Podcast 059: Herbs & the Holidays: Solstice

Solstice is the quiet time, a moment of pause between the dying of the old and the rebirth of the new year. This week we share some meditations, stories, and traditions that shape the way we think about this time of year and its effects on our habits & our health. Listen in with a mug of your favorite sunny tea, and some nice warm blankets!

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Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:12 Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn: 00:13 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:14 We’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn: 00:18 And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. It’s solstice, it is the shortest day.

Katja: 00:27 It is the longest night.

Ryn: 00:28 Indeed. It is those things and we’re into it. We’re going to tell you all about it, but first we’re just going to remind you that we are not doctors.

Katja: 00:38 We’re herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn: 00:40 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice; no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the U.S., so these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Katja: 00:50 Everybody’s body is different, so the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and research more.

Ryn: 00:59 We want to remind you one more time this year that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is in fact always yours. This year and every year.

Katja: 01:14 All the time. We have some shout-outs today. Actually, the shout-outs today involve a story that I’m very excited about. The story comes from Tally and Amanda. Tally wrote to say, “My best friend and I have discovered your podcast this year. Before this discovery, we never knew that herbal medicine was a subject that people still studied. Previously, we would just hike the hills trying to learn the names of every plant in our paths. Thanks to your podcast, we can now relate these plants with their uses. We’re in the military and so sometimes we’re often in very different places. She and I look at plants like we’re seeing the faces of people we know; even when we’re homesick, we can find comfort in seeing our familiar friends. We make tea bags of our favorite herbs to take on adventures and stock up our immune system with tinctures before going away.”

Ryn: 02:11 This made me so happy to read. That just fills up your emotional reserve meter for doing the work when it’s a tough day, when you’re tired, and when you’re wondering if anybody really cares. You get a message like this and it feels really, really good. So, thank you Tally for sharing that.

Katja: 02:36 I’m also so excited about the beautiful practice that Tally and Amanda have of letting the plants connect them even when they’re in really different places, far from home, and recognizing that the plants connect us all. They connect us to the earth and it’s beautiful. Very excited.

Ryn: 03:00 That was great. Well, we had a couple of other shout-outs to make this week, too: Eclectic Outpost weighed in on the pecan versus pecan debate. See how I had both pronouncements there?

Katja: 03:15 There’s only one pronouncement–it’s pecan.

Ryn: 03:18 Yes, unless it is pecan.

Katja: 03:22 Also, Jennifer wrote to let us know that she guessed correctly in episode 58 when we said to pause it and guess and then it was ginger chamomile, which probably was not super shocking. And Laura from Jean’s Greens, who wrote to say that she was going to make the chili cacao malbec; I’m very excited, I hope it turned out super delicious.

Ryn: 03:47 That’s really good stuff. Then, we got a review on iTunes from ChelsBel32–thank you very much, that helps people find the podcast and get the word out there so more people can have plants in their lives.

Katja: 04:02 Yeah, we really appreciate it.

Ryn: 04:06 Before we jump into this week’s topic, I wanted to make a quick mention here for any new listeners, any old listeners, or really any listeners at all: if you are an herbalist, if you’ve already had some training and you’re looking for clinical mentorship and guidance, I want to let you know that our 2019 Clinical Mentorship program is open to new enrollments right now. We kick it off on January 7th, and this is an online program. We all call in to a video conference call and share our cases. So, wherever you happen to be in the country or, if you don’t mind being on at odd hours, anywhere in the world. We are going to be meeting on the first and third Monday evenings, more or less 7:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern United States time. That will run from January 7th all the way through October. If you are a practicing herbalist, if you see clients, or if you are beginning to do so and you want a little more support and guidance, then this is a great place to get it. Also, if you’re just looking to increase your exposure to further case studies, this is the other key thing we do with round table is that you get to have more detailed insight into your particular case that you’re bringing forward or working with right now, as well as to hear what other people are dealing with, helping folks out with, and how they’ve approached it. I learn something every time we have a session from the participants. I think that there’s a lot to be gained from having a circle like this to be a part of. So, if that’s something that you’ve been looking for, considering, or didn’t know you needed until this very moment, then I would love for you to join. To get more info about that, the easiest way is really to email me directly; you can send that to info@commonwealthherbs.com, just put “clinical round table” in the subject line or anywhere in the email, I’ll read it.

