As the weather warms and some areas of our country start to open up again, we find ourselves hopeful but also a bit unprepared for the summer season. Last year we hunkered down in our home sanctuary, working on our garden and house, keeping up with orders and extraction, and being even more hermit-like than usual. It was mostly not all that different than our usual life, but we had different health goals and focus, as many of you probably did as well. We didn’t go on any trips or even many hikes or local outings, and our daily Spagyric doses were centered around protecting our immune defenses.
Immunity remains important, but we’re also looking forward to some outings and getting back to our usual seasonal herbal tonic cycle. For this time of year, as winter recedes, the flowers come out, and we’re looking forward to more strenuous physical activity, that means a short list of cleansing and building tonics. We find that our needs right now are mostly physical, and so we’ve put together a collection of Essences for seasonal support as summer moves in.
The classic springtime nutritive food-medicine is Nettles, and I enjoy collecting them or buying them from a local wildcrafter, and then transforming them into a freezer full of pesto and a pantry’s worth of infused vinegar.
Eating Nettles as a green and extracting them in vinegar are two excellent ways to get the rich mineral content they offer- especially iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They are delicious if collected when young, and I hope you’ll give them a try if they show up where you live!
Because of the special nature of our processing, our Essences are also an excellent source of plant minerals, since they are extracted when the plant matter is processed to salts, a process unique to Spagyric work. The amount of salts from any plant is directly related to its mineral content, and because Nettles are an especially mineralized plant, they also give abundant salts. This level of the work forms the Body of the final Spagyric, and carries a perfected form into which the higher aspects of Spirit and Soul can come together again.
Our Nettle Essence is a great source of all of this plant’s minerals in very assimilable form, and it also has anti-inflammatory properties that especially balance the sinuses and respiratory system, as well as the kidneys and urinary tract. I take it as a daily tonic once the gorse starts to bloom here, and it really reduces the sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and general malaise of allergies.
Also appearing in the boggy places in our area are horsetails, an ancient plant that arose some 350 million years ago. Called a “living fossil”, horsetails are so old that they evolved before flowering plants, and so they reproduce by spores, more like a fungus. They once were the dominant understory plant of the forests, and some types even were the forest, growing up to 100 feet tall!
Modern horsetails only grow about 3-5 feet tall, but they still carry a toughness evolved out of their millennia of survival. They are notoriously hard to eradicate, as tilling or mechanical means only serves to spread them more, and they are very resistant to chemical herbicides. That is because of their high content of silica, an element that plays an important role in strength and resistance to damage in all plants. Horsetail is such a good source of silica that it is used in Biodynamics and natural farming as a plant spray to help crops resist diseases, insects, mold, and environmental stresses.
In our bodies, silica is crucial for the formation of structures- both the rigid ones like bones and nails, and the strong yet flexible ones such as collagen and tendons. It is also important for the structure and integrity of the small blood vessels of the eyes and kidneys, but at the same time, overdoses of silica or constant exposure to unhealthy forms of it can damage these same delicate tissues. The most balanced form of silica for both absorption and safety is from plants, with those in the grass family, such as rice, being the highest sources among common food plants.
Herbally, Horsetail is one of the best sources of silica, other good ones being Yarrow with its tissue repairing action, and Oatstraw, healing to nerve structures. Our Horsetail Essence is very solidifying and strengthening, with an almost “chewy” energy and feeling because of the silica structure it carries. It is very supportive to healthy hair, skin, and nails, as well as the deeper tissues that depend on silica for their health. Horsetail is also a strong diuretic, and so when used in small doses for a short amount of time, it can be very healing to urinary and kidney imbalances.
Our next two mineral-rich herbs are related and have overlapping but unique properties. Alfalfa and Red Clover are both in the pea family, and both are widely grown as nutritious forage for animals such as cows and sheep. Both are high in protein as forage, and in minerals that are extracted well in our processing.
Alfalfa has been used as a nutritive medicinal for thousands of years, and its juice was used as a type of blood substitute in ancient Arabic medicine. Its balance of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, and other minerals is very similar to the makeup of our blood, and although it is no longer used in the same way as the Arabic doctors, it can be ingested for the same nutritional benefits. Alfalfa is also high in naturally-occurring fluoride, and so along with the other minerals, our Alfalfa Essence is an excellent tonic for bone and dental health.
Red Clover is as mineral-rich as Alfalfa, but with a different collection of nutrients and benefits. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium are all found in Clover, as well as B vitamins and trace amounts of molybdenum, important for the formation of hemoglobin from iron.
As I wrote in this Weed Love column, Red Clover is also high in isoflavones, which are plant-based chemicals which act like estrogen in the body. This makes Red Clover Essence useful for hormone imbalances, especially those that occur before and during menopause, and it combines well with Black Cohosh for this use.
Like the herbs we’ve talked about so far, Dandelion is also a mineral-rich plant, so mu so that it is considered a “dynamic accumulator” plant, one which transforms poor or marginal soils into more fertile ones by growing and concentrating nutrients in its tissues, to be broken down and left behind when it dies. Its greens are high in vitamins A, C, E, and K, and make a delicious spring salad if picked when small. These leaves are slightly bitter, with the milky sap, flower, and root of Dandelion being very bitter, a signature of herbs of Jupiter, as I discussed in this article.
Dandelion roots are high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, and especially high in potassium. This makes it a balanced diuretic on its own, cleansing the urinary system without causing potassium depletion, and it is also a good adjunct to stronger diuretics such as Horsetail, as well as balancing the potassium depletion that Licorice can cause in some people. Our Dandelion Essence tastes rich and bitter at the same time, and has a gentle tonic energy that combines well with many other Essences.
Finishing off our collection of strengthening Essences is another food-tonic root- Burdock. Called Gobo in Japanese cuisine, it is popular as a pickle, ferment, and addition to vegetable rolls. It’s taste is a bit bitter, but also somewhat rich, and I enjoy including it in my spring tonic sauerkraut fermentations. It is useful as both a short- and long-term cleanser and tonic, especially rejuvenating to the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system.
In the digestive system, Burdock is moisturizing and soothing but also stimulates digestion, and so it is useful to heal sluggish digestion without the irritation that more potent laxative herbs can cause. Our Burdock Essence has been very helpful for chronic conditions that relate to infection or toxic buildup, such as gout and some arthritis, and especially issues that arise at the skin, like acne and psoriasis.