Sage

Sage:

  • wise, especially as a result of great experience
  • a plant whose greyish-green leaves are used as a herb to give flavour to some foods

Wisdom is obviously an important part of this plant’s character!  In particular, wisdom that comes with age and experience and doing and reflecting.  It is the knowledge that is amassed over a long, filled life.

It is said that “the desire of sage is to render man immortal”; this plant knows the secrets of life and death and the deep knowings of the world.  Sage invites respect from us and reminds us how to move through the world respectfully.

It’s name comes from salvere, to be in good health, to cure, to save.  And indeed, the kind of wisdom aquired through long life can save.  Sage is known to be a humble kitchen herb, but it also has valuable medicinal properties.

Historically, it has been used to help snakebites, to increase fertility, as a diuretic, as a local anesthetic.  It was one of a number of herbs said to ward off plague and was also used for a number of mental health conditions.  Like Rosemary, it was said to clear the mind, to enhance memory and to aid wisdom.

I believe that sage contains estrogen or a similar chemical and this then sheds light on why it has been used since ancient times for fertility, for menopause and for other menstrual problems.  I think I read somewhere that it was also used to try and get rid of unwanted pregnancies as it can stimulate early contractions.

From a more symbolic perspective, it is said to release blockages in the throat chakra which are hindering expression and communication.  It helps with processing and experiencing emotions, feeling them and letting them move on.

Ritually, sage has been used for a very long time to ward off evil and today, sage smudges continue to be a popular way of cleansing ones home or self.  It is used to purify, to mark the start of ceremony and as part of initiations.  The wisdom of this herb makes life transitions, the times of initiation (into adulthood, into parenthood etc), easier.  It is a reminder to listen to those who have gone before you and to learn from them.

Sage is associated with Sagittarius and Jupiter.  Sagittarius ends with the winter solstice, another time of transition and initiation into the new year.  This is a time of darkness and reflection and introspection.  Sage can help us with these experiences, shedding light on our thoughts and feelings and helping us to heal emotional wounds.  Sage takes the experiences and lessons from the year that has gone and turns them into wisdom for the year that lies ahead.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Poppy

The poppy with it’s bright colours is the flower of August.  A summertime plant.  A flower of imagination and dreaminess that comes with the heat of the sun.  A lazy day in a field with a gentle breeze and the heady scent of flowers.  Despite this, the poppy is also dedicated to nocturnal deities and is a herb of the moon.  An image comes to mind of a person, spending their days in amongst the wildflowers, cloud gazing and day dreaming until the day has turned to night and the moon shines down.

This plant is known mostly for morphine and heroin.  I was in a car with some friends about ten years ago.  When we went past a field of bright red poppies, the driver made us all wind up the windows.  She was terrified that the scent would enter the car and we’d all fall asleep.  I had never heard this before and it’s not at all going to happen.  The red poppies which appear in the UK fields as weeds are not opium poppies.

The morphine poppy, Papaver somniferum, contains powerful medicine and has been used for a very long time as an analgesic and a narcotic, both in healing and recreationally.  In 3000BC, Sumerians revered the poppy as a magical plant.  Later, in ancient Egypt, doctors would advise their patients to ease their pain by eating poppy seeds.

The use of the opium poppy to create both morphine and heroin brings to mind the healing/harming spectrum.  This medicine could ease your pain or bring you oblivion, it could aid you or it could kill you.  It’s all in the dose.  This is true of so many things in life and is a caution about excess.

Whilst we focus heavily on the narcotic properties of the plant, they are used in many ways.  Simply as an ornamental plant, through to cooking.  Poppy seeds are rich in oils, carbohydrates, calcium and protein.  Poppy oil can be used as a cooking oil or as an ingredient in cakes and breads.  Parts of the poppy can even be found in cosmetics and paints.

