Calming, Cleansing And Rejuvenating Herbal Treats For Yoga (or just anytime!)

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Behold the Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea and Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites I’ll be serving for Restorative Herbal Yoga For Spring – the very first session of The Yoga Apothecary. Because I’m so grateful that this very first class is full (and that so many others of you have wanted to attend) I’ve decided to share the recipes for the treats that we’ll be sampling in class, so you can also enjoy their healing and revitalizing gifts at home.

In these classes we’ll be marrying the benefits of cleansing, calming and rejuvenative herbs, with restorative yoga postures and breath. Our focus is on releasing the stagnant tension and toxins that get “stuck” in our bodies over winter – allowing the fresh life giving energy of spring to flow IN. And to help us to do that, we’ll be calling in plant allies like Lemon Balm, Wild Rose and Dandelion Root!  So before our practice we’ll sip a fragrant and uplifting lemon balm and wild rose petal tea – spiked with a grounding dandelion root tincture.

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Left: Dandelion Root Tincture  Right:  Steeping Tea

Lemon balm is a delicious lemony herb in the mint family that helps soothe anxiety and calm the nervous system, this will help us relax and release tension in our bodies as we practice. The loving energy of rose and her heavenly volatile oils also help us to enter a deeply relaxed state. Her anti-depressant qualities and ability to uplift the heart and spirits are also well known. These benefits in yoga therapy, and especially in restorative yoga, are important physiologically to healing – because without first feeling safe and relaxed, we cannot fully restore.

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Stress and chronic tension can often get held in the body, from our jaw, neck, shoulders, bellies, hips and most especially our psoas muscle (which connects our legs to our torso). This can keep our flight/fight/freeze sympathetic nervous system activated, and turn down the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Sadly this can bring a host of negative effects from hampering digestion, dampening our immune system, compromising cellular repair and exhausting our adrenals etc. So we’ll be calling on the power of our lemon balm and wild rose petal tea to help us release tension, deeply relax  and switch our healing parasympathetic nervous system back on. (more detail on this here)

In yoga, the First or Root chakra is related to issues of survival, security and feelings of being safe and stable. Located at the base of the spine, it governs our feet, legs, hips and psoas muscle, and is the source of our life-giving connection to the earth. And if we take a lesson from mother nature, she teaches us there is no standing strong without first rooting down. Feelings of being ungrounded, anxious or depressed, of never feeling truly safe in the world, can signal a first chakra imbalance.

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And so the perfect 1st chakra remedy is dandelion!  Because if you’ve ever tried digging up dandelion’s roots you know the true meaning of being deeply, firmly and stubbornly rooted in the earth. And there’s no doubt about why dandelion is a premiere root chakra plant, she’s truly a sunny survivor and prolific thriver!

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Her roots have been used for thousands of years to cleanse and revitalize organ systems of the lower body, from bladder, to kidneys, to liver. Dandelion also improves digestive system function and encourages the release of toxins from our blood. (This is especially helpful when chronic constriction in our lower bodies, impedes the fresh of nutrients, lymph and waste.)

Filled with vitamins A, C, D and B complex, minerals such as zinc, silicon,  iron, calcium and potassium, dandelion root contains more betacarotene than carrots!  And because it’s so packed with healing nutrients (which helps restore the optimal function of our cells and organs) we’ll end our class with a Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites- to help nourish and fortify of course!

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Yes they’re pretty yummy! And don’t worry, you won’t even notice the dandelion. Gluten free and packed with almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped fresh dandelion root, cocoa powder, organic chocolate chips and all ever so slightly perfumed with rose water, they’re ready to root, cleanse and restore you anytime – not just after yoga!

Finding dandelion root is pretty easy, while digging her roots out may take some effort. Cut in deep around the centre of the plant with a sharp tool or trowel, then pull up the whole clump. Pull out roots. You’ll need to wash these thoroughly and then chop for use in the recipe. And if you can’t find any (how can that be?!) dried dandelion root can be bought at the store and whirred up in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder. You’ll just add this powder to your recipe.

