Sunday, June 27, 2010

Basil: Joyful and Courageous

(Ocimum basilicum, O. sanctum)
Basil. Saying it summons images of sunny weather, dining outdoors, delicious cuisine and happy memories. Basil is affiliated with many legends that ascribe pleasant imagery and feelings to the herb. In Italy, where the plant was sometimes called “kiss me Nicholas,” a woman left a pot of Basil on her windowsill to indicate that she was looking for a suitor. Some traditions say that a man would be destined to fall in love with any woman who gifted him with a Basil plant, but love and fidelity aren’t the only desirable blessings the herb is said to attract; in Mexico, carrying a few Basil leaves in your pocket is certain to bring in money. Be sure to carry some in your wallet the next time you visit the casino!

Basil’s folklore didn’t always invoke such pleasing associations though; during Medieval times, a superstition that linked Basil to scorpions went as far as declaring that smelling basil’s pungent aroma would cause scorpions to grow in one’s brain. In reality, Basil deters insects, in particular it is repellant toward scorpions and toxic to mosquitoes. It is marvelously helpful to apply on bites and stings, notably from scorpions, as it draws poisons back to the site and inhibits the dispersal of toxins into the bloodstream. Also noteworthy, dried and powdered basil “snuff” or essential oil applied topically can open sinuses and clear headaches rather than grow a brain scorpion.

The name Basil is believed to originate from the word basilisk, an evil serpent-like creature with deadly venom that could be conquered with a mere sprig of Basil. The connection to its power against venomous bites is not subtle in this tale. Another theory is that it originates from the Greek term basilikos, which means “worthy of kings;” certainly there are vast amounts of literature that present Basil with a level of sanctity. Tulsi, meaning “matchless” in the Far East, is known as Holy Basil (O. sanctum) here in the West. In legends, Tulsi manifested from the ashes of the goddess Tulasi and provides love, eternal life, purification and protection.

Holy Basil is considered to be very sacred in many parts of the world as its name suggests. In India, some courts have those who testify swear their oaths upon a Holy Basil plant. Sacred to Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, the dried stems of Tulsi are sometimes cut into beads and used like a rosary for offering prayers. After the Lotus, Holy Basil is considered to be the most blessed plant in India; being far too hallowed to cook with, the herb is planted around homes and temples for heavenly protection.

The offer of divine protection has been a universal theme for Basil; In India, when death was imminent, a piece of Tulsi placed in the mouth of the dying assured safe passage to paradise. An old European custom had loved ones place sprigs of the herb in the hands of their dearly departed to ensure a protected journey to the Other Side. In ancient Egypt and Greece, Basil was provided to the deceased in order to open the gates of Heaven for them. In fact, the Greek Orthodox Church prepared their Holy Water with Tulsi, and other traditional churches would often place pots of Basil underneath their altars.

In modern spirituality, Basil continues to provide a link to the unconscious; some resources suggest that Basil can assist one in recalling their past lives. Renaissance herbalist Gaspard Bauhin (1560) once said that Basil, “with its fine scent quickens the brain and heart and restores the vital spirits.” Perhaps it is the penetrating aroma that opens unexplored pathways to previously uncultivated aspects of our consciousness.

A few weeks ago, before I had decided to embrace Basil’s teachings beyond a rudimentary understanding of her vast benefits to humanity, I went to lunch with a girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. During our meal, she began to tell me about the reason she had been off the radar screen: she had been sick. As a professional singer, her lungs and her voice were more than important to her, they were her raison d’etre. We spoke at length about different dietary, herbal and complementary approaches and after we parted company, the thought of her lingering illness stayed on my mind.

Her symptoms included copious amounts of mucous, bronchial and sinus congestion, tremendous fatigue, poor digestion and a feeling of being chilled. She looked pale and puffy and she moved without her usual grace and spunk. I was concerned about her when I went to sleep that night, and at the first light of dawn I received a message from the plant I had only just chosen for this monograph: Basil. (Okay, let’s be honest here, Basil clearly chose me.) The message I was given was specific to my friend: that Basil strongly desired to be her plant ally. I immediately sprang from my bed and looked up the various characteristics of Basil beyond what I knew about her benefits in the treatment of migraine headaches, to improve digestion and her established attributes for lowering blood sugar in the treatment of diabetes.

All Basils are warming and drying and have strong action on the respiration, the nervous system and reproduction; they are stimulating to Yang energy and treat fatigue, cold and depression. Better than Hyssop for supporting the body’s vital energy and more effective than Thyme for warming and stimulating wet, congested lungs, Basil also address chronic sinusitis with concurrent loss of smell. The most specific indication that Basil is appropriate for in respiratory conditions is chest tightness, wet asthma and lungs that consistently produce copious amounts of clear or white phlegm. I knew instantly that Basil had indeed come to give me this communication for my damp friend and called her on the spot to deliver the message.

