Botanical of the Month: December

December Healing Herb: Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

doterra Essential Oil: Peppermint

Rishi Tea: Moroccan Mint

Does peppermint make you think of candy canes and Christmas? It does for me. In the language of plants, peppermint stands for cordiality and warmth of feeling, sentiments that definitely exemplify the spirit of the holiday season. After researching it though, it has become clear that this easy-to-grow herb goes way beyond holiday cheer. Greek mythology, for example, offers us one of my favorite stories behind the meaning of mint: Two people in a strange town were looking for a place to have a meal and stay for the night. They kept getting doors shut in their face. Finally, an elderly couple took them in. The couple wiped down their table with mint to clean it and perfume the air. The two strangers turned out be Zeus and his son Hermes, who then turned the couple’s home into a temple and made mint a symbol of hospitality. I’d say that story qualifies for some serious warmth of feeling.

Thought to have originated in North Africa and the Mediterranean, peppermint is actually a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint. It gained the descriptor “piperita” from the peppery odor that separates it from other members of the mint family. Used in cooking and medicinally for centuries, it is listed in an ancient Egyptian medical text from 1550 B.C. as calming to stomach pains. And today, in 2022 A.D., peppermint tea and oil are still commonly used for relieving digestive discomfort. The essential oil is also used by some to support respiratory health, relieve tension headaches, anxiety and stress, all of which I can personally attest to. Peppermint is found in many toothpastes, gums and breath mints to support oral hygiene, as well as in countless skin care products, often for the refreshing scent, but also to soothe skin irritations.

Menthol, one of the main essential oils found in peppermint, is the star here. It’s responsible for the minty scent and cooling sensation we experience when eating it. Menthol activates the cold sensitive receptors in the nose and mouth, the same receptors activated with the stimulus created by air flow, providing the scientific basis for the entire York Peppermint Pattie ad campaign. It’s menthol’s pain-relieving properties that allow peppermint to calm the digestive tract and soothe the skin. Known as a cough suppressant, menthol is why peppermint oil provides relief for coughs and colds. And, often used as a natural bug repellant, it is the menthol in peppermint that repels some pest insects, including mosquitoes, as well as rodents, making it a favorite of organic gardeners.

Plant folklore says one should sniff fresh peppermint leaves to help with sleep, and put peppermint leaves under the pillow to stimulate prophetic dreams. It recommends rubbing peppermint leaves on walls and furniture to get rid of negative energies. And, my personal favorite, keep a peppermint leaf in your purse or wallet to encourage the inflow of money. Carrying the meaning of warmth of feeling, this is definitely one herb I will be including in more of my Hope Grows bouquets next summer. I don’t think there is one bouquet I’ve cut yet, and I’ve cut quite a few, that did not have that sentiment embedded in it. The peppermint will just make it official. May all of your holiday seasons be safe and embedded with lots of warm feelings!

Botanical of the Month: November

November Healing Plant:  Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)

Doterra Essential Oil:  Clove

Rishi Tea:  Masala Chai

In the language of flowers, clove stands for dignity, being worthy of honor and self-respect. This makes me want to keep a steady supply of fresh cut clove flowers in every room.  This would be quite a challenge in Pittsburgh though, as clove trees, native to the Molucca “Spice Islands” of Indonesia, only grow in tropical environments, takes 8 years for a first harvest, and 20 years to reach maturity!  Cloves are actually the unopened flower buds of the clove tree.  This “flower spice” must be harvested with the greatest care, by hand, just before the buds open, and then dried by experienced growers on palm mats in the sun for 4-5 days, which turns them the familiar brown color they have when we purchase them.  Fitting that a spice requiring such careful handling would signify human dignity, something never to be mishandled.  Interestingly, I also found clove can mean loving someone without that person knowing.  How many times has a person buried feelings of love for someone else, so as not to appear undignified?

