Transformation in the Woods

As part of our Forest Bathing tours, we also work with symbolism.

The Beauty Along the Road

I saw the standing deadwood from a distance. It was a giant tree trunk jutting high into the air. Something was dangling from it, swaying lightly in the breeze. Too soft and fabric-like to be peeling bark, I decided.

Walking closer now, my breath caught and I stood frozen in awe the moment I recognized the largest snake skin I had ever seen. Transfixed, I looked up at the thin membrane dangling like an exotic scarf from a height of about 10 feet. My next thought turned to the owner of the skin, probably a black snake that must be living somewhere around the tree roots. I looked around cautiously, not wanting to accidentally step on a monster snake.

At the same time, my mind kept chanting one word over and over: “Transformation, transformation.”

My heart beat a little faster. I knew this was the snake’s message to me. Spring…

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Spring Foraging

Now, at the end of May, the air is fragrant with the delicate floral aroma of black locust blossoms.

Black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) are well known for the durability of their wood; not everyone knows that their creamy white blossoms are edible. Eaten fresh, they have an unmistakable pea-like taste. I have made fritters with them in the past, and baked them into cakes or breads.

If you are lucky to come across some low-hanging blossoms, you can quickly harvest a substantial amount. Don’t they look playful and even a bit romantic?

Locust blossoms
Locust blossoms

I make a hot tea by simmering the blossoms in hot water, then straining the blossoms out and adding honey or sugar. A soothing tea on cool, rainy evenings. The tea can also be chilled and enjoyed as a refreshing lemonade.

Locust blossom tea
Locust blossom tea

Two other wild foods that required a bit more effort to harvest today were red clover (Trifolium pratense) and lyre-leaf sage (Salvia lyrata). Because my husband was going to mow our front field, I did a walk-through to see if there was anything I wanted to rescue first. I found lyre-leaf sage growing in abundance and red clover showing its first blooms.

Salvia Lyrata is a medicinal and edible herb. It can be used as a gargle to treat sore throat and mouth infections. A warm infusion serves as a laxative, eases colds and coughs and calms a nervous person. Young leaves can also be added fresh to salads or cooked as a pot herb.

Red clover has a long history of uses. Considered a blood “purifier,” it has been used in alternative anti-cancer treatments. It is a blood thinner, and a pain reliever for skin conditions. Red clover also has a high concentration of phytoestrogens and contains anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory components. While red clover’s medicinal use is best left to qualified health professionals, a gentle cleansing tea from its flowers can probably be enjoyed by most.

I am dehydrating both the lyre-leaf sage and red clover I collected today to add them to my home apothecary for later use.

If you plan to visit Highland County, VA and would like to participate in a “Backyard Foraging” tour, contact me here.

Grandmother Elm

I met her there, at the edge of the large meadow,
deeply rooted and
spreading her shade wide.
She is old, so old.
Still, she stands her ground and beckons to
those who will sit with her.
Like the Buddha head nestled against her roots,
she is a faithful witness to the beginning of time.
A stony witness to change through
loss of leaves, loss of limbs, loss of youth.
Still, she persists,
a timeless guardian
refuge, shade, solace, counsel
without expecting reward.

Take it or leave it.

Grandmother Elm
Grandmother Time.

If you would like to experience a connection with a tree, find one and visit it frequently. Sit quietly, observe without expectation, breathe, journal. The tree will tell you stories. I invite people to find “their” tree on our guided forest bathing walks.

Have you heard of Forest Bathing?

Forest bathing is a term that sounds a bit magical; however, it means nothing more (or less) than being with trees in a mindful and receptive manner. You can sit or meander under the trees, no need to hike or exert yourself – nature appreciation in its simplest form.

Forest bathing originated with the Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku.  Japanese researchers now have research results spanning several decades that document the beneficial effects of spending time with trees.

These are some of the positive physiological effects of communing with trees:

Forest bathing lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, boosts the immune system, and improves feelings of wellbeing.  In a 2009 study, research subjects showed significant increases in natural killer (NK) cell activity in the week after a forest visit. The positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods. NK cells are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention.

It appears that by inhaling the phytoncide contained in the forest air (essential oils emitted by trees to protect themselves from germs and insects), our human immune system is strengthened as well.

Another Japanese university study took various biometric measures of subjects during a day in the city and compared them to the same measures during a day that included a half-hour forest visit.  The researchers found that:  “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”

In other words, we feel more rested and less stressed after spending time with trees.

One of the studies of the psychological effects of forest bathing found the following:

Almost 500 healthy volunteers filled out measures of hostility and depression, twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The subjects showed significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt much more alive, after exposure to trees. The researchers concluded that forest environments can be considered “therapeutic landscapes.”

Here at Emerald Mountain Sanctuary, specific trees seem to hold unique and distinct energies – we have stately oaks, wise maple trees, gnarly apple trees, spiky hawthorns, and many other trees to visit with.  In fact, when Dan and I first visited this property with our real estate agent, I sat under a large oak tree for a while by myself.  It was here I received the strong message that this was to be our land.  I have no doubt that it was the oak tree that whispered to me.

Source for much of the info in this post came from: