Deborah J. Martin - A witch and a bitch with an herbal itch - and an overactive imagination.
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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes Redux

October 17th, 2014

Y’know, I’ve been known as The Herby Lady for quite some time (5 years or more?) but that’s not all of who I am. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve written two fiction books, too. (If you like urban fantasy, a quick read and something suitable for young or new adults, you might like them. Hint, hint.)


For the last little while, I’ve been thinking I should expand my “public presence” beyond herbs. It took some doing (and more coffee than I care to admit) but I finally got the new site up & running. You’ll now be able to find me at I still have some tweaking to do but it’s fully operational.

If you follow my blog, you’ll want to update that link in your reader, too. This site will go away in a few days but never fear: if you forget to update any links & type in this one, you’ll get redirected. I’m still The Herby Lady (LLC) :D and will keep this domain.

I’ll see you at the new house!



October 9th, 2014

I’m always curious about folk healing. First, because it was around (and mostly effective) long before science took over. Second, because it’s interesting to see both similarities and differences between cultures. It’s especially interesting to note how the same herb is used for the same thing, regardless of what part of the world you may be in. Lastly, most folk healing recognizes the connection between our mind, body and spirit – something that is sorely lacking in today’s medicine.

When this introductory course on curanderismo (folk healing in the southwestern US, Mexico and parts of Central & South America) was announced, I saw it as an opportunity to learn about another culture and hey, it was FREE.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. The course really should be entitled, “Introduction-Lite”. A maximum of 45 minutes’ of videos a week and a multiple-choice test (where you get two tries to get it right?) doesn’t give a whole lot of information. They don’t explain some things at all – just demonstrate. I’m guessing it’s a teaser to get you to take the two-week, in-person course they offer every summer at the University of New Mexico. For me, ain’t gonna happen – I have obligations that keep me in the office, y’know?

One of the things that sort of befuddled me was in the video about making tinctures (yer standard folk method), they mention that in Mexico, caña is generally used as the menstruum. That’s effectively a cane sugar version of Everclear. In lower proofs, you know it better as rum. However, in the video, they used vodka. That got me a little confused because cane sugar alcohol is readily available here in the US. So, I visited my favorite bartender, who just happens to be from Guadalajara, and asked him. He, too, was confused. But I got a tidbit from him I’ll share with you:

Caña isn’t much available outside the border states with Mexico. That said, apart from your favorite brand of rum (which comes in both 80 and 100 proof if you make your tinctures scientifically), there is something called aguardiente. Here you have to be careful because that can be made with something other than cane sugar but … it comes as high as 54% alcohol, which is 108 proof. Carlos says it’s smoother than rum and, understanding what I was getting at with my questions, thought it would make a more palatable tincture than straight vodka or rum. Although vodka is considered a “cleaner” alcohol than rum (and thus would make a better tincture), I really don’t like the taste of vodka – even in drops –  so I’m going to get some aguardiente and try it.

Back to the course: I had a lot more luck poring through their “recommended reading” books than watching the videos. Although you will never learn to be a curandero/a (the Spanish language differentiates nouns between the masculine & feminine, if you didn’t know) without studying/apprenticing under someone, the reading gave a lot more in-depth information on how they go about things. Of the five books recommended, I found the following two of the most interest:

Woman Who Glows in the Dark by Elena Avila

Sastun by Rosita Arvigo

The first because it’s written by someone with extensive experience in the allopathic (scientific medicine) world who left it behind to follow her heritage. The second because, although it doesn’t really go into a lot of detail, it’s written by someone who grew up in the United States with our allopathic system and apprenticed under a curandero in Belize.

Although I like my doctor, I wish there was a curandero/a nearby. I think it’s important to treat the whole person and, although she tries, my doctor doesn’t have time because she’s dependent on that insurance reimbursement.  If he was a hierbero (or yerbero), we could compare notes between their use of herbs & mine – I studied Western herbalism. I’d find that fascinating.

October is Here!

October 1st, 2014


Forget the candy that gets passed out solely on 31st October. Witches do it right – fun crafts, recipes and giveaways throughout the entire month!

So, go check out these folks:

Red Wheel/Weiser Books is giving away books and a tote bag on their Facebook page.

