It find it exciting that I still meet new people up here in my little village with its 263 inhabitants, especially when they’re avid hikers and nature lovers like me ☺ Recently I made the acquaintance of Valérie, and some days ago we went up over 2.000m to pick arnica flowers for an oil infusion.
We did not only have a wonderful hike, find enough flowers to fill her jar and spend a lovely day in the mountains, but it was also the moment of a Great Revelation – Valérie’s clip-on cell phone magnifier! It works like a good macro lens and I was stunned when she showed me the photo possibilities it opened up. Suddenly I got infinitely close to a seemingly ordinary butterfly and discovered how it was all furry in vivid pink and green. A tiny, shimmering beetle turned out to be all dotted and the mullein flower suddenly revealed its intricate pattern of stalks and pistils.
These days I think thrice before buying any gadgets, but this loupe passed the test. Some days later I went to the city, bought it as a little gift to myself and felt like a kid at Christmas: the rest of that day was spent with this wonderful new present! I had a closer peek at flowers, insects, trees – anything that didn’t move too much! However, it became clear how difficult it was to get that close up, how shaky my hands actually are and
how much practice I still need.
This little device really opened up a whole new world to me – it’s like I get a completely different relationship to the objects of my close-up photos. Suddenly a bumblebee feels like a fluffy little friend, and the center of a flower as the amazing piece of art that it is. Even more than before, I realize that Nature is the greatest artist of them all and that even the tiniest part of it is noting less than a miracle. I am so immensely grateful to be alive among all this beauty.
Valais, the canton where I live, is the third largest canton of Switzerland and the sunniest part of the country. It is the country’s most important wine producer and famous
for its apricots.
Apricots originally came from China and arrived in Europe via Persia and Armenia – that’s why they’re called prunus armeniaca in Latin. In Switzerland they were first mentioned in documents from 1851. Since then they have been extensively cultivated in the Rhône valley. For a long time the variety luizet was the most common one, but nowadays there are at least 30 different varieties that can be harvested all through the summer, which is long and sunny here!
However, apricots don’t just grow down in the Rhône valley, but also up in my mountain village at 1.350m. My neighbours have a big and beautiful apricot tree and thanks to them I can enjoy this wonderfully zesty but still sweet fruit in abundance.
I’ve made apricot jam, two different kinds of apricot chutney and recently I composed a really nice lunch salad with apricots by the Swedish motto “man tager vad man haver” (use what you have at home).
Rice Salad with Apricots
For 1 person
2 dl of cooked rice, or couscous, bulgur etc.
3 ripe apricots (or one big peach/nectarine)
1 dl fresh basil leaves
½ dl fresh peppermint leaves
½ dl roughly chopped walnuts
1 Tsp. grated lemon zest
Salt & pepper
A dash of some good organic oil, I used walnut oil
• Cook whatever you like as a base. I used wholegrain rice.
• Dice the apricots and add them to the rice.
• Chop basil and mint leaves finely and add them as well.
• Stir in the lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
• Sprinkle over the oil of your choice
This salad combines tangy and sweet elements, herbal freshness, has a spicy note and is just perfect on hot summer days.
During three weeks the little jar with marigold petals in sesame oil held its sunny space in my bookshelf. Then I carefully poured its contents through a small-meshed sieve to eliminate the petals. My calendula oil was ready!
This herbal oil has a wonderful, fresh and lemony scent and rich, warm yellow colour. I save most of it in a dark glass bottle for the winter to come. You can read about the qualities of calendula oil in my Golden Marigold I blog post.
Some of the oil, however, went into a calendula cream. I love using home made and local ingredients and the beeswax stems from my friend Sylviane’s beehive, beautifully placed above our village church.
Here’s the recipe for the calendula cream:
• 20 g beeswax
• 20 g shea butter
• 40 g calendula oil
• 5 drops of essential oil of your choice (I used rosemary, since it works as a natural preservative)
How to proceed:
• Melt the beeswax and shea butter in a water-bath.
• When they’ve melted, add the differenet oils and mix well
• Fill the liquid into in a small, well-cleaned glass jar, and let it cool off/harden.
Since there is no preserving agent in this cream, it should be kept in the refrigerator, and only handled with perfectly clean hands or a spatula.