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You can find fresh lemon balm peeking up in most gardens right now -and their tender first leaves are just filled with the revitalizing energy of spring! I’ve used dried wild rose petals from my own, but they can be purchased at most herbal stores, as can the dandelion root tincture. But if you can’t find all of ingredients, don’t worry, just use what you have, lemon balm or rose on their own will still do the trick.

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So if you’re looking to enjoy these herbal spring treats with yoga, remember before you practice to take some quiet mindful time with your tea. Close your eyes, and inhale the tea’s fragrance, then take a sip and taste. Note any feelings or emotions that rise. Now see if you can bring these sensations together to form a sense memory you can reimagine and call on in practice.

Restorative yoga should be slow, movements should be gentle. Any sudden or quick moves can cause the body to tighten – which is what we don’t want!  You might want to begin lying on the floor, taking time to settle down and feel all parts of the body supported by the earth. Using belly breath (place both hands over the navel area and slowly breathe in feeling the belly rise up and then on exhale feeling the belly fall under your fingers) begin to relax into the floor, allowing yourself to deeply sink into the earth’s supportive energy…

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Using postures like knee to chest (apanasana) and happy baby (ananda balasana) use the exhale of the breath to soften your hips, gently releasing the tops of the thighs and psoas muscle. (see illustrations below) Don’t wrench your knees up close to your chest all at once, take your time, calling in the fragrance memory of the rose and lemon balm, as you breathe.  Allow their calming energy to move through you. Remember also to soften your mouth, neck, shoulders, chest and belly.

And if you’d like to release deeper, try Garland Pose (malasana). You might want to sit on a block  or high firm pillow if your heels come up off the floor, you want your feet on the ground for this posture. Concentrate on feeling the rooting through the toes, heels feet, legs, and breathe, allowing the pelvic floor to open, bringing in fresh blood flow to the lower body. Call on Dandelion root’s cleansing and nourishing powers to help revitalize your root chakra area.

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Top image from ktrnaaa

But remember – you can enjoy Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed. And following your tea up with one (or two) Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites will help ground you after.  And remember, just taking some quiet time for self care, even if it is gifting your senses with aromatic tea and a tasty, nourishing treat, is pretty rejuvenating! So relax, release and restore, and invite in the revitalizing energy of spring!

Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea w/ Dandelion Tincture

(makes enough for two cups)

  • Couple of handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves.
  • One handful dried rose petals
  • Add two cups of boiling water and let steep (covered!) for about 10 -15 minutes.
  • Strain and serve.
  • Add 2 droppers full of Dandelion tincture to each cup (about 10 ml total)
  • Enjoy!

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Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites

Makes about 1 dozen

  • 2 heaping tablespoons of chopped fresh dandelion root
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoons rose water

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Mix all ingredients well into a wet dough (it will be very sticky)
  • Form into little balls best you can and place in mini-cupcake tins
  • Bake for 20 – 25 minutes
  • Cool and serve!

Reclaiming The Radical Legacy of The Witch

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about witches. Not just because top ten lists of hot tv witches and sexy Halloween selfies currently swamp my social media feeds, but because my tables and shelves are currently so laden with herbs, plants, berries, phials and bottles that if an inquisitor of old were to enter, I’d find myself quickly tied to the stake. And while this worry seems remote, it’s a plain fact that women in third world countries are still hunted down, tortured and set aflame for the crime of witchcraft.

Sure, the witch is emerging from the world of taboo and shadows onto the world stage. Sure, she’s being touted as a feminist icon  – a “powerful feminine model free from male influence or ownership”. But I’m not so sure. Because how can it be that the witch, once associated with everything transgressive and beyond the realm of normative society, is now so trendy and positively mainstream?  Is it really a feminist step forward that W magazine declared Fall 2016, the season of the witch, replete with pouting models in gothic dresses, chains and black lace underwear?

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W Magazine, Salem Issue, 2016

And while many believe the witch of the middle ages was a spectre created by the church, I believe she was real. Yes, many put to death were just ordinary women who practiced folk magic, herbalism and midwifery, but many were powerful spiritual leaders of the indigenous, animist faith traditions of the old world – and their magic was earned through a lifetime of spiritual discipline spent in communion with nature.

