Spring Ephemerals + the Magic of Vulnerability

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I walked through the warm woods barefoot to the cleft of hill overlooking the stream. Following the old worn way through the trees, the thin stitch of footfall over a soft quilt of pine-worn leaves. It was one of the first sun-warmed days of spring and I was opening my heart to finding something ephemeral and unseen.

All winter long I have watched the bare blue mountains behind my home like a card reader, hands scrying the mud and evergreen, imagining what might be rooted, precious as garnet, between the hard knobs of the trees. I studied the enduring leaves of beech like sheaths of papyrus, because I knew that they had lived for many springs and were intimately acquainted with what I was awaiting – the tender arrival of the woodland ephemerals. That rare breed of flora that flowers in the brief span of spring before the trees find their leaves. The plants that bloom, seed and cease before the rest of the world even sets out their green.

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Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

In the deciduous belt of the earth, where trees sleep like Persephone and lose the entire crown of their leaves, ephemerals acts as heralds for the return of the growing world. They are akin to the dawn chorus, a kind of songbird that celebrates the re-awakening of a rich hardwood cove. Every spring in Appalachia we experience an eloquent succession of these woodland ephemerals, many of which blossom for the handspan of just a few weeks. Taking advantage of the slowly waking slumber of the trees, these flowering plants occupy a unique niche within the forest’s overall ecology. For most of the year, these plants await as roots. But as soon as the earth warms they begin their quick ascent to supply some of the first food and medicine of spring. In the time it takes for the maples and tulip poplars and basswoods to unfurl their leaves, these soil-dwellers go through the entire cycle of their above-ground existence, dying back to the roots as the canopy finally flushes to fullness.

Showy Orchid

Showy Orchid (Galearis spectabilis)

The first ephemeral always catches you by surprise, as mysterious and discreet as only true denizens of the underworld can be. You must attune yourself to the subtle, the unexpected arising from bare forest floor. Once your eyes catch their contours, however, you will notice that the flowers come in waves, as exotic and earthly as silk flags in the caravanning desert of early spring. Bloodroot, Hepatica, Spring beauties. Anemone, Trout Lily, Trilium. Temporary miracles. Each one, so gentle in petal, seems to be able to break even the hardest heart (and soil) wide open.

Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

And so I found myself, on a spring-warmed day in April, out wandering with a heart that ached to unfold. I climbed up into the woods, letting my feet find the slopes of forest with the right cove of hardwoods, the perfect slant of light and bare canopy of trees. I had just returned from spending a long weekend with my new sweetheart and I was feeling that particular pang of tenderness and possibility that comes when a heart first decides to stir from a season of soilsafe hibernation. I was holding the tender petals of this inner ache to bloom when I first spotted them: an entire glen of bloodroot, curled in the palms of their own hands, rising to reach the sunspace of early spring.

Here, growing amongst the moss-laden roots of the slumbering trees existed an entire world of flowering beings where once there had only been winter-browned leaves. I couldn’t help but crawl in close, as awkward as a newborn fawn on shaky hands and knees. To be with them was to sip from a thimble-sized dram of spring’s most potent energy. The bourgeoning, the beginning, a blissful shot of sheer bravery.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Spring ephemerals are regarded as the lace glove of the flora world. They come and go as swiftly as a spring rain, often dying back to their roots in just a handful of weeks. Some spring ephemerals, like Trillium for example, can take upwards of seven years to even begin to bloom. There is a reason why such ephemerals are so rare. Delicate and scarce, their exquisite gentleness can sometimes be mistook for daintiness until you sit with them and ask them to speak.

Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum)

Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum)

In the heart of the forest’s own mythology, the story of spring ephemerals is a far cry from this picture of fragility. It is a tale of root-deep courage, otherworldly patience and the magic of vulnerability. Although the flowers themselves bloom for only a short breath of spring, their colonies flourish for decades. In fact, some Trout Lily communities are so old they predate the surrounding trees. Surviving, thriving and blooming in the short span between earliest spring and the first flush of the canopy, to be a spring ephemeral is to have mastered the art of divine timing and the life-generating strength of such open-blossomed vulnerability.

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Trout lily (Erythronium sp.), Pedicularis (Pedicularis candensis)

In our culture, we have a tendency to mark tenderness as weakness, but when a single bloodroot bloom can rock us back on awe-struck heels, we begin to glimpse the power of such exposed intimacy. Tenderness is perhaps the most potent form of bravery. It is the ability to open oneself, despite (as Anais Nin says) the incredible risk to bloom. To open, despite the danger of unexpected frosts and herbivores, the weather whims of spring’s mood and the negligence of passing boots. It takes unbelievable courage to expose oneself in such vulnerability. To say yes— to blooming, to loving and to living once more. Would it not be so much easer to stay quietly in our roots? In spring, the sun draws closer to earth, almost as if to say how much she believes in us, and we respond with a sweeping show of blossoming trust and the gift of our own transformational vulnerability. We bloom— not knowing if this is the right moment, or how the whole story will unfold— and this is how and where and when true growth begins.

Wild White Violets (Viola sp.)

Wild White Violets (Viola sp.)

There is a part of us that feels, acutely, that first wildflower bloom. That sharp acknowledgement of just how much bravery it takes to open oneself in such a seemingly empty place. How many of us have been protecting our hearts through a long winter’s sleep? How many of us have shrunk our tenderness down deep in the soil, like Catbrair roots in the cold winter sleet? When I sit with such ephemerals I think, perhaps, our hearts never needed to be roots. That’s what the soles of our feet are for. When we allow them to, our hearts can be flowers. Blooms that open in stunning vulnerability to the world, exposing themselves to all the possibilities of pollination and creation, to the sheer joy of radiating.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Sometimes messages are simple. Often, the best ones are. Be brave. Be open. Bloom and offer the unbelievable gift of your vulnerability to this world. Say yes to the life that lives through you. Begin again.

This world is full of gifts. We must simply open our eyes and hearts and be willing to receive. Laying amongst the cupped hands of so many ephemerals, on a warm day in early-spring, I was being given the gift of yet another beginning. The opportunity to embrace a new opening. The brazen invitation to fall in love— with a new season, a new person, a new spring. I held my heart, tender from such invitation and felt at once as strong and vulnerable as dicentra leaves. I accepted the bliss of such brave transience and felt truly released.

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Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

We can only love now, bloom now, find ourselves in the now that happens between the first kiss of sunlight and the leafing of the trees. On my belly, a humble student of these most ephemeral blooms, I opened myself up to the daylight and welcomed in the tiny, thimble-sized tears of such ground-breaking gratitude.

Wild Iris (Iris cristata)

Wild Iris (Iris cristata)

Florida Grief + Inner Worlds

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetLast week I arrived home from Florida with a heart blown wide open, swamp-leveled and exposed. I have, of course, been down south to this land of tangelo sunshine before, but sometimes places wait until we are truly ready before their inner souls unfold. After a long weekend of sand pines and spring water and the sky boughs of Spanish moss I felt as if I had been initiated into another world. And in many ways, I had.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetEvery time I travel I seem to step out of the heavy patterns of expectations and inertia that settle into the crevices of my day-to-day life. I discard the constriction of outside expectations, and release myself to roam, once more, the hills of my innermost worlds.

At some point in my life I conditioned myself to believe that to be in one’s own world was to be unforgivably self-absorbed. To be completely in one’s experience was to be at a distance from the “real” world. I adopted the belief that, to get lost in your own wave of thoughts, was to be considered out to sea. As an empath who has always been as sensitive as a spider with all eight legs on an ever-branching whorl, I have spent much of my adult life training myself to be so delicately in tune with the experiences of others that I have sometimes forgotten the soil-deep feeling of what it is like to truly just inhabit my own inner terrain. Being in Florida, soaking in a land of such wildness and such decimation as well, the ways in which I have not been allowing myself to sit at the center of my own being hit me like the bright blue of high tide.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetTo be in one’s own world is to acknowledge oneself as a creator. Letting yourself be fully immersed in the weather-whims of your own organic way of seeing and knowing and growing is more than just a luxury of individuality, it is a radical act of reclamation, the first step in the process of re-wilding our world.

Florida, wild Florida, is a place that belongs solely to its own imagination. The evergreen oaks and hidden rivers, sub-tropical flowers and life-soaked everglades. Each ecology in Florida is a rich tableau, a watercolor of wild citrus groves and dolphin-filled coves and mirror-clear springs that sing upwards from underwater caves. There are abalone-colored beaches and ancient shell middens the size of white columned estates. The sheer uniqueness within the diversity of Florida’s ecology sets the heart a’spinning. As the study of the relationship between living beings and the living land, ecology is not just a branch of scientific inquiry, it is the actual observation of a collective consciousness creating itself.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOnce upon a time, every niche of our earth was a land dreaming itself into being, living in its own world. The desert and loom-patterned sand and stars. The high mountains with its icy howl. The swamplands with its long-legged egrets, and cypress knees and warm-centered storms. Then, one day, humans beings appeared and, as our indigenous ancestors would will tell it, we too became a part of the dreaming of this world.

As dreamers, we are the creators of our existence, we are the progenerative seeds of our world, and all worlds. We live on a planet of such diversity, dreams that are as variant (and symbiotic) as feathers in a flock of southern-tipped parrots, as the songs they sing, as every seed of every fruit they eat…and every fruit, also, that is left to ripen. The sheer multitude of this multiverse of worlds we live in is staggering…and yet so many human beings have forgotten so fully what it feels like to honor the agency and diversity of such worlds because we have forgotten to honor our own. We have ignored, or devalued, that vital ecological relationship between our deepest passions and most uniquely creative soul, between our wildest selves and our unbelievably compassionate hearts. We have dimmed our own inner dreamer, and so we have forgotten how to nurture the dream of this world.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetFor every heartsong in Florida there is a heartache, a grief that is so heavy as to be unbearable. There are two faces to Florida. The wild, the unbelievably beautiful, the un-civilized— the land that owns itself and dreams as fiercely as it always has. And then there is the Florida that comes to most people’s minds: the paved roads through the Evergaldes and Disney worlds and Miami lights.

We all feel such loss, whether we bury it like a shell at the bottom of a midden or let it wake us up in the middle of the night. There were times during this trip— watching the manatees drift with motorboat scars or picking trash from the arms of a pristine shore— that I felt heavy enough to sink like a stone off-shore. To see a wild place drained, paved, forced into someone else’s vision of productivity, engagement, entertainment or even normalcy, is to literally see a world destroyed.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetSo many of us look back with a similar ache to our own childhood. As children we spent the vast majority of our time as wild creators in such inner terrains. We look back with such nostgalia on the joyous times of childhood namely because of how supremely natural it feels to live and inhabit your own particular way of seeing, being, appreciating and creating.

To live in your own world, that innate place of individuality and colorful soul, is to recognize subjectivity everywhere. As a child we make no distinction between a tree and our experience of a tree, the two were one in the same. By being in our own subjective world we literally empower, and allow, for the possibility that everything we interact with its own subject as well. We can acknowledge that every being on earth has their own personal reality, their own consciousness, their own truth, and their own world. It is only as we age that we begin to be asked to draw a distinction, gradually distrusting our own experience as somehow less correct than some objective reality. By exiting our own worlds, we literally leave behind a universe of subjects (conscious beings at the center of their own creation) and enter into a world of objects, unalive entities that we (as the dictionary defines it) can direct our efforts and goals upon.

Is it any wonder that we have drained and paved and built over so many worlds?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI hear, in my friend’s voices, so much grief over the collective damage done to this world. But I truly believe that one way to begin to heal what has been done is by reconnecting to the regenerative truth of our own inner worlds. To be in one’s own world is to be closer to the very heart of this world itself. Do you think the cypress trees are constantly fretting about the experience of the crane? Or does the gopher tortoise impress its own view of reality upon the roots in the earth? The manatees, no matter how wounded, continue to swim in their own underwater universe. They are so deeply enmeshed in their own experience that they can ignore the throng of onlookers who come to snap a quick Polaroid, and remain a vital part of the dreaming fabric of this world.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIt has taken me years, this many years in fact, to realize that being in my own world doesn’t mean I won’t feel the feelings of others, or experience heartbreak over the plight of this earth. In fact, it is the opposite. It means I can feel it like the everglades can feel a storm. I can embrace it fully because I have the resources to bear it. I have not drained my swamps or turned my inner terrain into a plantation of sugar cane— all sweetness, and flatness and one-dimensionality for sake of societal demands or the expectations of others. When I allow myself to exist within my own dream of my world, I am complex and internal and whole. I have so many roots and wind breaks and hollows and sheltering coves I can bear any storm. I can be constantly creating, recreating, constantingly giving, grieving, and continually regenerating new worlds.