Katja: 06:25 You can put “George” in the subject line and it wouldn’t matter, we’ll still read it. [laughter] If you’re not up to the point of clinical mentorship yet but you’re thinking that herbalism could be a career, then check out our online programs. We have our first year program, we have a three year clinical program (this clinical mentorship is the third year of it); the Foundations in Holistic Herbalism program is the first year of it and our Advanced Studies program is the second year. You can find information about both of those and all of our other courses at Commonwealthherbs.com/learn.

Ryn: 07:10 With that said, let’s talk about solstice.

Katja: 07:17 It’s 4:23 PM in the east and it’s pretty dark. We have half a string of twinkle lights, that’s the only light we have going on right now and it’s pretty nice. I had written notes next to today’s topic and here are the notes that I wrote: becoming, seed time, cycles, it’s okay to hibernate, our traditions, finding quiet. I guess that’s not even notes, it’s just sort of a list, but those are the things that I’m really thinking about at this time of year and it’s what I want to talk about. In order to do it, I need to backup a little bit and talk about Samhain, or a lot of people refer to that time as Halloween. All traditions that have these seasons have traditions around that dying time of the year when all the plants die back, the trees have lost their leaves, and the animals are making their preparations for winter. That dying time of the year is also about dying in us as humans, too. Next week, we’re going to talk about New Year’s resolutions and that’s also going to involve starting with Samhain, because you can’t bring in the new without letting the old die off, and I feel like that’s a really scary prospect for humans in this time and place. Maybe not all times in places, but for us in the here now, it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Ryn: 09:13 People are talking a lot in the last year or two about FOMO, fear of missing out. There’s been a lot of discussion about how that’s highly amplified by the media environment that we live in now where we have access not only to the tales of the rich and famous, but also anything that your friends post on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever else; it’s always the shiniest, prettiest, most perfect version of that person’s life. We don’t in fact always make our tea in the lovely teapot on the perfectly clean counter on the kitchen. [laughter]

Katja: 09:56 We use tea bags sometimes.

Ryn: 09:58 We’re totally guilty of taking pictures of the loveliest thing and then not showing you the pile of dishes that’s just around the corner.

Katja: 10:06 I have a picture of the pile of dishes that I wanted to post on Instagram, just to say, “Here’s the pretty picture I took and then here’s the rest of the kitchen.”

Ryn: 10:15 There’s been a little trend toward that kind of thing lately, too, which I think is kind of neat and kind of a response to this sort of experience. But it’s hard to let things go in part because of this “fear of missing out” or this feeling like you have to present, show up, or put yourself out there in a way that’s very clean, neat, orderly, attractive, and all those other things that we would all like to be all of the time but actually aren’t.

Katja: 10:46 As I sit here in my sweatpants with the seam kind of sketchy and my sweater with the elbow with a big hole in it.

Ryn: 10:58 My socks don’t have holes in them today, but that’s only because she came home yesterday with 12 new pairs of socks for me, took away all of the ones that had holes in them, and said, “You’re not going to wear these anymore”. [laughter] I guess I’m trying to see this connection between that “everything is beautiful everywhere except in my life” feeling that a lot of us get from the social media landscape and connecting to this more general idea of not wanting to confront the dark, whether that’s in your emotions or the dark time of year.

Katja: 11:35 It’s a cycle; that dark time of year is balanced by the height of summer, and it took me a long time to notice that it happened. I was not in my life always as connected to nature and to cycle as I am now, and in fact I was very not connected for a lot of my life. Once I finally noticed that it was a thing at all, the next long time was spent learning to stop fighting it and just let it happen. But I used to really fight and I used to hold on so tightly to things, in particular I really mean things in me, things that maybe weren’t serving me anymore but they were habits and they were the ways that I would respond to my world. Those things didn’t work for me, but it was very difficult for me to let go of them. It used to be this whole fight. I realized it was the dying time of the year and that this is what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t want it to happen. What I realized was that if I don’t grow and change with the rhythm of the year, then I will still grow and change but it’ll be so much more painful. Even if this is uncomfortable in this dark time of the year, this discomfort is in some way appropriate; it’s in sync with its cycle and somehow that makes it feel more manageable to me.

