Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why Planting Native Milkweed is Essential for Monarch Health

 Photo taken at La Plaza de Cultures y Artes Jardín, managed by Johanna Larios. 

An ode to milkweed.
"We are solid! We are strong! We give something unique to the earth. We allow the earth mother to make milk and we bring it into rhythmic flow. Etherialised, rarified, it flows through the cosmos. We make milk alchemy. We are anchored. I am a group. I am a group of beings. My "poison" is the contraction that gives birth to the soul. Then you too can flow rhythmically, strongly, live in expansion, yet anchored." 
- Barbara Schuster

Butterfly gardens have been all the rage for quite some time now. Garden nurseries have set-up there own mini ones filled with tropical pollinator plants and even the Natural History museum. 

As fascinating as it is to see the cycle of the Monarch in abundance, the tropical milkweed trend is hindering their natural migration and life cycle and introducing more disease. May we be mindful and encourage the planting of native plants for pollinators, especially milkweed. 

Tropical milkweed has orange, yellow, and reddish flowers. The tropical variety doesn't go completely dormant in the winter making the monarchs stick around and not join in on the migration to Mexico. There are other issues too with planting this variety, for example, scientists also believe that the year-round access welcomes OE spores and can spread the disease.

For those using the tropical variety for healing or educational purposes that don't want to uproot and eradicate this variety, you could simply cut back during the winter to encourage natural migration patterns. 

I look forward to supporting a local Native Plant nursery once we're ready to introduce a native milkweed to our garden again. We've had one before but it didn't produce offsprings, we'll have to re-introduce some more. Thankfully, this year our local hills have abundant populations of milkweed growing along trails thanks to some decent rainfall. 

For more information visit: Monarch Joint Venture 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bewitching the Land, Part I: Boundaries and Patterns

Bewitching - enchant and delight.

In the Witch's Garden, where all spirit is alive, for all has been beckoned into a role of action within a growing cycle connected to the cosmos. Much enchantment and delight is birthed here. 

Whether we plant for pleasure, food, resistance, healing, or magick, we begin to cultivate a deep relationship with the earth and all her seen and unseen energies and entities. This relation can happen on the borrowed land in which we inhabit and within neighboring wild lands. This is where we begin to shed needless capes of captivity as we hold the season’s seeds in our hands, this is the journey back to who we really are, the journey back to the heart of the land, her fertile soil and the divine plant nation that grows from her.

Land, guide. Sky, portal. Critter neighbors, familiars. Seeds, spells. Plants, healers. Compost piles, cauldrons. Rocks, fortune tellers. Sticks, wands.

All spirit, all ancestors.

As we spend more and more time within the wild, tending, cultivating, observing and honoring, we become more receptive to the energies around us. The plants have a way of finding and opening up webbed portals of communication and feeling. Most that are drawn to this craft are already receptive in nature, although, socialization might become a little more intense to navigate as the feeling of surrounding space energy and all its entities heightens through the conscious learnings and unconscious transmissions from our natural world allies. This is why boundaries are essential in this type of work, seen and unseen, within those heighten energetic spaces we must protect our spirit from taking in too much of others’ energies or having someone (other entities residing in human vessels or intentional practicing occultist/s) capture pieces of spirit.

Plants that reseed themselves within borders or paths in wild lands or gardens, I believe, enjoy being considered for boundary work and for different types of boundaries.

One boundary plant that I turn to often is chamomile. Known as an ancient strewing herb that was thrown about the house to deter negative forces. Many folks say that chamomile carries both sun and moon properties and some say one or the other. I believe chamomile carries both sun and moon influences, I see this in my observance of its shadow play, how the petals not only move with age but also with light. I like to think of chamomile’s spirit as a conjuring of light that reflects back so hard that it blinds malefic entities, sending them elsewhere. I’m using this plant spirit as an example of building personal crafting relationships. There’s more to why I am being called to this specific plant for boundary support, to be vulnerable…its essence revives a sense of security in my belly that came quickly to aid by my mother, a feeling I think many of us have experienced, and now not having that security of parent figures the essence of chamomile still offers me this sense of security and a sweet comforting remembrance, making chamomile a healthy boundary plant for aiding in my trauma. It’s like it helps keep in spirit leakage, if that makes any sense. (Much of what is attempted to be explained in words really cannot, that’s part of the craft I think, and sometimes there are no words. That’s why we see so many more symbols in magick and alchemy.)

