Linden Leaf and Flower for Head Colds, Aches, Dry Skin, Sleep, and More

You know those head colds where it starts off with your nose running like a faucet and uncontrollable sneezing?  And then once that stops, your nasal passages just swell up and seal shut,  but your nose continues to run and drip down the back of your throat?  Yeah.  I had one of those last week.  I don’t think I ever ran a fever, but I did feel a bit worn down and lethargic for a day or so.  It was fairly mild, as colds go, but that nose thing was very distressing.

Honey, Lemon, Ginger teaI was on vacation, so had limited herbal remedies on hand.  I started taking Airborne. I also made myself a soothing cup of honey, ginger, and lemon tea (boiled water poured over chopped fresh ginger, a spoonful of honey, and a squeeze of lemon).  Later I made a hot toddy, and wow, that was potent!  (1/4C each of of whiskey and fresh lemon juice heated, plus 1/4C honey.)  Tasty, instant warmth, a pleasant buzz, and peaceful sleep shortly thereafter.  Although these remedies were comforting, they were only temporarily.

The swollen shut, runny nose continued, but I was on the mend the next day and felt much better, plus we were heading home.  As soon as I got home I started looking through my herbs for another remedy to treat the stuffy, drippy nose.

Linden Leaf and Flower TeaEnter Linden Tea!

It is an incredible feeling when you ingest an herb that seems as if it was made just for you.  It totally matches your constitution, relieves the imbalances causing your symptoms, almost makes you feel more like yourself than you did before.  Incredible!

I chose this herb because of its moistening and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which I thought would be a good match for my currently dry winter constitution. Plus it was listed in numerous information resources as a good cold remedy.

This tea almost instantly moistened and reduced the inflammation in the hot, swollen tissues of my sinuses, while simultaneously tightening the tissues and stopping the leaky, drippy mucous. Half way through the first cup I realized I could actually breathe through my nose!!!  And it wasn’t dripping!  It also induced the most lovely relaxation, ahhhh.  The relaxation was very similar to what I get when I drink Chamomile tea. This herb actually reminds me a lot of Chamomile.

Also soothes dry, itchy skin, gut inflammation, and musculoskeletal pain

Coincidentally, I also had a couple of other nagging issues that were relieved with the Linden Tea.  I have been experiencing a tender tummy lately, and achy joints and muscles,  probably due to some gut inflammation. This problem completely cleared up the day after drinking the Linden tea, and I awoke with absolutely no stomach pain and no musculoskeletal pain.  I was astounded to feel so good after having spent months in some degree of pain.

I also had begun to develop extremely dry skin this winter, which was quite different from my usual oily skin type.  I had a particularly nagging spot under my chin that itched and was extremely wrinkled. In fact, I was noticing a lot more wrinkles on my face in general. I had attributed the change to perimenopause and changing hormones.  However, after drinking the Linden Tea, I noticed a distinct change in the softness of that patch on my chin, and it wasn’t itching.  I was intrigued to say the least!

After doing some additional research on Linden, I decided to switch up the daily nourishing infusion I had been drinking to include some Linden, since it seemed to be so good for my current constitution.  My latest infusion recipe includes a base of Oat Straw, with some Violet Leaf, Red Clover, and LINDEN!  I have so far had one quart of this infusion over two days time, and that itchy patch on my chin has completely cleared up, my skin is softer and less dry (less wrinkles too!), and my body continues to be pain free.  I have also slept easily and all through the night, when I had been averaging only 5 or 6 hours and waking frequently.

Had I had a fever, or more chest congestion with this cold, I think I may have mixed it with Yarrow and Mullien.  As it was, I only seemed to need the Linden.

In my research, I learned that Linden is also considered a tonic for the heart – some consider it second only to Hawthorne.  Additionally, there is quite a bit of spiritual lore related to this magnificent tree. Read more about the medicinal and spiritual properties of this herb from the links at the bottom of the article.

Some Personal Lore

When I was a child, my grandmother lived on Linden Street. In the front yard was a large Linden tree with low enough branches that I and my cousins could climb into it when we played all sorts of fun games, like hide-and-seek for one.  Sometimes we played “house” and one branch would be the  kitchen, and the other the living room; our bikes were our cars when we had to go to work.  It made a fine place to sit with a book on a lazy afternoon, also.