And I worry her make-over into nubile fashion siren not only obscures this history, but her true relevance as a role model to us today. One that if resurrected, would be just as subversive and dangerous to the powers that be. 

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Today the witches tall black hat and burbling cauldron have become icons of Halloween kitsch, but they were once hallowed items of the holy women and priestesses, the healers and herbalists, the oracles and diviners of old Europe. Their conical hats and cauldrons date back to the 2nd Millennium BCE and were connected to the female shamans of the Indo-European peoples.

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Tarim Mummies, 1800 BCE

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Scythian Princess and her cauldron, 4-5th century BCE

Their cauldrons (as well as crystal balls and magical wands) were still being used thousands of years later by the “witte wieven” or wise women, the sibyls, seers, and female druids of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, and Norse traditions of the middle ages.

According to Max Dashu, author Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion,  these “dream-readers, sooth-sayers, and herb-chanters, fire-gazers in Switzerland, or water-gazers in France and Spain”, practiced “all the elements of shamanism: chants, prophecy, healing, weather-making powers, and shapeshifting”. Legends tell of their sacred cauldrons in which “they simmered mysterious herbs to produce a drink of immortality and resurrection.”

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The Magic Circle,  John William Waterhouse

These women were the guardians of the earth, the protectors of the sacred groves, lakes and springs, from which they derived their magical power. And until the middle ages they were highly respected, sought out and consulted for healing and divination by common folk, nobility and clergy alike.

But according to Barbara G. Walker , it was during the 14th century that the Catholic Church, during its relentless expansion and appropriation of sacred land, began to distinguish between witchcraft, perpetrated by women, and sorcery, a legitimate pursuit of men.

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While books on sorcery were condoned well into the enlightenment, female witches in contrast were said to “magically injure crops, domestic animals, and people, and in general “outrage the Divine Majesty”. And thus their religious practices (as described by Dashu) of “sitting-out” on the land “gazing, listening, gathering wisdom” were extinguished by a priesthood that sought to bring nature, magic, women (not to mention their land and property) under male control.

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These women did not go easily, or take usurpation of their holy sites and old ways lightly – it took the Church hundreds of years to hunt them down. And so it seems likely, at least to me,  that the stereotype of vengeful witch, casting curses and blighting crop, was real, at least for the church. She must have been the original eco-feminist, fighting the patriarchy with one of most powerful tools at her disposal, magic. And the Church took it pretty seriously indeed.

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And I’m sure that if they were here today, these witches would be doing a lot more than striking a pose, they’d be busy protesting our dying forests, fighting the polluting of our waters, and protecting the planet. I like to think they might even have been part of The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell or W.I.T.C.H. a radical feminist protest group whose manifesto stated witches “were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression — particularly the oppression of women — down through the ages.”

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W.I.T.C.H. casts a spell

Their first action took place on Halloween 1968, when WITCH members marched down Wall Street and place a “hex” on New York’s financial district. (The Dow Jones Industrial Average is said to have declined sharply the next day.) And isn’t this the radical role model rendered invisible in the witches new fashion friendly image?  One that explains why corporate interests would rather have us dressing the part, than actually taking her seriously?

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As her image grows ever whiter, more privileged, prettier, and objectified in the west, women accused of being witches in Africa, Latin America and New Guinea continue to be hunted down and burned alive. I can’t help wonder what this all means for the “real” witches here and now?

Accusations of witchcraft have long been used to control women’s behaviour. And if we take any lessons from history, what might happen to those who don’t (or won’t) look the part, or otherwise refuse to behave?  How long will it be before they hear the inquisitors knock at the door? Just who benefits when the witch becomes no more than a fashion statement or pouty pose?

But that said, I do find something hopeful evoked in the trend of witchy selfies found on Instagram and Tumblr. Like photographic spells, they evoke the long repressed archetype of the holy woman of old. And while they may be romanticized, they offer a vision of a forgotten time when wise-woman communed with the land for healing, guidance and visions, creating magic and blessing for themselves and their communities.