Interestingly, she had been feeling drawn to Basil essential oil, one of the strongest methods of administering the herb (a tincture is also a great form of the remedy). With some time and effort, it could very well be the shot in the arm that she needs to restore her vitality, lift the fog of melancholy that weighed her spirits down from the long-standing malady and invigorate her sluggish constitution. I was also reminded of Basil’s ability to attract a loving mate and figured as a plant ally, this quality couldn’t hurt her any either!!

Speaking of amore, I find it fascinating that Basil can reduce sperm production, but is often used to restore libido in men and women alike. Across the board, applying the essential oil to someone with fatigue and a cold, achy lower back will bring immediate relief. For women, it can help to balance certain hormonal issues that present with delayed or scanty menstruation and cramps that are improved with the application of heat. The herb can help issues of female infertility, encourage the flow of breast milk and give men a much-needed lift in cases of impotence.

Basil restores the nerves, revives the consciousness, promotes clear thinking and helps assist the memory. Herbalist Wilhelm Ryff (1582) said of Basil, “It awakens joy and courage.” I have to agree, it is a marvelous cure for stress!!

Almost everyone loves Basil; the scent, the flavor, its attractiveness in a garden and its versatility in so many cuisines. From sweet basil pesto, to Thai spring rolls and as an interesting and pleasant accompaniment to sweet dishes like tea breads and fruit salad, it seems that Basil knows no culinary limits either. Plant some in your garden and enjoy the harvest of love, passion, fidelity, fine dining, and good health.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Rose is a Rose

(Rosa centifolia, R. damascena, et al)
“That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.” -William Shakespeare

When I told a friend which plant I was considering for the topic of this monograph, his reply was, “Is Rose an herb?” That sealed the deal for me. I guess it’s about time she was acknowledged for the many levels of healing she offers. The enormous jar of pink Rose petals in my apothecary is only a partial testament to the great and varied work she does on behalf of the human species.

“It will never rain roses:
when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees.”
- George Eliot

Rose is a part of our collective consciousness; people think of her most often when her gorgeous and fragrant blossoms make their seasonal debut in June. Of course she is also enormously popular in February when lovers share her sensuous blooms in order to bring heart-felt passion into a dreary, dark month. For Rose, kindling love and passion is an easy task that she has mastered long ago.

“The rose is a flower of love.
The world has acclaimed it for centuries.
Pink roses are for love hopeful and expectant.
White roses are for love dead or forsaken,
but the red roses, ah the red roses
are for love triumphant."

 The Rose, native to Asia and the Middle East originally, has been revered and respected for thousands of years; hundreds of species have been cultivated to capture various aspects of her charms. Some Roses have been bred for fragrance, while others continue to be cultivated for shape, size, and color. Many commercial Roses, grown with durability in mind for the florist market, have lost much of their scent, but have developed the refined, elongated shape that we are familiar with, such as the long stemmed red rose.
“Won't you come into the garden?
I would like my roses to see you.”
- Richard B Sheridan

 In the world of Rose gardeners, there can be a bit of snobbery when it comes to antique Roses versus the newer breeds. The classic Roses that adorn distinguished gardens are smaller, particularly fragrant and can be shrub-like or climbers. Names like ‘Madame Hardy’, 'Comte de Chambord' and 'Yolande d'Aragon' have an air of pretentiousness, whereas the Jenny-come-latelies of the Rosa family sport monikers like ‘Dolly Parton’, ‘Tropicana’, ‘Blueberry Hills’ and tend to feature unusual colors or exceptionally large blossoms.

"Once I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: "No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall."
— Eleanor Roosevelt

What are usually referred to as thorns on a Rose are actually called prickles, a thorn is really a modified stem, whereas a prickle is an extension or outgrowth of the outer tissue of the stem. The purpose of the hook-shaped pricker is to help the Rose climb toward the light and to discourage animals from browsing, although they don’t dissuade the deer very often.

“Gather the rose of love
Love is much like a wild rose,
beautiful and calm, but willing
to draw blood in its defense.”
- Mark Overby.

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."
— Abraham Lincoln

The petals or buds of the Rosa centifolia or Rosa damascena varieties are most often used by herbalists in soothing herbal teas; Roses are frequently paired with Lavender or Melissa to enhance a generous feeling of well-being. The taste of Pink Rose is pleasant and sweet and goes right to the heart. For serums, elixirs, and infused vinegars these petite pink roses produce a jewel-like color to the finished product, have the highest concentration of volatile oils, and offer the most alluring perfume. These are also the varieties used in medicinal aromatherapy.

“Take time to smell the roses.” - Ferdinand the Bull

The most desirable Rose essential oil is from the Bulgarian Rose (R. damascena), although eo’s distilled from China Rose (R. chinensis) and Moss or Cabbage Rose (R. centifolia) are also absolutely sublime. Rose oil is fragile and will deteriorate if the blossom isn’t harvested the very morning it first opens. During its peak season, farmers are up before sunrise to collect the burgeoning flowers still damp with dew. The hand-harvested Roses are dried straight away, or processed immediately into essential oil.

