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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

June, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Angelica

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.

Angelica2

 

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’!