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It is this age-old impulse in the female psyche that is reemerging as the popularity of Wicca, herbalism, kitchen witchery, flying ointments, tarot, crystals and gemstones, continues to grow. An impulse, perhaps, that still threatens the powers that be?

And it’s why I resonate deeply with Max Dashu when she writes, “In a world in extremity, we are searching for the wellspring, the inexhaustible Source known to all our ancient kindreds. Many of us have been cut off from our deep roots, and especially from the ancient wisdom of women, and female spiritual leadership.”

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And as I look over the drying plants and herb craft spread around me, her words remind me of my childhood ways of spending hours alone in the woods, gathering stones, listening to the whispering wind and watching it move through dancing trees. But I had no guide to show me how to “hear”, no wise-woman to teach me how to “gaze” or “see”.

Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, believes the burning of witches, the subjugation of women, the desacralization of nature, and modern capitalism went hand in hand. And she asks us to consider – just what was eliminated when these women were condemned to the stake?

And that’s why in a world of ecological crisis, where the witch’s hat is cheap halloween merchandising, where the cauldron’s medicine is replaced by pharmaceutical labs, where nature is a “raw resource” without spirit or sentience – we are in need of the witches radical magic more than ever.

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Fudgey Burdock & Rose Brownie Cake

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Last spring, I tested out a batch of Burdock & Rose Brownies at Gather’s “Botanical Sweet Treat” bar. And they were the first to go. Their dark fudgey icing drew peoples eyes like a magnet – and no one cared a whit about warnings that these brownies were a little more “earthy” in flavour than usual. But judging by their expressions as they took their first bite (and the brisk sales) the Wild Rose & Burdock Fudge Brownie was a winner. So this fall, in honour of a young Venus turning 19, I decided to make a brownie birthday cake. burdockcale1-002

Grounded in the dark, heavy goodness of chocolate and the loamy roots of the burdock, this cake takes flight in the heady floral top notes of rose. And when it comes to indulgence it’s pretty guilt-free. Yes of course the sugar is “bad”, but everything else in these Burdock & Rose Brownie Cake is really gooood for you!

Last spring I used a fresh burdock root in the recipe. I peeled it, gave it a boil pulsed it the food processor, then mixed the mash right in the brownie batter, much like you might use zucchini. But this time I used dried burdock root powder instead (made by whirring up the dried bits in my coffee grinder), and it added a delicious, roasted coffee-like flavour. (You can find dried burdock at your local herbalist shop)

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Burdock is a blood purifier and important detoxifying herb in both Western and Chinese herbal medicine. Nutrient and mineral rich, burdock contains phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin, lignans, inulin, mucilage, sulphur, and organic acids, all of which assist digestion support the liver, balance hormones, and reduce inflammation. Studies show that burdock is useful to help ease arthritis and gout, and as an anti-tumor herb. And it rumoured to be one of the four ingredients in the legendary anti-cancer Essiac Tea, allegedly acquired from a First Nations healer.

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Image Source: Little City Farm

And it’ magical too. Old folk-lore and traditions tell us that burdock root protects from evil and negative influences.  Burdock should be gathered in autumn under the waning moon (right now!) dried, cut into pieces and strung on a red string. When worn as talisman or as a necklace this burdock necklace will protect the bearer from bad spirits and ill forces.

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And because the planet Venus rules over burdock (as it does the rose) it also associated with love. One medieval folk tradition tells girls to pick a burdock burr, give it her lover’s name and throw it against her dress. If it stuck he was faithful, if not, he was untrue.

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Image Source here

Of course nothing captures Venuses allure and beauty better than her signature flower, the rose. Long used in love magic, potions and spells it’s no wonder she has been called Venus Verticordia (“Venus the turner of hearts”). Because of her aphrodisiac qualities, it was an old custom to strew rose petals on the bed of a just married couple to enhance fertility.

