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My Plant Life Lessons – Seeds and Roots

Milkweed seeds

Milkweed Releasing its Seeds

I love taking herbal walks in the winter with my dogs and identify the plants in their dormant phase. I also learn how plants reproduce. For example, the Milkweed reproduces by releasing its seeds, and the Wild Rose reproduces by root sprouts.

I think of a plant releasing its seeds or spreading its roots as intentions of creating more for its life cycle. A plant just lets its seeds go, and its roots spread. It never looks back or checks on them – it does not worry. Then, in the spring, those seeds and roots will grow into a beautiful plant representing where it originated.

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Wild Rose In Winter

Wouldn’t it be interesting to live like a plant and release your seeds and spread your roots of intentions, and never look back? Moving on enjoying your life while the earth rotates around the sun. Relax knowing that what is behind you is just that behind you. Free up your mind and enjoy what is now at this moment. Just as a plant knows and trust its seeds will grow, or roots will spread to continue the life cycle. So should we know and trust our intentions will evolve without our worry, over protection, fear, or mistrust in purpose.

Imagine your intentions floating on air like a seed and landing in a new place ready to grow, or a root spreading underground ready to resurface in a new area. Find the quiet within yourself and release what is inside, let it go like the rose* and milkweed* teach us.

“This I know. The only way to live is like the rose, which lives without a why.”  – Meister Eckhart 

*Notes:

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Common Milkweed

 

American Milkweeds are an important nectar source for native bees, wasps, and other nectar-seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives.

 

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Wild Rose

Wild rose (Rosa species) petals are mildly astringent offering a soothing effect when applied to insect bites or minor injuries. The leaves, bark from the twigs, and root bark contains astringent, nutritive, diuretic and vulnerary properties—to varying degrees. Its rose hips not only taste fantastic they are rich in Vitamin C.

The Amazing Linden Tree and It’s Blossoms

Linden Tree (Tilia):

This magnificent tree is a bountiful source of nectar for honey bees linden_american01and bumble bees. It produces beautiful leaves and flowers that are used for medicinal purposes.

The Linden tree is considered a symbol of healing, peace and love. In mythology it is association with the greek goddess Philyra (philia is the greek word for love). In Norse mythology it is associated with the goddesses Freya (the warrior goddess) and Frigga (the goddess of love, marriage and destiny). Historically the linden became a symbol of freedom in France and Switzerland.

img_0523The young spring leaves and flowers have a long history of use as a medicinal herb. They can be used for tension, insomnia, heart tonic and clear congested sinus. I love this tree and all it as to offer.

My three Lilindenharvestnden trees were very productive this year. I managed to harvest enough to make tinctures, liqueurs and dry the heart shaped leaves and flower for future tea making. When I was harvesting from the trees a tea recipe came to me using the linden flowers and leaves.

I call it “A Tea for The Heart”.

Wild Rose Blossom Honey

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Wild roses (Rosa species) are in full bloom. The Wood rose (Rosa woodsii) is one of the most common species in the West. The smell and beauty of these delicate roses is intoxicating and their petals make the best “Rose Blossom Honey”. (see recipe below)

In addition to wild rose’s uplifting fragrance, its petals are mildly astringent offering a soothing effect when applied to insect bites or minor injuries. The leaves, the bark from the twigs and the root bark also offer astringent, nutritive, diuretic and vulnerary properties—to varying degrees. And, let us not forget the rose hips this plant provides us in the fall.  Rose hips not only taste wonderful, they are rich in Vitamin C.

Go take a walk in nature, find a wild rose plant, gather its lovely petals and make some “wild rose blossom honey”. You will be glad you did. (Hint: they like to grow in moist soils, irrigation ditches, and dense thickets along trail paths.)

Wild Rose Blossom Honey Recipe

You will Need:

4oz or 8oz glass jar

Local Honey

Fresh Rose Petals

Gather the rose petals by gently cupping your fingers over the petals. Next, glide your fingers over the petals. The petals that come off are the ones you will add to your jar of honey. Try not to pull them off just let them fall into your hands. Leave behind the stigma and the filament so the bees can continue to pollinate and a rose hip can emerge.

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How to create your “Wild Rose Blossom Honey”

Place your rose petals on a white cloth and give any bugs on them
a chance to leave.

Fill the jar half full with the rose petals.

Fill the jar with the honey.

Push petals into the honey with a wooden spoon
(sometimes I use a wooden chopstick).

