By Kristen Simpson
While it’s deep winter in my part of the world, I’ve been reflecting on the changes the seasons bring to herbal medicine, and our approach to these changes. While discussing herbalism with some acquaintances, I was informed how as an herbalist it must be a very “dead” and “inactive” time of year for me in Northern New England. I had never really considered that viewpoint, and was confused. While winter would appear to some as a low activity time for herbal medicine (and life in general) I find the stillness just as exhilarating and the Nature just as alive and inspiring as the beautiful growing summer. The reason is because we are pushed indoors, facing cold and sickness that allows us to hold tighter to our plant wisdom, and their tremendous power to heal physical illness, but that of our minds and spirits that might feel oppressed by the darkness of the season. But to me no time is plant healing better understood, truly needed and appreciated than in the heart of winter. This time of snow, conifers, cold sunsets and endless starlit nights I find myself bursting with ideas, plans, and inspiration for all areas of my life, especially my herbal journey. The very essence of herbalism I find within myself, and all my work and medicines that I spent the summer and spring preparing are in use. Sickness is rampant at this point – flu, stomach bugs, and colds – so my herbal skill becomes more vital.
I always have some Honey Onion cough syrup simmering on my stove. I have rosehip infusions and steaming cups of Echinacea tea. I utilize all my herbs in the cupboard in a variety of ways; I use my lavender and spearmint for soothing steam facials for stuffy winter sinuses; I enjoy a hot bath with summer rose petals, enjoying their fragrance and beauty one last time. I brave the snowy woods and hunt down White Pine needles for some variety and vitamin C. I adore how close I feel to all the plants, even if they are long asleep under the snow. I don’t believe there is any ‘inactive’ time for herbalists, no “bad” seasons.
All seasons of the earth, like all the ages of our lives, are to be appreciated as they come to us, and I fall in love with each season as it comes. Winter offers us a chance to appreciate stillness, peace, and introspection. The winter sky is alive; the snow cover landscape is magical. Just like the frosty stars and the cold moonlight herbal healing shines all around, alive and vital while the earth waits. I plan, prepare, and dream by the fire, even if it’s only a candle’s light. The world will be green again; the year will turn. But for now I brew my remaining nettle tea, scatter dried St. John’s Wort, Herb of the Sun, all around my alter and light a golden candle for the days of Light ahead, all the while appreciating the tranquil beauty of the dark half of the year, and what it has to teach us.
Clark, Demetria. Heart of Herbs Certified Herbalist Education Program textbook.
1998-2007 Gladstar, Rosemary.
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. China: Toppan Leefung Printing ltd, 2001
Cunningham, Scott. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications. 1984.
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