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Last May I used the petals of wild roses but this time I went with the intensely fragrant blossoms of the Rugosa whose bright pink flowers are blooming again all over Victoria. To this I added a a fat coral rose from the garden with a wonderful peachy aroma.  These rose petals bring not only Venu’s intoxicating aroma to this brownie, they bring Vitamin C, antioxidants, polyphenols and bioflavonoids to it too.

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Yes, they really are this pink.

And considering that chemical compounds found in roses have been found to help to trigger “feel good” endorphins while reducing cortisol and blood pressure, helping the brain enter calm and relaxed states – this is one dreamy brownie cake indeed. And I’m not going to even begin in all the wonderful mood-lifting and healing properties of chocolate itself!  Lets just say, this brownie cake will not only nourish you as you indulge, it will make you feel really good too! 

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Burdock Root & Rose Brownie Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons dried powdered burdock roots 
  • 2 cups fresh lightly chopped rose petals ( 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 &1/2 cups organic cane (or brown) sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
  • 2 & 1/2 ounces unsweetened or dark chocolate (in pieces)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped, roasted hazelnuts (optional – I found some fall foraging so I threw them in)

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Directions

The first most important thing is infusing your petals in melted butter as this extracts their flavour.

  • Melt butter on low heat. Place the rose petals in the pot/pan and stir gently.
  • Let them in infuse in warm heat for at least an hour (don’t cook them- just let them release their oils into the better.  I put mine in a small casserole dish in the oven at lowest setting to sit.
  • Once roses are done (they should be limp) preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a small round baking pan and dust with flour.
  • Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.
  • Beat eggs and vegetable oil until fluffy. Add sugar and beat well. Next mix in melted chocolate. Add in your butter and butter infused petals. 
  • In separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir in nuts.
  • Fold together your wet and dry ingredients, mix well.
  • Spread batter into prepared round pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until toothpick stuck into center comes out slightly moist. Cool completely.

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Couple of Closing Notes:

If you want to use fresh burdock root, spring and fall are the best times for harvesting. Or should I say digging? Because fresh burdock definitely requires getting your hands dirty. These links by noted herbalists  Yarrow Willard and Jim McDonald tell you everything you need to know. Use about 1/2 cup, peeled, boiled and chunkily pureed.

And when it comes to rose petals any fragrant variety will do. Just take a whiff and your nose will let you know. And right now if you like in Victoria you can even find wild roses like Nootka making a last reappearance in the autumn sunshine. If you can’t find fresh roses, dried rose petals will work. Just be sure to place to infuse them in butter longer than the recipe requires – they will need to fully plump up before you use them. 

And when it comes to frosting – well, I’ll leave that up to you!

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Sweet Magic: Summer Solstice Honey Cookies

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Then followed that beautiful season… Summer…
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Looking for a festive way to celebrate the upcoming summer solstice? Well these aromatic sunny cookies may be just the ticket.  Made with sacred herbs and flowers of the sun, they’re filled with the gathering magic of midsummer traditions. And served up at a summer solstice picnic, they will delight young and old. After, all doesn’t everyone love a pretty cookie?

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And what better way to capture the magic of the longest day of the year? This is the day (June 20th) the sun’s powers are at their peak, from now on the sun will recede from the sky a little earlier each evening. For our Northern European ancestors, summer solstice was the turning point between the waxing and waning cycle of the great year. And they marked the occasion, as they so liked to do, by throwing a party. Feasts, bonfires, and dancing, all in celebration of the glorious midsummer sun. And they still do today!

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Across old Europe summer solstice had many different names. In Britain it was known as Midsummer, in Latvia it was Kupala Day or Herb Evening, and in Scandinavia it was celebrated as Litha.  For women this was a “Gathering Day”, an important day of ritual first harvest. Wearing ceremonial clothing adorned with symbols of the sun, they would weave flowers into garlands and crowns. Then they would go into the fields and forests to gather plants and herbs.

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On this day plants were believed to be vigorous with the heightened life force of the sun – so it was common knowledge that a curing or magical herb plucked on midsummer doubled its powers! Folklore tells if you picked nine flowers or the leaf of plantain and put it under the pillow – you would dream your future spouse.