Jen over at Rue and Hyssop is doing her annual Great October Book Giveaway. One every 4 days for the entire month!

Last but not least, check out the fun at Samhain’s Sirens. A new page goes up every Monday through Saturday. (You might want to pay close attention to Fridays. Just sayin’. ;) )

Follow individual instructions to enter their giveaways. Who knows? You could win some cool stuff!

Straining Herb-Infused Liquids

September 29th, 2014

I was straining the latest batch of my hair rinse yesterday and had a “duh” moment.

I usually strain any herb-infused liquid by balancing a mesh strainer over a measuring cup (or jar) and lining the strainer with a coffee filter. (Yes, I know those aren’t reusable but they do degrade nicely in my compost bin. They have the added benefit of catching all but the tiniest particles of ground herb – something even an old nylon stocking doesn’t do.)

I wanted to strain directly into the jug I was going to store it in but I can’t do that with the strainer (too large a permeable area) and lining a funnel is a real PITA. Since I was in the kitchen and not down in the shop, the “duh” moment came rather quickly – an old, single-cup coffee doohickey I haven’t used in years sitting, with a box of its filters, on one of the top shelves of my cupboards. One of these (image from Amazon):Single CupThis has the added benefit of sitting squarely on top of whatever you put it on – my mesh strainer has a tendency to slew to one side or another because it’s rounded.

I wouldn’t recommend using this for straining oils. The hole at the bottom is tiny and it would take forever to get oil through first the filter then that small opening. But for infused vinegars, like my hair rinse, or tinctures, it works great. It only took about 10 minutes to cleanly strain a half-gallon of vinegar.

Rearranging Social Media

September 25th, 2014

My personal friends know but I thought I’d make it very public: I’m leaving Facebook.

For quite some time, I’ve been first frustrated, then disgusted with Facebook thinking they’re god (or at the very least, my parents). They decide what I can see when and that includes not showing posts from pages I’ve liked. If I’ve “liked” a page, don’t you think I want to see updates from them? I shouldn’t have to “get notifications” (and that doesn’t always work, either). Over the last several weeks I’ve also noticed that I don’t get to see all my friends’ status updates, or they’ll show up in my news feed 12-24 hours after the actual post. Some of them even appear in my “pages” feed.

The last straw was this bit of news that Facebook was going to deactivate personal accounts that didn’t sport a “real name”. As the article points out, there are tons of reasons to use a pseudonym on the Internet. Although I use my real name, I understand why a lot of people don’t. Some witches aren’t out of the broom closet, nor are LGBTQs out of their closet – for good reason. The Internet has become a place to track down, stalk, harass & threaten. Sure, you can report someone to Facebook but by that time, the damage is already done.

And as for Facebook’s “get a page” to the drag queens? As of this morning, I had 734 likes on my Facebook page. Of the few posts I made in the last week, 10% or less of those likes saw those posts. One page I do get to see some updates from complained that of her over 14,000 likes, less than 100 saw her posts. So, those queens will lose the interaction with their friends/fans by 90% or more unless they pay to promote their posts. It’s about the almighty dollar – something I certainly don’t have. (And if you pay, you still don’t make it into the newsfeed of all your likes. Just a percentage of them – and that’s not a firm guarantee.)

I”ll keep my Facebook page for another month or so and then that will disappear, as well. I’d originally thought to keep it active but I chewed on it overnight & changed my mind. If only 10% of the folks that like my page are seeing my posts, it’s a lot of effort for not a lot of return. I’ve reactivated my Google+ account and I’ll be more active there than Facebook. I’m not going to have a business page on G+ … just separate out what I want the public to see versus my family and friends.

I’m still on Twitter. But, if Twitter decides to curate my timeline based on some algorithm they’ve chosen, I”ll leave there. too.

There is a new social networking site being talked about amongst my friends. It’s called “Ello”. I took a look around what you can see without actually being on there (you need an invite to join) and I can’t find where they plan on making their money. Ads? Selling data? Someone has to pay for at least the domain name & server usage. Until I know how it will operate, I’m not willing to test it. At least I know how the other sites are using my data. (Well, perhaps not but better the beast you know…)

If Facebook is the only way I have to interact with you, I will miss you. But I don’t like the way that site is being run and my only option is to vote with my feet. It’ll also save my sanity a bit – I won’t get frustrated with not seeing things I really wanted to see.

