The summer holidays are just a distant memory, the kids are back into the rhythm of school and autumn is on our doorstep.

What happens to nature in Autumn? Well one of the first things we remark are the leaves that change colour, going from a myriad of different shades of green to orange, copper, brown, red, yellow, this is often a beautiful site. The leaves change colour however because they are no longer irrigated by the circulating fluids within the tree, a small plug of woody material gradually blocks the entrance at the base of the leaf (at exactly the point where the leave will eventually break off) and bit by bit the arrival of water and minerals is reduced and due to this the level of chlorophyll (that makes the leaves green) decreases, this is part of the process leading towards the winter period of silent dormance.

As we are part of nature, even though we are tucked away in our centrally heated, insulated houses we too are affected by autumns transition. The circulation in our lives and bodies is less vigorous, at this time of year maybe our hair is falling out more and seems drier, we feel tired. Instinctively we start to prepare for winter, getting a stock of wood in, preserving the surplus vegetables from the garden, concentrating on making our homes feel homely. This is a transition period and the movement leans towards interiority, it is necessary and healthy to follow these natural rhythms.

Autumn is a period of purification and elimination both on a physical and emotional level, be ready to let go not only of toxins but of old feelings and emotions, feelings of sadness can often come up during this time too.

Sensitive to the changing seasons, I have learnt to allow these, sometimes uncomfortable emotions to rise, I try to welcome them and then let them go on their way, feeling them keeps them moving, trying to ignore them will block them in the physical body and this is when illness and disease can bed in.

Making sure that you spend time alone is important, time to quieten down after summer’s activity, time to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings, time to feel nostalgic, sad even and time to assess where one is and where one is going.

I often glide between inner work, writing, and contemplation and outer activity linked to preparing for winter. Summer may be gone but Autumn is a wonderful period for being close to nature, harvesting chestnuts, nettle tops and wild fruit, sitting and contemplating, listening to the birds, enjoying the colours and the beautiful light at this time of the year. I try and go slowly, no need to rush, observing and just being are also part of these activities. Trying to sense my way with my instincts rather than with my mind. 

The good news is that there are many different things we can do with herbs to help us optimise and benefit from nature’s rhythms. There is no ‘formula’ so to say, the best thing to do in my opinion when choosing herbs for oneself or a patient in order to help ride the waves of autumn’s transition is work with one’s intuition. There are already many clues indicated by the vegetable world at this period, using what is available from natures autumn offerings is a very good place to start and at the same time as choosing remedies for the seasonal change, autumn is a major time for harvesting roots and berries for the rest of the year.

The first, of course that comes to mind is good old dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), what would we do without it? A wonderful plant all year round, have you noticed there are plenty of young rosettes that have popped up everywhere, the freshest leaves are great added to salads and cooked vegetables and their diuretic action will help free us of those unwanted toxins. It is also the optimum moment to collect the roots, the energy is entering the earth at this time and the ground isn’t yet too hard for digging and it is now that the roots taste their best, a sure sign that it is the moment to harvest them. They are exactly what we are looking for, everyone tends to think of dandelion’s action on the liver, which is very true, acting gently to cleanse the liver, gall bladder and pancreas and stimulate the secretion of bile but dandelion is also an excellent kidney tonic and drainer, helping drain toxins and unwanted emotions.

Burdock (Arctium Lappa) is another plant where the roots are ready for an autumn harvest. Do you remember Dandelion and Burdock drink? I grew up in the late 60’s, 70’s and I think it was already mass produced by then, don’t know if it contained the actual plants or not but according to Wikipedia it has been made in the British Isles since 1265, the roots were fermented together and made into a sort of mead.

As now is the time to harvest the roots of one-year old plants, it is a good idea to do several things in one swell swoop, getting out into the countryside to gather the roots is very healing in itself, collect some for tincturing and the rest for an autumn cure and to add to a stir fry. Dandelion and burdock are still a great combination, I have already spoken about the former and as for Burdock it is a great blood cleanser, providing a gentle detoxifying action on the liver, kidneys, blood and lymphatic’s as well as toning and nourishing the system. Together they work very well at getting crystals that have built up in articulations moving and helping to diminish inflammations.

