Most of us think of nature as female. She is Gaia, the universal mother, the mythical mother of all the gods and by extension everything else.
Mother Nature holds the key to health and well-being in much the same way that our actual mothers do. She is the first place we turn to for the raw ingredients for many medicines. She is the place where we feel most relaxed and ‘healed’.
She is also the inspiration, through what is known as ‘biomimicry‘ behind sustainable solutions to everyday problems (Velcro and wetsuits are just two examples). Indeed the philosophy of biomimicry is that Mother Nature through her adaptability has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with: energy, food production, climate control, non-toxic chemistry, transportation, and packaging, amongst other things.
As with our real mothers, we sometimes take all that Mother Nature has to offer us for granted, and push her generosity to the limits. But for those who believe in a holistic approach to life an understanding of and a sense of connection with Mother Nature is essential.
Whether through biology of psychology women tend to be more attuned to the concept of Mother Nature and to the importance of nature in our lives. In the home women are the healers, the ones everyone turns to when skinned knees need bandaging or upset tummies need soothing.
Women feel the threat of environmental toxins more acutely because we carry children and breastfeed them and our bodies and babies are uniquely vulnerable to these toxins. Environmental assaults on Mother Nature are direct assaults on our bodies and out babies.
Perhaps because of this, in the wider world, we tend to be the first ones to voice concerns about the environment, to organise groups, to campaign, to take a stand against anything that we feel threatens our health and our world in such a fundamental way. We are also the ones most likely to choose natural alternatives for everything from food to medicines, to cosmetics to clothes.
Peace and connection
Every culture has some sort of ‘Mother’s Day’ – usually celebrated between March and May when spring and the promise of new life is in the air. Some are simple celebrations; others have political undertones (though these can be hard to remember in the commercialised tsunami of cards, flowers and chocolates that overwhelm them).
For instance the first attempts at establishing a ‘Mother’s Day’ in the US came from post-Civil war Women’s groups as means of honouring mothers who had lost or were at risk of losing their sons to war. In 1870 the ‘Mother’s Day Proclamation’ appealed for women to unite for peace in the world. Its author Julia Ward Howe believed strongly that women had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.
Now more than ever we need that determination to help our planet to thrive. And, just like we sometimes need reminding of how generous our own mothers can be, we sometimes need reminding of how generous and inspiring Mother Nature can be as well.
Whether we take them as remedies or simply eat them, plants have the ability to gently address some of our most pressing health concerns.
For example, common herbs and spices – including ginger, turmeric and garlic, and cinnamon and rosemary as well as fenugreek seeds and leaves, artichoke leaf extract, yarrow, and holy basil all may help lower cholesterol. For lowering blood pressure, herbs and spices including cloves, ground Jamaican allspice, cinnamon, sage, marjoram, tarragon, and rosemary are beneficial. Thyme tincture can outperform conventional acne treatments.
Many medicinal herbs can boost immunity and herbal extracts used in cosmetics have been shown to fight inflammation and the free radical damage that can lead to premature skin ageing.
We humans are still learning and re-learning how to harness the self healing ability of plants, in order to enhance or rebalance the health of our own body, mind and spirit. Respect for Mother Nature means we don’t want to destroy or exhaust the natural world, we want to work with her to understand all of her mysteries.
Many essential oils including lavender, geranium, rose, peppermint, lemongrass, the citrus oils, clove and thyme have been found to exert an antimicrobial action. They have also been shown to relieve stress and insomnia – and related conditions such as headaches. Oils like spearmint and rosemary can help improve memory, while oils like citronella and eucalyptus can be effective insect repellents.
Whether used in the bath, as a compress or a massage or inhalation essential oils can have a profound therapeutic action. Interestingly, there is also evidence that essential oils are good for the planet too. The aromatic compounds that are daily released from trees and other plants helps protect our planet from extremes of temperature, especially heat.
The food on your plate
Food can heal or harm. Endless studies show that when we process foods adding too much sugar, salt and fat it does untold harm to our bodies. It raises the likelihood of obesity amongst children and a lifetime of eating junk food has been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. When we eat foods treated with pesticides or laced with antibiotics we are consuming toxins that are directly damaging to health; and, of course, processed foods come in packaging that leech even more chemicals into our food.
But when it is fresh, seasonal, unprocessed and preferably organic is one of our greatest healers and preventatives. Some even believe it is the “healthcare doctors forgot“. Organic dairy, for example has been shown to be higher in essential fats than conventionally produced milk. Green juices provide a multitude of vitamins and minerals. Sprouted microgreens are concentrated sources of nutrition that anyone can grow in a kitchen or on a windowsill. Eating a varied, diverse, whole food diet gives us vitality and health; studies show that food can better than antidepressants for addressing low mood.
When you choose organic you are also choosing a farming method that takes care of Mother Nature over the longer term, preserving soil fertility and natural biodiversity.
And nature is of course, the source of numerous ‘superfoods’: long-time favourites such as berries of all types, bee pollen and coconut oil and some new ones as well such as baobab, maca and others.
Finally, numerous studies have shown that simply being in nature can heal us. Walking in the woods can help us shake off stress. Being by the ocean can refresh and revive us in a way that few other things can. Taking your exercise outdoors, as opposed to in a gym, can reduce boost mental health for adults and children relieving feelings of stress, low mood and fatigue. Remarkably, evidence suggests that domestic violence is lower in apartments with views of greenery.
Other studies have shown that after a 25-minute walk in an arboretum or botanical garden, short-term memory improved by 20%. The same walk in a city environment failed to produce any benefit; and indeed negatively produced a memory deficit.
For children, views of and contact with nature can translate into higher scores on tests of concentration and self-discipline; the greener the view, the better they do. Playing regularly in natural environments improves advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often. Contact with nature can also help kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to concentrate better.
As we step into the season of celebrating and nurturing the women who nurtured us – let’s not forget to celebrate and nurture the most important Mother of all.
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