There are  Linden trees where I live now, too.  I smell them every year when they bloom.  This is the year I will spend time getting to know her better.  And I need an Ogham stick from her wood!  Lot’s more to learn, and I’m sure I will be writing about her often.

More information:

http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2011/09/lovely-linden.html

http://www.herbalsafety.utep.edu/herbs-pdfs/lindentree.pdf 

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/linden

http://urbanherbology.org/2011/06/26/lime-nllinden-for-magical-midsummer-happiness/

http://www.anniesremedy.com/herb_detail309.php

Dead Christmas Trees

Since the kids have grown up and had kids of their own, it’s very seldom we are all together at the same time for meaningful activities anymore.  But Saturday turned out to be very magical for us in that way.  We got our first real snow (which only amounted to less than an inch, but hey!) while all of my kids were at the house with their children, so we decided to put up the Christmas tree together.

We’ve been using an artificial tree the last few years, but found when we hauled it out of the shed that mice had made their home in its branches this past season and had peed all over it!  Sorry, not putting the lovely odor of mouse pee all up in my house for Christmas!

So it was snowing, all the kids and grandkids were there together… seemed like perfect timing to go out in the woods and find a live tree this year.  And that’s just what we did.  It was a very special memory we made together, all of us bundled up tromping through the woods, AND we found a beautiful, fat cedar in the perfect shape.  It’s bare on one side, but with that side against the wall you can’t really tell.

At first I had a few reservations about cutting down a perfectly healthy and living tree just to indulge our holiday hoopla, but I have since come to terms with that.  Part of being on a spiritual and sacred earth walk means understanding that all living things participate and contribute to the whole of life, sometimes in life and sometimes in death.

We take the lives of plants and animals everyday to sustain and enhance our own lives.  The hard truth of the matter is that no life can continue unless something else dies to feed it.  I also believe that in some mysterious way, when we honor and gratefully receive these gifts, each living being that gives its life does so as a willing participant.  It is good to honor these everyday sacrifices and give heartfelt thanks when we eat a meal, use a plant for medicine, or even cut down a live Christmas tree.

I believe that in the grand scheme of the Universe, this particular tree we brought home grew in that very spot, to just the right size and shape, for just that moment when it gave its life to be a part of our family’s unity and love.  We will honor and embrace that sacrifice.

When I went to put water into the tree stand after we had set it up, one of the grandchildren asked me if the tree was going to keep growing.  I told him, no, it would begin to dry out and it would die within a few weeks.  He was sad about that and thought maybe we shouldn’t have cut it down.  I had to scramble to explain to him the understanding I had come to about life and death and this humble tree, in a way that he could understand.  I also wanted to find a way that we could honor the tree’s life, one that would be meaningful to the children.

What we came up with was that after Christmas, when we take down all the decorations, we will carry our tree to our bonfire spot and have a grand smudging ceremony!  Cedar is a traditional sacred smudging herb, and this seems a fitting end for our lovely tree.  We will thank our tree for being part of our family celebrations and for making our holiday so special.  Then we will burn the tree and watch it’s spirit rise up to return to the Great Spirit, carrying our prayers with it.  The children think this is a great idea and they are excited.

I used to feel so sad when, the week after Christmas, I would drive through my city and see all the dead and discarded Christmas trees lying on the curbs up and down the streets, with stray pieces of tinsel still clinging in odd places, just waiting for the garbage trucks.  The holiday was over and now they were just thrown out like nothing special, the people moving unceremoniously on to the next thing.  I am very glad to have found a way to make the death of our Christmas tree just as meaningful and special as all the rest of our celebrations.

Bringing an evergreen tree into the house to decorate and celebrate around is but one of the many ways to mark the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, with the days growing longer and longer thereafter.  Many religious mythologies symbolize this phenomena of “light triumphing over darkness.” Whether you celebrate the return of the sun to longer days, or the coming of the Son, or something else entirely, may you all find special meaning for this holiday season.

More Tree Medicine: Making Ogham Sticks

After my recent post on Tree Medicine my friend, Sarah Head, suggested I make my own set of Ogham Sticks.  She was even kind enough to send along detailed instructions from the classes she teaches on the topic.  I had not heard of Ogham Sticks before, but was immediately intrigued when I learned they were a divination tool made from trees. Thank you Sarah!  What a creative, healing, and so very appropriate project for me to do over these upcoming Winter months!

