Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Earth’s Harvest of Health

We can feel the transition approaching. The days are getting shorter and the crisp scent of fall is in the air. Nights are finally cooler and more comfortable for sleeping. The sound of wood being split punctuates the still air that is sweet with the smell of apples and sawdust.
We’re overwhelmed with the choices available from the garden and the farm stands and frantic to find yet another recipe featuring zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Autumn is approaching. For many this time of year continues to be a favorite for the vast array of culinary choices it offers. It is a time of stocking up our larders and our bodies in order to survive the cycle of death and transition in our natural world.

Ancestrally it was a busy time to finish repairs, chop and stack wood, return from distant travels, preserve the harvest and enjoy the last of the warmer weather before the forced confinement of winter. There was much to be done. Grains needed to be cut, gathered, and dried, winnowed and stored. Whole families would gather in the kitchens of their grandmothers to preserve fruits, pickle a variety of fresh vegetables, dry herbs, and prepare baked goods.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is the time of year corresponding to the Earth element (or more accurately, phase), the time of transition and harvest: late summer. The Earth element encompasses the organs Spleen and Stomach; the sweet foods naturally available to us during this time assist in the optimum functioning of this organ system. The key word would be nourishment, as Earth relates to Mother energy, our center. Stocking up on fruits, nuts, grains, root vegetables, squash, beans and all the rest of the incredible array of seasonal foods provides a layer of protective fat that will help keep us warm and begin the process of moving our energies inward for the long hibernation ahead. Even the animals know this as evidenced by deer raiding our gardens with a passion. The waxing of our girth during this time of year is a tribute to the season’s bounty; it is only natural that we begin to put on a little weight.

We, as a product of Mother Earth, are designed to live in harmony with her seasons. It is no surprise that this time of year offers such a cornucopia of produce. Our grandmothers knew that all of it could and should be preserved to keep us nourished and healthy during the leaner months ahead. Canning, preserving, pickling, and drying, freezing and salt curing all had a place and offered an aspect of necessary nutrition for the winter hibernation. Since refrigeration was not readily available, freezing was done by digging deep caches down to the layer of permafrost. Root cellars were used to keep potatoes, root vegetables, squashes and hearty fruits, such as apples fresh for as long as possible. Even still, canning made more sense once pottery, and eventually glass were commonly available.

Canning often used salt and/or lacto-fermentation to keep the hard-won harvest from spoilage and to increase its nutritional value. The beneficial bacteria available through fermenting foods provide robust health to the individual that consumes it; lactobacilli wards off disease and greatly enhances the immune system by crowding out harmful bacteria. It should be noted that modern and commercial methods of preserving use not whey -a nearly clear liquid obtained by separating soured curds from whole, raw milk- but vinegar, which does not readily provide us with beneficial bacteria and can make our systems more acidic. Simply using salt for canning vegetables is sufficient, the lactic acid will form on its own after sitting for a few days at room temperature and proliferate as the product is stored. A modern consumer can easily strain plain yogurt through cheesecloth to get two products: whey for canning and preserving and delicious yogurt cream cheese.
 Every ancient culture in the world offered a variety of fermented foods including cheese, sausage, preserved meats, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, chutney, relish, wine, beer and more. Most of these were eaten sparingly as condiments to help ensure the best digestion of heavier foods. Even ketchup and mustard were fermented condiments once upon a time. The beneficial and symbiotic bacteria that were once a regular part of our diet increased resistance to disease and warded off pathogenic yeasts; reintroducing lacto-fermented foods to our regular diets will provide a cascade of health benefits, particularly if the produce preserved is fresh, organic and local.

The Earth phase is an excellent time to shake off lethargy and stagnation, use centering practices such as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Ayurvedic breathing exercises to align with the ‘middle path’ often described in Zen or Buddhist teachings. When we become deficient in Earth energy -often described as Qi (vital energy) deficiency or Spleen Qi deficiency in TCM- we lose vitality, our muscles become sore and weak, we may experience shortness of breath, or sweat more easily. Our digestion may become impaired, marked by bloating, flatulence, weight issues, and lack of appetite, nausea or loose stools. A diet of highly refined fats, sugars and flour, processed meats and dairy, especially when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the health and well-being of an individual, in particular their Spleen and Stomach Qi; the Earth element.

Returning to the old ways of storing and preserving the season’s harvest reduces our dependence on the fossil fuels used for refrigeration and the shipping of produce from other climates which ultimately puts us out of balance with out natural circadian rhythms. Being prepared with a stock of nutritious foods would be invaluable during the inevitable power-outages of tempestuous weather. We can reclaim our autonomy and healthy vigor through this sort of self-reliance and the economic advantages will quickly become evident: less trips to the grocery stores that burn expensive fuel, the price of out-of –season factory farmed fruits and vegetables, and the less obvious, but incredible cost to our health. Time spent in unfulfilling leisure activities become time spent with family or friends preserving the harvest and gaining the confidence of self-sufficiency. As a result, we not only enhance and strengthen our own personal Earth element, but we also ensure the vitality of our Mother Earth.

