The Joy of Dandelions

I have to send out this quick instructional blog post because it is that time of year again, Spring! And the Dandelions are in full glory.

This is my neighbor’s lawn, and I love seeing it because this means he is not spraying toxic poisons that will run into my backyard – Yea!

ImageDandelions are a wonderful symbol of rebirth, of making it through the winter, and of a cheery brilliance in the face of so much hate! They are a flower that evokes strong emotions in some people – in me, admiration for all their health benefits and long history of benefiting people over eons (there is lots of evidence that cave people dined often on Dandelions. All parts of her are edible or usable for medicine, and her strong tap root will simply multiply if torn out of the ground. In other people, the feeling is one of strong dislike or dare I say even hatred? Hard to believe that anyone could hate such a sunny and happy looking flower, one of the first heralds that winter is really over, but I’ve seen and heard people like this with my own eyes and ears! If they only knew what I knew – that Dandelion is chock full of benefits, a few of which I’ll list here.

The root has been dried and ground to use as a healthy alternative to coffee (along with Chicory root – but that is a gorgeous pale blue fall blooming flower and roots are best dug in the fall anyways). The leaves are a well-known delicacy to use in salads and as a bitter tonic, and also have historical uses as a diuretic and to help with circulatory issues. These are even available in the supermarket aisle, but why buy them when you can harvest them for free? If, of course, you haven’t poisoned your lawn! The flowers have a history in home wine making, but are not as well-known as being edible on a spring walk or in your salad, for making a tea to ease headaches, menses cramps, backache, stomach ache and even depression (of course-just look at those cheerful faces!) You can also make an infused oil with the flowers to help heal pain in the body, easing stiffness, arthritic joints, and sinus headaches historically.  A flower essence from Dandelion’s flower is known to promote deep relaxation and facilitate release of emotions that are held in body musculature. The sap of the stalks and leaves has been used to dissolve warts, corns, calluses, hard pimples, bee stings and blisters, as well as being known as a bacteriostatic and a fungistatic.

Image

The crazy thing is that when people poison their lawns with weed killers and lawn food mixed with herbicides, they are losing at least two fold. 1st, filling their immediate environment with toxic chemicals. If it kills something else, you can bet it’s not good for you, your children or your pets. 2nd, you will be missing out on the extreme health benefits of these powerhouse plants. Nutritionally speaking, when you look at many of our modern diseases, there is evidence that mineral deficiency is at the root of them, and wild greens aka “weeds” are veritable storehouses packed with minerals which are in a very available form, many of them being edible or able to be tinctured or infused to make these nutrients even more available. Why go any further than your lawn and backyard for your grocery shopping and medicinal needs?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our great grandparents brought many of our “garden weeds” over to the New World as medicine to be used every day, especially preventively. We would benefit by returning to some of the herbal wise ways of our ancestors.  Hens love them too!

One way to utilize the many gifts of our backyard wild plants is to make herbal vinegar. And it’s so easy! Here is a photo journal of today’s herbal vinegar making.

Start with a simple quart plastic container, like you saved from your last chinese restaurant visit because you would never throw away a good reusable container like that, right? On a dry sunny day, go out and first just revel in the sheer glory of dandelions in Spring. Flowers love to be appreciated, and don’t we all? I always take a few minutes to ooh and ah over the exquisite workmanship behind the creation of each flower – the Master Architect at work again! Once I have made quite clear that I do appreciate this gift from Nature and the sacrifice of these happy little bursts of sunshine known as Dandelion flowers, I carefully pick the flower heads, looking to make sure any ants or other insects are not coming along for the ride. That wouldn’t be beneficial for them or for you!

DSCN2294

Next, I will fill the entire container with my herb of choice. I often add some of the Dandelion greens, and in this case I also added some Plantain leaves and Violet leaves – both edible and fully of nutrients that will be nicely broken down and made available by the action of the vinegar.