A Cautionary Tale

September 18th, 2014

Necessary disclaimer: This post is my experience and should not be construed as medical advice. Also, I know my own body. Some of my symptoms can be indicative of more serious issues. Please consult your healthcare professional for any health difficulties.

Three weeks ago, I got a urinary tract infection. It happens on occasion, sometimes frequently, as a woman gets older and her natural secretions dry up and even change pH. A real pain, to be sure.

This one didn’t respond quickly to my preferred herbal therapy (massive doses of cranberry extract and gallons of water) and I didn’t want to take any more time trying something else so I called my doctor to get an antibiotic prescription. (UTIs can be dangerous. The bacteria can travel up your urinary tract, into your kidneys and from there to your bloodstream. If you get one and it doesn’t go away within 24 hours on an herbal protocol, call your doctor.) I requested a particular antibiotic that I know works on me and is fairly mild as far as those go.

My doctor is wont to automatically prescribe an anti-fungal when she prescribes antibiotics for women because 9 times of 10, women will get a yeast infection when on an antibiotic regimen. The drugs kill not only the bacteria causing the infection but also upset the rest of the balance in your system. I know from experience that if I eliminate refined sugar from my diet during the 7 days on the drugs plus 2 days afterward, I don’t have to take yet another Rx. (Yeast feeds on sugar.) I did that, complaining about missing my sweets for the whole nine days.

What I forgot, though, is to add a probiotic into my diet to counteract the rest of the imbalance.

Two days into the Rx, I started belching a lot more than normal. I didn’t think much of it until a week ago, a few days after finishing the antibiotic prescription, I was awakened out of a sound sleep at 3am with a bonfire in my chest. I’ve never had heartburn before but damn! Now I feel really sorry for those people who get it frequently. At that hour, in the middle of my sleep cycle, I couldn’t remember my own name, much less what herbs I had in stock that might be good for heartburn. Thankfully, I dug grandma’s solution out of the depths of my brain: a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and a half hour of pacing around the house (to let gravity help get the acid back down where it belongs) and I could finally go back to sleep.

Next night, the same thing. Only this time it was two doses of baking soda and an hour of pacing. I don’t think well without a good night’s sleep so it took those two days for the dime to drop that I’d forgotten the probiotic. You see, for the first time in my life, those antibiotic pills had also disrupted my normal stomach function – something the probiotic would’ve handled if I’d remembered to take it. So, an emergency trip to the store was in order!

Even though the stomach acid problem was brought on relatively quickly, bringing the body and all its integrated systems back into balance doesn’t happen overnight. All that excess acid (and my – sigh – smoking) has irritated my lower esophageal sphincter, bringing on dysphagia. That’s where either something is stuck in your gullet or it feels like something is stuck. I know there’s no blockage because I’m not having any difficulty swallowing food. But it’s really uncomfortable; that irritation has to be calmed while the probiotics do their thing.

So, another trip to the store for some slippery elm powder for its demulcent (soothing) effects. It’s tough to find just a jar of powder locally but I got some in capsules that I can open. One a day into a glass of water. I don’t want to just swallow the capsule & let it get digested – I want that powder sliding past & hitting the irritation. I’ll do this until I feel the irritation is completely gone – probably another couple of days.

Six days into the probiotics and three into the slippery elm and I’m finally feeling something closer to normal. At least I’m able to sleep through the night again. And so are the cats! They definitely were upset that they had to get out of their cozy places to supervise my pacing around a dark house in the middle of the night.

So, if you have to be on an antibiotic for something, be aware that it will not only kill the unwanted bacteria but also the good bacteria normally found in your body.


On Cronehood

September 5th, 2014

The Sunday Stew is looking for a crone to contribute to their weekly blog. (If you’re interested, contact Kallan or Jennifer through that site.) Not that I think I have anything interesting to say on a weekly basis but the call got me to thinking…



Google’s definition of crone is, “an old woman who is thin and ugly”. Merriam-Webster? “A withered old woman.” “A withered, witchlike old woman.”  Ummm… Definition #2 on “An archetypal figure, a Wise Woman.” Not unflattering, but… discusses crone as the third stage of the triune goddess of Maiden/Mother/Crone. They say the Crone is, ” [...] the final stage. She is the hag and the wise woman, the darkness of night, and eventually death. She is the waning moon, the chill of winter, the dying of the earth.”