Lisl Meredith Huebner is a Chinese Herbalist nationally board certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), an Auriculotherapist, a certified medicinal Aromatherapist, and is a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. In addition, she is also skilled in a wide variety of energy-healing techniques, has published volumes of articles and photographs espousing the magic of nature and teaches certification classes and workshops on a plethora of modalities and spiritual subjects.
She is available by appointment at her private practice.  
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email HerbaLisl@hotmail.com if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thy Goldenrod & Thy Staff, They Comfort Me

(Solidago canadensis)

Late each summer we are greeted by a profusion of Goldenrod’s gloriously radiant and cheerful yellow blooms decorating our views in meadows, fields and roadsides. Jovial golden blossoms adorn the sturdy stalks that will never appear alone; vast colonies of this herbal ally will prodigiously populate pastures and paddocks if given half a chance. There are a dizzying variety of species of Solidago; some sources estimate that there are over eighty, while more conservative approximations are about half that figure. Nonetheless, it is notoriously difficult to differentiate members of the genus and although most are medicinal, the variety that is usually referred to in herbalism is S. canadensis.

The enormous plethora of Solidago makes it easy to understand her long-held reputation for generating abundance, luck and love. Astrologically, Goldenrod is assigned to Venus, making her a popular herb for ceremonies to attract true love. Some legends claim that a tea or a bouquet of her flowers will draw your soul-mate to you. Planting it near your front door is said to attract prosperity, and if she volunteers to make a home in your garden, she brings good fortune with her. The most fragrant of the Goldenrod native to New England is S. tenuifolia, more readily distinguished by its many branches of slightly rounded flower clusters; it smells exactly like honey and the bees adore it.

Because her bloom-time is shared with the invisible green flowers of ragweed, poor Goldenrod gets blamed for seasonal allergies, but this is simply untrue. Ragweed has tiny pollen grains that are carried by the wind, grains that are small enough to irritate and inflame sinus tissues; Goldenrod sports a small amount of sticky, large-grained pollen that are exclusively picked up by bees and other pollinating insects, and do not cause allergy symptoms. The irony is that Goldenrod is in fact a helpful remedy for sinusitis and chronic hay fever.

The leaves and flowers are the most helpful part of the plant to use when treating upper-body imbalances such as mouth abscesses, sore throat, scrofula, nasal congestion, cough or asthma; a refreshing tea or a tincture will do the job nicely. The homeopathic dose is effective when treating seasonal allergies or sensitivity to dander –especially feline. The roots of Solidago taken as a decoction or in tincture form are more appropriate to use when treating lower-body or deep-seated imbalances, such as gout, diarrhea, menstrual troubles and kidney or bladder problems. Famed herbalist Nicolas Culpepper wrote, “The decoction also helps to fasten the teeth that are loose in the gums.” This is of particular interest to me because according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys rule the bones and teeth.

Goldenrod is particularly helpful for the Water Element, not only for its diuretic and cleansing effect on the bladder and kidneys; Solidago can help with infections and inflammation as well as stones and gravel. In addition to its heat clearing and soothing properties, Goldenrod is also fortifying; it can help to boost Kidney Qi, the physical energy that governs the organ’s functions, and enrich the Yin, a moistening, receptive, nourishing quality. Solidago can even somewhat nourish the precious “Essence” or “Jing” -the very foundation from which we grow and thrive- that is stored energetically within the Kidneys.

We inherit our Essence from our parents (ultimately all of our ancestors), and we are born with a fixed amount. I like to call this Kidney Essence a “trust fund;” one could spend carefully, budget wisely and save for a rainy day in order to make even a meager inheritance last a long time. Some may be privileged enough to have inherited great genetic riches, but it is quite easy to squander a fortune!

For our body’s daily requirements we utilize energy (Qi) that we receive through food, water, rest, air and relationships (obviously it’s imperative to seek the highest quality in all of these life-sustaining requirements). We use our Essence to fill in the gaps when we can’t rely upon our steady income of Qi and we may never be aware that we are using it. Our Kidneys also help to process our emotional toxins, so when we experience extreme stress, frayed nerves, repressed or excessive emotions and cease to take proper care of ourselves, our inheritance gets spent.

This is where the spiritual and energetic benefits of Goldenrod can help us the most. The name Solidago means “to make whole” which not only refers to her value as a wound healer, but also to her ability to facilitate our recovery from emotional trauma. Deep grief and poignant loss can leave us broken and scarred, in need of potent healing; Goldenrod can help us to mend these painful injuries to our heart and soul.

The fragrance, color, and form of the whole spiritual expression of Goldenrod are hopeful and strength-giving beyond any others I know. A single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief and melancholy. 
– John Muir

Heartrending ordeals can leave us fractured and lost, searching for the way back to our personal center. It is said that the Druids once used the stiff stalks of Solidago as divining rods because the plant would always help locate hidden treasures such as fresh, drinkable water or buried gold and silver. Dowsing for lost objects can include our own search for the path back to self. We may lose our faith; we may find that our strength to endure is flagging; we may feel that we cannot take another step and that’s when the staff of goldenrod can be our support.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
-Psalms 23

Goldenrod offers to fortify our reserves and assures us that we can hold on just a little longer. Herbalist Matthew Wood says that Goldenrod gives us determination so we may “endure to reach the goal.” The Ojibwe described the formation of the roots as gripping the earth in preparation for the difficult times ahead. The promise of rebirth, abundance and found riches is just ahead upon the Path… yes, that’s the one… The Path back to Your own Heart. Hang in there. You can do it.

I lie amid the Goldenrod,
I love to see it lean and nod;
I love to feel the grassy sod
Whose kindly breast will hold me last,
Whose patient arms will fold me fast!
Fold me from sunshine and from song,
Fold me from sorrow and from wrong:
Through gleaming gates of Goldenrod
I’ll pass into the rest of God.
Mary Clemmer – last stanza from “Goldenrod” (1883)

“HerbaLisl” is Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG), a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a Reiki Master an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer who has enjoyed a successful private practice for fifteen years.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email HerbaLisl@hotmail.com if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment or are interested in participating in classes or retreats.