I write this on the day of the harvest moon. Today there will be an eclipse of the full moon as we approach the Autumnal Equinox.
This season of harvest, I am feeling particularly grateful. Despite the loss of garden produce due to the summer’s drought, there are harvest gifts to be found in abundance this season. Today I would like to speak about apples.
We have a couple of apple trees, reportedly close to 90 years old. They’ve been pruned and cared for over the years. These days however they don’t reliably produce large, abundant apples every year.
This year though, we have the motherlode! And as I travel around the County, I find trees everywhere dripping with the fruit. This is the second year in a row with an apple boom in Prince Edward County.
This drives me to expound here on a few reasons why I appreciate the apple tree and all it has to give.
Apples, one of the many sweet and sour fruits belonging to the Rose (Rosaceae) family, are both nourishing and cleansing.
A good source of fibre, potassium and Vitamin C, apples help to clean out the blood vessels as well as the intestines. They can reduce plaque build-up and cholesterol in the arteries, supporting heart health while also encouraging good, clean digestion. Apples can also help to cleanse and protect the lungs from inhaled pollutants. As a cooling fruit, rich in anti-oxidants, apples help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, encouraging less pain, more energy and generally uplifted spirits.
Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in the Killaloe Herb Gathering. There I listened to an inspiring presentation by Robbie Anderman on the medicinal virtues of various trees that grow in this part of the world–something he has studied for over 30 years. In Robbie’s presentation, I learned that the bark of the apple tree can serve as an exceptional remedy for gastritis or acid reflux.
When I think about it, this makes sense to me. Apples and their Rose-family cousins have marked astringent properties. This means that they help to bind and tighten tissues that may be too loose or “boggy”. In the case of acid reflux, what often seems to happen is that the esophageal sphincter (the valve between the stomach and esophagus) loses its tone. This loosened valve then fails to do its job of keeping stomach acid safely in the stomach and out of the esophagus, where it causes a painful burning sensation and eventual damage.
A helpful fix here would be a substance with enough astringency to tighten up the tissues of the esophageal sphincter and prevent leakage of stomach acid. This is what apple bark seems to successfully achieve.
To use apple for this purpose, I would shave the bark off of pruned branches with a knife. I would then simmer the bark (either fresh or dried), using about 1 teaspoon of broken up bark to 1 cup of water, for at least ten minutes. Then drink 1-3 cups of the tea daily as needed.
For many years now, I have been preserving apples by making apple butter.
To do this, I grate apples to cover the bottom of a tall pot, a few centimetres thick. I sprinkle salt on this, and then fill the rest of the pot with sliced apples. Left to simmer for 20-30 hours, stirring occasionally, the apples soften and the moisture evapourates, leaving a sweet buttery paste. This can be canned and used as a sugar substitute in baking, or just spread on toast or hot cereal. You can also spread it onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven at low heat until it dries up further, yielding fruit leather–yum! Apple butter will store for years in a pantry when sealed, and for months in the refrigerator once opened.
With their long winter storing ability, apples are a perfect locally grown fruit to be enjoyed fresh, even when the ground is frozen and the trees are bare.
Thoughts of winter and apples remind me of a special apple experience I had that I would like to share here…
Last year, a few days after the winter solstice, the moon was full and I went for a short walk on a fairly warm christmas eve. As the sun set into the peace if the evening, I watched the moon rise over our pond, reflecting its light in the water.
It made me feel grateful for being present in the magic of that particular moment. Wanting to capture it, I took the photo above. I also became inspired to think of the many things for which I was grateful in life. On this gratitude list were those giving apple trees which had provided so abundantly for us last fall (and little did I know then, they would bring us another bumper crop again this year–“my cup runneth over!”)
Compelled to express my gratitude, I walked down to visit the two apple trees, ready to give thanks in person. What I found there was another gift! On the ground, all around both trees were an abundance of newly-fallen apples, large, firm and nearly flawless! They had been kept cool in the December weather, but well insulated in the long grass where they lay, and they were ready to be gathered! I dare say the greatest thanks I could give those trees at that moment was to gather the gift of yet more apples, my heart expansive and joyful, under that majestic full moon of winter solstice.
Well gather them I did. I gleefully brought them into the house to share. From that evening onwards, they became known as our Christmas Apples. They kept well, and we were nourished by them throughout much of the winter.
Apple is a bringer of beauty, sweetness and celebration. It brings protection and cleansing along with good nourishment. And it shares many of its qualities with its ancient cousin, the bearer of small red pomes for the heart, and the namesake of my herbal practice…Hawthorn.
This season, apple offers its gifts freely. As the moon swells, may we all be sweetened with gratitude, harvesting the generous gifts brought to us by our apples.