Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dancing the Round in the Merry Month of May

An hawthorn hedge in the Snoqualmie Valley, WA

What a luscious May week. Rain and sun, hot and cold, perfect in every way, so reminiscent of maiden energy! Long underwear on one day, barefoot the next! 

This week, I followed blooming hawthorn up and down the Snoqualmie Valley. Seeing the persistence of remnant hedges brings to mind a once thriving agricultural activity that prospered people here. After years of agricultural decline, it is uplifting to see a return of vibrant young farmers and hungry eaters eagerly growing a new world from the ground up. This enthusiasm is a heartfelt match for the bounty and medicine of the many crataegus gowing in our valley. Although the week was filled with rainy days, one fine, sun filled day opened to the possibility of harvest. After morning rounds, I put my kit together and set off for a ramble in the hedge.

Over the years, I’ve found much medicine in visits and tendings of trees, shrubs and perennial wild herbs engaged in my rounds. Over time, I’ve found visiting plants as deeply nourishing, if not more so, as their constituents. These plants are friends, when we see one another after a long spell, there is mutual greeting and sweet remembrance of who we are. Some offer themselves in harvest, others offer solace and comfort just in their presence, some give shape and form, color and fragrance to life which feeds a deep place; a place reflecting the same beauty the plants offer in the practice of a lemniscate life. I’ve come to know this way of plants as the order and flow of an ever changing, growing universe and am reassured through these long term relationships, that, “all is well in this world”.

Local Diversity in Hawthorns
Haw Thorns, Serious!
This week I was amazed by the diversity in the hawthorn trees I met along the way. A wide range of leaf forms from serrate to deeply lobed, resembling mittens or paws. So many different flower clustering habits. And, unique thorn forms from short 1/2” piercing mechanisms to thorns over 1 1/2” in length. Thorns, those sharp, woody spines, modified branches, function mechanically as a deterrent to herbivory, which, I admit, I was wont to do! Even the shapes of hawthorn trees differed greatly. 

Many years ago I read about this in a book by Alan Watts. A sameness enough to recognize the trees as their genus, yet, seeing each tree’s individual difference referred to as li, ‘“the underlying reason and order of nature as reflected in its organic forms.” Zhu Xi, in the Neo-Confucian period in China “held that li, together with qi, or vital material force, depend on each other to create structures of nature and matter”.  It was during this period of history that Buddhism became more integrated into Confucianism. Some now embrace a further philosophical shifting as seen in a westernized version of tao, or watercourse way and recognize patterns of li as patterns of flowing water. I was so moved by the possibility this perspective offered, my youngest son carries the name Li.

What, you ask, does this have to do with hawthorn, medicine, or you? Given the engaging transitions our world is currently experiencing set me on a quest through space and time looking for patterns and morphologies of culture that may currently serve our personal and collective transitions.  

Hawthorn: Keynote Heart Remedy
Crataegus monogyna, Snoqualmie Valley, WA
Hawthorn stands out as a keynote medicine for strengthening heart and is a perfect tonic for the times. Crataegus spp. is a genus comprising some 200-300 species worldwide, being used in many cultures through centuries for a variety of therapeutic purposes. The World Heath Organization, WHO, lists cardiovascular disease as globally the number one cause of death and the American Heart Association cites heart disease as the number one killer of American adults. Personally, my father had 3 open heart surgeries in the last 30 years of his life. I have experienced the toll a troubled heart can have on a family’s well-being in many ways. I’m sure his experience spurred me toward a better understanding of natural health, herbal remedies and spirit healing in matters of the heart. 

We live in challenging times. In keeping with the wise tradition of using hands-on accessible medicine, I am delighted to see so many Hawthorn in our NW region, along with its global distribution and long term use. Various species of hawthorn are found locally on roadsides, in hedges, in public and private gardens and in the wild. You might find Crataegus monogyna, C. oxycantha, C. douglasii, C. laviegata and frisky as these trees are at calling in their allies, i.e. the birds and the bees, the squirrels and the breeze, you’ll find innumerable natural hybrids! Again, perfect medicine for our times and abundantly available.