The calendula cream has a rich and fatty texture and is very nourishing. Calendula is especially beneficial for dry or damaged skin and also promotes the fast healing and regeneration of the skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
I feel that this yellow goodness also holds a part of my summer and every time I use it I spread some sunshine on my skin!
During my childhood in Småland, Sweden, there were two sure indicators that summer had arrived (since weather in Sweden was not always a reliable one): strawberries were ripe and us children would run around with bare legs. Never mind if it was 10 or 30 C outside; we really enjoyed the freedom feeling of wearing shorts and skirts without stockings, always having the fresh air on our legs and naked feet in our clogs or sandals.
As an adult living in the countryside I enjoy the same thing: from May until September – summer is longer here – it’s Bare Leg Time. In shorts, skirts or dresses I enjoy the warmth of the sun and sometimes a cooler summer breeze on my legs. It makes me feel just as free and unconcerned, energized and curious as way back during my childhood summer vacations when I had an eternity to fill with play and laughter, mosquito bites
and dripping ice cream.
Today I fill that eternity with other things. Thank goodness we have no mosquitos up here, but lots of crickets making that very special summer sound (especially at night). I play a little less, instead I enjoy going on endless hikes on higher altitudes or spending whole days in my garden. I eat less ice cream, but more fruit: fresh apricots from the Rhône plain, or raspberries and wild strawberries from my garden. This summer fruit is growing abundantly and I discovered how utterly delicious the wild cherries are! They don’t have much pulp so you have to fill your mouth with a whole handful of them to get the taste. Then you must chew carefully not to bite off bits of your teeth with the pits and afterwards you can make a competition on who spits his pits the farthest!
Sometimes I get nostalgic, buy an ice cream cone (no longer with strawberry, but mocha flavour), sit down on a sun drenched wooden bench and close my eyes. I lick my ice cream, get some of it dripping on my bare legs, and feel like eight years again…
What brings out that special (childhood) summer feelings for you?
During summer I’d like to spend my whole life outdoors. Due to electricity and water some things have to be handled in the house, though, like cooking and washing. However, almost any other activity be moved outdoors! Even ironing: with a long extension cord I’m now happily ironing shirts & tablecloths with a view over the mountaintops.
The one thing I still had not tried out was sleeping outdoors. In the beginning of this summer weather up here was a bit unstable, so I had to wait quite a while until I could test-sleep in my garden. The moon had to be in its declining phase, too, but finally I
found a suitable night.
On the little balcony of my garden shed I rolled out a self-inflatable camping mat and my sleeping bag, but got my normal cushion to rest my head on. Next to me I placed my watch and a little battery torch, “just in case”.
At eleven I adjusted in the sleeping bag, on my back to watch the stars. Unfortunately it’s not pitch dark around the house (street lights), but I could still see hundreds of them looking down at me. A fresh evening breeze caressed my face and made the leaves rustle. Birds were flying above me and some of them sang softly. I dozed off…
… waking up from a hoarse sound close to me. The incredible Mr. Fox! Nothing to be afraid of, but still an odd feeling to have him sneaking around just a few inches away.
I dozed off again…
… waking up from scratching sounds nearby. There’s some firewood piled up underneath the balcony, and I guess there was a mouse, a marten or a badger, all of them being regular visitors here. Before I fell asleep again I smiled to the night: despite the interruptions it felt grand to sleep outside, being surrounded by bewitching night sounds and
fresh mountain air.
When I woke up again it was 5 o’clock in the morning. I had actually slept for a few hours on a row, not bad for the first time outside! Even if it was a bit hard on my back and even if I woke up more often than usual I loved the experience. With the freshness of the night air, the stars above, the sounds of animals I really perceived myself as a part of nature. Next time I will sleep in a more remote corner of the garden, directly on the grass, without the shelter of a wall next to me. Let’s see how that feels… ☺
Where I live, marigold is almost seen as a weed: it grows easily all over the place. However, unfortunately not everywhere: it didn’t use to grow in my garden, so I threw out some seeds and now it thrives here as well. I wanted this flower because of its bright yellow/orange colour, which fills me with sunshine and happiness, but then I learned that it’s actually also a medicinal herb. Calendula officinalis, the plant’s Latin name, indicates that it used to be sold in pharmacies; the specific epithet officinalis means ‘of the dispensary’ in Latin. Among other healing elements, it contains:
Allantoin – moisturising effect, promotes wound healing
Carotinoide – supports eye health, protects skin from environmental toxins
Saponine – enhances the immune system and lowers cholesterol.