But perhaps the other most recognised use of the poppy, besides opium, is as a symbol of remembrance.  After the first world way, the poppy was used to honour soldiers who had died during the war.  But long before this, poppies were associated with death.  In Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were used as offerings to the dead.  They were used on tombstones to symbolise eternal sleep.  Both their medicinal properties and their colour led to this usage.  The sedative nature of the opium poppy and the blood red colour of common poppies made it a flower of sleep, peace and death.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Horse Chestnut and Conkers

Horse Chestnut trees have played a role in my life since I was born.  My parents’ garden includes a small wood, predominantly horse chestnut, or conker, trees.  They were my shelter, my climbing frame, my friends, my play area.  They were shade on a hot day.  They were an escape from the rain.  But it was not without it’s faults.  Have you ever run barefoot through a wood where the floor is carpeted with conker shells in varying stages of life and death?  It prickles.  A lot.

The horse chestnut tree is considered a luxury, or at least it was for our ancestors, because they don’t provide food.  They are grown mainly for the shade they provide and the wood they produce.  Conkers are poisonous to a lot of animals so these weren’t really useful trees.  You’d be far better planting an oak who’s fruits you could grind into a flour.  Because of this, the horse chestnut is a symbol of wealth and exuberance.  If you could give up land to a tree with less practical uses then you were clearly someone of high status.

In terms of reflecting on the tree’s message, perhaps it is a call to look at our own wealth?  Or, is the tree reminding us that not everything needs to be useful.  We should leave space in our busy, productivity focused lives, to stare at the stars, to watch the rain, to just be.  To do things purely for the sake of enjoyment.  Play, have fun.  Not everything needs to be practical.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By William Henry Davies

One advantage of the horse chestnut has over some trees is its rapid growth.  The trees that made up my wood had been planted by my dad when he was a little boy.  Even when I was very young, these trees which would have been 20-30 years old were substantial.

Their common name may come from the scars left on the twigs after the leaves have fallen.  I had never considered it before, just accepted it as children do, that that was what trees looked like when they shed their leaves.  But it’s true, they leave behind a distinctive horseshoe shape, complete with “nails”.  Think about that a bit more. Every time the tree lets go of a leaf, releases a part of itself which is no longer needed, it leaves a scar.  We are all made up of things we have experienced, even those things which we have said goodbye to.  The older the tree, the more scars it will have.  As we age, we too carry with us the marks of our past.  Is the tree any less beautiful because it is older?  No, and nor are we.  The passing of time wears very differently on a human body than a tree but that wrinkle or that grey hair, they are all marks of a live, signs of wisdom and experience.

This is a tree which changes considerably as the year passes, let it guide you through the passing seasons of the year, and the seasons of your life.  Spring starts with sticky buds.  Tightly packaged buds are protected from frost damage and insects by a sticky, nasty layer.  As spring progresses, the buds come out of their cocoon and the tree develops beautiful candle like flowers.  These light the way for us as we say goodbye to the darkness of the winter.  They are a hint of the radiant sun which is building in strength.  For the most part these flowers are white with a fleck of pink, but we had two trees which produced vibrant pink candles with a fleck of yellow.

Conkers are probably the most well known part of the horse chestnut tree.  Even if you can’t identify the tree, you can probably recognise it’s fruits. And they are prolific.  As summer draws to a close, the twigs become laden with prickly green balls.  As autumn sets in, these start to open, revealing a beautiful, pure white flesh cushioning a shiny brown seed.  These glossy conkers are so different from their spikey green shell that it is hard to believe they are from the same tree.  They remind me of the hedgehog, defensive spines as protection to keep people at a distance.  When the horse chestnut tree is ready, the green capsules will start to crack open, letting people slowly see their vulnerable inside.  If you do not do this on the tree’s time scale, you will be disappointed, it will not share itself with you.

Conkers are poisonous to most animals (but not deer apparently).  Despite their uselessness as food, conkers are beloved by many, primarily for the game of the same name.  Possibly less well known is the attempt to use them as a source of starch during the first and second world wars.  The starch was used to produce acetone which in turn was used in the production of cordite, an explosive.  Conkers, it turned out, were a poor source of starch but it was probably better than using sources which could be eaten.

