The Witch’s Cupboard

April, 2014

Merry Spring!

 The Witchs Cupboard



I thought for this month it might be nice to use traditional correspondences of Ostara and incorporate them into the entire month.  


Here are some correspondences:


Symbolism / Ritual Work: new beginnings, new life, rebirth, fertility, balance, communication, growth, agriculture, planting, love, sex


Decorations / Symbols: Eggs, new moons, butterflies, bees, cocoons, rabbits, baskets, sprouting plants, wildflowers, lambs, robins, chicks


Stones: Aquamarine, amethyst, rose quartz, moonstone, bloodstone, red jasper


Plants: Blessed thistle, crocus, daffodil, jasmine, Irish moss, oak, snowdrop, ginger


Incense / Oils: Lotus, magnolia, ginger, jasmine, rose, sage, lavender, narcissus


Foods: Seasonal foods, seeds, edible flowers, eggs, fish, hot crossed buns, sweet breads, chocolate, honey cakes, fresh fruit, milk, dairy foods, nuts, sprouts, asparagus


Drinks: Lemonade, mead, egg nog


Colors: pastels, grass green, robin’s egg blue, red


Butterflies for instance:  Citizen scientists track the monarch butterfly migration each fall and spring as the monarchs travel to and from Mexico. Report your own observations of migrating butterflies to real-time migration maps. Share data to help scientists understand how monarchs respond to climate and changing seasons. Explore monarch butterfly life cycle, ecology, habitat and conservation needs.


Find out what you can do to help the honey bee crisis:  Honey bees work hard to pollinate hundreds of crops, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.


Yet over the last five years, we’ve lost over one-third of our honey bee colonies nationwide, due to factors such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), an alarming phenomenon that occurs when honey bees mysteriously desert their hive and die.


Researchers do not know exactly what causes CCD, but they believe there may be many contributing factors, including viruses, mites, chemical exposure, and poor nutrition.


Try a Spring Morning Blessing:


My body reaches to the spring sun, (stretch arms up)

My mind is clear and fresh (hands on the head)

I bless the day’s beauty (stretch hands out in front of you and around in a sweeping gesture) and hold it in my heart (hands move to rest over the heart center)


For Health and Spring Spirituality try eating Spiritual Foods!


For health, eggs, especially yolks. Eggs are both highly nutritious and an ancient symbol of new life and possibility.

Other symbols of fertility and life include seeds, sprouts, and breads baked in rounded fertility goddess shapes.


Plant Something, Anything!  Get the Kids Involved!   


A good choice would be something that attracts the honey bee.  Plants include; mints, basil, sage, thyme, borage, oregano, lavender, chives, buckwheat, berries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cucumbers, tomato, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, watermelons, flowering broccoli, crocus, snowdrops, jonquils, tulips, sunflowers, asters, dandelions, clovers, lilacs, wisteria, cosmos, black-eyed susans, gaillardia, cup plants, goldenrod, loosestrife, bachelor’s buttons, bee balm, sedum, peony and honeysuckle. This is just the tip of the iceberg!  


Burn this combination of oils at full moon in April:


1 Part Sage, 1 Part Jasmine and 1 part Lotus and add to almond, grapeseed or olive oil.  

Try some Oomancy

Oomancy (sometimes termed ovomancy or ooscopy) refers to divination by eggs. An example would be the oracular reading (i.e., scrying) of the shapes a raw egg white forms when dropped in a glass of water.  In another method, the separated white of a raw egg is dropped into hot water and the shapes in the rapidly cooked egg material are interpreted by the diviner.

The Mugwort Chronicles

March, 2014

Ostara Blessings!


Herbs to use in your magic at Ostara: lily of the valley, tansy, lavender, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, lovage, lilac, violets, lemon balm, dogwood, honeysuckle, oakmoss, orrisroot, sunflower seeds, rose hips, oak, elder, willow, crocus, daffodil, jonquil, tulip, broom (Scotch or Iris), meadowsweet, acorn, trefoil (purple clover), vervain.


Incense, Herbs and Woods


Violet, honeysuckle, narcissus, and lemon make good incenses for Ostara — the scents should be clear and light, floral and evocative, but not overwhelming or intoxicating.

Herbs associated with springs include meadowsweet, cleavers, clover, lemongrass, spearmint and catnip.


If you want to use wood in your spells and rituals, ash has a strong line with the equinox due to its connection with the macrocosm-microcosm concept in the Celtic ogham runes – the balance of light and dark… as above, so below.



The Lore of- Hot Cross Buns

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The cross represents the four seasons, or the four phases of the moon, and are on the sacrificial bread of the lunar goddesses of many cultures. They are found from Egypt to the Aztecs of Mexico. A circle with a cross (the female symbol) was often set up on top of a pillar (representing the male)-the whole representing union or fertility. It is also interesting that the biological symbol for female remains a circle with a cross beneath (the symbol for Venus).


Hot cross buns were also believed to last twelve months without turning moldy, which was of great use during Pagan times when the storage of food was imperative for survival. It was believed that they would protect against evil forces and fire if hung in the kitchen. Sailors believed that hot cross buns would protect against shipwreck if taken to sea. Farmers in certain parts of England (UK) also believed that they would protect the granary against rats.






This recipe will make 2 1/2 dozen buns.


2 packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 cup warm milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup softened butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 1/2 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

4 eggs

1/2 cup dried currents

1/2 cup raisins




2 Tablespoons water

1 egg yolk




1 recipe Icing (below)


Have the water and milk at 110-115 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the warm milk sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and 3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well after each addition. Stir in the dried fruit and enough flour to make a soft dough.


Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and turn over to grease the top. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).


Punch the dough down and shape into 30 balls. Place on greased baking sheets. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross (or X) on the top of each roll.


Cover again and let rise until doubled (about 30 minutes). Beat the water and egg yolk together and brush over the rolls. Bake at 375-degrees F. for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Drizzle icing over the top of each roll following the lines of the cut cross.


ICING: Combine 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 4 teaspoons milk or cream, a dash of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. Adjust sugar and milk to make a mixture which flows easily.


Another Favorite-Candied Flowers


Candied Flowers

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Petals from any edible flower

Several well-beaten egg whites

Vanilla extract

Bowl of granulated sugar


Mix a few drops of vanilla into the egg whites. Dip a paintbrush in the egg whites and coat the petals. Dip petals into sugar until coated, then spread on wax paper to dry.

Please be advised that you cannot use flowers bought at a florist for this recipe!! Many commercially-bought flowers contain pesticides and it is not worth it to ingest poison. Please obtain all flowers from organic retailers or from home-grown sources.

These flowers may be safely eaten and are suggested for this recipe: Allium, angelica, apricot blossom, apple blossom, bachelor button, bean blossom, begonia, calendula, carnation, chrysanthemum, clover, crab apple, dandelion, day lily, dianthus, gardenia, geranium, ginger, gladiola, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hyacinth, jasmine, johnny jump-up, lavender, lilac, lily, marigold (the calendula type only), monarda, nasturtium, orange blossom, pansy, peach blossom, pear blossom, peony, plum blossom, primrose, rose, snapdragon, squash blossom, strawberry blossom, tulip, viola, violet, and yucca.

Musings of a Hereditary Witch

March, 2014

Grandma’s Garden

As we near spring, I think of my grandma’s garden or I should say gardens. Within the ranch property, grandma’s house sat in the middle of an acre that was her garden. I thought I would share some of the plants that she grew and what we used them for.

Red Geraniums grew under the kitchen window, grown from cuttings from my great-grandmother’s plants. The geraniums were meant to guard the house from evil. Geraniums are easy to grow, have pretty flowers and stay green when not in bloom. No one would ever guess they were there to protect the house and its occupants from hexes.

Hollyhock stalks with their large water colored flowers, grew in front of the kitchen window across the path from the geraniums. Hollyhocks represent success and when you run a family cattle business, you want all the success you can get. The seeds were tied in a cloth and carried to bring personal success.

A Hawthorn Tree grew at the corner of the house, from the flowers we made a floor wash to get rid of negative energy.

Rabbit’s Ears also know as Lamb’s Ears, grew by the front gate, tucked in with the ornamental plants. This was used on humans and animals alike for bleeding wounds because it absorbs blood like a thick bandage. Tear a leaf open to get to the astringent properties for cuts and scrapes.

Blackberries make great jellies and jams, but we also used them to make cough and cold remedies.

Grapes aid in all types of garden magic.

Mint is always good for an upset tummy and chewing on the leaves helps to get rid of bad breath. Mint was placed on the altar to draw good spirits to aid in our workings.

Spider webs, though not a plant, were very prevalent in the garden. We used spider webs to clot the cuts and scratches we’d get from working in the garden and also in binding a spell.

Chamomile grew wild behind the house. We liked to play cards and checkers, so for a little added luck grandma would rub a little chamomile on her hands. Of course, a relaxing cup of chamomile tea after ranch work was always welcomed.

Elderberry makes great wine and jelly. Grandma made a charm from elderberry wood when I had chickenpox to stop the itching.

There were so many magical plants in grandma’s garden, but the surrounding hills had much to offer as well; Manzanita, Belladonna, Mushrooms, Puff Balls, Lupin, China Houses, Indian Soap and more.   Though grandma is gone now, her garden and land is still there, in the safe keeping of my family.

When planning your garden this spring, I hope you will consider including one or more of grandma’s plants to your gardening plans.

Blessings of New Growth,

The Witch’s Cupboard

February, 2014

Blessed Imbolc!

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Pathworking for Imbolc includes some of the following:

*    Go for a holiday walk.  It can be short or long, whichever you like.  See if you can feel the impending season.  Imagine, as you walk, what activities are occurring under the soil.

*    Clean house.  Physically first, then psychically, magically.

*    Make a list of things you would like to plant in yourself, and keep the list in a place you will remember.  Add to it between now and Ostara, whenever the mood strikes you.

*    Light candles for yourself and your loved ones, saying prayers and sending them light ad color symbolizing that which they most need or want to come into their lives.

*    Make some candles.  One can make hand-rolled ones from sheets of beeswax (they’re easy and quite beautiful), poured candles (this requires a mold—see what kinds of molds you can make from inexpensive items around the house), or you can ever try hand-dipping some.  You will need to heat your wax in a deep vessel—I suggest a large coffee can, and have another can nearby with very cold, or even iced water.  You will start with only a string of wick, perhaps a foot and a half long, divided in half.  Dip both ends in the wax a few times, then dip them into the cold water to set the wax.  Be sure to keep the ends from sticking together.  Repeat the above (it will take some time), until they look right to you.   Remember to dip in and out of the wax quickly, or you’ll melt off what you’ve just dipped.

*    See your healers, and give your body a “tune-up.”  You’ll feel better, more energetic, more able to let in the light and energy that is growing so rapidly this time of year.

*    Purchase some small (I call the “seed”) crystals, and think of what you will program into them, so that you will be ready to “plant” them at Ostara.

