Herbal

Notes from the Apothecary: Mint

May, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Mint

mint

 

 

Some of my friends have had trouble growing mint but I can’t seem to stop the stuff! Each winter it dies down completely, only to return in late spring in about a dozen other places other than the one I originally planted it in. My favourite is a Black Peppermint, which has a lovely, dusky purple shade to the leaves and is deliciously pungent. As the plant itself is now returning, I thought it a perfect time to explore it in a bit more detail.

The Kitchen Garden

Mint has been used for culinary purposes throughout the history of many different cultures. It is used in Indian food to counter balance spiciness or add depth of flavour. It is used as a fresh, sharp flavour in numerous cocktails and soft beverages. Mint was an ingredient of many recipes mentioned in Apicius, the Roman collection of recipes probably compiled in the 4th century AD. Mint has also been found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians, and it is thought they prized the herb very highly.

I love the fresh smell of mint in the kitchen. You only have to slightly bruise the leaves to be rewarded with an aroma that is cooling and satisfying at the same time. Mint is one of those flavours that works well with both sweet and savoury dishes, and also with both hot and cold. Mint ice cream is very popular, and the Mojito is one of the most common additions to any self-respecting cocktail menu. For cold, savoury uses of mint think about raita, the cooling sauce served with Indian food, or tzatziki, the Greek equivalent.

Mint jelly has been the condiment of choice for many lamb dishes for years, but it also works with chicken, fish and even vegetable dishes. Mint sauce is much easier to make than the jelly; it doesn’t last as long but it’s so yummy, that won’t matter much! Mint sauce is just fresh mint, sugar, vinegar and water. Some people blend it but I prefer to finely chop the mint for a more textured sauce. Experiment with it- everyone’s tastes are different!

As a medicine…

The Rosa Anglica written probably in 1314 speaks of mint and its healing qualities for fevers, heart problems, lethargy and even paralysis. The ancient Egyptians used it to freshen their breath, which we still do today; think of toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum; the freshest and most odour neutralising flavours are almost always mint based.

It’s not just ancient texts that praise the health benefits of mint though; Medical News Today claims that mint has anti-inflammatory properties, is a natural decongestant, helps with indigestion, is a safe treatment for IBS and can even be applied topically for rashes and insect bites.

As an herbalist, I generally consider mint the go-to herb for most stomach upsets. Mint reduces muscle spasms, which can aid good digestion and relieve the pain caused by stomach cramps. Because of this, it can also be used for period pain as it works on uterus cramps in a similar way. Simply steep a handful of shredded mint leaves in some hot water for ten minutes, then drink it down. Some folks sweeten it with honey, but I don’t find it necessary; the flavour of fresh mint is so pleasing all by itself.

Science tells us…

The reason mint tastes cool is because the menthol in the leaves is literally tricking your brain into thinking you have eaten something cold. Scientists know how this happens (menthol binds to a particular nerve receptor that tells your brain you are feeling something cold) but they still don’t know why. This reaction could explain some of the anti-inflammatory effects of the herb though; if applied topically, the body may literally be reacting as if that area of the skin has been cooled, just like applying ice to a burn.

In the Witch’s Kitchen

Interestingly much folklore shows odd ways of using mint which would have exactly the same results as if you just ate the plant. For example, Cunningham tells us a poppet stuffed with mint leaves and anointed with the oil will alleviate stomach problems. Well, that’s as may be, but you’d be as well to just eat the stuff and save yourself the hassle!

Mint is associated with sexuality but in very conflicting ways. The ancient Greeks believed the herb promoted lust, yet the Romans believed it inhibited sexual behaviour. Perhaps they are both right, and the plant is a transformative; not an aphrodisiac, but a tool to either increase or decrease the libido, depending on which outcome is desired.

The Greeks also revered mint as the herb of hospitality, after Zeus and Hermes were fed by an old couple who rubbed the serving table with mint to clean and freshen it. Place mint in your sacred spaces to encourage the presence of your deities, ancestors or spirits, and to show them they are welcome. Mint will also protect your home and hearth from unwanted energies, a magic that no doubt stems from the natural antiseptic properties of the plant.

Mint is generally considered masculine in magical terms, but the name actually comes from a female nymph in Greek mythology. Minthe was a naiad; a water spirit. She was having a bit of a fling with Hades and made Persephone all cranky. Persephone stamped upon Minthe in anger, and a beautiful smell arose, for Minthe had transformed into the herb which forever bears her name.

