fruit

Notes from the Apothecary

January, 2019

Notes from the Apothecary: Star Anise

Star anise is a beautiful, fragrant spice from China and Vietnam often used in cooking and medicine. The Latin name is illicium verum. The fruits are green and resemble star-shaped flowers when first picked. When they are dried, the fruits harden and turn a dark, reddish brown and the star shape becomes more prominent. The ‘arms’ of the star pop open to revel smooth, shiny brown seeds.

The whole fruit is used as a seasoning for many different types of cuisine, most notably in the Chinese five spice mix which is widely used in Oriental cooking. The star shape makes this fruit immediately intriguing as a magical ingredient. The powerful, aniseed-like scent speaks of mystery and wonder, whether it’s rising from a specially seasoned morning coffee or some carefully crafted incense. Read on for more information on how star anise is used in medicine and magic.

The Apothecary

The first point in using star anise as a medicine is to ensure it is never confused with Japanese star anise. Japanese star anise, or illicium anisatum, is also known as the Sacred Tree and is highly revered by Buddhists. The leaves are used as incense, but the fruits and seeds are highly toxic. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between dried Japanese and Chinese star anise fruit. Because of this, it’s important to purchase your star anise from a reputable and experienced supplier. Alternatively, if you’re able to grow your own, this is the safest way forward. If in doubt, do not consume, as the toxic substance anisatin causes severe inflammation of the urinary and digestive tracts. Chinese star anise is the only edible variety and the only variety that should be used for medicinal purposes.

Now that the dire warnings are out of the way, the good news is that Chinese star anise is incredibly medicinally important. It’s one of the primary source of shikimic acid which is used in anti-influenza drugs. There are many sources of shikimic acid, but star anise is so relied upon that when there is a serious flu outbreak, global shortages of the spice tend to occur.

Web MD states that star anise is also used for a range of ailments including colic and other digestive issues, coughs, bronchitis and congestion. It may be useful as a galactagogue; a substance that promotes the flow of breast milk. However, it should be avoided during pregnancy as can affect the uterus.

Mrs Grieve states in her Modern that the oil from Chinese star anise is identical to oil of anise, from the unrelated anise plant. This is why the two plants have such a similar taste. Many animals are highly attracted to anise oil. Hunt saboteurs have been known to use it to throw hounds off the trail of a pursued fox or hare, and it has historically been used in mouse traps as bait.

The Witch’s Kitchen

In The Green Wiccan by Silja, star anise is one of the 52 herbs she focuses on as important tools of magic. The author states that star anise is an herb of the element of air. This means it would make a beautiful addition to the eastern point of an altar or sacred space, and an ideal ingredient for any incense.

Star anise is associated with the planet Jupiter, associated with expansion and luck (Practical Planetary Magick, David Rankine and Sorita d’Este). Jupiter has historically been known as beneficent and positive, meaning plants associated with it, such as star anise, can be used for magic with a positive leaning. Jupiter is also associated with law and ethics, meaning it can be connected to justice and doing the right thing. Use star anise to gain success in business ventures or new projects.

Star anise is also linked to Apollo and Hermes, making it a tool of poetry, music, traveling and communication. and poetry can, of course, be tools for communication, which makes me wonder if this is one of star anise’s strongest traits. Perhaps a witch could use star anise to find different ways to deliver a difficult message, or to open up about something they’re having a hard time expressing.

Silja links this plant to magic for consecration and purification, which can be done via incense or scattering the seeds. The author also states the spice can be used for breaking curses and removing negativity, particularly when used in food.

Home and Hearth

Press a whole star anise into a green or gold candle. Use a blob of melted wax to stick it there, or ensure the candle is soft before you do this. Any time you need to do something regarding prosperity or wealth, light the candle and meditate on the flame for a moment. This could be a visit to the bank, a job interview, a business meeting or even a yard sale. The star anise combined with the coloured candle magic will boost your chances at success and prosperity. (Paraphrased from The Green Wiccan by Silja.)