One of my favorite activities is to plant seeds that will be open by Ostara.  Take a container of soil and perhaps some Nasturtium seeds, 9 in all (which grow fast) and make a wish with each seed you plant.  A wish for the upcoming Spring Equinox.  Once the seeds have germinated keep in a sunny window and watch them grow, then blossom.  Nasturtiums are edible so come Ostara you can throw them into a nice garden salad. 

Here’s some information on Nasturtiums:

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The entire plant is edible…leaves, flowers, stems, seeds, and all. I consider nasturtiums a spicy green, and grow them in my garden as such. Add the leaves and flowers to any green salad, stuff the blossoms with an herb cream cheese, or chop them and add to pastas for a delicious addition to any meal. During the mid 20th century, people used nasturtium seed pods as a replacement for pepper. We can still do this today! All you have to do is wait for the seeds to dry and then grind them in a coffee grinder (I have one that I use specifically for herbs). Note: Make a yummy herbal seasoning salt by adding ground nasturtium seeds with other dried kitchen herbs from the garden.

Nasturtiums are nutritionally dense, as their leaves contain significant levels of vitamin C and iron. Medicinally they are known to be useful in breaking up congestion of the respiratory system and they provide excellent relief from colds. Likewise, nasturtium is said to encourage the formation of blood cells and can be given as a blood purifier and detoxifier. When preparing for a harvest, remember to choose fresh leaves and flowers that show no sign of browning or withering.

Pair Nasturtiums with other edible early spring flowers such as Violets, Pansies and Cover tops for the ultimate in edible flower salads!

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The Mugwort Chronicles

January, 2014

Growing in the Green Craft

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Lately I have been feeling the restless need to formally expand my herbal knowledge. After much consideration, I applied to an advanced herbal study program beginning early next year. Along with my acceptance into this program came the realization that I would not be able to competently juggle working a full-time job, keeping up with my herbal course work and contributing to Pagan Pages, so I have decided to take a hiatus from The Mugwort Chronicles for 2014. I thought what better topic for this last column than a discussion about available educational resources for the aspiring herbalist.

Today the abundance of books, websites, blogs, on-line and community-based classes available to herbalists is overwhelming, but not all those resources are equally helpful. So, how do you choose which ones are credible that will add to your knowledge?

There are many different traditions when it comes to herbal medicine. Some incorporate the botanical practices from other cultures, such as the Ayurveda from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine, also known as TCM. There exists within the United States a multitude of practices including Folk, Native American and Traditional Western herbalism, to name a few. For the individual just starting to learn more about botanical medicine, my advice is to read some of the really good basic books to help you determine which tradition appeals to you. Here are a few of the books I found really helpful in getting started.

I think the herbalist’s Way by Nancy & Michael Phillips should be the first book all aspiring herbalists read. The authors have done a great job of giving an overarching view of many aspects of herbalism and discuss not only which herbs to use and their preparation, but also advice on growing herbs and interviews with many of our leading herbalists from a variety of different traditions.

The second book I would recommend is Practical herbs by Henriette Kress. Henriette’s book is simple in its approach, but contains a wealth of information. Its uncomplicated format makes it a great book for novice as well as more experienced herbalists not wanting to thumb through a wordy book looking for information. Henriette also has a wonderful website filled with a ton of information, as well as some classic older books which she has made available on-line: http://www.henriettesherbal.com/

Rosemary Gladstar is one of our treasured pioneering American herbalists whose career has spanned decades. I have the original version of her book, The Family herbalist, which has been reprinted as Rosemary Gladstar’s herbal for Vibrant Health. I like Rosemary’s approach to working with herbs which closely aligns with my own philosophy of practice. Her book contains practical, easy to understand information in a very readable format.

Healing Wise by Susun Weed is a great introduction to the Wise Woman Tradition of healing, using plants to help nourish and tonify the body. It’s a great book for new herbalists as the plants discussed are generally quite safe.

herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner, ND is a bit more of an adventurous read for beginners, but I like how Sharol’s formulations are listed by systems and how well she describes plant properties. She also has an on-line Materia Medica that is a great resource: http://www.herbaltransitions.com/MateriaMedica.html


The herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green gives lots of good information on processing plants for medicinal use.


There are many, many more wonderful books available, far too many to name. Some words of caution, though as older herbals (1900’s-1970’s vintage) may contain information that today we know to be harmful. One vintage book I read recommended storing dried roots in a glass jar with…moth balls to help preserve them! For those new to herbalism, please do not try this. Also, not all herbal books are equal in the credibility of the material presented. In other words, until you gain some solid knowledge, it is wise to stick with well recognized authors. In addition to those listed above, other authors to look for are David Winston, Michael and Leslie Tierra, Aviva Romm, Michael Moore, David Hoffman and Paul Bergner.

Besides conventional book stores and the public library, herbal books can be found listed on eBay, Amazon, and at yard sales and thrift stores. I recently purchased an updated mint copy of Michael Tierra’s book, The Way of herbs, for less than $4 at a local thrift store.


Many herbalists have blogs which contain wonderful information.  Some of my favorites are:

-Aviva Romm:              http://avivaromm.com/

-Kiva Rose:                      http://bearmedicineherbals.com/about

-Rosalee de la Foret:   http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/


herbalist 7 Song regularly posts really great information on his Facebook page. Find him under

Sevensong Sevensong

His website is: http://7song.com/


YouTube has some very good tutorials, but please be careful when searching for herbal videos. Stick to ones by well known, reputable herbalists (refer to the authors listed above) until you have some solid knowledge to help you discern what is safe, sound, reliable information. YouTube videos by Susun Weed, Rosemary Gladstar and John Gallagher of Learning Herbs are very informative and easy to follow along.

