Mom's Alchemy: my childhood "Farm'acy"
Updated: Jul 18
Mother’s Day marks the blurring of the boundaries of inside and outside gardening for me. The process of reintegration of what flora is ready for the front porch, the wind fortified eastern patio and what is ready for full garden planting commences. My garden is mobile and fluid even in it’s expansiveness, as harvest calls for its flow from outside into my kitchen for winter seasonings and scents, my bathroom for the ease of heady aromatic soaks watching the snow fall, and porch pickings and preps for the next crops of spring.
This process is ceremonious and comes from a childhood soaked in seasonal sustainable observations, legends, myths and lore of my parent’s eastern European ancestry and my love of the exotic, Asia, vastu, wind and water, feng shui. These are my arts and science and they have come to serve me and many well.
Growing up, the beginning of May, Mother’s Day was the ceremonious day my mom and I would explore what was ready to move from our inner winter garden sanctum and root cellar. While the vast acres of our outside garden were covered in snow, often from October til end April, and was no longer tangibly visible under the snowy blankets, the gifts of my mother’s green thumb would not succumb to the dictates of frozen earth.
Every Autumn, multiples of varieties of scented Geraniums, mints of all flavors, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary, chives, lovage, and parsley of all sorts were brought into our “green” room which ran the length of the front of my childhood home. This room was one large expanse of windows on the southern exposure of the building. It had originally been a cozy, open, traditional front porch. My parents, always practical, always able to make the most of every square inch of space, every bit of root, every cutting of green, every snippet of string and every bit of sunlight, created a most magical “uber” winter garden, uber for my parents meaning "transiting" vs our Americanized uber as in "over" or super or magnified. I will qualify that the growth experienced in this uber winter room was also uber/super in what seemed possible. Everything flourished in this space despite the seasons outside. It was always spring in this space. It is from this space we began our spring garden decisions.
This is my inspiration for my life, my living sensory laboratory and all technologies that I now joyfully play with for corporations, schools and nations.
My greatest joy as a young girl was going to visit a collection of porcelain and crystal angels, praying hands, cherubs and saints gracing the front left corner of this room. The crystal angels offered nuclei that super nova'ed dancing rainbows about the greenery. My dad and I added our crystal finds and over the years, the Herkimer Diamonds found as we played rock hounds added lights and harmonics beyond description.
Dad and I would craft them with copper to adorn the windows and eventually crafted lamps to showcase their brilliance. My mom would always remind us how essential these rainbows were to the space. I watched and noticed how the plants fared here, how the bees always managed to find this spot and thrive and how the family critters preferred it. This was my first foray into what I have come to know as "Feng Shui", Vastu or Intimate Ergonomics. As I came to understand the magnetics of time and space and direction, I realized how innately tuned in my mother's intuitions were to bring crystals and full spectrum light to this space due to the fact that the cardinal position of the room was not optimum for plant growth.
Science explains that after 12 noon, as the sun moves thru the sky, the rainbow leaves the morning light in south and the west. Reintroducing dancing light, movement and rainbows energize the spectrum in the latter of the day in those spaces, for plants, animals and humans to flourish. Tucked within the greenery were gnomes and faeries, ceramic and real, YES, I will state that again, "real" gnomes and faeries. I would sketch them here for hours, including the mermaids that would tease this water sign girl, and call me mermaid of the mountain. I will leave that tale and tails for another day.
Our cat Mitzi would often notice them with me. Mitzi would always be on watch in the direction of where I was certain I had seen a smiling essence waving or peeking at me. I would see her pounce and playfully use her paws to tag them in the rainbows and we simply knew them together. This was the place that I began to hear the Planet Podz sing with the elementals and show me how colors and numbers created harmonic spaces and that each flower, each root, each food had it's own remarkable gifts "written into them" according to their color, scent, bark, leaf, geometry and so much more. I realized a doctrine of signatures in this play before I discovered the master writings years later. Mom would store tins of our dry herbs and apple rings and keep pillow cases of dried lavender, sage, wormwood and more. The fresh aromas themselves felt like they fed my soul and it felt like the elementals danced with each crumbling of the herbs as they released their aromatics into our home. After she would go through her morning watering and cleaning, the scents would linger in the air holding the joyful anticipation of fresh and wonderful beginnings throughout the day.
These simple daily habits of our daily life were ceremonious and set patterns of mini ceremonies of self I still follow and share with all of you in our exchanges.
