Welcome to Decembers edition of Herbs, Healing and Health.
I hope that you have all made it into December in good health, and have not succumbed to any of the usual assortment of unusual bugs that seem to have been sent to try us in recent times.
The wheel is turning inexorably now towards midwinter solstice, and it wont be long before we can start to think about nights shortening rather than lengthening. Traditionally, this is very much a time for introspection, for looking within ourselves for the answer to our problems, and for rest; (hibernation even). It is healthy to stay in bed for a bit longer in the morning or go to bed a bit earlier in the evening; to store up our energies and conserve our resources. It’s a great time of year for reading, and indeed for giving ourselves permission to slow down a bit. And of course, speaking of looking within, it is an excellent time for asking our own bodies what they need to be healthy, and addressing any underlying issues that may need our attention. I usually find that January brings a fresh influx of new patients, often because New Years resolutions have been made after the Christmas excesses, but sometimes because people have naturally become contemplative and slowed down enough for their bodies needs to be heard. So, that’s my hot tip for you all in this festive season: remember to slow down. Don’t get too caught up in the Christmas hype. Breathe. Meditate. Rest.
Tall Tales of Trees
A lovely walk in the country at the moment will present you with the stark beauty of the silhouettes of trees. My favourite I think is the Hawthorn at this time of year. They are often gnarled and windswept, and will definitely tell you from which direction the wind predominantly blows just by the way they lean, with their stiff ‘hair’ swept back, blown by the persistent, curving air.
All our native deciduous trees have very specific, signature shapes after they have lost their green and golden canopies. Oaks are dark and ‘elbowy’, Ash trees have a distinctive rhythmic pattern to their growth and elder are wild and unkempt. This helps us to fix their characters in our minds a bit more firmly. Of course trees have been extensively used medicinally all over the world. A particular case in point would be Elder, which was often referred to as the farmers medicine chest, as every part of this splendid tree has medicinal properties. Elder was thought of a s the tree of regeneration as it regrew damaged branches and rooted itself from any part of itself. It was thought that the Elder mother (Hilter Moer), the dryad living within the tree could cure all the ills of mankind. More of this, and many other things, in the Tree workshop, which I will be running in January.
This will be a one day workshop rather than my customary hour or so, and we will spend the time looking at many different aspects of our lovely native trees. Come prepared for a day of magic, mythology and medicine as we use the celtic ogham alphabet to explore native woodlands, and go away much better acquainted with trees and their stories.
Back to Elder for a moment if I may.
I am pretty sure that many of you either make your own elderberry wine or know someone who does. A wee bit of research from 2010 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry highlighted the health benefits to be had from this particular tipple, especially with regard to its antioxidant properties. What you may not know, and indeed, what is valuable to know, is that it is preferable to drink the wine sooner rather than later, as with time, the antioxidant content deteriorates.  So, unlike sloe gin, which benefits from sitting around a lot, Elderberry wine is to be enjoyed whilst it is still in the first flush of youth.
Very good news for Bridport: we have another lovely herbalist practising in the town. Caroline Butler, BSc, MNIMH is a lovely lady who recently set up practice in Bridport, and works on Thursdays at the West Dorset Chiropractic Centre. The world needs more herbalists, so I am sure you will all join me in welcoming her to Bridport as a practitioner. I hope that we will be able to work together jointly on one or two small ventures next year, so watch this space for further developments.
Well, thats about all for now. Do bring as much holly and Ivy etc into the house as you can: it provides homes for nature spirits in the middle of winter apparently, when the trees are bare of leaves and they have nowhere else to go.
Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful midwinter solstice, and a very Happy Christmas.
- Paterson, Jacqueline, and Memory, Tree WisdomThe definitive guidebook to the Myth, Folklore and healing power of tree. . 1996, Thorsons: Great Britain.
- Schmitzer, V., et al., Elderberry ( Sambucus nigra L.) wine: a product rich in health promoting compounds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2010. 58(18): p. 10143 – 6.