The highest quality essential oil is steam-distilled (sometimes called Rose Otto), in other words, processed only with pure water. The young flowers are placed in a still and the water beneath is heated to a specific temperature to allow steam to rise through the plant material. The vapor that has passed through the Roses carries traces of the volatile oil and consolidates in a specially designed chamber back into liquid. The liquid will naturally separate into the essential oil and the hydrosol (or rose water) because of the varying density. It takes approximately 1,000 pounds of rose petals to make an ounce of steam-distilled essential oil.

“A rose is a rose is a rose.” - Gertrude Stein

Because the cost is so prohibitive, there is great temptation to adulterate Rose essential oil, and many products are impure, cut with alcohol, of poor quality, or blended with a very large amount of carrier oil. Frequently, the actual amount of Rose oil in such products is fractional. The market also offers Rose absolute, which is produced with a chemical solvent, often hexane; I personally will only use medicinal-grade, steam-distilled Rose essential oil. A single drop of this wonderful medicinal essence goes a long way and is worth every penny… approximately $300-$500 per quarter ounce (roughly 240 drops).

The divinity of the Feminine is an aspect of her magic and symbols of Rose appear in every culture and religion. In Earth-based spiritual traditions, the 5 petals of the wild rose is representational of the 5 pointed star, a holy symbol. The name of the devotional prayer beads used in Christianity, the rosary, is derived from “rose garden” or “rose garland.” Churches and cathedrals throughout Europe often exhibit elaborate rose windows, complex stained-glass designs that utilize powerfully sacred geometric patterns.

The spiritual medicine of Rose offers peace and stillness; it infuses Love on all levels. Compassion is one of her lessons, starting with empathy for one’s own self. Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion could be likened as a counterpart to Mary, The Divine Mother who is often represented by the Rose. It is said that when Visions of Mother Mary appear to devotees, the scent of Rose accompanies Her.

“…in Mary we see a rose, soothing everybody's hurts, giving the destiny of salvation back to all. Mary was a rose, white for maidenhood, red for love; white in body, red in soul; white in her seeking after virtue, red in treading down vice; white in cleansing her affections, red in mortifying her flesh; white in her love of God, red in compassion for her neighbor.” -Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Research has been done measuring the vibrational frequency in Mega Hertz (MHz) on a variety of essential oils; one MHz equals one million oscillations per second. According to Dr. Marcy Foley, author of Embraced by the Essence, a healthy human body vibrates at around 62-68 MHz, and disease begins at oscillations below 60 MHz; Cancer has a low frequency at 42 MHz. Rose, by far, has the highest vibrational frequency of any essential oil, 320 MHz, compared to the next highest, Helichrysum which oscillates at 181 MHz. It’s reasonable to believe that utilizing this transcendent oil will raise anyone’s frequency!

I often use this magnificent grade of Rose oil in cooking; a few drops in chocolate chip cookies is beyond description, and stirring a little into melted chocolate just before dipping strawberries will result in a confection that approaches a religious experience! I have also created a strawberry and Rose sorbet that tastes exactly like Love. When using Rose oil in cooking, be sure to use only the highest quality steam-distilled Rose essential oil. If it isn’t in your budget, Rose water is frequently available in specialty shops for a modest amount of money (although a reputable Aromatherapist will likely offer a better quality product for close to the same price). 

Rose syrups, jams and jellies are delicious and make a fun project for the whole family; kids are especially fond of making flowers into food. Experiment with Rose in your recipes; you may be surprised at how versatile her flavor can be, adding new dimensions to old standards in the kitchen. Rose hips, the fruit of the rose, are tart and sweet and rich in Vitamin C; they can be added to herbal tisanes and also make a tasty jam. Combined with Hawthorn, Rose Hips make a safe and effective tonic for the heart.

Rose hip seed oil from R. Rubiginosa or R. mosquetta is used in creams, lotions and other beauty products. The cold-pressed oil by itself is lovely; this magical, ruby-hued serum heals burns and abrasions after the initial pain is relieved. I infuse mine with St. Joan’s Wort to create a facial serum that keeps my skin soft and elastic and reduces wrinkles. It really works, it’s good for you, and it is so much more economical than high-prices facial elixirs found in fancy beauty shops; the simple ingredients make a great deal of sense for the health of the planet too. You can’t tell me that the “blush is off the rose!”

From the medical benefits and the culinary delights, to the spiritual connotations and historical references, information about Rose could -and has- filled volumes. Sit with a Rose this summer, inhale her fragrance, peer into her depths and experience the peace she offers. Experience for yourself the myriad of gifts she offers from her heart… to yours.

“The sweetest flower that blows,
I give you as we part.
For you it is a Rose,
For me it is my heart.”
- Frederick Peterson

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.