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June 2017

Developing Curiosity for a More Creative Life

While pulling weeds alongside a rather inquisitive 4½ year old, I was struck by my own obliviousness to the world around me. She sat bravely near the borage as four or five bumble bees buzzed about doing their work. She asked questions about the bees and the plants, and I shared how the bees pollinated the borage and tomatoes (great companions) and the other plants, too. Then, from deep inside of me came the exclamation, “Isn’t it just amazing to think that a red, round tomato will grow from that yellow flower?!”

Something so small that happens day after day, year after year. But, when I stop to really think about it—WOW! The food we eat grows from a seed planted in the Earth, and pollinated by insects and birds. I was filled with gratitude and a pure joy to be living and experiencing. I became curious, like this child asking how and why. Then, I wondered what else might I be missing? Why had I lost the natural wonderment of life?

It’s common to find that adulthood dulls our curiosity. We become accustomed to how and why things work. Sadly, if we do come across something we’d like to know more about, there’s hardly time (or energy) in our busy schedules to investigate. Quite honestly, this feels like a gray, gloomy existence.

We need curiosity to live a bright, creative life. Curiosity reveals parts of us we’ve yet to meet. It helps us solve problems, and encourages us to create unique, beautiful things. The best part is all is not lost if you’ve been missing your curiosity. You can practice being curious. And therefore, you can live the creative, colorful life full of spirit and awe! Just like a child.

What Will Curiosity do for Me?

  • Curiosity leads to creativity. It encourages us to think about things in a different way. It also inspires us to try something outside the box. This can often lead to new, undiscovered results we didn’t know were possible.
  • Curiosity makes us smarter. When we are interested in something, different parts of our brain lights up leading to even greater benefits—like increased memory.
  • Having a desire to find out answers to some pressing question means whatever the question is, there is some sort of passion there. It gives us a way to tune into our bodies and how we feel in order to meet an undiscovered part of ourselves.
  • Curiosity is an extension of our spirit. Sometimes it’s having a curiosity that doesn’t crave an answer. When we can sit with a question without having to know the why and how, we create joy and wonder within ourselves. We learn to appreciate the mystery that makes life meaningful. This kind of curiosity will develop an underlying appreciation for all the little things going on around us as we move through the day.

How to Develop a Stronger Curiosity

Meditate

Clearing our minds of clutter makes space for curious thoughts. When we don’t automatically think about things other than the task at hand (doing dishes, cutting the grass) the task becomes less mundane and more interesting. Also, clearing our minds of self-absorbed thoughts will give us confidence to try something new.

Spend Time Outside

Nature has a way of helping us see what is important. And the possibilities are endless when contemplating the processes of nature.

Spend Time with A Child

This is a prime example of observing curiosity in action. Children approach life with such spirit and excitement, primarily because they are curious about the ins and outs of everything going on around them. They do not take “just because” for an answer. They want to know the details, and when you say to them, “I don’t know” they will begin to make guesses themselves. (That’s the creativity part.)

Move Your Body

Studies have shown that aerobic exercise helps increase the size and functions of the prefrontal cortex—a vital part of the brain for creative people. Since curiosity and creativity go hand-in-hand, your endeavor to be more curious will surely benefit from the health promoting practice of regular exercise.

Listen to Your Body

Notice and keep track of the signs your body gives you. These are the passions that make you, you. It is easy to squash your passions when you start to think about all the other people in this world that may be curious about the same things you are. You may think, “Why even try? Someone else is already doing it.” But, I guarantee these passions were given to you for a reason. Following them is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Don’t Connect Curiosity-Driven Attempts and Experiments to Your Self-Worth

Curiosity will spark creativity. Yet, it doesn’t promise success. One thing you mustn’t do (and I really need to practice) is letting go and moving on if curiosity leads you down a dead end road. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. It is the price of living a curious, creative life. But if you can find a lesson from a failed attempt, you’ve won! It’s all about the journey.