Place in a warm sunny spot—so the honey can heat up and stay warm—for 4 to 6 weeks.

Every day turn your jar up and down a few times so the honey
can mix in well with the blossoms.

Enjoy your honey!
(You can leave the rose petals in the honey.)

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Balm of Gilead

Red resin on poplar leaf - Balm of Gilead.

Red resin on poplar leaf – Balm of Gilead.

In early spring I collected leaf buds coated with a sticky red resin from our Poplar trees (Populus species) of the Willow Family (Salicaceae).  This balsam red resin is referred to as the “balm of Giliead” by herbalists. The buds’ smell is so warming; it makes the collecting process quite pleasing. I used these leaf buds to create a tincture and an olive oil base maceration to have in my “remedy cabinet” for future use.

Tincture of resin coated poplar leaf buds.

Tincture of resin coated poplar leaf buds.

Balm of Gilead’s primary action is anti-inflammatory. It is also useful as an expectorant, antiseptic, anti-fungal and analgesic. It is a common ingredient in cough mixtures helping with sore throats and dry coughs. As a salve it is used on small wounds, chapped-itchy skin, sunburn, chilblains and to relieve rheumatic pain.

Worker bee filling pollen baskets.

Worker bee filling pollen baskets.

I notice in the spring my bees love to gather this resin to help them create a tough lacquer-like substance called propolis. They collect it with their jaws and then transport it back to the hive in their pollen baskets. The bees use propolis to fill and seal crevices in the hive and to strengthen the structural integrity of the combs.

There are so many awe-inspiring plants which provide so much to all living beings. The rhythm of nature is truly amazing.

Note:

Many people are allergic to this plant. If you are one of them this may not be your remedy.  Also, I have read that poplar does not take to glycerine

Our 2016 Class Calendar is available. We would love to see you in our classes. April 30, 2016 class is full.

Essential Oils and Mother Nature

drought sunMy essential oil producer and I were discussing the climate and how it affects the production of essential oils and pricing. The climate controls our supply of food, medicinal plants, and essential oils. This year helichrysum oil became victim to the drought in Corsica.  Two years ago lemons decimated by a freeze in Argentina reduced the supply of lemon oil drastically.

Below is a brief summary of our conversation.frozen lemons

Conversation:

I always discuss with my students or clients that the world of essential oils supply is directed by the climate (i.e. drought, floods, perfect weather and other mitigating factors…). Do you agree with this statement, explain?

I agree completely with your statement. 

We always tell our clients and customers that Mother Nature is in charge.  There is no larger factor in the production of essential oils than the weather.

In southern Europe this year (and last year), there has been a lack of rain.  Farmers and co-ops have had to purchase water (which is incredibly expensive) to water their crops.  They water just before harvest in the hopes of the plant will increase production.

An example of essential oil availability and price increase happened this year with Helichrysum. Can you describe what happened? 

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Helichrysum italicum: effective wound healer, anti-aging agent, helps with aches and pains and neuralgia

Corsica is a growing region for some of the world’s most beautiful helichrysum oil – both organic and conventional.  The serious lack of rain in the region coupled with the increase in demand drove the price to a record high.  Because of the lack of rain, production was down 50% from the past year – this alone drives the price up.  Farmers must be able to cover their costs regardless of the production.  For example, let’s say they farm 5 acres – whether the plant matter produces a high yield of oil with minimal input costs (water, etc.) or the plant matter experiences a difficult year, they have losses at both harvest and production – the farmer still has to make enough money to cover their costs and plant the following year. 

It seems every year some essential oil supplies are controlled by weather conditions. Do you agree with this statement? Can you explain to us why?

Two and a half years ago, we experienced a spike in lemon oil prices that pushed prices to historical highs.  There was a freeze in Argentina (the world’s number one lemon producer) that wiped out nearly half the fruit being produced.  Food and beverage companies were in a panic – many of the flavors produced depend highly upon the stable supply of such products.  The panic for them was so serious, they went out to farmers and purchased future crops. Again, this brings us back to Mother Nature – there is no way to get around the fact that weather is the controlling factor in the production of essential oils.

 Is there any other information you feel would be important to educate me, my students, and clients on essential oils etc?