Some people claim that a conker in each room will keep away spiders but there is little evidence to support this.  Despite that, well known shops continue to sell conker based sprays.  A more reliable use for the horse chestnut comes from a time before fridges.  Back in the day, in Germany, to protect their cellars (and hence their alcohol) from the heat of the summer, brewers would plant the trees.  The dense shade kept them cool whilst their shallow roots didn’t intrude on the cellars.  It is possibly this practice which created the beer garden.

Other uses of the horse chestnut tree include their timber, which isn’t very strong, being used in carving.  As we’ve seen already in this post, the tree is about beauty, not utility.  There is a time and a place for both, but here we are being asked to focus on the art of the world.

A final, sad note, about the horse chestnut.  Anne Frank mentioned a particular one in her diary which was located in the centre of Amsterdam.  In August 2010 a heavy wind blew it over.  This tree which had seen so much and stood strong for so long had reached the end of it’s life.  It’s first life anyway.  Eleven young trees, from seeds of this one specimen, were transported to America.  Here they were rehomed.  One now stands in the 9/11 Memorial Park, two in Holocaust Centers, one oustide the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and the rest in other museums and monuments across the country.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Rosemary

“Rosemarie is for remembrance
Between us day and night
Wishing that I might always have
You present in my sight”
– Clement Robinson

As the poem says, rosemary is very symbolic of remembrance, of memory and it is also a symbol of fidelity, loyalty and enduring love.  Rosemary is actually part of the mint family but being so different to what we traditionally consider mint, I wouldn’t focus too much on this for the purpose of understanding the spirit of the plant.

The name is derived from the latin for “dew of the sea” but it is also said to be because the Virgin Mary spread her blue coat over a white flowered rosemary plant, turning the petals blue and changing the name to “Rose of Mary”.  As well as it’s links with Christianity, it was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

This holy plant comes from the Mediterranean and is the herb of Aries and the Sun.  Associated with light and vitality as well as the head (by virtue of Aries), this herb encourages us to think clearly, to remember who we are and to call ourselves back to ourselves.

It copes well with drought conditions making it a hardy plant that is considered easy to grow.  It may be asking you to think about your own preparedness and approach to potential disasters.  Are you someone who falls into chaos when things go wrong or are you the person who stands up and takes control?  What could you do to prepare for the future?  It could be setting aside a little extra money each month.  It could be investing in your mental or physical health.  It could be building resilience so that you are better equipped to handle tough times.

The rosemary plant is a woody, evergreen with needle like leaves which are infused with oil.  This oil is used in perfumes, in cosmetics and in incense for scenting a room.  The link with memory is seen again in the context of rosemary oil as a memory aid.  Still on memory, the plant is used as a symbol of remembrance and is thrown into graves during funerals.  More positively, it is also associated with weddings.  In the middle ages, brides would wear rosemary in their hair as a love charm.  I wouldn’t put too much faith in it’s romance powers though – Anne of Cleaves wore some in her hair at her ill fated marriage to Henry VIII.

Rosemary is a sign of constancy, of devotion and of memories of loved ones.  It is a reviving herb with a strong scent and a stimulating energy.  Drinking rosemary tea is said to restore your body following sickness or winter blues.  It provides you with the warmth of the Med and it’s powerful taste could be seen to invigorate you on a cold dark night.  It is also said to improve your mental powers as well as help you sleep.

This dual purpose, to stimulate and to rest, is an interesting one.  It feels to me like the plant embodies both yin and yang, or other opposing forces – masculine and feminine, holy and mundane, life and death.  A holistic being at it’s very core.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Mint

Mint is definitely my favourite herb.  I love the smell, the taste, the way it looks.  It was the plant which kicked off my herb garden as a child and my interest in herbs.  There are so many types of mint that you could have an entire, aromatic, garden of them.

In Greek myth, Minthe was a beautiful water nymph who had caught the eye of Hades.  Hades however was married to Persephone who became jealous of his mistress.  Some stories say that Persephone turned Minthe into the mint plant, others that Minthe took the form herself to escape Persephone’s jealous attacks.  This is a plant of violent love and intense emotions.

