Notes from the Apothecary

April, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Birch


Image: A silver birch from my own garden, hung with fat balls that feed birds and squirrels alike.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the birch the ‘Lady of the Woods’, and I am inclined to agree. I have always found this tree to have a very feminine presence. At a sacred wood that I visit from time to time, there is a crossroads of tracks and on one side there are great, old oaks, and on the other slender but gnarled, ancient birch trees. This place always feels like it is a meeting point for male and female energy. Not a point of balance exactly; more a point where diversity and differences are appreciated fully. The difference between light and dark; summer and winter; the roots deep in the ground and the topmost twigs touching the sky.

When I recently moved house one of the selling points of this property was the lovely old birch pictured. You can’t tell from this image, but the tree is taller than the house and attracts squirrels and numerous birds. Magpies have been pulling the slenderest twigs off for nesting material, and the catkins have been disappearing too so I suppose these are food for someone! I can’t wait to see what the tree looks like fully clothed in green, as we move further into spring.

The Kitchen Garden

Of course not everyone has a birch tree growing in their back yard, but they are quite commonplace and easy enough to find. Birch isn’t a standard kitchen ingredient, however the sap of the tree does make a wonderful wine. The wine is classed as one of the most seasonal, because the period in which the sap can be tapped is approximately two weeks at the start of spring, one of the shortest foraging seasons around. The sap is boiled and mixed with sugar, then yeast is added as usual to start the fermentation.

The Apothecary

The chemical composition of birch sap makes it analgesic, anti-inflammatory and also a strong diuretic. In her Modern herbal, Mrs Grieves tells us that the young shoots and leaves are a good laxative. She also says an infusion of the leaves is useful for gout, rheumatism and dropsy (water retention). The oil of the bark, also known as birch tar, is a remedy for eczema. The inner bark is recommended for fever.

Culpeper maintained the birch was a tree of Venus, reinforcing the femininity described above He recommended the sap for breaking up bladder and kidney stones, and also to soothe mouth ulcers.

Other Uses

Birch tar is used for waterproofing items, such as leather bottles and other containers. Birch wood is used for bobbins, staves, and a multitude of other items. The twigs are used for brooms and besoms, and even thatching.

Birch wood is used to make some types of paper, and in India and Russia the bark was used as a medium for texts; some have been discovered intact, from as far back as the 13th century.

The Witch’s Apothecary



Beith is the first letter in the Ogham alphabet, and means birch. The sign was used to warn Lugh of danger to his wife, and was also used to protect his wife. The source of this, Auraicept na n-Éces, also tells us that the first Ogham was cut into birch wood. Birch is therefore associated with knowledge, and the fixing of knowledge; the ability to pass words from one person to another- a very rare thing for Celtic peoples. From this tale we can also assume the powers of protection, prophecy and an association with family.

If you are lucky enough to have a besom or broom made with birch twigs, sweeping the boundary of your property will ensure your space is protected and will brush away unwanted energies.

The birch flowers before it grows leaves; dangling short, brown catkins which eventually carpet the ground beneath. This means it is one tree that seems alive in the very early spring, reinforcing the association it has garnered with new beginnings and renewal.

Home and Hearth

At this time of year, you may still be able to gather some birch catkins from the ground beneath a birch tree. They are about an inch long and brownish; nothing beautiful to look at! See if you can find a few, and use them at the east of your altar or sacred space. They represent the dawn of the new season, the return of the sun and your own new beginnings or a start of a new project.

If you find a birch tree that already has some of the white, papery bark peeling off, finish the job and take home a little scroll of birch. Please, please don’t start peeling bark off trees unless it’s already practically hanging off. Trees need their bark and forcing the tree to part with the bark is disrespectful and damaging and will not help you in your magical endeavours.

Use the papery scroll in your spell work. Write words of power, a name, a goal, an intent, or simply an emotion on the paper. Hold it in your hands or place it on your altar, either at north or east if evoking the power of the tree, or elsewhere if evoking other deities or spirits. Complete your spell by burying or burning the ‘scroll’, or keeping it in a pouch for a turn of the moon.

I Never Knew…

Apparently birch sap can also be used as a shampoo! Considering it contains quite a bit of sugar, that sounds like a sticky situation to me…

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Rowan



Image: ‘Flying’ Rowan at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, UK. Copyright Chris Gunns 2006 via Wikimedia, some rights reserved.

As well as what we traditionally think of as herbs, every apothecary should be stocked with some other items. I’ve already spoken about bulbs such as garlic, and spices like cinnamon. Now I’d like to move on to the largest of our green cousins; the trees.

I’ve chosen the Rowan, or mountain ash, as my first tree to explore as it is well known as a sacred and magical plant in many different cultures. I am most familiar with the Celtic tales of the Rowan tree, as it is a path of Celtic Witchcraft I follow. However, my favourite tale about the Rowan is actually from Greek mythology: that it grew from the blood of the eagle sent to retrieve the chalice of Hebe. This is why the leaves are the shape of feathers, and the berries (usually) blood red.

The Kitchen Garden

‘But you can’t eat Rowan!’, I hear some of you cry. Well, OK, I don’t recommend it for the novice, but you can actually make a rather nice jelly out of the berries. You mustn’t eat the berries raw, and even when cooked it’s only the juice or the decoction of the fruit we want. Like rosehips, rowan berries have tiny fibres inside that are extremely irritant to our inner tubes, so they are not for chewing on!

If you boil them up though, breaking them up slightly as they soften, then strain the liquid through muslin, the resulting ‘juice’ has a unique flavour that pairs very well with a pectin high fruit such as apples or pears.

The Apothecary

Our old friend Mrs Grieve tells us that both the bark and the berries have medicinal properties. She advises that a decoction of the bark may be given for diarrhoea and that it is also effective against vaginal infections. The ripe berries, she says, are useful for sore throats and inflamed tonsils. Again, I would warn against eating the berries due to the irritant nature of the seeds. I presume Mrs Grieve means for you to make an infusion of the berries, and strain it well.

Rowan berries are also astringent which may make them useful against haemorrhoids.

Rowan wood has been carried as a charm against rheumatism and the berries hung in a house to ward off flu. Although there’s no evidence to back up the medical claims here, the magical protectiveness of the tree is superb so perhaps this is where the healing comes from in these instances.

Day to Day use

Rowan wood is dense and tough and as such is used for staffs, staves and walking sticks. In Finland, it is used in farm tools and horse drawn sleds.