Asia on winter walk

Photo Credit – John Sinex

 

Winter Pearl Diving

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Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 1.59.41 PMToday is Imbolc and winter has reached its fullest depths in our blue-hued mountains. Here in Southern Appalachia we don’t get the same thick quilts of winter-hewn snow as our neighbors farther to the north. Instead, we are tucked in by the frost that touches the early chickweed and the amber fountains of summer’s lemongrass still left in garden plots. The earth resumes a subtle wheel, one of silver on gold, glimmer on pewter— a frostshine that disappears with the afternoon sun. Here, we normally get only a dusting of snow, subtle gusts that come through like the tiniest song. A sonatina, quick and small, relished and then released in warmer winds. Here, winter is a fawn-colored mixture of dried beech leaves and muddy raccoon prints. Rivers of grey clouds and frost-covered stones. The white pines sigh and reach upwards through the empty forests, bare armed in the white milk of sunny winter skies. The spruce and fir grow imperceptibly. This is a season that belongs to such evergreen, to winter grasses and standing stones.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetScreen shot 2015-02-02 at 2.27.13 PMThere is a mystery to winter days, a fated subtlety. Even in their sameness, each day turns itself over anew, like the dried bones of yarrow stalks, thrown and scryed for imperceptible hexagrams. As the outer world seems to stay stationary, the inner hues change from day to day— from calmness to tumult, interiority and hope. I’ve always cherished the divinatory mystery of winter. It is the only time when the exterior word is allowed to go fallow and the interior worlds, our innermost places, are given permission to take up all of the sky. It is a time for inner wonderings and wanderings, woven blankets and wool gathering, self-study and the smallest sensual delights.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 1.59.01 PMI’ve been cultivating these inner depths ever more richly this year. Researching, gathering and mapping for my newest class series (Winter Intuition School) and beginning the journey of writing my very first book. It has been a time of deep self-exploration, of sea depths and unknown spelunking. It has been a time of seeking hidden treasures and swimming in the conscious unconsciousness. This winter I have been practicing the art of pearl diving.

der-wanderer-ueber-dem-nebelmeerA few years ago I traveled to Florida to stay in a house that had been built and then carried, and then built again, along a cold spring fed river. Only a few minutes walk from the spring’s origin source, we would make daily pilgrimages to its depths. Upon my first visit, I had expected to find a sweet bubbling pond, a crystal clear brook that was all invitation and gemstone clarity. Instead, after a couple paces, I found myself on the edge of an actual chasm, an electric blue crater whose sheer depth was fathomable only by the deepening gradients of sapphire, cobalt and navy blue. It took me a little while until I felt comfortable enough to venture beyond the ledge, a kitty pool expanse where one could sit comfortably with both knees on the shallow under-rock. The distance between one edge and another was punctuated by an enormous blue hole, deeper than an iris and wider than a full-grown whale. Finally, gathering my courage, I pushed off the crushed rock edge and let myself sink feet first, knowing I would never touch the bottom. It was a thrill and a fear, a fantasy and a kind of ecstasy of bravery all at once. Over the course of the next week I went everyday, and everyday it took a bit of coaxing, heart in my throat, to re-approach the sharp underwater edge once more and throw myself eagerly overboard.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 2.03.09 PMIn many ways, this is how almost every day of my winter has begun. Free diving into one’s own depths requires much courage and bravado. To explore the inner realms often means plunging with naught but your hands and the bellows of your lungs to seek the deepest veins, those that seep warm mineral clouds and hold such surprising life. It requires skill, a practice of patience, and the innate knowing of when to kick and surface. When to return to sunshine and sea waves and rest like a seal on the rise. Such inner explorations is its own kind of pearl dive; what you seek is a rare treasure, one that exists solely within the soft bellied shells of the deep.

Traditional Japanese pearl diving was done by women called the “Ama” – sea women. These women of the ocean often lived independently, many of them diving until their elder years in naught but a single loincloth. You do not need to carry much to find such pearls, and here, age is an asset—for it means wisdom and untold skill. It takes great practice to be a pearl diver. Navigating depths with only quick fingers and seaweed strong lungs.

Pearl_Divers_Girls_insanetwist_1In many traditions, the unconscious (or wider consciousness) of the soul was symbolized by water. Water is an entirely different medium than earth, an entirely different world. In water, our bodies must learn how to move as another type of species. In the waving depths of consciousness expanding meditation, creative work or shamanic journeying, our embodied selves must learn an even deeper fluidity. Exploring one’s deeper self and opening one’s intuition doesn’t happen or unfold all at once. An Ama must sometimes open a thousand mollusks before she finds a pearl. Such exploration is not built as a ship, simply navigated with wheel and star. You must be committed to diving down, over and over, practicing how to keep yourself alive in other worlds. With each dive, frigid and thrilling, we learn how to go deeper and how to sight the glimmer hidden in the centermost folds. Sometimes, it takes pulling open a thousand shells, each one with a kind of learning, to find that absolutely perfect round of pearl. That opalescent build up of years, the gem that results from a single irritation. The desire, first, to know more.

Perfect snowflakeThis winter I have been a sea woman, but I have also been a hearth-tender and earth watcher as well. In the midst of such explorations it is always important, vital really, to return to shore. In water, we can be both weightless and as heavy as an anchor. On earth we must stretch these sea bending bones and reground in our solidity. It can be easy, in wintertime, to float away. Whether to different realms of light-bearing consciousness or even into the dark stagnation of our own personal underworlds. Even in the midst of our deepest mid-winter imaginal navigations, we all must come back to the tangible world— the life-giving practices of fire tending, hearth sweeping, water boiling, bone saving, stock making, tea sipping, drop spinning, nut roasting and reading. Winter exists within the halves of both dark night and dry light. We must keep ourselves balanced and whole.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThere are many ways to ground in wintertime. Simply getting yourself outside, inspecting ice crystals or the dried heads of winter seeds, can do wonders to re-earth us once more. Often times, on the coldest days, I find that my best grounding happens in the kitchen. Like a sea-farer arriving home to a salt-creaked cottage lit by puffs of woodsmoke, I am often eager to get my fingers in sacks of winter-stored roots or kneaded dough.

In winter, I seek balance within the insides of most things. My home, my heart, the marrow in fresh cooked bones, the sweet blood of oranges that travel hundreds of miles from their Florida homes. I find balance in beginning an evening with a single recipe, working my way from the inside out.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Shortly before the holidays I fell in love with a new chocolate stove-top concoction, created from the core of such interior magic. It has been my dark winter companion ever since. After a full day of deep diving, long travels through inner places seeking pearls, I return home to rough-hewn cups of this Chaga Hematite hot coca, sip and rest once more in the nurturing opportunity of this dark and mysterious Winter’s embrace.

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Chaga Hematite hot cocoaDark, earthy, and profoundly grounding, this mystical hot cocoa will settle you in to the warm and nourishing delights of wintertime embers and star rich skies. Crafted from the stone that lies at the center of our earth and the mycelium within and underneath every inch of soil, this drink is a hearty root bringing you back to the warm heart of the day-to-day world. Sweetened with maple syrup and lightened with rich sea-foam dollops of coconut milk, to bring in the milky remembrance of diving for the deepest pearls. Warm yourself a cup of Chaga Hematite Hot Cocoa and settle in for a profoundly meditative wintery evening.

Chaga cocoa steaming

Chaga and Hematite rug Chaga cocoa from the top

Chaga Hematite Hot Cocoa

Recipe makes two mugs of hot cocoa

  • (Optional) Vanilla Extract
  • 2 oz maple syrup
  • 2 oz coconut milk
  • ¼ – ½ tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp cocoa power
  • 1.5 cups water
  • ½ oz chaga
  • 1 piece of Hematite
  1. Place a piece of hematite in 1.5 cups of water. Let infuse anywhere from one hour to overnight.
  2. Pour the water off your hematite into a separate pot.
  3. Decoct Chaga. Combine chaga with your hematite water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let churn for at least 20 minutes (or until your tea turns to the shade of dark wood). When your decoction is done, strain the tea into a separate container.
  4. Sir in cocoa + cinnamon powder until all lumps are dissolved
  5. Add Coconut milk and Maple syrup
  6. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and make a toast to all rich and nourishing worlds!

Hematite and Chaga

Hematite is what makes up the core of our earth. It is the stone upon which our entire world is balanced. Iron rich and dense, Hematite is like the open arms of a profoundly grounding mother, welcoming us home after a hard day with a warm apron and bone stock bubbling away on the stove. An intensely sturdy stone, Hematite reminds us that we are here, now, and that to live on the earth fully is to recognize that we are unconditionally loved. Hematite helps us to come back to the bedrock of who we are, connecting to the precious anchors of body, embodiment, and our own inner places of self-love. Protective and solid, hematite can provide us with the sturdy container needed for shamanic journeying, creative visualization and explorations in consciousness. Hematite reminds us that we do not need to try to survive, this skill comes as naturally as the sunrise. This raw stone can help to bolster our deepest hearts so we know that we will be able to make it through even the longest winter. Hematite is a wonderful stone ally for the wintertime scholar and student of consciousness; this solid stone helps to concentrate the mind, bringing deep focus and balance to any wintertime pursuits. (To learn more about an ancient Daoist Hematite stone treatment for ghosts, check out my Samhain blog post from this past fall)

Chaga is a medicinal fungus that shows us the literal roots of the world. Often called a mushroom, Chaga is actually an outgrowth of the mycelium (or root system) of the fungus itself. Found most often on black birches in our Appalachian forests, chaga is a nourishing immune tonic. Antiviral, immune modulating, and adatogenic, chaga is an indispensable wintertime decoction in the far northern climbs of Russia. Simmered for half an hour or more, chaga makes a rich but mild tea high in antioxidants. Traditionally used internally for cancer, chaga has been shown to have an antitumor effect in clinical trials. Also called tinder fungus, chaga is renown as an excellent ally for catching coals of fresh drilled hand-fires and holding the spark for a deep amount of time. A vital companion for travelers and those who need to bring the spark of new life with them whenever they go. Chaga has been used in this way for thousands of year, it was even found in the pouches of Otzi, the Copper age man who lived and died in the Alps around 3,300 BCE, and who slept in the alpine glaciers on the border of Austria for thousands of years. Chaga is an ancient medicine of fire and continuance. Bring this nourishing companion into your world of tea kettle and late night inspiration and ignite a spark this winter whose embers will carry you through untold distances, perhaps, even, until the spring.

** Paintings by Caspar David Fredrich. Photograph by Iwase Yoshiyuki

Adaptogenic Snickerdoodles

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Quartz crystalsThe frost is simply dazzling these days. Stretched out across the yard and far hills of moss like a sparkling net of stars. Lately, I’ve been mulling deeply into this time of cold winds and warm cheerful stoves. I recently moved into a new home far out in the hills and hollers of Appalachia and have found myself beginning each new day with such quiet appreciation — of the evergreens and rabbit tracks, silent does and rustic woolen clothes. I love this time of the year. When my breath begins to follow me around in little puffs of smoke and I’m allowed to simply stay inside with my cast irons and concoct. Between the rush of shipping medicine to every corner of the country, packaging blends for family and friends, and preparing for two different holiday classes, I’ve been spending every other waking moment celebrating the season in the best room of any cozy cabin… the kitchen.

Rainbow with spoonThere’s a certain kind of magic hour in my new kitchen. A mid-afternoon faery-spell when the sun pours in and kisses my suncatcher window with light. For an hour every winter-noon my kitchen is lost in a dazzle of winking rainbow-light. Scattered across the bare wood floors and walls, a small flock of color ripples from left to right, anointing every surface with a ethereal crystal, before they simply disappear, take flight. This is my absolute favorite time to create new magic.

Snickerdoodle bowl with rainbowsMy good friend Juliet mentioned the idea of creating an adaptongenic sugar cookie a few months ago. At the time I thought, “By golly! What a fabulous idea!” Needless to say, the idea stuck to me like a burr to a gathering basket and I’ve been waiting until the holidays rolled around (aka. until it’s completely kosher to make…and eat…batch after batch of sugar cookies) to try it out.

Now, I love snickerdoodles. Not just because they are a fun word to throw out at a party and pretend you speak fluent German (despite having some deep German ancestry, I can’t lay claim to knowing much at all of the language! Regardless, I’ve been “snickerdoodling” in a heavy German accent every chance I get), but because they are everything a holiday cookie should be: Soft, chewy, crispy, cinnamon-y and sweet.

