The fall equinox signals a time for transition – we leave the yang season of summer, and move into the yin seasons of autumn and winter, a time of release. We don’t often think about these things in our modern world, but we would do well to listen to our ancestors, who followed the rules of nature. The season of autumn is associated with the time of harvest in the plant world.
I love using the lifecycle of plants as a model for following the seasons. We can observe the transition from seed, to germination, to growth, and to harvest. Our ancestors also looked at human lifecycles in the same way – progressing from infancy to adolescence to maturity (that’s the season we are entering upon the arrival of the fall equinox) and on to a season of dormancy and transformation. The abundance of fiery yang energy of summer begins to fade, and we begin to take time to look around us, at the changes in our landscape, and in our lives. Summer can be hectic, and I focus on getting more done, rather than doing the right things. Our society teaches us to pride ourselves on productivity, and often we lose ourselves in the process. Until something happens to call us back. The coming of autumn is a good time to intentionally put our busyness on pause, and swap our many ways of doing, for our one way of being.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we focus on the organs of elimination – the lungs and large intestine. The lungs are responsible for the release of carbon dioxide through the breath, and the transformation of oxygen to the blood. We also think of this season as a time to pay attention to the lymphatic system, which is often called to action during the upcoming winter season, where cases of respiratory and other types of illnesses increase.
The large intestine is responsible for ah, yes, poop. Its main function is to remove water through the process of peristalsis, and to concentrate waste, also a necessary elimination process. So, to summarize, elimination is the process of letting go – the lungs release carbon dioxide, providing input for the plant world around us, the intestines return waste back to the earth. What a beautiful design!
It’s also useful to think of emotional aspects of the season of autumn. In many traditions, autumn celebrates harvest and prosperity. However, autumn is also a time of grief and remembrance. For some, autumn is an entry into a quieter time, the “thinning of the veil”, where our relationship with our ancestors allows us to connect with the wisdom and traditions that run deep within our families. It can be a time of grief and loss – as we see daylight shorten, and we reflect on our need to stay connected with all that we are most passionate about, and letting go of those things that get in our way.
You may have learned of our fascination and focus on the native and naturalized plants of our Golden Prairie bioregion. We love pairing these plants with the seasons. Wild Bergamot is one of our favorite bioregional plants. There is much to love about this plant – and it is prominent in our on-site educational garden, as well as in many of our staff’s gardens. It’s a hardy perennial, with pink/lavender spiky blooms lasting from early to late summer. The flowers are a favorite of pollinators. Even more interesting is the many uses of this plant, which was valued by the first inhabitants of our prairie landscape. It was used as a steam to help in recovery from fevers, sore throats and bronchitis. It was known as a remedy for flatulence. The plant contains the chemical compound thymol, which has been used to treat bacterial and fungal infections. We are considering it as a bio-regional herb for several of our planned “all bio-regional” formulas.
Modern herbalists also love wild bergamot. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald recommends it as a broth, combined with garlic, as a recuperative aid after respiratory infections. I’ve made a note to myself to make a restorative “congee” for upcoming winter flu season, using wild bergamot, shitake mushrooms and garlic. He also notes that it’s aromatic qualities can be used at an emotional level – to diffuse conflicts, and to release the energy of unfulfilled dreams. Another of my favorite herbalists, Linda Black Elk, calls it “Indian oregano” and uses it as a culinary spice. An infusion of the flowers or leaves is traditionally used to treat abdominal pains, indigestion, fevers, sore throats, colds, whooping cough, and fainting. A poultice of the leaves can be used to treat snakebites, to stop bleeding, to relieve sore eyes, and to prevent wounds from getting infected. The leaves can be chewed while singing, dancing or hunting to prevent sore throat. Wild bergamot is a plant that connects us to the wisdom of the past.
Please join us on our journey through autumn. We would love to hear about your rituals and traditions for this special time of the year.