The berries are also used in dyeing. The berries themselves contain the tannins which help the dye ‘set’, and when combined with the bark produce a dye which stains black. I can’t imagine any item of clothing more potent than a cloak or robe dyed black with rowan.

The Witch’s Kitchen

One of the plus points of Rowan is that any witch can use all parts of the tree; the leaves, the wood, the bark, the roots, the flowers and the berries.

The wood makes an excellent wand, although of course don’t destroy any trees in order to find your perfect piece. Rowan trees are quite small generally and won’t be happy about having huge chunks torn off them. I tend to look for lucky windfalls after a gale. Rowan wood is an excellent protective wood, and wards off energies that seek to harm you. A rowan wand would make an excellent tool for cleansing and consecrating, especially a sacred space. The wood can also be carved, so you can personalise your creation without difficulty if you have the talent.

The leaves have several uses. The type of leaf is ‘pinnate’, meaning ‘like a feather’. They remind us of the feathers of the eagle in Greek mythology, and so represent air and the realm of birds. They also symbolise courage, fighting for what is yours and retrieving lost items. They also symbolise earth (being part of a tree) and balance; just look at the symmetrical imagery in each leaf stem.

The flowers also represent balance as they are hermaphroditic, meaning each flower is both male and female. It is self-contained and independent. The flowers are white, the colour of creatures beyond the veil, contrasting with the fruit which is generally bright red, the visceral colour of our flesh and blood existence.

The bark is an ancient medicine and as such can symbolise knowledge, wisdom and healing. Grind it into an incense or place pieces on an altar to magnify the power of healing magic.

The root is not widely used, but as a sacred tree that fell from the heavens to earth, the root symbolises the link between earth and sky, and we can go further and understand that as the root draws water from the earth into the tree, it is a link between earth, water and sky. It is reminiscent of the great world tree, Yggdrasil, in that it links all the realms, although Yggdrasil is a true ash, rather than a mountain ash.

To complete the elemental quartet, the berries are our fire source. They are strongly associated with the sun, and so fire and the south. They remind us of passion, especially the passion to fight for what we believe in. They are attraction, desire, hunger and hunger fulfilled. They are the fruition of hopes and dreams. They are the driving force of ambition.

Overall, all parts of the rowan tree will protect you and reflect negativity and unwanted magical advances.

Throughout Celtic mythology the rowan tree is used again and again as a portent of magic or misdeed. The chariot of Mug Ruith, the blind druid of Munster, had axles made of rowan wood. Beguiling lips were described as ‘red as rowan berries’ in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga. In The Siege of Knocklong, the druid Cith Rua tells Cormac a druidic fire must be made with rowan sticks. These are a tiny selection of the many references throughout what remains of the Celtic tales. If you need any convincing of the magic of the rowan tree, these stories are definitely the place to look.

Home and Hearth



Image: Rowanberries and leaves in Helsinki Finland. Copyright Jonik, 2004 via Wikimedia.

At or around the autumn equinox, use a handful of rowan berries instead of a candle as your focus of meditation. If you pick them yourself, thank the tree and always leave a few berries for the birds to find. As well as feeding the birds, this helps spread the seeds so there will always be more Rowan trees.

Relax, and breathe normally. Focus on the berries and let their image fill your mind. Other thoughts will come and go. This is normal, don’t try not to think other thoughts as this is counterproductive. Just let the thoughts slide through your mind and either dismiss them or agree to return to them later.

If you find your eyes sliding shut, try visualise the berries in your mind. Remember their vivid colour, their perfect form and their smooth skin. Try to recall any flaws or pocks, and notice how this only makes them more gorgeous and vibrant.

As you dwell on the image of the berries, you may find other images popping into your head. Follow these images wherever they may take you.

When you leave the meditative state, breathe normally for a while, drink some water, and make a record of the images and thoughts that came to you. These will normally be of significance moving into the darker part of the year, and if you can’t interpret them right now, you will usually find clarity will come by Samhain. In times of stress, close your eyes and remember the perfect, round globes of the berries and how you felt when you were focused on them. Allow this peace and stillness to fill you, and push out the anxiety and worry.

I Never Knew…

Rowan berries apparently make an excellent wine! I look forward to testing this theory later in the year… Watch this space!

Notes from the Apothecary

February, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Lovage

It is an herb of the Sun, under the sign of Taurus. (Culpeper, 17th Century).



Lovage is a tall, beautiful, leafy herb in the same family as Angelica and carrots. Similar in aroma to celery, this herb is just as edible if not as popular in our modern kitchens. It is native to Europe and Asia, so may be harder to find in the Americas, however you can certainly buy seeds online to grow your own. The name may originally have been ‘love-ache’, which actually means ‘Love Parsley’, which is understandable as the leaves have a similar shape and smell to flat leafed parsley. The ‘love’ part is simply an Anglicisation of the original Latin name, Levisticum, which may be derived from ligusticum, which means ‘Of Liguria’, a place in the north of Italy where the herb was prolific.

Lovage may have an emmenagogue effect (may encourage bleeding from the uterus) so please don’t use when pregnant or trying to conceive.

The Kitchen Garden

The first thing you have to think about when growing Lovage is ‘Do I have room for this?’ as the stuff gets massive! Growing up to 72 inches tall, it has a wide spread of up to 32 inches so needs a good bit of space. It also needs sandy or loamy soil, so might struggle in claggy, clay filled soils. It needs to be started indoors, and can be moved outdoors once there is no risk of frost. You could keep lovage as a ‘cut and come again’ plant on the window sill, but you’d miss the opportunity to harvest the thicker stems that can be used like celery, and even the roots can be used once the leaves have started to die back.

Lovage leaves make an excellent, flavoursome addition to a salad, or as a stuffing for meat and poultry. Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall raves about the stuff, recommending it mixed with summer veg, scrambled eggs, new potatoes and all manner of soups.

The seeds and roots have been used in the flavouring of candies and sweets.

In Joanna Asala’a Celtic Folklore Cooking we learn that the roots and seeds of lovage were often used as a substitute for pepper, to add a piquancy to dishes.

The roots can be cooked like potatoes, in stews or casseroles. This is truly a diverse culinary plant.

The Apothecary

Culpeper tells us lovage is the remedy for sore throats, poor digestion and ‘gripe’ (bad or trapped wind). He noted that it ‘mightily provokes women’s courses’ which rings true with the modern research that tells us lovage stimulates the uterus.

Culpeper also noted that dropping a decoction of the herb into the eyes removed redness and dimness, however I wouldn’t recommend this without more modern advice!

