spices

Notes from the Apothecary

February, 2019

Notes from the Apothecary: Cumin

Cumin is a fragrant spice in the apiaceae family, meaning it’s related to carrots, parsley, and the similar looking caraway. We use the seed of the plant in both cooking and magic.

Cumin has been used for thousands of years, and most likely originated near Syria, based on evidence from nearby excavation sites. Cumin was a table spice in Ancient Greece, a tradition which continues today in Morocco. The Romans adopted the use of cumin, and Spanish and Portuguese colonists eventually brought the spice to the Americas, where it is enjoyed in a range of cuisines.

The Kitchen Garden

Cumin is one of those mesmerising flavours that simply doesn’t taste like anything else. When I was first learning about cooking Indian food, I had not realised that cumin was such a commonly used ingredient. Adding it to my store cupboard changed my life. Most curries I cook now have whole cumin seeds fried until they pop and release their smoky, earthy goodness into the hot oil. Every chilli con carne is blessed with my kitchen’s holy triumvirate of cumin, coriander and turmeric, making the house smell simply divine.

Whole seeds and ground cumin are both readily available in grocery stores and supermarkets. I’ve found that the best value way to buy cumin is to visit an Indian or Mexican store or wholesaler, as shops that don’t specialise tend to bump the price up.

The Apothecary

Cumin seeds are used as a natural medicine all over the world. Alleged cumin medical properties include being an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antispasmodic, carminative, aromatic, digestive, and an emmenagogue. In their book about healthy seeds, Danny Sarmiento writes that cumin helps prevent the harmful effects of stress on the body. That must be why I love a cumin heavy curry on a weekend after a hard week!

Sarmiento also states that cumin can offer relief for asthma sufferers as it may dilate the airways. There’s also some indication that the seeds may be effective for treating diabetes.

The seeds are filled with nutritious vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese, so they’re a great addition to just about anyone’s diet.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham lists cumin in his encyclopaedia of magical herbs. He states the spice is masculine, associated with Mars and fire, which makes sense when you think of how this spice is often used in hot curries and Mexican food! Heat is definitely linked to cumin. But I also find it earthy, and grounding.

According to Cunningham, the spice is used for protection magic, to ensure fidelity, for exorcism and to prevent theft. Bread baked with cumin seeds won’t be stolen by spirits, so if you follow this superstition, don’t leave cumin-spiced bread out for the fair folk! Cumin can be burnt with frankincense to create a powerful protective incense. Scatter cumin and salt to create a protective boundary. Carry in a pouch at handfastings to drive negative thoughts or energies away from the happy couple. Or add some to the wine later on, for an exciting wedding night!

Home and Hearth

Mix cumin seeds with fine salt. Walk the boundary of your home at Imbolc or the Spring Equinox. Sprinkle the protective mix while you visualise your home as a safe and special place. Imagine the sun’s returning light suffusing your home with a warm, comforting glow. The salt and spice mix will keep negativity at bay, whilst allowing love entry, and encouraging loyalty.

I Never Knew…

There’s an old superstition that you should curse and shout as you sow cumin seeds, to ensure a good crop.

All images via Wikipedia or Wikimedia commons.

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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 Ancestorsand 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

The Kitchen Witch

November, 2018

Wicked Simple and Easy Black Beans and Rice

Every Thanksgiving, I make a huge dinner for my son and myself and sometimes his father – if he is in town from Florida – and maybe one or two other people. I always make homemade bread stuffing for the turkey that I lovingly roast. I make garlic mashed potatoes with creamy gravy. There is always some kind of squash on the table – butternut squash or acorn squash or perhaps a nice creamy mixture of several squashes, delicately seasoned. I can’t imagine any meal without a salad, so of course there is a large bowl filled with mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, sliced red onions, and other salad goodies. Neither my son nor I are great fans of cranberry sauce but if I have guests who crave some of that condiment, I happily cook down fresh cranberries, sugar, some citrus and spring water into a toothsome treat. And of course, there has to be some corn and some beans. I used to make either succotash or a green bean casserole – both yummy dishes – but now I make beans and rice. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I can make it up a day or two before the holiday and reheat it in minutes before the meal and it’s always yummy good. The second is that if I happen to have any vegetarians at my meal, I don’t have to worry about them not getting a nutritionally complete meal – beans and rice are a complete protein all by themselves. The third is – of course – I can have corn and beans on my table all in one luscious dish!

