Aromatic Allies for Historical Trauma

The more I work with my own trauma and facilitate workshops about trauma, the more I realize the importance of working with historical and transgenerational trauma. We are not isolated humans in isolated lives, we are part of a larger picture. That larger picture consists of our own individual family trees and their place within a community and a larger collective.

When working with your own healing journey or with others as a practitioner, it is important to remember this larger picture. I have found this approach especially enlightening when emotional patterns or reactions arise that don’t seem to have a root in this lifetime. The same goes for chronic physical symptoms. Chronic health issues can affect people through generations as reactions to past traumas. In the same way, health issues can be passed down from specific historical traumas in entire communities and cultures.

Unresolved trauma in past generations finds a way to repeat itself. We feel the trauma inside ourselves, until someone finally transforms it. I have noticed that we seem to be living in a time in history when many of us are being called to do this transformational work and integrate traumas that have been passed down from past generations. The more we collectively become aware of the need to re-think our way of being in the world and where we are heading, the more it becomes apparent that in order to heal the future, we need to heal the past. As we work to transform our personal traumas, these transformations echo out into our families and communities.

There are three common emotional textures that are often related to historic and transgenerational traumas: Loss and DespairVictimhood, and Shame and Guilt. If these are first reactions that you or your clients have to common challenges, obstacles and confrontations, the solution could be in healing the past.

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As I worked to unearth my own ancestral narrative and untangle the threads that lead to my great-great-grandmother, an Indian tea tribe girl, I simultaneously discovered the secret my own mother had been keeping that involved a whole race. I knew my mother was born in India and even though her sister and other members of our family looked Indian, this was never talked about and if mentioned by someone else, it was vehemently denied. Through my research and piecing fragments together, I found out that my maternal lineage were Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians are a race that was created during British colonial rule of India to provide ‘middle men’ between the British and the Indian laborers. It has sometimes referred to as the Secret Race.

In piecing together the hidden aspects of my ancestral lineage, I have not only been able to see where certain emotional and life patterns that I did not understand in my own life came from, but also how this individual lineage fits into the historical traumas of a whole community. Cistus essential oil has been a great ally in the work of bringing secrets and hidden information to the surface. I’ll discuss cistus more below.

Workingseriously on transgenerational trauma involves a lot of dedication and hard work. The aim in identifying, transforming and integrating these passed down traumas is that they stop being hard wired. Defensive patterns can become food for growth and healing. As they become conscious and a narrative is formed, we can stop hurting ourselves and others by unconsciously reproducing them.

A good starting point is to take time to reflect on family lineage, whilst mindfully attending to how one is feeling emotionally, what is going on physically and what thoughts are arising.  Remember: ‘To feel is to heal’. You could map out a simple family tree of the branch you are interested in working with and explore your place within in it. What is your relationship to the suffering of your family? Are you willing to feel it?

Ruh Khus, commonly known as wild vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides), can be a really good essential oil to create a warm and nurturing groundedness from which to undertake this time of reflection. It is important to feel earthed, safe and embodied in order to be able to be mindful of what comes up.  The physical body holds a lot of information in its cells, known as cellular memory. The more we inhabit our bodies during this work and the safer we feel, the more those cellular memories can rise to the surface.

Once time and attention have been given to this form of reflection, gradually, a direction or a feeling may point to a pattern or reveal a fragment that is asking to be explored more deeply. To encourage our cells to really let go of deeply buried information, we can use the essential oil ofCistus (Cistus ladaniferus). Cistus really knows how to dig deep and does not give up until what needs to come up from the depths has been released.

Remember to look for links between your individual trauma, your family trauma and stories of collective trauma. By doing this we recognize the threads that connect individual, transgenerational and collective trauma. This enriches our strategies for resolving these conflicts and systems.

For women, I believe there is a lot of work to be done with our maternal inheritance.Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is just a small percentage of our DNA, separate from nuclear DNA and is passed down uniquely through the maternal line, through the egg cells. There is a ‘She’ that is the same ‘She’ in myself, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and so on. This lineage is calling to be healed. The feminine in our bloodlines is pushing us to give her a voice: The voice she never had, the name that was taken from her, the place that was stolen from her. Could this transgenerational ‘She’ be where the feminine is rising from in today’s world?

Trace your female lineage. Trace the emotions, stories, traumas woven through it and start to look at what needs to be healed and transformed.  At first there may be recurring emotions that come up (i.e. personal trauma). This may lead to researching the actual ancestral story more (historical trauma). Or it could be the other way around. Unearthing the ancestral story may reveal forgotten personal trauma. Maybe the story has been passed down, but no one has yet put two and two together and connected the emotions within the family system to the story. Everyone’s journey is unique.

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), the beautiful and powerful Immortelle also known as Everlasting, helps us transform the wounds that come through from our ancestral stories. Its earthiness and connection to the feminine brings us into our body’s wisdom, the place where this cellular information is stored. Helichrysum remembers the heart, a vital aspect in this type of healing where self-compassion is primordial and right relationship to ourselves is the vessel. Once these things are in place, helichrysum is the balm that soothes the pain of the unconscious forces as they come into the light and touch our souls. Its wound healing properties bring disconnected parts of ourselves back together to be held at a central point of alignment. This is ideal when identifying and incorporating transgenerational trauma. Helichrysum helps us clear the fears that act as blockages to feeling and opening to the whole of ourselves.

I have become aware that often we hold a key to this transgenerational trauma and healing through every other generation. By this I mean we hold a key that fits with our grandmothers, whose key fits with our great-great grandmother (their grandmothers) and so on. It’s interesting to note how diseases and physical illnesses are often passed down in this way, too. I have found that we often resonate with someone further back in our family tree. Bear in mind that what has been hidden, repressed, distorted in the past will often create a counter force that pushes to re-surface with vengeance through a member of a later generation.

As we advance with our internal and historical detective work and these narratives become clearer, a deep integration process occurs. This integration involves a gradual perceiving and acknowledging of our ancestors with our conscious minds. They take back their place in the family tree and the integrative healing takes place in the past, the present and the future simultaneously.

dullardIn my own journey, I travelled to India to trace the story. I was able to reunite deep cellular memory with historical fact. I was also lucky enough to be accompanied by sacred Indian oils and attars that spoke to my roots through my limbic brain. India, through her people, her colors, her sacredness and her smells reminded me that I belonged. Mitti attar, madefrom baked earth, as well as

Rose attar, the mother note, both became healing allies, bridging the gap of time. Jasmine and tuberose healed the young tea tribe girl within me. She was finally able to smell and anoint herself with precious oils that she would have only been able to dream of as a poor slave girl.

Beyond my own cultural story, I find that the precious champaca absolute—just a sniff at the right moment—expands our inner world, brings in a light, removes obstacles and allows the integration process space to happen. I have been using it constantly as my journey intensifies. When the obstacles within come up with force and demand to be stepped through, champaca blows open the healing space. This work is powerful healing and demands powerful allies.

A central part of becoming whole is allowing the ancestors to reincarnate within this lifetime’s personality. For women this is becoming intimate with the ‘She’ that has always been there. It is ‘She’ that needs healing.

To summarize: The following stages, in a simplified manner, may be helpful to remind you where you are at in the journey and what the challenges are that need to be worked on.

  • Confronting the trauma – make sure you are grounded and have tools to help you with this; grounding oils (Ruh khus, nard, angelica, etc.), journal, collage, therapist, etc.
  • Understanding the trauma: looking for patterns, family systems, threads that link to past generations. Cistus essential oil.
  • Feeling and releasing the pain of historical trauma – to feel is to heal (helichrsyum, rose attar, geranium, etc.)
  • Going beyond the trauma and integrating the narrative. The trauma becomes your gift. Your strength is in the integration of your unique narrative. Find oils that connect you to a specific place, sense of belonging. For the integration process, champa
    ca, angelica, myrrh, etc.

For personal and global re-alignment, we must open up and tell our stories and the stories of our ancestors.

 

I now offer group classes and private consultations live or by Skype on this subject. Please email me at info@aromagnosis.com for more information and to schedule a consultation.

 

To order our oils and attars: cathysattars.com

We are constantly adding oils to our selection and hope to be offering cistus and helichrysum soon.

Dear everyone that has followed this blog over the years, this will be the last entry as I now have two sites where I blog and send regular newsletters  to subscribers , www.aromagnosis.com, which is being transformed into an online school and www.cathysattars.com.

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Cathy’s Attars

To thank you for being a loyal follower of my blog, I wanted to offer you a special opportunity to purchase our new attars and sacred oils before Florian and I  launch our new websites (one for our new school, Aromagnosis- the school of alchemical aromatherapy and plant medicine’ and one for Cathy’s Attars. The time has come to  finally close this blog.

But first let us tell you why we decided to sell these amazing aromas.

I  have been researching my maternal lineage. I always knew I had Indian ancestry through a great-great-grandmother and that I was the first woman of my maternal line to be born outside India. After doing a DNA test and being surprised that I had more Indian blood that I had even suspected, I went deeper into my research, which included a journey to India.

Florian and I pulled at fragile threads and began to unearth not only a tapestry of personal history that had been hidden from me, but a hidden collective history between the British and India and the ‘Secret Race’ Anglo-Indians.

During our journey to India, we took the opportunity to visit Moosa Khan’s family attar-making business in Kannauj, which is called the ‘attar capital’ of India, where we discovered these out of this world aromas and watched them being made. Attars are aromatic oils in which the fragile, hard-to-capture aromas of certain flowers, such as rose and jasmine, are distilled into sandalwood essential oil, which captures and stabilizes them.

