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Inipi and the Fires of Sweet Everlasting Pt 2

My journey on the 5 day Inipi ceremony took an abrupt turn on the second day into the Sweet Everlasting. My intent and prayers on the first day were to deepen my connection to the plant people on this land. After leaving the lodge I started seeing Sweet Everlasting surrounding us…folks who mistook it for a lowly weed were stomping it down.

I didn’t blame them. Few recognize it these days, it looks like a “lowly weed” to most of us. Nor do we find it praised in our herbals. Country folk usually call it rabbit tobacco, or cudweed, or field balsam. Young kids are sometimes encouraged by parents to try it out for a smoke knowing that its likely to end the temptation towards tobacco. Hardly anything to tiptoe around.

Yet, to many tribes, this plant was sacred to the Inipi itself! Sprinkled on heated stones to alter the psychic landscape and carry the people through the veil…a place to actually meet the ancestors. Its smoke was also used to revive the unconscious (even lesson effects of a stroke). Additionally, among tribes who weren’t afraid of it (more on that later), it was added to the herbs smoked in the sacred pipe, the chanupa. These smoking herbs were to include at least three types of herb. One to open the door (tobacco), another to carry one across the threshold into alternate reality, and another to help retain what was learned. Rabbit tobacco served to take one across the boundary. Tribes knew it as  a plant “that walks between the living and the dead”. Rabbit tobacco took root in my mind and I resolved to show it to the group the next day and to make it the focal point of my next plunge into the Inipi.  Lucky for us, it rained the night before.

Rabbit tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) has a peculiar trait. Its one of the plants that stands erect throughout the winter after it’s died

Sweet Everlasting

Such plants rely on their high mineral content of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus for tensile strength. But this one differs. Its stalk has some “give” to it because its primary minerals include less common ones like copper and manganese. Its dried flowers will give off a beautiful vanilla-like scent when there’s the right amount of moisture in the air. That’s how it came to be known as field balsam. In the old days, folks used to pick these flower heads and bring them into their homes to scent the air… learned from the Indians, so it was called Indian Posy.  Medicine men were cautious with it, though. Its scent and life-force lasted for years…so did its psychic powers. Such powers reflect the “vibes” around them. Where there is toxic energy, the plants pick it up and open the door to negative spirits. Therefore, some shamans would leave it outdoors for at least six months before bringing it in, just to be safe.  Some wouldn’t take any chances and didn’t allow it in the lodge nor in the chanupa…who could be sure that some evil hadn’t ruined it!

Well, on the second day of the Inipi, after explaining its sacred and medicinal uses and inviting everyone to its fragrance,  I gave a branch to Wolf and lost myself in it’s sweetness..on that day the lodge cracked open for me and I met its plant spirit.  Fortunately, we don’t have to play with its psychic fires to make good use of it. It was once a valued medicine for tribes and settlers alike. I have no idea why its become so obscure. For example, it has a special way with hard-to-treat asthma, especially that acquired in early childhood and associated with genetics. Its energetic signature marks it for those born with some kind of genetic weakness. You may find recommendations to smoke it for asthma…not so good. Instead, it was stuffed into a pillow that the patient slept on. Over about a year, the asthma slowly cleared up. It wasn’t always a full cure, but a definite improvement could be expected.

The tribes called it rabbit medicine, it grows in areas that rabbits like to hang out in (& it prefers to grow around oaks). It treats “rabbit conditions”, for example: rabbits have a thin skin that’s easily cut…tribes believed that rabbits used it to heal those wounds which carries over to how we can do the same.  It also seems to be an herb of choice for people who have thin skin. Rabbits are twitchy creatures. Gnaphalium is good for our own twitchiness, its a mild sedative and pain killer. Have you ever heard the term, “they breed like rabbits”? Another rabbit trait is suggested in its powers as an aphrodisiac.There are many tribal stories about this plant and its associations with rabbits, also with owls.

It shines for treating respiratory conditions, colds and flu. One of the more thorough articles on its medicinal use can be found here. One caution, folks who are allergic to the daisy ought to avoid it. Make sure your plants come from a “good energy” source,too!

Firekeeper begins fire to heat stones (grandfathers)

Next up, a dear friend suffers from migraines. I was going to send her a long email but decided I ought to post here so others could read it, too. Oh, if you’ve anything to share about Rabbit Tobacco…even your own sad stories about how you tried smoking it as a kid…we’d love to see that in the comments.

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Loving Lemongrass Though Winter

I'm standing in waist high lemongrass (I'm 5'7")

Towards the end of October it was time to do something about the lush lemongrass that wouldn’t make it through the winter here in the Ozarks. While I’ve struggled before growing it from seed, this healthy crop was started with sets – highly recommended -by Louanne Lawson at Circle Yoga Shala. Aside from its wonderful culinary uses, associated with Asian cooking Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisines – lemongrass has medicinal uses, but before I get into all of that, let me show you how I prepped it to store over winter.

After a good rain I dug it up and potted some of the smaller plants after cutting it down to about 8 inches. That will go dormant indoors for planting out once warm spring temps arrive. The rest of it was frozen once I’d prepped it as follows:

To harvest pull a stalk up firmly close to the root end and snap it off.  Best picked just prior to using. Here’s what it looks like after breaking a piece off close to the soil:

Lemongrass before prepp

The stiff outer leaves need to be removed to reveal the white part:

Removing outer leaves around white inner core

Next, you cut off the white part, into chunks…seen in the food processor like this:

Edible lower portions

Edible lower portions

Its not necessary to chop it up. You could just freeze the chunks as is. But its useful to have finely chopped material ready at hand for cooking or making an infusion. Here’s what it looked like after chopping, ready to go into the freezer.