Internally, prepared as marigold infusion, these flowers are helpful if you have digestion problems or infections. Proceed as follows:
• Cut off flower heads in the late morning, when the sun has dried the morning dew and the amount of essential oil is the highest.
• Let the flower heads dry on an old newspaper in a dark place
• When dry, put two to three flower heads in a cup
• Add 2,5 dl of boiling water, cover with a lid and let it steep for 10 min.
The marigold’s main area of use is, however, external. It has germicidal and anti-inflammatory properties, softens and protects the skin and helps healing wounds. Here’s how I make calendula oil for external use:
• Cut off the flower heads from 30 marigolds (as described above)
• Remove petals, put them in a glass jar.
• Warm up 2 dl ecological oil (I used sesame) and pour it over the petals.
• Shake the jar for petals to sink down, and see to it that the oil covers them completely.
• Lid on and put it in a sunny place for 3-6 weeks.
That’s all for this time: in around a month I will sieve off the petals and use parts of the oil for skin cream. If you want to know how that’s made, stay tuned! ☺
Herbal teas made with dried herbs can be enjoyed all year round, but nothing beats fresh herbs in summer! It’s a completely different experience using the herbs fresh from your balcony or garden, both for the eye – I love serving it in a see through glass pot – and it’s just as pleasurable for the taste buds.
Herbal teas are not only light and refreshing, but they also have many health benefits. The herbs and flowers mentioned below all contain lots of healthy ingredients: essential oils, and flavonoids, to mention some. The following are my favourites right now.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
Elderflower syrup is lovely, but too sweet for my taste. Instead I pour boiling water over 5 to 6 flower heads, add some lemon juice and make an infusion. Elderflowers (and berries) contain vitamin C and are good against cough and colds. NB: This infusion tastes better well chilled than warm.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
I love the fresh taste of lemon balm tea, and it’s nice to combine with e.g. peppermint. Besides the standard ingredients of medicinal herbs lemon balm contains saponin and thymol. This herbal infusion has a calming effect, so a cup an hour before bedtime is a good idea.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint is refreshing and cooling, calms an upset stomach and is antibacterial. During summer I love making Moroccan mint tea!
Rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
This plant does not support cold winters. I grow it in a big pot, which I move outside when the risk of night frost is over. The rose geranium leaves make a flowery fresh infusion, which has a calming and antibacterial effect.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
You either hate or love the taste of sage. I love it! ☺ Sage is one of the most versatile medicinal herbs, working well against menopause, thyroid problems and a sore throat, among other things.
During a long train trip that I recently took, I pondered the question “What is my greatest fear?”. In order to live a peaceful life I feel it’s important to do these kind of reflections from time to time. My answer to the question was “Losing what I believe is mine:
my loved ones, my health, or my home” (in that order).
The follow-up question had to be: How do I deal with these fears?
It doesn’t help to know that nothing, in fact, is mine. As the saying goes: “You possess only what will not be lost in a shipwreck”. I still cling to the ones I love, to my healthy
body and mind, and to my home.
Sometimes at night when I cannot sleep, or on days when my mood is low, these fears start circling in my head. “What if….?” It’s totally meaningless, useless and very scary. So what can I do to respond to these states of fear? I work on Equanimity.
Within Buddhism equanimity is an essential virtue. It could be defined as remaining centred when you are surrounded by turmoil, or as Pema Chödrön put it: “To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion before it hardens into grasping or negativity.” That may sound easy but the challenge is twofold: 1. Catching yourself when you’re getting stuck and 2. Not giving in to the temptation to dwell on your desires and fears “just a little bit…”. Not at all is key. I know,
having so often tried and failed.
With this particular fear of mine, however, the strongest antidote is to cherish what I love while it is still there. The power of habit makes it so easy to take what you have for granted and not really paying attention.
Everything you love can be lost at any moment. Don’t waste your time: show and tell your beloved ones how much they mean to you. Enjoy your healthy body and take good care of it. Be happy in your home, keeping it fresh and beautiful.