DSCN2296 DSCN2300 DSCN2305 DSCN2308

Once I have filled the container as full of edible greens and flowers as comfortable, I go inside where my gallon of Apple Cider Vinegar is waiting for me. ACV also has a long history in its own right for easing ailments in people, so this can only be good! I will then re-fill and completely immerse the freshly picked plants in Apple Cider Vinegar, using a chopstick to get out any air bubbles and generally move things around until everyone is comfortable. 🙂

DSCN2313 DSCN2315

You can use any utensil to do this, but I generally like using wooden or bamboo utensils.

As a final step, always label the container with all pertinent information. Although it all seems obvious now, give it a week or two and you’ll most likely have no idea what this strange concoction is or when it was made (and therefore when it will be ready to use!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALastly, let the mixture infuse with all the goodness contained in these brilliant flowers for about six weeks, then strain off the plant matter, make sure to label the final container, and enjoy! You can take it every day, 1-3 tablespoonfuls in hot water as a morning beverage or with meals to aid digestion (my favorite ways) or you can use any way you would normally use vinegar – such as in salad dressings. Just be sure to use it and benefit from the nutrient and mineral rich infusion that will soon be sitting on your shelf. This is just one of many ways you can benefit by working in cooperation with the plant world around us, naturally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kindnesses

I spent last month in Thailand, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being close to elephants. ImageThe trip was about re-finding what is really important in life, and about new beginnings. It came at the heels of a number of job experiences that left me completely wondering where the sanity of this world is – because it certainly wasn’t in my recent work situation. My whole life I have felt it was important to do work that improved the world, helped to protect the environment, or helped animals in some way. How to do that exactly is open to interpretation. But given recent experiences, I have to admit that I had become disillusioned about my ability to make a difference in the world today.  Recently It all seemed futile and pointless, and I wondered if it was even worth trying anymore.

So I decided to take a trip to the other side of this great planet we live on, and see other ways of living. My major goal was to go volunteer with and be close to elephants, and so I ended up at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There  I met Lek Chailert, the founder of ENP. She was generous enough to let me tag along as she spent time with her elephant friends. What a thrill!Image Watching Lek know just how to delight a first time visitor,  to care for her elephant friends in any number of ways – nuzzling with an uncertain baby elephant, singing to a grown one who’s trust she had gained,Image

or watching her speak to a crowd of people with just the right blend of humility, knowledge and integrity in order to educate and help people remember why we were put on this earth – to live in cooperation with the natural world that nourishes us every day,  to be kind to those weaker than us, to heal those who are broken of spirit and body, these are just a few ideas worth emulating.Image

I heard it said while I was there, and later noticed a saying inscribed over one of the lecture rooms that read “The Power of One”. This was a powerful idea and I thought about it while I was there.  I was familiar with the thought that a few concerned people gathered together can change the world (via Margaret Mead) or the Bible’s “when two or more are gathered in my name” but really in my experience it is sometimes impossible to find even one more person who is committed to the uplifting and healing of the planet and to our true role as human beings and caretakers of the planet. But as I watch Lek in action,  and her handling of everyday people and elephants, I think of how we really all are in need of healing, whether we are animals or humans. Isn’t the pain we as a species wreak upon other species and the earth herself often a reflection of the wounds and unhealed places inside each person or  their race or species as a whole? I believe part of helping animals is helping people find a place of peace inside themselves, however that is often much harder to do with a person than with animals, who will return to that centered place just by removing the basic needs’ barriers like pain and hunger.

The park is home to about 35 elephants. It is maxed out right  now until they can afford to purchase more land next door, which has doubled in price once the owner found out that Lek wanted it for her elephant friends. It also houses a joyous raucous 400+ dogs which have been rescued over the last few years from places like the flooded streets of Bangkok and the illegal dog meat trade – ugh! These dogs have spacious quarters and all their food and medical needs taken care of by the Park and its volunteers. Most of these dogs are ready for adoption and if you are ever in Thailand and want a companion dog – check out Elephant Nature Park!

