Cedar Spring Herb Farm United Plant Savers - Planting the future

Donna' Musings

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The Ritual of Tea
Local Food
Flower Essences
CANNING- forgotten art or the way of the future
Native Hearts Returning
Wisps, puffs and toxic fragrances!

The Ritual of Tea

Life holds many pleasures and as the seasons change in our northeast cape cod homes, the simple warming pleasure of making and tasting tea can add much to our lives, our spirits and health.

Sharing a beverage, whether black, green, or herbal, has its roots deep in our collective history, culture, and communication. The Chinese Han tea ritual includes incense, flowers, delicacies, tea and words of gratitude.  Tibetan tea would be topped with yak butter and as it is drunk you might blow the butter aside, if there is butter left in your cup then the host would add more tea, consuming the butter means you have had enough.  Victorian tea rituals of either ‘high’ or ‘low’ tea simply referred to the table it was served from, with  low tea served in the parlor at a low table often at around 4pm (when the circadian rythyms of the body are at a natural low)  with dainty sandwiches and fancy pastries.  The high tea being a more heavily laden table at which you sit with much more food including meats and other dishes.

Yerba Mate tea also has a ceremony signifying  total acceptance and friendship.  The mate cup is shared between friends, lovers or family and is considered a bonding.

Wiccan tea ceremonies vary the herb mixtures used, but it’s purpose is to give thanks and bless the person for the following day, adding candles, pure spring water and prayers.

Medicine men and women worldwide use tea and its preparation as an integral part of the healing process. Blending tea is an art with lots of room for individuality, which has given rise to a new service offered at the Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay, the Innovative Tea Sommelier Program, where guests are treated to a flight of four teas or one tea specially prepared for them to complete their meal.  The Sommelier crafts these taste delights from ingredients such as hibiscus flowers, lemon grass, dragon pearls, mimosa flowers and pau d’arco bark.  As an herbalist one of the first things we study is the crafting of tea.

The decision to make tea is something that supports the self, nourishes the body and gives us time to sit and reflect.  Tea equipment can be equally important.  I have a collection of teapots that I use to match my mood or carry a holiday theme.  The best tea pots are porcelain, glass, earthenware or steel.  The best choice for a cup is china, because it warms quickly, not taking the heat from the tea.  My Grandmother had a collection of china tea cups, that have been passed down to family members, it gives me great pleasure to sip from her cups.  Tea is often strained or put in a tea ball, I like to read the leaves in the cup afterward and its less for me to clean!   The Earth gives each region of the world special tea ingredients that are wonderful to explore.  One of my favorite winter time teas is probably in your back yard, white pine needles and wintergreen leaves.  Of course, please identify these plants if you don’t know them with two reliable resources, and harvest from ‘clean’ places, not by the road or from chemically compromised land.


The ritual of tea also brings in the four elements, we feel the Fire in our hands and down our throats, we taste the Earth and its gifts, suspended in the life giving Waters, as we inhale the fragrant Air with each deep breath. Ahhh…I give thanks, Aho!


As an herbalist, promoting healthy food choices and sustainability of lifestyles is a part of everyday work.  Healthy food is the best part of preventive medicine. 


10 reasons to eat locally grown food – developed by the MassDeptAg.


Locally grown food taste and looks better – picked and sold with 24 hours


Local food is better for you- shorter time to the table, less loss of nutrients, break down within 48 hours.


Local food is safer – food safety issues – food import issues – look the farmer in the eye- drive by the fields where grown. Know what you’re eating.


Local food supports local families – farming agri and aqua -  full retail selling direct to consumers helps farmers to stay in business.  Vs. wholesale prices.


Local food builds community – supports local business – connection to grower and the food – kids with the salad they picked, they ate.


Local food preserves open space  - retail prices – less likely to sell land for development.


Local food keeps taxes down  studies show farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services vs. residential development.


Local food benefits the environment and wildlife,  Mass farmers are leaders in environmentally sound growing practices never has been lots of land for monocropping.  Farm borders provide essential habitat for wildife. 


Local food is an investment in the future – character of community for future generations – consider the next seven in all that we do.


Local food preserves genetic diversity – industrial agriculture few varieties, small farmers grow different varieties, seed save,  and protect against seed extinction non-gmo crops


In addition – local food helps us to eat with the seasons,  adding dietary variety, challenge  students to be prepared to provide for a 6 month time period – only 3 days worth of food exists on the Cape at one time, Many wild foods that are readily available, under- utilized and unknown, that provide a greater array of plant nutrients for the vital force of the body. 