Derived from the Latin word “clovis,” meaning nail, dried clove flower buds resemble the shape of nails, making them ideal for studding orange pomanders.  And, as the second part of the Latin name, “aromaticum,” says, they are highly aromatic.  Known for its mouth cleansing abilities, you will often find clove in toothpastes and mouthwashes.  Records from China’s Han Dynasty, in 202 B.C.E., show that anyone who came to see the emperor was actually required to chew cloves to sweeten their breath, before they saw him.  The next time you are in front of someone with bad breath, try handing them a clove.  Ok, so it sounds like an awkward moment, but doesn’t have to be!  Lots of people get bad breath.  It may actually spark an interesting clove conversation. 

Archeological remnants have been found dating culinary uses for clove all the way back to 1700 B.C.E.  Mexican, African and Middle Eastern cooking all have multiple uses for cloves and, as an essential spice in Indian cooking, it’s one of the standard ingredients in garam masala, chutney and curries.  It can be found in teas, as a mulling spice, in countless baked goods, and is an integral part of chai-the popular spicy Indian tea with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and black tea.  Medicinally, it can be chewed or taken as a tea for a digestive aid.  Ironically though, after making so many foods taste great, clove oil is actually used in dentistry as a numbing agent for toothaches, and has even been included in tooth fillings for ongoing pain relief!

Around the fall and winter holidays, you will often see interesting designs of cloves studding orange pomanders.  As the orange dries, it releases its delicate and spicy aroma.  During the Middle Ages, these pomanders were actually used as herbal amulets worn around the neck, or placed around the home, as protection from negativity, harm and jealousy.  Herbs and spices were put in cloth bags or perforated boxes to ward off viruses, bacteria or illness, as well as in hopes of bringing strength and good fortune.  Clove folklore says that when cloves are worn or carried in a pocket, they will attract the opposite sex, or, when worn or carried by someone who has suffered emotional loss and is bereaved, they will provide comfort.  When burned as incense, it is said to stop people from gossiping about you.  And, sucking on 2 whole cloves without chewing or swallowing supposedly curbs the desire for alcohol.  Strangely enough, each one of these scenarios, should they come true, could easily influence a person’s sense of dignity.  That said, no matter how you choose to use this fascinating spice, may it always keep you dignified. 

Becoming a Spiritual Warrior and a Soldier of Light

Autumn Equinox, as we all know, marks the beginning of the fall season. I can’t help but feel elated. I love the fall season and all its transitions. With the shift of seasons comes a shift in our mind, body, and spirit. It’s also an opportune time to strengthen yourself into a spiritual warrior.

The deciduous trees, in my area of the world, change to beautiful colors of burnt orange, yellow and brown; the process is fascinating. Watching the senescence of the plant and tree life cycle always creates a transition for me; a contemplative time of going inward.

I wrote in a past blog about how nature offers lessons for the journey of change. In that article I talked about a dying man appreciating and watching the colorful leaves and the senescence of the trees through his window and saying, “even God makes dying beautiful.” As I think about his journey to death, I contemplate my own life cycle as I watch the beauty of the fall season unfold.

Pain and Suffering Come From Negativity

Pain and suffering come from a place within, an internal place, usually from a place of negativity. I think this is why I love the fall season so much. It creates a time of going within, a time of exploring and asking, “What isn’t working anymore?” I evaluate how often I am thinking or behaving negatively.

As we spent the month talking about the qualities and traits of a spiritual warrior, one trait kept surfacing: transforming our emotions to reach our place in life. This is not easy, especially when caring for someone or being surrounded by disease and illness. According to the Numerologist, if you work on strength and discipline, you can end up a “soldier of light”, a place of positivity and love.

[maxbutton id=”65″]

A Place of Peace and Respite

This month’s TherapeuticRespite™ activity demonstrated the therapeutic properties of the Garden of Harmony & Peace at the Iris Respite House & Healing Gardens. A Japanese garden, it includes the architectural and horticultural elements of a Spiritual Warrior. Achievable self-care benefits and practices to help us stay in the moment and stay positive was the result. This activity in the garden sparked Phyllis Rupert, one of the Hope Grows counselors, to develop five Caregiving Spiritual Warrior traits.