Being an educated consumer is the best thing you can do for yourself and your products.  There are many companies out there that are “less than honest” about their oils. They make claims of pure and natural, but their product is anything but. You need to remember that the aroma of the essential oil is only one part of the identity of the oil – knowing the constituents of the oil and working with a company you trust is crucial.  Also, if a product seems very inexpensive – there is generally a very good reason.  It is more than likely you are not paying for what you think you are getting.  As an example, if you have an offer for $40 per kilogram of lavender oil Mailette, you can pretty much guarantee it is not anything close to lavender oil Mailette.  It is more than likely a blend of lavandins with synthetic ingredients.  Adulteration for economic gain is one of the biggest problems in the essential oil marketplace today.

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FrogWorks’ Path To Comfort contains helichrysum essential oil

Essential Oil Producer vs Supplier

The difference between an essential oil producer and supplier: A Producer is involved in the growth, harvest, production and quality control of the essential oils they sell.  Suppliers are in fact, just that – Suppliers.  They purchase from other traders and producers, such as the 4th generation of the family producers that I do business with.

Autumn Transition

thumb_IMG_1554_1024The leaves and grasses are changing color, while the flowers are fading away creating seeds for next year’s germination. As the days shorten, I gather what is left in the garden and wait for the second or third frost to collect my medicinal roots for winter. I rid my house of the clutter accumulated over the summer. I make my nest preparing for this transition and I notice the same is true of nature.

While reaching for my Peace Blend many times during this transition it puts a calming smile on Petebluesky2my face. It reminds me of Pete, my horse, who helped me create this blend during his transition from life. One of the many transitions we will all experience. We transition coming into this life, experience many transitions during our lifetime and eventually transition from life. Some call it “full circle” – I call it nature.

Enjoy this time, observe it, and reflect.

Winter Herb Walk With Indie & Otis – 2015

One of life’s greatest pleasures is taking our dogs, Indie and Otis, on long walks around the farm. On this particular day we encountered seven plants in their winter dormant period. The first plant we encountered was a new discovery for me. It was a vine wrapping its way around these bushes and it had the most amazing seed heads, they looked like cotton puffs. I was delighted to see such beauty in the middle of winter. I took some photos to send to my friend Jo, who can identify any plant that grows in the state of Colorado. I am grateful she is my friend. She soon informed me that I had found Clematis (Clematis virginiana) a.k.a Virgin’s Bower. I will look forward to late spring/summer to see what the flowers look like and take a photo.

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The seven plants we encountered:

Plant #1: Clematis (Clematis spp) a member of the Ranunculaceae family. Another name for this plant is Virgin’s Bower. The medicinal use of this plant is still being studied. What a beautiful plant to discover during the winter. I look forward to admiring it this spring and summer.

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Plant #2: Hops (Humulus lupulus) a member of the Cannabacea family. A great herb for insomnia, tension, digestion and beer.

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Plant# 3: Burdock (Arctium species) a member of the Compositae family. The root of this plant is very nutritious. It can be thinly sliced and added to salads, lightly cooked, or added to soups. The root gently stimulates the liver to function more efficiently resulting in helping the organ with its job of filtering waste materials from the blood. I love this plant and I could write paragraphs on all its benefits.

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Plant#4: Rose (Rosa spp) a member of the Rosaceae family. It is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer. The petals, leaves, bark, roots and (vitamin-C rich) hips are all used. Rose has astringent, nutritive, diuretic and vulnerary actions.

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Plant#5: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) member of the Leguminaceae family. It is the root of the plant that is used. The root is dug in the fall. Its main taproots can sink three to four feet into the ground making it a challenge to dig. It is an excellent remedy for inflammatory upper respiratory conditions. There is much to be said about licorice root. A fun find this winter and a bit of a challenge to photograph.

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Plant #6: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) a member of the Scrophulariaceae family. This plant is a biennial. In its first year of growth it forms a basal rosette of large, broadly lance-shaped, fuzzy leaves. Its second and final year of growth it grows a long central stalk that produces numerous yellow flowers. The leaves are used as an expectorant and respiratory antispasmodic. The flowers are antimicrobial. The fresh flowers buds are infused in oil and used to treat bacterial infections of the ear. I wonder which stage of growth this plant is in? We shall see this summer. My guess it is in its second year.

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Plant #7: Hawthorne (Crataegus species) a member of the Rosaceae family. A plant that offers a beautiful tonic for the heart and circulatory system. The tonic comes from the fresh flowering twigs and ripe berries. I have much affection for this plant for its ability to help humans and offer food and habitat to wildlife. There is much to say about this giving shrub/small tree.

