Sowing Herbal Hopes and Wishes
Balm Brings you sympathy and Marjoram joy
Sage is long life... Sweet Woodruff augurs well for health -
A blessing richer far than wealth.
While Lavender means deep devotion,
Herb of sweet omen, Rosemary conveys
Affection and remembrance all your days.
May Heaven and Earth and Man combine
To keep these blessings ever thine.--Rachel Page Elliott
For centuries in Benedictine cloisters, gardening - particularly herb gardening - has been considered an important ritual in the daily round of religious life. But the devotion to growing herbs can be traced back nearly six thousand years before the Christian era began. In ancient civilizations like those of Egypt, China, and Assyria, herbalists were revered, and their teachings about the medicinal properties of herbs were passed down in sacred texts. During the Middle Ages, the herbal tradition was honored and preserved by wise women and midwives, who shared recipes and medicinals made from herbs collected in the wild and cultivated in cottage gardens.
There is probably more mystery and lore to herbs than any other plants. Each herb has its own history, significance, and use for either cooking or remedies. King Charlemagne of France, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, believed that herbs were "the friend of the physician and pride of cooks" and ordered the planting of a royal herb garden in the ninth century. Herbs were considered essential for a long, happy, and healthy life.
Herbs are another avenue of creative expression for the apartment dweller, because a marvelous windowsill garden of herbs can be grown year-round. If you don't have one, there is still time enough this week to visit a farmer's market and pick up a few plants. Herbs adapt beautifully to container gardens because they don't need much space and are very gardener-friendly. A delightful kitchen herb garden of basil, dill, parsley, sweet marjoram, thyme and rosemary can be cultivated in a large terra-cotta bowl or catino, a staple in Italian kitchens. The fragrance will perk you up every time you walk into the room, and fresh herbs will encourage you to be more adventurous in your cooking.
A friend of mine is an herbalist who manages to keep one foot in the sixteenth century and the other in the twenty-first without ever missing a beat. Jeri knows, respects, and honors the mystery, magic and the wonder of nature, which she refers to as "Mother." When she collects herbs in the wild to create medicinals for herself, gathering the good that Mother has so generously bestowed on her, she becomes a willing participant in her own healing, her search for Wholeness. When she chooses dill, tarragon, or rosemary to flavor a meal she's cooking, she contributes to her own nourishment, well-being, and pleasure. Her love of herbs is a tangible expression of self-nurturance.
Jeri performs a Native American ritual as she collects herbs. She wears a sacred pouch that carries wheat seeds. As she gathers from the earth, she personally returns an offering by scattering seeds. And even if the seeds don't sprout, at least she is feeding the earth's creatures. "The Native Americans have a chant that they invoke when the gather," Jeri says. "The Earth is my Mother, She takes care of me. The Earth is my Mother, I take care of Her."
Today, sow some symbolic seeds, even if you don't have a garden, as a gesture to ritualize the new life you are creating within. Ask for the blessing of Spirit and the nurturing of the Great Mother and know that in due time there will be an abundant harvest for yourself and those you love.
"In search of my mother's garden I found my own," Alice Walker tells us. Today, may this be your discovery as well as mine.
-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy©1995
None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.--Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
This season has brought forth, in my herb garden, a richness of growth. I have trimmed and snipped and weeded and cultivated. I have been rewarded with fragrance, savor and a lot of time on my knees - time to contemplate the richness that my hands and the good earth have brought into being. Even the slugs have been kind to me, and kept their munching to a minimum. There is lemon balm, which makes a great tea just before bedtime. Lavender makes a cachet for the dresser drawers. Varigated sage and pineapple sage to bring out the flavor of meat when cooking, basil to spice up the tomatoes, parsley aplenty for garnish. Marjoram, dill, rosemary and three flavors of thyme. And more mint than I really need, because it will grow whether you want it too or not. It is the bully of the garden.
What little time I have had to devote to the herb garden has given me time to slow down my life. Sometimes in life, things happen too fast. We complete one task (if we are fortunate to be able to say that!) and another begs our attention. One problem is solved and another surfaces. We feel great in the morning, only to be submerged in misery by nightfall. Interruptions, delays, changes and challenges, personality conflicts and disappointments - sometimes all so overwhelming that we are not able to see the lessons in these experiences.
While working in the garden, it is not difficult to focus on the gratitude I have for what is before me, in my hands and in my eyes, the abundance that is there. During more stressful times throughout the day, it is difficult to see the abundance, and to feel blessed for what I am experiencing. But just as in Nature, there is a working of the plan, whatever cycle that produces the experience also produces something which I must reap in order to grow and mature. At those difficult times, I often have to force gratitude. I don't necessarily like the experience, but thank you anyway. It has become habitual to do so, now. Doing this has helped me stop trying to control the outcomes. It is the key that unlocks the positive energy in my life, the alchemy that turns problems into blessings, and the unexpected into a gift.
Be grateful. Start the process of turning today's pain into tomorrow's joy.
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