Monday, December 04, 2006

Caught in a Migration

Sometimes, the timing is just right.
there we were, just wandering round in Old Town Smithfield, Virginia, when we noticed a HUGE flock of birds going overhead. There were a good few hundred birds in the flock, and we thought nothing of it.
That is until a second and then a third flock went over us... followed by more flocks.
After a few such sites, I realized we had to be in the path of a migration... but what bird? In the car, I looked up in relative safety, and noticed a medium sized bird, that looked somewhat black.
It is my opinion that we were seeing flocks of red-winged blackbirds or maybe their relatives the grackles. I know for sure that those two birds migrate through our area!

I was not able to get a GREAT picture of the birds, but managed to capture the edge of one of the flocks.

The sunset on the way home, was similarly spectacular... I love the sunsets at this time of year... the colours are wonderful... you just have to SEE them to believe!

Christmas Herbal Fun

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. Right around this time of year, the season of advent begins and the liturgical calendar starts.
Herbally this time of year is good for actually utilizing herbs that you have dried or grown yourself… in fact, it is prime time to make your own herbal advent wreath.

To make a small advent wreath is quite simple… variations on a theme make it either labour intensive or so easy the kids can do it!
A simple wreath can made by creating a ‘base’ onto which votive or candlestick holders can be glued.
The base can then be decorated with a variety of symbols for the season… nativity figures, saintly symbols and HERBS.
There are a number of wonderful Christmas herbs.
Holly: Early Christians thought the green holly leaves and the red holly berries, were symbolic of the crown of thorns Christ wore, and the red of his blood. It is used to symbolize His Passion and be a constant reminder of our looking forward towards the Easter season.
(carol from: Holly and the Ivy)

The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good. Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. Chorus

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir. Chorus

Ivy: This evergreen vine symbolizes the everlasting life. Its clinging habit meant that it was used to symbolize fidelity in art. Christian’s adapted it’s use to symbolize their need to hold onto Christ, and how easily their hold could be broken.
Mistletoe: A herb that was sacred to the druids, the early Christians adopted it and used it to symbolize the Divine Healer, Christ, because it was called all-heal. It is a parasitic plant that grows in the top of oak trees. If you look as you drive down the road, you will often see a bare tree with a clump of greenery in it… there is a good chance that it is mistletoe! Modern herbalists have discovered that mistletoe may have great results in the curing of many ailments, including cancer.
Rosemary: I mentioned before the tradition that Mary, whilst traveling with the infant Jesus, draped his swaddling clothes over a bush, and pleased with the scent it imparted, blessed the plant, turning it’s white flowers blue. Now, rosemary is enjoying a time of popularity, since many people style their plants into a Christmas tree shaped topiary. It smells wonderful too!
Nowadays, people tend to think of rosemary ‘for remembrance’.
For more information on rosemary, see here:
Sage: The prominent stuffing ingredient is a delicious perennial herb. It’s silvery grey foliage dies back in the winter, but can be trusted to grow well in a nice sunny window. Sage is a wonderful herb, with antiseptic properties. Used in gargles, it can help soothe and eliminate sore throats. It’s soothing scent is often used by people in incenses
Thyme: Another stuffing/turkey flavouring herb. I just included this one because it makes great wreathes and tastes good!! It was considered a symbol of bravery.

The most famous Christmas herbs are Frankincense and Myrrh. Both are dried plant materials, one a pod, the other tree sap, from plants in Africa and the Middle East. Both are highly scented, and modern uses are primarily incense related. If you are lucky, you may find some in your local herb shop!

There are numerous herbal Crafts for this time of year. Find them:
Christmas Tree
Gift Ideas
Lavender Gifts

Catholic Herald Article
Christmas Herbs 1
Festive Herbs
Christmas Herbs 2
Christmas Herbs 3

This site is filled with some wonderful herbal ideas, do take the opportunity to browse through the pages!
Herbal Treats

CAVEAT: I am not responsible for the content of any sites linked to outside of this blog.
I have not had time to read the entire site, so I just show you pages where I think some of the content is interesting OR fun. I do not necessarily agree with the religious opinions, or ideas of the people who authored the sites.

Christmas Herbal Crafts

Make a Pomander


A small orange
Cloves (whole)
Ribbons and small silk flowers

Take your orange, rolling it around until you have softened the skin a little.
Using a toothpick, poke small holes into it, and place the whole cloves, pointy side *in*, into the orange. Try to cover as much of the orange as possible. The orange will be somewhat preserved by the cloves.
You can use a glue gun to attach ribbon around the orange, in a cross pattern. At the top, make a loop with which to hang your pomander. Glue small silk or ribbon flowers around the top, or alternatively you can glue such herbs and spices as you see fit.

Place out of the way to dry and then you can hang it from a tree or carry it around as they did in the middle ages, to ward of noxious fumes!

Make a Herbal Sachet

Small square of lightweight fabric (cotton, muslin etc)
Dried Herbs:
• Rosemary
• Thyme
• Sage
• Mint
• Lavender
• Cloves
• Star Anise
• Nutmeg
• Cinnamon

Into the centre of your small square of fabric, place a mixture of herbs and spices according to your likes and nose!
Bring the corners together, and tie tightly with the ribbon so that there are no openings.
Take your sachet and place in a drawer to scent your clothes, or a wardrobe, bed… or anywhere else you fancy!

Tiny Herbal Wreaths

These can be used in soups and as ornaments… simply wind long stems of herbs around the base of a jar or glass, holding them together either with florist’s wire (if you are making ornaments) or twisting them together by wrapping them around each other.
Voila… a tasty way to liven your soup up!
(This works best with rosemary or upright thyme… or other herbs with long stems.)