Winter Solstice is a time of change, both seen and felt. Waning daylight works upon our bodily rhythms and subtly shifts our mindsets and moods. As darkness obscures the world around us, these seasonal tides encourage us to reflect on that which has been hidden from view—sometimes by turning inward, and sometimes by feeling our way through the shadows to explore our once familiar, illuminated settings in new ways. The discoveries made through these careful probings can be profound and transformative, but they can also challenge our physical and emotional resilience, compelling us to dig for the energy and positivity needed to stay balanced. Fortunately, at times like these, our herbal allies are there to help!
I have long been drawn to both the emotional as well as the practical powers of plants. I see these aspects not as contradictory, but as two sides of the same priceless coin. The magical energy of Nature’s gifts can offer solace, support, and remedy for our spiritual maladies, while botanical chemistry supplies countless ways to aid in bodily wellness. Few of us have experienced physical discomfort that does not elicit a degree of emotional distress or an affliction of the mind or heart that fails to manifest itself in outward agitation or fatigue. For this reason, herbs are often especially useful in restoring our whole person to its vital state, and it is this duality that I celebrate in The Illustrated Herbiary.
Inspired by my years of herbal learning, practice, and teaching—and particularly my time spent as an apprentice to a traditional medicine woman in the remote Irish countryside—this book introduces the reader to 36 plant allies and their two “songs.” The first song is the song of chemistry and how the physical body of the plant interacts with our own physical bodies. The second song is more difficult to quantify and harder to hear; it is the song of spirit. Each song offers insight into a given plant’s personality and powers, along with inward and outward practices to help commune with and benefit from its energy.
To celebrate the return of the sun on the Winter Solstice, I am happy to share an especially relevant excerpt from The Illustrated Herbiary: an introduction to St. John’s Wort. May it help you draw threads of connection between the brightest and darkest days so that you can find balance as you travel through the year.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) ~ Light in the Darkness
Truth? St. John’s Wort is scraggly and scrappy. But that’s her beauty—she’s a magician and a thief, not the belle of the ball. She knows how to steal the heat from summer’s solstice sun, hold it in her flowers, and make it last all winter long. This is her greatest trick: bringing light and warmth to your darkness by helping to recreate the electric leap of synapses firing and energy moving along. Call on St. John’s Wort when you need a sip of sunshine so you can find your light in the darkness.
Ritual: Sipping Sunshine
Like St. John’s Wort, you can store sunshine! Stand facing the sun with your eyes closed and your feet planted firmly on the earth. Feel the light coming through your eyelids. Breathe the sunshine in through your nose and taste it on your tongue. Repeat often, allowing the sun’s fire to stoke your inner fires.
Reflection: Winter Medicine
Modern culture demands we be our same selves day in and out, summer and winter. But our bodies know otherwise. Our bodies remember a time when winter was for staying close to the hearth fires. St. John’s Wort is a solstice plant, blooming near the summer solstice and perfect Medicine for the winter.
What Medicine do you need in the winter months?
How do you keep the sun in your spirit when the nights are long?
Excerpted from The Illustrated Herbiary (c) by Maia Toll, illustrations (c) by Kate O'Hara, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
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