For practical uses, mint is an excellent herb for ‘undoing’ magic; breaking hexes, curses, spells or perhaps unwinding yourself from a tricky situation or a commitment unwittingly made.

For you to try at home…

Rub fresh mint leaves on your temples to alleviate a headache.

Sprinkle dried mint into incense for evocation magic. The herb says ‘you are welcome’ and emphasises your intent to evoke your chosen being.

To bring unity to a gathering of several within a magic circle, give each member a fresh mint leaf and as you all stand in the circle, rub the mint on your wrists and breathe deeply. Allow the scent to fill your senses. It will cool, calm and focus all of you, and above all, allow you to move into your ritual or magical working as one.

Finally, one thing you didn’t know about mint…

Mint was one of the fragrant herbs used in Egyptian and Roman funeral rites… to mask the smell of decay. Mmmm…

Notes from the Apothecary

April, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Aloe Vera

aloe

 

 

I’ve already written about horsetail, sometimes called ‘England’s Aloe Vera’, due to its incredible healing properties. This month I want to look at the real Aloe Vera, or similar species that many of you will have growing in pots on your window sill.

Aloes are succulents. This means they have fat, fleshy leaves designed to store large amounts of fluid in arid environments. It is the large amount of water stored within the cells of the leaves that gives us the sticky gel that is used for so many healing and beauty processes.

The photos in the article are of my own plants; amazingly, they all stem from (pardon the pun) one tiny, baby plant I was given by an old friend many years ago. Aloes quite happily reproduce by splitting and ‘having babies'; tiny offshoots that become new plants in their own right. From one, miniscule plant in a 3 inch pot, I now have 3 large plants that are each a foot in height and width, and about 8 smaller ones. Not including ones that have been given away as gifts! So realistically, my descendants may have Aloe plants that all have their roots right here, right now with me. A truly immortal plant.

The Kitchen Garden

I have two, beautiful aloe plants on the tiny kitchen windowsill in my house. They are quite happy with the small amount of light they get through the small pane, and they are right next to the sink so I never forget to water them once the soil dries out. Why do I keep them where I cook? Because I am clumsy, and I frequently burn myself while performing my culinary experiments. Having the Aloe to hand is like having access to your own little burns unit! I break a tip off a leaf, revealing the squidgy, unctuous substance inside. The leaf is gently squeezed to encourage the liquid to come out. This is then spread on the affected area. The gel is remarkably soothing. Even in summer it possesses a cooling quality that takes the sting of the burn away instantly.

But normally, when I’m in the Kitchen Garden, I’m talking about food. And Aloe is not so great in that area. You can drink a juice made from the gel and many companies (I won’t name and shame) have made grandiose claims about the health benefits including that it helps with weight loss, immune function and the all-encompassing ‘detox’. There is, however, no scientific evidence to back these claims up. Also, the juice/gel may be toxic if eaten in very high quantities, although this has only been confirmed in rats, not humans.

Toxicity and health claims aside, it really doesn’t taste very nice (yep, I tried it!) so for me, the best use for it in the kitchen is to soothe my sore fingers when I singe them.

As a medicine…

As well as being a great topical remedy for burns, Aloe gives the same soothing benefits for sunburn, dry skin and even grazes or friction burns. It has been used in this way for over 5000 years, by numerous cultures and civilizations including the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Chinese, Native Americans and the Ancient Greeks. The Knights of the Templar used it in a drink called ‘Elixir of Jerusalem’ which they believed increased their longevity and general wellbeing.

Although there is no hard evidence to prove Aloe has these effects on humans, in tests on animals it has been found that Aloe does have regenerative properties, helping heal skin problems in rabbits and eye defects in pigs. It was also found to produce a resistance to strychnine poisoning in white mice. Of course, this proves little for the benefits of Aloe on human physiology, but as anecdotal evidence, 5000 years of use says a great deal. Aloe has been used to slow the growth of cancerous cells and has even been considered as part of a course of treatments for AIDs patients.

The main benefit of Aloe that has been scientifically proven is in the treatment of gastric ulcers and ulcerative colitis. In tests, those who drank aloe vera gel in water twice a day for four weeks had a clinical response including remission of the condition. I know many people who swear by aloe juice for calming the stomach, especially in cases of IBS. Again, the evidence for this is anecdotal so please use your own judgement and consult a doctor before using Aloe for medical purposes.