Ryn: 13:22 When we first got together, it was tradition (for at least a bunch of years) that Halloween or Samhain time was that everything is going to kind of explode and there’s going to be lots of emotional breakdowns for everybody, and then we’re going to need some grand gesture, like going to the ocean, finding some physical object to represent all the things we don’t want in our lives anymore, and throwing it into the ocean on a stormy crashing waves day. That was really good, that was really useful. Maybe as a point of point of advice or something we can share with you all out there in the podcast world is that sometimes that kind of thing is really helpful and just what you need.

Katja: 14:13 I remember one year I had this big rock and it was symbolically the idea of all the stuff I was going to let go of. I went to the edge of the big rocky cliff to throw it in and got all ready to do a big old granny swing and pitch it way out there, except somehow my grip was not right. It only barely fell right in front of me and only went into the water at all because it sort of tipped off the rock I was standing on. [laughter] I thought, “Well, isn’t that a metaphor?”

Ryn: 15:04 You were drawn to that place because that’s a place in the world that has a lot of elemental and emotional resonance for you. If you have a place like that, whether it’s a body of water, a place in the forest, or whatever…

Katja: 15:20 Or a fire ring, that’ll do it too.

Ryn: 15:24 It can be good to do something that physically represents what’s happening mentally and emotionally for you.

Katja: 15:30 This is not a popular concept in our culture right now. As a culture, we really value consistency, and by that I mean is believing that we know what things are and that we know what the story is. Even when we think about our politicians, there’s that whole idea of somehow politically it’s worse to change your mind than it is to persist in something dumb, which to me seems very stupid but is actually super common and I think very cultural for us. But we don’t know; we think we know things, we think we know the score, but we don’t know. For me, all of the time from the end of October until today (the solstice), is the time to practice being in that place of not knowing and of letting parts of me that aren’t working very well anymore–like old habits, the ways that I react to the world, or whatever– letting those things die off so that I can grow in new ways. That’s what solstice is for me. It’s that moment of balance between the dying back of the things that aren’t serving me anymore and the becoming of the new things that I’m going to be. This is that one point of stillness, that seed time, or that moment when everything is potential. It’s also time to be in that stillness, look around me, and acknowledge everything that’s happened this year in a peaceful way. Not running away from it, but that these are the things that happened, these are the things that are in my broader past and scattered in the trail behind me. It’s kind of like a sci-fi movie (like the Matrix or something) where suddenly time stops, you can see everything hanging in midair, and you can like look all the way around it and think, “Wow, look at all that”. It’s usually bullets or fire or something, but whatever. Then in the next moment, everything starts up again and the movie continues.

Ryn: 17:56 Well, solstice: sol (sun) stit/sistere (to stop). It means that moment of pause when it’s at its peak, or at its nadir in this case.

Katja: 18:11 That’s the thing, in order for this to be true, in order to have this moment where we can acknowledge that point between the ‘un-being’ and the becoming, you have to stop. In terms of the sci-fi movie, that’s actually the magic of that kind of cinematography because that moment where it all stopped, that was technology that was really hard for them to make. Now lots of movies have it, but it was a big deal about the Matrix–that was the first time they’d ever had that technology. I think that is a really appropriate analogy, because the skill of being able to stop like this is also very difficult to achieve and our culture really clashes with the idea. Everything is supposed to be full-steam ahead and producing, producing all the time and it’s not easy to take even the one moment to just be totally still. But we’re mammals and every other mammal is hibernating right now, they’re sleeping a lot to conserve the energy during the cold. I don’t know why we think that doesn’t apply to us just because we’re humans. Clients, friends, and us in the late fall and at the time of the holidays will say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be happy. I should be doing this or that.” Or even, “I have so much work to do, but all I want to do is sleep!” Things aren’t perfect and there can definitely be issues that need to be addressed, but it’s the crawl-into-a-cave time of the year. You do just want to sleep, and not necessarily because anything is wrong (even though some things are wrong), but because it is the crawl-into-a-cave time, so it’s kind of appropriate. We need to have a minute to do it. Our culture doesn’t make space for it, but we need to have some time to be still and to be in that stillness. I keep saying “our culture this” and “our culture that”, and in this time and place, these things are difficult, but actually this is always been hard for humans to do. It’s not a mystery that ‘The holidays’ (TM) are at this time of year, right? It’s not because we all have tons of energy to make all this stuff happen and we needed something to do to use that energy. [laughter] It’s because we humans were looking for ways to stay positive in the dark and in the cold. These traditions go back eons, they go back much further than religion. Even though a lot of our current examples of these holidays are tied to religions, the traditions go back much further than that because it has always been hard to stay positive in a dark time. The way that we do that is by coming together and doing things to support one another. In that way, I want to give a big supportive hug to the folks who are struggling at this time of year. To anyone who has lost someone, who has difficulty with family or with community, is struggling with emotional or mental pain, is feeling the crushing and burdensome weight of difficult, scary, and dark times and maybe just barely making ends meet. Actually to everyone, because that’s what this time of year is about, knowing that sometimes the ends plain don’t meet. Sometimes it is kind of miserable to get through your day and that doesn’t mean that anything’s broken (I mean the system is broken, the patriarchy is broken, and capitalism kind of sucks); some days just suck and being able to see the cycle that tomorrow there’s going to be a moment more of sun–and not in a trite way. If we can come together and find ways to love one another, support one another, and bring whatever we have to add to the community, then together we can be strong enough to get through the darkest night. And it is okay to sleep. We’re mammals and if you’re thinking, “I just want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s sunny”, you’re not wrong. Your boss might not let you do that, but you’re definitely not wrong. Anyway, those are some thoughts I had about all this stuff. I wanted to talk a little bit about our traditions for solstice, too.