St. John’s Wort, with its solar yellow flowers, is the herb most associated with Midsummer. According to old herbals, it blooms on this day, and along with it’s many healing abilities, it brought protection from fire, disease, disaster and the evil eye.

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St. John’s Wort

While it was renamed by the Church after St. John ( it’s bright red red sap mimics the blood of St. John) it’s association with female powers and witchery is strong. It’s flowers were left at the feet of statues of Greek and Roman goddesses, such as Hecate, the goddess of ghosts and sorcery, and Circe, who distilled its leaves and flowers for potent charms. And my favorite herbalist, wise woman Susun Weed, steadfastly refers to this herb as St. Joan’s Wort.

Other herbs bearing the magical power of the sun include rosemary, vervain, hyssop, fern, mullein, basil, lavender, thyme, fennel, and wormwood. These herbs were associated with powers of invigoration, healing, purification and protection, and the flowers (rose, daisy, marigold, cornflower, calendula and more) represented beauty and love.

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Petals were scattered in water or dried in love charms. In Bohemia, girls wore chaplets of mugwort while dancing around the Midsummer bonfire. And on Midsummer’s Eve Italians washed their faces in bowls of water containing flowers, rose petals and herbs.

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And of course, this herbaceous solstice bounty was also consumed! Fresh herbs and traditional midsummer feasting are a long standing culinary tradition. They were used in dishes made from the first harvest of the season; vegetables (peas and mint, new potatoes and dill), fresh cheeses (like the Latvian Caraway cheese) and alcoholic libations (the Scandinavians made Aquavit with dill, fennel and coriander). And in Provence five sacred aromatic herbs-rosemary, thyme, marjoram, hyssop and sage, are gathered to make an “infusion aux herbes de Saint Jean.” 

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Herbed New Potato Salad & Latvian Cheese

In Nordic countries midsummer feast included “sun breads”, cakes or buns made with honey (also a golden sun food) believed to bring fertility, prosperity and abundance to the community.  One Scandinavian folk tradition recommends including midsummer dew in the dough to cure diseases! Roman’s had their own summer solstice celebration Vestalia, during which priestesses Vestales made sacred cakes with water from her holy spring.

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So inspired by these many summer solstice food traditions,  I decided to a do a little baking ritual of my own – midsummer sun cookies! Infused with herby aromatic flavours and flowers of the sun (like rosemary, thyme, lavender and sage) then coloured golden with a few drops of orangey St.John’s tincture and adorned with symbols of the sun – they would be food magic indeed.

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And I think they turned out beautifully.  So if you’re looking for a way to mark the turn of the seasons and connect with mother nature, celebrate Gathering Day. Summer solstice festivities traditionally occurred somewhere between June 20th to early July according to differing calendars. So you have plenty of time!

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Girls celebrating summer solstice in Rakov in Russia. Note the solar emblems on her neck and sleeves.

Wear something sunny, and take the children (or not) for a flowery, herby harvest.  But however you decide to enjoy nature’s midsummer bounty, remember that above all, “On Midsummer we eat and dance with abandon, leaving all worries behind. The sun never sets and there are flowers everywhere.”

Seems a good a reason as any to celebrate with cookies!

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Summer Solstice Herby Honey Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 & 3/4 cups of flour
  • ¾ C. softened butter
  • ¼ C. honey
  • ¼ brown or cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced thyme
  • 1 teaspoon lavender buds
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon minced sage
  • a few crushed cardamom seeds
  • pinch of salt

NOTE: I used more like a tablespoon of each herb in my cookies, but this might be too herbaceous for some, so adjust accordingly. And I also added 3/4 cup oatmeal to another batch of cookies and cut back on the flour. Feel free to experiment or use whatever cookie recipe you like…after all it’s not the cookie that matters as much as the spirit!

