Sunday, July 31, 2016

Herbs and Beyond!

I’m super excited to be returning to the Birth and Beyond Conference this year. It was a lot of fun the first two years and I’m sure 2016 is going to be the best! Lots of interesting speakers lined up, and I hope I can catch a couple of them in between presenting my own.

I’ll be speaking about my work with refugees, which has been an ongoing learning process for me for the past 12 years. I will be letting people know about the joys, challenges, practicalities of creating and maintaining a volunteer doula project.

I will also be speaking about a topic that is a little difficult to talk about, but something that people are thinking about and trying to articulate and theorize about: how and why we break each others hearts in the birthing community, and in the bigger picture caring community. I hope we can shed some light on this topic and create some ways to move forward with love, tolerance and honesty.

And, very close to my heart this summer as I am completely immersed in nature, is the topic of medicinal herbs. I will be presenting ten of my favourite herbs for use during the childbearing year. I’ve been collecting some of them during my walks through the trails and pathways close to my mountain home, and I will be bringing them back to provide to my clients and customers at the cafe.

I’m not going to introduce them here, but I want to give you a preview of the amazing herbs I’ve been accompanied by this summer. I have noticed that wild plants follow a pattern of color that is complex and speaks to the heart. Throughout the flowering season, there seems to be a color that blooms for a few days, then that color fades and another color takes its place, and so on through the season or the year. I happened to take a walk the other day and I was so happy to see that purple was the color of the day! It was just after the half moon, in the sign of Leo, but I don’t know why these colors change … I think Steiner and the Theosophists have tried to understand the color cycles.

Here are the purple/mauve flowers I met the other day. I am describing their medicinal properties, some of which have been studied scientifically and some have folk reputations. Please: never suggest a medicinal herb to someone else without knowing the plant, and the person, very well. Experiment on yourself first, but always be absolutely sure you have identified the plant correctly. Mistakes can literally be fatal.

Prunella vulgaris is known as Self-Heal. The leaves are cooling and diuretic. It is a small, unassuming plant that you can find in lawns and meadows everywhere. The purple flowers attract bees. 

Purple Loosestrife is a plant that is known for being an invasive species in swamps and fields everywhere in North American and Europe. It turns the landscape purple in some areas, and the plant itself is not very attractive. But its flowers are rich purple, and although I always knew it as a colourful invader, I didn’t know that it has astringent properties. The whole plant can be used for internal or external bleeding.

Hemp Agrimony is a lovely plant that grows tall and attracts bees and butterflies by the hundreds. I always described it as a plant with no medicinal qualities but then I learned that it is part of the Eupatorium family. These plants are known for their affinity to the kidneys and bladder, and can dissolve kidney stones and treat infections.

Arctium lappa is well known to most herbalists as burdock. This is a very powerful medicinal herb that can be used for several ailments, inside the body and externally. Each part of the plant is used, from the root to the flowering tops.

This lovely flower is from a blackberry bush:

 The root and leaf of these plants (the Rubus family) can be used as astringents to cure diarrhea or excessive menstrual bleeding. The fruit is a sweet, soothing cure for sadness, vitamin C deficiency or sore throat.

I often go for long walks or runs and although most plants in my neighbourhood are good friends, this little purple flower was unknown to me until I think I identified it the other day as Wild Bergamot or Purple Bee Balm. The leaves of this plant (if identified correctly!) can be used as a remedy for worms.

Ah, lavender! Lavandula comes in several sizes, colors and temperament. Mine is a mountain lavender that lasts forever and smells divine. The dried plants keep their scent for years, literally, and soothe headaches, keep away bad dreams, provide scent for clothing and linen, can be used to fill rice socks, and can be used in food and teas.

Finally, these hollyhocks were given to me by my aunt in 1991 when I visited her heavily pregnant with my 4thson. I planted them on my farm and now I have them growing in my mountain hideaway. They seed themselves and cross-pollinate amongst each other to produce different colors each year. Alcea rosea roots and leaves can be used as other mallows, as a demulcent and a soothing herb for the digestion and the skin.

Purple was the color of the day on July 26, 2016. I am going for a run up on my trails today. I’ll let you know what colors are out there! Looking forward to sharing more herb talk with you in October!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

T is for Tea, and so grateful for a cuppa tea.

T is for Tea, of course. And just as a conversation meanders around a pot of tea shared among friends, so this conversation slowly and circuitously will get to the points.

My mother worked teaching mathematics and then she went to art school, but I always remember her being around in the evenings, ironing, listening to the radio, and whenever I got home in whatever state I was in, she would offer me a nice cup of tea. That meant strong, very strong, hot, with milk and usually sugar. Maybe a piece of dark chocolate along with it that you could dunk. 

Anything could be solved with a cup of tea! Or at least, you would feel better if you drank a cup of tea while dealing with your stuff.

I never realized until she died that it was really and truly possible to love someone and pretty much hate them at the same time. Or, that love didn’t necessarily cure all the awful effects of betrayal and those kinds of things that can inhabit a marriage.

I learned from her that life is a long process of learning how to inhabit contradictions.

Back when I was a hipster, before hipsterdom had come into being, I had two outfits: a pair of army pants and a turquoise and black striped cotton skirt. I wore them with a green boy scouts shirt or a neon pink lycra polo. I had a good luck bird tattooed on my chest. I never gave anyone the time of day. I must have been a pain to get along with. I was tough. I tried everything but got stuck to nothing. I was barred from the Alcatraz for throwing a table. I hit an Egyptian man in the chest with a rock when he whispered fucking to me on the street in Cairo.

I inhabited a world where poetry reigned supreme, and justice was always possible, with enough struggle.

I traveled through Africa alone because that’s where I was born.

I got a degree in ten years, because there was always more interesting stuff to do.

I had babies, lived on a self-sufficient organic farm, learned to be a midwife, joined and left a religious cult, kept a marriage going, started running, cooked food for myself and others, left continents and returned, learned and forgot languages, and through it all I have never inhabited the high ground to your low ground. And I refuse to inhabit the low ground to your highs.

There is no high ground. When you imagine that the ground you inhabit is higher than others, you start to sink and that sinkhole, although attractive, is ultimately another illusion. One time we were sitting having tea on our farm, amongst the mess and chaos of small children and a subsistence farm ... and my mother's cup lost it! The cup of tea just dropped in to her lap and she was left holding only the handle. Wipe up, crack up, use the handle-less cup for a paintbrush holder, and get on with it, in true Cockney fashion.

So here’s a cup of tea to you, and here’s to having a cup of tea with each other, and here’s to all the things that may or may not begin with the letter “t”, and here’s to living deeply: deeply within and surrounded by contradiction and paradox. Here’s to continuing to have friendships and relationships with people who don’t necessarily see eye to eye with me, who don’t agree with me, who don’t understand where I am coming from. Here’s to long nights of discussion and here’s to building a strong house of thought using the bricks and mortar of our own imaginations. Here’s to open hearts and open minds, to loving and hating, to sadness and intense joy, to night and to day.