Take some time this fall season and watch the senescence of the trees give way to the beautiful fall colors. While the tree continues to soak up the water and nutrients from the earth, you too can flow with the natural rhythm of the season. This process of shedding, a fall, if you will, is a natural process for the tree as it gets ready for the cold to follow. This is a good time of year for awareness, another spiritual warrior trait. A new sense of discipline occurs naturally, as our direction transitions alongside with nature.

Our minds/bodies organically follow the same path. Don’t fight it, let this be a time of preparation for new growth, a discipline to achieve the five Caregiving Spiritual Warrior traits. Follow the path of nature and remind yourself what Lisa Bevere said, “All that is behind you was in preparation for all that is yet before you.”

Challenge Yourself to Become a Spiritual Warrior

None of this is easy. If it was, the world would be utopia. In providing care, caregivers become so depleted and drained, making it difficult to stay positive. Challenge yourself, take a moment, look in the mirror, and remind yourself that you are a spiritual warrior. You possess the qualities and traits of one. As you continue to conquer the tasks and demands of helping your loved ones, you create your path through the strain and stress. And above all, stay focused, “warriors create themselves through trial and error, pain and suffering, and their ability to conquer their own faults.” Metaphorical, have a happy fall!

Botanicals of the Month: July

July Healing Plant of the Month: Garlic (Allium sativum)

Doterra Essential Oil of the Month: Cassia

Rishi Tea of the Month: Fuding Silver Needles Vintage 2022

Garlic, our healing plant for July, represents courage of mind, body and spirit. Not only has it been turned to for thousands of years, in cultures throughout the world, for its protective and healing attributes, but it’s also been relied upon as a source of stamina and strength for anyone facing daunting odds. Ancient Greek soldiers ate garlic before going into battle for inspiration and courage. Ancient Greek athletes would take garlic before a competition. Odysseus used garlic to prevent the sorceress Circe from turning him and his men into pigs. It was dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war, and the Romans believed if a man chewed garlic during his footrace, no one would pass him. Egyptians fed it to the slaves building the pyramids to ward off illness and increase strength and endurance.

Islamic legends say that when Satan left the Garden of Eden, after the fall of man, garlic arose inside of his left footprint and onion in his right. Before I started researching this plant, I was sure it meant something along the lines of protection. After all, everyone knows that garlic is supposed to ward off evil, vampires, werewolves and the like. And that’s not just in our culture. Sailors have carried garlic on board in hopes of protection from shipwrecks. Garlic wreaths outside a house’s door will ward off witches and psychic vampires. Matadors often wear garlic around their neck for protection during a bullfight. And one clove on a string around the neck is said to protect travelers, although see if anyone wants to sit next to you on the train when you’re wearing one.

Garlic has earned the reputation of being “as good as 10 mothers” for good reason. Medicinally, it’s been lauded for its role in reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, boosting immune function, as well as guarding against heart disease and cancer. Apparently, though, this is nothing new. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” recommended using it for pulmonary complaints. Sanskrit records actually show its medical use 5000 years ago, Chinese records 3000 years ago and, the surviving Indian medical text, “Charaka-Samhita” recommended using garlic for the treatment of heart disease and arthritis 2000 years ago!

I can see why this plant is associated with courage. In France, it’s been referred to as the “Theriac of the Poor,” or the poor man’s heal-all. Called “the Russian penicillin,” its antiseptic qualities were called upon to prevent infection when it was used on soldiers’ wounds during World War II. During the Bubonic Plague, garlic merchants were actually found to die less often. Like today, people wore masks for protection, but took it a step further and soaked them in garlic-steeped vinegar. And, during the flu epidemic of 1918, people wore necklaces of garlic when they went out in public. Can’t say that I’ve seen that during Covid. In all of these situations, garlic’s protective and medicinal qualities must have afforded people some much-needed courage in the face of humbling, life or death, fear and adversity. And to think, I just put it in soups and stir-fries without thinking. I don’t think I will ever look at it the same way again.