I make beans and rice all the time. It’s one of those things that I make a little differently every time I make it, depending on what I have on hand – I almost always have leftover rice, so I make a batch of beans and rice usually once a week. I prefer black beans over all other beans but I will use red beans or garbanzos or black-eyed peas or lentils or any kind of bean at all.

But for this recipe, you are going to want a can of black beans. I used day-old leftover rice but if you make it fresh, you will need a cup and a half. You will also need a half a can of corn, a medium-sized green pepper, a small onion or half a medium-sized one, some chunky salsa, and about two tablespoons of olive oil. And your seasonings: dried cilantro, dried parsley, garlic powder, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Start by chopping the green pepper and onion. You can have a rough chop on these. You need about a cup of each.

Put the olive oil in your pan and heat for sautéing and then add the peppers and onions. Give them a good stir and let sauté in the hot oil for about two minutes.

Then add the rice and mix well. Reduce the heat.

The next thing you want to do is add the black beans, but before you do that, you need to drain them and rinse them or else the liquid in the can will stain the entire dish. This is the only time I strain black beans.

After making sure there’s no moisture left on the beans, add them to the rice and peppers and onions mixture, mixing well.

You are not going to need the entire can of corn – if you want to buy a smaller can, go ahead but that’s much more expensive and there’s always something extra corn can be thrown into – soups, casseroles, potpies – so I don’t mind using half a can of corn and then saving the rest for some other use. And of course, you can always use frozen corn – the amount comes out to about 2/3 cup. And maybe you like lots of corn! And you want the entire can in there! Who knows? We’re all different. Anyway – add the corn and mix well. It’s looking really pretty, isn’t it?

After mixing the corn in, I add the salsa. I have to admit – I was a little light in the salsa department but there was enough to make it pretty and give it flavor. I also seasoned it with garlic powder, dried cilantro, dried parsley, sea salt and lots of black pepper.

At this point, it’s ready for serving or for putting into a container for saving for Thanksgiving dinner. This works well if you make it twenty-four hours in advance but I wouldn’t try to make it three or four days in advance. The peppers and onions don’t sit around that long very well.

Whether you are making this for your Thanksgiving dinner or just a quick meal on a chilly winter night, you can’t go wrong with the perfection of Wicked Simple and Easy Black Beans and Rice.

Until next month, Brightest Blessings!

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Dill

Feathery and fragrant, the herb dill is so much more than just a flavouring for fish dishes or pickles. This magical herb has been used for centuries as a medicine, and as a potent tool for magical practitioners. From a muscle toner for Greek athletes, to a medicine for treating boils, this versatile herb is truly fascinating.

The Kitchen Garden

You can find dill growing wild, so if you manage to harvest a few seeds, or purchase some from your local supplier, you could cultivate a little patch of dill yourself. It likes loose soil with good drainage, and you can plant the seeds directly where you want the herb to grow, ideally in a sunny spot. It’s an annual or biennial, which means that at most each plant lasts two years, or two growing seasons. However, it self-seeds, which means that you should get plenty of fresh seedlings the following spring.

The delightful, tiny yellow flowers are a real draw for bees, butterflies and other essential pollinators, so planting dill will definitely increase the number of visitors to your garden. Conversely, dill helps repel aphids and other pests, making it a great companion plant to cabbages, lettuce and many other food crops.

If you don’t have a garden, or quite frankly, the time and energy to grow herbs, dill is widely available at grocery stores as well as herbal retailers.