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This is the last plant we encountered on our winter herb walk. Hope you enjoyed this walk with us. See you at the next walk.

Plants and Ceremony for Animals

Saying good-bye to an animal friend is one of the saddest moments I have experienced. The hardest part is helping them transition. “Sometimes they need us to help them move on,” a friend said to me after she had to make the decision to take her husband off life support. This past July, we had to suddenly say good-bye to our beloved dog, Oscar. I was so grateful I had some plant medicine to help him through his transition.

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Plants and ceremony have been instrumental in my life in many ways. One of which is helping me say good-bye to an animal friend. I also find them helpful throughout my mourning process. Below is the story of how I discovered using plants to create a ceremony for animals along with suggestions on using plants to create your own ceremony.

The Story:

One fall, my 28-year-old Morgan horse, Pete, became very sick. He was in a great deal of pain, very weak and not able to stand. We tried for 24 hours to help him get through this strange illness. I spent the night in Pete’s stall talking and singing to him. He quietly laid there listening and sighing every now and then. As the sun started to rise and light illuminated his stall, I whispered to him, “Hey Pete, the sun is rising. It’s going to be a beautiful day. How about you getting up too?” Pete just stared at me with a beautiful calmness, and in my heart I knew he was ready to go. My husband John also noticed how peaceful Pete was and said, “That is the quietest I have seen him in the past 24 hours.”

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The vet arrived and began explaining the invasive technique she was going to perform to get Pete up on all fours and into a harness. Holding back the tears, I said, “But look how quiet and peaceful he is.” She then gently said to me, “You only have one other option.” John and I knew intuitively that Pete’s tranquility signaled that he was ready to go, even though we were not ready to say goodbye. Thinking back to my recent trip to Belize, where I had learned about spiritual and healing ceremonies with plants, I realized we needed our own ceremony or ritual to aid Pete and ourselves in his passing.

After telling my vet that we needed some time to say good-bye, I went to my garden and found some plants that were still growing. One of them happened to be rosemary, a symbol of regeneration, which the Greeks and Romans believed gave comfort to the living and peace to the dead. I then selected some essential oils, and my copal resin for smudging. For our goodbye ceremony, I infused a bowl of water with rosemary, hay, and essential oils of rose, myrrh and frankincense for a spiritual bath. I braided rosemary into his mane and tail and then burned the copal resin in his stall while we were saying our goodbyes. It was a beautiful and peaceful moment that I believe greatly eased Pete. This experience convinced me that ceremony and ritual have the potential to help all animals. After all, our animals are a blessing in our lives and it only makes sense to honor them in this way.

Ceremony:

Although my first ceremony was to aid in an animal’s passing, ceremonies and rituals can be performed for many other occasions as well. A ceremony can welcome a newly acquired animal into your life and help it let go of the life it left to come into yours. ISaying good-bye to an animal friend is one of the saddest moments I have experienced. The hardest part is helping them transition. “Sometimes they need us to help them move on,” a friend said to me after she had to make the decision to take her husband off life support. This past July, we had to suddenly say good-bye to our beloved dog, Oscar. I was so grateful I had some plant medicine to help him through his transition.

Plants and ceremony have been instrumental in my life in many ways. One of which is helping me say good-bye to an animal friend. I also find them helpful throughout my mourning process. Below is the story of how I discovered using plants to create a ceremony for animals along with suggestions on using plants to create your own ceremony.

When I am preparing a ceremony for one of my animals or for a friend’s, I plan for a daylong event or, at the very least, a half day. This is a time set aside for myself, the animal and the people who are invited to participate in this special moment.

First, I choose my setting. If the weather is agreeable, I find a spot outside and place my ceremony blanket in the middle to form a circle for us all to sit around. I gather plants, tying the bundles for the plant brushings with a special ribbon and placing them in a beautiful vase (I always make a plant bundle for each person attending the ceremony). Next, I place the plants chosen for the spiritual bath in a crystal bowl filled with water, and then set the bowl in the sun, along with a special cloth that I use for the bath. I gather my smudging materials and set them in the circle. I also place pictures and mementos of my animals that have already passed on alongside significant objects relating to the animal for which the ceremony is being conducted. These items can be things such as collars, favorite toys or their favorite treats. As participants arrive, I ask them to spend a few minutes walking the yard and collecting any plants they might like to contribute to the spiritual bath. When the bath is ready, I add two drops each of the following essential oils: frankincense, myrrh, rose and sweet marjoram; I call this my Peace Blend. Then I will place the completed bath in the center of the circle.

