After a busy summer, teaching in various countries, re-visiting childhood and family places, meeting many wonderful people, bathing in beautiful landscapes, the gentler pulse of autumn has arrived.
Like Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) the expansion of summer and the beautiful rays of its umbels are now dried and withering, still standing tall amongst the rest but lifeless, its essence or life force making the journey down its long narrow stem to settle into the roots for winter. I feel like I am making a journey too, the energetic, outward going activity of summer is fading and a deep, pulsing desire to enter that space in myself that I know as home is calling. The journey, however is not so easy, for I have changed…with every person met, every plant encountered, every landscape breathed and although deep inside there is a familiar comfort it is also the place from where I come into direct contact with my ‘wound’. But go I must, respect the seasons and the cycles of nature, to go against nature’s rhythms, is to go against oneself as we are no different from the Angelica, except that we can fool ourselves with our so called ‘intelligence’ thinking we are above such basic influences and carry on regardless….but that would not be wise.
Autumn is also an important period for harvesting, as I harvest the knowledge and experience I have learnt from all the interactions of the past months, I also harvest the berries, barks, roots and plants to make into medicine. Walking through the fields, along the country paths, collecting plants, taking my shoes off and feeling the springy, freshness underfoot helps me to make this transition, feel the change in pulsation, process experiences and re-align with the moment. I become autumn like the seeds hanging on the Angelica umbels, like the hawthorn berries fighting for a place on the heavy boughs of the cragged tree, like the walnuts still nestled in their blackening envelopes, like the oak with its brown paper bag covered leaves…I am carried softly by the inevitable call of the seasons and I relinquish resistance.
I am moved now by the earth’s force…autumn this year is warm and summery, the light shining through the changing colours adds a melancholy to the end of something, but not quite…not yet.
I go and nestle into the bottom-sized spaces made by the huge roots of the ‘master’ oak tree, I lean against its great trunk and listen as we breath together, still, serene, supported, tears well up, I am safe here to feel, to let go, to breath deeply, to love!
Autumn medicine is root medicine
Root harvesting is for me one of the highlights of the wild-crafter’s calendar. Roots are generally harvested in Autumn (surprise, surprise), as this is when the plant’s energy has left the flower, which would have finished its cycle by seeding and going back downwards. If the plant is a biannual (Angelica sp, Heracleum sphondylium), then the roots should be gathered at the end of the first year as they will be dead and exhausted at the end of the second. You need to know your plants well in order to harvest roots as although, plants such as those mentioned above will be visible, many are not…by the time you go and look for them, the leaves and stalks have decomposed and there is no sign of their whereabouts, either you know your plants well and can recognise a bit of half decomposed yellowing leave as the one you’re after or you mark the spot earlier in the season with something so you can locate it later.
So why do I love root gathering and root medicine? Digging down into the ground and feeling my hands deep in the soil, searching for the knobbles of the roots that contrast with the wet, crumbliness of the earth. I like the way all the roots are so different, only knowing the upper part of a plant intimately is like only knowing one side of someone, the roots give me a much wider picture of the plant, their smell, their colour, their form, their size, are they tap roots that go deeply downwards, are they knobbly roots that fragment into bits all over the place etc.
But more than all that is the way they help us connect with our own roots, they do this on one level by helping anchor or ground in the here and now, we are after all incarnated into a human body so its kind of a good idea to get connected to the earth…its home for the moment (for more information about grounding and which root for which medicine, you can read my article “Depression cuts the ground from under ones feet.“
I also like connecting with ancestral roots when I am making root medicine, medicine makers that have gone before me, lovingly unearthing these bony treasures, tenderly washing them, smelling them, feeling them…thinking about their medicine, for whom and how they may stimulate someone’s healing. Then there is the connection to my ancestral blood family, rarely an easy connection but definitely a necessary one, as I myself sort and clean my roots, they are like unburied bones holding distant memories that were thought of as long gone forever secrets, but this is not the way of healing. One day, at the right time, through the right person secrets need to be unearthed processed, healed and released…root medicine can help the medicine maker in this process.
Seeds and berries are also the stuff of Autumn, the bright red berries of hawthorn (Crataegus sp) and dog rose (Rosa canina) calling out to be harvested. Hawthorn for the heart, tune in to its healing, calming and balancing effect. Physically the berries are used to give strength and rhythm to the pumping action itself (heart muscle wall) and strengthening blood vessels. Hawthorn tincture is actually one of the tinctures that has the best taste in my opinion, even without added sugar it makes a beautiful winter toddy, to warm the heart when the snow is on the ground and all is frozen over. Dog rose, some people prefer to harvest after the frost when the rosehips have become soft, I personally think this depends on what you want to do with them, jam making, soft hips, ideal…drying for herbal teas…no way, you just end up with a sticky mess. There is also the added disadvantage that if you want to retain the high vitamin C content of the hips they can’t be heated beyond a certain temperature and that’s where things get complicated, in France the general consensus is that the vitamin C is destroyed at 60°C. This year I have decided to tincture some hips and macerate some in honey…
The wild carrots (Daucus carrota) have dramatically turned in on themselves at this end of season, their once, virgin white umbels dancing in the breeze have transformed into hairy, browny, purple nests of insect-like seeds. They have a good flavour, slightly spicy and lemony – a forgotten condiment no doubt. In the past I have distilled them into a hydrosol for easing a windy stomach and aiding digestion as well as for toning the skin in facial creams. I am beginning to feel that there is a lot more to wild carrot than meets the eye and so this year, I am going to harvest the seeds, tincture some and dry the rest. I will no doubt write about my finds at some point in the future.
The walnut trees are laden, the hard green protective cases are gradually turning black.
As Hippocrate said, Let thy food be your medicine and your medicine be thy food’ walnuts are full of lipids, mainly alpha linolenic acid, which belongs to the omega 3 family and so beneficial for the health of the cardiovascular system as well as a good serving of protein, vitamin E, vitamins from the B group and myriad of beneficial oligo-elements.
As they fall to the ground the walnut husks can be tinctured, they need to be green and not yet completely blackened, I use 50° fruit alcohol and leave for 21 days in the good old-fashioned French way. This tincture makes an excellent anti-parasite preparation!
And those are but a few of the gifts I saw today in my strolls, as I said, this autumn is gentle, warm and soft so yarrow, horsetail, mallow are still sticking around, yarrow in fact is in full force, seemingly enjoying the centre stage of this ‘arrière season. I paused once again at its feet, I asked to go deeper, to learn more of its secrets – it took me soaring within myself, with strength and determination balancing male and female polarities into wholeness – with the help of the sun that it captures with its capitula.
Autumn, as the trees shed their leaves, I cast off the unnecessary, the old, what’s not mine in order to become whole. I bask up the autumnal rays and allow the deep, rhythmic beat of the earth to start its descent into the depths. I let go, knowing that alone I can do nothing!