For culinary purposes, it’s normally the leaves that we’re talking about. Small amounts of leaves can be cut from each plant, so that you don’t kill the plant by harvesting. If you have more leaves than you need to use immediately, put some in a sandwich bag and pop them in the freezer. Don’t forget to label them!

Dill leaves can be added to salads, cheese (such as cottage cheese), soups and other foods as a garnish and to add flavour. Leaves or seeds can be added to a bottle of vinegar to create a unique, flavoured condiment.

The seeds are also used, primarily for flavouring the liquid that pickles are soaked in. Hence the term ‘dill pickles’.

These are but a very few of the culinary uses of dill. It is used all over the world in dishes from curry to crayfish. Because of this, it is relatively cheap, and very easy to get hold of.

The Apothecary

Charlemagne had dill tea made available for his guests who dined with him, to aid their digestion and prevent hiccups. It has been used as a ‘gripe water’ for infants, helping relieve colic and gas, but obviously don’t feed herbal remedies to children without consulting a pediatrician first.

It is normally the seed of dill that is used medicinally, as it has high amounts of the oil anethol, or anethole, also found in anise and caraway. Mrs Grieves recommended it as a stimulant and for easing stomach issues, flatulence and simply as an aromatic.

Modern research has found that the active oil has antimicrobial properties, which are effective against some bacteria, fungi and yeast. It’s even been found to be effective against salmonella in some instances.

It can also be used as an insecticide, which probably explains why it’s effective at repelling certain unwanted critters in our gardens.

Wash your hands after handling dill and don’t use the oil in massage. It causes photosensitivity so can lead to burning. Don’t take if pregnant or breastfeeding, as it can affect the uterus.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Mrs Grieve notes that during the Middle Ages, dill was used by magicians in spells and in charms against witchcraft. If this is true, we can surmise that there is a protective aspect to dill, particularly against supernatural or magical attack. Dill can be used in a poppet to provide protection to the person you are visualising. You could carry a sprig to ward off negative intentions towards yourself, or sprinkle some seeds around yourself and visualise a wall of light rising up from the seeds, protecting you from all harm.

In the bible, the Scribes and Pharisees are berated for paying a ‘tithe’, or tax of rich goods, but neglecting their morals and ethics. One of the items in the tithe is dill, along with mint and cumin, so we can assume that dill was very valuable. This can be translated magically into using the herb for money spells, perhaps a little in your purse to protect your existing funds, or used in a little pouch with other herbs to draw wealth towards you.

Both Culpeper and Cunningham assert that the plant is ruled by the planet Mercury, which one can also extend to include the god the planet is named for. This reaffirms the wealth and money connection, as the Roman god Mercury is strongly connected to financial gain, especially commerce and trading. He is also associated with eloquence, so dill could be used to help you find the words you need in a tricky situation. Linking the two, a charm made with dill is ideal for a sales person, as it will boost the holder’s communication skills and promote wealth coming to them.

Cunningham also states that placing dill in the cradle protects a child, which most likely links back to the herb having been used in children’s medicine for centuries. A sachet under the mattress where the child cannot reach it, or even under the bed or cot itself would be best for safety.

Home and Hearth

Sprinkle dried or fresh dill leaves or seeds around the boundary of your home to keep out unwanted visitors or negative energy. Walk widdershins (anti-clockwise) whist doing this if you feel there is an existing energy you need to banish. Walk deosil (clockwise) if you are wanting to boost the current mood or atmosphere in your home. You can boost the power of this simple spell by adding elemental energies, if appropriate to your path and beliefs. Sprinkle water, salt for earth, carry a candle for fire and walk the boundary again holding a lit incense stick to represent air. Don’t try and carry them all at once! Juggling candles and incense might seem impressive but actually it just leads to burnt fingers and clothing. If you are not mobile, hold the dill or have it near you, and visualise your energy surrounding your home or sacred space.