Rambling with Hawthorn
"Enjoy the day a bit," they intoned.
While on my Hawthorn ramble, I had the good fortune to visit a dignified group of old trees in a remnant hedge. As I began to harvest, they encouraged me to pause and sit a spell. “Enjoy the day a bit”, they intoned! The cool, tall grass was a tad more than slightly damp and smelled fresh and green as I settled in under the trees. I felt tension held in my body give way, melting into earth. Simultaneously, I felt earth energy moving up into the empty space recharging my body with a refreshing vitality. 

So many connections weave a life
The clear blue sky marked with wispy, white clouds made a brilliant, saturated backdrop for the profuse white blossoms adorning the trees. An energetic hum filled my ears as honey bees busily burdened themselves with bluging saddle bags of pollen. A butterfly slowly opened her wings and then just as slowly closed them. A fragrance, somewhere between earthy and heavenly, rich and fertile, filled the air wafting into my nose and settling down into deep consciousness. It is easy to imagine why she is called Mayflower and how it happens that fertility rites are part of this season in the northern hemisphere. Birds flitted and darted around the trees, chasing one another in the reckless abandon of the season. Recharged from my dreamy, restful meander, I picked up the loppers and began the harvest. So many flowers, so few needed to abundantly fill the tea cupboard at home for a winter of nourishing infusions. 

Health Benefits
Knowing each leaf and flower is filled with antioxidants, bioflavonoids, vasorelaxants and vitamins which increase blood flow to the heart and brain, strengthen the contractions of the heart, tone the circulatory system by strengthening cell walls in arteries, normalize blood pressure, improve exercise capacity and duration and reduce the need for the body to create plaque on arteries brings great impetus to get to know this herb well. We are now beginning to recognize the health building value of bee-song, butterfly whispers and myriad unknown constituents that will be released into densely nutritive infusions brewed from the flowers and leaves of the simply amazing hawthorn as well.

Harvest by removing 3’ long pieces of branches with a pair of strong loppers. Remove crossed branches to open the canopy for air flow, ones hanging too low and, generally, use the pruning/harvest to improve the structure and health of the tree. Over time trees improve in vigor and health with careful tending. Heap onto a cloth for transport back to the car. 
Ready for transport
Occasionally, branches are still filled with the hum of a hitchhiking bee, enjoy! At home, flower and leaf clusters are deftly plucked by hand from the short spurs, mind the thorns or they’ll mind you! 

Plucked branches and drying baskets
Then, flowers and leaves are laid out on cloths and in baskets to air dry. Depending on humidity the herb may take from a few days to over a week to completely dry. Dried flowers and leaves are then placed in paper bags, put in the freezer 3-5 days to inhibit unwanted larva lingering in the material from hatching in storage and, finally, store bags in a dark, dry closet or cupboard.

Making Hawthorn Herbal Vinegar
Hawthorn vinegar basking in the sun

1. Fill any size jar with fresh hawthorn flowers and leaves lightly packed, you know, so a fairy jumping in neither bounces out or sinks to the bottom
2. Now, fill the jar again with apple cider vinegar, watch out for decoys labeled as apple cider flavored vinegar, which is distilled vinegar flavored like apple cider vinegar, no apples no health benefits!
3. Enjoy this earthy vinegar in any recipe calling for a sour taste, on salads, as a condiment on beans, greens or grains 
It delivers flavor and a stiff dose of heart health with a side of courage! 
Can You Find a Hawthorn Close to You?
Hawthorn tree alive with honey bees and a butterfly!
Now, go outside, take a look around. What kind of  trees are blooming in your neighborhood right now?  Find the nearest hawthorn to your home. If you miss leaf and flower harvest, watch for the berries, which are botanically pomes, like apples, both being in the grand family of Roses and prepare for another harvest come fall. Please note! A possible side effect of an increasing awareness of plant life around you is a condition known as 55 MPH botany. Bee warned! 

Stay Tuned...
There’s more coming on this delightful hedge medicine ally. More remedies and recipes, folklore, cultural uses, magick and crafts! 

And, if you will, comment with your natural discoveries, rambles and recipes in search of the ubiquitous hawthorn.