At this time of the year it is also the last chance to harvest nettle tops, they have a second growth in autumn and are just at the right stage of the cycle for either tincturing, drying or cooking with. Nettles fit the autumn cure extremely well also strengthening the liver and kidneys, their adaptogenic, re-mineralising qualities are extremely beneficial especially if there is a temporary feeling of tiredness that often catches up with one as the nights grow longer. A French study on nettle in 1989 by a certain Doctor Yves Requena showed that nettle improved physical activity, stimulated intellectual work, lessened tendencies towards anxiety and depression and at the same time improved sleep quality. Here in France it is the leaves we use but Henriette Kress suggests using the dried seeds for tiredness and exhaustion. There is also an enormous amount of chickweed around at the moment, young, juicy chickweed just right for salads and cooked veg or soup and absolutely full of vitamin C, calcium, silica and magnesium, this will help boost a tired organism.

 Talking of vitamin c makes me think about rosehips from wild rose bushes (Rosa canina) or any other variety, they are abundant in this season and although the frost hasn’t made them soft yet can still be harvested and infused for the vitamin C content but be careful not to boil them as vitamin C is fragile, I suggest leaving them to infuse longer but at a temperature no higher than 90°C. If you really want to make jam out of them now put them in the freezer and when you defrost them, they will be soft.

Whilst we are on the subject of berries, another lovely berry, one of my favourites and one I am actually using at the moment myself for helping with feelings of sadness that have come up with the seasonal change is Hawthorn. Easy to find in hedgerows and fields, hawthorn trees are, old wise members of our native plant world and their fruit make a wonderfully tasty tincture. I use it not only for the physical heart but in small doses for healing emotions that touch the heart and helping keep calm at times when an inward looking perspective is necessary.

Another wonderful autumn helper is angelica, although it isn’t officinal, I use Angelica sylvestris, wild angelica rather than garden angelica (Angelica archangelica). It grows in damp, shady places, often near streams and rivers and yes you’ve guessed it now is the time to harvest its roots. Known for its proprieties linked to the digestion, it is also a very good tonic and stimulant. This year I decided to distil my angelica roots, I wanted to explore angelica on a more subtle level (its one of my favourite plants) and I find that hydrosols are ideal for this. The smell alone is amazing, angelica seems to help me make the connection between ‘what is above is below’ linking heaven and earth, my spirit and my body…and this is reflected in the smell, which at the same time as being heavenly fragrant, floral and airy is also not unlike fresh cow manure. The biodynamic philosophy comes to mind when thinking about this aspect of angelica, with the two main preparations that are used in agriculture being the (501), which is silica and is described as a pulverisation of light and the (500) a cows horn filled with cows manure and buried throughout winter, this preparation is for the soil and plant roots. These two spectrums, light and earth are vital not only for plants but for us as well and what better time to renew this invisible but important thread between our spirit and connection to the whole through that which is invisible and our anchorage to the soil and the earth on which we live…thumbs up to angelica’s subtle energetic support.  

So there is just a sample of some of the medicinal plants available at this time of the year around my neck of the woods, there are many more and of course all depends where one lives. Apart from the medicinals don’t forget the comestibles such as chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, crab apples and of course mushrooms all waiting to be harvested and stored in one form or another for winter. I love the squirally energy of autumn harvesting, busy enjoying the still warmish and depending on where you live sunny days of late autumn, collecting, preparing and storing for winter. This is what we should be doing inside ourselves as well, collecting together the bits that are going to be useful in the long days of winter for example our strength, love, patience, compassion, contemplative nature and going through the rest, feeling and then letting go of what’s not needed, our fears, anger, sadness…


1 Comment

  1. Paige said,

    December 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    hi, i really like your artwork and musing about plants. I’ve enjoyed reading through your experiences. I’ve been exploring plants in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest USA but I am originally from Vermont. I have to ask… the first picture you posted in “Autumn”, of the trees and mossy rock… I think I’ve seen it before! but in an unusual context. I was visiting an art gallery in Burlington, Vermont a few days ago and I saw a painting that looks like a replica of this photo! it’s surprising because I just found your website today and this image struck me. is it a photo from the internet? or one of your own? I was just too curious not to ask. thanks!

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