Snickerdoodles closeAs much as I adore the holidays– with all their bright lights and white pines, warm cinnamon and cheer– they can also be (a tad) stressful. In the midst of a serious north pole whirlwind of holiday to-do’s,  I was grateful for the chance to sit down and play with some of my favorite stress-relieving herbs (in cookie form, of course). Stress can come in lots of different guises– wintertime bugs and blues, an entire turkey to roast or a whole evening spent in itchy Christmas sweaters with your uncle Lou. Adaptogens, as defined by David Winston, are a kind of deep inner support, helping our bodies “adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes and restore balance.” (If you are interested in learning more about adaptogens, definitely take a peek at David’s book Adaptogens). Often called rejuvenatives in other traditions, Adaptogens are herbs that help us to feel graceful, strong and energetic… no matter what stresses may be manifesting in our outward environment. In this recipe I’ve included my three favorite adaptogens for coasting through the holiday season: Ginseng, Shatavari and Astragalus. One a sunny day, kitchen-rainbowed day this past weekend I put on my flowery apron, turned up some swinging holiday tunes, and got to creating this truly scrumptious batch of relaxing holiday cookies.

Adaptogenic snickerdoodles with textCrafted with three different adatopgens for stress-release, stamina and overall good cheer this holiday season, these Snickerdoodles are as rejuvenative as a hot evergreen bath at the end of a long day. Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and humbug-free, too! These rich cookies, sweetened with coconut sugar and dark amber maple syrup, are simply divine dipped into hot cocoa or paired with warmed apple brandy. Craft a batch for your next cookie swap or take the edge off a frenzied evening of present wrapping with these medicinal treats.

Dosage: 1-2… err 5 ? cookies (Take a load off, Mr. Claus).

Recipe makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp Ginseng powder (Panax ginseng or P. quinquefolius. If using P. quinquefolius please make sure the root was organically grown and not wildcrafted! Our precious native ginseng continues to disappear at an alarming rate out of our forests)
  • 4 tsp Shatavari powder (Asparagus racemosus)
  • 4 tsp Astragalus powder (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • 3-4 tsp Cinnamon powder
  • For rolling in:
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Rolling snickerdoodles

Directions

  1. Let butter soften to room temperature. Using a mixer, beat together the butter, coconut sugar and maple syrup until creamy .
  2. Add in your egg, a dash of vanilla, and beat again until well mixed.
  3. Add in almond flour (making sure there are no large lumps), baking soda, salt, cinnamon and adaptogenic powders (Ginseng, Shatavari, Astragalus)
  4. Beat until mixture begins to ball up.
  5. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a spoon dole out large quarter-size semi-balls of cookie dough. They’ll be a bit sticky at this point.
  6. Place your cookie semi-balls on your baking sheet and refrigerator for at least an hour.
  7. Pull out your snickerdoodle semi-balls when they are thoroughly chilled.
  8. Preheat your oven to 350 depress. Shape your snickerdoodles into orderly balls and finish by rolling them in the cinnamon/coconut sugar mixture.
  9. Place each ball back on your baking sheet and flatten slightly with a spoon.
  10. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They’ll still feel pretty soft when you remove them. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetSnickerdoodle astragalus squareGinseng (Panax ginseng or P. quinquefolius) – Perhaps the best known adaptogen on earth, Ginseng is a mighty root with a long history of use in both Asia and America. A powerful tonic to increase long-term energy and resiliency, the entire plant was considered sacred by many indigenous people (including our local Cherokee). The forests in our native Appalachia used to be carpeted with Ginseng, but the popularity of this medicine (particularly in the East) has led to the widespread practice of ‘Sang hunting, virtually decimating our native populations. For this reason I highly suggest only buying ethically cultivated ginseng! According to David Winston, both ginseng root and leaf was employed as a ceremonial medicine and called upon to help improve hunting, provide protection, improve the chances of the love-lorn and enhance the power of other herbs. Modern scientific trials have found ginseng to be particularly helpful with those who experience adrenal exhaustion (most outwardly identifiable as dark circles under the eyes) and chronic fatigue. It helps reset our immune system and de-tangle an overly stressed nervous system. Ginseng is also known to be quite stimulating in the bedroom. How’s that for some holiday festivity, Santa baby?

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)- An ancient Ayurvedic medicine, Shatavari has been in continuous usage for thousands of years. Known to help enhance physical strength and maintain youthfulness, Shatavari is considered a rasayana herb of longevity in Indian tradition. The name translates as “she who has a hundred husbands,” and thus has been used as an nourishing aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer for millennia. A wonderfully nutritive adatogpen, Shatavari root is particularly supportive for those with low appetite due to stress and chronic fatigue. Most commonly used today as a gentle hormone balancer, as well as mood regulator, Shatavari has a sweet and nutty taste that lends itself quite well to baked sugary goodies.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)- Sweet, moistening and nourishing, astragalus is a wonderful immune tonic as well as adaptogen. A premier herb in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus deepens our own roots, giving us a strong foundation of robust health as we enter the winter months. A tonic in all senses of the word, astragalus is best taken on a regular basis (an adaptogenic cookie a day keeps the doctor away!). This nutritive rotos works to strengthen the overall functioning of our immune system, so we are more resilient to all those common wintertime coughs and colds. A mild adaptogen, astragalus is my favorite tonic for nourishing a healthy disposition all winter long.

Seasonal medicine square

Courting Mystery: Tulsi + The Technicolor Moonrise

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Hanging tulsi

The medicine of my world is fed by many streams— plants, flowers, stones, spirit and dreams. The most profound healing in my life has arisen from the ocean-like concurrence of all these streams. This piece is an homage to the whirlpool that it, itself, the healing.

This time last year I was officially diagnosed with Lyme disease. My story, which is long and fated and slated to be a blog post all its own, holds a special brand of medicine…and it is healing, for me, to simply be told.

Originally published in Plant Healer Magazine, this tale is an ode to the deep and multifaceted mystery of plant healing. It is the story of a medicine encounter that truly changed my life. It is a narrative of sacred basil and holy dreams. Unexpected illness and the call to bow my head to mystery. Thank you, dear readers, for reading…

p.s. If the Tulsi of this tale calls to you, I would be so happy to share. I offer this very same, sweet Tulsi from my garden in the shop. It is a blessing. 

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// Tulsi + The Beginning //

After several months of traveling I had arrived back home to a new season of profusion and growth. Sprawling honeysuckle and dandelion, squash left on withering vines. There was a fresh crispness to the air, the subtle changes of birdsong and light. Amaranth had sprung up in the tobacco beds and the comfrey splayed out of her niche by the back door. In my absence, the garden had grown wild. What were once rows, now grew over in weed and vine and seed. The Tulsi planted up on the terraces, however, was ever-leggy, fragrant and lithe. I went, as I had gone for so many seasons before, to greet her.

Tulsi with shed

For years Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) has been my beloved plant ally. She was one of the first medicinal herbs I ever grew. Continually blessed with many early summer seedlings, I often transplant Tulsi to every corner of my yard. The first year I remember placing extra starts in-between the kale and kohlrabi, tucked into overgrown apple mint plots. The next season we found that Tulsi had seeded herself in the most unexpected places: in our fire pit, and the shade gardens, a single ceramic pot left to overwinter on the porch. In the summer I gather leaves in tiny winged fistfuls. I let her get tall and bowed and lay my head between her spines to watch the bees go to and fro, balancing on her willowy curves. By the season’s end the rafters of our mudroom are always hung with thick garlands of the sweet drying herb. We string it up in the kitchen, just above the gaze of our wooden windowsills, and tie bundles to the outside of our bedroom doors. All winter long we drink the last herb of summer, throwing Tulsi leaf and flower into almost every brew.

Basket of TulsiI love Tulsi for the way she makes me feel, and what I know she can do. Tulsi has helped ease me through early seasonal allergies and indigestion after a full meal. During long hours of study, Tulsi has gently picked up my head from the nest of my arms, clearing and focusing my mind. I’ve used Tulsi to help fight off infections, colds and UTIs. Tulsi has been an ally, a familiar friend, a known entity to me for sometime. But, like most stories, this tale follows the paths unknown, straying beyond the characters or qualities we can string up and keep safe for some future era. In truth, this tale speaks to a much older faith: the insistence that no matter how much we think we know, there is always more, so much more, to understand. All beings change. Even rocks, overtime, will metamorphisize, disintegrate and grow. There is a spirit that lurks behind the familiar— and it is this mystery, and medicine, that we so diligently court.

Tulsi deva// The Diagnosis + The Dream //

One year ago this fall, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I started showing symptoms of Lyme within days of arriving home from a full season of travels. I had been driving for months— teaching and learning, harvesting wild foods and blazing across long sunlit highways. It began with the typical symptoms: malaise, obscure aches, brain fog. When I heard that several of the friends I’d been camping with had been diagnosed, I immediately recognized the signs.

The morning I was awaiting the call with my final test results, I had a powerful and prophetic dream. In it, I saw myself driving down the long slopes of Eastern Pennsylvania, my childhood home. At the hem of the Pocono Mountains the valleys there are long and slow, like honey poured on a cool autumn evening. If you take the time to lift your eyes, you can often see for miles. I was peacefully coasting down a particularly magnificent slope when a large line of cars came into view. Everyone, it seemed, had stopped in the middle of the road. I had to put on my brakes very suddenly, my easy downhill arrival abruptly interrupted. I wondered, for a moment, if I would even be able to stop quickly enough! With some expert maneuvering I slowed to a creaky, close-shave kind of halt, and straggled out of my vehicle to see what had spurred such a mythic hold-up.

A whole crowd of Northeasterners (who, as you know, are always perennially zooming around from one place to another) had stopped plain in the middle of the road. Why? I followed my curiosity to a crest over the valley. Something had made even these busy-minded people stop, hush, witness and gather…. When I got to the top of the crest I could finally see what event had created such a wondering crowd: It was a technicolor moonrise.

Technicolor moon

The moment was spectacular. They sky itself seemed to catch its breath. The moon rose, full and brimming, threatening to spill over into the entire sky. Like a bowl left out in the rain, the celestial silver waters swelled at the very boundaries of the night. As it rose, it cast the whole land in a halo. We gazed as she reached her fullest height and then began to change colors. From vine green to parakeet blue, hibiscus red and tangelo. I watched as one color fled into another, into the moon, into the sky. It danced on my skin and I knew I was witnessing a big change, the apex of a great cycle that was demanding me to slow down and give up on the plans I had hoped for, the destinations I thought I knew. I was being called to honor, recognize and watch— welcome in the vast arrival of the new.

I was awoken from this vibrant dream moment by the ringing of my phone. My doctor was calling with the long awaited test results. But, she didn’t need to tell me. I had already been told.

// Courting Mystery //

That day I ghosted around the house. I wasn’t sure yet what to do with myself. I knew I would have to make some hard decisions, not only about what medicine or protocols I would chose (this, I assure you, will be it’s own blogpost someday soon), but how to fit this new journey into my life. I would have to slow down. Tremendously. As suddenly as a hundred cars abandoned in the middle of the road. My life, which had been at a cross-country full throttle, would need to be completely shifted and settled. I had been driving, it seemed, at one hundred glorious miles per hour, per year, and suddenly the whole transit had to cease. This was obviously the beginning of a phase that would be both awful and awe-inspiring…and undoubtedly new. But where to start?

Fall hillI went to the hill, as I often do when I’m struggling and lonely, dispirited or low. The Tulsi, so sweet and hardy, had taken care of herself in my absence. I thought, perhaps I would make myself “useful” and harvest a few basketfuls of herb to get some fresh wreathes drying in the eaves. I sat down and closed my eyes. Giving gratitude for any harvest is a comforting practice to me, but can have the possibility of becoming rote—especially when it is an herb I have planted and tended, watered and pruned. Sometimes we become so familiar with the living aspects of our lives, we cease to remember that they breathe and change, they hold their own mysteries. This time I felt called to completely clear my mind. Let go of my normal prayers or supplications and just allow the Tulsi to speak to me. She appeared immediately behind my eyes and said in a voice that sounded like sky, Look— Once again, I was witnessing the technicolor moonrise.

In one moment my understanding of Tulsi seemed to pinch and then explode outward, like the creation of a star. An inextricable link of synchronicity spun out from the center, connecting my body and this new disease, to my dreams, to this plant, to the deeper mystery behind it all.

shamanessShe spoke to me in a language before words and I understood. This moment, this journey itself, would be medicine for me and Tulsi, my beloved ally, would help guide me through the biggest threshold of all. Far beyond the boundaries of what I had previously known and ascribed to this plant, she was, in essence, showing me the vastness of mystery. The beauty that can blossom when you throw away the deadlines or destinations, and approach any illness, plant or dream with a curious eye. The best way to begin is with simple humility, to simply sit and watch the techincolor moonrise.

In this one interaction, my understanding of Tulsi (and my own life) deepened as quickly as an ocean current. I felt, and heard, and was shook. It was like whale song— a transmission that is understood on such vibratory and ancient levels, and yet will never quite be able to be translated in human words.