It’s January as I write this, and I’m spending time dreaming with the Earth.  The garden and seed catalogs are arriving daily and as the Earth sleeps and renews herself,  I am consumed with planning colorful, lush gardens.  Gardens are an extension of the gardener.  Some are perfectly manicured and others are wild and uncontrived, most of us garden somewhere in between.  The shape and form of gardens have followed our history and culture, adorning sacred spaces, grand residences and humble homes.  Period gardens are displayed at museums and historical sites depicting the plants necessary for household use and medicine and teach us much about our agrarian roots.  Herbs are an integral part of  formal gardens, monastery or cloister gardens, medicine gardens, and sacred gardens.  Using herbs in our gardens today gives us the opportunity to create gardens that have layers of meaning, perhaps evoking a special fragrance, a favorite taste, a special gardening memory.  Growing a plant that we use in cooking or for health deepens our relationship to the plant as a living being.  Building on that relationship deepens our connection to the Earth and all life. 

Structure and form in a garden or an arrangement of potted plants is an expression of the self as well. Knot gardens create interwoven designs of texture and color, and although labor intensive and formal, they bring sacred geometry to a space.  Border gardens nestle against walls or boundaries and soften edges of the landscape.  Island gardens focus the eye and give color to expanses of grass or driveway turns.  Kitchen gardens create convenience for the cook and welcome visitors to the center of the home.  I have been working on plans for an ever-blooming chakra garden for some time now.  In a previous garden space I created a medicine wheel garden of my plant allies, which I could walk and work with for personal growth and healing.   Art or sculpture in a garden can enhance a theme as well.  We have a delightful Buddha sculpture presiding over a medicinal garden here who greets each passerby.

Fragrance gardens made popular in Victorian times have seen resurgence with increasing interest in aromatherapy.   Thyme or roman chamomile planted in footpaths or on benches, release their fragrance each time we draw near. Plans for gardens are readily available in magazines, books and on the web.  Start small, pick a theme and expand each year.   Sometimes as I dream with the Earth its hard to imagine changing the perfection that exists naturally, but each year the joy of touching, nurturing and appreciating the diversity of plant life calls me to once again dig in and be part of Her creation. 

Flower Essences


Amid the myriad of ways that herbs can be used to support us, flower essences differ from other forms of herbal therapeutics, such as aromatherapy and tinctures, in that they are energetic in nature. Flower essences are formed by capturing the energetic signature of the flower into water whose powers of conductivity bring the essence through the physical body and into the causal body. When we consider the disease process and the significance of our thoughts, emotions and spiritual practices, flower essences are one of the first lines of defense in preventive work.   Often when teaching flower essence classes, I tell my students that if I could only have one herbal medium to work with, it would be flower essences, for through the years of my practice and personal use, I have found that these subtly powerful tools masterfully support, validate and teach us about ourselves and our relationships to others.

Flower (and gem) essences trace their use back to the times of Lemuria (which some believe to be Atlantis) and in modern times were rediscovered by Dr. Edward Bach.  Since Dr. Bach’s work in the 1920’s, which coincided with the rediscovery and development of homeopathic medicine, flower essences as a therapeutic agent have expanded in use and number. There are flower essence practitioners, flower essence conferences and many flower essence producers and products. 

One of the most important pieces of flower essence therapy is to support the work of the soul.  The soul’s journey is to take experience and translate it into an expression of love, through our expression we learn who we are, what works, what doesn’t and our truth.  The profiles that accompany flower essences are beautifully written, sometimes channeled information that helps us to accept ourselves, see the beauty in our soul and help with positive expression of life experience.  What does that mean?  Let me give you an example from my own journey with flower essences. For any of you that know me, you may have noticed that I am passionate and driven about herbs, I have a tendency to work harder than my body can sustain, (just ask my chiropractor), I have a habit of working overtime to reach my goals, and one of my favorite sayings in the past was “I’m not built for speed but for endurance” which comes from way back in my college swim team days when my event was the mile swim.  Now these qualities on their own are not “bad” and have been elements of my personality that have supported me and enabled me to get past some of the hardships I have experienced in my life, but when out of balance can become a source of dysfunction.  When I first began to work with flower essences, the Oak essence was recommended.   Let’s look at what the Flower Essence Repertory says about Oak

“Positive qualities – balanced strength, accepting limits, knowing when to surrender