 

Finely chopped and ready to freeze

 

 

The remaining grassy blades were mulched back into the bed. However, they can be sliced thin and thrown into a soup base , remove before serving. I don’t think its worth preserving them for storage.

If you have a dryer, you can also dry it…though it tastes better frozen. If you dry it you’ll need to soak it a couple of hours in warm water before you can use it. That’s one reason the dried material is usually ground into a powder. One teaspoon of powder equals one stalk. Whatever its form, don’t store it next to other foods and spices because they’ll pick up its odor. The frozen lemongrass will last for six months without loss of flavor.

And then you can always just keep some of the fresh material for up to three weeks in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

Now, on to why we want to bother with all this fuss.

Cymbopogon citratus,

Medicinal Uses

There are several varieties of this aromatic plant, but for medicinal purposes see that you have Cymbopogon citratus. Its one of the most popular medicinal plants used in Brazil and along the Amazon (originally from India) where its used to treat nervous disorders, as a sedative, and for stomach problems. In one test-tube investigation, published in the medical journal Microbios in 1996, researchers demonstrated that lemongrass was effective against 22 strains of bacteria and 12 types of fungi. Scientific research has also bolstered the herb’s reputation as an analgesic and sedative.It makes a delicious infusion, taken with meals it will help digest fats. Its also a stimulating tonic for digestion, blood circulation, and lactation; and a diuretic. In Ayurveda its combined with pepper for menstrual problems and nausea. It makes a good detoxifier with cleansing action on the liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder and the digestive tract by reducing uric acid, cholesterol, excess fats and other toxins.

Myrcene, a chemical found in the essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus, was found in one study to act as a site-specific pain reliever. Unlike aspirin and similar analgesics, which tend to alleviate pain throughout the body, myrcene seems to work only on particular areas.

As with so many valuable herbs, clinical studies are few and far between, but some have been done that indicate antifungal and insecticidal efficiency as well as potential anticancer properties.

In the Philippines, studies were done at the Department of Science and Technology showing that every 100 grams of boiled lemongrass provides 24.205 micrograms of the antioxidant beta-carotene. They also found that the essential oil holds promise treating a tropical eye disease called keratomycosis.

The grass gives a feeling of coolness welcome in fevers. It will bring a temperature down due to the copious perspiration it causes. It also helps to loosen mucous.

Remember it if ringworm pops up. A paste of the leaves made with buttermilk is applied locally. Ringworm is a fungal infection, right up lemongrass’s alley.

Need help getting to sleep? Drink the infusion warm before bed.

Essential Oil

Some sources say that lemongrass oil and citronella oil are the same thing. But they aren’t. Citronella comes from a related plant called Cymbopogon nardus. Still, lemongrass does repel insects, but there’s a lot more to this oil:

  • Strengthens psychic awareness & purification
  • Athletes foot
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Scabies
  • Tissue Toner,poor circulation and muscle tone, (infusion works too)
  • Muscle Pain and headaches
  • Nervous exhaustion
  • Its used commercially to scent candles, soaps
  • Treats spasmodic affections of the bowels, gastric irritability and cholera
  • Mix the oil with twice its weight in coconut oil for a stimulating ointment for neuralgia, sprains, lumbago or any painful condition. If something stronger is needed its OK to apply undiluted lemongrass oil directly to the painful area.
  • Mix some oil into shampoo for oily hair.
  • Also used for oily skin or to close pores
  • It can be used as a deodorant to curb perspiration

Cautions:

Avoid excessive doses during pregnancy. Rare cases of hypersensitivity have been reported. Toxic alveolitis has been associated with inhalation of the oil.

Culinary Uses

Its commonly used with fish or poultry. It balances chili peppers and blends well with cilantro and garlic. Citral, an essential oil also found in lemon peel, is the constituent responsible for its taste and aroma as well as its actions aiding digestion as well as relieving spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches. The amount of citral in its essential oils varies with the age of the grass.

“Bruising” is a common term found in recipes that call for using lemon grass. This releases the flavor of the grass.  Press down on the bulb end of the lemon grass with the side of a large knife (such as a Chef’s knife) or pound lightly with a kitchen mallet.

Nutrition in 1 tablespoon of raw lemongrass: 5 calories, no fat or fiber, 0.87 grams protein, 1.214 gram carbohydrate, 0.288 mg sodium, 0.125 mg vitamin C, beta-carotene (see above)

Misc. Uses

One of tricks for training dogs not to bark so much is to spray them with strong lemongrass infusion or diluted essential oil & water. They hate the smell of it. I’ve noticed cats don’t like it either but so far, no barking problem there.

Its handy to have growing in the garden to ward off insects. Just crush leaves up and rub on your skin.

Growing

Sow seed from late January to March on the surface of a good seed compost just covering the seed with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Germination takes 21-40 days at 20-25C (70-75F). Sealing in a polyethylene bag after sowing is helpful. When large enough to handle, transplant the seedlings to boxes or 7.5cm (3in) pots. When well grown gradually acclimates to outdoor conditions and plant out in late spring 30cm (12in) apart after all risk of frost, in a warm, sheltered spot in full sun and moist, well drained soil. Keep well watered and give the occasional liquid feed.

If you have a market that sells the stalks, try rooting one in water to get your starter plants going.

To over winter, lift in early autumn, pot up and grow through the winter in a greenhouse with a minimum winter temperature of 7C (45F).  Keep well watered throughout the summer, just moist through the winter.

Thanks Louanne for growing this marvelous plant, next year we’ll do it together and just maybe, have some extra to share!

 

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