Craggy gardens view in Autumn square

Tulsi and Maple

It was the beginning, the push I needed, to embark upon this new journey with a deep trust in the mystery, my most important and ever-present guide. The experience spoke, in truth, to the heart of why I am drawn to plants and medicine, healing work and herbs. As herbalists I think we can get stuck in the ruts of what we know. We have our material medicas and our herbal actions. Our constituents, our trials, our patient-proven results. But, for me, the most profound healing and transformation has always come from places unknown. From the beginning I could have railed against my contraction of Lyme disease, investing my energy in bitterness and resistance. Instead, I poured myself into research and herbal experimentation, yes, but I also accepted, once again, my place as an apprentice to the unknown. With the guidance of Tulsi and my own dreams, the synchronicity of plants and prayer, the natural mysticism and heralds of the heart, I placed my trust in the kind of transformation that can only arise from courting such mystery.

fall newsletter header zacThroughout my journey with Lyme disease, I have allowed mystery to be my weft. All else— the plant medicine and antibiotics, yoga, supplements, acupuncture and prayer— is the warp. When I first wrote this piece for Plant Healer I felt, at times, like Penelope, weaving and then unweaving, awaiting the return of Odysseus. Wishing for completion but knowing in my heart that the journey had not yet reached its end— in truth, I think it is a lifelong odyssey. Each time I try new thread, change my vision, tweak the weave until it feels stronger than before. I seek out the diversity of all the medicine in this world— plant stories and whale songs, full moons and unexpected gatherings, the humility to see how much more space there is to grow. I honor Tulsi and I keep her by my side. I remind myself daily that what I know, as Mary Oliver says, is “important and honorable, but so small! While everything else continues, unexplained and unexplainable.” Whenever I get overwhelmed or discouraged, imbalanced or unsure, I simply touch the Tulsi still bundled about my door. I come back to the unbelievable comfort of all that I do not know, and cannot see, and trust in the timely revelation of a technicolor moonrise.

 

Samhain // Practices + Reflections

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Fog on late edenToday the world is lost to its own thought. This morning found the last russets of maple leaves scattered beneath the trees and tonight we’re expecting our first killing freeze. It is Samhain, and the consciousness of the earth feels as fluid as the shadowy iridescence of a raven’s wing.

Samhain, the ancient Gaelic holiday of harvest and shadows, marks the time of the year when this veil is at it’s thinnest. In some ancient traditions, humans are said to have entered this world as consciously as a bride, wedding ourselves to a new kind of reality. A time for both reflection and revelation, Samhain delineates a moment as thickly fleeting as fog and as subtle as the edge of a knife. During Samhain, the boundaries between what was and what will be are distinctly blurred. The conversation between the worlds, once murmured, becomes distinct. Divisions die and the veins of fate, de-leafed and bare, reveal their patterns.

Like squash, halved, everything is both open and complete.

Dark citrineTraditionally considered a time of both sanctity and liminality, Samhain encourages us to question the slim thread between arrival and descent, a demarcator as fine as when leaf turns golden and when it finally falls. Historically, the eve of Samhain was celebrated as a time to reconnect with the ancestors, to feed the spirits with our remembrance and interact with the unseen. Samhain was held as an open invitaion to commune and come to peace with those we deem “others.” The unseen folk of the ancestral realm, faeries, ghosts, the most outcasted aspects of our own selves. It was an opportunity to take stock of the harvests of our lives— what is ready to be reaped, what is ready to be released— and face the source of our own inner hauntings.

During Samhain we are asked to look into mirror and see new reflections.  It’s a time to put the heavy productivity of the garden to rest and turn our gaze inward, blessing the fertility of starkness and singularity. Samhain is a kind of bacchanal of liminality. Having drunk the sweet wine of both endings and beginnings, we find ourselves tipping into a living world that deals intimately with death. The hillsides blush in rust and flame, and life drops like blood from the veins of the leaves, retreating into the roots of the unseen. In Samhain we see death for what it truly is… deep sleep and opalescent dreams.

Herkimer moodA holiday that I have cherished and beloved my entire life, I now celebrate this day in a much different way than the halcyon days of kit-kats and princess hats. I still invite in the elements of identity bending, sweetness and play, but I also take intentional time to connect into the power emanating from such an open threshold. In celebration of this tipsy time of turning I wanted to open my altars to share some of my favorite Samhain reflections + practices.

Regardless of how you choose to drink in this day, may your Samhain be blessed. Let magic spring from unexpected places and your heart branch in mystery, as brazen and bare as the hawthorn on hallowed hills.

Tree view// Acknowledging the Ancestors //

The thinnest reeds, given breath, create the deepest vibrations. As a time when the distance between the embodied and the un-embodied slims, Samhain is an important opportunity to reflect on and pay homage to your ancestors. Like forming a shape note, initiating such a conversation can create profound resonance, a harmony between all realms. Traditionally, spreads of food and wine were laid out for ones predecessors, which was a way of appeasing as much as entreating the spirits. In this day and age, with so many of us feeling quite disconnected from our cultural heritage, it is more important than ever to embrace a more expanded concept of our ancestory. Your ancestors are not simply those who were born earlier in your genetic bloodline, they are any unembodied forebears who helped define the path you now find yourself on. Ancestors can be found through our spiritual or intellectual lineages, within our wider communities and chosen families at large. Acting as guides, many of our ancestors are connected to us simply because of the way we choose to live our life, what our passion ignites. Ancestors are more than just our genetic predecessors, they are members of a much more fluid soul bloodline.

We, as wider spirits, have lived many lifetimes. Each and every one of us has experienced a diversity of lives in our planet’s historical past. When we look back to embrace these many-faceted aspects of our self, we open the door to interacting with an even deeper diversity of ancestors. In many ways, the seeds of our own selves, those that lived previous lifetimes here on earth, are our closest ancestors and most familiar teachers. You can invite in these personal ancestors to integrate the lessons and learnings you forge through now.

Leaf altar

++ Ancestor Altar ++

My favorite way to honor my ancestors is to create an altar. I like to put the altar in a commonly seen, but generally respected, area of my house. Tops of dresser drawers or bookshelves are perfect for this. To begin I spend some time sitting quietly and reflecting on my ancestors, those who I feel close to, or who I would like to draw closer. Then I gather items that hold the ancestor energy to me: quilts, watch fobs, old silver, wooden heirlooms, dried plants, feathers and stones.

After I have gathered my soulful items and place them as I feel guided, I light a candle in the center. I may make some offerings— bits of food, sweet grass or wine. While the candles burns, I agree to be in a place of respectful prayer and adulation. This is a time to ask for any affirmation you might need and to give thanks. Your ancestors surrounded you at all times, and when you sit in such moments of invocation they come closer. You must only be open to the signs.

feather on embrodiery

This time last year I began the ritual of creating my ancestor altar when I received quite a clear message from the other side. Earlier that day I had spent a totally unexpected sum of money. I was in the midst of a challenging health issue that was asking me to face some pretty overwhelming feelings of aloneness and scarcity. On this evening, I tried my best to simply set my worries aside and breathe. I began by reaching up into a worn wooden box for one of my grandmother’s old handkerchiefs, a delicate and lacy swatch of thin cotton. I was shocked when my hand settles upon a softly folded piece of paper. Nestled in the box was an envelope with my name on it, and inside that envelope was almost the exact amount of money I had spent that day. It was such a moment of unseen assurance; I sank to my knees for a few long minutes to weep.

Many months ago I had kept a small stash of bills in this envelope. But I had since spent every penny, I even had a memory of throwing the empty envelope away. But here it was, full again. Had I forgotten a handful of bills? Was it me who left it here? In the end, it didn’t matter one lick. I knew my Grandmother had created this moment. Signs and signals will always have some thread connecting them to our reality. Most of us will never see a randomly burning bush in our lifetime, but we will see many, many subtle (and not so subtle) indicators of the our loved ones presence on the other side. We must only look, and allow ourselves to recognize such signs by feeling. In a place before words I instinctively felt my Grandmother there, cradling me, supporting me, assuring me that I have never, not once, been alone.

Ghost pipe desat// Clearing Ghosts //

Ghosts are a natural part of living, and not as spooky or malicious as Hollywood might have us believe. There are many worlds of movement beneath and within our own. The energy created, and left, by living beings is the farthest thing from supernatural. In fact, ghosts are as natural as can be. In traditional Chinese medicine ghosts are not simply the energetic residue of the formally living, they can also be the entities that result from a resistance to what is, a tear in our resonance with the universe. In this way of thinking ghosts can actually be aspects of ourselves— unresolved grief, unacknowledged loss, regrets, guilt, and the haunting of old hurts. Most of us feel haunted as some point in our lives. During Samhain, as the separations fade, we can do the deeply repairing work of bringing ourselves back into wholeness, and encouraging any energies that do not belong to us to merge with their own light.

There are many ways to clear ghosts, but anything you pour your intention into will be the strongest. Sage and Palo santo are two aromatic smudges that have traditionally been used in North and South America to clear and purify unwanted energies. Stones, as some of the oldest beings on our earth, can also be invaluable allies for clearing such attachments. Lately I have been in deep relationship (and gratitude to) my most recent Earth Alchemy elixir, Ghost Pipe + Carnelian. In traditional Taoist medicine Carnelian was thought to help move (and thus integrate) the ghosts we have accumulated throughout our lives. This fiery stone works an emissary, or torch, helping energies get to where they ultimately belong. Carnelian can help us mend that original split, enabling us to let go of the grief that has caused us to stagnate in dark places for so long.

Sorghum fieldWhether you use stones, herbs, smudge or just your intention, try to stay acutely connected to your senses during any clearing. As the sense that is most intimately connected to memory, our sense of smell can be one of the finest tools for reckoning and realizing an unseen presence. Recently, after helping a friend smudge a house that had (ahem) distinctly heavy energy, I found myself encountering the stale scent of an ashtray everywhere around me. It took almost a week of having that stench whiff into every room I entered  (and many exclamations of “do you smell that?” to my much bewildered roommate), for me to recognize that what I was dealing with might be beyond the realm of the seen. I decided to address this perceived attachment through an ancient Daoist stone treatment with the mother of all stones— Hematite.

Hematite and teacup

++ Hematite Stone Treatment ++

Hematite is what makes up the core of our earth. It is what our entire world is balanced upon. Iron rich and dense, Hematite is the ultimate mother, grounding us in profound and lasting ways. Hematite helps us be present in the here and now, affirming our earthbound selves and releasing any attached energies that would ultimately feel more comfortable in the spirit realm. This specific treatment was handed down to me through my stone teacher Sarah Thomas, who is herself a student of Jeffery Yuen, an 88th generation Daoist priest from the Jade Purity Lineage. This treatment appears in scroll 1 of the Qian Jin Yi Fang. In this ancient Chinese text Hematite was described as being able to clear six generations of ghosts. The recommended practice was to boil the raw stone for one hour and then drink 2 ounces of the decoction for 3-10 days. This practice is particularly powerful when paired with an ancestor altar. When we release, we often release all at once. So, if a healing crisis occurs you can start or stop as needed. Note of warning—decoctions are intense and not all stones are safe to heat. (In fact, some are wildly unsafe to drink at all). Try this intense treatment at your own risk. I found it to be both effective and liberating for myself, but all people (and energies) move differently. Take some time to recognize what clearing practice would be most nourishing for you.

Hawthorn path

candlelit altar// Invoking the richness of the dark //

Every Samhain I like to do something to honor the darkness. This is, after all, a time of tipping headlong into the longest nights of the year. Darkness doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, darkness is the deepest kind of fertility, known to both seed and human beings. Honoring the darkness is an important aspect of re-membering why we are here, and understanding the full spectrum of the light. However you decide to honor the darkness, be open to whatever feelings come up for you. What sensation does darkness hold for you—fear, excitation, vulnerability or anticipation? Darkness is a kind of beginning. How, in these long nights, would you like to be reborn?

++ The Healing Power of Candlelight++

Candlelight is a vastly important part of my Samhain celebration. Electric light— young, convenient and demanding—blows away the reality of night. Easy and ubiquitous, electric light is graceless in the face of candlelight. In candlelight, the whole world seems to sigh, relieved to be reunited with its shadows. Edges disappear and corners move in-between cascades of shape and shade. In candlelight, we invite in the mystery of the unformed. We are given the space to change and transform.winter bath

This Samhain, try invoking the healing power of natural fire-light. Begin by amassing as many candles as you can and turning off every eclectic outlet. With each candle you light allow your perception to open like a flame. Once the room is lit by candles notice what different feelings or sensations might manifest. Let yourself play with both the shadow and the light. Move from room to room with candles in hand, and watch how the house around you changes shape. This is a good time for inward reflection and outward divination. If you want to experiment with some conscious practices of shifting, candlelight provides the best setting for mirror gazing. Illuminating, surprising, sometimes disturbing, mirror gazing is an incredible way to witness how much can shift when you soften your eyes and let in the unknown.