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Summer Herbs: thyme, lavender, calendula, hyssop and sage blossom

Icing:

  • 3 teaspoons milk
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • wee bit of grated lemon rind. ( I also added lavender buds to a second batch of icing)
  • Colouring. I used a combination of golden beet juice, St. John’s Tincture and a pinch of turmeric powder, but of course you could use a storebought natural food dye. Recipe for a carrot-based colored icing here.
  • Combine your milk and icing sugar. Slowing add in your colouring and mix until you find the desired colour/consistency

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Directions:

  • Preheat Oven to 300
  • Beat flour, sugar and soft butter together until creamy.
  • Slowly drizzle in honey while beating until mixture pulls together.
  • Add minced herbs and petals, mix well through the dough.
  • Divide into four balls and chill for an hour or so.
  • Roll out and cut into round shapes. Add flour as needed.
  • Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes.
  • Let cool.
  • Decorate using the flowers and herbs of the sun: petals of calendula, daisy, St. John’s Wort, rose, or sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage.

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Savory Sage Blossom Pesto: A Culinary Spell for Youth, Beauty and Wisdom

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“Why should a man die who has sage in his garden? ” Medieval Proverb

There is an old English saying that eating sage every day in May will grant immortality. So it’s not too late to partake in this sage pesto and enjoy the many medicinal, age-defying properties of this magical herb. And while it might seem strange to eat sage in spring, it was once relished in practically everything, from stews, meats, wine, cakes, puddings and yes, even pesto – all year long.

Today we’ve mostly relegated the flavour of sage to heartier fall dishes, like Thanksgiving stuffing, which is sad, because we’re overlooking one of the most widely used and beloved herbs in human history. Believed to grant longevity and wisdom, everyone from the Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, to the Chinese, considered sage a cure-all herb, and turns out they were pretty bang on. Today we know sage works to soothe chronic disease, support digestion, cool inflammation, boost our immune system, and sharpen the mind. Sage does indeed, help turn back the ravages of time.

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Belonging to the aromatic Lamiaceae (mint) family along with other culinary healers like oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme and basil, it bears gray-green edible leaves and flowers that can range in color from blue and purple to white or pink. And right now, many varieties are aburst with aromatic blossoms. I found these in our community herb garden, heady with the sap of spring, their tall stalks buzzing with bees.

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Now every kitchen witch knows that spring flowers are a powerful form of plant magic, enhancing youth, romance and beauty – and the blossoms of herbs are known to be especially potent. And who doesn’t want a little of that? But vanity aside, it was the sage blossoms deep sweet scent that inspired me to explore their culinary pleasures. And what better recipe for spring magic than pesto?  

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Herb and herb blossoms pestos are a spring tradition in Italian cuisine. And with their liberal addition of cheese, garlic, roasted nuts and plenty of oil, a pesto seemed an ideal complement for sage’s potent flavour. But make no mistake, this is no light green pesto, this is a full palate sensation. It deserves a heavier bread (like the pumpernickel pictured above) otherwise its rich flavours threaten to overwhelm.

But together their full-bodied flavours are so satisfying, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten a meal. And afterwards, I encourage you to sit back, rest a moment, and savour the healing magic of sage.

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Sage Blossom Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sage flowers
  • 1/4 cups roasted nuts (cashew, walnut or pine nuts)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup of onion coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Remove a few leaves and the blossoms from stalks
  • Pulse the blossoms and leaves with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor until you get the consistency and texture you like (i.e. chunky or smooth)
  • Place in a serving dish and top with a dollop of olive oil and squirt of lemon
  • You’re ready to eat!

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Yarrow: On Love & Marriage & Ale

Yarrow is blooming here on Vancouver Island! It’s one of my favourite herbs and I’m so happy to see it’s all at once delicate and sturdy white blossoms again. I plan to incorporate a lot of yarrow into my upcoming summer nuptials. And this is where I segue into my big announcement: I’m getting married in July…in the woods at the lovely Cedar Haven Weddings ..to Danielle’s brother, Christian. This promises to be Gather’s biggest project yet—so if wedding stuff bores you, you may want to avert your eyes for a couple of months. Though we will try to make it interesting. Promise.