We felt called to weave together the threads between India, us and our work. We decided to work transparently with Moosa and his attars and share these powerful, sacred and ancient aromas with those who understand our approach to healing through scent.

We are launching our new website, cathysattars.com, at the end of Julyattachment 2. It will include travel journal entries about our trip to India. (In the future, we hope to organize aromatic adventures to India for those of you who may be interested.) It will also include musings about my journey of healing historical trauma and the detective work involved. We will also share regular up-dates about Moosa’s distillations and other sacred oils we choose to work with. There will be information about how to use these oils, including anointing, journeying with them, their healing properties, etc.

We would like to offer you, our loyal reader, the special introductory prices we have been offering our students. These prices will only last until the website is launched.

If you would like to take advantage of these prices, please send us your order before June 1st!!

Of all the senses, none surely is so mysterious as that of smell … the nature … the emanations that stir it to activity is still unknown … its effects upon the psyche are both wide and deep, at once obvious and subtle.” Aromatics and Soul by Dan McKensie

Here are short descriptions of each of the oils we are currently offering:

Rose Attar: We witnessed the rose harvest when we visited and watched the local farmers bringing their huge jute bags of roses (Rosa damascena) to Moosa’s distillery to be processed. In this attar, the gentle, soft smell of roses is cradled by the underlying notes of the sandalwood. I find it intoxicating and nurturing, like coming home into the warmth after being caught in a storm. It is the sweetness I have been searching for all my life. I feel loved, held and understood with this attar. The rose sings and opens the heart while the sandalwood provides a safe ground for this purring aroma. Its soft vibration is instant, embracing the skin, bringing a smile to the face. It provides a feeling of safety, unlike any other aroma. As I smell it, I let go and fall into its arms.

Mitti AttarThis attar made out of half-baked clay called khapra and collected nearby. It is said that in Kannauj, they have bottled the smell of rain. This attar really does smell of rain on the dry earth after the monsoon. It is subtle, dusty, intimate, deep and once again very Indian. India’s earth is expressed and held by the sandalwood that really takes a back seat to enable the subtleties of this aroma to come through. The minerals of the baked earth seem to dance and sing in the vibration and aroma of this attar. There is nothing quite like it. It draws me inwards and calls me to the depths of myself.

Sambac AttarThis night-flowering jasmine attar is really powerful. It instantly speaks to me of sacred communication, touching both the throat chakra and sexual organs. It reminds me that feminine sexuality is something that needs to be expressed. It has a very high, strong and quick vibration, which connects us to the higher realms while still retaining the organic connection with our body and sexuality. It reminds us that the two are inextricably interwoven. Sexuality, communication and spirituality seem to blend together in this attar in an extremely powerful, feminine manner. An attar to be enjoyed, but not to be taken lightly!

Tuberose Attar: This is one of Florian’s favorites. Its Hindi name, Rajnigandha means “night-fragrant” as it is among the rare flowers that open at night. It invites us into a powerful sensuality in our bodies and was considered dangerously seductive in former times. At the same time, it is one of the most powerful openers of the crown chakra. It rises straight up to the sky and connects us of the divine in ourselves. A bridge between heaven and earth, it births something new. The scent is otherworldly, full of hidden layers that reveal themselves only as we are ready to receive.

Sandalwood Essential Oil: Indian sandalwood is the most revered sandalwood in the world. This one is soft, creamy, rich. It is elegant, round and smooth, with a velvety like texture that sets it way above many of the other woody oils for me. Santalum alba is native to India and has been harvested for perfume, ceremony and ritual for many thousands of years. It is extremely calming to the mind connecting the crown with the base chakra making it a very helpful oil to use in meditation. This is the sandalwood oil used for making attars.

Ruh Khus (Wild Vetiver) Essential Oil: Vetiver is an important oil in our work and so we are really excited to find this one that was grown and distilled in the Kannauj area. It has a deeply earthy pulse, with a slightly smoky note, which then leads into a smell of texture. The texture of embodiment, grounded reality and dried, cut wood. Vetiver encourages us let go of using the intellect as our armor and to really feel at home in our bodies. It helps us discover what it feels like to fully live and be present in our physical bodies joyfully. By building a solid, loving relationship with our physical bodies, we begin to feel more confident and centered. Our feelings, thoughts, emotions and interactions are anchored in our flesh and bones.Note: This is not an attar. Vetiver yields a lot of essential oil, so the attar process is not required.

Patchouli Essential Oil: Patchouli often reminds people of cheap scent from the hippie periods in our lives. This one is in a different league altogether. It has a sweet fruitiness mixed with the smell of leather. It seems to pull the energy downwards along the spine, grounding and yet with an aliveness that is common to all the oils we have ordered from Moosa. Note: This is not an attar. Patchouli yields a lot of essential oil, so the attar process is not required.

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Limited-time, Introductory Prices:

Prices are for 5ml

Rose Attar $60

Mitti Attar $60

Jasmine Sambac Attar $60

Tuberose Attar $65

Sandalwood EO $65

Ruh Khus EO $45

Patchouli EO $10

Shipping & Handling in US $15

Shipping & Handling to other countries: Contact us for a quote.

To Order: Simply send us an email with your order. You can also call us at 505 362 3369.

Payment: You can send payment via paypal to the account thebirkmayerinstitute@gmail.com. You can also call us (Florian) at 505 362 3369 with credit card information. (We have Square.)

We hope you’re able to enjoy this limited-time offer and welcome you to share in the magic of these aromas.

Becoming

This article is about becoming, becoming me, becoming who I always knew I was but felt it unsafe to be. As I embrace my journey towards menopause as a positive, empowering transformation into the wise, older woman that I always looked up to, I feel the fear, the fear that has been passed on through my gender but this time I walk through it. Women are carrying generations of fear-based messages reminding them that they could well be cut down for being she. The witchcraft trials in Europe killed thousands and thousands of innocent women, female babies have been and still are killed at birth in China, India and other muslim countries merely for being feminine and of course the list goes on. The term femicide that defines the killing of women because they are female was first coined in 1801 in England to signify, “the killing of a woman” It was then used by by the American author, Carol Orlock in the 1970’s to try and highlight the crimes that women endured just because of their gender.

“We must realize that a lot of homicide is in fact femicide. We must recognize the sexual politics of murder. From the burning of witches in the past, to the more recent widespread custom of female infanticide in many societies, to the killing of women for “honor,” we realize that femicide has been going on a long time. But since it involves mere females, there was no name for it until Carol Orlock invented the word ‘femicide.’ (1)

This article is not about re-visiting this subject, I just wanted to mention that as women we are carrying an internalized, historical (and actual) fear that reminds us that by our gender alone we could be in danger of death.

I believe that the feminine energy in our world is rising, rising from the earth and rising both in women and men, it is a matter of survival. In my personal life and my work I am committed to bringing this to the forefront. Women and men need to find that pulsation that is feminine, it is not easy to allow it to manifest, to be felt as we have not been educated to give it space, recognition or a voice. The masculine aspect in both men and women will continue to run out of control without this wisdom. The feminine wisdom is earth-based, it vibrates with the hum of the earth, it is cyclic, receptive and at home in the dark.

What I need to talk about in this article is crying to come out, be heard, vocalized and expressed. My belly is aching with it, filled up with it, screaming from within. Since young womanhood, I have been confronted with a phenomenon that has deeply hit me, a phenomenon that up until recently I would turn against myself and say, “there must be something wrong with who I am” and I would try to be otherwise, someone else, someone ‘acceptable’.

I have always felt passionately about women’s issues, be it breastfeeding, natural birth, equality. women’s safety, women’s empowerment etc. When these subjects or related come up in conversation, I feel a surge of energy rising within me, it isn’t coming from me but through me. It feels like a power surge, it is passionate, authentic and strong. It is not anger but feels like a muted voice that has found a source of expression, that is finally free and safe to articulate not just the words but the energy that has been so long held down. I feel its authenticity, its fluidity coming up from the earth, from the feminine and joining in the dance of life. I am empowered, strong, connected, happy and me.

Then suddenly the guns come out, the resistance have arrived, I stand there naked, unveiled, guilty…hands up, face against the wall, this is not acceptable. The safety, freedom, newfound place of expression is suddenly no more. I was too much, my words my energy, my passion, my voice are not welcome here. Once more I made a mistake, I am in danger and what is the worst is that those holding the guns are those I hold dear. “you’re voice is too strong, too loud, shut up”, they say and then turn the whole thing around and tell me “I am being like a man”, there is no way out, I am surrounded, I feel suddenly very alone. In the past, this would hit me in the belly with such violence, my life force would deflate to zero, I would forget I had the right to exist, I would belong nowhere, no place was home, I would need to change. I would tell myself that it was not acceptable to bring this energy to the world, I need to be calmer, softer, gentler, I am bad, undesirable, unloveable, improper, offensive, re-pungent and worst of all guilty. Guilty for being me.

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But now, something is changing and it is the powerful transition of menopause that is giving me the strength to finally ‘become me’, I am birthing myself. I no longer need to ‘make deals’ with others to be accepted, I accept myself, I no longer need to listen to what others say about myself, I listen to myself, I no longer need to believe others, I believe myself.

And so when the guns come out and aim at the rising feminine as they did this morning, I hold my space, I hold myself, I feel the deep fear in the belly and I thank those holding the guns for pushing me further into becoming. Becoming what I am, becoming who I am. I am still frightened as the fear is real and belongs to us all BUT the fear has become a powerful ally pushing me to hold it, walk through it and go beyond it. I step through the fear, I feel the rising feminine, I embrace her and she embraces me. I am whole and I am strong and I am safe because I belong to me.