Hopefully you can see how the childhood curiosity and awe we all once had, can help you create richer experiences as an adult. There isn’t an exact formula (though I wish there were) for how to go about become curious about life again. Little by little you can form the habits of a naturally curious, divinely creative person. Now that sounds like the life I want to live!

Need More Resources?

Check these out…

Big Magic-Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (affiliate link)….One of my favorite books

Play, Spirit, and Character….On Being interview with Dr. Stuart Brown on the importance of play in developing character

 

Celebrating St. John’s Wort

Young St. John’s wort

Summer is here, and that means the days will gradually be growing shorter again. Seems rather odd, but I’m thinking ahead to the coming winter. Striving to live seasonally is a challenge during those cold winter days. I’d much prefer the warm sun on my back as I play in the garden. A herb that helps me face that challenge is St. John’s wort. In light of the Saint’s celebrated birthday (June 24th), I thought I would share what I know of the herb named after him, and some ideas for crafting with it!

St. John’s wort is a magical, sun-loving perennial with a history richly steeped in spiritual well-being. Before modern science could explain how St. John’s wort works to relieve mild depression, anxiety, and stress, people celebrated this plant for its powers to rid darkness and protect them from evil. Not only is St. John’s wort helpful for the mind, but it has some rather extraordinary healing properties as well. A fitting plant to celebrate, if you ask me.

St. John’s Wort and the Christian Religion

Adding to its magic, St. John’s wort “bleeds.” When pressed between the fingers, a bud or blossom stains the hand with a purplish-red oil. Hypericum perforatum was given its common name because St. John supposedly called upon it quite often for its benefits to heal the body and mind. Though I’ve observed St. John’s wort blossoms prior to the Saint’s birthday, tradition states that the plant blooms on June 24th and “bleeds” on the anniversary of his beheading-August 19th.

Further associations to the Christian religion are found within the plant’s leaves and petals. A great way to determine if you are looking at St. John’s wort is to hold a leaf up to the light of the sun. You should see tiny holes ‘perforating’ the leaves. These holes are symbolic of St. John’s wounds as a martyr. And should you look down at the plant from above, many suggest the four leaves make the shape of the cross.

St. John’s Wort for the Mind

Those of us who have experienced the darkness of mental health disorders know that the worst evil we may go through in this life can come from within our own minds. Whether it’s low self-esteem, a situational depression, or a form of anxiety, we can all feel sad, numb, and scared at any point in time. It’s often the thoughts we think that keep us down and in a place of dark solitude.

Yet, St. John’s wort has the ability to break that cycle of negative, stuck thoughts. The ‘holes’ on the leaves and flowers are actually glands. They emit compounds that can interfere with our brains ability to become stuck in a depressed funk. These compounds are known for increasing the body’s ability to collect light—which is often the reason for feeling blue in the winter when we receive less sunlight.

Furthermore, these compounds are able to enhance our emotional strength by stretching out the neurotransmitters that make us feel good—dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. When these flow through the body for a longer period, we feel less like we are on an emotional rollercoaster—going from highs to lows quickly. In short, the compounds found in St. John’s wort balance the mind.

St. John’s Wort for the Body

St. John’s wort has many health benefits for the body as well. Due to its antiviral properties, St. John’s wort has potential in treating Aids, herpes, and shingles. It is also considered to be antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which is why it has been used topically to heal wounds and ease sore muscles.

St. John’s wort aids in the absorption of nutrients when taken internally. This makes it a wonderful digestive herb. St. John’s wort brings its balancing abilities to the table by stabilizing stomach acid levels—working to raise or lower them depending on what the body needs. Herbalists will often suggest St. John’s wort to treat ulcers, heartburn, and bloating.

Crafting with St. John’s Wort

If any of this has you thinking about how you might incorporate St. John’s wort into your daily life, look no further! The tutorials and products listed below will help you to do just that. Pick one or try them all, and find what works best for you.