At dawn, each day the windows were all opened, no matter how cold, even just an inch or two for a few moments. Mom would smile if I shivered and say,"fresh air, it energizes the space Nette. It invites the world in and clears out our old emotions. It is as vital as the sun shining to bring fresh air into our homes every day. "
Mom would change our linens daily during these winter months, always placing a fresh sprig of herbs in sachets tucked inside our pillows. Each member of the family having their own special blend according to what they required. A bit of orange peel with mint and lavender was my blend. Clearing my busy creative mind and allowing for deep rejuvenative sleep. The scents were soothing, refreshing and an immediate lift of spirits. Herbs were tucked into the linen closets and any storage areas to keep moths and vermin out. Mom did not use chemicals, the potent natural terpenes of her lovingly cultivated and foraged "farmacy" eliminated that notion. It was simply not required.
Aside from the herbs and the daily clearing of energies, she would smile and tell me she had a chat with the cat about the mice and the birds about the bugs and with the mice and bugs themselves and she would leave it up to them to balance out the circle. She would always remind me to respect all life and still be clear about the boundaries of what we welcomed into our home. She would point out that when undisturbed by humans, Mother Nature's boundaries are impeccable and always balance. Mom had such a wealth of insights and always found a simple, practical way of supporting our wellbeing, physically, emotionally and mentally. Aside from our indoor winter garden, Mom’s root cellar was a living, breathing entity of pulsing color, texture and scents beyond description and unto itself.
Image in for a moment a rainbow color room. There were walls of jewel colored mason jars of the jams and jellies in the amazing array of shades of pale gooseberry rose to deep sparkling raspberry, lush purple plums and even deeper elderberry and mulberry. Blueberry was the darkest and sweetest and my favorite. Canned golden and red apples, pears and quince slices smiled at me from the jars in their crescent sliced shapes and the clear golden apple pectin jellies had a magical quality all of their own. Each one was a delicacy in its own right, tasting very much like the fruits had just been picked and each one medicinal and chosen with care according to whatever required attention in our palates and whole being each day.
The walls comprised of bright shades of green crisp mini gherkins with dill or garlic, whole large satisfying garlic pickles, almost a meal unto themselves called my attentions the most. Pickled green gold saffron and turmeric colored and flavored pickled zucchini, sweet and savory at once, so tasty that as a child it did not matter to me that mom called it medicine when I was coming down with a cold, just loving the texture and taste and reveling in feeling better.
There was jar after jar of various peppers, sweet and hot. Peridot colored sweet banana pepper, delicate in flavor topped off with various herbs that enabled good digestion, Ruby red bell peppers with sweet deep flavors that were indeed in synch with their rich appearance and fleshy textures. Some were canned whole; some were stuffed with garlic and shredded cabbage and onions. All had their own specific end use and remarkable flavor. Recalling the wall of tomatoes still makes my heart skip a beat with the pure joy of anticipation of their rich flavor. I have still not experienced that perfect balance of the delicate and savory essence of my mother’s tomato products and have never been able to come close to recreating it. Although I will say my son has his own unique tomato magic as he applies his brilliant nuances to his grandmother's approach and techniques! The whole tomatoes were my favorite. We would use a jar for tomato salad in the winter months dressed with finely minced onions, garlic, and chives, basil and parsley from the green room for a perfect side to some of the heavier goulashes and stews of winter dishes. Aside from the many varieties of canned and pickled fruits and vegetables there were three other miraculous arenas in our root cellar.
First, were indeed the actual roots of this root cellar! We had three wooden bins full of sandy soil that was kept at a very specific level of moisture in this cool dark cellar. Each Autumn my parents would carefully harvest carrots, parsnips, red and sugar beets and gently “replant” them in these bins in the soil, not to grow per se, but to keep them fresh and plump and ready to “harvest” as such throughout the earlier parts of the winter.
I recall the first time, at about the age of eleven, that I truly became aware of exactly what they were doing and realized how powerful it was to learn from mother nature’s perfect design and be able to maintain a level of that balance within the basement womb of our home space. It was such a marvel to me to have my mom send me into the root cellar to pick carrots for dinner in these snowy months. Hand braided ropes and circles of onions and garlic adorning the walls, air dried to sustain our immune systems and enhance the flavors of our salads and stews for months. Baskets of gently harvested potatoes completed our winter roots. My dad built deep oak shelves with plenty of ventilation to store squashes of all sorts, as well as pumpkins and gourds. The second miracle was the large crocks of fermented vegetables. Sauerkraut and Green Beans were a staple for us. I would listen to my mom explain all of the health benefits as a young person and nod and smile simply because I loved the flavor and the texture. I loved it fresh out of the crock pots, just rinsed. I loved it in salads with garlic and onions in moms wine vinaigrettes, I loved it with homemade sausages then and my vegan sausages now! I salivate at the thought.