Once the center of the circle is complete, everyone is in attendance, and our special animal has been welcomed, we begin the ceremony. I go around the circle and smudge everyone by waving a feather over the smoke so it covers the person, and during this time I am saying an opening poem or singing a song. Each participant then introduces him or herself and says something about the animal for whom the ceremony is being held. I welcome the spirit of all the animals whose photos are in the center of the circle to the ceremony. Then we give the animal present a spiritual bath and a very light plant brushing, always mindful of how the animal is receiving the bath and the plant brushing, adjusting them according to their response. I quietly talk to the animal, expressing my love and gratitude for them and if someone has something to add, it will be during this time.

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Once this part of the ceremony is finished, everyone sits in silence with love in their hearts. This is my time to connect with the animal in a quiet state. When the silence is broken, we all stand in a circle and perform a plant brushing on each participant. With them standing in the center of the circle, we gently brush them with our plant bundles and sing a song. When we have completed giving the last person their plant brushing, we smudge everyone and close the ceremony. The end of your ceremony is yours to decide. If you are having a goodbye ceremony with your animal, whose time it is to pass on, you may wish for your vet to be present and say your final goodbye at the end of the ceremony, or you can wait for everyone to leave and then say your goodbyes privately. It is your ceremony, and you can shape it in whatever way feels most appropriate to you and your animal.

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Unfortunately, sometimes our animals choose to leave suddenly and there is no time to prepare for a ceremony. If this is the case, you can create a quick ritual with the plants around your home, or any essential oil you may have available. Frankincense is a good one to have on hand, and I always have my Peace Blend with me. With these simple plants and oils, you can create a blessing and say your special goodbye. With our horse Pete, we had little time to prepare and I simply did what I could at the moment. After his passing, I created a little altar in his stall on an upturned water bucket. I placed a crystal, carrots and rosemary on it and I continued to burn the copal resin in my smudge bowl every day for a week. To this day, there is still a purple ribbon tied to his stall door.

With another one of my animals, his passing was sudden and we were out of town. Our dog, Merlin, decided to pass on at our home in Colorado, while we were on vacation in Rhode Island. I found two small glass bowls in the cottage where we were staying. I gave one to my husband and kept one for myself. We walked around the yard of the cottage gathering plants. We found red clover, wild rose, yellow flowers, pine needles, and purple chicory flowers to place in these two spiritual bath bowls. I then made a little altar on a table out in the sun and tended to these little bowls of love the entire week we were there. On our last day of vacation, we poured the spiritual baths into a beautiful pitcher and walked to our favorite spot on the beach where we tearfully said our goodbyes to Merlin. We poured this spiritual bath water on our feet and onto the sand and watched the waves carry all the plants and water out to the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful and painful moments of my life, and a wonderful way to honor Merlin’s spirit. Even though we could not be physically present, I was grateful to know that our house-sitter at the time had the Peace Blend on hand and had given it to Merlin during the time of his passing.

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If you are having a ceremony during the winter and you live in a place where the plants go dormant, you can always purchase some plants at the flower store, or you can use plants you have dried in seasons past. I collect my marigolds, basil, rue, sage, yarrow and other plants during the growing season and dry them for use as tea or for use in ceremonies. The trees want to take part in these ceremonies, so if it resonates, include them too. I always buy fresh roses for the center piece of the ceremonial circle and for the plant brushings. You can be very creative during the winter months.

All of these ceremony ideas can be performed before, during or after your animal companion has moved on. You can also perform a ceremony on the anniversary of their passing. I have performed ceremonies for animals that have been newly adopted, had to be given away, had passed on years before, who were lost and for animals in the wild. Ceremonies are personal so feel free to create your own unique ritual to honor your animal friend.

I also use plants and essential oils during my bereavement process. I will fill a crystal bowl with water and add plants to them. (I am creating a spiritual bath.) At the end of each week, during a four week cycle, I will empty this spiritual bath on a favorite space in the yard where my animal friend used to hang out; I then repeat this process for the next three weeks. I keep the spiritual bath in a special area of the house with a candle and pictures of my animal friend. Much peace to you and your animals.