Mrs Grieve’s Modern tells us that the herb was widely used in the 14th century, predating Culpeper’s works. It seemed it was taken as a general ‘cure all’. She advised the herb has a carminative action, and especially useful in dealing with colic in children.

The Lab

Modern research backs up the use of lovage as a ‘GI’ drug (gastro-intestinal) as the herb gently encourages natural processes such as saliva production and gastric juice production, improving digestion.

Lab tests also proved that lovage can dissolve phlegm in the respiratory tract. There are also reports of the plant having sedative and diuretic effects.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Any reputation lovage has as an aphrodisiac or love tonic is purely a case of mistaken identity. As mentioned previously, ‘Love Parsley’ actually meant ‘Parsley from Liguria’, and it was because the English mistakenly included the word ‘love’ that people assumed the herb would be useful for love potions. In other words, the name came before the use!

Asala tells us that lovage was brought to Celtic lands by the Romans, and that travellers would place the leaves in their shoes to relieve fatigue.

The stem is hollow and you could use this to represent a pipe or musical instrument on your altar.

As an herb of the Sun, you could also use the leaves or flowers to represent the cardinal direction of south, or the element of fire.

As expected with these correspondences, the herb is masculine so bear this in mind if using in incense or poppets. I always try and balance my concoctions, unless I am going for something that is particularly masculine or feminine.

Home and Hearth

To bring balance to a volatile situation:

Pick fresh lovage leaves if possible. If not, use some dried seed. Tear the leaves or sprinkle the seed into a metal, pot or glass bowl. Add to the lovage about the same amount of jasmine, either fresh or dried. I like to use the dried flowers, which I order from my friendly online herbalist.

Stir the mixture deosil (sunwise/clockwise) with your finger chanting

Male and female

Sun and moon

Bring me peace

And balance soon.

Repeat this several times until the words and the aroma of the herbs fill your mind. As your mind begins to calm, visualise the outcome to the situation you want. Thank the herbs and any spirits or deities you may have involved.

You can repeat this as often as you like until the herbs lose their potency. This is either when they lose their aroma, or when there has been a full cycle of the moon.

I Never Knew…

Lovage was eaten by the Scandinavian people most now refer to as Vikings, and is even thought to be a favourite herb of Lofn, handmaiden of Frigga.

Notes from the Apothecary

January, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Chives




I love chives. They are so easy to grow in the kitchen garden, and the glorious purple globes are somehow magically supported by the slender, green stems that we love to eat. Chives grow all over North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and are easily cultivated. They are the only member of the onion family that spans the globe east to west. Like most flowers that have colours approaching the ultra-violet end of the light spectrum, they attract a huge array of butterflies. They also attract bees, so even if you never pick a single chive stem, you are helping the environment by growing chives.

The Kitchen Garden

Chives are immediately useful to any gardener as they repel certain annoying pests. Plant them around your carrots, as they are known to repel the dreaded carrot fly as well as damaging aphids.

Chives are closely related to onions, and have a flavour that is similar yet understated; much more subtle. It is like an echo of a sweet onion, warm and gentle. They are wonderful simply torn and tossed into salads, or chopped finely and added to pasta, stir fries and even milder curries. I can often be found simply munching the things straight out of the garden. Seriously yummy.

I found an amazing tip at This Website, which is to finely chop chives, put them in ice cube trays then top up with olive oil or melted butter. Once frozen, they will keep for ages, and can be popped straight into a warm pan to start of a pasta sauce or similar. Nice! Thanks to Mystical Magical Herbs for the tip.

The Apothecary

Chives are basically a milder form of garlic when it comes to medicinal usage. This makes them very useful when treating someone who has a sensitivity to the strong oils in garlic, or a mild allergy. I would always recommend seeking advice from a professional though if this is the reason you are making the substitution.

Chives are very good for the circulation, and need only be consumed regularly in food to have a beneficial effect. They also have a mildly antiseptic quality, so potentially a chive tea would make a good mouthwash to help prevent the onset of a throat infection, for example. They have, in the past, been used to treat intestinal parasites, however this is not a proven remedy.

The Lab

Like many other herbs used as ‘alternative’ (I prefer the term complementary) medicine, chives have had numerous scientific studies done on them to see how effective they really are. Sadly, as far as I can see, all these studies have come back with the answer ‘further study required’; the phrase that tends to make funding go out of the window. However, there is preliminary evidence from China to suggest that chives and other aliums may be useful in the fight against prostate cancer.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Chives can be used as a substitute for onion in most circumstances. Let’s face it; sometimes chopping an onion for a spell is neither pleasant or practical. If you were to place a half onion in the corner of a room for spiritual cleansing, why not try a bunch of chives instead? With the right intent and follow up the green herb will be just as effective. Just remember to remove the stems when they are dry and withered, as they are of no use then.

I have read in a few places that chives are good for weight loss. Um, I have no idea where this comes from, other than the fact that supplementing anything not herby and green in your diet, with something that is, is obviously going to have positive health benefits. Chowing down on chives will not make you into a supermodel, I’m afraid. Plus I really can’t recommend using magic for weight loss. If you need to lose weight for health reasons, discuss this with your doctor. If you feel like you need to lose weight for self-image reasons, then maybe you need to re-examine your relationship with yourself as a whole, and find a way to love yourself. In most cases, if you are unhappy with yourself, changing the way you look on the outside rarely helps. If you are healthy and happy, then weight is just a number.

Chives, like their larger cousins, are also used for protection. A small bunch hung inside a door can prevent unwanted people or energy from passing your threshold.

Chives also represent balance, achieving the difficult or seemingly impossible, connecting with nature, home and hearth and the fluidity of time, in particular the way the past affects the future. They can therefore be used to enhance divination or fortune telling magic.

Home and Hearth

If you have ritual work to do and want to keep a space just for yourself and your chose visitors, hang bunches of chives at each quarter corner of the room. This will ward off unwanted energies and allow the space to me more attune with your intentions.

When creating a sacred space such as an altar for the first time, use 5 chive stems to make a pentagram in the centre of the space. Lay the chives slowly, thinking all the while of the protective nature of the plant, and the qualities of the point upwards pentagram; all the elements combined, with spirit in control. This is appropriate as this is your space, and you need to be the boss!

I Never Knew…

Chives made it into Roman poetry, with this little bit of wit from Marcus Valerius Martialis from around 100CE:

He who bears chives on his breath

Is safe from being kissed to death.