To try this practice, sit yourself (and a candle) in front a mirror and look with an unfocused gaze into your own eyes. Let the details of your outer face fade away and simply concentrate on the windows of both irises. If you relax your eyes with enough softness, you will see your face begin to shift. This can be a bit of an unsettling experience, as I’ve seen my face change into all sorts of incarnations. Brian Weiss, the founder of Past Life Regression Therapy, posits that the different faces we see are often reflections of ourselves embodied in other lifetimes. I admit to feeling similarly ever since I began gazing as a young child.

Sunset on the parkwayHowever you choose to interact with this practice, know that you always have the power to go deeper or to withdraw. You are the magician of your own experience. Embark upon this time with soft curiosity and acknowledgement of the boundaries you would like to hold. Untold mysteries can be revealed when you settle yourself into the embrace of the unknown. Blessed Samhain everyone!

Autumn Melancholy + Saturnian Journeys

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIt is late October, and the peak of the Equinox has come and gone. The fields are golden with constellations of butter-colored squash and dried corn, and every day the light grows dimmer. In the wheel of the year, autumn is a time of both extravagant wealth and liberating death. As the days curl up like leaves, smaller and smaller, we are presented with more literal darkness and invited into a conflicted space of both reapening and reflection.

Autumn wears two crowns. The bright bittersweet berry and the bones of blackberry thorns. It is a time of dichotomy, of arrival and departures, endings and beginnings. Fall is an overwhelmingly evocative season, one that carries the crisp scent of nostalgia at midday, and the fog of old longings at night. For autumn’s light, thin as sorghum syrup poured in early morning sunrise, is the last of its kind. The final flicker before we enter the cave of winter— after fall we are subsumed by the dim unknown. In any spaces of darkness our eyes naturally widen and seek. And in autumn, our pupils begin to open like ponds into the deep.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetwriting by lamplightAutumn’s darkness has a peculiar sheen, like an obsidian scrying stone, there is much to see in such opaque depths. Darkness, an aspect of living that is as integral as the shadow to the light, has been much demonized in our contemporary society; it consorts so closely with the unknown. Traditionally, this time of the year was recognized as a moment when the veils thin and what exists in the underworld (aka. the worlds underneath our perception of this world) can be made visible. The true underworld is not a place of demons or devils; it is the unexplored terrain of the soul. It is a place of individuation, searching, seeking, and deep creation. Like Pele and her lava, this dark place holds the regenerating force of creation in flux, the fluidity that births new land.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetAutumn presents us with the opportunity to accept this inward quest, and acknowledge the vital importance of death. In autumn we can consciously invite in the dissolution of old habits or ideas, relationships, ways of being, or concepts of the world. Death, in truth, is a kind of harvest; we cannot collect the seed until the sunflower has become hunched and blackened like a crone. Autumn reminds us that death is a natural cycle of life, and in death there is nothing to fear. We engage in petite deaths all the time— the end of the day, the end of a phase, the end of our moon. Our soul is intimately interested in death. In fact, it is so curious that each and every one of us is born into a body that will one day die. Without death or darkness, how can we be reborn?

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetDepression is a heavy word in our culture. It carries as much weight as the ferry on the river Styx. As a society, we fear depression, just as we fear death and descent. In the olden days the word melancholy was often used. In contrast to depression, melancholy is not a deaf sinking or a mute plunge into nothingness; it is a search, as important and heroic as an anchor seeking deeper shores. Melancholy is born from a fervent yearning for meaning, a desire to know the purpose behind the pulp of ife. This search is fecund. It is the force that drives us into the unexplored terrain of the soul. In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore echoes the importance of melancholy, recognizing depression’s emptiness as a type of alchemy that can transform the very fabric our lives. Many seeds must first be buried in darkness before they can bloom into light. Melancholy, and all the deep creativity it engenders, is a kind of planting. Traditionally associated with the God Saturn (who is also the God of harvest, age, wisdom, density and wealth), melancholy is a kind of passport into other worlds. In the old days, those who were considered constitutionally melancholy were sometimes called “Saturn’s children” and treated with respect. As progeny of such a distant and deep planet, we are usually asked to travel far.

SaturnWe all move through Saturnian times in our life. Anyone who has experienced the enormity of change that can accompany your own personal Saturn return already understands the heavyweight importance of such underworld journeys. [Saturn return is a term in astrology, marking when Saturn returns to the same point in the sky that it occupied the moment you were born. This cycle comes about in 27-30 year intervals and is generally accepted to herald a time of massive transformation, new directions and change]. Whether you are literally in your Saturn return, or simply descending into a Saturnian moment, we must remember that such sinking is not the same as driftlessness. Every descent has its necessity, every death its reasons. The autumn leaves on the tree do not wonder why they flame and fall, they simply let go.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetSaturn and its melancholy asks us to go deep, casting off our surface personalities to seek the wider identities of our soul. At its most primal element, a Saturian autumn is a time of approaching mystery. Not only the mystery of death and beginnings, fairy tales or witches brews, but the unfathomable mystery of oneself. As Oscar Wilde wrote near the end of his life, “The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul? “

Autumn is the time for approaching the brave trajectory of your own soul. It is the season in which we are asked to simply witness our rotation, recognizing the fecundity within the dark sides of our moon, and accepting the shadowy gifts autumn’s Saturnian return.

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Earth Alchemy finalThe Birth of Earth Alchemy

Several months ago I was sitting amongst a patch of Ghost Pipe on the forest floor when, like an ember thrown from a far off fire, Carnelian sailed into my awareness. In that moment, a flame burst into being. I recognized that these two medicines were asking to create magic together, and so I bowed my head and made it a reality. Only a month prior Kunzite + Mimosa has engaged me in a similarly surprising waltz. With this imploring I knew that a new era of One Willow had been born, and so I began to gather tinder to feed this deeply inspiring spark. By definition, alchemy is a practice that can literally transform matter. Soon after I began working with these earth medicines, I knew these elixirs held the ability to turn even the darkest elements into gold. Now, in the richness of this Saturnian time, I am so proud to announce the beginning of One Willow’s new Earth Alchemy line, an ever-evolving collection of flower and stone pairings that have asked to be breathed into life.

Ghost Pipe + Carnelian is the second essence in this alchemical collection. In recognition of this season I wanted to introduce you to the two beings behind this glowingly transformational essence.

carnelianCarnelian

In Chinese medicine there exists a concept of ghosts that goes far beyond our understanding of hauntings. In traditional Asian medicine ghosts are not simply the energetic residue of the formally living, they are entities that result from a resistance to what is, a tear in our resonance with the universe. When we resist or reject our current circumstances, we often cause a split. In this way of thinking ghosts can actually be aspects of ourselves— unresolved grief, unacknowledged loss, regrets, guilt, and the haunting of old hurts. In traditional Taoist medicine Carnelian was thought to help move (and thus integrate) the ghosts we have accumulated throughout our lives. This fiery stone works an emissary, or torch, helping energies get to where they ultimately belong. Carnelian can help us mend that original split, enabling us to let go of the grief that has caused us to stagnate in dark places for so long. Historically, carnelian is linked to courage, bravery, and the ability to be eloquently bold. More contemporary understandings of Carnelian revere this embered stone for its ability to help us step into spaces of personal power and leadership. Carnelian encourages us to take action in our lives, moving us like a flame through the darkness in order to manifest our brightest dreams. Carnelian emboldens us to find our deepest courage and take the leap into the unknown.

Ghost pipe 1Ghost Pipe

Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is an eerily unique being, one that has captivated the hearts of many people over the years. It is one of the few plants that lacks chlorophyll and survives in a semi-parasitic (some would say symbiotic) relationship by tapping into the mycorrhizal networks of the forest. It has roots in both depth and dependency, embodiment and death. Ghost Pipe has often been associated with states of the underworld, and as a guardian of the threshold it seems to rise like a ghost from the dark forest floor. As an essence, Ghost Pipe can help us enter liminal spaces with safety. In Sean Donahue’s beautiful article on this evocative plant he writes, “Ghost Pipe to me is the distillation of the consciousness of the forest — of the deep peace that comes from complete integration in the cycles of birth and death to the point where the distinction ceases to have meaning.”

Ghost Pipe reminds us that, in truth, death and rebirth are one in the same. Emerging from the soil in a pale stand of downward facing hoods, this plant seems to embody the penetrating vision of the crone— the movement of bringing ones gaze into the inner worlds. After this plant is fertilized, the flower shades a miraculous pink and turns its face upwards to the sky. Ghost Pipe is an exotic example of the life-giving essence than can arise from our journey into the underworld. Once we allow ourselves the time of descent our souls require, we can fertilize a whole new generation, the blush of a fully lived existence returning to our cheeks to help us show our faces even more gallantly to the world.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetGhost Pipe has fallen out of contemporarily popular materia medicas, but was in wider use in the early Americas, where is was listed in King’s American Dispensatory. A nervine, antispasmodic and diaphoretic, Ghost Pipe turns purple when tinctured, a velvety reminder of the insightful alchemy that can happen when seek our medicine in the depths.

Ghost Pipe has historically been used in drop doses as a pain remedy. This curious companion was cited to help “put the pain beside you” where it can be examined, and ultimately transcended. Depression can be overwhelming, but when we focus on the pain we prevent ourselves from moving deeper into the places that our discomfort is asking us to address. Ghost Pipe can help us to put aside the intensity of the hurt and see our wounds as an opening into a truly transformational journey of the soul.

Ghost pipe + Carnelian final A guide for the Saturnian journeys of our lives

Life, like clouds, moves in cycles. Moments of brightness and clarity exist just as wholly as shape-shifting horizons of storm. To acknowledge the light, is to recognize the darkness, and to interact with the shadow is to learn about the very nature of light. A remedy of ember and empowerment, Ghost Pipe + Carnelian is a guide for such journeys into the underworld.  In the old days, the natural seasons of melancholy were considered the domain of Saturn— the Roman God of wealth and wisdom, dissolution and depth, harvest, wholeness and liberation. Ghost Pipe + Carnelian is a torch for all those who are ready to move through the Saturnian journeys of their life. An invaluable ally in times of depression, darkness, or stagnation, this powerful pairing reminds us that we are, in truth, our own guides. We must only trust the imperceptible path. When we embark with willingness into the worlds that lay beyond this one, we consciously enter into the terrain of the soul. Ghost Pipe + Carnelian emboldens us to embrace entirely new ways of soulful seeing and being, a journey of consciousness that necessitates the death of the old. This dynamic essence dispels any energies that may be hindering our quest— ghosts, cords or parasitic attachments, and reminds us that rebirth always arises from places obscured.  A bravely alchemical pairing, Ghost Pipe + Carnelian gives us the power and energy to burn like lava through the darkness, manifesting entirely new land.

// Visit Ghost Pipe + Carnelian in the shop //

My Traveling Medicine Pouch

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Medicine PouchWhenever I travel I always pack a medicine pouch. Over time this has evolved. From bandaids and first aid salves to tinctures, feathers, stones and talismans. As the years flow by my very definition of medicine changes, grows, and transforms– from the sturdy resiliency of the western medical breastplate, to the more ineffable healing of the natural world, quiet and effect as the swoop of silent downy owls. More than a balm for physical aliments, Medicine is anything that helps you to grow, transform, fulfill, and remember. Medicine is a kind of energy that can bring us back to the truth of our mystery. Medicine, real medicine, reminds us of who we are — infinite creatures who are capable of infinite healing.

Traveling itself is a deep kind of medicine for me. It is a time when I am allowed a kind of shamans-view of my life. I slip out of the confines of my day-to-day and journey, meeting strange and wonderful allies, encountering obstacles, seeing life from an expanded perspective. Every time I travel I come closer to home. I am able, with distance, to see more clearly – what is feeding me, and what isn’t? What newness would I like to call into my life? And what would I like to let go?

Over these next past few weeks I’ve be traveling from the mossy hollows of Washington state to the canyon lands of red-drenched Arizona. In just a few short days I’ll be arriving at the HerbFolk gathering for my teaching debut, and I am elated to be passing the time until then swimming in streams and lounging amongst their lemon and limestone banks. My medicine bag for each journey is different, as I change and grow and transform, so does my medicine. As a snapshot in time, I am offering a petite view into my medicine bag for this trip. This is where I am. This is my medicine.

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medicine pouch 1[From right to left]

Spilanthese flowers: This zesty eyeball-like flower is one of my most important travel remedies. A brightening immune stimulant, I nibble on a flower head or take a couple droppersful of the tincture whenever I feel the icy approach of a cold or illness. It is particularly helpful when wanting to avoid airplane plagues. I like to dry the flower and wrap them up in smoky pieces of buckskin for safekeeping. It’s simple to travel with on trains or trails, and still packs a considerable punch! Spilanthes is easily adaptable to a wide variety of garden soils and such a curiously fun plant to grow.