Kitchen witches should add star anise into their recipes for a boost of humour and joviality in their lives. Indian cookery is great for this. My favourite is a biryani; a fragrant rice dish with whole star anise.

I Never Knew…

The Latin name for Chinese star anise, illicium verum, originates from illicio which means ‘alluring’. This refers to the irresistible scent of the fruit.

Image credits: guangxi – star anise farm in china 2005 by fuzheado via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

Mindful Meditations

September, 2018

 

     As we honor the energies of the West while entering Autumn — the season of reaping what we have sown during the second harvest of Mabon – we are encouraged to take a moment to show gratitude for our abundance. Our crops have borne fruit which is being stored for the darkening season and our fields are growing hearty vegetables which we will reap at the third harvest, Samhain.

 

Items Needed

-sunset location

-cup of drinkable water

-writing utensil

-paper (or the like)

 

Choose a preferably clear day to watch the sunset while sitting in nature. This mediation will still work from indoors but we are Pagan so nature is our place of worship. Face the West as you observe the colors of the sky, hear the sounds around you, feel the wind. Acknowledge that with each setting sun, completes the cycle as the day transforms into night, just as summer turns to autumn. Now get into a comfortable position and sit with your cup of water. Stare into the water, scry upon its surface. Reflect upon 20 things you are grateful for in this moment, this day, this year, this lifetime. Jot them down as they come to you. Feel free to write more than 20 but do not write less. When you are satisfied with your list, notice the feeling of gratitude within you. Imagine you are channeling that feeling through your hands and into the cup of water you’re holding. Imagine the molecules gently vibrating with warm, white light. Acknowledge your gratitude for the water and drink from your cup. Thank the water for nourishing you. Thank the West, the sunset, and nature around you, for holding sacred space during your Mindful Meditation. Thank yourself for taking the time to reflect upon your abundance in gratitude.

 

Blessed Be!

 

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About the Author:

(Amy Dubenetsky & Becky Coates, respectively; Writers of the Mindful Meditations column & Coven Sisters.)

This Mindful Meditation is brought to you by Amy Dubenetsky, a Bodyworker/Reiki Practitioner/Witch based out of Manchester, CT whom leads group meditations as well.  Amy is deeply involved with her Coven, Organic Farming, and various Dance Communities across the country.

Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @bodyandbeyond444.

Notes from the Apothecary

October, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Pumpkin

 

 

It’s that magical time of year again, where anything that can be fragranced or flavoured seems to take on the aroma of a combination of vanilla and pumpkin, with the emphasis on the sweetness of this gorgeous gourd. But why do we revere the pumpkin at this time of year? The answer comes from Irish Celtic history, and the seasonal nature of the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) itself.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Although the pumpkin, like other squashes, originated in North America, it can now be found all over the world. It’s classed as a ‘winter squash’ due to the fruits ripening around autumn and winter time. This is one of the main reasons it is so widely in use throughout Samhain and into the Thanksgiving and Christmas/Yule periods.

 

The fabulous thing about pumpkins is that so much of the plant is edible. You have probably eaten the flesh at some point, either in pies, soup or puddings. You may even have eaten pumpkin seeds, which are tasty roasted and salted or used in baked goods such as bread. But did you know you can even eat the flowers of pumpkins? The only downside to this is, if you eat a pumpkin flower, it cannot then be pollinated and grow into a pumpkin!

 

In Korea and some parts of Africa, even the leaves are eaten. In Zambia, they are boiled and mixed with groundnut paste.

 

Pumpkin is great in sweet or savoury food, and can be combined with other squashes easily. A touch of chilli adds a fiery zing, and other warming spices such as cinnamon transform a very earthy plant into a symbol of fire.

 

Growing pumpkins requires a good bit of space, and although you can start them off indoors, they really need moving outside onto a large pile of compost where they can spread out. We only grow our squashes on the allotment, as there simply isn’t room in the garden; not if we want to have space for anything else!