When posttraumatic episodes can be filled with reinforcement of light by letting plant spirits transform energy we may become less vulnerable to the cycle of negative emotions. In more severe cases I believe it’s best to connect with an experienced guide that can connect and walk you through a healing plant journey.

Being mindful of how far our energy extends and how it affects space, in my opinion, is a great path to preventative protection. Various resilient plants that spontaneously vegetate can serve as great guides by welcoming in specific lessons that slowly reveal how our energy affects the universe, in return transforming paradigms that will greatly serve growth in awareness, making more room for many a magickal manifestations.

Distinguishing points of entry and exit into our practicing sanctuaries and inviting specific boundary plant spirits to grow in and around these areas is a great way to cultivate and build plant protection relationships. It’s also cool to see who spontaneously pops up at your front door too, as in, which weeds happen to grow closer to your doorstep.

Sowing seed or planting plants that you’re drawn to in relation and respect to the local ecosystem, plant nation, and people is much more insightful and fulfilling than planting from a list of plants for specific uses. We learn more about ourselves and local community this way. We see patterns this way - so many patterns. Like where the fire colored flowers grow in our gardens, or in the wild, and what patterns they make and when.

A fun garden or local wild land energetic learning activity is making a chart with planets on top and your plant list vertically. As you look up each plant’s planet association place a mark in the appropriate area on your chart. Check out the trends. Are there more plants in association with one planet than others? What can that energetic pattern reveal in our craft? You could also go deeper and note direction of plant (eg. yarrow – eastside of garden) and take your anaylaztion further.

Our body’s waters; sweat, urine, blood, and tears are some of the most divine garden offerings and as most know some of those waters also serve as strong boundaries for setting our territory, so we must remain mindful when doing this in the wild. May we learn to sacrifice beauty for the garden, keeping cultivation to a minimal and may we remember that letting her be free with seed magic is an offering in itself. Other gardeners question the wildness, yet we stand strong and true in loyalty to her for the essential oil content, overall plant genetics and soil are stronger in a wilder garden than they are in a highly cultivated garden, plus birdsong and bug buzz is louder.

‘Bewitching the Land’ blessings to you. May we continue to harmonize with the universe in effortless exercises awakening remembered practices of ancient alchemists for our generations and those to come.

Stay tuned for…..
Bewitching the Land, 
Part II: Offerings and Conjuring Plant Spirit

Illustration and Photography credits:
Kat Sanchez, photos and illustration 
Modern Minimalist Art, illustration 

Opinion based post, as most. 

For more plant planetary resources check out Harold Roth, I enjoy his charts.

*If working on wild land be mindful and do your research about the past and current stories of the land you are on. If possible, connect with local indigenous folk. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Thoughts on 'Wildcrafting'

John rubbing his hands on some white sage leaf as he gives thanks. None was taken, but medicine was received.

Ignoring separation from the wild and not becoming educated about the historical use of our local land and prematurely beginning the 'relationship cultivation' to start "wildcrafting", especially native or endemic plants, in my opinion, attributes to the settler colonization mentality of wanting what was already here (people) to simply disappear after using up all energy and resources (nature).


What Queens or Kings are awaiting reports of expedition profits these days?

There are ecosystems that have been more affected than others from the harsh realities of ecological imperialism and colonization, like Los Angeles. A plant may not be listed as threatened or endangered but its ecosystem might be, along with its inhabitants, everything is connected. I believe that land carries much spirit and because of that I always try to feel and understand the energy of a place in order to be aware of my actions. So much blood has been drenched into the soil we walk upon and to be ignorant of burial and massacre sites is a detriment to our healing paths and to the spirit of our medicine. For example, harvesting mugwort from a tortured site where many lives were lost might give you different dreams than mugwort that was harvested from a site that has been properly cleansed energetically. There are curanderas who solely focus on healing tortured or cursed/hexed land, these are stories you don't hear about on social media. Just a few months ago in Buena Park, CA, bones were found in someone's backyard and they turned out to be bones of an indigenous person. We are on native land, unmarked graves are everywhere, we must reclaim history in order to heal the land

Yerba santa.