Spirit Quartz/Cactus amethyst: Sometimes the medicine chooses us. I was at a stone show earlier this summer when this captivating ally drew me in, flickering iridescent like a hummingbird at its nectar. Once I laid eyes upon the crystal patterns of this intricate amethyst I was under it’s spell. I am always cycling in and out of relationship with different stones (just as I am with plant medicines, new music and the very tides). I almost never consciously chose which stone will be at the center of my new medicine wheel, it’ll simply appear in my life as sudden as the full moon rises from a veil of cloud. I can do nothing but stop, steep and howl. I often will “look up” what others have written about a stone long after the initial romance has begun and, most often, what I’ve intuitively picked up is only further embroidered by other’s experiences. This stone has been a powerful ally for me in connecting with the conscious creativity of my wider spirit, inviting deeper awareness of my particular brand of power and an invocation to personal evolution.

Black tourmaline I almost always carry this piece of black tourmaline on me. It is helpful for creating healthy psychic boundaries as well as protecting against negative energies. As someone who identifies as unavoidably empathic (sometimes detrimentally so!) I value the companionship of this stone deeply. Known to help those who hold a lot of energy to “decharge”, it is a vital stone for anyone who facilitates healing work. I like to hold a piece of black tourmaline after my consultation sessions or classes to return to my own naturally grounded state of being.

Kunzite Mimosa no textKunzite + Mimosa Elixir Every time I travel I choose one vibrational elixir to imbibe every day. These past few weeks I’ve been exploring with Kunzite + Mimosa, a deeply inspirational (and impeccably timed) vibrational pairing. This past summer an idea for a new line of medicine called Earth Alchemy began to take shape. Like dawn through the earliest fog, it began with a whisper. I had never thought to combine kunzite stone and mimosa flower together when one day, like a songbird landing on the ledge of a clearly lit window, the two of them simply appeared to me. I certainly never ignore the implorings of any kind of earth messengers, and so began a whole new era of medicine making. I’m hoping to do a longer post where I can visit on the inspirations these two vital medicines have brought to me but, in the meantime, I continue to be this elixir’s devotee. Joy exists in every moment, and in every moment we have the opportunity to simply enjoy. A natural pairing of soft heart openers, Kunzite + Mimosa helps us to inhabit our innate spirit of optimistic effervescence and glee. I couldn’t think of a better medicine to accompany me on these travels. How blessed I’ve been on this journey…rose petal offeringsRose Petal offerings It is important to me to bring offerings whenever I travel. Handharvested sage, tobacco from my garden, stones I found and greatly love. I like to leave offerings where ever I lay my head– at the roots of tree, in the banks of rivers, and with friends who graciously offer to host me. This trip I’ve brought a very special offering with me. These rose petals graced a creativity altar of mine from this past spring. The altar, which was laden with fresh roses, citrine and zincite, was instrumental in helping me to begin working on a long-dreamed project– my book! I lovingly dried each rose petal from that altar and now, over 8 months later, I’ve decided to take these vibrantly creative offerings with me. I give gratitude with all my heart, my hands, and from the deepest flow of my spirit’s creativity.

Elecampagne Root I love to dry roots and bring them with me as an easy-to-chew remedy. Elecampagne is such a valuable ally for me in times of digestive upset, coughs, colds and bronchial disparity. I particularly love to gnaw on a knob when I’ve had one too many airport meals. When I’m nervous I pull out a thin root to chew steadily, it never fails to assuage shaky or nervous energy.

Kunzite + mimosaFor all our journeys, inner and outer, from valleys to mountaintops to new found destinies.. Blessings!

Interview: Sylvia Linsteadt + Elk Lines

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThe rugged and fog-softened beauty of the California coast. Myths, mysticism and re-wilding. Warm pots of tea and delightful trails through time-warn fables. This month I am delighted to be sharing an interview with one of my favorite authors alive– Sylvia Victor Linsteadt. Sylvia is both shamaness and wordsmith, a creator and collector of gorgeously spun tales and deeper states of mystery. Each one of Sylvia’s stories is as glitteringly unique as a songbird’s nest. Woven from ancient folklore, ecological exploration, land-based knowledge and the enduring webs of mythology, Sylvia’s tales are nurturing portals to a new world. Almost a year ago Sylvia and I stumbled across each other’s work at the same time (fated re-meetings seems to work like that, I find!).

Sylvia Linsteadt and Asia Suler

Sylvia and Asia

The first time I read one of Sylvia’s stories it felt like climbing back into the great tree of who I was… that ancient, standing, growing being who was intricately connected to the living world around me. I am forever grateful to Sylvia and her tales– not only for their sweeping vistas and sensuous detail, endless inspiration and intricacies– but for what they incite in me. Within her stories is the flicker of the ancient, the glimmer of a thoughtfully re-imagined destiny. Through her tales I can see, once more, the cradling mystery of everyday being, the endurance of this beautiful world existing, always, around me.  I am so thankful for Sylvia and her story medicine, her Wild Talewort.

Drink deep from the following interview and enjoy. If you find you are thirsty (and I think you might just be) head over to Sylvia’s gorgeous blog and website to find out about how you can receive tidings from her brand new project, Elk Lines, hand-stamped and sent to your very own postbox.

Sylvia Linsteadt Point ReyesYour stories are such a jaw-droppingly vibrant mixture of ecology, naturalism, mysticism, and myth.  You are, in my esteemed estimation, a truly exciting boundary bender! If you had to define your writing style (or that stories that most want to come through you) what would you say?

This question has always been a challenge for me, because in this world of ours we so enjoy making boxes around genres, severing the bonds between poetry and prose; we delight in calling a thing “Nature-writing” or “Romantic Poetry” or “Literary Fiction,” but have trouble when Literary Fiction becomes streaked with the fantastic, a lyric voice, and the wild lives of trees. Is it fantasy? Is it nature-writing? I’ve always felt that writing is the loom upon which I can weave the many strands of wonder, sorrow, beauty and story I see in the world—poetic, ecological, folkloric, downright magical, whatever it may be. So my writing style is all of it at once. Sometimes I think I’m really a poet wearing the patched and furred coat of a storyteller, so even “fiction” can be tricky for me as a category to place myself in. Anyhow, I’m rambling on here, but in a nutshell I’d say this style of mine is some wild country where poetry, magical realism, myth, animism and ecology meet.

Elk Lines Sylvia LinsteadtThe easiest. The hardest question… Why do you write?

Indeed. And it is a long and a short story. Writing is my way into the heart of the world—its wildness, its strange magic, its beauty, its terrors, its sadness, its joy. Metaphor (a favorite of mine) is an act of shape-shifting, of remembering that each thing is hitched to the next in the great cyclical transformation of energy, from sun to seed to doe to cougar and back to worm; the line between ourselves and the wild world is thin indeed. Writing (thick with metaphor) is the means through which I can praise the wild mystery of this world, and also explore its unseen realms—the realms inside the hearts of bears and granite stones and buckeye trees; the lands just the other side of the moon and the fog, the lives of men and women long ago or just around the corner. If I were buckeye tree, then writing would be the buckeyes that fruit at the ends of my limbs come late August. In other words, writing is the thing made in me from all the waters and winds and soils and stories that come through my five senses (or six), and it feels very inevitable, like the buckeyes at the end of summer.

Also, I have always been an avid reader; especially as a child I devoured books that told of magical worlds and lands, lady-knights and healers, the everyday peasant life of Old Europe (especially Scotland & Ireland), talking animals, caravans of camel nomads, druids, long adventures on horseback. Such books literally shaped and changed my life. They informed the way I see the world today—as a place much more mysterious and full of wild magics than we tend to believe, where everything is alive and everything speaks. So I write because writing is even better than reading in the sense that you really get to go to those places in your imagination, and give them to other people. The stories we tell ourselves and each other form the world in which we live, and so I write both selfishly—shaping my own way of seeing the world—and because if I can give single ember to another like the tales I have read have given to me, then I am happy.

Point reyes 1So many people dream of supporting themselves through their craft, but in our culture it’s assumed that making a living through ones arts is not only daunting, but entirely unattainable for all but an inspired few! What has been your relationship with such commonly culturally held beliefs? How have you been able to cast aside such (if any) doubts?

Stubbornness, a dreamer’s heart, fierce love. These are the three things that keep my feet on this path, this wild and difficult and beautiful way. I think that especially in the age of this great strange internet, it is much more possible for independent artists to make their way, because we can circumvent the usual channels and reach out ourselves to our readers, our listeners, our viewers. This also means that we have to be creator, secretary, office assistant, publicist and marketing specialist all in one, but when you are doing what you love, and the thing you love is touching the hearts of other people, somehow you can just manage it all, juggling five different work-hats. (Though sometimes this means that things like weekends or work hours stop existing, and you may find yourself working Sunday morning, Tuesday night at eleven, etc.) In the end, it is actually very simple, in the sense that you must simply decide for yourself that this is just what you’re going to do, and then stubbornly, doggedly, hold to that promise with all of your heart and soul, because it is what you love, because this is your life, your path, your chance to be here, and the world deserves what it is you are best able to give. This is not always an easy thing to believe, or to hold to, but it can be done. Personally, I’m simply stubborn as a mule. Once I got the taste of this path, I knew there was no going back. Oh—and that dreamer’s heart. You have to believe in it, despite all the voices; you have to believe in the way that dreamers and children believe, your heart a balloon of hope. It’s hard to believe like this all the time, but if your heart is a balloon of dreams and hopes at least once every day, it sure smoothes the way.

Sylvia & IrisesTell us a bit about your new project: Elk Lines!

Elk Lines, my newest Wild Tales By Mail project for adults, is a rewilding of the old Hungarian version of “The Handless Maiden” tale, set on the Point Reyes Peninsula of Northern California. Each of its eight installments make up one continuous novel, and are mailed to my subscribers—wax-sealed, in lovingly hand-stamped envelopes!— to arrive upon the eight seasonal festivals of the year, in the old Celtic tradition: the Autumn Equinox (September 21st); Samhain (November 1st); the Winter Solstice (December 21st); Imbolc (February 1st); the Spring Equinox (March 21st); Beltane (May 1st); the Summer Solstice (June 21st), and Lughnasadh (August 1st). My own hand-drawn “map” or “songline” of the season accompanies each installment, to further root readers into the landscape of Point Reyes and the lives of the plants and animals who dwell there.

Elk lines logo 2

Artwork by Sylvia Linsteadt

Elk Lines is a roving, ambling novel about the power of our walking feet and our story-making hands. At it’s core, it is the tale of Eda Crost and the re-growing of her lost hands, but it is also the tale of the mythic Elk People, who roam Point Reyes with herds of tule elk, emerging from the Peninsula’s sudden fogs, and who show Eda how to follow the songlines, the hooflines, the feral palmistry of the land: the way to dig a root, trail an elk, gather a bulb, tend a seed to blooming, and to laugh long and loud into the ragged, airplane plumed night. Elk Lines is set in the world we know, with its highways and telephone wires and lightbulbs and gas-stations, but it is also set in the mythtime that has always, and will always, interfuse our every moment: in the place bare-foot touches dirt, the place just the other side of the fog-bank, the place inside the eyes of elk, who have known us longer than we have known ourselves. And don’t worry—amidst all the elk and the foot-prints, the wandering and sparrow song and summer-gold dawns, there is a love story, there is the birth of a little boy, there is an orchard full of pears, there is a childhood, and violin music, and the ringing, laughing kindness of strangers.

As it happens, now is a perfect time to come and subscribe in time for the autumn equinox, September 21st, when the next mailing arrives in post boxes all around the world! Please sign-up by September 12th to receive your Elk Lines by the equinox. All subscriptions begin with the first installment, of course!

Elk cows in Pt Reyes

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

Elk Lines pile

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

What are five things/places/people that always inspire you?

Besides you, dear and wonderful Asia, Mistress of One Willow? (Seriously, you would be one of my five if you weren’t doing this interview!) Okay…

The Point Reyes Peninsula—I’ve been visiting this “Island In Time,” since I was a little girl, and it has thoroughly stolen my heart. Land of fir and alder, oak and bay, land of great wild beaches and coastal prairies, tule elk and pelican. If I could call one place my muse, it would undoubtedly be Point Reyes. It seems to have claimed me, in a sense; I find I must write about it. Nettle, mountain lion, bobcat, fence lizard, woodrat, coyotebrush, lupine, seal; muses, all. (That’s more than five right there!)

Point Reyes 2

Rima Staines— I blame Rima for inspiring me to leave the realm of office work two years ago in order to whole-heartedly pursue my own art. The first time I came across her work and her writings about her life and the world, my heart flipped up and then down and then up again with such relief, I think I might have cried—because she reminded me that yes, it can be done. Your feet can follow the wild path you most love. You simply have to start walking. Rima is an extraordinary artist of paint, wood, puppet, wheel, song. She lives in Devon, England, where she paints the most earthen and otherworldly beings—human, animal, outcast, wanderer, jester, tree. Of all wondrous things, we are at this very minute working to get a book we created together out into the world (my words “illustrating” Rima’s paintings)! Stay tuned!