 

The Apothecary

Because the pumpkin was only discovered upon the exploration of North America, some of the older herbals don’t cover it in great depth. In Mrs Grieves’ Modern , she lumps the pumpkin in with watermelon, although she does clearly state that it is a very different plant. She says the pumpkin is sometimes known as the melon pumpkin, or ‘millions’; a term which has certainly gone out of fashion today.

 

She states that in combination with other seeds such as melon, cucumber and gourd (Grieves cites this as cucurbita maxima, a south American squash), an emulsion can be formed which is effective for catarrh, bowel problems and fever. She also tells us that melon and pumpkin seeds are good worm remedies, even for tapeworm.

 

For our furry friends, high-fibre pumpkin can be added to the diet of cats or dogs to aid digestion. It is also sometimes fed to poultry to keep up egg production during the colder months. Always speak to your vet before changing your pet’s or livestock’s diet.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

Pumpkins appear throughout folklore and fairy tales, often in themes of transformation. Think of Cinderella, whisked off to her ball in a coach which only a few minutes before was a giant pumpkin. The pumpkin is a symbol of our hearts’ desires, travelling towards our goals and the transformation of dreams into reality.

 

We mustn’t forget that the coach turned back into the pumpkin at midnight! This reminds us to enjoy what we have while we have it, to grasp the opportunities in front of us as we never know when they might disappear.

 

A piece of pumpkin or pumpkin seeds on your altar represents autumn moving into winter, the final harvest and goals of self-sufficiency; whether literally through living off the land and growing your own food, or through honing your passion into a craft that can support you.

 

I will have pumpkin seeds at north in my sacred space, to remind me of all the ‘seeds’ I have planted this year which I hope will grow into greater things even through the cold months; ideas for songs and poems, research into my ‘magical birds’ book, and plans to save money in preparation for our new baby. These are my seeds, and I need to nurture them. Just like the pumpkin, they need care, attention and feeding! Pumpkins need compost, sunshine and water, whereas my ideas need hard work, time and commitment.

 

Home and Hearth

The archetypal ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ most likely comes from the Irish and Scottish Celts, who would have carved a face into a turnip or swede, placed a light within and used this as an amulet to ward off evil spirits, or possibly as a guiding light for ancestral or guardian spirits. When colonists came to America carrying these traditions with them, they found the larger and softer pumpkin; a much better vehicle for the carved totems! And so the pumpkin became the new guiding light of Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve and eventually, Hallowe’en.

 

It’s only the seeds that you need to remove from a pumpkin in order to leave a space for the light inside, and you can keep a few of these seeds to try and cultivate your own plants next year. If you are able to do this (and I appreciate not everyone has the space to grow a pumpkin plant- they are quite large!) this will create a cyclical connection between this year’s and next year’s magic, cementing continuity and your own connection to the turning season.

 

If this simply isn’t practical, keep a few of the seeds on your altar or in a sacred space, as a reminder of the different stages of life reflected in the changing seasons.

 

If you scrape some of the flesh out as well as the seeds, keep this and cook with it at Samhain. You are making the most of your pumpkin, using as much of it as you can to avoid waste, and you are connecting your magical lantern to your Samhain feasting.

 

The lantern can be placed in a window, or on a doorstep if it is safe to do so. If you use a naked flame such as a candle or tealight, please be aware of animals and children, especially during trick-or-treating! The last thing you want is some small child setting themselves on fire or spilling hot wax on themselves. A great alternative is one of those LED candles which you can now pick up very cheaply.

 

 

 

 

The lantern guards your space, keeping away unwanted visitors, and guiding your ancestral spirits to where they need to be, including back beyond the veil once the period of Samhain has passed.

 

I Never Knew…

The word ‘pumpkin’ originates from the Greek word pepon, which means ‘large melon’, which may explain how it sometimes ends up under the melon section in older herbals!

 

Image credits: Pumpkins Hancock Shaker Village, public domain; Photograph of a homegrown pumpkin species, “Atlantic Giant”, (cucurbita maxima), copyright Ude 2009 via Wikimedia; Nathan looking at Jack O’ Lantern display in Benalmadena, copyright 2016 Mabh Savage.

 

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About the Author:

 

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.