An important thing to also consider is that most of us living in the modern world are not solely gathering for survival and that many herbal companies also ‘wildharvest’ for profit. Another angle to address in our modern world is the culture of social media. Too many times I have observed accounts with large followings sharing styled photos of wildharvests and very rarely are these folk's ancestors born from the land they currently inhabit. Don't miss an opportunity to share and celebrate native garden grown plants by forgetting to share your mindful sourcing. You will rarely see an indigenous person partaking in this kind of glorification at the sake of more ignorant ecological disruption. There is no room for that kind of behavior with protectors of the sacred. 

mindfulmedicinals: Every day is Earth day 🙄🌿 Spent my Saturday morning pulling invasive plants w/ Santa Monica park service ❤️ #malibu #Euphorbiaterracina @santamonicamountainsnps {+ fennel, wild mustard}

Don’t get me wrong, moving away from the consumer cycle by gathering plants for your own medicinal use is indeed a beautiful and empowering action especially if you are focusing on harvesting invasive plants, like Blaire pictured above, role modeling how to work with and support local land as an herbalist and Florida newcomer. For example, forage for mustard, with a focus on seed removal to allow native species to thrive. After all, mustard is made from mustard seeds. I've also seen a few folks make some sauces from mustard too, now that's good stuff to share on social media, check out Oak and Flower's instagram post below. Have a cough? Gather some horehound, it is not native to California, it comes from Europe and if not managed in dense patches its seed can be aggressive especially within island ecosystems making it more difficult for native seeds to establish. Need some liver love? Harvest milk thistle seedheads before they spread. Harvest tip: cut off milk thistle seed heads, leave in a brown paper or cloth bag, shake, and all the seeds will be at the bottom of your bag, super easy! These are examples of things you can learn when spending time in nature and researching your local land. 

oakandflower: I was feeling inspired after @poormansalad's post yesterday and decided to use black mustard flowers as the base for a spicy sauce. It's incredible. Fresh Brassica nigra flowers with red wine vinegar, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped capers, a little Greek yogurt, salt and pepper. It's a wild version of my horseradish sauce and I think I'm in love.



Now for the ever common, take only 10% from a plant. Every time I hear this I look at the group it is being told to and then I times that number with 10% and then I also consider the status and range of the plant being discussed. This formula of sorts is not detailed in communication and can lead folks in forgetting to consider the status of a plant and its ecosystem before gathering. 


What, never wildcraft or gather?! No, that's not what I'm saying.  

Moving in and around nature should be practiced by a seasoned gatherer, no pun intended, who has spent many seasonal cycles either cultivating plants and/or (combo is great) simply observing the wild. If your blood does not carry that of the local indigenous folk it would be of great respect and honor to also reach out to those that are and ask for guidance and to volunteer for whatever the land may need. The trauma that can be resurfaced from "outsiders" coming in an harvesting native plants that your people have protected for generations is real, it hurts, it burns and it cuts deeper into wounds that are still healing. It is easier to take than it is to leave something, especially in America, where we value the sense of appearance and the power or ownership.

Homegrown CA Sagebrush.

A communication trend within 'wildcrafting' that I’ve also recently observed and have heard about is the practice of leaving an offering or saying a prayer before gathering plants. I think this is great and a kind way to work with nature but I really think there needs to be more emphasis on the sacrifices one endures to cultivate such a connection to the wild before gathering and leaving an offering. To me, that’s like making a whole bunch of withdrawals from an overdrawn bank account. I like the idea of making offerings season after season without gathering to build a relationship. These offerings in turn, I believe, become personal sacrifices that then transform themselves into the most beautiful and profound teachings. Just you watch, plants will start to arrive on your doorstep. In many traditions one must go through rites of passage before practicing certain crafts and rituals, again, with social media, as a culture we are painting a different picture for the viewer when harvests, rituals and sacred scenes are shared without a healthy and educational foundation for the viewer. The real work is rarely televised. 