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(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femicide

Listening To My Soul – A Personal Manifesto.

I moved to New Mexico from France nearly two years ago now. Four days after arriving in this new life, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The journey since then has been deep, intense, difficult and beautiful. I have ached, grieved, raged, cried, laughed and above all healed.

In my naïveté, I somehow believed that the cancer journey began when I was diagnosed and would end with a hysterectomy. In hindsight, I now realize that the journey began with multiple traumas during childhood and probably never fully ends. The ‘real healing’ however, has been going on since the hysterectomy. Only when the diseased body part was removed, the real work of healing began.

So for the last two years, I have been digging deeply inside myself. Since I moved to New Mexico, I feel very lucky, as this inner work has coincided with my professional work also taking a turn in a slightly different direction.

A herbalist and aromatherapist, I had been teaching both for many years and was honored to share my experience with French aromatherapy in the States through conferences, classes and the online class that I wrote with Jade Shutes. Each of us have our own, individual strengths and weaknesses, interests and natural leanings. Throughout my career as a herbalist and aromatherapist, I have always been pulled towards developing relationship with the plants and nature. I was also always looking for the deeper, hidden patterns and reasons underlying physical symptoms.

 

Meeting and marrying Florian Birkmayer MD, was not only a beautiful story of finding my soulmate but also my workmate. Florian’s experience as a psychiatrist, aromatherapist and his interest in the work of Carl Jung, coupled with my connection with plants and nature and intense enthusiasm for the soul’s journey led us on an excitingalbeit intenseexploration of ourselves. At the same time, no coincidence, we were deeply exploring the role of aroma within the context of the inner alchemical journey. We are excited to have created our own framework for working with plants and aromatics in healing the soul and finding one’s personal myth. This work has culminated in our online class Aromatherapy & The Medicine of the Soul: The Wounded Healer, The Alchemical Journey and the Sacred Union” that is being launched at ‘The School of Aromatic Studies’ (aromaticstudies.com).

As our work continues, I am realizing what a powerful framework we have created. We could not have done this without the pioneering work of Carl Jung on alchemy and the living wisdom of plants, of course. I am excited to see that the basic structure of this work is now leading us further and giving us the means to put it into practice and explore specific applications. I am currently working on the alchemy of Menopause and we plan to develop classes on ‘The Alchemical Couple’ (both the inner and outer couple) and ‘The Wounded Healer.’ Plants and aromas have up until now been the main signposts and allies in this work but as the depth and possibilities reveal themselves we will be adding other tools and allies such as runic symbols and spirit animals and healing through relationship with animals.

 

Cathy and Florian

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a book publishing company to write a book about French aromatherapy. They asked me to submit an outline, which I did. They enthusiastically accepted it and asked me to sign a contract. At first, my ego was pleased with the prospect and forged onwards, deciding not to listen to the at first barely audible voice of my soul that was needing to ask myself some questions. It didn’t listen until my soul began to talk louder through feelings and apprehensions.

I am very grateful to have studied aromatherapy in France. It has given me a solid grounding in the use of essential oils as part of my plant medicine tool box. I enjoyed learning and applying the work of Pierre Franchomme, Dr. Daniel Peneol and my aromatherapy teachers, pharmacists, herbalists and aromatherapists Gilles Corjon and Patrice de Bonneval from “L’Ecole Lyonnaise de Plantes Medicinales’ in my practice and in my teachings. I was excited and honored in 2013 to write the book ‘Aromatic Medicine’ with Patrice de Bonneval and then to apply my knowledge in writing the online French aromatherapy class with Jade Shutes.

The offer by the publisher, resulting in the thought of writing a book about French aromatherapy, has lead me to a crossroads where I am being challenged to be honest with myself and make a decision based on my soul’s calling. When I think about it, I have already co-written a book that is based on the French approach to aromatherapy and written a class about it. What more is there for me to add?

Plus, I have to say the modern French approach is merely a system of using essential oils that I learnt and applied. It’s a system proposed largely by the above mentioned Franchomme and Peneol in the 1970’s – It’s a good beginning, but it never really evolved from there. But what is next?

It seems to me that in the world of aromatherapy today the same old information from the 1970’s, the same old discussions, the same old approaches are being turned round and around. Do we really know all there is to know about the actions of each and every essential oil or are we getting stuck in an outdated, stagnant and erroneous system?

The chemistry of each essential oil is highly complex. Can we really be satisfied by reducing the way we understand its actions to its grosser constituents, ignoring its unique and complicated synergy and living intelligence? Can we continue to trick ourselves into believing that it is ok to refer to this aspect of plant medicine as an ‘industry’? Is it acceptable that multi-national companies have created a pyramidal form of prostituting plant essences solely for financial gain? is it ok that people seem to spend more time arguing with each other about their different views of essential oil use than actually providing opportunities for healing?

At the moment my soul is asking me to be coherent. I have therefore decided not to write a book about French aromatherapy. Instead I intend to focus my creative energy on what I have to offer in the world of aroma, not what comes from re-cycling already tired information. I will focus and base this on only what comes from direct and authentic experience.

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The work that Florian and I are doing is linked to aromatherapy in the sense that we use, amongst other things, essential oils. However, we also use relationship with plants, relationship with animals, writing, drumming, singing bowls, artwork and any other medium that will help on the healing journey. As we are working with mind and emotions, a sniff is all that is needed for a powerful effect. This is much more sustainable and respectable to the plants. The power of scent and these molecules of connectedness is what interests us. Healing the separation within ourselves and journeying towards wholeness, within ourselves and as part of a greater whole, Nature. Ours is just one way. It’s only one possibility for healing with aromas.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that we need new, innovative, authentic work and studies in all aspects of essential oil use, including chemistry, but much more importantly beyond (e.g. in ecopsychology). It is not enough to sit back and rely on the work of the past. Each one of us teachers, researchers, health system workers, aromatherapists, healers, shamanic workers, herbalists etc. working with essential oils in any way, should be prepared to listen to ourselves, out soul’s wisdom. We must also listen to the plants and dare to follow wherever that may lead us, however frightening that may feel at first. We need to explore, to experience, to work with the plants, to take the research in each of our areas of expertise further.

As I finish this difficult-to-put-into-words article, I am realizing that this two year cycle through the alchemical stages that began with a cancer diagnosis is finally coming to completion. What have I learnt? Where is the healing? I believe the core of the healing comes at this crossroads. It’s the choice between deciding to be true to myself and to believe in my own work or continue to reiterate and fit into an old, outdated system. As the microcosm and macrocosm reflect each other, I am also realizing that perhaps this obligation to ourselves and to our creativity is a requirement in all aspects of the world at the moment. In order to evolve and create a world that is in harmony with itself, we need to listen deeply to our souls and re-imagine all the outdated systems—education, health, finance, agriculture, legal, political.  Is it not by listening to our own souls that we can communicate and build authentic relationships with other souls—including those from different species?

The incredible power of scent and aromatic plants have been one of the many teachers on this journey. Like all the other species on this planet, except man, they are experts at listening to their souls. Let the plants lead the way.

It is the soul’s duty to listen to its own desires and abandon itself to its master passion” Rebecca West” (fromSomething More by Sarah Ban Breathnach)

18th century apothecary still completely intact.

 

This article is based on a visit of an apothecary in the ‘Hotel-Dieu’ at Bourg-en-Bresse in south-eastern France. The impressive building still holds a hospital and the apothecary is tucked away in the basement, no longer in use it is open to visitors on reservation.

The first question that comes to mind is why the name ‘Hotel-Dieu’/’God’s Hotel’ and what exactly does it signify. According to the French encyclopaedia “Universalis”, Hotel-Dieu entered into current use in the middle ages and was the name given to the principal hospital of many large towns. Its name linked it to the church and the charitable role that the former had in the organisation of these ‘hospitals’ that originally housed the poor who when ill and needy had nowhere else to turn to and were in most cases situated near the cathedral. Overtime specialized structures developed for the needs ofthe poor and weary and the Hotel-Dieu became a hospital for the ill. However due
to the link with God and the church, healing did not only involve physical care but a healing of the soul and importance was put on confession, prayer and communion. It wasn’t until the 14th century that doctors and surgeons appeared in these establishments, patients, except the most diseased were often three or four to a bed meaning that infection spread at a great rate. In the 12th century Bourg-en Bresse’s original hospital, ‘Saint Mairie’ was built next to the church of Notre Dame, run by a local rector and his wife it housed ‘Gods poor’ in a communal room containing 15 beds and was more a hospitable house than a hospital.

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It became a ‘Hotel-Dieu’ in the middle of the 16th Century. It was moved to another placement in 1652 and shortly after three nuns were posted from Beziers to run the hospital , it was indeed these three nuns that little by little developed the apothecary, they obtained the right to create a laboratory in 1708. The buildings however were not big enough for the demands put on them and by the end of the 18th century it was decided that the ‘Hotel-Dieu’ would be moved to a purposefully built building next to the cathedral, which is its present day situation. The architect ‘Pierre-Adrien Paris’ was chosen to design the building and as he had travelled in Italy, this influence rubbed off and he deigned a huge edifice regrouping a closed convent and a hospital in the form of a cross. To cut a long and ‘not really interesting to us’ story short, the first stones were laid in 1783 and the hospital was opened in 1790, in the middle of France’s famous revolution period. What really interests us is the apothecary, as I said above it is housed in the building’s basement and consists of three rooms. What is most interesting is the fact that everything has remained intact since its closure in 1963, in order to retain this feeling of ‘a still working’ apothecary rather than a museum, there are no information panels and no touristy blurb. Visits are by reservation and a specialist guide takes you around, we felt especially privileged coming from the herbal school and we were allowed to touch, take photos, poke our noses into containers and participate fully in the discovery of this amazing historic place.