When I was growing up, crone was (and to a certain extent still is) a derogatory term. I can remember Mom referring to her mother-in-law as “an old crone”. (They didn’t get along.) Sometime later, I understood a crone to be a woman who had passed menopause. Stepdad’s mother qualified in that regard…

Let’s see: I’m thin; I don’t think I’m pretty but I don’t think I’m ugly, either; I’m not withered; outwardly not very witchlike; still learning, so maybe not so wise; but I am past menopause!

Yes, I’m approaching “old” but I’m not there, yet! Body parts may not work the way they used to and I may not be able to stay up all night partying anymore (without paying a heavy price), but my enthusiasm for life certainly hasn’t waned. If anything, it’s waxed.

Two of seven? Not sure I qualify…

No one is ever free from the responsibilities of daily life. My 100-year-old mother-in-law still pays attention to her finances and has a full daily schedule, even though she lives in a nursing home. Okay, perhaps some are. My mother is free from those responsibilities but not in a good way. However, being semi-retired and an empty-nester gives me more freedom to pursue interests I wouldn’t have been able to shoehorn into my schedule twenty years ago and still get a good night’s sleep. I was able to go back to school at age 49 and yet relax in my recliner to read or watch a ball game in the evenings.

(There is a caveat to the above: there are people who are free from the pain-in-the-ass of bill paying, meal-cooking, house maintenance and even child-rearing. They’re called rich and hire others to do such things. I’m not one of them and I suspect you aren’t, either.)

Wise? If you count learning from life’s experiences and making an effort not to repeat mistakes or faux pas as wiser, then yes, I suppose I am. That’s not to say I still don’t put my foot in my mouth far enough to chew my ankle on occasion. But everyone gets wiser in that regard on a daily basis. That’s just part of living. Or should be.

I think the one thing I’ve noticed the most as time has gone by is: issues that used to really bother me are no longer worth the expenditure of energy, either mundanely or magically. As a result, my heart rate stays calmer and major spellwork is rare. I don’t mind little stuff, like reinforcing work I’ve already done but if it comes to something big, I’ll think about it long and hard before I put forth that sort of effort. It’s not being lazy, it’s reserving energy for something truly important. (And maybe just a little lazy on occasion. ;) )

So, that’s my 2¢ on being a crone. Am I? Are you?

Homemade Toothpaste

August 1st, 2014

brush-41753_640I’ve been making my own tooth powder (actually only baking soda with some Peppermint EO mixed in) for quite some time. It worked fine but just didn’t quite make my teeth feel squeaky-clean and I didn’t really enjoy waiting for all the powder to dissolve in my mouth. A few months ago, this recipe popped onto my radar. Ooh, a paste! I like that!

I don’t have any Xylitol, didn’t really see why I had to add something to sweeten it and finding really natural Xylitol is difficult. (Most of it is processed from corn with all sorts of manmade chemicals. Ick.) A comment on that blog said that Xylitol is a necessary ingredient because of its antibacterial properties. Well…do some research. There are plenty of other alternatives there! I added a half-part of powdered Sage leaves to the recipe for its antimicrobial & teeth-whitening properties.

I also didn’t want to go to the expense of buying a half-pound of powdered calcium for an experiment. Threw a few calcium tablets into my handy-dandy coffee grinder and voilà! Powdered calcium.

So, I made up a small batch, sans Xylitol, and tried it. Not bad! Made my teeth feel clean. After a few uses, I could see a slight whitening effect. Remineralization? Not so much but then again, I still do all the stuff bad for your teeth – smoke, drink coffee, cola, wine… I also didn’t change a damned thing in my diet as the blog suggested. Okay, maybe a little remineralization happened. One spot in my mouth that I can’t see because I don’t have any fancy dental tools was sensitive to sweets. It’s not anymore. I’ll know more when I go for my semi-annual checkup in a couple of months.