So, you have read a bunch of books but still feel like you are in the dark about herbal medicine? Consider taking an on-line or correspondence course. There are quite a few offered, many from notable herbalists, covering a wide price range. If you go to Mountain Rose herbs’ website and click on the Learn about herbal Education tab on the left, you will find listings for on-line and correspondence courses as well as actual schools throughout the United States:


When I was looking for a more formal approach to studying herbal medicine, I found Heart of herbs Master herbalist Education Program thru Mountain Rose Herbs’ website.  The course provided me with a solid basic education to build on.  I have also taken some great on-line courses from Learning herbs: http://www.learningherbs.com/

Look into what is available in your local and surrounding communities as far as workshops, gatherings, field trips and hands-on herbal schools of study. Sometimes it is difficult to ‘get connected’ to local herbal happenings, but once you start finding local resources, you will continue to find many more. Ask at herb shops, health food stores, food co-ops. Look in those small, local newspapers which advertise community events.  Ask friends and coworkers-you will be surprised what you may find. One of my coworkers handed me a flyer advertising a Portland-based herb school-one I never heard of. She found it at her local food co-op and the school advertised, ctos School of herbal and Botanical Studies, turned out to have one of the best programs of study I ever took. Due to the high cost of advertising, some really wonderful programs and events are promoted solely by word of mouth or a flyer posted in a shop.

Although book-learning is important, getting out and ‘meeting’ the plants face-to-face is more important. Seeing how and where plants grow, especially how they change throughout the seasons is an invaluable part of your education as an herbalist. Look for local “plant walks” in your area. If you are having difficulty finding a group to go with, start by walking in your own neighborhood and learning to identify the weeds you walk past each day. You probably never realized the abundance of healing plants all around you, many of which, sadly, are considered pests and are sprayed with herbicides. Some easier plants to identify, depending on your geographical location, include Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Plantain (Plantago spp), Chickweed (Stellaria media), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), wild Rose (Rosa spp).  Invest in a really good field guide. I like Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar & Mackinnon. Michael Moore wrote several field guides covering different parts of the US which are considered to be excellent resources.

Always make certain of the identify of any plant you harvest. Many beginners mistake Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata) for Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)-a mistake that won’t kill you. However, mistaking Hemlock (Conium maculatum) for Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) will. Obtain a sketchbook and draw the plants you come across, noting their leaves, flowers, seeds and roots. You do not have to be a great artist to do this. Your sketchbook will help you remember important details about plants you find. Be sure to include the location of where you found them so you can find them again. Learn to use both common name and the plant’s botanical Latin name to avoid confusion. Since there are very few Latin scholars running around these days, you are unlikely to run into someone who will correct your pronunciation.

Be ethical in your wildcrafting, should you decide to gather wild growing plants. herbalist Howie Brounstein has an excellent article and checklist about wildcrafting practices on his website: http://botanicalstudies.net/wildcrafting/wildcrafting_beginners.php

If you are having difficulty meeting like-minded ‘green folks’, consider starting an herbal study group. You do not need to be an expert to do this. Pick one herb, have everyone research it independently, and when you meet again, share what everyone has learned.  You do not have to host this in your home. Our local coffee shop is a mecca for study group meetings, so be creative. If you have a local herb shop in your community, approach them about meeting in their space, reminding them that it will possibly introduce their shop to new clientele.

Consider starting your own herb garden. You do not need a huge amount of room and many herbs can be grown in pots, if you are careful to provide for their specific needs. I have some of my more delicate herbs in pots, such as Bay Laurel, Rosemary, and the Sages, so that they can be moved to a protected area when the weather begins to get cold. A warning here: herb gardens do have a way of taking over. Mine started out quite small and has tripled in size.

You will never learn everything there is to know about plant medicine. The more you learn, the more aware you will become of what you do not know. Do not be intimidated…just jump in: pick up a book, go on a plant walk, create a study group, or attend a workshop. You probably know more today about plant medicine than you did yesterday and will likely know more tomorrow than you do today. Remember to generously share your knowledge with others as others have shared with you. Plant medicine is our collective birthright, our global heritage for which we are the keepers for future generations. Help keep the circle of plant healing knowledge strong and unbroken.

This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.

Copyright© 2013 Louise Harmon   

All Rights Reserved

The Witch’s Cupboard

November, 2013

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Growing Herbs for Thanksgiving

Every year at Thanksgiving time, many people scramble to try and find fresh herbs to use

for their Thanksgiving recipes. You find them in the store, in those little plastic

clamshells, kind of dry and wilted. The volatile oils have deteriorated, and while they

taste better than the dried version, you are not getting the best flavor. Growing fresh

herbs is so easy, why not do it yourself this year?

I’m going to separate them into growing groups. Certain herbs enjoy like growing

conditions, and you will save time and have more successful plants if you either grow

them in these groups or by themselves. You can plant them together in a large pot,

individually in smaller pots, or prepare a section of your garden for herbs.

Most herbs grow quickly, so if you decide to plant in containers, be sure to give them

plenty of room to spread out. If herbs become pot-bound, you may find that they require

more water. If this happens, you should re-pot them into a larger container.

Low Water sun Loving Herbs:

Chives, Marjoram, Oregano, sage and Thyme prefer well draining soil and will do well with less water and more sunshine/  If you have a sunny window in your home, you can grow them indoors.  Chives prefer to be grown by themselves and will spread into a lager clump each year.

Marjoram and Oregano are close members of the same family. If you plant them together,

you may notice that the flavor will become more similar in both due to cross-pollination.