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The first room known as the laboratory doesn’t look anything like a modern day laboratory, it is exceptionally conserved in its original state and houses in the middle a huge wood burning stove, similar to the ones that were used in the kitchens of Medieval castles except this one has been specially built for housing two copper stills and various other copper instruments used for heating herbal, teas, decoctions, syrups, macerations, elixirs etc. None of the water pipes are visible, as they have been designed to be evacuated under the floor. The red copper stills have had their middle section removed by official orders so that they could no longer be used for distilling, this is due to governmental rules and paranoia about people making their own alcohol, the fact that these stills were used for distilling plants and would be great used for demonstrations is beyond our narrow minded authorities. In this same room the walls are decked with recipients used in the daily life of an apothecary, boiling pots, copper bowls, brass syrup pourers with pouring beaks, brass bowls for ears, measuring jugs. As much of what existed in the original hospital was moved to the new building, the oldest object dates back to the 17th century.

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The collection of pestle and mortars was very impressive, a size for every need, they were used to crush into powders not only the plant material that was used but the animal and mineral material as well, such as deer horns, precious stones, resins etc. This large apothecary did use a large amount of plants that grew locally and there was even a medicinal plant garden in the grounds where the nuns cultivated some of these, however they also used and mixed plants both local and exotic with other materials to make what they called ‘composed’ or ‘magisterial’ remedies. Getting back to the pestle and mortars, they had ceramic, glass and bronze ones to choose from, the bronze ones told an interesting story, being the oldest they were embellished with various medallions. The one on the photo that seems to be damaged was in fact made before the French revolution and embellished with ‘Fleur de Lis’, and someone had tried to get rid of them obviously after the revolution. This large brass pestle and mortar was used for making powders, it’s wooden lid prevented losing bits of what was the pestle itself weighs 4 kilograms.

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Also in the laboratory is housed a lovely, big wooden press for pressing the last drops of alcohol or oil from macerated plant material, a great tool and a wonderful object in its own right. It wasn’t until 1901 that Laboratory/dispensaries had to by law have a qualified chemist on site to oversee the fabrication and dispensing.

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The second room, situated in between the laboratory and dispensing room is what in French they call the ‘arrière boutique’, which literally translated means behind the scenes or back room. It was used to organize and stock the raw materials as well as housing the library with its numerous reference books, medical and pharmaceutical dictionaries were an important support for the making and dispensing of remedies.

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As this apothecary is large compared to most, it has over 1,000 ceramic and glass jars and some of them which were stored in specially designed wooden shelving systems in this room too. The care and attention given to the choice of materials and their details is astounding,

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the group of ceramic jars in this room were used uniquely for external preparations such salves, lotions and electuaries (a mix of honey and powers) the jars themselves were called canons and very slightly thinner in the middle in order to make them easier to hold, with a foot called a ‘piédouch’ meaning shower foot as it looks a bit like a shower head and its wide base is designed with the intention of catching any straying drops so that they do not damage the wood work.

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It was wonderful opening some of the rectangular, wooden boxes and discovering the packets of different plant material still in tact after all these years. There were both red and green boxes, the red ones were destined to contain exotic plants from far away places such as cinchona and spices such as nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, the green ones local plants such as borage, comfrey, angelica, …

The final room was of course the largest and most impressive, once again beautifully, made to measure wooden shelving lined the room, with nooks and crannies of different sizes depending on the containers needing housing. Here the bulk of the containers containing plant material were held and each type of container held a specific type of remedy. The vessels were in wood, pewter, pottery or glass, in this final room are to be found a great number of each variety of vessel, the ‘chevrettes’ seen in the photo were the containers that symbolised the apothecary and only an official herbalist/chemist could use them, there were incidences here in France where grocers had been condemned for having them in their stores. These pots were used specifically for syrups, honeys and oils and had a handle and a spout for pouring these liquids.

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The names of plants on the pots or boxes were often inconsistent, in the same room one plant name could be written in several different ways, the Latin names were rarely in evidence so sometimes it is not obvious exactly which plant is being referred to. Some of the names on the boxes containing dry material are things I had never heard of before, for example ‘Sang de Bouc de Dragon’ , which literally translated means ‘blood of billy goat and of dragon’, it is apparently neither goat, blood or dragon but a resin usedmedicinally and originally described by Dioscorides, it is probable that it would have come from the Dracaena cinnabari, a tree from the Ruscaseae family, a monocotyledon endemic to the Island of Socotra, this all sounds very exotic and somewhat unrealistic. Later the resin was harvested from a Moroccan tree, the Dracaena draco, same family and very similar visually and then even later yet another source has been noted and that is a Dragon blood palm called Daemonorops draco from the Arecaceae family and this time the only resemblance seems to be in the name. Obviously complicated to be sure of exactly the origin and usage of this substance and no time for this type of research at the moment. In a second box was kept ‘Burnt and powdered stags horns’, wow what a remedy, apparently used for giving new life energy and living a long time as the stag was seen as a symbol of rebirth and long life.

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These small pewter pill boxes were obviously used for keeping handmade pills, the one we opened had the original angelica pills in, over fifty years old, the dose for purging was apparently a drachm (an old form of measure, equivalent now to about 3, 40gms) The bottles in glass on the highest shelves were empty, which is logical as they were home to the distilled waters or hydrosols and a fifty year old or so hydrosol is not really possible. Interesting though as the labels on the bottles were all local plants and were obviously made on site, angelica water, lettuce water, violet water, hyssop water etc. At a period when distilled waters were still very much in use medicinally, something that is slowly starting to come back now. In the wonderful woodwork, special niches had been carved to hold the huge ceramic pots containing highly honored panaceas, which were complicated herbal recipes made by famous herbal chemists of the time residing and working in France’s large cities; Paris, Montpellier, Lyon etc.

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Among these panaceas, some of the pots were still full of blackish syrupy liquids, included ‘La Thériaque’ (sorry can not find English translation), which was used against all diseases, apparently the main ingredients were snake flesh and opium, although I believe the recipes changed greatly from one apothecary to another and were often kept secret as well. The history of the “Théraique” according to our guide ; was that it was formulated by Andromaque’s father, who was the emperor Neron’s doctor around about 60 years AD and it got as far as Europe thanks to monks who handed it down and eventually made copies of the formula. Certain French towns were known for making it and the first traces of it in Bourg-en-Bresse date back to 1681. It was used up to the French Revolution in 1789. Another wonderful concoction and well known at this period was the “Confection d’ Hyacinth”, which contained several minerals, hyacinth is apparently another name for zircon, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, pearls, ivory, gold and silver, coral, musk and grey amber- and that is just the mineral part, added to which there were stony formations found on the underside of crayfish, cinnamon, sandalwood, myrrh and all this was supposed to be ‘stomachic” .

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The 80 or so books that accompanied the apothecary in must be a hive of information, the oldest of these is ‘The Pharmacopeia of Moyse Charas” and dates back to 1619. I would love to spend a week alone exploring and discovering this wonderful time capsule and learning from all this history packed into these three tucked away rooms.

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Hydrosols—The Quiet Revolution in Herbal Medicine

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Distillation and hydrosols: connecting herbalists to aromatherapy.

For a while now, I have been wondering why hydrosols do not play a more important role in both aromatic and herbal medicine. The more I work with them, the more I realize their potential and the more I see them playing a major role in plant healing across the board. One of the most important aspects of hydrosols is that we can make them ourselves and thereby deepen our relationship with the healing plants around us and be more sustainable.

Hydrosols are also known as aromatic waters. They are the main product of steam and hydro-distillation, which also yield much smaller amounts of essential oils.

The French pharmacist’s book entitled ‘Le precis de pharmacie galenique’ from 1900 describes hydrosols as: “Distilled waters containing volatile principles that are normally contained in the plant or that are likely to form under the influence of water.”1

Hydrosols can be made from almost any part of the plant: fruit, flowers or flowering tops, leaves, occasionally branches, bark and roots. They can also be made from more unusual substances, such as beeswax and clay. The plant matter is usually distilled fresh in order to preserve the most volatile molecules, prevent degradation due to light and oxygen and to enable the ‘cellular water’ from the plant to be extracted.

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To me, the best and most important aspect of hydrosols is that you can easily make them yourself, e.g. on your stovetop. This is important, in my opinion, because it gives us autonomy with regards to using and making plant medicine–the more we can do ourselves, and the more autonomously, the better. By making our own plant medicines, we learn to identify the plants we are using. This can also motivate us to grow or wild-craft them, which in itself means that we are building a deeper relationship with the plants and our local environment. Also we connect with the plants in an ongoing pattern, long before we make medicine with them. When making our own hydrosols, we can choose the quality of the plants that we use, either organically grown by ourselves or other people in our community or sustainably wild-crafted in non-polluted areas. We are not reliant on shop-bought products that can be of low quality, degraded, and harvested in an unsustainable manner and in polluted areas. Also, the range of plant products available via stores is generally more limited and generic. Instead, by learning to make our own hydrosols, we can work with and deepen our relationship to our local flora. We can experiment with both aromatic and non-aromatic plants. We can choose the water we use mindfully. With regards to the water for distillation, make sure it’s from a pure source, such as a spring or well, or even rainwater. We can also offer the respect to the plants that feels right to us and make offerings when we harvest, for a more proper exchange of energy, which influences the potency and energy of the medicines.

