Here in Australia, we have recently experienced the winter solstice - the shortest day and longest night of the year. But did you know that in the ‘old country’, namely Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia, this was celebrated on the Wheel of the Year as Yule? This is the basis of what we now call Christmas. So, the origin of Christmas is actually found in paganism and not Christianity.
Since those of us in the Southern hemisphere like to celebrate Christmas in July, I thought it would be interesting to look at European folk lore, how it relates to the winter solstice, and its connection to herbalism.
Where do flying reindeer come from?
Did you know this magical part of traditional Christmas tales has its roots in herbal medicine? Imagine if you will, living near the Arctic Circle in Siberia. You are a shaman, and in order to connect to the spirit world, you ingest a hallucinogenic mushroom that gives you the sensation of flying. Reindeer herdsman also took this mushroom, experiencing the same sensations as the shaman. It is thought that when they witnessed their reindeer herd also nibbling on these mushrooms, called Fly Agaric, that the legend of flying reindeer was born. Reindeer flying into the Aurora Borealis could be seen as flying into a celestial realm, so time could be folded in upon itself, and a reindeer herd could travel the globe in one night.
So, what are the medicinal properties of Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)?
Induces feelings of happiness and alleviates depression (much warranted when there is virtually no sunlight in the Arctic region and Northern Europe for six months of the year)
Increased strength and endurance (needed in such a harsh climate)
Immune system booster
Where do Christmas trees come from?
Decorating a pine tree in mid-winter was made popular by Queen Victoria’s husband Albert in 19th century Britain. A Germanic tradition of decorating a fir or pine tree, one can clearly see the pagan roots of showing devotion and bringing gifts to the tree spirits of the forest. Interestingly enough, at the base of the pine tree is where you might also find the hallucinogenic mushroom previously mentioned.
Let us have a look at the medicinal properties of pine.
Pine Essential Oil: Mainly used for arthritic and respiratory conditions, both topically and vapourised. For coughs and colds, stiff joints, rheumatism, poor circulation and neuralgia.
Pine Flower Essence: A Bach flower essence for those that say sorry all the time, feel guilty, suffer needlessly, assume responsibility for others mistakes, self-blame, low self-esteem, and feelings of being unworthy. The positive outcome of this essence is feeling free from blame, content, positive self-esteem, ability to accept love, and to accept mistakes and self-forgiveness.
Pine Bark Extract: Prescribed in a standardised form by nutritionists for its powerful anti-oxidant properties. Excellent for arthritic conditions, hypertension, and also well known in beauty circles for its ability to reduce wrinkles, improve collagen formation, and reduce cellulite.
Pine Bark Tea and Fluid Extract/Tincture: Prescribed in herbal medicine for coughs and colds due to its high Vitamin C content. Also has expectorant properties. Excellent for eyesight. Brings clarity of thought as it is clearing and refreshing.
Why do people kiss under Mistletoe?
The plants of Mistletoe, Holly, and Ivy were all Yule plants in Europe. In parts of Celtic UK, a 'kissing bunch’ was made. This of course included Mistletoe, where we still to this day have the tradition of kissing beneath the Mistletoe. In Scandinavia, Mistletoe was connected to Frigg, the Goddess of fertility. A double love whammy!
Much favoured by the Druids, it grows on the Oak tree, which is sacred to the druids. (The word 'Druid' in Welsh means ‘the keeper of the oaks’). But did you know that Mistletoe is also a powerful herbal medicine? It is most often used for heart conditions such as blocked arteries, tachycardia, and abnormal heart rhythm, as well as high blood pressure. Perhaps the thrill of stealing a kiss under the Mistletoe also gets the heart racing and raises blood pressure. Today Mistletoe is still used in Europe to treat the side effects of chemotherapy.
Holly Flower Essence: Another essence by Dr. Edward Bach, Holly is for those who are hard-hearted, angry, jealous and suspicious. They may be super sensitive, mistrusting and unhappy (but not sure why they are unhappy). The positive outcome of Holly essence is being loving, understanding and forgiving. No surprises then that it is connected with the season of goodwill.
Ivy Leaf: Common Ivy, also called Hedera helix, has been used by traditional European herbalists for hundreds of years. Most often nowadays it is found in cough and bronchial mixtures as it clears and thins mucous and calms coughs. Mainly used for respiratory issues such as bronchitis. And of course all these conditions are more common in the colder months.
So there you have it. Flying reindeer, magic mushrooms, decorated trees, and more... all with their roots in ancient mythology, just like the Herbal Medicine that has been used for hundreds of years.
Want to learn more?
This article has only touched on some of the amazing things that Herbal Medicine can do. If you want to learn more about natural health, Switch on Health has several short courses and accredited qualifications that you will love, including Advanced Diplomas in Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Browse the short courses or learn more about our accredited Advanced Diploma programs here: https://switchonhealth.learnworlds.com/start
Article by Carol Hannington