Notes from the Apothecary

December, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Cloves

As we move into the darkest part of the year I want to focus on a spice that brings joy and warmth into the home. Though they are just little brown spikes, the heady scent and flavour of cloves instantly conjures up images of winter festivity. Combine this with citrusy flavours like lemon and orange and you have a veritable indoor winter wonderland.

Cloves are actually flower buds, and it seems fitting that they are often used in winter as the tree they spring from is evergreen.

The Kitchen Garden

Cloves are a vital component in many different cuisines. In the west, we tend to consign it to the bakery; cakes, breads and buns of all kinds use ‘mixed spice’ which normally contains a small amount of clove, along with nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. Cloves are considered an additive to ‘sweet’ foods, and at this time of year that repertoire is extended to include orange pomanders, mulled wine and other treats.

However, in eastern and African cookery, cloves aren’t just on the dessert menu. Cloves, along with cinnamon and other spices we may consider ‘sweet’, are used to flavour curries, tagines, savoury breads, stir fries and many other hearty and wholesome meals.

Cloves are strong, containing large amounts of eugenol; the oil that makes them smell so amazing. Use sparingly in your cooking. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away once it’s in there!

The Apothecary

One of the most common uses for clove oil to this day is for toothache. Most chemists still sell clove oil, and the idea is to rub some on your gum to help ease the pain. This is a recognised remedy, as the active chemical, eugenol, is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, making it ideal for use in the mouth. This use in the mouth apparently dates back to at least 226BC, when Chinese officials would chew cloves before appearing before the emperor, to mask their bad breath and avoid offending royalty.


The Lab

Science has taken the traditional use of clove oil for toothache, and enhanced it for even further applications in the field of dentistry. When eugenol is combined with zinc oxide, it becomes a material that is now used for root canal sealing.

Eugenol has also been used to reduce harmful bacteria in food, and can even kill cancer cells in the colon.

The same chemical, believe it or not, is also used to attract bees and beetles for study, particularly orchid bees, and is also used in some types of mouse trap. It can even be used as an anaesthetic for aquarium fish.

Eugenol can be damaging to the liver in larger quantities. Allergic reactions are rare but you should always approach the use of any chemical with caution. Just because something is natural doesn’t always mean it is good! If you are going to use clove oil on yourself please test a tiny amount on a non-sensitive bit of skin, or simply consult a doctor first.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The aforementioned pomander was given in Victorian times as a gift that indicated affection, so it’s no surprise that cloves are actually considered an aphrodisiac. When tested on male rats, it was discovered that cloves could potentially reduce the ‘recovery time’ after intercourse. This doesn’t necessarily translate into human biology, but I’m sure there are those willing to experiment!

Cloves are generally considered masculine, and do actually increase testosterone levels when eaten regularly. They are associated with fire, and the planet Jupiter, so you can work this into your spells and offerings as you see fit.

Cloves are seen as protective. They have the double whammy of keeping you and what you love safe whilst keeping nasties away, and the crafty moment in the next section utilises those properties well.

Home and Hearth

I mentioned the orange pomander earlier. It really is a lovely thing to make; both practical and beautiful. You can keep it to scent your own house, or give it as a gift. If your winter tree is robust enough, it even makes a great decoration.

Simply take a large orange, and push cloves into it in an appealing (no pun intended) pattern. You can then simply place the orange somewhere attractive, or use a ribbon to decorate it further and to allow it to be hung somewhere.

Add a little magic to your pomander by imbuing each clove press with a good intention. Think of a goal you want to fulfil as the nights grow shorter, after the solstice. Focus on it as you feel the clove piercing the flesh of the juicy orange. Feel your desire flowing into the universe, just like the aromatic clove oil seeping into the fruity flesh.


Or you could chant as you place the cloves:

Tropical flower, hard as nails

Come by air and come by sails

Fill my house with joy and love

As below, also above.

This reinforces the protective and positive power of the cloves, while cementing your own intent and will.

Image source: http://bit.ly/1Mw2lL8

I Never Knew…

In Indonesia, cloves are smoked in cigarettes called kretek. These have been smoked all across the globe but are now banned in the US. Although today kretek look just like any other cigarette, just a hundred years ago they were made of wrapped banana leaves and included nutmeg and cumin, as well as the ever present clove.

Notes from the Apothecary

November, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Coriander



November is an odd month for herbs if you live in a temperate climate. There are a few still hanging on in the garden; maybe a tough sage or some rosemary that’s well rooted in, but many of the deciduous plants have already dropped their leaves, so we home herbalist have to rely on either dried product, or those herbs that we can grow from seed on a bright windowsill.

Coriander is one such herb. It grows quite easily as long as it is kept moist and warm, and with a bit of tender care can bring a vibrant verdancy to the cold season.

The Kitchen Garden

Coriander is also called cilantro, Chinese parsley and Mexican parsley, although Mexican parsley may also refer to verdolagas which is a completely different plant. If you shop in Asian superstores, you may find it referred to as dhania.

In cooking we tend to use either the seed or the leaves. The seeds are like little, round, crunchy balls, that give off an amazing citrusy aroma when toasted or dry fried. These can then be ground to make a spice mix or paste, or left whole to add texture as well as flavour.

The leaves are still citrusy but earthier and warmer, and in my opinion you can rarely use too much! They are best really, really fresh and even the stems are tasty as long as they aren’t woody.

Asian cuisines such as Indian and Pakistani make good use of coriander, as does the very different Mexican cuisine. This is an herb that does equally as well in eye wateringly hot dishes, as it does in mild, refreshing dishes, such as raita or guacamole.

You can also add it raw to salads, which I like to do with a little splash of soy sauce. Experiment!

Apparently the root can also be used, and is prevalent in Thai cookery. The root of coriander is harder to come by in shops though, so you may need to grow your own.

Once the warmer weather returns, plant some coriander outside in a sunny spot. The flowers will attract hoverflies, one of the best organic pest controls there is.

The Apothecary

The leaves of coriander are absolutely stuffed with good news vitamins. Vitamin A, or retinol, boosts the immune system, helps maintain good vision and is very good for the skin. Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, keeps our cells healthy and helps the body heal itself. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and healthy bones. Coriander is full of these vitamins, as well as calcium and potassium.

Coriander was used as a medicine, as far back as ancient Egypt. Seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs, and it is thought that they were used as an aphrodisiac.

In modern aromatherapy, coriander fragrance oil is used to ease the mind and fight fatigue. It has a calmative effect on the digestive tract, and is supposed to help detoxify the body. It can also be used as an ingredient in massage oil to help relieve stiffness of the joints and improve circulation; an application recommended by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine. This can be applied in cases of rheumatism and arthritis. Always consult a doctor first!