Also, gathering our own plants gives us the opportunity to take care of the local habitats that we wildcraft from and this mindful attention makes the plants happy.

Basically, we are in charge of the process from A to Z, which means that we respect the plant and concentrate on the quality of the medicine we are making from before harvest to using the hydrosol.

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Hydrosols were used extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, they were the predominant form of plant medicine. Due to a number of factors, including that they are less profitable than essential oils, their popularity diminished in the 20th century. With the emphasis on maximizing essential oil yield, hydrosols became a mere by-product of essential oil production, which meant the quality suffered. Distillations were geared towards producing oils and only several highly valued hydrosols such as rose, orange blossom and lavender were available commercially. Centuries of plant medicine wisdom appeared to be headed to extinction. In the past twenty years however, hydrosols have been having a slow but steady renaissance. At-home, stove-top distilling and artisanal hydrosol production are becoming more wide-spread—a quiet revolution in sustainable herbal medicine.

For most of us, home-distilling limits the size of the still, which is usually made from copper, with sizes ranging from 5 to 35 liters (approximately 1.5 to 10 gallons), which is too small for the production of meaningful quantities of essential oils. Yet stills in this size range are ideal for hydrosol distilling, right in your own home, or even in the field. When focusing the distillation on the hydrosol, you can pay much more attention to factors such as temperature, pressure, duration, yield, pH, etc. Therefore you can achieve quality hydrosols easily with your still at home.

Still, why hydrosols? I have already discussed the benefits of being able to make them yourself. Even if making medicine isn’t your ‘thing’, hydrosols are nevertheless a very safe, interesting and effective form of plant medicine, that has a long history but has also long been overlooked and undervalued. I highly recommend you become familiar with hydrosols and their healing powers. If you decide to explore hydrosols more, my first advice is to buy them from small-batch artisan distillers or distributors known for the quality of their products. I have always made my own hydrosols. However, last year I was working on my online hydrosol class (see below for more info) and decided to buy a range of commercially available hydrosols to get a sense for their quality. I bought them in a health-food shop in France, choosing a well-known brand and I was really disappointed. Basically, they had no flavor, aroma or energetic resonance. They were flat and lifeless. I could think of at least three reasons for this: First, a hydrosol that is produced during an essential oil distillation is considered a by-product and when aiming for maximum essential oil yield, little attention is given to the hydrosol’s needs and the quality suffers.

Second, only the initial fraction of the distilled hydrosol contains enough aromatic molecules to make it aromatically and medicinally potent, but a distiller may keep collecting hydrosol in the distillation to maximize yield, which results in over-dilution of the aromatic constituents. Third, the producer has probably not paid enough attention to the care of and respect for the plant, habitat and harvesting process to retain the intelligence of the plant and its soulful resonance.

Unlike essential oils that are highly concentrated, hydrosols are much more dilute, which makes them much easier and safer to use and more sustainable, while still offering healing potency and a wide range of uses. Nowadays most of us are aware of the huge amounts of plant material required to make one liter (approximately one quart) of essential oil. For example, it takes approximately 1300 lbs of Lavandula angustifolia to get a liter of lavender essential oil and it takes the flowers of 2 acres of Damask roses for a liter of rose essential oil. Just think about the environmental impact, especially as more and more people are using essential oils in larger quantities than ever before. The yield of hydrosols is much higher per amount of starting plant material, which makes hydrosols much more sustainable and allows you to make useful quantities in a small home still.

Also, hydrosols are much safer, gentler and easier to use than essential oils. They don’t need to be diluted or mixed with a carrier oil. You don’t have to educate people about the dangers of unsafe practices, which has become a growing concern about essential oils. People often think that because hydrosols are much more dilute, they are less potent, but that is not true. Just think of how potent flower essences and homeopathic remedies can be, even though they are even more dilute.

The versatility and wide range of actions and uses of hydrosols may seem incredible. Hydrosols are effective and safe home remedies for children. They are also an excellent water-based ingredient for natural cosmetics, adding both aesthetic and healing qualities. They can be added to foods and especially drinks as an interesting and safe ‘magic touch.’ They make great and easy-to-use healing additives to a bath. They can even be added to tinctures and herbal teas to contribute an aromatic element to the medicine. Being more dilute than other forms of aromatic medicines, they also make very powerful tools in vibrational medicine, acting in a similar way to flower essences.

In France, my training as a herbalist involved an in-depth training in aromatherapy and aromatic medicine is considered an important aspect of herbalism. I know that many herbalists in English-speaking countries are hesitant to incorporate essential oils into their practice, for several reasons. One reason is an ethical concern about the amount of plant matter needed to make them, as discussed earlier. Another reason is the opinion that without a huge still, you can’t make sufficient amounts of essential oils for your practice yourself and are dependent on having to purchase essential oils. As we have discussed, this is not the case for hydrosols—sufficient quantities can be easily made at home and need very little plant matter. Although yields change with each plant, the general rule is approximately a liter of hydrosol per kilo of plant matter (approximately 1 pint of hydrosol per pound of plant matter).

I have noticed in my own work that I have been able to add to my knowledge of a plant by making a hydrosol from it. In that way, I can really discover and work with the aromatic aspect of the plant as well as all its other aspects. When discovering Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica), the roots of which are traditionally used in herbal teas and tinctures, I decided to make a hydrosol with it. The yerba mansa hydrosol, which I had to make since it’s not commercially available, revealed a profound, hidden aspect of its character, that I would never have discovered otherwise.

 

To learn more about using and making hydrosols here is a link to my certified online class :courses.aromaticstudies.com/…/hydrosols-certification-program-with-cathy-skipper

 

Distill my heart: Milkweed in three acts

This article was put together by Dr. M. Leona Godin, Cathy Skipper, & Florian Birkmayer MD

 

Distill My Heart: Milkweed in Three Acts

Act One by Dr. ML Godin about her encounter with milkweed hydrosol in a class taught by Cathy Skipper & Florian Birkmayer MD.

Act Two is a poem written by Cathy Skipper, who created the online hydrosols certification program through The School for Aromatic Studies.

Act Three details the collection and distillation of milkweed in the beautiful Taos region of New Mexico by Cathy Skipper & Florian Birkmayer MD.

Act One: Drinking Monarch Nectar, AKA Milkweed (Asclepias)
By Dr. ML Godin

On the day of the hydrosols tasting with Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer, my daily hallucinations were painted blue, an electric blue that did not want to let go its hold on my visionscape. In recent years, I’ve found that strong scents can change my visual palette almost immediately, but somehow that blue day would not give way except for the neon orange of the orange blossom and then the glorious yellow orange of the milkweed that burst through towards the end of the evening.

The way it worked was that each new hydrosol was spritzed into our wine glasses and mixed with a little filtered water. Then we all smelled and sipped and free-associated, allowing the mystery hydrosol to elicit thoughts, feelings, images and yes colors too.

To be honest, it was hard for me not to feel a little competitive. As a blind person, I want my nose to be best, but, as a person new to aromatic aesthetics, I realize this is ridiculous. For several of the hydrosols, I was sure what they were and I was correct, for a bunch, I had ideas of what they were, but having been derived from plants I’d never met before—black copal and palo santo for example—I was nowhere close, and I hate to be wrong!

After the first three I finally relaxed and allowed my mind to wander a bit and not get too hung up about being right. One cool moment was guessing #8 Beeswax correctly, but I had an advantage since, being enrolled in Skipper’s Hydrosols program at The School for Aromatic Studies, I knew that such a thing was possible. That was certainly one of my favorites, as it exhibited a strong distinction between its taste and aroma—the smell reminded me of the spirit of the plants that sustain the hive, while the flavor tasted of the building material itself, a glossy waxy sensation that was almost chewable.

Birkmayer encouraged us to think synesthetically, which in the case of #9 penetrated and offered a joyous blast of yellow orange. I did not know what it was, but I liked it. I was so entranced that I neglected my notes, so unfortunately I cannot refer back to words from the moment to explain the flavor, also it was number nine, so Alabaster—who was gracious enough to accompany me on this odd little tasting adventure—and I were a bit slap happy. We’re not yet persuaded by the concept of vibrational aromatherapy, but our heads were surely buzzing by that point in the evening!

For some of the hydrosols, we were encouraged to imagine an animal. People were not guessing the correct animal for this one and so Birkmayer mentioned butterflies and then I knew and said, “Milkweed?” And I felt justified in all my orange and yellow associations.

The common name milkweed derives from its milky nectar that can trap some nonnative insects, but Linnaeus, that taxonomist of all taxonomists, apparently named the genus asclepias after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Why? I wonder. Milkweed is a new world plant, likely brought back to Sweden by one of his students flung out to all corners of the world to collect new species for Linnaeus to inspect and name. Perhaps he did so because he learned that some natives of the New World used some species for healing, but so many plants have medicinal uses, this seems too easy an answer.

Asclepias speciosa, from which our hydrosol was distilled, is also known as “showy milkweed” because of its flamboyant flowers. It is the special food of the monarch butterfly. The recognition of the monarch nectar brought me back to the Santa Cruz grove where the monarchs winter. I wrote a poem about seeing those butterflies, which I often visited during my years at UCSC.

Once, with a forgotten companion, I saw them fall from the sky mating in the warm afternoon sun. They dropped in our hands and flew apart and I believe it was all not a dream, though the memory has that quality of unreality that sometimes makes me doubt.

Act Two: My encounters with Milkweed
By Cathy Skipper   
 
Angels blowing milkweed’s message
reminding me of who I am
Head spins and heart pounds
its sweetness pulsating and pushing open
the guarded heart.
 