Science tells us…

As well as the other numerous medical uses we have touched upon (and there are loads more!) a recent clinical study suggests that Aloe Vera may hold some hope for those suffering with diabetes. In preliminary reports it was found that ingestion of the plant may be effective in reducing blood glucose levels.

Aloe has also been used as a treatment in radiation burns since the 1930s, including use on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the Witch’s Kitchen…

Cunningham tells us that having an Aloe in the house helps prevent household accidents. Thinking about how often I cut or burn myself in the kitchen, I can’t vouch for this, only that it certainly helps to have the plant around when you do have an accident! Cunningham also tells us that in various cultures the plant is said to dispel or drive away evil, and to bring good luck and protection upon the household.

Aloe is associated with water; no surprise considering the way the leaves store the element in huge quantities. Despite the piercing, almost phallic nature of the leaves, the plant is considered to have a feminine aspect, and the planetary correspondence is the Moon. You can use this knowledge to apply the plant in your own magical workings. If you are doing a series of meditations based on the phases of the moon, perhaps move an Aloe plant into your sacred space, to aid your focus on the lunar cycle. An Aloe at the western corner of your altar may emphasise the element of water there.

If you are allowed, place an aloe plant on your desk at work (or where you work at home). The plant will not only cheer the working area immeasurably but will bring good luck and fortune in your work.

Ancient Egyptians used the plant in place of papyrus sometimes to make scrolls. Combine this knowledge with the other properties and use a mark or word carved into a leaf to emphasise your spell or working. Bury or burn the leaf, or offer it to your preferred deity.

Aloe is also associated with death and funerals (courtesy, again, of the Ancient Egyptians) so an Aloe plant is an appropriate gift for someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

For you to try at home

A spell to heal another: Preferably at the full moon, or when the moon is visible, snap one of the leaves of your plant so you have a good size piece of Aloe. Sit outside and hold the leaf. Feel the smooth, outer skin, which holds the plant together. Feel the spikes, which protect it from harm. Feel the stickiness of the bitter gel that heals so many things. Concentrate on the healing power of the plant, and think of the one you wish to be healed. Touch the sticky gel at the broken end of your leaf. Make sure some of the gel transfers onto the first two fingers of your dominant hand. Touch those two fingers to your heart; think of the love you have for this person/animal. Touch your lips (external only!); think of the breath that flows through these lips, keeping you alive and well, connecting you to the world and therefore to the universe and all its energies. Concentrate on your breathing for a moment. Finally, touch the two, gel marked fingers to your forehead, concentrating on sending the healing energy of the Aloe and your love and breath to the one who needs it. Rest, and meditate on your intent. Keep the piece of Aloe on your altar or in a sacred place until a full cycle of the moon has passed, then bury it, if possible in the soil of the original plant.

Finally, one thing you didn’t know about Aloe Vera…

In Jamaica, the plant is known as ‘single bible’ and is revered as a healer because of its ability to heal itself. It is often the first port of call for a child with intestinal worms. This may be because it can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. As such, don’t take if pregnant or breast feeding! Until next time.

 

aloe2

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Rosemary

rosemary

Rosemary; anthos; dew of the sea. This fragrant, woody evergreen has been cultivated by humans for millennia. Its uses range from pest control to flavouring fine foods, with a gamut of others in between. Simply brushing past Rosemary causes the most amazing smell to present itself; like a spirit arriving unseen, it makes your senses tingle. Rosemary is a powerful herb yet readily available, and can be grown in a pot on most windowsills. For those that simply have no way to grow, most supermarkets/grocery stores stock the dried product.

In the Kitchen

Rosemary is often paired off with lamb and not much else. That does this diverse herb a great disservice, as well as being mean to vegetarians and vegans! Rosemary is well suited in many Mediterranean dishes, adds flavour to soups, broths and stews, is amazing with roasted vegetables and can even be used for teas and in smoothies.

I particularly like the combination of garlic and rosemary, and often use this to flavour starchy, otherwise bland items such as bread or potatoes.

For you meat eaters, try rosemary as a seasoning for beef sometimes. The smell while the joint is cooking is quite astonishing! Rosemary also reduces the amount of carcinogens produced by meat cooked at high temperatures, so it’s well worth remembering the herb when thinking of your barbecue marinades.