Once a year (I would do this at Imbolc as I have the idea of early spring cleaning firmly ingrained in my psyche) sweep the boundary and refresh your protective ward.

I Never Knew…

There is a superstition that burning dill leaves will cause thunderstorms to clear up.

Image Credits: Anethum graveolens by Forest and Kim Starr via Wikimedia Commons, copyright 2007; Dill seeds by o Alanenpää via Wikimedia Commons, copyright 2008.

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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.

For Amazon Information Click Images

Notes from the Apothecary

June, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Apple
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The apple is a fruit that is either revered or maligned, depending on which tradition or religion you look at. For Christians, it is the forbidden fruit, the ultimate temptation in the Garden of Eden. Strangely, the bible itself never names the type of fruit as an apple, and some studies suggest it may actually have been a fig, a pomegranate or even a grape. Despite this, the image of the apple as a fruit of seduction and forbidden knowledge has persisted into the modern age. For the Celts, however, there was nothing sinful about the apple at all. The fruit was associated with the afterlife, yet also with immortality and health. It was also closely associated with the faerie realm, and those who ate an apple whilst in the world of the good neighbours, would never again be able to return.

The Kitchen Garden

There is so much you can do with apples one hardly knows where to begin. For me, it’s my ‘go to’ fruit for jams and jellies. As well as making a fantastic preserve all by itself, it can be added to other fruits low in pectin (the setting agent for jelly and jam) to ease the preserving process. I’ve mixed apple with blackberry, blackcurrants, rowanberries, elderberries and even citrus fruit, all with good results.

As well as preserves, apples make fantastic crumbles, pies and cakes. One of my favourite apple cake recipes can be found here, and is an absolute doddle to make. I use eating apples rather than cooking apples, but experiment and find out what works for you.

 

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One of my favourite uses of apples is something I’ve not yet experimented with, and that’s the craft of making cider, or cyder. There is a difference, other than archaic spelling! Cyder is traditionally made from apples that have only been pressed once, rather in the same way that extra virgin olive oil is produced. Cider is made from a repressing of the same apple pulp, mixing it with water. This makes a longer and lighter drink. I’ve always fancied making my own apple press, although I have a friend who uses a hand blender on chopped apples, with some fantastic results! There’s a guide to making your own cider press here at Mother Earth News. If anyone does this or has done this please let me know how it turns out!

The Apothecary

Surely everyone has heard the aphorism, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ The original saying stems from 1866 and was originally, ‘Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.’ Pithy though these little rhymes are, the apple certainly has many qualities that recommend it as a health food, if not actually a cure-all.

The pectin mentioned previously is a type of soluble fibre, and we need fibre for a healthy diet. There is some evidence that pectin can also lower blood pressure and glucose levels. Apples also contain nutrients that promote healthy bones and brain, and they also contain vitamin C which boosts the immune system and keeps cells healthy.

So while apples won’t necessarily keep all ills at bay, they will certainly contribute to good all round health.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The apple appears throughout various myths from many different backgrounds. We briefly mentioned the Celtic links between apples and immortality. In Norse legend, the apple was given to the gods to provide them with eternal youth. Apples also appear associated with fertility, including the gift of an apple being given to one praying for a child. Apples are also associated with the goddess Hel, and possibly her realm of the same name, the ninth of the nine worlds on the world tree, Yggdrasil. Hel is a realm of the dead, so here we have apples associated with fertility and birth, long life, and death and the afterlife. They are a fruit of cycles, circles and representative of all aspects of being. They are of this world and of magical realms, and represent the link between this world and others.

The apple is also a symbol of poetic inspiration. A branch of apple can symbolise a Bardic or Ovate path. If seeking inspiration yourself, a leaf or small twig from an apple tree in your sacred place may help, or place an apple leaf under your pillow and see what dreams may come.