As I learned from Sarah, to make a set, you only need to respectfully and reverently collect sticks of the size and shape desired from a variety of trees of your choosing, then polish and decorate the sticks as you like, being sure to mark the name of the tree (or other symbol) so you can remember which stick represents which tree.  The finished product can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. I liked Sarah’s suggestion to take wood from fallen branches already offered by the tree.  If taking from the live tree, she suggests doing so while the tree sleeps during the cold months.

The finished sticks can be kept in a special bag or other container, and then when you need tree medicine, you can “draw” one or more sticks from the bag. Together with an understanding of the symbolism and energy of the tree(s) you have drawn, very useful insight into your situation can be gained. This is similar to drawing Runes or Tarot, or even meditating upon a random Bible passage — ALL spiritual traditions have some means of consulting a higher wisdom through symbols or story for the purpose of growth and understanding in ones everyday life.  It is “Story Medicine,” as Susun Weed calls it.

Though traditional Ogham Sticks can be a part of well-defined ritual and ceremony, where there are the Ogham alphabet symbols engraved on them, a certain number of sticks, and specific types of trees to use, I do not plan to follow those particular guidelines to make mine. At this point in my path, I’m not looking for traditional meanings so much as I am wanting to develop a very personal tool to help with my own growth and understanding of tree medicine, and a way to connect more meaningfully with that wisdom.

Instead of making a traditional set, I will allow my own set to evolve over time from those trees that I develop a special connection to right here in my own backyard, one tree at a time, over as many years as it takes to meet all the Tree People I need to meet!  I think it will be very fulfilling for me to do in-depth research on each tree as I go along (meditative, books, science, all together) and then translate that understanding lovingly into the symbolic form of an Ogham Stick to represent each Standing Person.

I am going to start my set with the lovely Sweetgum, which has star shaped leaves that smell heavenly when crushed.

She really stands out along the edge of the forest in the summer because of the unique shape of her leaves.  She practically shouted for me to pay attention to her as I walked past one day.  She is no less quiet in the Fall.  Just look at that fire!  A good place for me to begin, I think.

Sassafras Rainbow

We’ve had our first few light frosts this week!  This morning I went looking to see if the Sassafras roots would be ready for harvesting anytime soon. Nope. Not yet.  But I did learn something about the true colors of Sassafras.

Some Sassafras is yellow…

Some Sassafras is orange…

Some Sassafras is red…

And some Sassafras is still green!

I will wait until the leaves have fallen to dig the roots — some to make root beer, some to dry for teas and infusions.  I think I will also tie a matching-colored string around several plants so I can remember which were which, and see if the different varieties make different tasting brews.  Hopefully, I’ll have an update on that for you in a couple months.

Right now, I’m sipping some Sassafras tea made from leaves I dried last spring.  Mmmmmm…

(I was so excited to find Sassafras trees earlier this year that I got ahead of myself and dug Spring roots and made root beer with them, and dried the leaves for tea – read about that here)

Tree Medicine

In the spiritual tradition of my Native American ancestors, the trees are known as the Standing People. They are the great and wise chiefs of the Green Nations.  Their roots run deep into Mother Earth and their branches reach high toward Father Sky.  They are deeply connected to both the physical and spiritual realms, wise and generous.  I spent some time among them this morning seeking wisdom, peace, rest.

As I lay gazing upward at the quivering, multi-colored leaves, an occasional gust of wind would send the brightest ones spiraling down like dry rain to catch in my hair and caress my face.  I tried to get a photo of one of these leaf showers, as it was an achingly beautiful sight, but it was a Zen moment that simply could not be captured.

Here is another view from my hammock instead.

I’ve been feeling generally stuck for some months now in several major areas of my life, desiring a big change, not knowing what to do or how to make myself feel better.  Each small step I have managed forward seems overwhelmingly insignificant compared to the thousands more that must yet be walked.  Lots of thinking going on in my mind these days about what is really important to me and how I want to live the second half of my life. A midlife crisis perhaps?

It must be time for the medicine wheel to turn… a new stage of life approaches.  The Standing People are making this journey now also. They have many lessons for me, I think.