Science tells us…

The fantastic and unique aroma rosemary produces may actually be an aid to good memory. This is very interesting, because as early as the 17th century, we know (thanks to Shakespeare) that rosemary was used as a herb of remembrance. Jemma McCready and Mark Moss of University of Northumbria, UK found that in studies, healthy adults were better not only at remembering past events, but also at remembering to do tasks in the future. The findings may have implications for treating those with memory impairment, or perhaps even conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Rosemary is also linked to improved intellectual performance.

As a Witch…

It’s worth remembering that Rosemary has a magical heritage reaching all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Aphrodite was born draped in rosemary, suggesting connections with life, birth and otherworldliness. Rosemary is even mentioned in stories about the Virgin Mary. Any herb that can make the jump from ancient mythology to modern Christianity without being denigrated in some way is clearly a powerhouse of the phytological world.

Despite the association with goddesses, rosemary is considered to be a masculine plant, with strong correspondences to the sun and fire. I often use rosemary as an ingredient of incense for the Morrígan, as the fire and passion aspect of her personality, and the masculine aspect creates balance.

Like sage, it can be burned to cleanse or smudge a sacred area, and is particularly good for banishing negativity and keeping it away. Rosemary is a protective herb, and some hung on the outside of your door marks the boundary of your territory and helps keep unwanted presences away.

Rosemary was used throughout the middle ages as part of wedding garlands. Some say this means the herb is associated with fidelity and love, but I prefer to see it as a sign of commitment or devotion. Use rosemary when you want to make a commitment to your deity or spirit, or to yourself. Use it in incense, have a pot of it or some leaves on your altar, or maybe cook some delicious food with it. Whatever your intent, you are making a promise to yourself and the universe that you will carry through with it; you will be true to your purpose.

For you to try at home

When studying or meditating, take a tissue and put a few drops of rosemary essential oil on it and place it near you. If you can’t get the oil, rub some of the fresh leaves between your palms, or pop a couple of teaspoons of the dried herb into a bowl of very hot water. Relax before you begin your work, or if meditating, make sure you take a note of the heady fragrance as you are focusing on your breathing. The rosemary should stimulate your brain power, opening up pathways to creativity and intellect. Images and visions from your meditation should be clearer and stay with you for longer, and whatever you study should be retained with less effort. Try it, and see how it works!

And finally, one thing you didn’t know about rosemary…

Although it’s a woody, evergreen shrub, rosemary is actually a member of the mint family. It is, therefore, closely related to lavender. It’s possibly a surprise, then, that smelling lavender can actually have the opposite effect of rosemary, in that it makes you forget things!

Notes from the Apothecary

February, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Horsetail

Last month we discussed the comforting and familiar sage; soft, sweet and strong in the right hands. This month I want to look at a herb that may be less familiar to some of you, and all too familiar to others! From despised weed to treasured medicine, the horsetail (Equisetum) is never overlooked by those who know it- even if that means they are constantly dragging it out of their beloved herb gardens.

This plant is fairly unusual in that it is literally a living fossil; a throwback some 100 million years to the Palaeozoic era, when species as high as 30 metres would have filled the forest with their spores. Because this plant, unlike most others, does not seed; like a fungus, it spores. You can see this for yourself by gently tapping the strobilus (pointy bit that’s almost like a flower) and watching what looks like a fine smoke drift away from it. That’s a cloud of spores hurrying to make a nuisance of themselves somewhere.

And when I say ‘make a nuisance’, I’m not just paying this stubborn and delightful plant lip service. The only continent where this plant won’t grow is Antarctica. You don’t really get more universal than that. People might ask me how to cultivate horsetail. The short answer is: don’t! It will overtake pretty much anything in your garden and digging it out is a nightmare as the stems break at the slightest pressure, leaving behind a massive network of roots that will just pop up another spike of sporey goodness where you least expect it.

So why, why, why do we value it as a herb?

The Kitchen Garden

Really, there is little going on here. The herb can be taken by mouth but it has neither a desirable texture nor delectable taste. Medicinal benefits aside (see below) the main purpose of horsetail in food is as a thickening agent, where it can be used dried without impairing the flavour of the dish too much. Ediblewildfood.com assures us the plant may be cooked in a stir fry but I’ll pause before I replace the spring onions, thank you very much.