The Lab

Coriander, like many of our herbs with ‘volatile oils’, has anti-fungal properties. A very recent (2014) study found that the herb was potentially very effective against oral thrush, and the same study strongly encouraged further research into other health benefits of coriander.

The dislike of the taste of coriander is a hereditary trait!

The Witch’s Kitchen

It’s important to understand that we believe, due to archaeological evidence, that coriander has been widely used for over 3000 years. This herb has a majestic history, and deserves respect.

In Ancient Egypt coriander symbolised eternal love and enduring passion; the unity of body and soul. This is most likely why it was used as a burial herb for loved ones.

The Book of Exodus speaks of manna, a substance like coriander seed but much tastier. This sustains the people of Israel as they search for a new land.

Coriander can have a slightly narcotic effect, but you would have to eat a huge amount before experiencing this! However, a couple of seeds in some incense, with the right intent, could aid a meditation for visions, or aid a sleep for dreams.

Continuing the Egyptian theme of passion, coriander has been used in love potions throughout the centuries. Now personally, I don’t approve of love spells, but if that’s your thing, coriander is certainly a potent ingredient.

Coriander is also associated with longevity and immortality, healing and overall good health, and the element of fire. It may be associated with Mars but occasionally it is also linked to the moon.

Home and Hearth

Make a cloth sachet and fill it with cotton wool and a few coriander seeds. As you sew the sachet together, think of your most wanted goal; something you wish to draw near to you. Visualise your goal complete, as you place the seeds in the sachet and seal it. Keep the sachet on your person for a whole cycle of the moon. If you move closer to your goal in this time, keep the sachet in a safe place. If not, bury it with thanks and try again, or meditate upon your goal first.

Cook a meal for loved ones with coriander as a garnish, as a symbol of how much they mean to you, and how unbreakable your bond is.

Make a pentagram of coriander stems and hang it on your door to attract positive energy into your home.

I Never Knew…

…until very recently that Salsa Verde (the Mexican type, heavy with coriander) is absolutely beautiful after a shot of tequila! The herby sauce completely removes the sting of the alcohol.

Notes from the Apothecary

October, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Cinnamon


The smell of cinnamon conjures up memories of warm, spicy food such as fresh apple pie, or mulled wine; anything to keep you cosy as the cold nights draw in. As Fall (autumn) approaches, I thought it would be nice to examine one of the spices that is truly part of the magic of the cold season.

The Kitchen Garden

Much of the cinnamon you will find in your kitchen is actually Cassia bark; a very similar substance that makes up the majority of cinnamon sticks we buy. The best cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka and is generally somewhat paler in colour and slightly thinner than the average ‘sticks’ we see. These sticks are actually rolls of bark from the cinnamon or cassia tree. They are peeled and dried, and as they dry form naturally into ‘quills’ or rolls that are then cut to size.

For culinary use, I have never found the cassia bark to be inferior. Both Cassia and True Cinnamon are members of the cinnamomum family and both have the wonderful, pungent, homely aroma we all associate with yule, winter and warm nights by the fireside.

I use whole sticks in slow cooked curried or tagines to bind sharp, spicy flavours together or to lend an exotic kick. Ground cinnamon makes its way into all manner of jams, jellies, preserves, pies, crumbles and even smoothies. Just don’t get the ground stuff in your eyes or try to eat it raw; anyone remember the infamous cinnamon challenge? Not nice.

Unfortunately, unlike most of our other herbs in the apothecary, it’s not really practical to cultivate your own cinnamon. However, you can find it in most supermarkets although it’s much cheaper to go to an Asian wholesaler or similar, as you can get a higher volume of product for a lower price. Just keep it sealed, as the oil evaporates leaving you with nothing but sticks otherwise!

The Apothecary

The Rosa Anglica tells us cinnamon is good for promoting sleep, particularly in the elderly. Apparently it could be combined with other herbs such as mustard and anise to protect against cold (presumably the ailment, rather than the temperature) and flatulence. Cinnamon is also indicated for ‘relieving the heart’, which I interpret as either soothing palpitations or reducing blood pressure, but I would be happy to hear an alternative theory.

Due to its intense aroma, cinnamon was one of the herbs used during outbreaks of the bubonic plague to ward off the dreaded virus. This speaks to us of antibacterial properties, and indeed it has been used throughout history as an additive to food to stop it spoiling.

Current studies of cinnamon contradict each other somewhat. Some have found that cassia lowers blood sugar, particularly useful for diabetics. Yet other studies have not been able to corroborate these results. Studies in lab conditions prove that, as suggested by our ancient anecdotes, cinnamon does indeed fight bacteria. However it’s not clear how we can use that to our benefit.

Cinnamon is one of those wonder spices with a dual, self-contradictory action: it has anti-inflammatory properties, whilst at the same time being a warming stimulant. A cinnamon and ginger tea will help ward off a cold and clear the sinuses. Cinnamon in a curry will help prevent gut ache later down the line!

The Lab

The unmistakeable aroma of cinnamon is due to a chemical called cinnamaldehyde which is in the oil of the bark. If you ever get hold of cinnamon essential oil it’s about 90% this stuff. This chemical is very versatile and is currently in use as a fungicide, a pesticide, an animal repellent and is even used in the gemstone industry.

The fungicidal properties are widely applied in agriculture, because the chemical has a very low toxicity, although it can irritate the skin.

The Witch’s Kitchen

I use cinnamon in incense, although never too much as it is very pungent. It adds a kick to evocation incense, protection incense and I nearly always add some to my autumn equinox and winter solstice blends.

It’s no surprise that cinnamon is a fire spice, associated with the sun. At this time of year, as the cold nights draw in and we start to prepare for winter, you can use cinnamon as offerings to your sun deities, or simply as a reminder of the warm times we have enjoyed and the promise of the returning sun.

During ritual, crack a cinnamon stick towards the south, releasing the oil into the ether. Alternatively, place several cinnamon sticks around the candles to reinforce the element of fire, if appropriate.

Cinnamon is also associated with money magic, but I have not tried this for myself. I tend to find that the universe, spirit or deities don’t really understand money. I find it much easier to work towards goals rather than funds if that makes sense. With this in mind, use cinnamon to boost your ambitions, and to pull the things towards you that you really want. This leads us onto desire, and indeed, as well as the desire for material things, cinnamon is an aphrodisiac particularly for the male libido.