DIY: St. John’s Wort Tincture

Tea Blend for A Restful Night’s Sleep 

DIY: St. John’s Wort Infused Oil

DIY: Cayenne, St. John’s Wort Salve

St. John’s Wort Flower Essence  

Make a Sweet Dream Pillow with St. John’s Wort for Better Sleep

Now is the Time…

Now is the time to enjoy St. John’s wort in all of its blossoming beauty. Sit with it, admiring the flowers, buds, and leaves that open so freely in the bright summer sun. Forage and find some ways to make it last once the summer is gone. Thinking ahead to the winter months and their longer nights, I’m relieved to have a friend in St. John’s wort. One that will brighten my spirits on cold, gray days. But for now, I’ll be glad that its summer and that I can visit with St. John’s wort.

I’m curious. Why and how do you use St. John’s wort? What works best for you?

Admiring the Abundance of Red Clover

To be “in clover” still means to have abundance.

I sometimes forget my manners when given plenty of something. I am more careless with how I use a resource when there is more of it. What’s more, my appreciation for whatever it is I’ve been given is lacking when there is more than enough. A common human trait, it makes me feel better knowing I’m not alone in this. It takes conscious effort to identify the ways we have been blessed in a society that consistently tells us we are not enough and we do not have enough.

Recently I noticed that I haven’t said ‘thank you’ for the good fortune of having Red Clover growing freely here. She arrives each year singing the sweet song of summer as she takes over wherever she is planted. Red Clover (and white, too) signifies the successful continuation of the common ‘weed,’ notoriously sought out to be banished from today’s lawns. The very best way to appreciate something or someone is to give them some of my time and undivided attention. That isn’t difficult to spare for a loyal friend like Red Clover.

Nutrient Dense

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) contains many nutrients that the body needs replenished regularly. This is one reason I enjoy Red Clover as a nourishing herbal infusion. More than adequate amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C, several B vitamins, and calcium all reside within Red Clover. Even some essential trace elements (magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, and selenium) rest within the flower head and leaves. Pretty impressive to think of all of that being packed inside this floral powerhouse.

Cleansing Herb

Throughout it’s history as an herbal remedy, Red Clover has gained popularity as a detoxifying herb. It primarily cleans up the blood and lymphatic system by eliminating toxins from the body. Red Clover (taken internally) encourages an increase in urine and bile production. It also helps clear mucus from the lungs while acting as a soothing expectorant.

Anti-Cancer Potential

The potential to cure major illnesses and diseases using nature’s medicine is uplifting. It just makes sense. Even though Red Clover hasn’t cured cancer, it has some properties that make it rather beneficial. According to the National Cancer Institute, Red Clover contains four significant anti-tumor compounds. In 2008, Matthew Wood commented that “fairly reliably [Red Clover] will cause a membrane to grow around a tumor and contain it, which is helpful, especially if followed by surgery. This has especially been observed in breast cancer.” This is my favorite example of how modern and alternative medicine might work together for a common goal.

Skin Helper

Herbs with skin healing properties are a favorite topic of mine. I’ve suffered from extremely dry skin and eczema most of my life. Red Clover’s ability to stimulate the liver and cleanse the body means it is helpful in treating skin complaints that typically appear due to poorly treated, stagnant bodily systems. Red Clover will assist the body in clearing these complaints away when taken as tea or tincture consistently over longer periods of time. It also makes for a great salve or skin wash.

Menopause Symptoms Reliever

Many woman have turned to hormone replacement therapy during menopause. And many of them report having uncomfortable side effects of the treatment. Fortunately, Red Clover contains plant hormones (phytoestrogens) and compounds (isoflavones) that can ease the irritating and uncomfortable symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, etc.). Taken internally or as a tea on a regular basis, Red Clover may provide the relief needed during this time in a woman’s life without the negative side effects.

Red Clover is NOT a Blood Thinner

Red Clover contains the compound courmarin. This compound can change to a synthetic agent called dicoumarol, which is a blood thinner. This happens when a Red Clover harvest ferments during the drying process. When dried properly, this isn’t a problem. Yet, anyone taking blood thinners would be best advised to stay away from Red Clover.