There is an old superstition that if you can peel an apple in one go, without removing the knife until the peel has come off all in one piece, then toss it over your shoulder whilst looking in a mirror, it will fall in the shape of the initial of your loved one to be. The root of this is most likely an older association with prophecy and fortune telling.

 

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Apples are strongly associated with magic of all kinds, in fact they are a kind of catalyst. Any spell can be ‘offered’ to an apple tree. Charge items with intent, and hang them from the tree, trusting that the intrinsic magic of the tree will aid your spell. Water the tree, and if your spell is successful, plant an apple pip at some point in the future as thanks.

The apple is a wonderful offering to many gods and goddesses (always research first though!), and also to the good neighbours (fairies), along with butter and milk.

Home and Hearth

Towards the end of summer, or start of winter, make a Wassail Bowl. There is a druidic celebration known as ‘Day of the Apple’ after Samhain, and a Wassail Bowl is one interpretation of the brew that was made at this time to ensure a good apple harvest the following season. You don’t have to wait until Samhain though. As soon as you have good apples, you can roast them, and mix them with ale, cider, honey or sugar (honey is nicer) and spices such as cinnamon or ginger, to make a warming, hearty drink to share with family and friends.

Pass your brew around while you brag and boast; not merely an excuse for showing off, but a serious exercise in sharing your ambitions and achievements with your loved ones and your gods. Any commitments made at this time must be seen through, or a forfeit paid.

I Never Knew…

In Greek mythology, Atalanta, the virgin huntress, was tricked into losing a race by Hippomenes rolling three irresistible golden apples in front of her. She had to marry him, which just shows, keep your mind on the job and your head in the game!

 

(Image credits: Top: Red Delicious, copyright Bangin via Wikimedia; Next, De Klok jam apple and roses, copyright Queeste via Wikimedia; Final, Malus Sylvestris, copyright Per Arvid Åsen via Wikimedia.)

 

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Mabh Savage is a Pagan author 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 Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

Notes from the Apothecary

October, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Oak

There are very few trees with as many mythological and folklore links as the oak. For many, the entire wheel of the year is based on the eternal battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, with the Oak King’s power now ebbing and fading as the nights draw in and the season gives way to autumn.

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Robert Graves drew on various myths and folklore to create the image of the two great spirits locked in endless struggle, in his book The White Goddess. However, the idea of light battling dark is, of course, much older than Graves’ description, and can be seen in folk dance, plays and local customs, particularly across Europe.

As well as the links to both ancient and modern seasonal Paganism, the oak is the haunt of Robin hood, a portent of weather, a crown for kings and commanders and a sacred tree for druids past and present.

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Image Copyright Mabh Savage 2016

The Kitchen Garden

Most trees bear some sort of solid fruit or seed, that can either float away on the wind, be carried away by animals or be eaten by animals and the indigestible seeds pooped out elsewhere, thus ensuring the life cycle of the tree continues.

Lots of creatures eat acorns, the fruit of the oak tree, but they are not very nice for us humans to eat. They are full of tannic acid, which makes them taste very bitter and unpleasant. They are, however, supposed to be very nutritious, and have even been used as an alternative food source in times of war. There is a sort of coffee substitute that can be made using acorns too. See eattheweeds.com for more information on eating acorns safely. I’ve never been tempted myself!

Acorns appear in Korean cuisine, as a kind of jelly and also in noodles. Acorns have also been a staple food in the diet of native Americans. In Stone Age Europe, it’s likely that acorns were a much larger part of the diet than they are today, as huge areas of Europe were covered in massive oak forests that have mainly now, alas, given way to cities and agriculture.

As a kitchen witch you could use oak utensils to stir magic or strength into our food or brews. You can also decorate your cooking space with leaves or acorns for seasonal emphasis, or simply to make your kitchen beautiful. Always thank the tree for anything you take or receive. Image Credit: Brosen, via Wikimedia

The Apothecary

I have found several anecdotes regarding a ‘juice’ made with acorns being given to drunkards in the 17th century, to help them resist their addiction. I could not track down the source for this though!