Home and Hearth

A Samhain brew can be made with cider warmed gently with cinnamon sticks in. Put one stick in for each of your guests and another for the ancestors; if you have many guests make it a big pot of cider or this will be an overpowering amount of cinnamon! Warm gently and stir deosil; you are stirring in the memory of the sun and the promise of a warm home and hearth.

You can use the sticks to create sigils or perhaps a pentagram to use at your door; it will protect, discourage negative people/energies from entering and will increase the mood of those who do enter. If you’re not up for the arts and crafts session, simply sprinkle some ground cinnamon at the boundary for the same effect. You can even combine this with a house protection ritual, which I perform by walking the boundary of my house, inside and out, sprinkling salt and water and vocalising my intention to protect my space. Add the cinnamon in to this for an extra bit of positivity, and to add the fire of element in with the earthy salt, the water, and the air surrounding your home.

I Never Knew…

Apparently cinnamon can be used to boost your brain power for short spurts, so carry a stick around and sniff it when you start getting tired!

Notes from the Apothecary

September, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Garlic





Not strictly a herb, but in my apothecary, I make good use of whatever is to hand, and currently the garlic from the allotment is drying out nicely in my mother’s pantry.

Strongly associated with Hekate, garlic has held magical associations for thousands of years. From warding off the supernatural, to disinfecting rooms, the protective power of garlic has been recognised and revered throughout history.

The Kitchen Garden

Most of us know garlic for its smell and taste. It is the bulb of the plant that we most commonly use, although the green shoots that we see above the surface of the soil are also very tasty. Most often, the bulb is dried so that the papery outer skin can be peeled, revealing the glossy, white, oily flesh beneath. Garlic can also be eaten ‘wet’ or ‘green’, which means before it has been allowed to dry out. The flavour is milder, and the skin is somewhat waxy and I think it’s easier to peel off.

Garlic is a star flavour in cuisines from India to the Mediterranean and beyond. It is unique in that it compliments spice, sweetness and saltiness in equal measure.

Garlic is pretty easy to grow, and one clove (a segment of the bulb) should develop into a large bulb with many cloves. An added benefit to growing garlic is that it does discourage other pests from ransacking your garden!

flowering garlic

If you let the plant flower, you won’t be disappointed, as like most alliums, the flowers are beautiful; perfect, spiky globes.

The Apothecary

Garlic is readily available in pill form from most health food store as a supplement for those wishing to improve their cardio vascular health or boost their immune system. The only reason I can see for taking it this way is to avoid the bane of garlic breath! Or, obviously, if you simply don’t like the taste…

Our old friend, the Rosa Anglica, cites garlic as both useful and harmful for different ailments, although it is noted that garlic is mainly irritant in those that are not used to its strong flavour. In this herbal, garlic is mixed with salt to help reduce warts, and it is also indicated for those suffering with smallpox or related ‘pustules’. The same tome advises us to avoid garlic if experiencing lethargy, along with leeks and onions and any other substance that ‘increases phlegm’ in the body.

Some of this advice makes sense, as garlic has strong anti viral properties and is especially indicated for those suffering with chest complaints, to help boost the immune system and fight off infection.

The US National Library of Medicine tells us that further research in garlic is needed, but so far studies have discovered that the bulb reduces blood pressure in those with high blood pressure, but not in those with normal blood pressure. Garlic was also indicated as a possible preventer for colds, and even as a cholesterol reducer. In Korea, studies as recent as 2014 linked the high consumption of garlic to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

It’s sad that not enough conclusive tests have been done to prove these theories beyond a doubt, but it’s clear that the plant has very real health benefits, and is a very good addition to anyone’s diet.

The Lab

As well as culinary and medical uses, garlic juice is also used in glass and porcelain work for sealing and gluing.

There is also now an insecticide which can be used for both crops and poultry which is derived from garlic. The benefit of this is it has no negative impact on the environment.

Garlic continues to retain its antimicrobial (bacteria fighting) properties at very high temperatures, and as such is ideal for helping to preserve food. It’s clear that this is why meat cooked in hot countries, such as India, often has large amounts of garlic in, as it stops the meat spoiling. Garlic is particularly potent when combined with cinnamon, which as well as being scientifically sound, sounds particularly yummy!

The Witch’s Kitchen

It’s time to look at garlic as a magical plant, although everything I have told you so far is sorcery in itself! What a practical bulb, with such diverse usefulness. Yet we have barely scratched the surface of the spiritual significance of garlic.

In popular culture, one of the most well known uses of garlic is to ward off vampires. Now I don’t expect you will be having any undead blood suckers on your doorstep anytime soon, but it is true that garlic is protective and cleansing, warding off negative energies.

Garlic cut and placed in a room will literally absorb any bad vibes and also literally absorbs bacteria, giving your space a full on cleansing. Onion is also useful for this, and either plant can be combined with lemon to boost the potency of the exercise.

Garlic is also thought, in some eastern cultures, to stimulate desire and passion, so you could work this into your magical work. Perhaps eat a meal including garlic to increase the libido before a hot night! Remember to work your intent into the food as you cook it.

Buddhism tells us that garlic distracts from meditation, which makes sense as it is a stimulant, both externally and internally. Islam also follows this, although from the more practical view point that the smell distracts from prayer.

As mentioned earlier, garlic is one of Hekate’s foods and should be offered to her during Deipnon, her feast at the dark moon. Offerings can be left on her altar, or at a crossroads, as she is the lady of the triple crossroads and will always find these offerings. Garlic should be served with other foods such as fish, eggs, almonds, honey or cakes including these. Traditionally, the food should be placed and one should walk away, never looking back to see who was eating. The Greek playwright Aristophanes noted that the offerings to Hekate were often eaten by the poor and homeless; something I personally believe Hekate would have found very just.

The juice of garlic can be used to cleanse your magical items, such as an athame, to dispel negative energy and boost your own intent. Wipe the blade in the juice then follow your own consecration or cleansing routines. I would normally leave the item in the light of the full moon, then cleanse it again with incense, a candle flame, water and salt or earth.

Garlic is also protective against those trying to harm you, particularly those who are trying to de-energise you or weaken you somehow. In this way, it is excellent protection against vampires- the psychic kind, anyway.

