In our area, the differences between late winter (rainy) and early spring (also rainy) are subtle, but the shift has definitely started. It’s an especially welcome turn of season this year, coming off 12 (!) atmospheric river events that deluged the West coast.
One of the most welcome sights out there right now is the budding and blossoming of plants, bursting out from branch tips, unfurling up from the soil, even sprouting from within last year’s Echinacea seed heads.
Everywhere you look, plants are doing their yearly work of constructing themselves seemingly out of nothing, pulling in light, air, and moisture and forming the bodies they will inhabit as the growing season progresses.
This is a great time to rebuild our own bodies through tonic herbs and foods, and I was happy to start seeing chickweed and dandelion greens appear in the yard so I could put them in my salads!
Next to our patio, a surprise patch of yarrow I wished for but did not actually plant is filling in with feathery, aromatic leaves, and further out in our neighbourhood, nettles and horsetail sprout. Many of the tonic foods of this time of year are mineral-rich, bringing up the bounty they gathered in their season underground.
These building tonics and the others on sale right now are especially well-expressed through Spagyric processing. This is because, unlike traditional tinctures, we further process the spent plant material after its alcohol extraction, purifying and concentrating the minerals which are key components of these plants’ actions.
These minerals, called Salts in Spagyric work, also form the body of the plant, both as it lives in Nature, and after its rebirth in Spagyric form. Watching them coalesce during their processing is one of my favourite aspects of the work, as each plant has a different quantity, shape, colour, and energy in its Salt level of being.
The most plentiful salts come from the most mineral-rich herbs such as Alfalfa, Red Clover, Nettles and Horsetail.
Alfalfa and Red Clover are related plants, and have some overlap in their constituents and healing properties. Both are rich in many important minerals like calcium and potassium. Alfalfa as a Spagyric Essence is also high in natural fluoride, while Red Clover Essence‘s content of magnesium make it a good ally for high blood pressure.
Both have estrogenic effects and can be used for hormone imbalances and menopause, although I find Red Clover more effective for this use.
Silica is found in abundance in Horsetail, Nettles, and Yarrow, with different uses and characteristics in each of these green beings.
The silica in Horsetail is intensely structural, and can be felt in the toughness of the stems, both in the modern plants that you might encounter today, and in the toughness of a plant that predates most others in evolutionary terms. Horsetails were once the size of redwoods, and their ancient energy continues even in their much smaller modern versions which rise from boggy parts of fields, near roadsides, and other places inhospitable to other plants.
Medicinally, Horsetail is a great tonic for the structures of the body, from the bones to the nails and even the hair, giving them strength and flexibility. Horsetail’s fondness for boggy places shows us an affinity for the water systems of the body, especially the urinary tract and kidneys. It’s not an herb to use long-term for imbalances in these organs, but our Horsetail Essence is a strong diuretic and cleanser to the urinary system, while also astringent and toning to those tissues.
Even outside of herbal circles, Nettles are known for their sting, but what you may not know is that this sting is both chemical and mechanical. Formic acid, the same burning that many insects can deliver, is injected into the skin by tiny needles of silica, which can be seen as a sparkling frost on the underside of the leaves.
There are many techniques for gathering Nettles without being stung, such as folding the leaves over so the needles break before touching the skin, or the bold method of “grasping the Nettle”- grabbing it firmly so that the needles break off quickly.
Personally, I am not extremely allergic to them and don’t get a big reaction, so I allow them to sting me, since it only seems a fair trade for the medicine I am gathering. Plus, after some good stings, I always feel invigorated and energized for a few days afterwards!
Besides silica, Nettles are very high in iron, which along with their sting, makes them a quintessential herb of Mars. As we might expect from that rulership, our Nettle Essence is an excellent blood tonic and spring energizer, especially combined with Codonopsis, which we will discuss shortly.
Yarrow is another herb that contains silica in varying amounts, depending on where it grows. It’s an herb that really interacts with its local environment, with high altitude mountain plants being more aromatic and anti-microbial, while Yarrow in our seaside environment is very rich in the silica it picks up from the sand. When I collect Yarrow around here, I am always in awe of how gritty the leaves feel, even after washing- this is their silica content.