It really never mattered to me about the health benefits or why it was healthy at the time, but I can assure you that as I watched the trends returning to fermented foods and the shifts in our interests and diets in these times that we are remembering an important aspect of our well being as we return to fermented foods. Sauerkraut, along with all traditionally fermented or cultured food, contains high quantities of healthy bacteria, enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, like Vitamin C and B-vitamins. I will share more on fermented foods in a chapter dedicated simply to their gifts.
Completing the terrain of this miraculous space under the earth, the nurturing womb of our family home, was the room under the steps where rows of the jewel colored elixirs of medicinal wines and brandies were stored. We had the various traditional vintages of red and white grapes but always with a twist, an herb, a touch of citrus, a specific wood tone.
These were used with dinner or for cooking roasts of beef, pork and venison or for an after dinner sip. Some were aperitifs. We also had less traditional wine. Dandelion was my first love and opened my eyes to an understanding of how all aspects of a plant cannot only be utilized in forms we might consider less than traditional in mundane views but also the magic of mixing and morphing and acknowledging solar and lunar cycles to create remarkable tools for wellness. Around the age of eleven, it seems a part of my psyche woke up to the gifts of what my parents so creatively crafted and wove into our daily existence.
I started to wonder about the whys and hows of our routines and the foundational information of my current lens started to truly take form. One sunny day I was asked to gathers as many baskets of full blown dandelion flower heads as I could. The usual request was for the inner, more tender shoots of dandelion leaves for salads, so I was surprised and this memory stands out as one of those grande AHA moments of my life. I gathered what I could wondering why? and considered one of my most beloved activities as a child, which was weaving daisy and flowering dandelions into tiaras to decorate my braided cranium. My dad actually created the first one for me when I had been still younger and I still have fuzzy pictures in my mind’s eye as he shared me with his technique on a sunny day in the field and then lovingly bent down to place that wreath upon my head. He did not smile often but when he did he beamed pure love. I could not imagine that the baskets that I gathered that day would be used for wine, and that is precisely the first wine I personally recall creating with my parents.
We cleaned each little golden florette and then combined these soft tufts with orange and lemon slices and cloves and honey in glass bottles that were almost as tall as I was at eleven. Whenever I eat an orange, the scent brings visions of that day. We added yeast cakes to the mix and topped off the bottles with spring water. Dad had drilled two large corks down the center and we melted hot wax. He dipped the corks into the wax and then positioned them in the bottle mouth. He inserted a narrow hose into the hole in the cork to allow for the gases to escape as our magical brew began to ferment and breathe. I will never forget my awe in the process of this most delicious lab experiment. I felt like a scientist, chef and goddess all at once as I mixed and fetched and wore my tiara of dandelions.
My parents shared the lore and the healing aspects of the dandelion for cleansing of the liver and the dense emotions often stored in that organ. They shared the gift of the timing of the initiation of this wine with the step from spring into summer, the use of the flower heads vs. the leaves and roots and the correlation with sun energy and how it would support us in the months ahead when the sun was less potent in the sky.
They spoke of our ancestors and shared stories of old healings they had witnessed in their youth and how they foraged and made do with what they could gather from nature when there was little else for them to exist on. That experience was a miraculously empowering event in my life. This elixir still graces our root cellar now more than 40 years later. My mom still has a few treasured bottles. We have ceremoniously indulged in sips of this inaugural dandelion elixir over the years.
That day and that process opened my eyes to the wonders of alchemy. Alchemy in regard to food, herbs, teas, tinctures, brandies, wine and the alchemy of loving intention and clarity of mind.
I have come to realize alchemy as the ability to change matter with the frequencies and harmonics of thought, sound, colors, light and LOVE to create a desired result. My childhood life laboratory allowed me to fully real eyes this alchemical space of curiosity, inquisitiveness and application: learning to utilize sound, color and geometry to weave shape and form.
The Planet Philterz, The Planet PODZ, PALL Sensory Wellness Rooms and every iteration of my work and play with children from birth to those in corporations and nations are an extension of these simple observations of loving and living.
Join me throughout the summer at the Napersville Farmers Market with my dear friend Annamarie Bensfield where she is offering you these sustainable solutions and products steeped in the natural roots of my childhood "FARMacy", alchemy, crystalline colors, herbal harmonics, feelings of beauty and most of all, Love.
Join us as we share The Planet Philterz, The Planet PODZ, Mary Jane on Main Street CBD & Hemp products and applications for your own Ceremonies of Self!
Stay tuned for dates!