Rosa californica in our frontyard. I owe this rose so much for her medicine, my thanks is growing her so that I am not reliant on wild sources.

I'm speaking from experience here in LA friends, I drank some of the wildcrafting Kool Aid for just a second there but was quickly smacked upside the head by elders and plant guides, like, hello, you are rooted in growing my dear, stay focused. Transparency is essential for real discussion. 

My words come from not only my spirit but from the influential elders and spirit guides that have shared their voice and energy with me. Thank you for sharing, much gratitude. I too am always learning, for I am alive. Discussion, as always, is welcome. To know that folks care enough about my path to ignite such conversations makes me feel really really good about my craft. 

Inspiring resources:
Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by Alfred Crosby
Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson
Tending the Wild | KCET 
Mapping Indigenous LA
Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation
What To Grow In Your Forage Garden by Julia Wasson
Southern California Ethnobiology: Traditional Use of Native Plants by Dr. David Curran
The Pinnacle of Permaculture: Tending the Wild Book Review by Root Simple
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I. By David Grann 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Highlighting Hydrosols

Hydrosols, also known as hydrodistillates, herbal distillates, hydroflorates and sometimes floral waters, are one of my favorite forms of plant medicine. I enjoy using them for a myriad of beneficial uses like skin care, cleansing the air, as surface cleaning agents, pet care, garden pest management, and for energetic shifting. You can also safely incorporate them into healing beverages too. (I must caution, as always, research any unfamiliar plant you plan to take internally, especially if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or taking medication). Hydrosols contain essentials oils, organic acids, flavonoids, plant pigments, various water-soluble plant components and trace molecules. 

This ancient form of botanical medicine making (when using a metal still) is a rather magickal alchemic union between the elements; earth, air, fire, water, and metal. The first people to utilize stills were the Egyptians, as it is depicted in ancient carvings and paintings.
One of my first distillation set-ups. I plan to remove the heat-safe plastic with more copper fittings.

Through the process of hydrodistillation a plant's molecular structure is extracted through heat and water and captured within the steam which builds together from the cold (condensation) thus forming a hydrosol. I should also mention that hydrosols can also be extracted by using purely steam distillation, without plants bathing in water, however, through my *recent learnings some trace molecules that are water-soluble might be lost in that process, therefore, you loose a little bit of that plant's "magick". And then there's also the combination of the two, which is called hydro-steam distillation.

To make a hydrosol I begin by giving thanks to the borrowed sacred land that we grow plants on and to the mighty plant nation and all her protectors. I then begin to harvest plants guided by various forces, sometimes it's astrology and sometimes it is simply what someone is needing. I then set the scene for plant processing. Once the foundation is set I place my copper alembic still pot (or some like to call it, a cauldron) on the stovetop, fill it up with my thoughtfully processed plants and then I fill the pot with natural spring water or if need be distilled water (there are some studies that can be found on water PH levels). Sometimes, for a very special hydrodistillation I will make a journey to harvest local fresh spring water. I then place the alembic head or 'onion' on to seal it up, which is attached to a copper pipe, sometimes called a 'swan neck'. Some folks will create a seal here with rye paste to avoid steam from seeping out. I haven't had this issue yet but as I use this still over and over again I'm sure I will need to. The neck then attaches to a condenser. The condenser is either filled with ice or cold water is continuously ran through it. That cold temperature from the condenser travels through the copper pipe creating condensation in the alembic head and within the pipe. That condensation then comes out of the copper pipe, resulting in your product, a hydrosol. You can get a visual idea of this set-up from the above photo.

I practice a low and slow hydrodistillation process so that I can keep *smaller molecules in tact and capture them in the hydrosol. Larger-scale essential oil companies use a higher flame and they process the plant material a lot quicker, which I think makes the end product not as whole as it could be. You don't see many of these companies purely producing hydrosols, they basically sell what they view as a by-product of the essential oil. Technically, it is a hydrosol but it was not initially distilled for that purpose, placing the intention in essential oil extraction rather than a wholistic hydrosol.