Now where was I? Yarrow! It’s Latin name, Achillea millefolium, is attributed to the Greek hero, Achilles who was said to use it to heal his warriors wounds—at least according to Pliny the Elder. Turns out Achilles’ relationship with Yarrow is a little muddy… Here’s an interesting read on that, if you’d like to know more. Greek gods aside, yarrow’s been an important healing herb the world over for a very long time. And so it should come as no surprise that it has an equally long magical history. After all, our ancestors didn’t put nearly as much effort into separating magic and medicine as we do.

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Yarrow detail from Rima Staines’ Weed Wife

From casting the ancient I Ching in China to rounding out the seven herbs sacred to the Irish, yarrow has always been an important herb for protection, love, fidelity and divination. It was hung in doorways and on cradles to repel evil spirits, held against the eyes to bring on the second site, worn in shoes to give travellers fluency of speech and sewn into clothes to fend off…well, everything. And then there’s the love charms!  Singletons of yore sewed yarrow blossoms and leaves into little sachets, said a little prayer and tucked them under their pillows in hopes that their future betrothed would appear in their dreams.

Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.

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Scottish girls silently gathered yarrow in the fields and then with eyes closed, recited:

Good morrow, good morrow
To thee, braw yarrow
And thrice good morrow to thee:
I pray thee tell me today or tomorrow 
Who is my true love to be. 

Upon opening their eyes, they’d scan the horizon for a male figure AKA their future husband (Dictionary of Plant Yore, D.C. Watts). Similar divination love charms and rituals involving yarrow were practiced across Europe and in colonized America. I wonder how many less than desirable bachelors cottoned on to this and scheduled their morning strolls accordingly… Of course, with such a long relationship with humans, yarrow also got dragged into the witch hunts. Graveyard yarrow was said to help uncover a witch and or protect someone from falling in love with one. Handy stuff, old yarrow is.

Beyond love divination and charms, yarrow was also a token of fidelity. Sprigs were tucked into wedding wreaths and hung over the newlyweds’ bed to guarantee seven years (and not a day more) of fidelity. Yarrow ale was also commonly served at medieval wedding festivals called bride-ales. And yes, this is where our modern word “bridal” comes from. These sometimes multi-day celebrations clearly involved a lot of ale drinking and sparked a tradition of brewing special bridal beers for the occasion.

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Also known as “Field Hops”, yarrow was commonly used as a bittering agent pre-hops, and was considered to make a headier brew than others. There is evidence that yarrow has mild psychotropic properties or “a thujone, hypnotic cannabinoid compound” (Green Man Ramblings) that scientifically explains these claims. Many herbalists have documented shifts in perception like colours brightening and heightened hearing after consuming certain yarrow plants—combine that with the inhibition-relieving effects of a fermented beverage and now you have a party. If anyone’s ever had to host the in-laws, never mind the entire village, you can see why a yarrow ale might be popular.

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And it’s in this tradition that David Woodward, head brewer of Axe and Barrel Brewing Co. is infusing his lovely IPA in yarrow and wee bit of rosemary (another important marital herb and possible future blog post subject) to create a special small batch brew for our wedding. David’s known for creating unique beers using foraged ingredients and interesting flavour combinations and I LOVE the idea of a special wedding ale, particularly when ancient herbs with all their healing properties and folklore are incorporated. Yarrow blossoms will also appear in my bouquet by local sustainable flower grower, Wild Edge and it’s fragrant sturdy white blooms will be tucked into one special boutonnière. With luck, our caterer Nature’s Chef will use a bit of it to flavour a dish or two (nudge-nudge, hint-hint, Tom). And while our bride-ale will run only a few short hours, I can’t think of a more wonderful way to ring in our marriage than with loved ones and such a magical plant ally!

Post Script:  While researching the history of herbs and beer, I stumbled across the fascinating history of women brewers and the convenient association with witchcraft that wiped many of them out, leaving the craft almost exclusively to men and pleasing the church in the process. I plan to explore further in a follow-up post already cleverly titled “Brewmasters & Broomsticks”. But that’s another story for another day…