Until next time... Be Well, go outside often, enjoy the meander...
A hybrid cross between Hawthorn and Mtn. Ash in the S. hedge at RavenCroft

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Heart's Ease, Viola tricolor

New immigrants to the Eastern dooryard garden
It all started a few weeks ago when the Womb Garden, aka Herb Garden, aka Labyrinth Garden, House Garden, Garden of Many Names, etc. started niggling to get on with the transformation. I wandered through to assess who was still  on board and found at least 50 "herbs" still lingering in the space. More on this later!

Heads held high and colorful, the Heart's Ease, Viola tricolor, decided they would be happiest in the dooryard garden on the east side of the house. Great! It was time to renovate the collection of containers there which I told about back in April's Nature Contained blog entry. A perfect home for the sweet ally, Hearts Ease.

Hearts Ease moved from the well-loved RavenCroft Womb garden before tilling
Heart's Ease, wild pansy, Johnny Jump-Up, Love in Idleness (my favorite) Herbe de la Trinite, well loved and well traveled, this plant. After catching my attention last night whilst enjoying evensong and realizing I was sitting in the very center of Heart's Ease herself, I began to delight in the subtle flavors of each blossom as I nibbled my way through the bright colors. At first, reminding me of toothpaste, a pleasant, sweet almost minty flavor. And then, I noticed the sliminess that developed in my mouth as I chewed each blossom, soothing and calming to the mucous membranes in my mouth and I imagined all the way along their journey through my digestive system.
Heart's Ease dancing with daylily and strawberry
Dissolving, aperient, nourishing, soothing, rich in Vitamin C, these tiny flowers pack a big suitcase of support for all who delight in their company. 

This morning a swift harvest of flowers, immersion in apple cider vinegar and voila Vibrant Purple Viola Vinegar for summer salads, sunburns and general heart soothing action. Cooling, refreshing, pleasantly sweet with a happy fragrance, a delight to the senses. Next harvest syrup, then tincture, then oil, then ??? 

Voila! Vibrant Purple Viola Vinegar

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hawthorn in RavenCroft's East Hedge 
Hawthorn: The

Many species of Hawthorn (Crataegous monogyna, C. oxycantha, C. douglasii) can be found gracing hedgerows in rural farming areas of western Washington. During this merry month of May they are easier to find as they burst into bloom. Remnants of a bygone era, these hardy trees continue to offer fruits, flowers and branches to foragers of all kinds; beckoning us to again include them as a participatory part of the rural and urban scene.

Blooming in early May, the flowers make a delicious, nutritive herbal infusion used for centuries to strengthen and restore heart and improve the function of the circulatory system. Hawthorn’s mild pleasing flavor is delivered in a golden hue that inspires one to remember the lengthening days and bounty of summer. Gladdening the heart many ways!

Hawthorn Herbal Infusion Recipe
Place 1 oz dried Hawthorn leaves and flowers in a 1 qt canning jar
Pour over 1 qt boiling water and cap
Steep 4-8 hours, then enjoy warm or cold
Simply wonderful and you can drink as much as you like. The health value accumulates with regular use over time.

Hawthorn infusion steeping

On the Farm: In the Garden
Hawthorn is an excellent tree to improve habitat, creating homes for diverse insect and bird species. A versatile, contribution for many farmscapes or even urban gardens as a tree of small, compact stature which seems to enjoy heavy pruning, resiliently springing back after each harvest. As herbs again gain popularity for improving health, hawthorn trees will provide a source of income and habitat enhancement for local farms and an easy hands-on nutritive and tonic medicine for urban health enthusiasts.

Early blooming C. monogyna Snoqualmie Valley

Inspiration: Then and Now
Commonly known as Mayflower due to its habit of blooming the first part of May or the festive occasion of May Day, the hawthorn is the perfect tree to remind us how far the farm to table movement has come in the last 20 years. A new generation of farmers and eaters are changing our world bite by bite. The medicine of the Haw offers us a strong heart open to courage, hope and joy; qualities anyone might need to begin a journey into the new territory some call "the future". The Pilgrim’s trusted the Mayflower to bring them safely to their new world. Today, the cellular wisdom of this tree still offers a pathway to a strong, resilient heart carrying us forward in our ever-changing world! 

In the next 20 years, farm and food communities world-wide will bring earth back to our medicine, strengthening the health and restoration of what we value most. Hawthorn is willing to grow with us, how can we grow with her?