The aromatic compounds in Yarrow are anti-inflammatory, and it also contains aspirin-like constituents, and so it is a very healing support for joint pain and problems which are structural in nature, like my aging knees. Our Yarrow Essence quickly eases pain and inflammation, and over time, combined with good nutrition and other mineralizing herbs, it supports the health and strength of bones and connective tissue, and slows their degeneration.
All of these silica-rich herbs have another side, too, which we can see in their uses in Biodynamic and natural farming. In that system, silica is a carrier of light and life force, expressed in the macro crystals of quartz, but also on micro levels within plants. Silica is important to plants’ resistance to disease and insect damage, and extracts and ferments of them are a big part of our garden’s management.
Plants can be used to feed other plants because they pull minerals and nutrients from deep in the earth, break them down into forms they can use, and then release them again when they break down. But what if this cycle happens in the same place for millennia, with countless generations of plants rising, growing, and falling again into the same soil? If this happens in very special places in the Himalayas, the result is Shilajit.
Shilajit is a mineral pitch or resin collected from high in the Himalayas, where it oozes out of the rock faces. It is thought to be the result of thousands of years of plant life forming and breaking down, the minerals and other constituents percolating through deep layers of soil and then out again where the rock meets the high mountain air.
Shilajit has been used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine since their inceptions, revered as a Rasayana, or building rejuvenative tonic. If we think about its origin, the thousands and thousands of plants it is a concentrated form of, this is not surprising.
Shilajit is high in all the minerals and nutrients that plants carry, and it is especially rich in iron, so much so that it is not suitable for children’s use, although it is perfectly safe for healthy adults. It is also high in benzoic acid, which it shares with Benzoin, Frankincense and other resins, and which gives it a rich incense-like smell. It is also a source of humic acid, a primary component of healthy soil, giving Shilajit an earthy note that speaks to its deep energy.
In Ayurveda, Shilajit is used with other herbs to direct its action, bringing nutrition and purification to whatever organ its helper herbs send it to. For digestive health, it combines well with Turmeric, while it is used with Cordyceps for respiratory balance, and Burdock for skin issues. Almost any body system and function can be supported by this interesting and powerful substance, and our Spiritualized Essence of Shilajit is an energizing way to connect with this ancient intelligence.
Another herb which has its own building properties, as well as being a synergist with other herbs, is Codonopsis. This is a root used in Chinese Medicine as a blood tonic and builder, especially after surgery, trauma, blood loss, or other debility. It’s also a Qi and energy tonic, but in a very balanced and not overstimulating way.
The balanced nature of Codonopsis can be sensed in its sweet, rooty and food-like taste. Our Codonopsis Spiritualized Essence is one of my favourite Spagyrics going by flavour alone, reminding me of the sweetness of parsnips. Codonopsis works through the fluids of the body, especially the blood as mentioned, as well as the lymph. As a blood building tonic, it combines well with Nettles for iron, and Oregon Grape to aid in iron assimilation.
Continuing with sweet rooty tonics, we come to Maca, a beloved food/herb of the Andes. This hardy plant grows high in the mountains where not many plants thrive, and it’s a very concentrated source of nutrition for the people who also thrive there. High in vitamins B, C, and E, and calcium, zinc, iron, iodine, and magnesium, Maca is also rich in sugars, carbohydrates, amino acids, and essential fatty acids.
Our eroSoma Nectar of Maca is energizing and supportive to stamina and hard work, and I rely on it when I have intense gardening or yard work to do. Maca is also a good ally for sexual health, with a strong aphrodisiac effect, especially for women. At the same time, it is healing and tonifying to the sexual organs and tissues and supports hormonal health in a non-directional way.
Last but not least, bringing us more deliciousness is Goji berry, a little red berry from China and Tibet, packing a big medicinal and tonic punch. One of our favourite snacks during festivals, Gojis are sweet like raisins, but more interesting tasting, containing many amino acids, trace minerals, and 500 times the vitamin C of oranges.
Like so many of the sweet tonics we’ve been talking about here, Goji is also high in polysaccharides, which are at the core of many herbal adaptogens’ effects. And Goji’s sweetness is part of its energetic signature, as well, bringing good cheer, lightened mood, laughter and “excessive mirth” if overindulged in, according to some texts. I can’t say we have ever found Goji’s levity to be excessive, but the Spiritualized Essence of Goji is lovely, like a nice dessert wine that makes you feel expansive and joyous.