Homegrown CA Sagebrush (artemisia californica) Hydrosol.

These hydrosols carry water-soluble therapeutic properties that can be incorporated into one's healing regime to address several types of conditions along with supportive energetic properties for the spirit. These waters are fresh and alive and therefore need to be preserved in refrigeration and in darker colored bottles. I like to use blue bottles for the extra healing benefits of chromotherapy, every crafter has their twist, that's the really fun part of this art.

Getting to experience the intensity of the aromatics first-hand when hydrodistilling really gives one a good insight into the characteristics and energetics of the plant. Sometimes I have to walk outside to take a break from the potency and sometimes I bask in it. An olfactory experience like no other that will make you fall even more in love with the plant world! I do suggest going outdoors in you can for larger hydrodistillations, especially if you're distilling often. It's also great to open some windows if you can't go outside. Some of the steam can be really strong, I've done an artemisia hydrodistillation indoors before which turned out to be my teacher in being more mindful with ventilation as a distiller.

As I mentioned previously, hydrodistillation is also how essential oils are extracted, a craft that requires a lot more plant material and preparation depending on the plant you use. For example, some plants might require a special soak of some type to extract essential oils.

Most of my hydrosols contain fair amounts of naturally occurring essential oils that I do not separate because there wouldn’t be enough to use on its own. You can tell when your hydrosol has essential oil content because sometimes you’ll be able to see little pools of essential oils or even little "rainbow-like" circles dancing on the surface of your hydrosol.

If you want to separate the oils you could purchase an essencier.

You can see essentials oils floating here with a bit of a blue hue.
This is a hydrosol trio blend of rose geranium, white yarrow flowers and cleveland sage. 

I really enjoy using hydrosols all the time and sometimes I'll switch them up according to the season (you know, to be in tune with the cycles and all) and of course for whatever energetic shift or remedy I'm looking for. Although with that said, there are a few right rightnow that I like to keep close by all year long like the sages, myrtle and rose geranium.

Hydrosols really should be at the forefront of aromatherapy, in research and in use. I'm thrilled there are more and more folks starting to make their own. They are gentler on our bodies yet strong in their medicine. It takes less plant material to make and I really believe that these waters carry more therapeutic benefits than solely in their seperated essential oils. They can really help guide healing paths and they carry transformative powers down to the cellular level. *The results from gas chromatography - mass spectrometry essential oil testing (most essential oils have a GC/MS report that lists active organic compounds) doesn't reveal trace molecules, which aromatherapist John Steele has stated, are "the soul of the plant."

In the realm of this alchemic practice I believe it is important to know the distiller's methods of crafting and in particular where they are sourcing their plants from. Essential oil production is the main culprit for modern ecological imperialism because of the amount needed to produce EOs and to meet the increasing market demand. *There is a renaissance of alchemists working directly with nature and the cosmos to produce botanical "potions" in which we are fully immersing ourselves (spirit) into the distillation process. Any botanical distiller can tell you of the energetic stages and experiences one has while sitting with their plant distillations. Seek out solid sources my friends.

Want to learn more about the art of hydrodistillation and hydrosols? I know I do!

Here are some super reputable online resources that I've found to be helpful and inspiring:

The School for Aromatic Studies
Facebook Group: Artisan Essential Oil Distillers
Stillpoint Aromatics List of Therapeutic Benefits 
Jeanne Rose
Aromatic Plant Project
*Recent learnings: Alchemy Panel Discussion - Hosted by Roxana Villa of Illuminated Perfume with panelists, Cathy Skipper, Dr. Florian Birkmayer, John Steele and Roxana as well. Learnings mentioned were captured from John Steele. The last sentence was inspired by the overall panel discussion with strong themes from Cathy Skipper on the alchemical art of hydrodistillation. 

Visit my etsy shop to check out my hydrosols, some change seasonally.  

Reference Resource: 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols by Jeanne Rose, 1999 Frog Ltd.