As a Medicine…

Ah, here we get down to the nitty gritty. Horsetail is a fantastic medicine. Chock full of silica, it is perfect for healing wounds and can be applied directly to grazes, cuts and burns. Silica helps the body use calcium to repair bones, skin and collagen so this is a very strong ‘flesh healer’ applied either externally or internally. Internally, a tea is normally made with the dried herb. Please do contact your own physician before taking any medicine, of course!

The Chinese believed it could cool fevers and had many other anti-inflammatory benefits such as helping with eye infections, flu, dysentery- just to name a few. The Romans noted that it helped with kidney and bladder trouble, which is held up by modern day research that shows horsetail is an effective diuretic. A diuretic will help you pass water, so if you drink lots of water while taking horsetail, you are effectively flushing your kidneys and bladder out which is often what is needed when they are inflamed. Horsetail is even indicated for osteoporosis (brittle bone disorder) although this is anecdotal and in no way should any herb replace a healthy, balanced diet.

Science tells us…

…that the spores of horsetails are so clever, they can actually jump. Each spore has four ‘legs’, like the horse the plant is named for. These legs are like tiny, waving tentacles. When the spores get wet, the wavy legs become damp and tangle and the poor little spore drops to the earth. But when the spore dries out again, the legs suddenly snap straight, propelling the spore back up into the air with the energy of an uncoiled spring. The microscopic bundle of DNA may leap 1cm, the equivalent of you or I jumping over 300 metres straight up in the air. If that doesn’t make you think differently about the plant world, I don’t know what will (source: The Guardian, Ken Thompson, 2th May 2014, quoting Proceedings of the Royal Society).

And in the Witch’s Kitchen…

Well first of all, never underestimate a good medicine. If you are one of those (like me) cursed (blessed) with the darn stud running riot all over the garden, keep picking it, drying it and packing it away for those times when you need something for cuts or grazes, or a twitchy bladder. Always consult a professional herbalist for dosage.

For those looking for purely occult value, the folklore surrounding the horsetail is limited but varied. One association that comes up time and again is with Snake Charming, but I have struggled to find the source of this assertion, which is backed up even by my beloved Cunningham. If anyone knows the background to this, please get in touch! I would love to know where the connection is here.

Despite being extraordinarily phallic, this plant is classed as feminine by Cunningham, but I would probably consider it a balance plant. There is as much below as there is above, and it shows us that the smallest thing can survive the longest time. This plant is living history; something we can all relate to when we look at how our own history, our ancestors have inspired us.

It promotes fertility, and in times gone by some would be placed in the bedroom on those special nights to ensure the success of the endeavour within! Have you had any magical experience with horsetail? As a modern witch or pagan, what can you add to the above list?

For you to try at home

The fertility of ideas: Find some fresh horsetail if you can, or use dried if this is not possible. Sit in a calm, quiet place and roll the horsetail between your palms. You will either feel the juice of the fresh or the dust of the dried. You’ll be making a bit of a mess; this is fine. It’s just you and the plant. A plant that has survived over a hundred million years, to join you in this place now. Doesn’t that make you feel special? Doesn’t that make you realise how important this plant is, and how important you are?

Let this realisation fill you with a sense of joy, peace or contentment. As your mind moves towards this positive place, think of the goal you want to achieve. Think of how it doesn’t matter how long it takes, you are as immoveable as the horsetail and twice as stubborn. You will do what needs to be done. Rest and meditate on any thoughts and images that may have arisen. When you come back around, drink some water and eat something wholesome. Cast the horsetail to the wind, taking your hopes and desires with you, while also leaving them rooted within your heart.

And finally, one thing you didn’t know about horsetail…

The above-ground stems of the horsetail ae completely hollow and with some difficulty can be fashioned into a musical instrument. Perhaps this is where the snake charming connection comes from?

See you next month!

Notes from the Apothecary

January, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Sage

Welcome to my new column, Notes from the Apothecary! Each month I’ll be talking about a different herb or plant. Some will be familiar to you, some may not, but I hope you will always find out something new and interesting, that will help you increase your medicinal and magical knowledge.

apothecary1

 

Not much is still lively in my garden in late November, but the one plant that never seems to give up is my beautiful, purple tinged sage. You only have to brush your fingers against the slightly rough leaves to produce an aroma that is at once appetising and mystical.

Sage has been used throughout the ages for medical and magical  purposes. The Latin name, Salvia, literally means ‘to save’, as in to save one’s life. According to Mrs Grieves in her Modern

    • Herbal

  • , 1931, a proverb of the middle ages was

    Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?

    Meaning, why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?