Pattern of imbalance – iron-willed, inflexible, over-striving beyond one’s limits


Oak addresses many positive masculine soul traits of endurance, strength, and perserverance.  These are the admirable qualities of the Mars-like hero, but they become a source of illness and dysfunction when they are not balanced with Venusian grace and gentle surrender.  The oak personality presses the limits of endurance; such persons are capable of enormous achievement.  They are able to truly serve and help others because of their tremendous wellspring of willpower.  However, this very strength can also become too rigid: the unrelenting demands and expectations which they have for themselves eventually take a toll on the physical health and inner happiness of the soul, until finally the individual is forced by circumstances to acknowledge that he/she is not all-powerful.  Oak flower essence teaches such persons the positive attributes of surrender and acceptance of limitation.  Through Oak the naturally strong capacities of the soul are balanced with the inner feminine Self, which learns to yield and to receive help from others when necessary.”  Flower Essence Repertory, Kaminsky,Katz


Fortunately, I started my journey with the Oak essence back in 1994, and although I consider it a ‘core’ or ‘personality essence’ for me, I need its gentle reminding much less often than I did in the past. I also have a plaque in my office which reads, ‘A mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground’. 


So I know that the Oak serves me, supports me and reminds me to have balance.

What we learn from the flower essences is up to us, all we have to do is open to their gifts.




Flower Essence Society of North America

The Bach Flower Essence Society

Perelandra Flower Essences

Woodland Essences




‘Flower Essences, Reordering Our Understanding and Approach to Illness and Health’ Machaelle Small Wright


“Healing with Flower and Gemstone Essences” Diane Stein


“Flower Essences and Vibrational Healing”, Gurudas


“Vibrational Medicine, New Choices for healing Ourselves”,  Richard Gerber, M. 

CANNING- forgotten art or the way of the future



Many of us remember the days of cautious trips down into dark cellars with friends or family, passing rows of mysterious jars, sporting labels and dates, on the way to other cellar treasures.  But is canning and preserving important now in our abundant times?


As we, as a culture, explore issues of food safety, sustainability and local food sourcing, canning can be a great way to provide for your family, make meaningful gifts, and start new traditions.  Canning, for me, was the natural progression of a bountiful garden, after my first try I was hooked! 


Like anything done in the kitchen, canning combines art, science and taste.  The art of canning survives to this day and though there are freezer pickle recipes, and instant brining packets available on the market, they pale in comparison to the taste of time honored recipes and procedures.  Science plays a big role as well.  The process of canning has been refined into strict guidelines to keep us safe from food contamination.  The final element, taste, is where the creativity involved in making a recipe your own can really be challenging.  My friend and I have a salsa recipe that has been evolving for the past ten years!  Our personal taste dictates our choice in the effort, is it relish, pickles, salsa, or chutney that you crave to bring back the taste of the sleeping garden.


Canning is a labor of love with immense personal satisfaction that begins with the proper equipment, a proven recipe and the willingness to try.  When I first began canning in the mid ‘80’s, I followed guidelines in Joy of Cooking and information provided by the County Extension Service.  The most time consuming part is assembling equipment, jars, produce and spices, once the process begins you don’t want to have to run out for things, organization is key.  Only the best produce, scrubbed clean and dried should be used for canning, hopefully within 48 hours of picking. I also find that having more than is called for on hand a good idea.  Measuring produce before chopping or processing can be very deceptive.  Even after all these years I find it hard to match the amounts called for and the recipe yields of finished jars.  So I have extra jars on hand as well.


Canning equipment needs to be glass; enamel or stainless steel and sparkling clean to start.  Dishwashers can be handy to clean jars, as all should be washed before sterilizing.

I find wide mouth jars easier to fill,  ‘must haves’ include a canning pot, with removable insert, for boiling water bath processing, and a jar grasping tool which enhances safety. Food processors can be labor saving, and create uniform pieces which is important.  However, be careful not to over-process.  Texture and shape is important in some recipes, when I make piccalilli I like long thin pieces, which can only be done by hand.


When looking for recipes, terms like short brine (1 to 24 hours), boiling water bath (the process by which jars are sealed), pickling salt (additive free), 5% acetic acid vinegar (most prepared apple cider and distilled white vinegar) should be understood and followed.  Guidelines for filling jars, washing, sterilizing, maintaining proper head space (1/4” – ½” between liquid and lid), and creating a sterile field for working space are also important.