Ryn: 23:43 We should definitely do that. This is our winter holiday of choice, solstice is what the two of us feel most connected to. When we were first getting together again, you were asking me what I was into for holidays and I said, “You know, I try to follow the solstices and the equinoxes, that’s pretty much the long and the short of it”. I thought that was clever, you did too, and then we kissed and had a good time. [laughter] I think a lot about the sun; I feel connected to it.

Katja: 24:30 Remember that time we were hiking? We were hiking on one of the taller mountains in New Hampshire, it was more than 4,000 feet. For any of you in the Rockies, I understand that’s not a tall mountain. We were hiking up it and you broke your toe.

Ryn: 25:02 On the way up. Also, we had been planning to find some place to camp out. We were going to stay over night and we were all set up for a couple of days. We’re going up and I smashed my toe really good, because that’s what you get when you go hiking in Vibrams and sometimes that’s worth it. [laughter] But we weren’t that far from the top, we figured we’d go up, come down a little bit, find a place to camp, it’ll be fine. We got up to the top amidst some complaining and whining and looked around and it was beautiful. That was a moment in the sun for sure.

Katja: 25:38 It was really beautiful, and it was really sunny and crystal clear.

Ryn: 25:44 We enjoyed that for a little while and then we turned to go down the other side of the trail and it started storming, hailing, and down pouring upon us, and we realized that maybe we won’t actually camp out here tonight. Maybe in fact we’ll go all the way back down the mountain and head home, and so we did.

Katja: 26:06 It was getting darker and darker, and you said, “The sun will not abandon us”.

Ryn: 26:11 That was my little mantra.

Katja: 26:13 We made it all the way to the car before the sunset. It’s kind of amazing. I should add a little asterisk to the hiking in Vibrams part because at some point I’m sure we’ll talk about barefoot life. But we always wear barefoot shoes or we just walk barefoot if it’s warm enough or if it’s not so cold that it’s too cold. That doesn’t mean that we don’t ever stub our toes. One of us breaks a toe every year.

Ryn: 26:44 We got through this year without it.

Katja: 26:48 2018 neither one of us did. But it’s not like we do the barefoot thing because we never hurt ourselves, because sometimes we hurt ourselves and it’s such a good indication of “Oh, I’m tired, I stubbed my toe; that means I’m tired or my muscles are tired and I need to rest.” Now we’re back to solstice because it is the time to rest.

Ryn: 27:25 With winter solstice, for our traditions we try to emphasize the quietness and the dark time of it. You mentioned earlier we just have a few twinkle lights on right now and we’ll light some candles in a minute and have the latter half of our evening by candle light.

Katja: 27:44 Sometimes we have a tree. We don’t this year, but sometimes we do and we put real candles on it and no, it does not burn the house down. But we do sit there the whole time, or lay on the floor watching them, and when they get close to the end, we love to make predictions on which one will burn out first. It’s never the one that you think, which is a metaphor for something.