    The Kitchen Garden

    Sage is, first and foremost, very tasty and makes a delightful, useful addition to any garden. You can also grow it in a pot on a windowsill, as the regular use of the leaves gives it all the pruning it needs. Sage has been used in meat dishes for centuries, and we now know that sage has chemicals which break down the fats in meat, making the food more flavoursome and easy to digest.

    As a medicine…

    Sage has been indicated in different cultures for epilepsy, seasickness, worms, measles and insomnia, but these days there is little proof that these ailments are helped by sage, other than by the psychological boost that we are ‘doing ourselves good’ by eating this nutritious plant.

    One proven benefit of sage is that it is strongly antibacterial. Sage tea is excellent for sore throats as it fights the aggressive bacteria that add to the painful symptoms. It won’t rid you of a cold, but it will ease the nagging cough or the thickness around the tonsils. Cool the tea and gargle with it, or simply enjoy a couple of cups of it each day. Y

    You can make the tea by simply steeping the fresh or dried leaves until the aroma becomes apparent. This means the active oil has escaped its cell walls and is in your tea! At this point, you can drink the tea- just don’t burn your mouth.

    Science tells us…

    There is some unusual folklore surrounding sage. Apparently in Buckinghamshire, UK, the more sage that grew in the garden, the more power the woman of the house held. Another tradition states that the vigour of the sage was intrinsically linked to the business success of the gardener. Gerard tells us that it was useful against serpent (snake) bites, although there is no modern evidence to back this up, I’m afraid.

    It has been proven, however, through studies by the Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, that sage has an incredibly complex chemical composition. Its aforementioned antibacterial properties are affective against listeria, various bacillum and staphylococcus aureas, all horrible little nasties that hang around in your food waiting to make you poorly. No wonder we use it in cooking so much!

    And in the Witch’s Kitchen…

    Magically, sage is commonly used for protection, particularly as a ‘smudge’ or as part of an incense. But what other esoteric uses does this versatile herb have?

    According to Cunningham, Sage is a masculine herb, aligned with the element of air and the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is associated with prosperity and good luck, so think blessings, charms and boosting the power of other magic.

    Jupiter is also the Roman god of thunder/sky/lightning and the Greek equivalent is Zeus, so if you are honouring either of these deities sage is ideal to use as part of an incense or whole leaves on the altar.

    Air is the element of the east and new beginnings, so sage is part of the magic of wishes, desires and ambition.

    Sage is also associated with money (and its increase!), helping overcome grief and even immortality.

    For you to try at home

    Find a large sage leaf and write you intent or desire upon it. Place the leaf under your pillow, and keep it there for three nights as you sleep. If you dream of your intent on any of these three nights, you should expect it to come to fruition. If no dream occurs, bury the leaf in your garden to end the magic. (Cunningham, 1985)

    Carry sage leaves in your pocket for magical protection, or as part of a ‘mojo bag’ if using hoodoo.

    And one thing you didn’t know about sage…

    apothecary2

     

    White Sage is the sage commonly used for the smudges you can buy in those amazing little shops or from your friendly online witchy supply website. But please bear in mind that white sage has been massively overharvested, and any fragrant sage, particularly the easy to grow salvia officianalis will work just as well for magical purposes.

    Sage is such a beautiful, comforting plant. The best way to find out how this plant will work for you is to grow it, touch the leaves, smell the glorious and mouth-watering aroma, cook with it; learn everything you can about the plant hands on!

    The Witch’s Cupboard

    May, 2014

    Merry Beltane!

    Tis the Season to be Merry!

    beltane

    Here are some recipes to get your celebration of to a good start. This May Wine Recipe is a bit different than the norm but sounds yummy:

    May Wine

    *Woodruff is easy to grow in a shady spot in a garden or in a container. It is good ground cover and a pretty plant.

    Plant

    2 fifths semisweet white wine (such as Sauterne or Rhine)

    1 cup woodruff leaves and blossoms, washed and stems removed

    Early in the day the May wine is to be served, place the woodruff leaves and flowers in a container large enough to hold all the wine, then add the wine. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

    1 cup sliced strawberries

    1 orange, thinly sliced

    1 lemon, thinly sliced

    1 fifth of extra dry Champagne

    House

    Just before serving, place a block of ice and the fruits in a punch bowl. Strain the white wine as you pour it over the ice and fruits. Add the Champagne. Decorate with woodruff leaves and white flowers that have been rinsed off. You can also make the punch without the fruit, and just pour it from a nice pitcher.