Home and Hearth

In the corner of each room, at the new moon, place a pot with a cut clove of garlic or a cut onion and a cut lemon. Think about how you wish your space to be your own, and imagine dirt and discomfort being sucked away. Clean the rooms and leave the pot until the full moon. At the full moon, the time of things coming to fruition, remove the pots and dispose of the garlic and lemon either by burying or burning (safely!). Do not use these fruit and veg as offerings in anyway. They are now full of germs and harmful energies and need to be removed from your home. Open the windows and let cleansing air into your rooms. Your home should feel lighter, more pleasant and safe.

Alternatively, you can run this spell from new moon to dark moon, which is more effective if you have a specific dark energy to expel, as the dark moon is a powerful time for exorcism and banishment.

I Never Knew…

Apparently garlic can be used to kill tree stumps. Instead of opting for harsh chemicals, drill some holes in the stump and insert garlic cloves, then cover with wood filler and soil. The garlic releases chemicals into the stump that prevent the regrowth of the tree. Bizarre, but apparently effective!

Notes from the Apothecary

August, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Thyme



Thyme is a Mediterranean shrub with rich history that belies its small stature. From being used to in Ancient Egyptian embalming to being the main ingredient in your mouth rinse at the dentist, thyme is a powerful, beautiful herb with surprising and magical qualities.

The Kitchen Garden

Thyme is absolutely delicious. Despite its Mediterranean origins, the herb is widely used in many different cuisines today, adding its pungent flavour and aroma to roast meats, stews, pasta, pizza and even curry.

Culpeper believed the herb was a remedy for flatulence which would certainly be one reason why it has been used as a food additive throughout the ages!

As well as common thyme there are orange, lemon and lime thymes, which can lend a lovely, citrus flavour to your meals. Thymus is a diverse and tasty family, well worth the thyme to propagate in your own green patch.

Growing thyme is fairly easy if you have a sunny spot. If you don’t have a garden, you should be able to manage with a sunny windowsill. Soak the seeds in water overnight, then plant them (indoors, in pots) in a mixture of compost and sand or grit, to allow for good drainage. The roots of thyme will hang onto rocks and small stones, so don’t worry about the soil being too lumpy. As long as there’s no clay and water can drain freely, you should be fine. Once the seedlings are a few inches tall you should be able to transplant them to a sunny spot in the garden, making sure again that there is plenty of drainage and space for the plant to spread.

If you struggle to germinate the seeds, you can take cuttings from an existing plant. Choose a healthy stem with plenty of leaves that looks healthy and free from disease or blight. Cut cleanly, just below some leaves. Ideally take several cuttings to increase your chances. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of the stem (save them for cooking or crafting!) and place the cut end into a small pot of warm, moist compost. Firm the soil around the cutting to hold it in place. You can buy powder to help the roots develop but I would recommend trying without to start with.

The Apothecary

The Romans believed that eating thyme either before or during a meal would protect them from poison. This made it an herb of emperors; it hasn’t really gone out of fashion since.

Dioscorides, the renowned creator of Materia Medica, tells us that a mixture of salt, vinegar and thyme would help expel ‘phlegmy matter’ through the bowels. He also recommended thyme for those with asthma, and for aiding in childbirth where the child was stuck, or the afterbirth could not be expelled. He advised to mix the herb with honey.

Much later, in his Complete herbal, Culpeper backed Dioscorides up on the use for asthma, calling thyme the ‘strengthener of the lungs’. He also corroborates Dioscorides’ theory that thyme is useful for expelling phlegm. Additionally, he advised using it to ease indigestion and flatulence, and also as a relief for those suffering with gout.

During the pandemic of the 14th century, commonly known as the Black Death, thyme was widely used to treat the blisters caused by the plague and as a general antiseptic. Today, we know that thyme does indeed have strong antiseptic properties and the chemicals found in thyme are used widely in the cleaning product industry and as fungicides.

At home, cooled thyme tea can be used as an effective mouth rinse for mouth ulcers and gargling with it can help clear out the beginnings of a sore throat, as it can kill the nasty bacteria lurking around back there. Washing your hair with thyme will leave it shiny and smelling beautiful, and using the infusion (cooled!) to wash your face can even clear up spots and blemishes.



The Lab

Thymol, the chemical found in thyme, is a proven powerful antiseptic, used in many products including wipes and sprays. The active ingredient, thymol, can be toxic at high concentrations, such as the level needed to turn the chemical into in fungicides. In particular thymol can irritate the eyes.

One of my local universities, Leeds Metropolitan, discovered that thyme can be beneficial in treating acne, which makes sense when you think about the antibacterial properties of the plant.

Since the 1970s scientists have been studying thyme to after discovering it has a remarkable ability to adapt to changing environments, particularly sudden changes in temperature. It is thought that thyme and similar long lived perennial plants may be very minimally affected by climate change, although the genetic changes cause differences in the taste and smell of the plant

The Witch’s Kitchen

Culpeper notes in his herbal that the herb is associated with Venus, and he attributes the health benefits in labour to this. This association tells us that thyme is a very feminine plant, with strong connections to love, beauty, fertility and desire. So for those of you with a penchant for love spells, you could do worse than adding a few leaves of thyme to the mix.

Venus is also associated with magic, particularly the manipulation of divine forces, so if you are invoking or evoking a deity, try smudging your sacred space with thyme or using it as part of your incense.

Venus is a symbol of balance; of the way water quenches fire to produce steam. Thyme therefore represents the magical combination of things, and the power of transformation. Use thyme to reinforce magic for luck in new endeavours, such as interviews, moving house, new relationships; not when trying for a baby though, because of the ancient associations with miscarriage.

Venus is a creation of the sea, and as such her herb thyme is also deeply associated with water. Leave a sprig of thyme at the western corner of your altar in recognition of this.

Water is also a transformative element, and particularly associated with psychic abilities and dreams. Thyme is used to manipulate dreams, usually to dispel the negative.

The Victorians believed that thyme was a sign of fairies. Find a patch of wild thyme was proof that fairies had been dancing on that spot. Use thyme in rituals that involve communicating with the Fae, or with the Tuatha de Danaan, as the herb will strengthen your connection to the otherworldly.

Home and Hearth

Here are some exercises for you to try at home. Suffering from bad dreams? Make a small pocket or tiny pillow. I would take a rectangle of fabric, fold it in half and sew it shut except for a tiny hole, small enough to slip something inside. If this is stretching you crafting abilities too far, simply a fold of tissue or a small envelope will do.

Place thyme leaves inside the pillow or envelope, all the while envisioning your self falling into a deep, relaxing sleep. Place the tiny pillow under or inside your own pillow on your bed. As you drift off to sleep that night, focus on the tiny, beautiful and aromatic leaves and you should find you sleep untroubled, if not immediately, certainly after a few nights. A good night to start this is the new moon, as the darker tide of the moon is for inner reflection and changes within one’s self.