Mrs Grieves tells us that it is the bark which is most useful in medicine, as it is highly astringent, making it useful for diarrhoea, dysentery, agues, haemorrhages and even as a substitute for quinine.

Galen of Pergamon thought the leaves could be bruised then used to heal wounds.

Other uses

Like many hardwoods, oak is used to make furniture, floors, building timber and as a veneer. More interestingly, oak is often used for the barrels that brandy and whiskey age in.

Both acorns and acorn caps can be used to produce red or black dyes, and have been used for this purpose since the stone age.

The caps also make cute hats for tiny figures!

The Witch’s Kitchen

The oak is generally thought of today as masculine; the image of the lord of summer and the heart of the wildwood. Oak leaves can decorate your altar at midsummer, to bring the green man at his peak into your home. Thor is also associated with the oak, having sheltered beneath its boughs. There are also strong links to Zeus and Jupiter.

However, the oak is also associated with the archetypal goddess of plenty, as seen in figurines such as the Woman of Willendorf, which could date back to 28000 BCE. On sacredthreads.net Tracy Boyd hypothesises that the familiar rotund figure is composed entirely of acorns, representing the focus of a people that lived in huge oak forests; a ‘Dianic Acorn Mother’. This is an idea I identify with greatly. emis from the Greek pantheon and Diana from the Roman pantheon also have a connection to acorns, and if you are involved in their worship, acorns are excellent offerings.

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Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Acorns on the windowsill are supposed to protect a house from lightning. Acorns can also be hung on the end of blind strings for the same reason.

Carrying an acorn in your pocket is supposed to hold off the aging process, but I nearly always have some on me and I tell you, the wrinkles are still coming!

Stagandeagle (Iolair) on WordPress tells us that witches used to use the acorn as a symbol to show other witches that they were in safe company, however he does not cite a source for this and I have not found anything to back this up. It’s a lovely idea though.

The oak also represents strength, and it is for this reason the leaves are often seen as emblems of military prowess. Oak leaves or bark can be ground and used in spell pouches to promote courage or bravery, or to help face a specific confrontation.

In Irish Celtic mythology, the oak is often found at moments of great change or transformation, and this power can be incorporated in your own working.

The acorn is the ultimate symbol of something tiny growing into something huge and even beyond our comprehension. For this reason, the acorn is sometimes seen as a symbol of knowledge, and the oak itself as the tree of wisdom.

Home and Hearth

Decorate your summer solstice altar with oak leaves to symbolise the height of summer, and the power of the Oak King or Green Man in Summer.

Gather acorns in the fall. They will be green at first, and as they dry will quickly fade to brown, emulating the changing season outside.

At the next full moon, plant an acorn you found yourself into a small pot of soil. As you cover the seed, think of something you wish to grow. Are you working on a project you want to see blossom? Do you wish to grow an aspect of yourself; your confidence, kindness, or a sense of joy? Perhaps you want to increase your personal connection to nature? This small spell is ideal for that. Few things remind us more of the power and complexity of nature than growing something from seed.

When the seed is covered and you have your thoughts and intent in order, dribble water slowly onto the soil, musing on the cyclical nature of the rains, how they soak into the earth, feed the soil and seeds, and how some returns to the rivers, seas and eventually skies.

Your spell pot should sit on a windowsill as it needs light. To boost germination, you can place a clear plastic bag around the pot, creating a tiny greenhouse. Each time you meditate on your desire, bring the pot, or sit close to it. Once leaves appear, you know the magic is working and you should work even harder at attaining your goal. If that tiny seed can stretch delicate leaves to burst through tough soil, you can follow its lead and achieve anything!

I Never Knew…

Irish folklore holds that the timing of the oak’s first leaves determines how much rain will fall through spring and summer:

If the oak before the ash,
Then we’ll only have a splash.
If the ash before the oak,
Then we’ll surely have a soak!