Drying Red Clover

If you are like me, and lucky enough to have red clover growing around you, then you can easily dry your own for tea or tincture. To do so, find a dry spot out of the sunlight to lay your clover heads out. Either on a screen or brown paper spread them so they are not piled on top of each other. Give them ample room to breathe in order to dry more quickly.

When dried they should retain much of their color and be crumbly. If they turned brown it’s best to compost them and try again. Otherwise you can purchase dried Red Clover at Mountain Rose Herbs.

All in all, Red Clover reminds me to appreciate how good I have it. Because I really do. This life is full of many wonderful gifts, and they are easy to overlook in all of the hustle and bustle. Slowing down and learning to see how important these small but abundant gifts truly are is what makes life worth living. What a perfect meditation to contemplate over a mug of Red Clover tea!

***The quotes used in this post come from the book Backyard Medicine by Julie Burton-Seal and Matthew Seal. (To be “in clover” still means to have abundance; quote from Matthew Wood)

Self Heal Oil for First-Aid

It’s the perfect time of year to be foraging for herbal first-aid helpers. Many of the most effective plant healers for wounds, scrapes, and bruises are growing abundantly in our own backyards. One of those common plant healers with a long history as a first-aid plant is Self Heal. In addition to the plant’s internal antibacterial and antiviral benefits, Self Heal is an effective topical herb, too.

Topical Benefits

I consider Self Heal to be a summer herb extraordinaire! Of course, we can all agree that summer is best enjoyed with minimal skin complaints. Bug bites, sunburns, heat rashes, and more can be addressed by Self Heal’s restoring powers.

Self Heal has properties that lend itself to healing damaged skin tissue. In addition, it will draw out infections (much like Plantain), and can halt the bleeding of scrapes and open wounds. Due to it’s cooling properties, Self Heal is a good choice for burns, too. It disperses the heat associated with sunburns and swelling. Self Heal has potential as a skin protector from the sun’s rays thanks to the rosmarinic acid found within the plant.

Although not as popular today as it was in the past, Self Heal is a great herb to know. Upon finding it in the yard, I just knew I needed to make some time for it. The method I describe for making a Self Heal oil comes from the book Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal. It’s been my go-to book this foraging season. I really enjoy the creative ways they use the plants profiled throughout the book.

Making a Self Heal Oil

First, collect your materials. You will need a mason jar, an oil of your choice, a piece of clothe, a rubber band, a strainer or cheese clothe, and jars to pour the oil into when ready.

Next, collect the plant leaves and blossoms when the dew of the morning has mostly dried, but before the heat of the day distresses the plant.

Simply fill your mason jar with flower heads and leaves. Take the time to really enjoy the blossoms. Gaze into the ready blooms, and examine the ones tucked inside holding all of that potential energy. Not only will you be displaying respect for the sacredness of the plant, but you will also be more at ease during the foraging process.

The chicks curiously found me collecting the pretty purple-blue blossoms. I think they wanted to help!

Once your jar is mostly filled with leaves and blossoms, you can add the oil. I use grape seed oil because it goes on less greasy than other oils. Equally great choices are coconut, olive, or apricot seed oil.

Pour the oil in to cover the plant material about an inch. Give the oil a stir to work out any air bubbles trapped inside. Next, you will cover the jar with a piece of clothe and a rubber band. This will help any moisture from the fresh plant material to evaporate.

Your jar will need to sit in a sunny window for three or four weeks. You may need to push the plant material down under the oil every few days to keep it covered.

When the time comes, strain the plant material from the oil and allow the oil to sit. If there is any moisture left in the jar, you will want to carefully separate out the oil by pouring it into a different jar.

Finally, label and date your product. It should keep for a year, but always check for rancidity. (The smell will give it away.)

I’m looking forward to turning this oil into a salve or cream for daunting summertime skin irritants. With all of the benefits Self Heal has to offer, I’m sure it will make those itches and burns disappear in no time.