You probably want to avoid this. They are also both vigorous spreaders, so give them

plenty of room. Marjoram grows exceptionally well with most other plants, helping to

improve growth and flavor.   Rosemary, both upright and trailing, grows extremely well in the Tucson area. It is great

in pots and also makes an attractive landscape plant. Once established, it requires very

little water or attention. Rosemary and Sage make good companions if planted together.

Sage comes in many different varieties. Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) has the strongest

flavor, traditionally associated with Thanksgiving recipes. The difference in flavor is

fairly negligible between the other varieties (Purple, Golden, etc.), so you may choose to

plant them for color or growth habit as well as cooking.

Thyme grows well with any of the other sun-lovers. It has a tendency to spread, so again,

you need to give it lots of room. There are several varieties good for cooking, Common

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) being the traditional cooking thyme. Lemon thyme is also

wonderful for cooking, with a strong lemon scent and mild flavor.

Moisture Loving Semi-shade Herbs:

Basil, Cilantro/Coriander, Dill, Mint and Parsley are all moisture lovers. They want at

least 6 hours of sunshine daily, but may need protection from afternoon sun in the

summer and fall.

Basil and Dill need protection from winter cold, anything below 40 degrees is a killer

cold. Grow these two in pots that can be moved indoors when the cold comes. A nice

sunny window will help them grow big and bountiful.

Cilantro loves the outdoors, as long as the temperature remains cool. When the weather

heats up, Cilantro wants to bolt! Bolting means the plant tries to send up a flower stalk

and make seed. In the case of Cilantro, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the seeds are

Coriander! You really get your money’s worth out of this helpful plant. You can also

save the seeds for next season’s planting.

Mint loves water. If you plant it outside near a hose bib, under a dripping swamp cooler,

or anywhere else moisture collects, mint will not only thrive, but it might just take over!

If you want to keep mint under control, plant it in a pot. Mint is another plant that comes

in many varieties from one large family, so be careful of the cross-pollination and

mixture of flavors and plant them in separate pots. Chocolate-Spear Mint might sound

good in theory, but in practice, it’s not really that tasty. Some interesting mints to try are

Apple Mint, Orange Mint, Chocolate Mint or Pineapple Mint if you are looking for

something new. You can also stick with the classics: Peppermint, Spearmint, Mint Julep

or Mojito Mint.

Now that you know what to plant get growing! Herbs like plenty of

food, so give them a balanced (all-purpose) organic fertilizer regularly. If you are

growing in the ground, this means every 6 weeks or so spring through fall. If you are

growing in pots, then the amount of water you are using means the nutrients get flushed

out more rapidly, so you’ll want to fertilize every four weeks or so.

Removing flowers from your herbs as they form helps keep them full and strong. If you

allow them to go to flower and then to seed, most herbs think they’ve done their job and

get straggly and/or die.

Seed, Root, & Stem

October, 2013

Gleaning and gathering are the keywords for October.  Tromping through the forests in our rubber boots for the Chanterelles, subjecting ourselves to the thorny vines on which the rosehips hang large and ready for the jelly or tea pot, trying to get as many tomatoes as we can before the slugs reach their ripened meats – all the work of Autumn’s first few weeks.  Rewarding work, too!

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Recent days have brought us the remnants of a typhoon and so the rains have come early and heavy.  We removed the peppers and tomatoes from their vines, and a new set of fruits is already trying to come on.  The peppers[1] have been dried, pickled, smoked and ground. We’ve made preserves, sauces, ketchup and salsa with the tomatoes and eaten many of them raw[2].


The Chanterelles were all cleaned with care and dried as well.  It’s a tedious job with a pastry brush, but it provides the perfect opportunity to allow for trance work in the kitchen.  We love this harvest and look forward to it every year.  Not only does it connect us deeply to the land in our search for it, it provides a myriad of health benefits.


“Like other mushrooms they contain vitamins A and D as well as some of the B-complex ones. They contain all the essential amino acids and glutamic acid is believed to boost the immune system and may help fight cancer, infections and rheumatoid arthritis. There is evidence that it inhibits blood clotting, which is valuable in the fight against heart disease. As for minerals, they contain potassium which regulates blood pressure and the contractions of the heart muscle; copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium which is good for the mood and the brain.”[3]


Sunchokes are another native of our region.  I’ve actually wild-harvested the roots and planted them at home.  They’re towering over me now by a few feet with their soft, yellow flowers popping open.  Underneath, in the soil are the crispy, tender, sweet-tasting roots that we love and that love us back.[4]  We’ll dig them all through the Fall and into Winter as well.

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Mustard seeds have been harvested and dried, then soaked and made into hearty, rich mustard sauces for later use.[5]  All of these wonderful, earthy gifts that come flowing in and enriching our lives this time of year prepare us to live well until Spring comes back around again.

[1] http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/health-benefits-of-peppers

[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301091338.htm

[3] http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.com/2011/07/chanterelle-mushrooms-foragers-treasure.html

[4] http://www.eattheseasons.com/Archive/sunchoke.htm

[5] http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/the-amazing-mustard-seed.aspx#axzz2gPwGZ0g8

The Mugwort Chronicles

October, 2013

Black Sage ~ White Sage

As summer fades into autumn, I have started to prepare the garden for the cold, rainy months ahead. Although most of the herb plants will do just fine left in place, I have a number which need a little extra attention if they are to survive the coming months, including the newcomers to my herbal family, the sages: Salvia mellifera and Salvia apiana.  Planted in glazed pots, the sages enjoyed the sunniest spot my garden had to offer during the summer. As our weather has started to become wetter, they have been moved to our front porch to control the amount of moisture they will get over the winter and to protect them from any extremes in temperature. Although our winters are usually mild, temperatures can dip into the 20s to low 30s. Often this is just enough cold to be fatal to more delicate plants.