    Why not start a Beltane Herb Garden? Some herbs associated with Beltane are:

    All-heal, blessed thistle, broom, daffodil, dogwood, coriander, dragon’s blood reed, fern, fireweed, nettle, flaxseed, hawthorn, marjoram, paprika, radish, rue, snapdragon, meadowsweet, rose, woodruff, and tansy.

    Oils and Incense :

    Incense: 2 parts rose or rose petals or rose buds

    2 parts lavender

    1 part lemon verbena

    1 part saffron

    ½ part orris root

    In addition you may want to add for extra potency these herbs to the above recipe:

    ½ part honeysuckle

    ½ part vanilla

    ½ part musk

    Oil: Vegetable glycerin (or a carrier oil such as grape seed oil)

    4 drops rose essential oil

    3 drops rosemary essential oil

    Pinch of frankincense

    Find a one-ounce bottle. Fill the bottle halfway with vegetable glycerin. Add plain water until the bottle is three-quarters full. Add your essential oils. Add dry ingredients, close the lid, and shake the bottle. You can use this magical oil immediately.

    Last but not least Food. Farls is a food most often associated with Beltane.

    4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved

    1 pinch salt

    1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

    1 tablespoon melted butter

    Directions

    1. In a pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer on medium-high heat until the center of the potatoes are tender when pricked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Drain, return potatoes to pot and allow to completely dry out over remaining heat. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.

    2. Place warm mashed potato in medium bowl. Stir in flour, salt and melted butter. Mix lightly until dough forms.

    3. On a well floured surface, knead the dough lightly. The dough will be sticky. Use a floured rolling pin to flatten into a 9 inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into quarters using a floured knife.

    4. Sprinkle a little flour into the base of the skillet and cook the farls for 3 minutes on each side or until evenly browned. Season with a little salt and serve straight away.

    WiseWoman Traditions

    May, 2014

    Be Your Own herbal Expert – Part 8
    Healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups, and cough drops - Part 1


    HONEY

    Honey has been regarded as a healing substance for thousands of years. Greek healers relied on honey water, vinegar water, and honey/vinegar water as their primary cures. An Egyptian medical text dated to about 2600 BCE mentions honey 500 times in 900 remedies. What makes honey so special?

    First, honey is antibacterial. It counters infections on the skin, in the intestines, in the respiratory system, or throughout the body.

    Second, honey is hydroscopic, a long word meaning “water loving”. Honey holds moisture in the place where it is put; it can even draw moisture out of the air. A honey facial leaves skin smooth and deliciously moist. These two qualities – anti-infective and hydroscopic – make honey an ideal healer of wounds of all kinds, including burns, bruises and decubita (skin ulcers), an amazing soother for sore throats, a powerful ally against bacterial diarrhea, and a counter to asthma.

    Third, honey may be as high as 35 percent protein. This, along with the readily-available carbohydrate (sugar) content, provides a substantial surge of energy and a counter to depression. Some sources claim that honey is equal, or superior, to ginseng in restoring vitality. Honey’s proteins also promote healing, both internally and externally.

    And honey is a source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as some minerals. It appears to strengthen the immune system and help prevent (some authors claim to cure) cancer.

    Honey is gathered from flowers, and individual honeys from specific flowers may be more beneficial than a blended honey. Tupelo honey, from tupelo tree blossoms, is high in levulose, which slows the digestion of the honey making it more appropriate for diabetics. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is certified as antibacterial. My “house brand” is a rich, black, locally-produced autumn honey gathered by the bees from golden rod, buckwheat, chicory, and other wild flowers.

    Raw honey also contains pollen and propolis, bee and flower products that have special healing powers.

    Bee pollen, like honey, is a concentrated source of protein and vitamins; unlike honey, it is a good source of minerals, hormonal precursors, and fatty acids. Bee pollen has a reputation for relieving, and with consistent use, curing allergies and asthma. The pollens that cause allergic reactions are from plants that are wind-pollinated, not bee-pollinated, so any bee pollen, or any honey containing pollen, ought to be helpful. One researcher found an 84 percent reduction in symptoms among allergy sufferers who consumed a spoonful of honey a day during the spring, summer, and fall plus three times a week in the winter.