As you’d expect from a plant that was once a water nymph, mint thrives in moist places, especially alongside rivers.  That said, it does grow in pretty much any condition, this is a survivor, a thriver.  Mint is a fast growing plant, often considered invasive as they will quickly take over if planted directly into the soil (as opposed to putting them in a pot).  This is a plant which needs firm boundaries if it is to live alongside other plants, just as we need to establish our own when we are working and living alongside other people.

Mint achieves its wide spreading nature though rapidly growing, creeping roots.  This is a call to us to look at what goes on below the surface.  Is someone or something taking over you and your sense of self?  The best way for this to happen is for it to be less visible.  Before long, you look up and find that you’re entangled in someone else’s web without realising it was happening.

Somewhere I read that mint is the plant of Jupiter, a planet of expansion and growth.  I can’t refind the source but it feels very appropriate.  Learning and exploring are fantastic adventures and an excellent way to reinvigorate the soul but be careful of spreading out in too many directions at once!  The line between pleasure and overindulgence is a fine one.  The same being true for positivity and blind optimism.

Mint has been used for a long time for healing.  Mint tea is a cleansing, calming drink and is encouraged for people who experience nausea or poor digestion.  Apparently a cold cup of the tea will help hiccups and flatulence.  The plant has also been used to help flu, fevers, stomach ache and chest pains.  Sinusitis, lung conditions, insomnia, tension, fatigue and headaches are other conditions which may be aided by mint.  It is a stimulating, invigorating plant that energises but also soothes; it is complicated!

The abundant nature of the herb means it is used in money magic and love potions.  It is also used to purify, to energise and to protect.  Sleeping with mint under your pillow is said to enhance your dreams and wearing it round your neck will increase your focus.

Mint has many many other uses which I will only touch on here.  It was strewn on floors to scent the room.  Scattered leaves deter mice, ants and fleas.  Rubbing mint on a new beehive was said to encourage bees to make their home there.  Mint is said to be a good plant for the garden, repelling pesky insects and attracting helpful ones.  It forms part of many cosmetics, perfumes and aromatherapy oils.

Despite all it’s many uses, many people think mint and think mint sauce.  Do not underestimate this fantastically useful herb.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Daffodil

_20170602_141440

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
– William Wordsworth

To me, and many others, the daffodil heralds the arrival of spring.  Here in York, these triumphant flowers line the banks of the city walls, declaring that the sun is growing stronger and the days longer.
Springtime in York
The daffodil is also the flower of Wales, the symbol of St David’s Day, the emblem of annunciation, the flower of Easter, known also as the lent rose or lent lily.  As the frosts clear, their tapering green leaves start to push through the fertile soils.  This is truly a spring time flower.  As such, the daffodil is a symbol of creation, of birth, of life, of energy, of the sun.

However, they are also considered bad luck and bringers of death.  And should you attempt to eat it, death is a very real possibility.  They are toxic to humans and animals, causing stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea followed by trembling, convulsions and paralysis.  Death may follow depending on how much has been consumed.  So toxic is the daffodil that it is said that Romans carried a bulb when they went to war.  If they were critically injured, they would eat it in order to have a merciful death; the narcotic properties of the plant would numb their pain as they died.

And it’s not just humans and animals that can be affected by the daffodil.  If they are planted near certain species, including roses, rice and cabbages, the growth of the species will be inhibited.  If you are arranging cut flowers, the toxin from the daffodil will shorten the life of any other flowers you include.  Their delightful, sunny demeanour hides a dark side…

In terms of folklore and beliefs, you should tread with caution when walking around a bed of daffodils. If you step on a bed of daffodils, bad luck will follow.  Never bring a single daffodil into a home as it will result in misfortune.  If you do give daffodils, make sure it’s a plentiful bouquet as this brings luck.  However, if you have chickens incubating eggs, don’t bring any as the eggs will not hatch.