I’m curious! Have you used Self Heal to make an oil before? What kind of benefits have you observed from using it?

Self Heal’s Lesson in Self Confidence

I struggle with self-confidence. I always have, and probably always will. When I am in my element (gardening, studying herbs, etc.) I love what I do and feel confident in my abilities. Yet, stepping out to run errands, to try something new, or to simply visit with friends and family, my confidence crumbles. I notice how different I am from the rest of the world. I think to myself, ‘maybe I’m not enough. What if the world laughs at what I have to offer?

Luckily, a recent visit from a plant friend has taught me a thing or two about self-confidence. Self Heal has popped up among the clover out front with a message of persistence. Despite being underappreciated in Western Herbalism today, Prunella Vulgaris shows up offering what she can. She desires to be all that she is and nothing more. Self Heal cherishes her lovable qualities. And she has been challenging me to follow her lead.

Plant Characteristics

Self Heal is a perennial blooming all over the world. A member of the mint family, she’s unique in that she lacks much of an aroma. Bees and butterflies still make frequent visits to her delicate purple flowers. Yet, even some herb gardeners chalk her up to be a noxious weed as Self Heal (like other mints) can spread like wildfire when given the opportunity.

At first glance, Self Heal may appear dead. The stalks on which the purple flowers bloom often look brown, but Self Heal does not bloom all at once. Give it a closer look and you may see the blossoms tucked away inside awaiting their turn to open. The flower stalks are quite flexible, and remind me of a cat-tail. Given a taste, Self Heal is rather bitter. It has just a touch of rosemary flavor, due to the rosmarinic acid (an antioxidant found in rosemary) found within Self Heal.

History as a Medicinal Plant

Self Heal has acquired various common names over its centuries of use. Woundwort, All Heal, Heart of the Earth (my favorite) are all names interchangeable with Self Heal. Also known to many as Carpenter’s Herb, Self Heal was believed to be able to “join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward.” Touch and Heal was another name given to depict her use as a valuable first-aid herb.

Traditional Chinese Medicine notes the use of Self Heal as early as 206 BC. In this practice, Self Heal flower tops are collected late in the summer when they are finished producing blossoms and they’ve begun to wither. Once dry, the flower tops are infused in tea as a way to cleanse the liver.

European countries have a long history of using Self Heal, too. However, they pick the flower heads just before or while they are flowering to use in tea or to make oils for topical use. Both traditions recognize Self Heal as a cooling, anti-inflammatory herb that can bring down the swelling in various glands (especially around the neck).

Self Heal’s Potential for Today

Self Heal is beneficial for both fevers and the flu. All in one plant you can find immune boosting antioxidants, plus anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. This is a hopeful herb in an age of antibiotic resistant infections becoming a scary reality. Self Heal has an ability to prohibit viruses from replicating, giving it the potential to be an effective treatment for AIDS and Herpes viruses. Furthermore, Self Heal is a balancing herb (or an amphoteric). Jame’s Duke has noted Self Heal’s ability to either stimulate or reduce activity in thyroid glands that are either over or under active.

Despite all of this Self Heal is no longer held in high esteem among herbalists of the Western tradition. Many of us will reach for other wound healing herbs (Comfrey, Yarrow,etc.) when needed. Perhaps Self Heal has obtained a reputation as being far gentler than these other choices.

No matter the reason, Self Heal remains steadfast in completing the job she has to do. She continues to show up—all over the world. Her spirit shines through her vibrant purple-blue flowers. She doesn’t question her abilities or if they are enough. The world’s opinion of her doesn’t seem to matter, as long as she continues her presence.

It’s a mystery how an herb with so much history and potential is undervalued in herbalism today. Yet, this teaches me to live life with confidence, and honesty for who I am and what it is I find meaningful. I, too, can bring forth my abilities without reason to feel they are less than another’s. They may be different, but that’s what makes life beautiful. Where would we be if Self Heal diminished because she lacked confidence?

References:

Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal (affiliate link)