Come, meet my new plant friends!

I’m excited to be participating for the first time in the herbal blog party this month, being hosted by Ananda at Plant Journeys.  This month’s topic is “Mythical plant personalities.”  Below is my contribution..

I’ve spent a great deal of time this last year trying to get to know the plants all around my house.  I want to know more than just what a book can tell me about their chemical make up, their botanical name, or how to use them for medicine or food.  No, that’s not enough.  I want to also know them as unique spirits.  My favorite herbalists, who often write about their own relationships with plants, assure me that plants do have unique personalities, and that they can communicate with us if we will learn how to listen to them.

So this past year I’ve been teaching myself to listen.   

Long walks, stepping gently.  Sitting in the grass, sitting in the forest, exchanging breaths.  Gentle touches.  Watching carefully.  Tuning into my heart, sending out love.  Responding with joy when they send some love back to me.  It’s all quite fulfilling.

The first plant to introduce herself to me was the Self-heal, last Fall.   I kept noticing it in passing, as I was rushing in or out of the house, off to that appointment or this errand. I kept saying I was going to look closer… just as soon as I could find the time.  When I finally did stop to pay attention the summer was gone and we were well into Fall, and the patch had nearly died back.  But there was this one beautiful stalk still flowering, thank goodness.  If there hadn’t been, I’m not sure I would have been able to identify her.

I sat with her and thumbed through my field guide until I found out her name.  I carefully examined the beautiful crown of flowers she wore, and was struck by how it seemed to want to sing, yet could not make a noise.  I almost thought if I could just listen a little bit closer I would actually hear the sounds.  It reminded me of myself and my painful shyness, and how difficult it often is for me to shout out my song, my truth.  I knew that there was much this plant could teach me.

This interaction was so much different from all the times I had read my favorite herbalist’s account of a plant, and then gone out to find it and use it in the ways they had described.  No, in this case the Self-heal reached out to me, and not the other way around.  It spoke its truth to me directly.  I understood at least part of its medicine through my heart.

That was my first encounter with a plant spirit but since then I’ve met lots of other plants and began to get a taste of just how unique and varied their personalities can be.  After two years of sharing the same ecosystem, I sense that they are all finally getting used to me around here, and they convey themselves to me more and more often.  I am even beginning to discover certain “neighborhoods” around my land, each having a distinctly different energy.

The young saplings in the forest on one side of the meadow are very playful.  Last week I was walking there where I discovered an evergreen plant growing at the base of many of the trees – the Spotted Pipsissewa, Chimaphila maculata (more on that soon!).  I bent down to examine it more closely and snap a photo.  Then when I stood up, the spindly branches of a skinny young tree caught in my hair and gently raked its boney fingers through, caressing my scalp as it moved along my head.  I had the distinct impression that the tree was intentionally petting me!

When I stood up and looked around, still amazed and slightly awed at having been petted by a tree, the young Beeches nearby appeared to be giggling!  Every one of the faded dry leaves still clinging to their branches from last season were trembling and wiggling as if the tree was hopelessly caught in a fit of shaking laughter.  I couldn’t help but laugh myself.  It was a very joyful moment.

But on the other side of the meadow, the forest is ruled by a very wise and commanding Oak.  The moment you step among the trees the feeling of being in a sacred space is palpable.  There is no leaf litter in this neighborhood.  Only many ancient layers of spongy, peaty soil.  There is no sound when you walk.  The air is cool and permeating.  The holy silence is audible.  The Oak in the center is easily two of my arm spans in width. As soon as I saw it I was filled with pure awe. I walked up to it and put my arms around it as far as I could.  I felt loved and protected.  I just leaned into it and let the raw strength flow into me.  It seemed I was in the presence of a fearsome, yet gentle and wise, lover. My heart grew at least two sizes during that embrace.

And then there’s the Poke that keeps showing up at my door.  Literally, it grew right by the front door last year, so that the storm door would knock into it every time we opened it.  My husband kept pulling it down, and it just kept growing back.  I find this plant the most intriquing yet, a little sharp around the edges and a bit of dark mystery and danger there.  It seems a little harder to get to know, not quite as friendly as the others so far, but I’m definitely drawn to it.  I think it, too, has much to teach me, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with it this year.