Spiraling and as strong as a tree
Milkweed unseals me to the sky
prompting me to breathe, anxious in its
truthful presence that gives me no choice
but to be fully alive.
 
Sweet, musky, honey, dreamy and creamy
rocking me rhythmically like a baby in the crib
Asclepius, the healer who could raise the dead
heart opens skywards, safely I become my star
 
Humming its wise song into all my bones
bringing them back into resonance with life
stagnation is broken with a shot of
authentic pulsation aligning me with the Self
 
The exquisite but momentary note of bliss
is quick to leave aromatically but does its job
perfectly…stimulating soulful remembering
feeling the warmth and safety of coming home
 
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​Act Three: Capturing Milkweed Hydrosol
By Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer MD
 
We had seen clusters of milkweed along the road between Taos and Valdez for years, easy to recognize from afar with their big pointy leaves and alien-looking, hairy seed pods. On the day of the solstice, seeing some clusters in bloom while driving home, we decided to gather milkweed for a hydrosol.

We gathered the flowering tops in some brown paper bags we happened to have. We collected more the next day—finally we had an excuse to explore all the back alleys, dirt roads and dead ends around Arroyo Seco, a very picturesque town of old adobes near Taos. That day we discovered many hidden paths and a previously invisible network of trails, older than the paved roads, revealed itself. Anywhere we saw a cluster, we pulled over and harvested the flowering tops. This time we collected them in the pot of our still, into which we had put wine.

The flowers of the genus asclepias, which are almost as complex as those of orchids, have a pollination mechanism that can trap other insects, such as flies and honey bees. We released quite a few bees and flies that afternoon from their beguiling traps! The aroma of milkweed is intoxicating. It grabs you instantly, like the flower grabs the fly.

Most if not all species of milkweed are considered toxic, due to the presence of cardiac glycosides in the milky latex. Cardiac glycosides are very large molecules, so we assumed that they would not come across in the distillation. While milkweed poisoning is a concern for livestock, a significant amount of plant material, approximately 10% of body weight, would need to be ingested to cause toxicity symptoms.

The particular species we found throughout the day was Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed), which has an umbel of bold five-pointed pink and white blossoms. Milkweed is the only host for the larvae of the Monarch butterfly and the butterflies get molecules from the plant that make them unpalatable to predators, according to the USDA’s Plants Database, which also mentions that the traditional indigenous uses of showy milkweed include using the stem fibers for rope as well as for food and medicine.

The day was slightly overcast and not too hot. Following along the dirt paths, we crossed several tiny acequias, ancient irrigation channels, cutting through moist pastures, along which the milkweed grew strong. It was a beautiful day spent roaming through this landscape with its intoxicating ancient beauty.

When we decided to distill milkweed, we were trying to determine how to capture its fragrance, which we were concerned would be lost in a regular hydrodistillation. We were also worried that other aromas, such as the ‘greenness’ that is common in non-aromatic plants, might predominate. Thankfully, Cathy knew of an old book on distillation of floral waters that was available online, John French’s The Art of Distillation (1651). While it had no specific information on milkweed, the chapter reproduced below guided us.

“To Make The Water Of The Flowers Of Jasmine, Honeysuckle Or Woodbine, Violets, Lilies, Etc. Retain The Smell Of Their Flowers

The reason why these flowers in the common way of distillation yield a water of no fragrancy at all, although they themselves are very odoriferous, are either because if a stronger fire be made in the distilling of them the grosser and more earthy spirit comes out with the finer, and troubles it, as it is in case the flowers be crushed or bruised (where the odor upon the same account is lost) or because the odoriferous spirit thereof being thin and very subtle rises with a gentle heat, but for lack of body vapors away. The art therefore that is here required is to prevent the mixing of the grosser spirit with the finer and to give such a body to the finer that shall not embase it, and it is thus:

Take either of the aforesaid flowers gathered fresh, and at noon in a fair day, and let them not at all be bruised. Infuse a handful of them in two quarts of white wine (which must be very good or else you labor in vain) for the space of half an hour. Then take them forth and infuse in the same wine the same quantity of fresh flowers. This do eight or ten times, but still remember that they be not infused above half an hour. For according to the rule of infusion, a short stay of the body that has a fine spirit, in the liquor receives the spirit; but a longer stay confounds it, because it draws forth the earthy part withall which destroys the finer. Then distill this liquor (all the flowers being first taken out) in a glass gourd in a very gentle Balneum, or over a vapor of hot water, the joints of the glass being very well closed, and you shall have a water of a most fragrant odor. By this means the spirit of the wine which serves to body the fine odoriferous spirit of the flowers arises as soon as the fine spirit, itself, without any earthiness mixed with it. Note that in defect of wine, aqua vitae will serve; also strong beer, but not altogether so well, because there is more gross earthiness in it than in wine. The water of either of these flowers is a most fragrant perfume and may be used as a very delicate sweet water, and is no small secret.”17361883_761773433971515_6095404633174808250_n

Based on this, we infused the flowering tops we had collected on the first day in 750ml of white wine (pinot grigio) in two batches. We let each batch soak for 30min and stored the wine in the fridge overnight. Because we were wondering if any of the subtle volatiles might evaporate before we got home, we decided to bring the still pot on the second day with 1.5 liters of white wine, so that the flowering tops could infuse immediately after being harvested. We removed the flowering tops from the wine in the still, added the wine that we had infused the previous day and distilled this very slowly. We live at almost 9000 feet (3000 meters) altitude, which means that the boiling point of water is lower, approximately 96 degrees Celsius (approximately 205F). Between the very slow heating of the still and the lower boiling point, we speculate that we are able to distill more fragile and volatile aromatic molecules that would otherwise be lost.

The scent of the hydrosol has a very quick onset and also dissipates very rapidly. There is a peppery note that comes through along with the complex floral notes, which have a similar ethereal quality to lilac, without much sweetness. The scent could be described as regal and nourishing to certain parts of the soul. It also provided a deeper glimpse of the hidden aspects of the landscape that is our home.

Deepen your healing practice by deepening your relationship with plants

I believe that any form of plant work or plant medicine such as herbalism, aromatherapy, flower essences and cultivating plants can benefit from deepening our personal relationship with the plants.

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When we study academically, we learn with the left brain, we learn the plant names, their morphology, their actions, their constituents etc. all of which is human-based information. This knowledge gives us a valuable grounding and starting point but there is more to plant medicine than book learning and theory.

Learning by initiation and letting the plants teach us what they know can deepen our practice and help us widen our consultations from patient/client and practitioner to patient/client, practitioner and plant.

Learning the language of plants is learning to feel through our subtle senses and to build our own unique and personal relationship with the plants. This is nothing new, it has been the way humans throughout history have always related to plants.

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In today’s world there is a tendency to rely too heavily on language, we are continually categorizing,  placing our experience of the world around us into boxes. Our minds are full of words that reduce the world to a limited framework in which the left brain feels safe. If we are not careful we fail to see and feel the ‘aliveness’ and possibility of deep relationship that exists in this amazing world we live in.

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’ W.B Yeats

Plants are masters in subtle communication, their survival depends on a continual relationship with their environment, they are constantly adapting their intricate chemical makeup to what is happening around them. Through intuitive plant medicine, we learn what I call, plant communication or how to communicate with plants. How to take a back seat, stop doing and become receptive, let a plant in and allow it to lead the way. When we learn to do this, transformation occurs, we change, our world view changes and the plant changes.

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I am so humbly grateful for this class Cathy, it has been completely life changing so far! I have met a large family of pines close to my home that I now feel an incredible connection with. It was wonderful beginning with the smaller plants and gradually moving to meeting the trees, a perfect flow. Working my way through this class has been completely altering for me. I feel like I am picking up on a path that I left behind as a young child. I feel like my community of friends has expanded exponentially to include the plants, animals, even minerals, sky, earth, wind, clouds etc. What an incredible opportunity this has been so far!” Piper Lacy

Thank you both for a wonderful and inspiring workshop this weekend, I can’t tell you how joyful it was to be among a group who think it’s entirely normal to communicate with plants!” Ffion S.

If you are interested in learning about intuitive plant medicine, I am offering a 200 hour online class called, ‘Plant Communication’

https://courses.aromaticstudies.com/product/plant-communication-with-cathy-skipper/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees as spiritual teachers

 

My ‘lucky star’ was to be born with a solid connection to the plant world. My grandfather, a doctor and keen naturalist, had a garden covered in beech trees. Feeding the birds and squirrels was a daily routine and losing myself in the auburn woodiness of the place was emblematic of what it meant to be at granddad’s house. My father has always been an avid gardener. Most of my childhood memories are of him head down, old wooly jumper and jeans, entrenched in the large, many-roomed garden we had in the Wirral, in the North of England. It was a place where he felt ‘at one.’ When things were good he would go to the garden and when things were more challenging he would go to the garden. So I never questioned the connection with nature. Being an only child of two elderly parents, it became my playground, my solace and my place of nurturing.

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As a child, I remember, trees to me were a solid structure in which everything else fitted. Like aged grandparents, they were part of the fixtures and fittings—solid, experienced and somehow otherworldly. I played in my imaginary world in between the pillars of sustainability that the trees created. I never questioned them or even looked up to their crowns. They were merely the safe framework in which everything took place, rather like the obelisks of a Greek temple or the structure of a theatre set.

Their inconspicuousness continued. As I became an adult, trees filled that vital space that I only noticed when they were no longer there. Trees have been a part of me and yet, like in some parent-child relationships, they were maybe too powerful and necessary, too ‘given,’ for me to relate to in a more mature way.