The genus Salvia is one of the largest in the Lamiaceae or mint family with over 700 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals.  Derived from Latin, salvere means to feel well, healthy, to heal, indicating Sage’s many healing properties.  The common sage used in cooking, Salvia officinalis, was recognized in the past for its importance as medicine and included in apothecaries and formularies. Sage shares many of the healing properties of most mints: carminative to ease digestion, astringent to decrease excess fluids and antibacterial to help with infection.

Black Sage-Salvia mellifera- was given to me by one of my co-workers. When I received this gift, I knew nothing of Black Sage’s growing requirements or its traditional uses. I soon learned that Black Sage is native to southern California & northwestern Mexico where it grows in coastal sage scrub communities. It prefers sandy soil and does not like to be overly wet-a concern here in the Pacific Northwest with our plentiful winter rain. A perennial shrub, Black Sage has soft, oblong leaves approximately 1-2 ½ inches long.

photo 1 Black Sage 214x300 The Mugwort Chronicles

Black Sage is very aromatic-pungent and spicy. It can be used in cooking like its more common cousin, Salvia officinalis. Medicinally, it has similar uses to common sage and other mints. The tiny seeds are highly nutritious with a buttery flavor and were gathered by the indigenous people and ground into meal. The leaves are often added to smudge bundles.

This year I was also fortunate enough to acquire White Sage, a plant often difficult to find here. I had a beautiful one several years ago, but unfortunately, I did not heed the advice that it needed protection from our winters. Sadly, a short, but lethal cold snap did it in.

White Sage-Salvia apiana- is the sage traditionally used in smudge bundles. It, too, is native to the southern California region, preferring a drier climate and more sandy soil.  An evergreen perennial shrub, its soft, silvery green leaves release a strong scent when rubbed. The flowers of White Sage are very attractive to bees, thus its epithet, apiana, meaning, of bees. The seeds from White Sage were added to other grains and used as a staple by native people in the area.

photo 2 White Sage 276x300 The Mugwort Chronicles

I never thought of using White Sage for anything other than smudging and purification but it has similar medicinal properties to other Salvia. A warm infusion can help ease a sore throat as well as decrease excess mucus secretions. A hair rinse made with White Sage is used to prevent graying and leaves hair shiny.

With a little luck and some tender loving care, my lovely new sages will survive the winter and rejoin their friends in the herb garden next spring.

This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.



Copyright© 2013 Louise Harmon

All Rights Reserved





Salvia apiana:


Salvia Apiana: Growing White Sage:


Salvia mellifera:


White Sage (apiana):


WiseWoman Traditions

October, 2013

Wise Woman Ways to Boost Your Energy


Almost every woman has, at one time or another, felt so fatigued she wanted to cry. But for some women, and for a variety of reasons — including menopause, caring for a new-born, working odd hours, chronic anxiety, and poverty, to name only a few — fatigue is a constant, not an occasional, problem.

Stimulants don’t really give us more energy, though they are what many women turn to when they feel too tired. Stimulants create false energy, leaving us more exhausted at deeper levels. One more cup of coffee, one more soft drink, one more jolt of fear increases energy, to be sure. But these choices also deplete our bones of their minerals, weaken our core energy, and prevent truly restful, restorative sleep. Even herbal stimulants, like cayenne and guarana, are, well, stimulants. They push us too hard and erode our long-term health.

Are there ways to boost energy that are effective and healthy? My guide, Grandmother Growth, gave me some ideas of how to help myself when I feel bone-tired. And I gathered together the best remedies I know, plus the wisdom of my Wise Woman friends, so you can help yourself, too, when you are too weary for words.

“Fall into my arms and sleep,” offers Grandmother Growth. “You don’t have to make things happen; they will happen on their own. Let me hold you. Let go. Don’t resist. Rest. You are working hard. You are delving deep and changing yourself. Of course you are tired. Change is hard work. Rest in my strong arms. Let go. Give your weariness to me. Let go of all that worries you. Surrender yourself into my strength. Take courage from me. Let me support you. Let me ease you. Let go.”

Extreme fatigue indicates a profound need to do nothing. Ask family and friends to give you a day totally off . . . and take it! Barricade yourself in your room if need be (or, like the cartoon character Sylvia, in the bathroom).

Be gentle with yourself. The internal processes that occur during puberty, motherhood, menopause or any other profound change in your life require tremendous amounts of energy. Even if you provide yourself with very high quality nutrients and use your energy wisely, you may still feel unreasonably tired. Many cultures offer newborns and moms a quiet, alone month or more, allow menopausal women to retire for a year or more while they Change, and give grieving parents/partners/children/friends time off from responsibility. If yours doesn’t, if you can’t, at least be gentle with yourself.


Give yourself a break: Every hour, take a 60-second break. Breathe deeply; stand up and stretch; drink a glass of water or some herbal infusion. Schedule a regular time to meditate or take a nap every day. Small frequent rests help more than an extra hour of sleep; but do both if you can.

Set aside an hour a week to do something indulgent for yourself: a long soak in a hot bath, a manicure, a walk alone in a beautiful place. Nourish yourself and you will have more energy to give to others.

Treat yourself to a massage once a month. (It need not break your budget; find someone willing to barter for a skill or product you have.) A skillful massage releases tension, helping you get more benefit from your sleep and downtime, thus liberating more energy and helping you begin the upward spiral into increased vitality.

