Thursday, November 11, 2010


An old botanical illustration of Hawthorn, Rosa Rugosa blossoms in Maine, Hawthorn in bloom Co. Clare, Ireland, and pouring Heart Elixir.

I love making, sharing, and taking Heart Elixir. I love that both Rose and Hawthorn have an affinity with the heart, soft & delicate five petaled flowers, nourishing red berries, and thorns for fierce protection. Sometimes our hearts need support so that it can open, sometimes it needs some protection so that we can heal.  Sometimes we need both.  I pass Heart Elixir around the circle when I teach menstrual and sexual health workshops *to bring sweetness to the circle,* when exploring potentially difficult/triggering/painful/ transformative topics and emotions, as I was taught by a fellow health justice community organizer.

Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." Our heart holds so many emotions - the fluttering of new love, the comfort of connection, the heartbreak of the ending of a relationship, the deep grief of losing a loved one, the shock and trauma of violation and war. Though it's simple enough to understand how someone can respond to pain by closing our heart off to feeling any emotion at all, doing so negatively impacts us physically, emotionally, spiritually. I like to think of my heart, now that it's know the pain of losing ones I had held dear, as a bit battered and scarred. I find tremendous beauty in this, a heart that seeks to remain open while fully knowing the loss that opening again could bring.

I have much gratitude for those in my life that intimately know grief and its many expressions, who are present and allow space for tears, laughter, numbness, anger, and escape. Unfortunately, much of the rich traditions of remembrance and honoring our ancestors have been lost in order to assimilate into being "white" and/or "(U.S.) American." Even still, in times of death, people go to the kitchen to create comfort food for those left behind, send sympathy cards, call, and visit. And as an herbalist, I'm particularly blessed with a circle of friends who gather with candles, photographs of ancestors, offerings of food, and bundles of herbs to celebrate and observe. For those who understand that death is necessary for life, and that it still really sucks, and who can sit with the range of emotions this all brings, I say *thank you.*

This year, in addition to honoring Grammy and Pop-pop and the rest of my ancestors, I grieve the loss of Miss Beatrice Waight (traditional Mayan healer from Belize, teacher, and friend), Marilyn Jean Buck (U.S. Political Prisoner, poet, and white anti-racist activist), the many people who died in the earthquake in Haiti, and queer youth who have taken their own lives.

Let us return to the Heart Elixir, with instructions in case you'd like to make some yourself. In the summer, I visit our family farm and gather petals from the Rosa Rugosa rose bushes there. You can harvest the petals and still leave what will grow into the rosehip, for another harvest come autumn. You can find Rosa Rugosas growing wild, in gardens, and by the sea. Just be sure that you're not harvesting from a place that has a lot of cars driving by (exhaust, salt, etc.), big power lines overhead, etc. Once I gather the most vital petals into a basket, and stopping when the plant says "okay, that's enough," I thank the plant and place the petals into a clean glass Mason jar and pour in brandy. I use Christian Brothers Brandy, aka Pagan Sisters, though one day I'd love there to be an abundant and affordable local brandy that I could use. I'm more of a pinches and handfulls cook/herbalist, rather than measuring everything to the T, but in general I suppose I fill the jar around 3/4 full and then pour the Brandy almost to the top of the jar. I usually place the jar in the sunshine for the first day, and then put it in a spot where it is both protected from direct sunlight and accessible enough so that I remember to shake it every now and then. I let this tincture macerate (infuse) for at least a month. Truly, the petals are so gorgeous, even after the first day or so when the color drains out into the brandy, I often leave them in much longer than a month. Whenever you are ready, you can strain out the petals with a metal strainer or cloth (loose muslin or cheesecloth), composting - or nibbling - the petals and re-bottling the Rose-infused brandy. Be sure to label your creation with the ingredients, date, place you harvested it from, moon phase, whatever you'd like to include.