Bundle and hang sprigs of thyme in a room that has a negative energy; a room that feels cold, depressing or makes you feel on edge. As well as being a natural antiseptic, thyme is a supernatural cleanser, and will ‘mop out’ a space and make it feel wholesome and welcoming again. Hang the bunch from new moon to dark moon, then take the thyme outside and burn or bury it. This signals the end of the fumigation, and the destruction of the negativity the sacred plant has absorbed.

I Never Knew…

Thymol, the active ingredient in thyme, is widely used in beekeeping. The essential oil of thyme can be used to control the nasty varroa mite that can cause viruses in honey bees. Thymol can also be added to the sugar feed given to honey bees to stop the syrup fermenting or developing mould or fungus. So thyme feeds us all in more ways than one!

Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Lavender



I have several types of lavender growing in my garden. Some I bought as tiny plants, but the most virile is the one I grew from seed. It took three attempts to get a viable plant from seed, but, as they say, third time’s the charm! This one is gradually taking over a small space in the garden, and at this time of year, as we head towards midsummer, the blooms are producing that unmistakeable aroma. Many associate the smell of lavender with their nana, or old women on general, but I think this is because it is one of the few perfumes that never goes out of fashion. People have been using lavender to freshen their rooms or scent themselves since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. Hopefully this article will give you some insight into what else you can use this beautiful, fragrant herb for.

The Kitchen Garden

The word Lavender stems from the Latin word lavare which means ‘to wash’. It is no surprise then that the majority of the time you find lavender in use around the house it is as part of a cleaning product! Lavender soap is popular all over the world, and many household products use the natural oil to perfume their products. Fabric fresheners, spray cleaners, mopping solutions, hand-wash and even washing up liquid all use the potent oil, which has some anti-bacterial effects as well as the ability to cover even quite strong smells.

Lavender can also be used in cooking, although you have to take into account the strong, floral notes and ensure they balance with something equally robust. Lamb and lavender is a delicious combo, as the richness of the lamb carries the flowery scent well. Lavender in ice cream is also nice, although somewhat of an acquired taste.

As a Medicine

As early as 64CE, lavender was cited as being ‘good for ye griefs and thorax’ (effective for anxiety and the chest) by Greek physician Dioskourides, whose herbal knowledge for the time was second to none after documenting all the herbs he found while travelling with the Roman Emperor Nero’s army. In the third book of his Materia Medica he also tells us it is ‘useful mixed with antidotes’, suggesting it is a booster or catalyst for other medicines.




The Rosa Anglica tells us Lavender is good for the digestion, although it was referred to in this 14th century text as Wood Sage or Mountain Sage. The same text also recommends bathing in a concoction of herbs, including ‘wood sage’, for the treatment of gout, however it also recommends scrubbing the body with water that an entire fox has been boiled in, so make what you will of that! Ew…

Lavender is also indicated as a diuretic (urine inducing, to use the language of the time), so it was used as a treatment for dropsy.

Nowadays we use lavender as a natural deodorant, a mild antiseptic, analgesic and also for repelling bugs, particularly house and clothes moths. One of the most potent effects lavender has is as a soporific: a sleep inducing ingredient. A bath with lavender oil in will send you to bed drowsy and relaxed, and if you are having trouble sleeping, two drops of the oil on a tissue, under your pillow will make a huge difference. Alternatively, burn some in an oil burner in your bedroom an hour before going to bed.

Science Tells Us…

…that lavender also has anti-fungal properties. Presumably this would make it effective as a treatment for athlete’s foot or ringworm, but bear in mind a strong concentration of the oil can dry the skin out or even cause irritation.

Not all lavenders are created equal. Certain species have far stronger anti-bacterial properties than others, and some are more effective against certain bacteria but weaker against others. When you buy lavender oil, it is very unlikely that the species of lavender will be noted on the bottle. The only way to be sure what you are truly getting? Grow your own, and experiment to find what it is most effective against.

A 2004 study in Hong Kong proved that inhalation of lavender oil combine with acupressure had a significant therapeutic effect on lower back pain. It was hypothesised that this was a psychological response, due to the relaxing nature of the oil. As far as I’m concerned, if you feel less pain, then psychological or not, that’s a fantastic medicine!

In the Witches Kitchen

Lavender is strongly associated with love magic, however when combined with rosemary, it was thought that the herbs would protect a woman’s chastity. Perhaps the men were scared off by the powerful smell! Conversely, prostitutes used to wear lavender to attract customers.

Lavender has a masculine aspect, perhaps due to the phallic appearance of the flower spikes. It is also, however, associated with the planet Mercury, which is considered androgynous (neither male or female, or both) by astrologers. So when using lavender as a herb in incense or as a spell ingredient, it is perhaps wise to see it as genderless, and concentrate on the other aspects of the plant.

Mercury is the planet of communication, which perhaps tells us why lavender is a ‘love’ herb; love cannot exist without honest communication. Mercury is also the messenger god, a trickster and a mischief maker. He is associated with wit, cunning and intelligence. Lavender can be used to infuse your magic with some of these aspects. The flowers can be burned in an incense to help you meditate on the most logical solution to a problem. The oil burned in a room during ritual can keep mischief and negative influence outside the circle you are working in, and will also focus any communication with the divine, or indeed, each other.

For You to Try at Home

Lavender should always be harvested at the full moon, when the flowers are fat and full of oil. Place your fingers on the stem beneath the flower, and drag your hand upwards, separating the flowers from the plant. Have a bowl on hand, and if possible, cover the flowers immediately to stop the oil evaporating. A bowl of the flowers on a table in your living area will gradually dry out, making the room smell beautiful and welcoming as it does. It naturally creates a calm space that welcomes guests and makes them feel at home.

If the flowers are too damp they may moulder if kept contained, so either use within a few days or dry them out for later use. When using dry flowers the oil and scent is less potent.

Scatter lavender around the outer boundary of your home chanting

Home and hearth

Joy and heart

Space of mine

Home divine.

This will encourage mischievous elements to stay outside the boundaries of your home, and will reinforce that your space is yours alone, and only those welcomed by you can enter.

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

Because it was widely available, lavender was used as an anti-bacterial agent in field hospitals during World War I. Recent studies by University of Glasgow have shown that lavender fights even antibiotic resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus so the medics of the time had good instincts!


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