“Lower your standards.” This advice, though difficult to hear, has been one of the most important guidelines for me in choosing a life that delights and energizes me. It helped me choose to let the floor go upswept, the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, while I gardened, or studied, or even just went for a walk in the woods. When I do the things I want to do I have LOTS more energy. What are you doing that saps your strength and erodes your delight in life? Find a way to quit, or at least cut down on the time you devote to it.

List ten good things about fatigue, laziness, lethargy, and procrastination. I’ve found laziness to be my best guide to efficiency; lethargy has stopped me from taking foolish risks; and procrastination helps me find more efficient ways to proceed. Love and honor your fatigue for helping you conserve energy and giving you the time to find creative new ways to do the same old things.

Seaweeds of all kinds help restore energy by nourishing nervous, immune, and hormonal systems. Make it a habit to eat seaweed as a green vegetable at least once a week. Try kelp in your oatmeal, wakame in your beans, kombu in your soups, hijiki salads, toasted dulse, sea palm fronds, and deep-fried nori!

Counter that tired-every-day feeling: Get down and get grounded energy from roots. Try a tincture of ginseng, siberian ginseng, yellow dock, or dandelion roots. A dose is 10-20 drops of any one root, taken with meals.

Tired blood? You may need more iron: eat a spoonful of molasses or try a dropperful of yellow dock tincture several times a day.

Stir it up! Don’t just sit there! Energy is attracted to energy. Get moving this way: Stand up, feet shoulder-width, knees relaxed. Swing your arms toward one side, then the other. Let the shoulders and hips move as you twist your upper body. Let your arms move freely. Continue for a minute or two. Then, start rocking your tail bone, your whole pelvis, forward and back, forward and back, again for at least a minute. Alright!

Green is the color of plant energy. The plants with the deepest green give you the most energy. A daily cup of nettle infusion increases energy without wiring your nerves. Nettle strengthens the adrenals, allowing you to tolerate more stress with less harm. And it nourishes your immune system, too. To make it: Put one ounce of dried nettle leaf in a quart jar. Fill to the top with boiling water. Cap tightly and steep at least four hours (overnight is fine). Strain and drink. Refrigerate the remainder and consume within 36 hours. (Leftovers may be used as a hair rinse or fertilizer for your house plants.) I drink several quarts of nettle infusion every week. It helps me have the energy to teach all day and write for hours each evening.

Oatstraw infusion builds deep energy for the next day, especially when you have been riding an emotional roller coaster. Oatstraw nourishes the nerves, easing anxiety and improving our ability to live with uncertainty. Make it like the nettle infusion, using a full ounce of oatstraw to a quart of boiling water. Ok to drink it hot or cold, with honey or miso, or any other addition (juice, coffee, whiskey) you desire. Remember to refrigerate the infusion after it has brewed 4-8 hours, even if you don’t get a chance to strain the plant material out.

Eat more. When you’re too tired to eat, you get more tired. (If this sounds like an old wive’s tale, remember that old wives were the wise women. But, actually, it’s the latest scientific thinking.) In addition to at least one really good meal a day, eat high quality snacks hourly.

Though it seems contrary, St. Joan’s wort (Hypericum) tincture relaxes the nerves yet increases energy. A dose is 25-30 drops several times a day, including before bed. You’ll sleep better, ache less, and wake up with more energy and a brighter outlook on life.

Warming herbs such as ginger and cinnamon increase energy (but may increase hot flashes, too). Make a tea with 1 cup/250 ml boiling water and 1/2-1 teaspoon (1-2 grams) of the powder of any one of these.

Very tired women need more fuel, that is, more fat, in their diets, and best if the fats are also natural sources of vitamin E: avocados, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, tahini, and olive oil are good food sources. Herbs rich in vitamin E include nettle, seaweeds, dandelion, and watercress.

B vitamins build energy. Find them in whole grains, organ meats, sweet potatoes, avocados, egg yolks, fish, and whey. Both oatstraw and nettle infusions are good sources of B vitamins, as are red clover blossom infusion, peppermint leaves, and fenugreek seeds.

Low levels of potassium, iron, and iodine contribute to fatigue. Celery, cabbage, seaweeds, nettle infusion, and red clover infusion are excellent sources of potassium. Molasses, chocolate, seaweeds, nettle infusion, and dandelion leaves are all superb sources of iron. For iodine, seaweed shines, but sea salt, mushrooms, and greens grown in gardens fertilized with seaweed also supply significant amounts.



Some women report greater fatigue on days when they’ve eaten frozen or raw food. Traditional Chinese Medicine says eating raw or chilled foods, especially cold drinks and raw juices, contributes to fatigue because you have to use your internal energy to warm up the food before you can digest it. The more tired you are, the greater your need for well-cooked foods, like nourishing herbal infusions and healing soups.

I avoid wheat grass juice, green barley powder, spirulina, and all blue green algae. None are as nourishing as nettle infusion, and all are considerably more expensive, more difficult to make yourself at home, and more likely to be sold through multi-level marketing.

“Energy-producing” foods/drugs/herbal supplements such as coffee, guarana, caffeinated drinks, and excessive amounts of black tea or chocolate will create greater fatigue in the future.

“Rest your head down on me,” crones Grandmother Growth. “For this moment, rest in me. Let the energy of the earth infuse you. Let my energy carry you. Let yourself be enough. Let go.”




This article is based on material found in New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90.


Wise Woman books are available at www.wisewomanbookshop.com

The Mugwort Chronicles

September, 2013

Cultivating Patience & Boundaries in the Garden

mugwort1 300x225 The Mugwort Chronicles

This is a bittersweet time in the herb garden as the days grow shorter and temperatures are beginning to cool. The plants which have been attentively nurtured since early spring are now sporting an overgrown and somewhat rangy appearance. Many are yellowing, setting seed, and turning their growth inward to their roots to prepare for the winter respite.