Spring was an important time of year for our ancestors, the success of your farming could literally mean life or death later in the year.  If your eggs didn’t hatch, you lost a generation of chickens which meant you didn’t have the eggs or the chickens to eat.  If your crop didn’t start life well, you wouldn’t get a good harvest.  This is a time for setting our intentions, planting our seeds, and we need all the luck we can get.

Many people will be aware that the botanical name for the daffodil is Narcissus.  It seems that the name of the plant is unrelated to, and possibly predates, the myth about Narcissus but I think it’s worth exploring anyway.

Narcissus was a hunter who was renowned for his beauty and very proud of it.  One day he looked into a pool of water and saw his reflection.  So gorgeous was the image that he fell in love, like many had fallen for him before, and became obsessed.  He could not bear to leave the reflection, even for a moment, and eventually he died (some say he starved, others that he drowned).  It is this tale which gives us the term narcissism; a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception.

For some, this means that the daffodil is a symbol of vanity.  I prefer to think of it as a caution against fixation, of any kind.  Focusing all your energy on any singular thing is not good for the mind, body or soul.  We need many different interests, focuses and types of stimulation.  We are complicated creatures, we are multifaceted and we must meet the needs of the different parts of us.

Do not eat any part of the daffodil. 

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

 

Daisy

daisy

“Star of the mead! sweet daughter of the day
Whose opening flower invites the morning ray”
– Dr Leyden

The daisy, such a beautiful flower, such innocence and childlike joy is summoned when we think of them.

I have a personal love for the daisy beyond the flower itself, my granma’s name was daisy.  She was a lovely, kind and gentle woman who I miss a lot.  I would love to have known her as an adult (she died when I was a teenager).

Anyway, back to the flower.  Their botanical name, bellis perennis, means pretty pearl and their English name comes from the Saxon “days eye” as it opens early in the morning.  These sweet little flowers are symbols of gentleness and purity, the innocence of the first moments of the day.  However, they are also quite powerful!  A daisy chain was placed on a child’s head to keep faeries away and prevent the baby from being kidnapped.

Children and daisies are seen in other beliefs.  It was said a child who stood on daisies would grow up stunted.  Another idea was that daisies were the spirits of babies who had died at birth.

Belying it’s sweet appearance, the daisy has has astringent properties.  Medicinally, the daisy has been used to treat bruises, to treat cuts and for gastrointestinal and respiratory complaints.  They have also been eaten, although younger leaves are better tasting and you can make daisy whiskey apparently!

The daisy has also been used in medieval times to be worn by ladies and knights when they were at a tournament.  And perhaps most commonly, the picking of their petals as a love divination.

They appear in early spring and it is perhaps in part this which ties them symbolically to the innocence and childishness of the season.  They are the flower of April and are dedicated to Aphrodite and Venus, both goddesses of love.

In mythology, we see a few characters turning themselves into daisies to avoid the pursuit of unwanted lovers.  Their transformation in a sense protected them from being defiled and maintained their innocence and virginity.  They kept their childlike status, their purity.  On a similar note, Christianity has adopted the daisy as a symbol of the virgin mary to highlight her chastity and grace.

 

Comparing the daisy and the dandelion, we see an interesting contradiction.  Both are invasive species but our attitudes towards them tend to be very different.  We enjoy the delicate daisy and vent our frustrations at the sturdier dandelion.  This puts me in mind of the virgin-whore dichotomy.  Our attitudes towards each other can be echoed in these two flowers.  One is pretty and sweet and so we ignore the fact that it is invasive.  The other is bold, brash and confident and so we berate its very existence.

Nettle

nettle

Despite their bad reputation, nettles are very useful but don’t give them to someone.  According to flower giving symbolism, you will be saying that the receiver breaks your heart, that they are cruel, that they are slanderous.  It is bad luck to give nettles to a woman and I can see that they might not be well received…  I was going to say that no one wants to receive a plant that can harm them but we give roses all the time… Something to ponder!

One belief is that a nettle in your pocket will keep you safe from lightening and give you courage.  Channelling the nettle’s fiery energy can help you break free from stagnant emotional states and situations you feel tied to.  It can also help to connect you with the warrior within.