When I trained in herbalism and botany, I built deep and intricate relationships with the plants I had loved as a child. Still, the trees remained aloof. One has to be ready for trees—like for spiritual masters and the path inward. C.G. Jung believed that we are really only able to start the journey of self-exploration and inner discovery, which he called ‘individuation,’ during the ‘second half of life.’ I am beginning to think that it is only then, that we really become ‘ready’ to connect spiritually with trees and recognize their role as teachers and guides on our quest to becoming a crone or wizeard (for the lack of a better word for the masculine sage).

And so it has only been in the last ten years that my relationship with these mentors have taught me–slowly like their branches, expanding year by year. This has led me to a deeper understanding of what it is to be a tree, what it is to be me and above all what it is to belong here on this beautiful earth.

Trees have so much to teach us. Our ancestors remembered this. ‘Being like a tree’ is mentioned in  the bible, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (1)

But what is it really to be like a tree? Trees are charged with life force. They capture and transform terrestrial energy from the earth below and cosmic forces from the sky above. They are like columns penetrating the celestial and earthly realms. They bring vitality and life down into the earth where it is anchored and available to this physical dimension. If we think of ourselves as being like trees, we can work on our alignment between our spirituality and our life here on earth.

‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ (2)

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Like trees, which bring a harmonious and stabilizing energy to the planet, we occupy a place between the two worlds. These worlds meet in the area of our hearts—the doorway through which we can communicate with other humans and species.

The sky and earth analogy does not stop here, trees teach us about the two opposing parts of ourselves, light and the shadow.

No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell”. (3)

In order to be whole, it is important to recognize, accept and love all aspects of ourselves. The tree as a symbol of the Axis Mundi or ‘World Tree’ encompasses all realms of existence in the microcosm (humans) and the macrocosm (the world). Its branches reach high up into the stars and the place where Gods abide and its roots go deep into the darkness of the earth to the place where the ancestors rest. Honoring all aspects of life and ourselves is very helpful in order to step away from the continual dualities that are being played out between good and bad, science and intuitive wisdom, allopathy and alternative medicine to name but a few. It is often in the places between the extremes that a semblance of truth and balance can be found. In northern mythology, the ash tree, Yggdrasil represents the world tree and is commonly translated as ‘Odin’s horse’ drasill meaning horse and Ygg(r) being another name for Odin. Odin’s horse is the gallows from which he hung suspended upside down for nine days and nights to gain the knowledge of the world through the  runes.a

“I know that I hung on a windy tree

nine long nights,

wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,

myself to myself,

on that tree of which no man knows

from where its roots run.” (4)

Odin’s horse could also refer to the vehicle on which Odin travels between the nine worlds in the tree’s branches and the nine worlds in its roots. What is important here is the tree’s wholeness helps us find our own, by honoring the light or what is visible and the shadow in what is underground and hidden in the dark earth we take responsibility of all aspects of ourselves. Like a fractal the tree represents us and the whole world and lives in the heart of every living thing and being.

Sacred trees are woven throughout the history of humankind. There’s the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) under which Buddha was said to have gained enlightenment. There are the five sacred trees mentioned in Irish poetic writings, which include the trees of Ross, Mugna, Dathi, Usnac and Tortu (5) and my favorite, the famous Glastonbury thorn. The hawthorn known as the Glastonbury thorn was thought to have been brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea who arrived there with the Holy Grail and thrust his staff into Wearyall hill, a long narrow ridge to the south west of the town. It was at this point that the thorn of Glastonbury grew. This legendary hawthorn tree blooms not once but twice, at Easter and Christmas and the Royal household has had a sprig of it adorning their Christmas table since the 17th century.

The stories around trees are bountiful and cross all cultures. One of the things I have noticed in my own life since trees have nudged their way into my psyche is that, wherever I go, I notice them—be it town or country—they draw my attention and teach me about the place. I no longer notice the buildings, only the trees. This gives me a sense of grounding and belonging, even in places I have never been to before. They provide a continuity in my semi-nomadic existence. I advise you to set out, if you haven’t already, on a quest to find the oldest, the biggest and the wisest trees in your area. Then visit them, spend time with them, commune with them, make wands from them, and listen to them, for they have a lot to teach us.

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One of the ways I like to look at trees was revealed to me while researching a class I was teaching about gemmotherapy, which is making medicine from tree buds and rootlets. It was at this point in my life, spending time in early spring making medicines out of buds, that trees and I began to dance. Our brains are sealed off from the surroundings by a thick skull and ego, only receiving through filtered senses. Plant intelligence on the other hand, is situated in what are called meristem cells. These cells hold all the information needed to make any part of the tree or grow a whole new tree. They are found principally at the apical points of the tree, such as the tips of buds, shoots and rootlets, i.e. on the surface, in direct contact with the surroundings. These structures are at the origin of the way a tree constructs itself. They will become leaves, twigs, flowers, etc. They contain different zones or tiny control centers, that each have a specific function and communicate with each other. Think about this when looking at a large tree in spring. Notice the aliveness of the furthers points stretching outwards towards the sky. Underground the same thing is happening with the tips of the roots that make their way through the earth like snakes. These meristem cells contain the tree’s intelligence, i.e. they are its brain. The tree’s brain, unlike ours, is on the exterior of its being, constantly communicating with itself and its environment. It constantly adapts, depending on circumstances, climate, other trees. It is through this function that two genetically identical trees will evolve differently depending on the decisions made according to differing conditions. These cells even take into consideration neighboring plants. They communicate and making collective decisions. When I look at at tree, I remember this and then instantly see its total aliveness at every tip of every branch, bud or leaflet resulting in one huge, multi-faceted antenna constantly reacting to its environment. Taken a step further, it helps me recognize the whole, beautiful, living organism that is the forest with its fractal like consciousness creating an enormous body of plant intelligence–more than we can even imagine.

When I am walking at night and I connect with the trees, it is even easier to perceive their aliveness. They seem to have a celestial connection, as if a tiny star had settled on each tip of the tree. The Gond tribe from central Africa believe that trees are connected to earthly matters during the day and it is only at night that their real spirit emerges. They say ‘Trees contain the cosmos; when night falls, the spirits they nurture glimmer into life.’ (6)

Ancient forests and sacred groves have been used as places of worship in most cultures since time immemorial. Trees were considered the first temple of the gods. For example, the Celtic name for these tree groves was nemeton, meaning shrine or temple. (7) The root of this word nem might mean ‘to bow’, or ‘reverence’ (8). Sacred groves were seen as having a cosmological function, in contrast to the axis mundi aspect of the single tree. They often had a source or stream within them. They were thought of as representing the universe and being the home of Gods and spirits. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘Cathedral forests.’ For me, our spiritual teachers live here, in what feels like the most coherent church we could wish for. We only need to spend time in the forest to learn about each other. We can learn to live together, to accept our differences, to adapt to our environments, and to create a nourishing environment, incorporating what has passed away.  We can learn cross species communication through complex invisible bonds, being part of the whole and needing the whole. We can become aware of the synergy of all life, the unavoidable and necessary seasons of life, and how diversity creates stability. The list of potential benefits is endless. Even the structure of the forest can be likened to a church. Bron Taylor looks at this architectural link in detail in his book “Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.” The way the light comes though the forest canopy and is filtered by the leaves resembles stained glass windows of cathedrals. The solid trunks of the trees are akin to Gothic and Roman pillars. Chartres Cathedral was built in 1194 on top of an ancient Druidic sacred grove. How ironic to cut down life and put up a structure meant to echo the very organism that was destroyed. The cathedral’s ribbed vaults represented the interwoven branches of the trees and they even named the ceiling ‘the Forest’. We need to continue to honor our forests and groves rather cut them down. They are beautiful and powerful places. They contain a myriad of biodiversity. They are the best place to make offerings and perform ceremony or have celebrations. I have been lucky to have spent time in a very special sacred tree grove on friend’s land in France. This grove indeed demanded a sense of reverence when I wanted to enter, due to its sanctuary-like atmosphere, where the trees held counsel. A tragedy had beholden their family–their eldest son had been killed in an accident. After holding onto his ashes for nine years, they scattered them in their grove. It was the perfect place to hold and integrate the last material part of their son. The trees resonated with his spirit and provided a feeling of sacred home. We went on to perform tree calendar rituals and celebrations in this powerful oak grove. Luckily it should be around for generations, because the family bought the nine hectares of land surrounding their cottage to prevent intensive farming or construction. Hopefully that particular tree sanctuary is safe.

Trees are our ancestors. Not only have they inhabited the earth for millions of years before us—yes. we are the new kids on the block, but also we also share many genes with them, due to our common ancestry. I feel that now more then ever, they are calling out to us. They are telling us to wake up, see them for who they are, work with them spiritually, learn from them and, more than anything, protect them.