This has been a very prolific gardening season for me, re-introducing my herbal plant friends back into their newly expanded garden bed. Two years ago, my husband surprised me with his plan to double the size of my herb garden. Although his intentions were wonderful, we did not anticipate the length of time it would ultimately take to complete the project.  It seemed either he had little time due to his work schedule or, when he did have an expanse of time to work on the garden, our wonderful wet Pacific Northwest weather didn’t exactly cooperate. Removing sod and moving vast amounts of dirt is nearly impossible in the rain.

I have to admit I was growing impatient. My herb plants had all been removed from the garden the previous year into containers and our backyard was beginning to look like a garden nursery. Most herbs have a wild heart and rebel when placed into pots. St. John’s Wort, which I rescued from an area in our neighborhood slated for bulldozing, was languishing in her pot sporting only two long, spindly stems.  Calendula grew leaves, but never blossomed.  The tiny Oregon Grape plant, also a ‘rescue’ was down to one green and somewhat shriveled leaf. There were numerous casualties, as well.

Early spring brought a two week period of perfect weather giving my husband enough time to finish the brick wall surrounding the new raised bed.  After a truckload of garden soil was delivered, the big day finally arrived to replant my herb friends into their new home. Fortunately, I was wise enough to use the down time between the previous summer and winter months to make an inventory of my plants including details of their growing needs, so when the time came to replant, I had a pretty good idea where everyone should go.

As I was finishing up the replanting, I had several small pots with unidentified plants (I am not always consistent with labeling my pots-a bad practice).  As I was placing the unknown entities into the compost, there was one that at the very last moment caused me to stop. Hmmm…this did not look like a weed; its leaf pattern and stem color were too unusual. Then I remembered that over a year ago, I planted some Meadowsweet seed in a little pot, but the only thing that grew was Chickweed, so I put the pot aside. Over one year later, here was a little Meadowsweet plant making her entry into the world. Excitedly, I planted her in the new garden, thinking she probably would not get very large until next year. WRONG! She grew quickly into a very lovely plant, living up to her other name, Queen of the Meadow.  I remembered reading that some seeds can take up to several years before they will germinate- another lesson in patience this year.



mugwort2 225x300 The Mugwort Chronicles

Meadowsweet - Filipendula ulmaria

I planted the tiny Oregon Grape into the new garden, but she looked like she was barely hanging on. Part of me considered putting her out of her misery and adding her to the compost, but I decided to leave her alone. A week later, her one remaining leaf dropped and she looked like a bare twig…still, I left her be. I was happily surprised when after several weeks, six new leaves appeared. And so it continued throughout the summer. Two small wild rose plants and a tiny English Hawthorne, also rescued from an area near my home slated for ‘development’, took root, growing small but lush green leaves with time and nurturing.

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     Wild Rose- Rosa spp                                                                            

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English Hawthorne- Crataegus monogyna

Ah, but there was another lesson to be taught by this lovely new garden-the lesson of boundaries.

When I replanted Comfrey, I carefully placed a collar around the plant setting it down deep into the soil to help contain her wonton growth. Her unabashed expansion in the past infringed on many of the other garden residents and I knew that if she was to co-exist with other plants, her growth needed to be contained. However, several weeks after the thick layer of new garden soil had been added, down on the other side of the garden where Comfrey used to grow were multiple baby Comfrey plants making their way upward through the many inches of soil.  Although I tried to diligently remove the newcomers, one baby plant managed to escape my attention growing quite tall. So much for containment devices! And then, there is the saga of our pumpkin plant.

As the new garden bed is quite large, I decided to add some vegetable plants in between the herbs. I have fond memories of growing pumpkins in my front yard when I lived in eastern Washington, and decided that a pumpkin plant would be a fun addition to the new garden. We bought two tiny pumpkin plants- two different varieties.  The smaller plant never really seemed to do well-it stayed small and its leaves were an off-yellow color. However, after several weeks, the larger plant developed an incredible growth spurt and has not showed signs of slowing down.  Every other evening I trim off several inches of new growth from the ends of the vine, removing multiple leaves which encroach on the herb plants territory. However, this only encourages the pumpkin plant to sprout new off-shoots. Although we have several nice sized pumpkins beginning to turn a lovely orange hue, the vine shows no sign of slowing her march across the garden. The last time I looked, she was headed out of the garden, onto the lawn and attempting to scale the fence.  Her leaves are so large and tightly clustered that I am afraid I may one day find an unsuspecting  neighborhood cat snared in her vine. We have named her Audrey III, after the plant in Little Shop of Horrors and I swear that several nights ago, I heard her say in a quiet, deep voice, “Feed Me.” I was considering cutting most of the vine back, however, the new blossoms are attracting bees, and as their populations are so fragile right now, anything I can do to help them survive is important. So, for now, I just gently prune Audrey III several times a week to prevent her from completely taking over the garden.


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Pumpkin vine “Audrey 3”

As the wheel of the year turns toward Mabon and my lovely garden prepares for its winter rest, I am thankful for the lessons she has taught this summer- patience and boundaries.  She has reminded me that all things have their own tempo for reaching their destinations- we only need to provide the essentials and have patience not to otherwise interfere. I have also been reminded by a small, exuberant pumpkin plant that although we humans think we exert control over our environment, it is Nature who establishes the boundaries, and we really do not have as much influence over Nature as we would like to think.

This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.



Copyright© 2013 Louise Harmon

All Rights Reserved

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