Later in the growing season the Hawthorn berries will be ripe enough to harvest. I remember first meeting Hawthorn when I was living at the Victory Gardens Project - a group based on the Black Panther Party's Community Programs and co-founded by U.S. Political Prisoners and Maine activists to grow food with donated land, seed, and labor, and distribute it for free in the rural Maine community where it was based and in urban areas through community organizations that had traveled to Maine to participate with the planting and/or harvesting. The Hawthorn berries were much appreciated by the little critters that ate them where I'd placed them to dry. Hawthorns are very sacred trees in Ireland. You don't cut them down - which is why a major roadway on the west side of the island goes far out of its course, because the road crew knew enough not to touch the Hawthorn tree that lay in its path! In May the hedgerows there are aglow with the vibrant white Hawthorn trees in bloom. In northern New England (United States), I've harvested Hawthorn berries mostly in September and early October. I find the berries that have a good red color and harvest gently, avoiding the large thorns. As with the Rose petals, I place the Hawthorn berries in a clean glass Mason jar, cover them with brandy, and let them infuse for at least a month. In general you don't want to harvest herbs in the rain, especially if you're drying them!, as their volatile oils that you're usually wanting to capture can be washed away. But with berries (and the roots of other plants), you can give them a rinse if they need it.

When I'm ready to create a small batch of Heart Elixir, I pour into 1 or 2 oz glass amber tincture bottles equal parts of: the Rose petal-infused brandy, Hawthorn berry-infused brandy, and delicious Maple syrup that my friends make from trees they tap on their land. Then I add flower essences that I've made.

Flower essences are different from tinctures, they capture the essence, the lesson of the plant. The effects can be subtle, and also quite transformative. Each flower essence has a story - about the particular plant, the day it was make, etc. - but let me share just a bit about each. The Heartsease pansy (aka Johnny-jump-up) is the five petaled edible flower cousin of Violets that grow in moist woods and yards. During an herbal class that involved a plant spirit activity (deep listening to the plants, listening with your heart instead of your brain) I was told really simply, and matter-of-factly that violets make your heart green. This message was in sync with my above vision of a battered, scarred up, healed/healing heart.

As a very emotional and sensitive person from small, I feel a strong affinity with Yarrow. This plant was the first to teach me that herbs don't necessarily need to be ingested in order to be a remedy. I carry this plant in my first aid kit (chew up the dried flowers and leaves and apply to a cut, even a deep one, to stop the bleeding and disinfect the wound), rub Yarrow-infused sesame oil onto my abdomen to relieve menstrual cramps, and when I'm driving I visualize a shield of Yarrow around my car to protect me and others, including critters crossing the road. Yarrow flower essence helps those of us that are really sensitive to our environments and the emotions of others to learn healthy boundaries. While empathy and sensitivity is a blessing, it can also be draining for those who tend to "sponge" up the stress around us, and Yarrow teaches us to maintain ourselves.

I made a Hawthorn flower essence from the luminous tree at the bottom of my friend's garden in Ireland. I love the nourishing, heart tonic-ness of the Hawthorn berries and was happy to also add the flower's medicine to the elixir.

This year I've added Magenta Lotus to the Heart Elixir. This flower essence was made in Sandra Lory's Local Healers class on a magical day at the Garden of Seven Gables. There are quotations about the lotus growing up out of the muck, but I also think of the lotus' stem as a cord, connecting the blossom to its source. I find this concept of transformation really liberating, that through past experiences that may feel heavy and murky, we can still grow, thrive, and radiate, without losing that connection to where we come from.

I take Heart Elixir 1-3 drops as needed, or 1 dropperfull 3 times a day.  If you have questions about making your own heart remedy, let me know.  If you'd like to purchase Heart Elixir, you can do so here on my DandelionessHerbals online etsy shop

Update 12/14:  I've reformulated Heart Elixir, replacing Hawthorn berries with Tulsi leaf and flower.  Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, is an amazing medicinal plant that not only has an affinity with the heart, but is also an adaptogenic herb, helping our bodies adapt to change and stress.  It has a multitude of other healing properties and I highly recommend folks getting to know this plant by growing it, drinking Tulsi tea, taking Tulsi Elixir, researching the plant, etc. Hawthorn is still contained in the Heart Elixir, in the form of hand-made flower essence.

Also, Heart Elixir is part of Dandelioness Herbals' Self Care Kit: For Emotional First Aid, which won 1st place in the "Purely Medicinal ~ Tinctures & Extracts" category! *and* Grand Prize in the 2013 International Herb Symposium Herbal Products Contest. 

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