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To end these rather rambling musings, I would like to share the lesson that trees are teaching me at the moment. One of the unconscious habits that I have been left with from childhood trauma is a feeling of panic that anything and everything has to be done immediately, urgently and very quickly. Its a horrible feeling as it leaves me no time to enjoy life and be in the moment. It is something I have been battling with for a long time and it’s deeply engrained. Now, thanks to the trees and their supreme knowledge of taking things slowly, a shift is happening. It began with the oak. Although now a trusted ally, it took me a long time to get to know oak. Maybe because my preconceived ideas about what I thought oak was about got in the way and maybe because oak medicine is that it does not need to rush and can and must take its time. Oak taught me a lot about ‘strength.’ It taught me that true, authentic strength is soft and loving, expansive and gentle. Oak’s energy fills space with a tender, mellow, all-expansive, very reassuring resonance. I call on oak when I need to feel safe. I ask for the presence of oak to keep things within secure boundaries. Oak is like an age-old teacher, whose mere presence is enough. Dr. Bach used oak for very strong people who fight against illness and adversity but never seem to get beyond their difficulties. This makes sense to me, because of oak’s message about what strength really is. The ‘fighter’ often has this unrealistic, unsustainable view of strength as rigidity and ‘pressure.’ Oak teaches a calm gentleness of authentic strength, coupled with a sense of timelessness. Ah yes, it is the lesson of timelessness that is helping me on my healing journey at the moment. Oaks grow slowly and surely to become a majestic keeper of the surrounding lands. One day whilst sitting with a huge, favorite oak in England–connecting as with an old friend–it gently lead me into its world, a world where it is the master of time. It took me into a place where time slows down and is no longer linear but simultaneously spans all worlds. At the same time, a sudden understanding of the tree’s incredibly high tannin content sprang into another, more analytical part of myself. I suddenly understood the link between the physical aspects of the tree and what it knows. Tannins help the tree endure the tests of time on a physical level. Oaks have incredible longevity. Few other trees can equal it or surpass it. Their wood is also incredibly hard, heavy and strong, due to the tannins. The etymology of the word ‘tannin’ even comes from the Latin word ‘tannun’ meaning ‘oak bark’. ‘The teacher appears when the student is ready’ and so it did! Now, every day, I feel the calm slowness of taking my time  as it replaces the traumatized panic that dominated my life. I thank oak for teaching me that which it masters so well both on a physical and spiritual level.

Listening to oneself beyond the boundaries of what we call reality. Inner listening aligned with one’s true self, the natural one who is part of all and where all resides. Trees are our masters, don’t look any further you have found the guides you have been looking for all your life. They do not come in human form but are all embracing shadows of the truth. They will lead you at all times to your inner being, they will shine the light so that you see more clearly – they are part of you, yes, hazelnut, ash, oak, beech, pine, birch, hawthorn they are all part of you and they come from where you come from.”

 

References

1) Jeremiah 17:8, New International Version

2) Teilhard de Chardin, “The Phenomenon of Man”

3) Carl Jung, “Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self”, chapter 5

4) Stanza 137 of the ‘Hávamál.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A1vam%C3%A1l

6)Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai, Ram Singh Urveti  “The nightlife of trees”, Tara publishing

7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemeton

8) Carol M Cusak, “The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations”

9) Cathy Skipper,  ‘Listening to Trees’, Plant Communication Online Class https://courses.aromaticstudies.com/product/plant-communication-with-cathy-skipper/

 

 

Interested in deepening your relationship with nature? I have a new 200 hour online class on Plant Communication: https://courses.aromaticstudies.com/product/plant-communication-with-cathy-skipper/

 

Distilling Rabbitbrush in New Mexico

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus sp) distillation

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Grey clouds brushed across white skies as we made our way up the sandy, narrow track from the small hot spring tucked into the rocks beside the Rio Grande in Taos. We had thought that we would harvest some of the soft, bushy, bluish spring shoots of one of the Artemisia that grow so abundantly in this part of the world on our way but another plant called to us. Bright green tufts of fresh looking young plants drew us in. Our idea was to distil the local, aromatic plants at several times of the year, during their first spring flush, mid summer and then the during the early autumn flowering. I picked one of the young shoots, rubbed it between my fingers and smelt it, rabbitbrush. We looked around ourselves and as if popping up from nowhere as we scanned the rocky hillside, we saw more and more chlorophyll-rich tufts calling us. We scrambled across the dark black and red volcanic rocks and joyfully harvested our new friend, taking care not to take too much, listening to the plant as we went. It felt like the plant was pleased that we had listened to its call and the fact that we will recognise its spirit, is a gift not just to us but to the plant as well, a two-way relationship of connection.

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Without effort or calculation, we stopped when we felt the moment was right. I joined Florian, feeling his joy at doing what made us both so happy and we filled our bag. We paused and listened to the eaglets, squawking from high up in their rocky hideout blessing our activities from up high. As we walked up the path again, we stopped at the last rabbit-brush, stilled ourselves and thanked it, leaving our offering and listening to the magical, secret name of the hydrosol that we will be making.

 

The first thing we did when we got home to our earthship was to sit and enjoy the sacred rabbitbrush some more as we had to go through it, taking out any errant grasses that made their way in during harvesting and cutting off any roots that had come away with the plant. I love this process as it gives us a chance to feel and caress the plants before they are distilled and changed forever. When all was done, we weighed them, 2kg total that we put in the large 35 litre copper boiler, covered with collected rain water and left next to the warm earthship wall to soak overnight. This maceration period allows the water to fill up the plant cells and soften the cellulose plant cell walls making extraction of the aromatic molecules easier during the distillation.

The following afternoon, storms covered the mountain and rains fell, cosily installed in the earthship we set up the still and slowly heated the boiler.

My problem now was correct botanical identification of the plant, rabbit brush when put into Google gives at least two Latin names; Ericameria nauseosa and Chrysothamnus species. I looked up the USDA database and they give many species of Chrysothamnus but Wikipedia state that this is the former name and Ericameria is the up to date name. I will wait until the plant flowers in early fall and with my new New Mexicana flora, I will identify it.

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As we are at a high altitude here in the Taos mountains (close to 8500 ft./ 2800m), water boils at slightly lower temperatures, our sacred hydrosol was born when the still got to 95 degrees. The top notes smelt like New Mexico, a subtle blend of sagebrush, pinion and fresh desert rains, as the distillation continued the aromatics evolved and the smell of freshly cut grass and slightly minty notes revealed themselves. The next morning, I spent time with the hydrosol and made the following notes; Soapy, fresh, minty and lemony, clean, clearing, high fine resonance, suddenly it reminds me of Salvia officinalis (sage) hydrosol that I distilled in France. I decide to try and find out if the constituents may be similar, which was to proove more difficult than expected. There is very little information about the chemical composition of rabbit brush essential oil. As stated earlier I am not sure of the exact species we have harvested yet but ignoring that fact there is still virtually nothing on any of the possible species except for one research paper about the constituents of Chryothamnus pulchellus, a rabbitbrush species found in the area we are in. The main constituents being monoterpenes, which logically as they are non polar, do not dissolve in water well and are therefore not found in hydrosols, in comparison to sage that has a majority of ketones that can be found more easily in the hydrosol. I did find a paper written about the leaf surface flavonoids of Chryothamnus species (4), which showed through mass spectometry that flavonoids where represented mainly in the form of methyl-ethers of flavones, flavanones and dihydroflavanols. Methyl ethers are too light and volatile to be contained in a hydrosol and according to Len and Shirley Price are rarely if never found in essential oils. They are however slightly polar and could eventually bind to the hydrogen of water molecules and be found in hydrosols.

Precursors of these molecules act to form compounds that include a six carbon benzene ring, attached to a short (3 carbon) chain. Even though this type of molecule occurs far less frequently than terpenes in essential oils, they can have a great impact on the aroma, flavor and therapeutic effect. These molecules have powerful effects on the body and essential oils containing them should be used with great care. Several of them are amphetamine-like and can be neurotoxic in high quantities; thus such oils should be used only in the short term and in low concentrations. They are as a class strong antispasmodics….” (5)

I continued my olfactory meeting with the young hydrosol; the first and most prominent note remains that of soap, heady, circular clearing, it slowly has a descending movement that seems to clear blocked energy as it goes, powerful, anchoring and heady at the same time, energizing.

The following day, I came back once again to the hydrosol, remembering it can take up to three weeks to stabilize and find its place in this world. It had changed once again, a milky aspect that I noticed slightly to begin with has now developed and covered the whole of its surface. The base notes are coming through strongly now and are partnered by a powerful alcohol-like effect, that Florian describes as being like mescal or tequila and which is floating on the air above the watery hydrosol. I wonder to myself if the gas-like, alcoholic aspect maybe the methyl-ethers that are light and form a gas above the hydrosol?

Chrysothamnusvicidiflorus

What do I know about rabbitbrush, I ask myself? My first intuition was to go and find out how the native Indians of the region used this plant as it is one of the area’s major plants and as the region is so arid, few of these plants were allowed to go unused. I was lucky enough to come across a paper written about ‘The ethnobotany of the Navaho’ (1). The first and foremost usage by the Navahos was as a yellow dye from the yellow blossoms, followed by a tooth remedy as well as removing evil spells. Following this I then decided to see what the late Michael Moore had to say about this genus as he lived in New Mexico and knew the herbal medicines from here like no-one else. He has pages of references for the genus Chrysothamnus, all having origin in papers citing native Indian uses. These include; gynecological aid, dermatology – in chicken pox and measles, decoction of twigs for toothache, infusion of flowers for colds and coughs, leaves and stems in diffusion for smallpox, burning leaf and branches to drive away the cause of nightmares, infusion of flowers for tuberculosis and chest pain, poultice of smashed herbs applied to blisters, , decoction of plant for stomach cramps and diarrhea, plant used as a medicine for drinking and bathing,  decoction of plant for venereal disease, roots used as chewing gum and the list continues. Different tribes used different names for the plant such as; rabbitbrush, little rabbitbrush, snakeweed, chamiza.

A few companies are selling rabbitbrush hydrosol but without giving any real information about its use, so I suppose it is up to us to carry on spending time with it, working with it and using it to see how it reacts to us and how we react to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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