Ryn: 28:07 No, it’s amazing. You can measure them if you want and say it’s definitely this one. Nope.

Katja: 28:11 That’s the one that always is the last one still burning. It’s always so funny. But we don’t have a tree this year. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. So, we’ll light a lot of candles and make tasty food together. A lot of times I make enchiladas.

Ryn: 28:26 You definitely make fiery food on this day.

Katja: 28:31 We have keema matar left from your birthday and I bet we’re going to eat that tonight instead. Or I could make enchiladas.

Ryn: 28:45 Yes, spicy food, round food that’s kind of golden like the sun. I got some oranges for us yesterday.

Katja: 28:55 Oranges are traditional at this time of year, which is really cool. I like to listen to really old music, like Anonymous Four and performances of the work of Hildegard von Bingen.

Ryn: 29:13 What’s her resume? It goes on and on. She was a healer and herbalist, a medicine woman.

Katja: 29:19 A physicist. She was amazing.

Ryn: 29:23 I like that connection where we get to listen to some of her music and then we actually have a copy of one of her herbal texts, and it’s very interesting. So, there’s somebody that makes this really gorgeous, ethereal is probably the best word for it, compositions.

Katja: 29:41 Susan Lincoln is a very good performer of her work. If you’ve never heard it, you should YouTube that.

Ryn: 29:50 There’s a Nordic folk band called Garmarna and they have an album of Hildegard von Bingen inspired tunes. It’s really good.

Katja: 30:05 We should put that on the playlist for tonight. And tea, lots of tea with ginger and cardamom.

Ryn: 30:17 Today, I wanted to make some solstice-inspired tea. This one has ginger and cardamom in it, so you get some of that nice warming zingiberaceae family goodness going on. I put in some jiaogulan, because that’s a nice adaptogen for stamina and recovery and it feels like this kind of a day. I put in some goldenrod for the sunshiney-ness of it, also a bit of angelica seed, because that’s a delightful treat (that’s some of our Icelandic angelica seed from our friend Anna Rosa), and solstice wort, which you guys might know as St. John’s wort, and a little bit of orange peel.

Katja: 30:59 Bright and sunny. This is a wicked good tea. When we drink all of it, I want to make it again.

Ryn: 31:07 You might have other herbal friends that remind you of sunny days. I know a lot of people think about lemon balm when they think about liquid sun. Lemon balm is pretty great for that.

Katja: 31:17 Dandelion flower infused in honey. Anyway, that’s what we do. Other than that, we are quiet together and still, and we make our whole home an environment where we can be introspective, quiet, and also hibernate a little and that’s okay. There’s this one moment in the year when we’re not busy. I was busy yesterday and I’ll be busy tomorrow, but today is that moment in the movie where everything stops and you spin around and see the whole picture, and we try as much as we can to let our house be filled with that.

Ryn: 32:10 So, we wish that for you as well. Hopefully today if you can, but if not, then find some time in this week, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

Katja: 32:19 If your life is too busy, you have young children, a lot of family obligations, or whatever, then do it for 10 minutes, do it for an hour, go to bed a little bit early; any way that you can get that quiet. For some people’s lives, even that won’t fit in because some people are crazy busy, but to know that as you’re commuting or whatever to just say, “Yeah, it’s dark and if I don’t love it, that’s all right; humans have always kind of not loved the dark time, I can be okay with that.” Even just the mindset.

Ryn: 33:12 All right, those are our solstice thoughts. We hope that they were soothing. Maybe some of you fell asleep a little bit out there, that’s fine. [laughter] We encourage that this time of year. We’ll be back next week with some exciting thoughts around New Year’s, resolutions, and who we want to be in the world.

Katja: 33:34 Yeah, I’ve been spending some time thinking about that. I’m kind of excited.

Ryn: 33:39 If you have thoughts on that and you’d like to share those with us even before we start, then go ahead and send those to us over the next week. Again, if you want to enroll in Clinical Roundtable for 2019, send an email over to info@commonwealthherbs.com and we’ll get you going.

Katja: 33:54 If you are listening to this when it comes out, then the coupon code WELOVEYOU will work until midnight tonight to still get you 25% off any of our online courses.

Ryn: 34:16 We’ll be back next time.

Katja: 34:17 Good night everybody.

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