforementioned book for further exploration.

Suffice it to say that the witch hunts have left a deep & lasting impression in our collective consciousness that we are only now starting to challenge, reclaim and bring the power of the word/meaning to the light of day. Women, especially, are stepping out of the shadows, resurrecting and knowing the powers within which led to their persecution generations ago.

 

Reclaim

As I researched all of this, paralleling with magical people I was meeting in my life (and my mentor turned out to be a very good witch,) I realized that we had all been sold a false bill. The witch, traditionally feared for her dark powers, is a shadow persona cast by the Christian church. Seeking to demonize the Other in their bid for ultimate control of the mind of the populace, the witch became the enemy. This combined with her “otherwordly” skills gained through connecting at a deep level with nature, herself, the spirit world, etc led to a mass killing and demonization of the witch.

People usually fear what they cannot explain, after all.

Yet, what I have seen since this period in my life is a resurgence of many who are disclosing this history and reclaiming for themselves what is a very potent path.

We carry the history in our DNA and yet we walk through the fire into the light of day.

For the witch was traditionally a healer, one connected to the herbs and healing ways, cycles of the moon, local place and its people, herself and powers within & beyond her.

It makes sense in a culture of control, domination and fear, when the ruling powers wanted to monopolize religion, medicine, even the process of birth, that this character, the witch, would stand in their way.

Magic

The etymology of the word Magic is *magh-.

 Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to be able, have power.” It forms all or part of: dismay; deus ex machina; may (v.1) “am able;” might (n.) “bodily strength, power;” main; machine; mechanic; mechanism; mechano-; mage; magi; magic.

Those who wanted to control the magic, or power, of the laypeople had to shut down the witch. A disempowered populace is easier to control.

Yet, as I mentioned earlier, many of us are breaking out of these age old shackles, tapping into our personal power that we innately hold and that connects us with the same power that puts leaves on trees in spring, causes the ocean’s tides, and propels the entire cycle of life. No one can ultimately control this only put blocks in the way towards the realization of us as one and the same.

We are connecting with nature and each other, learning the healing power of plants and of the power that moves through us. The witch is still among us and as the old characterization wears off, we clearly see that her potential lies in each of us.

To me, I consider many parts of myself a witch. Many activities that I take part in are perhaps similar to witch activities of old. Herbal craft, self exploration, gardening, honoring of cycles, celebration of womanhood and fostering a relationship with the natural world through connecting to and inhabiting a place.

Within each of us is a latent power that yearns to be wielded, a current that moves through and animates all of life that seeks on outlet to the sea of the source. We are not the source, rather a conduit for expression of limitless power. Let us all remember our blessed potential as humans inhabiting the Earthly sphere and celebrate the witch once more.