Rima Staines The Alchemist

Artwork by Rima Staines

Nao Sims— beekeeper, dancer, tender of the wild homestead land of Honey Grove, on Vancouver Island, Nao is a very dear friend of mine and also one of the most extraordinary people I know. She was one of my early subscribers to the Gray Fox Epistles, but I had known of her previously because of a beautiful book she wrote called Moon Mysteries about reclaiming women’s menstrual wisdom, and because of a very wise and wonderful blog of hers called The Teatime Traveller, which lifted me up during a rough patch and reminded me of the bounty of beauty in every moment. So of course, when I found she was a subscriber, I was overjoyed! We got to emailing, and found a very old & uncanny sense of familiarity. I went to visit last fall, and the rest, as they say, is history. To me, Nao embodies the character of Juniper in Monica Furlong’s Wise Child, a favorite book of mine—keeper of the wisdom of land, woman, bee, flower. I am inspired by Nao every day! Oh, and as it happens, she and her husband Mark have a very wonderful vacation cottage on Honey Grove Farm, so if you are in need of a good steep in beauty, I recommend it highly!

Juliette de Bairacli-Levy— I daresay this wonderful woman needs little explanation from me, considered as she is the mother of modern herbalism. Born in the 1930s to a wealthy British family, she cast Veterinary School and aristocratic life aside in favor of learning from the gypsies and peasants of the world all they knew about the healing herbs. What an independent, joyous, wild spirit this woman was! For a taste of her voice, her knowledge, her adventures and her spirit, I recommend her book Traveller’s Joy. And it was a small and beautiful film about her called Juliette of the Herbs that inspired me a year ago to finally embark on a dream I’ve had since I was a small girl—to learn the medicine of plants. Oh, and as an aside, Juliette de Bairacli Levy is a partial model for the character of Eda Crost in Elk Lines.

juliette0-james Gary Snyder — the deep-rooted, muscular, wildly Californian poetry of Gary Snyder was the first true piece of inspiration in my adult life as an artist. When I found his work, I felt all of these little old locks and keys and wheels clicking and turning and what have you in my heart and my soul. I finally felt that my writing had found its voice. In particular, his philosophies about wildness, bioregionalism and rooting in a place—choosing a place and learning it deeply, deeply, as just as valuable a life pursuit as this incessant need for change we seem to have acquired as modern humans—changed my life. Somehow Gary Snyder led to animal-tracking, which to me has become my own “Practice of the Wild,” both spiritual and intellectual; I trace my writing “lineage” directly back to him. I’ve been known to call him “my hero,” which has garnered more than a few laughs, but I do mean it!

Bobcat paw

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

You’ve recently been sharing visual maps of the shifting seasons around you in your gorgeously hand-drawn “Feral Palm readings.” If you could draw us a palmistry map of your inner season right now, what would it look like?

I decided to go ahead and paint one for you! There is a rabbit and a grizzly bear and a mountain range at once Carpathian and Sierra Nevada, for I just visited the latter, and the former has been strong in my imagination and my writings these past weeks. There are hawthorn berries, ripe, and juniper berries, just turning dusty blue up in the mountains. There is a teapot the color of a hawthorn berry, because there is always a teapot in my inner season, I believe! There are aspen trunks, white-dusted, which grow up in the mountains to the east and bring me great calm, and a stag I dreamt of, with a buckeye tree growing like a third antler. The buckeyes are dropping their leaves now, at the end of summer, because our summers here are so dry— this is their defense against drought. All that’s left are the planets of their buckeyes. This is a sign of autumn to me—the bare buckeyes like planetariums. There seems to be a movement toward fall in my heart, though the sun is still strong, the days dry and long. My painting looks positively wintry! I love winter, so all the threads of its coming fill me with joy. The plants love winter here too—it means rain. It is, unlike the seasons of the East Coast, the time of flourishing.

Artwork by Sylvia Linsteadt

Artwork by Sylvia Linsteadt

What is one mystery you are aching to explore?

There are so many ways I would like to answer this question! But for some reason, one thing keeps floating to the top of my mind—nettle processing! I would love to really dive into the mystery of turning stinging nettle stalks into the flax-like material I know my Northern and Eastern European ancestors used for many millennia in place of linen. I’m a spinner, felter & knitter on the side, and ever since I wrote a story last spring called “Our Lady of Nettles,” a retelling of the Seven Swans fairytale, I’ve been itching to really delve into this process from start to finish. Nettle is my favorite medicinal plant (if I had to pick)—I drink her almost every day, and I love that she was also such an important textile plant for so many thousands of years. I think this qualifies as a mystery—because I am sure the process of retting and scutching and all the rest of those arcane words used to describe flax-processing (not to mention the spinning, the weaving, etc) would take me into a place of very deep connection with both the nettle and the ways of my ancestors long, long ago. I also believe that this process might be a very useful thing to know, down the line, when the world is no longer this crazy overseas network of sweatshop labor-commerce. (All empires must fall, after all…)

Sylvia Linsteadt walking point reyes

Stories have power, words create worlds. When I read your writing I often feel the burgeoning of a new earth underfoot. In your heart of hearts, hopes of hopes…what do you feel is being birthed through your work?

Above all things I hope that through my work a renewed sense of the tenets of deep ecology and animistic thought can be re-infused into the world of contemporary human literature. The stories we tell shape the world we see, and the world we see is one of terrible environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, degradation, and extinction, both of animals and plants, and of human cultures and languages. I hope for my writing to convey a sense of the animism of all beings; that elk and alder and lichen and stone, bear and lizard and fog and oatgrass, are all subjects, characters, integral players in the stories of our lives and this world, not the objects we have made them into with our cultural narratives. For when a deer or a tree is a subject and not an object, it is not as easy to destroy it without a care. I also hope to keep the old human magics and beliefs surrounding this wise old world of ours alive in my writing—the ways of weedwife and hunter, wandering jester and gypsy and shaman and witch. And if my tales can be wild woodrat nests which lead to the other worlds inside this world, all the better. If they can somehow gesture at the weedier, wilder, dustier footpath which leads us back into what it really means to be human (and not the big tar roads)—well, that would be grand indeed.

wild notebook

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

As someone who works for herself (doing what she loves!) what does a typical “work day” look like for you? 

Rise early. Feed Hawthorn the rabbit. Gather flowers and leaves for a little wild art left in my garden patch to greet the day—its birds, its soils, its winds, its sun, its four-leggeds. Tea, breakfast, an hour of writing (often my favorite hour of the day). I go to a dance class almost every morning, and when I come back I write again until noon in my little loft office. A quick break for lunch, which often involves gathering Hawthorn various greens and herbs and letting him have an adventure through the garden. Then I write again until about 3, at which point I generally experience an afternoon slump (the hours of 3 to 5 are really not my strongpoint). I try to work on non-creative things during this time—emails, various social media updating, queries, etc. If I can’t stand to do so (or don’t need to), I like to spend some time making with my hands in a different way—felting, embroidering, gardening, medicine-making. Around 5, I may have a last surge of creativity and write a bit more, or I might spend the time until about 7 editing or reading for research. At 7 or thereabouts, my love returns home from work, and this is the signal that my own work-day is over, thank goodness. Having him home, I feel I have an excuse to stop and savor the evening. Otherwise, I will work off and on until bed! I try to spend every Wednesday out on the land of Point Reyes, tracking (alone or with friends) the lives of plant and animal, tracing the songlines of that beloved wild place, so that my work remains infused with its many voices. This isn’t a schedule I always hold to—sometimes it’s more fluid, for better or for worse, because things come up, sudden deadlines arise, the creativity just isn’t flowing. But I find that keeping a bare-bones schedule is a life-saver. We can flourish better, it seems to me, with a few boundaries, markers up to help us find the way.

Day in the field

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

The obligatory question: what books are on your night stand? 

This is a bit embarrassing, as it shows how indecisive and eclectic my reading has been these past few weeks, on top of the fact that I tend to hoard books by my bed for a while. I think they must comfort me.

The Reindeer People- Piers Vitebsky

The Others: How Animals Made Us Human- Paul Shepherd

The Steppe & other stories- Anton Chekov

Marcovaldo- Italo Calvino

Momo- Michael Ende

The Short Works of Leo Tolstoy

Coastal fir hills

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

What is some advice you can give to anyone who is thinking about launching further into their creative flow/work? 

This doesn’t sound immediately romantic, but the first thing that comes to my mind is—give yourself a schedule. I don’t mean this in a boring way; I like to think of it more like bones. An animal without bones cannot stand or walk. Similarly, it feels to me that the creative flow requires structure to flourish. So I love deadlines and scheduled tea-breaks and that sort of thing. At the same time, of course, too much structure can kill inspiration. One thing that really helps to start my own work in the morning is a sense of ritual, which is structured into my day. If you’re just starting out, make the time and space for your creative work sacred. I like to burn rosemary and light a candle when I start. Give yourself an hour every morning for a week, candle lit, tea at hand. It’s not so long as to intimidate, and not so short as to be useless. Get your computer and phone away from yourself, by god! (These can be the great killers of flow.) If you tell yourself, “I will write/paint/sing for this set amount of time every morning, for seven days, and see how it goes,” instead of “I am now a working artist and I must work 8 hours a day and be extraordinarily brilliant and productive for all eight hours, etc. etc.,” you will feel as though your goals are actually manageable. With the latter attitude, I daresay one might never begin. Another very important piece for me every day is to get out of my own way—don’t think of your reader, your viewer, your editor, as you let the work come out. This is why I am adamant about writing by hand. I hardly look back as I go. I just go. There is always time to edit, but you can destroy your flow by going back over too early with critical eyes. After all, it needs to come from a place of joy and passion, or it won’t really be your true voice.

Fennel stars

Photo by Sylvia Linsteadt

All of your words are such a blessing. Would you mind leaving us with a wee prayer?

For some reason, what immediately came to mind was the very first poem I was ever proud of, the first poem that really seemed to come from this place of flow — “Order of the Machine.” I wrote it when I was sixteen, sitting on the back steps in the garden of my childhood home. It came down through my pen as if from elsewhere. I’ve changed it to second person here, for it feels more prayer-like, thus. Here’s the very last stanza.

Even as our futures buckle straight
do not let the woods
relinquish your heart
nor the fog your soul.
Do not let the Order of the Machine
steal the waves, crush the wildflowers
starve the river stones.
There is yet hope
in the foam of the full moon
in the green of apple leaves
in the light between two palms.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

SylviaSylvia Victor Linsteadt is a writer and a student of local ecology and ancient myth. She likes to follow gray fox tracks through the brush, gather wild plants for dye and medicine, dream up and write down poems and stories, short and novel-length, all in one way or another concerned with the relationship between human beings and the more than human world (bay laurel, barn owl, bobcat). She is the creatrix of Elk Lines, the Gray Fox Epistles, the Leveret Letters, and all projects associated with Wild Talewort.

She is a wanderer of the wild spaces of the Bay Area (where she was born and raised at the base of Mt. Tamalpais), a spinner of yarns (literally and figuratively), a felter of felts, and an animal-tracker. Good strong black tea with milk and a little honey is her fuel. Pennywhistle music, a hearty fire in the hearth, fog, fairytales and myths, all the voices of the birds in the morning in the black walnut out her window bring her joy.

For her official blog of musings, scraps of tale, track, dye, myth and wander, please visit The Indigo Vat.

 

Summer Cocktails: Herbal Syrups, Bitters + Recipes

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Fresh herbs, warm breezes and evenings that come to life. Summer is one of my favorite seasons for luxury and languor. When the days are hot and the hours long I usually find myself gravitating toward nighttime kitchen crafting and, of course, cocktails.

Ingredients arrayI am a night owl by nature. I thrive like a moonflower in rich evening hues. When the clock strikes midnight something about those high shadows bring me to life. It’s been that way since before I can remember, I imagine it’ll remain that way for the rest of my life. Summer, in all its bounty of cucumber nights, tangy sunsets and sherbet-colored sunrises, is the one season where such late night behavior is not only condoned, it’s encouraged.

Last month we hosted our annual summer cocktail soiree. Every year we kick the gathering up another notch. Usually we put out at least several herbal cocktail potions for people to sample, often with a written invocation to read and a deep intention to set the mood. This year, inspired by the rainbowed bounty of our well-tended garden, we offered a whole bar of fresh squeezed juice, seasonal syrups, and medicinal bitters for our guests to peruse.Cocktail color canvasHerbs are the original liqueur accoutrements; they have the ability to give any drink a touch of the sensational. Long before herbalists were making tinctures, herb folk of all kinds were using plants to ferment meads, spice cordials, and smooth liquors. The whole ritual of a pre-dinner cordial originated as a way to improve digestion by imbibing medicinal digestive bitters.