Some recipes can be done in a short time, requiring the packing of hot, sterile jars with raw produce then pouring a prepared, hot brining solution to the proper level in the jar before processing.  Other recipes require salting down the produce overnight, then simmering in the brining solution for up to an hour before packing into jars.  I always wipe the top of the jar with a clean damp cloth or paper towel before putting on the sterilized top so that the sealing surface is clean.  The screw band is then put on and just tightened enough to hold the lid in place.  Then, keeping the jar level, it is put into the canning pot insert.   When full with jars the insert is submerged in the boiling water for 15 minutes. 


After processing the jars are taken out- again keeping as level as possible, and I set them gently on a doubled towel on the countertop.  I blot away any water sitting on the top of the jar and leave them to cool.  It is important not to bump the jars, as they may break easily when hot, they should also not be set in a drafty spot, as quick temperature changes may cause cracking.  With proper care jars will last a lifetime, bands and lids should be replaced each batch.  As the jars cool you may here popping sounds, this is normal as the metal lids seal. 


When totally cool, inspect each jar, hand tighten the bands, and gently tap the center of each lid.  You should hear a dull thud.  If it sounds hollow or is raised in the center, it didn’t seal.  Unsealed jars can be put into the refrigerator and eaten right away.  Store any sealed jars in a cool, dark place after labeling and dating.  Most recipes benefit from resting for 4-6 weeks before serving. 


I hope you’ll try canning and start a secret recipe of your own.  It’s fun to do with a friend or two and split the results.  After a few times of practice you can fill your pantry in a week end or two, I usually have two or three recipes going at once, timing them out so that as one batch simmers another is being processed, while the third is salting down.  The rows of jars still hold mystery for me that my taste buds love to explore!

Native Hearts Returning


To the North and East a deep shimmering bay, surrounded by steep cliffs tapering to sandy dunes and endless sea. To the South and West, islands near and far, warmer waters that stay through the tidal flow.  Throughout all, great marshes and cedar swamps the birthplaces of the abundance that exists on tidal flats, in brackish ponds, kettle ponds and tidal rivers.  Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties.  Natocke, Coonamesset, Wequassett, Shawme, Cataumet, Cummaquid, Tonset, Monomoyick. The names roll off the tongue in strange syllables but remain in the mind as it searches for meaning.

It is a time of transition in which we live on these lands; we begin as a culture and individually to remember.  Remember what you say?  Our bodies remember, our cell memory reminds us of the connection to the Earth and Sea as the source of our sustenance and the Creator as the source of our knowing.  Many traditions have spoken of this time of change.  The Mayan Calendar, the prophecies of the Inca and the Navaho, Hopi, Lakota, and Tibet.  They speak of an awakening of the Native Heart, of knowing that all life comes from the Earth and a respect for its diversity.  Of a uniting of the Eagle and the Condor, the heart and the mind functioning together.  Of choices to be made for our survival, the survival of the human race, for we know that the Earth will survive. 

We have such gifts here on these lands of rhythm and balance, tides and moons so visible on the horizon. What a treat it is to stand on the beach and watch the sunset and the moonrise simultaneously over the land and the sea.  To be conscious of the cycles of cold and heat, green and gray, mist and wind. 

That “all spirit arises from the land’ is a common theme of indigenous cultures, we are now ‘going green’, its hip to be conscious of your food and where it comes from, to conserve energy and gas,  locavore was the word of the year in 2007.  These all show movement toward the change in mindset and awakening of the native heart.

The original inhabitants of this land knew its rhythms; they had winter camps and summer camps. Our ancestors always looked to the next season and provided for each member of the community for survival alone was improbable.  We have learned isolation, disconnection and the hoarding of material goods, but most of us couldn’t feed ourselves from the Earth for a day let alone a season. Farmers and farmers markets are now rising to the forefront.  Those of us who have worked the land for years are ready to offer its bounty and teach those who are willing to reconnect.  Edible landscapes need to replace the costly ornamental expanses of most yards.  Learning to ‘put food by’ may become a necessity for some and our version of ‘victory gardens’ will become common.

Southeastern Massachusetts is home to the ‘people of the dawn’ or ‘people of the first light’ the Wampanoag.  With our native hearts awakening, will we be part of bringing the wholeness, wisdom and light to our home, this fragile spit of land, or will we remain in the dark.  Will we be part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem.  Will we learn to be in harmony with the land and live from the land in sustainable ways or will we continue to rely on fossil fuels, produce flown in from other continents, and overflowing land fills.   Awaken…, breathe deep…, awaken your heart.