Plants are a main component in all my ceremonies. They offer the healing, support, love and peace we need, especially when we ask them to take part in our lives. Plant medicine and plant spirits have been part of daily life for centuries. I feel that in today’s world, surrounded by technology and social media, it is especially important to reconnect with the plant world again. The plants are waiting for you.

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Some plant suggestions to use in your ceremony and their meanings:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): A plant that is known to comfort the heart, mind and spirit.

Copal (Bursera microphylla): This resin has been used ritually by Mesoamericans for centuries. It is burned year-round in Mexican churches and is especially popular in homes during the Day of the Dead celebrations. Copal resin is traditionally burned in protection, cleansing and purification ceremonies. Large amounts of copal were burned on top of the Aztec and Mayan pyramids.

Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha): Since antiquity these resins have been burned to create sacred smoke that rises as a bridge between the spirits of this world and the heavens. The oil of frankincense was used in ancient Egypt to anoint the head the dead or dying. The resins and oils are both used ceremonially to help dying animals or people move on to the next realm. Frankincense and myrrh help close the wounds of loss and rejection.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender is considered the balancer of emotions. Rudolph Steiner suggests that lavender stabilizes the Physical, Etheric and Astral bodies.

Marigolds (Tagetes patula): Mesoamericans believe this is the only flower the dead can smell. Marigolds are believed to comfort the heart and the spirit.

Rose (Rosa damascena): This plant represents love and protection. In the eighth century B.C. epic poem, “The Iliad,” Homer tells us how Hector’s body was anointed with rose oil after his death at Achilles’ hand. Rose is helpful in times of sadness, grief, disappointment and great joy.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): The Greeks and Romans saw this plant as a symbol of regeneration; they held it to be a sacred plant. They believed this plant gave comfort to the living and peace to the dead.

Rue (Ruta graveolens): This plant posses the power of magic. It is also known as the herb of grace. It is used for blessing, releasing and banishing evil spirits or thoughts.

Sage (Salivia apiana): Sage is used to cleanse objects, places, people and animals. Its aroma has very calming properties.

Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata): Sweet grass is also burnt as a purifier, similar to sage. It is lighter than sage and often burnt after burning sage. It encourages positive vibrations to enter the area or room.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana): Sweet marjoram gives a feeling of comfort in cases of grief and loneliness, since it has a warming effect on the emotions. The Greeks used wild marjoram as a funeral herb and it was planted on graves to bring spiritual peace to the departed.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Thyme is associated with strength and courage.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow heals wounds on the physical, mental and spiritual level

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides)

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This tall, tufted, scented grass has a straight stem, long narrow leaves and an abundant lacework of underground white rootlets. It is a perennial native to south India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka and is also cultivated in Reunion, the Philippines and West and South America. The dark-brown, olive or amber essential oil is steam-distilled from the roots and the rootlets. Although the oil is mainly produced in Java, Haiti and Reunion, some is distilled in Europe and the United States.

Since antiquity the rootlets have been used in the East for their fine fragrance. Vetiver essential oil imparts a sense of tranquility and peace. I find it to be deeply relaxing and a perfect oil to help ground me and my animals. This essential oil is also helpful with arthritis, muscular aches and pains, and stiffness. It also helps with acne and oily skin. Of this oil’s many benefits, my personal favorites are its grounding properties of tranquility and peace.

Vetiver is an amazing essential oil and that is why it is one of the main components of our Merlin’s Magic Calming Potion.

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(This is general information regarding vetiver and vetiver essential oil. We encourage you to learn more about vetiver through research and see how it can benefit your life. Thanks!)

Zoopharmacognosy and Your Animals

Have you ever noticed your horse, dog or cat eating a certain plant in your garden or out in the fields? Well, if you have, you may be witnessing Zoopharmacognosy. This is a term coined by Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, a biochemist and professor at Cornell University. Zoopharmacognosy refers to the process by which animals self-medicate. In this process, animals select and use plants, soils and insects to treat and prevent disease. The word Zoopharmacognosy is derived from the roots “zoo” (animal), “pharma” (drug) and “gnosy” (knowing).