According to Worts and Cunning, nettles are associated with the planet Mars, with the astrological sign Aries and are a strengthening herb.  Mars is commonly said to be about war but it is also about asserting yourself, about action and drive.  Aries echoes this with forceful, outgoing, headstrong traits.  This is a powerful, active plant which encourages movement and get up and go.

In terms of medicinal aids, they are said to have a lot of uses including helping nosebleeds, lung inflammation, rashes, stings, colds, rheumatism, earache and anaemia.  As they are rich in iron, the latter is likely a good cure.  They contain a range of vitamins and minerals and are said to help with cramping and muscle spasms.  It is said that if you have joint and muscle pain and you intentionally sting the affected area, the pain will decrease.

But how to enjoy your medicinal dose of nettles?  You surely don’t want to just pick them and eat them, I can’t think of another plant who’s identity is so wrapped up in it’s sting.  You should blanch them first, or make a tea from them.  But they adsorb pollution from the environment very easily so its best to pick them away from roads and busy areas.

Their strong fibres have been used to make cord and cloth and apparently nettle oil was used before paraffin oil.  I’ve done a bit of dyeing using plants recently and I got a lovely warm grey when I used nettles although other people report getting browns and greens!

Nettles also provide a home for a number of butterflies and moths who can find sanctuary on the plant because the sting keeps predators away.  Understandably we focus a lot on the pain that nettles cause us, blinding us to their benefits.  They are vigorous plants, survivors, healers and protectors and we must see the plant as a whole rather than just seeing one part of it.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Oak trees and acorns

red oak
Red Oak Leaf

There is a lot of myth and belief surround the oak tree and acorns, going back at least as far as Ancient Greece and I suspect much further.  It has long been considered a sacred tree and an oak grove was a temple of Zeus.  He was the god of thunder which is interesting given that there is a lot of folklore about the oak and storms which we will see later in this post.  The rustling of the oak tree in the temple was thought to be a sign of Zeus’s presence.

Moving to ancient Rome, we find crowns of oak leaves worn by victorious roman leaders as a symbol of power and conquest.  Elsewhere, the oak is dedicated to Thor.  Another important belief that I’ve found attributed to a variety of cultures, is that the oak was the first tree created and it in turn created man.  Long ago the acorn was an important food source and thus became a symbol of fecundity and immortality although with the rise in agriculture the acorn was no longer so important.

The oak is strongly associated with protection, especially protection in thunder storms, remember Zeus?  It was said that boats made of oak would be safe from lightening strikes at sea, that the tree would offer protection in a storm.  When an oak in Needwood forest was struck by lightening, people travelled to collect blackened chips to use as lightening charms.  By extension, oak leaves and acorns have protective power and are obviously much easier to carry around with you!  The sky god loved the oak and showed affection by descending as lightening and leaving mistletoe on the tree.

In terms of healing, you might use acorns to help with diarrhoea, you might carry an acorn to ward of rheumatism or to attract luck.  Carrying an acorn could also help you to preserve your youth and was said to be most successful for women.  If you have toothache, try driving a nail into an oak, the idea is then that you will leave the pain behind.

Having said all that, you should not hurt an oak tree.  If you tamper with them, or fell them, you will hear their scream and die within a year.  As they fall, you will hear them wailing and crying and the same is true if you remove branches from this revered tree.

Able to grow in almost any soil, the oak is a hardy tree which produces strong and durable timber.  It is an icon of endurance and survival and quiet determination.  It is grounded and stable and perhaps meditating on the tree or using it as the basis of a visualisation will help you too to feel secure and calm.

The celtic name for the oak is duir, meaning doorway.  In Germany, instead of babies being found in cabbage patches, they come from an ancient hollow oak.  The oak then is a doorway where potential and actual creation meets.  The point where ideas are birthed and the ethereal becomes tangible.  This is probably the first point in my writing about the oak where I feel feminine energy coming into play.  What lies on the other side of the door for you?  Which side of the door are you on?