Crafting your own bitters and syrups is simple, and sure to make a wave at your next soirée. I love to focus on what is most currently bursting into bloom. Medicine making, like superb hostessing skills, is about way more than just combining the ingredients. It is an alchemical mix of season and sensation, temptation and mood. I prefer to create my syrups and bitters in tune with nature’s own rhythm, encapsulating each herb at the height of their potency or bloom. By doing so each bottle becomes a kind of capsule, an entryway into a distinctively fragrant, intoxicatingly specific moment in time.Strawberry syrup photoAs a hostess, I am interested in creating an experience that can be remembered with every one of the senses. Unique, exploratory, and delicious—Herbal bitters and liqueurs will never be forgotten. Interested in crafting your own medicinal syrups and sensational brews? Read on for some simple how-to’s…

Tulsi syrup

+++ Medicinal Syrups +++

Medicinal syrups are simple, versatile and oh-so delicious. Syrups make wonderful medicine for young children or the picky of palate, and are simply divine when mixed with late-evening cocktails.

  1. Gather, Harvest, Chop. To start, harvest or gather your material. I like to collect what is most fresh, abundant and seasonally sensational. How much material you harvest will depend on how much syrup you’d like to create! In general, you can guesstimate by chopping or otherwise pressing your herb into a measuring cup. You can expect the finished product to produce about as much volume as the original fresh herb. (Ex: If I harvested ½ oz of fresh lavender flowers, I will generally expect ½ oz finished syrup)

Note on processing: Some small or delicate herbs, like lavender flowers for example, will not need to be further chopped or processed. Simply add them straight to your water. Bark, like black birch, will need to be stripped from the branches with a knife. Roots must be roughly chopped, a butchers knife or pair of pruners work well.

            Dry vs Fresh: Fresh herbs already have a good amount of water content inherent to them, so they will be fluffier, bigger, and more voluminous than dry herbs. As a general rule I use a 1:1 ratio of herb to water if using fresh herbs, and a 1:2 ratio of herb to water if using dried herbs.

  1. Make a strong tea. Once you have your herb chopped or otherwise processed you are ready to make the base of your syrup…a strong tea!

If using herbs + flowers: Make an infusion- bring your water to a boil separately, than turn the burner off completely. Remove from heat and add your herb content to the hot water. Cover the whole concoction for 20-30 minutes to steep. (Examples of herbs to infuse: lavender, lemonbalm, mint, basil)

If using bark, roots, berries or seeds (tougher material): Make a decoction- add your herb directly to your water and bring the whole mixture to a boil. Reduce the boil to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes. (Examples of herbs to decoct: sassafras, cinnamon, elderberries coriander, black birch, wild cherry)Early kitchen

  1.  Strain your tea. Once your tea is done steeping or simmering, run your tea through a strainer to filer out all the plant material. (A fine mesh spaghetti strainer perched over a wide mouthed bowl works supremely well)
  1. Gently reheat your tea (sans herb material) and add the sweetener. What makes a syrup so sweet? Why, sweetener of course! The sweetener is also a natural preservative, which is how syrup came about in the first place (and to get children to drink their medicine!). A general ratio is 1 cup sugar or honey per 1 cup water. But you can add the sugar/honey to your taste. The higher the sugar content the longer your syrup will keep.
  1. Storage. Plain syrups are best imbibed within two weeks of creation. If you’d like to keep your syrup for several seasons you can add alcohol to preserve. In general, a syrup with about 20% alcohol content will preserve long-term. If you have dipped into making infused liqueurs or tinctures it’s fun to experiment with preserving your syrup with an already altered alcohol (such as adding a dash of ginger tequila to a cinnamon syrup). If making syrup as medicine, adding a medicinal tincture to your syrup greatly increases its potency. When I make elderberry syrup I combine previously infused elderberry tincture to my freshly made concoction for full spectrum medicinal mixture. Store your syrups in the refrigerator to prolong their life.

 Sage and pestel

+++ Herbal Bitters +++

Herbal bitters are a hot commodity these days, as our modern diets are embarrassingly lacking in this traditional taste. Bitters are amazing agents of digestion, helping to increase the production of our digestive juices, dramatically improving processing, retention and even our mood! (If you haven’t already, check out the bevy of research illustrating our brain/gut connection) Bitter constituents are prevalent in many of our healing herbs, and can often be used as an indicator for a plant’s medicinal strength! Bitters are the prince who has been unceremoniously turned into a frog and I think it’s time to give all our bitters a good kiss on the lips and induct them back into the romance of our kitchens.

Making your own bitters can be as simple as covering a handful of dandelion roots in some alcohol, or as complex as creating your own Peychaud’s. I’m offering a very simple guide here, but feel free to be as creative as a butterfly between hibiscus leaves!

  1. Gather your bitter herbs. Some well known and deliciously effective, bitter roots include dandelion, sassafras, elecampagne, Oregon grape, angelica and ginger. You might also want to try citrus peels, vervain, cacao pods, coffee beans, fennel, and (the gold standard of bitters) gentian (I recommend using the flowers of gentian, rather than the root, as it is over-harvested)

            +Aromatic vs simple bitter: Aromatic bitters are bitters that have a warming, stimulating, often quite spicy flavor. They are bitter… with a kick! Some good examples include elecampagne, angelia, sassafras and ginger. Simple bitters are just that, simply bitter. Simple bitters include gentian, Oregon grape root, yellow root and dandelion .

  1. Create your tincture. Making bitters is basically just a process of making a tincture. You can choose to create single herb batches or throw it all together into one! The benefit of single herb batches is the ability to mix and match. Also, kitchen-sink batches can sometimes end up tasting dominantly like one herb or another, depending on what heavy hitters you’re using. If you are interest in a whole-shebang type of bitter I suggest looking up recipes for proportions online! (These recipes from The Kitchn look divine)

Chop or otherwise process your herb so it is in small pieces. The more surface area of herb touching your alcohol, the stronger your mixture will become. Put your herb into a glass mason jar and cover with booze of choice. Store your bitter brew in a dark place for 6 days up to 6 weeks! Sample your bitters frequently, their taste will change overtime. If you are in a hurry you can make your bitter batch the very week of your soiree. Just remember, bitter compounds often take a few days to really steep. I have a friend who found this out the hard way when he was making a stevia extract. He let the stevia leaf sit for longer than the recommended couple days and his extract turned out mouth puckeringly bitter, which would have been wonderful for some pre-dinner digestive, but not so stellar for making sweets!biden and fawn

A note on alcohols: I really enjoy vodka for my bitters. Vodka tends to have less of an innate flavor than other alcohols. If you want a fuller, huskier batch of bitters try brandy or even whiskey. Gin is already chocked full of herbs, but I bet it wouldn’t mind a few more companions!

  1. Press and Bottle your bitters. When your tincture brew has sat long enough to pucker your taste buds, it’s time to press and bottle your bitters. I like to pour my alcohol/herb slurry through a fine mesh strainer first to separate the alcohol from the herb. Then, I take the left-over herb content and press it in a potato masher to extract every last drop of juice. Conversely, if I don’t have such a press, I dish out the herb into a tight weave cloth and wring it by hand. Whatever method you choose, as long as you are separating the alcohol from the herb content you are doing it right!

Now is the time to add in any extras. Perhaps some fresh pressed OJ to your orange bitters brew? Mint syrup or wildflower honey? Is your bitter crafted for any specific drink in mind, or a simple pre-dinner sipping cordial? Your bitter is your tabula rasa, feel free to get wildly creative.

When you bitters are mixed to your taste filter them into a bottle for storage. I will often line the filer with some fine meshed cheese cloth to catch any last debris, and funnel directly into the bottle. Label, cap, store! Your bitters should last decades if they are a simple alcohol solution. If you added any additional juices or sweeteners you can refrigerate and keep your bitters for 2-5 years.

 Apple bitters

+++ Garnishes +++

Great cocktails (and parties for that matter) are all about the accoutrements. Here are some great hints to add some extra sparkle to your night.

Edible flowers: Summer is a bounty of edible flowers, including calendula, daylily, lavender, beebalm, mint, honeysuckle and sage. Don’t forget to scatter your bar with fresh flowers and garnish your drinks with their petals and blooms. Spilanthes makes a particularly striking edible flower when skewered on a tooth pick and floated into a drink. Sometimes called eyeball plant, this mouth-tingling (and immune enhancing) flower is an oddball cocktail garnish that has been gaining popularity amongst the herbally inclined.

Spilanthes drink

Creative citrus: Simple lemon wedges are so utilitarian. Try slicing a rainbow of citruses into wheels instead to illuminate your drink with vibrant moons. Zest your lemon or lime on top of a well mixed drink for some extra magic in your sipping experience.

Decorative ice cubes: Why should ice be boring? Anoint your ice cub trays with edible flowers from the garden like borage, bee balm or calendula. Just add your flowers to your ice cube tray, cover with water, and freeze. Use immediately to preserve the flowers color and flavor. (On that note, would you like to see the most gorgeous herbal ice cube blog post on the internet?)

Borage ice cubes

 

+++ Herbal Cocktail Recipes +++

You’ve sampled your syrups and bragged about your bitters, now is the time to become a maestro (and maybe get a bit tipsy) with your herbal creations! For our part we cajoled our friend, and esteemed cocktail Prometheus, Curtiss P. Martin to bartend at our party. After stealing fire (and sassafras syrup) from the gods he came up with the following cocktail mixes. Read on for details about how to shake up such treats, and what medicine is inherent to each drink.

This evening, or sometime very soon, I invited you to whip yourself up one of these drinks. Kick off the day’s to-dos. Let down your hair and get barefoot outside. Drink in the cool of these ephemeral summer evenings. Sip, enjoy, let go, luxuriate.

Watermelon drink

Watermelon Mojito
2oz Rum
1oz Fresh-pressed Watermelon Juice
1/2oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
1/2oz Tulsi Syrup
4-6 Mint leaves, Muddled
Dry Shake, Add Ice, Soda to Fill
Mint + Lime Garnish

Tequila Honeysuckle
2oz Tequila
1oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
3/4oz Local Honey Syrup
1/2oz Fresh Orange Bitters
Garnish with thin lime wheel and fresh honeysuckle flowers
Pineapple sage tequila
Birchbark Sassafras Daiquiri
2oz Spiced Rum
1oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
1/2oz Sassafras Syrup
1/2oz Black Birchbark Syrup
Thin Lime wheel Garnish

 
Black Birch bark: Wintergreen minty and delicious, Birch bark is a lovely remedy for muscle aches, joint pain, headaches and inflammation. The secret of Black Birch’s minty relief lies within its methyl salicylates—  the aromatic pain-relieving compound from which our modern day aspirin is derived.

Sassafras: One of the original ingredients in rootbeer (and America’s first wildly successful export) sassafras has a distinctly exotic flavor. The root bark of this yummy plant is known to help stimulate our bodies and minds, ease indigestion, alleviate inflammation and cleanse the blood. Used acutely for colds, flus, fever and rheumatism, Sassafras has been a beloved medicine in North America for thousands of years.

Tulsi drink blue
Pineapple Sage & Tulsi Tequila
2oz Tequila
1oz Fresh-Pressed Pineapple Juice
1/2oz Fresh-Pressed Lime Juice
3/4oz Tulsi Syrup
4-6 Sage leaves, Muddled
Sage Garnish

Tulsi Gin + Tonic
2oz Gin
3/4 Tulsi syrup
Tonic to Fill
Lime wedge +Tulsi sprig Garnish

 
Tulsi: One of the most sacred herb of India, this holy plant has been grown as a truly miraculous health tonic for thousands of years. Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is a gentle and effective adaptogen– it helps the body and mind to deal with stress, encouraging gracefulness in your every day dealings. Tulsi is also an antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antidepressant and immunomodulator. Traditionally, holy basil was called upon for colds and flus, indigestion, and as a tonic for asthma and sinus allergies. This sweet and tasty herb is also a supremely clearing tonic for the mind; it has found to be helpful in unfocused thinking, poor memory, forgetfulness, ADD and ADHD.  In Ayurvedic medicine, Tulsi is though to balance all seven chakras and considered to be a rasayanic herb, or a medicine that brings balance to the emotions and promotes the feelings of devotion, love and compassion.

Lavender Blueberry Ricky

2oz Vodka
1oz Fresh-pressed Blueberry Juice
1/2oz Fresh-pressed Lime Juice
3/4 Lavender Syrup
Soda to fill
Lavender flower Garnish

Lavender: Oh, the joys of fresh lavender. This much beloved flower is known to help soothe digestion, calm the spirit, and settle the nerves. Used for centuries to freshen dwellings, lavender is a renown antibacterial and antifungal, as well as a beloved herb for rest and relaxation.

Lavender for syrupCheers!

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