There is so much to say about my time there that I can’t possibly fit it all in one blog post. But what I will start with is that the theme of traveling for me was Kindness. The one thing that got me through each rough patch I was in (like getting lost – twice! on the streets of Bangkok – scary!) and the one thing I saw in Lek that impressed me the most – was the power of  certain kindnesses, often from total strangers, sometimes from old friends.
During one of the rare moments I was lucky enough to be alone with Lek and the elephants, I asked her – what is the one most important thing you’d want me to write about in my blog when I get back home? She talked about (and I couldn’t record an exact quote because we were standing in a river throwing water on elephant’s backs to help them bathe at the time) Image

that all animals, not even just elephants, deserve a life free of cruelty and full of kindness. She described what I would call a Basic Bill of Rights for All Animals. All animals need to be treated with kindness and decency, to have good living conditions including things like clean water, nourishing food, room to exercise and to express yourself naturally. This seems like such a simple truth but one that obviously still needs to be stated and promoted until there really exists a Basic Bill of Rights for All Living Beings. I believe it can be so, especially as more people become aware of what goes into that chicken in your Buffalo Wings.

I would imagine that this is why all the delicious food at the ENP is vegetarian. Because supporting the meat industry today by buying meat or chicken or pork in a supermarket or restaurant automatically means you are supporting extreme animal cruelty. And is that really where you want to put your dollars, your vote for the industry to keep doing what they‘ve been doing? Every purchase you make supports what you are buying. Why not support kindness instead of extreme cruelty? There are many videos out there that will show you exactly the inhumane conditions in meat factories and poultry farms, watch them if you need proof. But if you don’t need proof, start voting now with your $’s for what you believe in.

The entire Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephants Foundation was built on one person’s idea of the power of kindness. That these elephants whom no one cared about are now living lives free of abuse, able to socialize as they wish, where they get to be, well, elephants, and it all came about because one person had the kind thought that every species whether they be human or animal, each deserved a decent life free of abuse where they are able to live out their lives in peaceful existence – and isn’t that what we all want?

Check out ENP at http://www.saveelephant.orgImage

Experiences

As I sit here days away from taking off to Thailand by way of Tokyo (I just love the sound of those history enriched names) I contemplate, as ever, Life.

I’m sitting in my kitchen, looking out on the backyard, where I just hung out my laundry to dry. The bath towels and one sundress I unpacked from the attic and washed to take with me are whipping in the brisk Spring breeze, and the resulting flurry of colors and shapes has me mesmerized. I love it when the ordinary can transport me to reverie on the vibrancy of  life. Image

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m perfectly content – for this one moment in time- sitting here in my NJ kitchen on an April Fools Day, enjoying the fluttering of fabric and the play on my senses. I feel healthy and have been able to help out my aging parents in some small ways and that feels great. I had my family, animals and humans, nearby for Easter and still now I feel valued by all of them. That is pricelessly nourishing.

So, why am I going? It’s a short long time to be gone. Short time to actually experience all I want to experience. Long to be away from my animals. I know I have to, need to, experience other perspectives, other views and especially other cultures. To see options. Most of all, to be close to the elephants, on their terms. Whereas a few months ago I would have thrilled to see an image of “elephant trekking” I know now how sad and disturbing a sight that is. What the baby elephants have had to endure to grow up to be “trained”. To take a creature of such intelligence, beauty and sensitivity and subject it to the tactics regularly used in a ritual called the phajeen is beyond my understanding. I can’t bear to write about it quite yet, but here is a link to two fine travelers who explain more about it. http://imranandamber.blogspot.com/search?q=elephant+nature+park

All I can say about it at this point is that is an abhorrent practice and it reeks of slavery and subjugation of the spirit, which will always result in diminished human capacity. When we as a species allow such practices to go unnoticed and unopposed, we become smaller and meaner and it will always come back to haunt us in one way or another.

I will know more once I return. At least a little more. More about the culture, the ancient and wise culture that somehow allowed this practice to be born and to still exist. More about what an elephant feels like, smells like and thinks about all this. I won’t be an expert by any measure, but there is something so tangible and priceless about direct experience. Something, if done with enough authenticity and conviction, that can change your life and is, at the very least, worth more than volumes of book learning. And I love book reading!

Maybe I’ll come back a different person, forever changed by my experiences. Most likely I’ll come back a richer person, still the same but enhanced with a street (or jungle forest) wisdom that is only gained in one way.

Experience!

Image