The oak, and all its symbolism, are heavily masculine.  As well as Zeus and Thor, it is associated with the green man.  It is a symbol of male virility.  And not just any masculine symbol, the mighty oak is a king tree, ruling over the waxing year until midsummer solstice when power is relinquished to the holly tree.  The oak is used to honour warriors.  It is powerful and resilient.  It is strong and courageous.  This is a very no nonsense tree, deal with your stuff, learn from it and move on.  At the same time it is about inner peace and empowerment.  You gain insight as you reflect and that clarity is so important for helping you step into your power.

acorn

A bit of an aside: We have this sense of power as male and not necessarily a good thing.  Or at least I do.  And this idea has always made me veer away from power.  But power can be used to many different ends.  Owning my own power is empowering!  It makes me feel stronger and surer and feeling that makes me do things I wouldn’t do otherwise.  When I was working I managed a fantastic team and never once felt I had “power” (in the masculine, traditional sense).  Obviously I did but I used that position to collaborate with my team, to work together, to empower others.  It never felt like power, but on reflection, many people would have stepped into that position in a different way.  


None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Dandelion

dandelion

I keep dreaming about dandelions so this post was inevitable.  The humble dandelion is much overlooked, considered a nuisance and is the bane of gardeners lives.  But what other plant embodies the sun, the moon and the stars?  The dandelion is the true plant of cyclical life.  They move from their bright yellow flower to their fluffy white head and finally their little seeds disperse.

Dandelions acquire their strange name from the shape of their leaves which are considered to resemble lions teeth, in french this is dent-de-lion.  But they go by many many names including blowball, cankerwort, doon-head-clock, witch’s gowan, milk witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, puff-ball, piss-a-bed and fluffy puffy.  In Gaelic, apparently they are called beanan bride, which means little notched plant of bride.  It was said that St Bride or St Brigit claimed the plant and yet another name for this flower is Saint Brigit’s flame.

The dandelion lights its spark
Lest Brigid find the wayside dark.
And Brother Wind comes rollicking
For joy that she has brought the spring.
Young lambs and little furry folk
Seek shelter underneath her cloak.

– Winifred Mabel Letts

Brigid is associated with Imbolc, celebrated in early February to mark the returning sun,  the beginning signs of spring and fertility, whether that is literal in the sense of childbirth or in the sense of birthing a new venture or idea.  Fertility is something we tie strongly to women but it can refer to the fertile earth, the fertile inner landscape which helps creations to blossom.  I wanted to add this because as someone who can’t have children, the focus on fertility and motherhood can feel exclusionary at times.  Interestingly, many types of dandelion produce seeds without pollination!

Brigid is also a figure of healing and creativity and alchemy.  She is the spark that comes before the full light of spring to give us hope and guide us through the last days of darkness.

Their roots reach deep into the earth, making them resilient, grounding them and giving them the strength to thrive in any situation. Think about the dandelions you see pushing their way through the concrete and the pavement.  They have the ability to flourish wherever they land.  Staying with the link to Imbolc, the dandelion is taking root in our darkest self and taking that pain and transforming it into a spark of visible light.

Despite our modern day perception of the dandelion as a tenacious weed, they have been used as food and as a herb for a long time.  Their leaves are high in vitamin A and C and have been eaten in a similar way to spinach; blanched, in salads and in sandwiches.  The whole plant is edible – flowers can be used to make wine and the roots can be used to make a coffee type drink.  The latex from the stem of the dandelion has been used to cure warts.  They are said to aid digestion, act as a mild laxative and act as a diuretic.

And if that’s not enough to redeem the dandelion, they are important plants for bees, providing an early source of pollen.  Because they flower early in the year, the early emerging pearl-bordered fritillary (a butterfly) also uses it as a source of food.

For all those embittered gardeners struggling to remove the full dandelion route from their flowerbeds, you might like to know it’s actually a beneficial weed.  The root brings up nutrients for plants with shallower roots, they add minerals and nitrogen to the soil and they attract pollinating insects.  Perhaps instead of fighting the dandelion, we could learn to live with it, alongside it.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.