Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guest Blogger, Under the Winter Snows

I am happy to introduce a guest blogger from the Upper Valley health practitioner community, Sylvia Newberry. Here are her insights into the bounty that awaits us under the snow.

Under The Winter Snows

This information suggests ways to promote and maintain health.
It is not intended to take the place of personalized medical counseling,
diagnosis, and treatment from a trained health professional

I know that we are in the depths of a New England winter. And I can tell, not by how high the snow is piled or how low the thermometer is reading, but by the number of seed catalogs that have arrived in my mailbox. I savored my cup of coffee this morning while thumbing through the pages filled with brightly colored flowers, fruits and vegetables, and everything and anything it might take to grow them. The sun shining through the window was not exactly spring-like, but at least it provided some warmth.

The catalogs bring the hope of warm weather, but I remind myself during this time of cold and white, that there are an abundance of green friends that are not dead, but dormant. Merely sleeping out of sight. There is a spot not far from the steps I use to enter and exit my house that holds a patch of chickweed (Stellaria media). In the midst of the mid winter thaw, usually in February, the banks of snow will recede ever so slightly, and there will be a vibrant green plant, ready to burst into bloom. It is so different from what most of us expect, that if we don’t stop and look, we miss it. Plants are not “supposed” to grow under the snow during a Vermont winter.

For those of you even remotely familiar with “beneficial weeds”, the name chickweed probably rings a bell. The plant, in most places, grows close to the ground, forming a mat of tiny verdant leaves offsetting equally tiny white star shaped flowers. It grows best in weather that is cool and moist, but will hang on in a less vibrant form throughout the summer and give one last burst of fresh green as autumn closes in on winter. The plant itself has many healing properties which it is willing to share with those of us who stoop to notice and are willing to set aside our “certainties” about what will and will not contribute to our health and healing. The whole plant can be eaten, either added raw to early spring salads, or lightly steamed or quickly sautéed in a bit of olive oil and garlic. In this way, it becomes one of the earliest spring tonics, filled with an abundance of vitamins and minerals, packaged in an edible form that makes the nutrients readily available to the human body.

The fragile plant structure does not lend itself well to drying. You will find dried chickweed for sale where dried herbs are sold, but even stored under ideal conditions, it gives up it beneficial properties rather quickly. To preserve the healing properties for use “out of season”, it is probably best to harvest, clean, allow to the plant material to wilt over night and then chop it up and cover it in alcohol, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, vegetable glycerin, or a vegetable oil such as olive or sweet almond oil depending on your intended use. I leave my jars of green-floating-in-liquid sitting on the kitchen counter where I can pick them up several times a day and give them a gentle shake. I let them sit for a couple of weeks, watching the liquid, or menstrum, picking up the coloring from the plant material. I know from study and from personal experience that the vital elements contained in the plant are also being transferred to the liquid. And when the time has passed and I have a day with a bit of free time, I pour the liquid through either an unbleached coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth into a strainer and eventually into a colored glass bottle, carefully applying a label and giving it a place among other similar looking bottles on the shelf.

What do I use the chickweed tinctures and oils for? Herbal medicine teaches that chickweed is a tonic and a “mover” and “cleanser” of lymph fluids throughout the body. It is gentle and yet powerful in helping to create balance where it has been disturbed by illness or just oversight or neglect. Chickweed infused oil is a wonderful addition to healing salves. I often combine several herbs in the all purpose salves that I make. Chickweed is the soothing ingredient that provides moisture and brings the vitamins and minerals needed for cell repair right to the place where they are needed. I was skeptical when I first began to use herbs in this way. But I have had enough experience with healing wounds, either fresh or long term non-healing ones, to have set that skepticism aside. Call it what you will, the medicine in plants is both gentle and tremendously strong and effective.

So, when you step out your door into the cold, Vermont winter air, look down at the ground all around you and just imagine what green plants are sleeping there, waiting for the snow to begin receding ever so slightly. Look closely when that time comes and see what you can discover.

Sylvia Newberry worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. She currently has a healing practice where she offers energy work, guided imagery, and medicinal herbs. A Reiki master, she offers all levels of attunement to both groups and individuals. She teaches classes about the common, safe healing plants, identifying, growing, and how they can be effectively used. Her website is and you can leave her a message at The Healing Arts Clinic in Windsor, VT 802-674-7037.

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