Isn't everything, in the dark, too wonderful to be exact, and circumscribed?
For instance, the white pine that stands by the lake. Tall and dense, it's a whistling crest on windy mornings. Otherwise, it's silent. It looks over the lake and looks up the road. I don't mean it has eyes. It has long bunches of needles, five to each bundle. From its crown springs a fragrance, the air sharp with it. Everything is in it. But no single part can be separated from another."
~ Mary Oliver, White Pine
The winter solstice is approaching. The holidays are "upon" us. Whether you are joyful and excitedly preparing for feasts and gatherings or overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of the season and the dark days you can find inspiration and assistance from the plants (and the poets) of our world.
Over the next few weeks I invite you to take a little time out for some much needed self care. To inspire you I'm sharing with you all some of my favorite winter remedies. The plants have a way of working with our bodies and our spirits. Go to them during this time and they will provide light.
WHITE PINE, Pinus strobus
White pine adorned my home every December as a child. It hung on doors as wreaths with golden ribbons. A few years back I spent many months working with white pine, sitting with the trees in Prospect Park, chewing on fresh needles and ingesting small amounts of the tincture to come to know the tree on a deeper level. White Pine is native to the eastern United States and was known as the great tree of peace to the Iroquois. So deep was this connection to peace that when the Iroquois would seal a peace agreement they would bury their weapons under a white pine tree. When you tincture the plant, you tincture the needles, the bark and the twigs which produces a resinous tincture that is super high in vitamin c. In my experience the tree provides a deep rooted peacefulness that allows you to experience joy. By working on the lungs, it imparts a lightness to the body reminiscent of its thin, feathery evergreen needles. Use it for a lung ailments and winter colds. It is not for daily use as it is emetic but it is the plant I go to when there's a stuck feeling in my chest and heart. As an essential oil it can be used in baths, direct palm inhalation and in oils. It also is a wonderful essential oil to use for cleaning. The essential oil dispels worries and tiredness and deeply purifies.
HOLY BASIL, Ocinum spp.
Known in Ayurveda as Tulsi, Holy Basil is perhaps the most sacred plant of India where it is said to be pure sattva. It strengthens nerve tissues and promotes clarity of mind. It is a mild adaptogen, meaning it aids the whole body and mind in processing and handling stress. Dr. Vasant Lad says it opens the heart and bestows the energy of love and devotion while also strengthening faith and compassion. It is antispasmodic, calming without being sedative and warming. It is also mildly antibacterial and diaphoretic, meaning it helps you to sweat. I drink it all winter long to keep warm, to keep my spirit up and to fight off the flu and colds. Enjoy it as a tea, a rich infusion or a tincture.
JUNIPER, Juniperus communis
Mostly I work with juniper as an essential oil thanks to the amazing work of Lori Regan of Shine Essential Oils who is creating the most divine, local, small batch, wild-harvested essential oils. The essential oil is resinous, sweet and earthy and supports clear breathing, detoxification and cleansing. It will also rejuvenate the nerves, calm the mind and deepen relaxation. My favorite way to work with juniper this time of year is as a massage oil for the belly. Mix just a couple drops into some warming sesame oil and massage in a circular motion over the abdomen to help with detoxification from overindulgence of food and drink.
CARDAMOM, Elettaria cardamomum.
Cardamom is a relative of ginger and one of my all time favorite plants. Native to India, Nepal and Bhutan and traded by the Greeks and Romans, cardamom is one of the most prized spices in the world. The plant strengthens and activates the heart and the lungs and provide mental clarity. Cardamon is also amazing for your gut; it neutralizes the mucous forming properties of dairy and is said to detoxify the caffeine in coffee. Cracking open a fresh pod and chewing on the little black seeds is a fine thing to do after meals as it is digestive and freshens the breath. Yogis use it to improve the flow of prana through the body. Western herbalists say it relieves depression and assists with poor circulation. I add it to nearly every chai I drink, to hot chocolate and I cook with it all winter long. Roast it with your next butternut squash or add it to grains while they are cooking. The essential oil, like juniper, also makes a great massage oil for the belly.
CATNIP, Nepeta cataria
Whenever I teach a workshop and talk about catnip I love the confused reaction I get from most folks. Yes, I know it's wild but it is true: the same plant that will make your feline friends roll around on their backs purring can also be consumed by humans and will create a similarly blissful effect. For cats however this plant is a stimulant while for humans it is a gentle but powerful sedative. It will help clear restlessness, tension and irritability and will help you sleep soundly. You can think of it as your winter hibernation herb. It also happens to be carminative, meaning it helps you digest your food so turn to it after holiday feasting. Catnip is a member of the mint family and has a light aromatic flavor that appeals to most palates. It is a good tea to consume before bed and is mild enough and tasty enough to give to children in small doses.
Some places to find these plants:
WHITE PINE: A few years ago while exploring a local waterfall I happened upon a tree that had just fallen down after a big storm. It was still very much alive and so I harvested as much as I could and made a big batch of sappy waterfall fresh white pine tincture. It's by far one of the most amazing wild remedies I've made. Email me if you'd like some.
HOLY BASIL is the base of my Go Tea. It's a tea that gets you going but also deeply nourishes and rejuvenates. Organic India has paired tulsi with just about every herb imaginable and is easily found in most health food stores.
JUNIPER Come to my Holiday Magic Carpet class on 12/18 which will feature juniper and many other calming plants. Look for it in my special Cool & Collected Wildcrafted Eucalyptus Salve or contact Shine Essential Oils as Lori is always distilling evergreens. (If she doesn't have juniper or white pine at present, every oil she has is a gem).
CATNIP is the base of my Calmmunity Tea. Catnip grows locally all throughout the US. Come spring you might just find some growing in your backyard.