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!


Notes from the Apothecary

June, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Angelica




A tall, stately plant that I remember well from my mother’s herbaceous garden when I was tiny, Angelica is as beautiful as the name suggests. Unlike many of the herbs in my Apothecary, Angelica can withstand quite cool climates and is found as far north as Iceland and Lapland. In seeming contradiction to this, the plant’s ruling astral body is the sun, and it is mostly closely associated with fire. Despite being classed as a masculine plant, Angelica is linked to the goddess Venus; deity of love, beauty, sex, prosperity and fertility. We can follow the link from the mother of Romans to Aphrodite, her Greek forebear, so Angelica is a perfect offering for either of these deities.

The Kitchen Garden

Angelica is yummy. Known as the ‘herb of the angels’, it is closely related to parsley and celery so it’s no surprise it has a flavour to back the relationship up. A diverse plant, the stems can be used to replace celery in recipes, and the younger shoots candied and used as sweets or cake decorations! The seeds are used to flavour wines and gin and the leaves to lend body to stews and pasta sauces. The Japanese even make tempura from angelica stems. Despite the myriad of uses for this wonder herb, the stuff is nigh on impossible to get a hold of (in the UK at least). Even candied Angelica diamonds, the mainstay of traditional Christmas Cakes, has left our supermarket shelves although you may still find it at small, independent stores. The only answer is to grow it yourself.

As a medicine…

One of the reasons Angelica is so widely used as a seasoning is because of the way it aids digestion. Angelica actually helps promote the production of digestive juices and bile, making it particularly useful (as well as flavoursome) with meat or fatty dishes. It is also an anti-spasmodic so a tea of the herb is excellent for stomach or uterus cramps.

As a diaphoretic, angelica is useful as an herb to bring fever down say during a cold or mild flu episode. The root is cleaned and bruised to free the juices. Boiling water is then poured over the root to create an infusion. This can be drunk 3 times a day.

The root can also be dried and powdered; I have a spice grinder for jobs like this, but you can use the traditional mortar and pestle if you wish.

Mixed with honey, angelica is effective at soothing a sore throat. The leaves also relieve flatulence after a heavy meal!

Science tells us…

Like its cousins parsley and celery, angelica is an emmenagogue, meaning it can stimulate menstrual blood flow. For this reason, you should avoid these plants if pregnant or trying to conceive. Users of warfarin should also avoid angelica as it can react badly and cause bleeding.

The Icelandic Science Institute have proven that there are compounds in angelica that can influence cancerous cells, but the ramifications of this are not yet fully understood. They are also researching the impact of angelica on the immune system. If proven to have a positive impact, this would justify the use of angelica as a tonic for the last few millennia!

In the Witch’s Kitchen…

In her Modern Botanical, Mrs Grieve tells us that Angelica was associated with ancient Pagan festivals, and that it wards against evil spirits and dark magic. Even after the advent of Christianity, the name Angelica was linked to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and was also known as the ‘Root of the Holy Ghost’ and held in much reverence for its protective properties.



Cunningham corroborates Angelica’s powers of protections, adding that bathing in the herb may help break a curse or hex upon one’s person. The plant is also used for exorcism, and to ward against negative energy. He also states that the plant was used in America as a gambling talisman, carried in the pocket.

Angelica can be combined with lavender to create a peace spell for home and hearth. It is also used in a similar fashion to protect new-borns; a piece of the root is hung in a bag near the child (not so near the child can reach it!).

Historically angelica has been associated with women’s health and reproduction, particularly women who are trying to conceive. However, as stated above, angelica promotes menstruation, not conception, so use with caution if this is your goal.

For you to try at home

Sow angelica seeds in a small pot and keep moist, but not over watered. When the seedlings have 4 leaves, move each into its own, larger pot. When the plants have a sturdy stem, move them into an eastern point in your garden. They will reach up to greet the rising sun, the fire of the skies, and the haunt of Venus. This is just one way you can tie your herbal garden into the elements and directions of your Pagan path, or of any path that observes the movement of the seasons and the skies.

If you don’t have a garden, just keep one plant on a windowsill that gets some sun, and give the others away. A healthy angelica plant would be a great gift! Remember though, the plant can get quite tall, so make sure you have enough room for it.

When the plant goes to seed, collect enough seeds (3 or 4 at least) to start a new batch of plants. The rest of the seeds, gather into your palms and hold them close to your chest, thinking of all the things you love about your hearth and home. At the new moon, walk the outside perimeter of your home, dropping a seed every few steps, imagining an invisible barrier appearing between the seeds that keeps all negativity out, but allows love, happiness and joy through both ways. When you have walked the full perimeter, thank the plant for its protection and ground yourself with wholesome food and water.

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

According to John Parkinson (1629), angelica used to be taken with wine as an anaphrodisiac, to ‘abate the rage of lust in young persons’!

Notes from the Apothecary: Mint

May, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: 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




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.



Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: 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!

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