    Propolis is made by the bees from resinous tree saps and is a powerful antimicrobial substance. Propolis can be tinctured in pure grain alcohol (resins do not dissolve well in 100 proof vodka, my first choice for tinctures) and used to counter infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, colds, flus, gum disease, and tooth decay.

    WARNING: All honey, but especially raw honey, contains the spores of botulinus. While this is not a problem for adults, children under the age of one year may not have enough stomach acid to prevent these spores from developing into botulism, a deadly poison.

    HERBAL HONEYS

    • Herbal

  • honeys are made by pouring honey over fresh herbs and allowing them to merge over a period of several days to several months. When herbs are infused into honey, the water-loving honey absorbs all the water-soluble components of the herb, and all the volatile oils too, most of which are anti-infective.
    • Herbal

  • honeys are medicinal and they taste great. When I look at my shelf of herbal honeys I feel like the richest person in the world.

    USING YOUR HERBAL HONEYS

    Place a tablespoonful of your herbal honey (include herb as well as honey) into a mug; add boiling water; stir and drink. Or, eat herbal honeys by the spoonful right from the jar to soothe and heal sore, infected throats and tonsils. Smear the honey (no herb please) onto wounds and burns.

    MAKE AN HERBAL HONEY

    Coarsely chop the fresh herb of your choice (leave garlic whole).
    Put chopped herb into a wide-mouthed jar, filling almost to the top.
    Pour honey into the jar, working it into the herb with a chopstick if needed.
    Add a little more honey to fill the jar to the very top.
    Cover tightly. Label.

    Your herbal honey is ready to use in as little as a day or two, but will be more medicinal if allowed to sit for six weeks.

    • Herbal

  • honeys made from aromatic herbs make wonderful gifts.

    MAKE A RUSSIAN COLD REMEDY

    Fill a small jar with unpeeled cloves of garlic.
    If desired, add one very small onion, cut in quarters, but not peeled.
    Fill the jar with honey.
    Label and cover.

    This remedy is ready to use the next day. It is taken by the spoonful to ward off both colds and flus. It is sovereign against sore throats, too. And it tastes yummy!

    (Garlic may also carry botulinus spores, but no adult has ever gotten botulism from this remedy. A local restaurant poisoned patrons by keeping garlic in olive oil near a hot stove for months before using it, though.)

    MAKE AN EGYPTIAN WOUND SALVE

    “I thought at first this would be dreadful stuff to put on an open wound . . . Instead, the bacteria in the fat disappeared and when pathogenic bacteria were added . . . they were killed just as fast,” commented scientists who tested this formula found in the ancient Smith Papyrus.

    Mix one tablespoonful of honey with two tablespoonsful of organic animal fat.
    Put in a small jar and label.

    Increase the wound-healing ability of this salve by using an herbally-infused fat.

    MAKE A REMEDY TO COUNTER DIARRHEA

    Fill one glass with eight ounces of orange juice.
    Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoonful of honey.
    Fill another glass with eight ounces of distilled water.
    Add ¼ teaspoonful of baking soda.
    Drink alternately from both glasses until empty.

    MAKE DR. CHRISTOPHER’S BURN HEALER

    He recommends this for burns covering large areas. Keep the burn constantly wet with this healer for best results.

    Place chopped fresh comfrey leaves in a blender.
    Add aloe vera gel to half cover.
    Add honey to cover.
    Blend and apply.

    Best to make only as much as you can use in a day; store extra in refrigerator.

     

    FRESH PLANTS THAT I USE TO MAKE HERBAL HONEYS

    Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
    Comfrey leaf (Symphytum off.)
    Cronewort/mugwort (emisia vulgaris)
    Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
    Garlic (Allium sativum)
    Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis)
    Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
    Lavender (Lavendula off.)
    Lemon Balm (Melissa off.)
    Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
    Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
    Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
    Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
    Peppermint (Mentha pipperata)
    Rose petals (Rosa canina and others)
    Rose hips (Rosa)
    Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.)
    Sage (Salvia off.)
    Shiso (Perilla frutescens)
    Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
    Thyme (Thymus species)
    Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium)

    to be continued next time … (herbal syrups + more)

    The Witch’s Cupboard

    April, 2014

    Merry Spring!

     

     

    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

    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.

     

    RECIPE

     

    HOT CROSS BUNS

     

    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

     

    Ingredients:

    Petals from any edible flower

    Several well-beaten egg whites

    Vanilla extract

    Bowl of granulated sugar

    Instructions:

    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,

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