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I have noticed this behavior with my own animals and wondered why they would eat certain plants. Our golden retriever Midas would always eat the echinacea in my garden. Echinacea (Echinacea angulstifolia & E. purpurea) contains a number of constituents that stimulate the immune system to deal with both bacterial and viral infections. Midaswas always dealing with a compromised immune system, and maybe this is why he loved to eat echinacea. Pete, my elderly and arthritic horse, would eat the yarrow (<i>Achillea millefolium</i>) in my garden. One of the constituents of yarrow is chamazulene, which is a strong anti-inflammatory. My horse Marcus went through a period of eating mullein (<i>Verbascum thapsus</i>) while out on the trail. This too was very intriguing because at the time he had a slight cough and mullein is a highly regarded herb for coughs and congestion.

And, what about that catnip (<i>Nepeta cataria</i>)? My cats love catnip; they eat, roll aroundin it and sometimes take naps in their little catnip garden. It is reported that 70% of domestic cats enjoy catnip. There may be two reasons cats enjoy catnip. First, it may be due to an active ingredient called nepetalactone a terpenoid. “Nepetalactones mimic a natural courtship pheromone found in male-cat urine, which is thought to stimulate a pseudo-sexual reaction”.[1] This may explain the excitement in cats when they chew a small amount of the plant. The second reason is that nepetalactones is also very effective at repelling insects and maybe this is why cats like to roll in it. It is reported that eating a small amount of catnip is not harmful but in concentrated doses it has a hallucinogenic reaction; this may explain all that animated activity a cat may portray after eating too much catnip.

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A few years ago I had an amazing opportunity to work with the orangutans, gorillas and black crested macaques at the Denver Zoo through their animal enrichment program. I worked with individual zookeepers and the primates they were in charge of and designed an essential oil program for each primate.

It was truly remarkable to work with the orangutans, gorillas and black crested macaques and to see them choose what essential oil they wanted and how they wanted it. We were watching Zoopharmacognosy in action.

Some of the conditions we addressed in the animals were distrust, pain, sinus problems, digestive upsets, anger, being easily aroused and fear. Some of the essential oils that we worked with were violet leaf, rose, jasmine, fennel, basil, sweet marjoram, neroli and ginger. Working with these oils and others did result in some significant behavioral changes. Each primate has been affected in their own unique way by the use of essential oils and their zookeeper’s consistent work with them and the essential oils. This work has definitely added to their quality of life in captivity.

Osha5good

Many indigenous cultures would study animals and see what plants they were eating and in return would discover medicinal plants for their own use. One example of this is osha root (Ligusticum porteri), a plant native to the western United States and Mexico. Another name for osha root is bear medicine. The story goes that Native Americans
would notice bears rolling around in this plant, eating the roots and applying a root mash to any injuries they may have had. They also noticed bears would seek this plant out when they awoke from their hibernation; the reasons for this may be for the plant’s respiratory cleansing properties and to clean out their digestive systems. Osha root is known for its powerful antiviral and antibacterial agent, used for bronchial infections and sore throats. (Because of osha roots’ popularity, it is now a plant at risk of disappearing.) There are many stories about indigenous cultures discovering their medicine by observing animals self-medicating themselves.

Today, wildlife biologists still observe animals in their natural habitat and find many new medicinal qualities in plants through these observations. In regards to Zoopharmacognosy:

“Observers have noticed that some species ingest non-foods, such as toxic plants, clay or charcoal, to ward off parasitic infestation or poisoning. Illustrating the medicinal knowledge of some species, apes have been observed selecting a particular part of a medicinal plant by taking off leaves, then breaking the stem to suck out the juice.[2] In an interview with Neil Campbell, Rodriguez describes the importance of biodiversity to medicine:

Some of the compounds we’ve identified by zoopharmacognosy kill parasitic worms, and some of these chemicals may be useful against tumors. There is no question that the templates for most drugs are in the natural world.[3]”

I teach the process of zoopharmacognosy in FrogWorks’ “Working with Animals and Essential Oils” courses and our in-depth Home Course. Our primary focus is to teach you how to work with the animal by letting them choose the plant or essential oil they need at that time. It is amazing to watch the healing process when you give the animal a chance to choose its remedy.

Click here for more information on our <a href=”index.php?main_page=index&cPath=4″>Classes</a> or <a   href=”index.php?main_page=index&cPath=4″>Home Course</a>

1. Engel, Cindy 2002. Wild Health, p. 159
2. Biser, Jennifer A. (1998). “Really Wild Remedies — Medicinal Plant Use by Animals.”
3. Biology (4th edition). N.A. Campbell, p.23 ‘An Interview with Eloy Rodriguez’ (Benjamin
Cummings NY, 1996)