When making the second batch, I forgot the Peppermint essential oil. It still didn’t taste bad – just bland.

So, it works. I only have one quibble with this recipe & it has nothing to do with its efficacy:

Because it’s made with coconut oil, it’s oily (duh). I’m not the neatest brusher in the world & the oil dripping along with my saliva makes the toothbrush slippery. The same oily saliva dripping into the sink isn’t easy to clean up. It just doesn’t rinse well, y’know? It means I have to actually clean my sink on a daily basis. Being a lazy-but-neat-freak somebody, this doesn’t make me happy. But not unhappy enough to stop using it.

Once More Into the Breach

July 28th, 2014


(Warning: I’ve spent an entire weekend trying to put something behind me. Didn’t work. I’m still pissed. Strong language follows.) /begin rant/

In a medicinal/health context, I’ve harped on personal responsibility & doing research in the past (here and here as examples).

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been posting – cough – interesting things I’ve found while reading The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells. They are spells & recipes from about 200 BCE to about 400 CE. Bear in mind that I have my Facebook page linked to my Twitter account so I try to keep posts within 140 characters where possible. Friday afternoon, I posted the following:

Try this? “To keep fleas out of the house: Wet rosebay with salt water, grind it and spread it”. Rosebay is Oleander or Rhododendron.

Please note the quotation marks. Not my recipe. I will admit I could’ve worded my comment a little differently or maybe put a smiley face in there but nonetheless…

Within a few minutes a woman I’d never had any interaction with carved me a new one on Facebook. Those plants are poisonous. [No shit. Even the ancient Greeks knew that.] I should have put a warning in my post. I should have put a disclaimer in my post. How would I feel if someone used that recipe & one of their pets or kids died?

How would I feel? The same as I would if anyone got hurt or died. Terrible – that a person used an herb for anything without doing further research. Guilty? Not on your life.

I tried to be polite. I thanked her and explained that it’s not my fault Facebook doesn’t show all posts from all pages, much less in chronological order but if someone cared to just click over to my page proper rather than their news/pages feed, they’d see what I’d been posting over the last week. That wasn’t good enough for her because she only saw the one post and didn’t bother looking further. According to her, it’s my responsibility to put complete information in all my posts so some fucking idiot doesn’t hurt themselves or others by taking a short post at face value. She was so vehement and I could tell no matter what I or anyone else said (thanks, guys, for backing me up) that it was just going to escalate. I decided I’d had enough drama for one day & took the whole damned post down. Others said I shouldn’t have done so but I have enough shit going on in my life without getting into a squabble online.

When he got home from work, I told my husband what had happened. His comment? “It’s the same spoon-fed mentality I see every day. No one wants to take responsibility for themselves or their decisions. Instead, if something bad goes down, it’s someone else’s fault.”

I chewed on it while working in the garden this weekend, lovingly tending my poisonous & not-so-poisonous plants (depends on the person & dose whether they’re poisonous or not). I generally try to be nice but in this case, snark is coming to the forefront. To the lady in question: just because they saw it on Facebook or Twitter, any man (or his partner) who did the following without researching further gets no sympathy from me: “To get an erection when you want. Grind up a pepper with some honey & coat your “thing“. That was another of my posts quoting from the same book.

So, in black and white for all the world to see:

I don’t give a damn where you read it or who said it – even if it’s me – do your own fucking research before using anything herbal for any purpose. I only babysit children, not adults. Don’t like my attitude? Unlike me, unfollow me, or better yet, kiss my ass.

//end rant//

I feel better.



A Familiar’s Tale, Part I

July 21st, 2014

Fudge begins telling Amy his story. (Don’t know Fudge? The prologue is here.)

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0

I came into being in the year you currently number 252 BCE. This is the year I was born as a cat in what you call the country of Egypt. When I opened my eyes, my mother knew there was something different between me and my other siblings and pushed me out of her nest, as one would do the runt of the litter who was not expected to survive.

As the Universe had planned, a young man was nearby and took pity on my mewling. He took me home and hand-fed me until I was old enough to catch food on my own. Abou was a slave-assistant to a mage priest overseeing part of the Library of Alexandria.

Abou had been purchased a few years earlier. He did not know his exact age and his memories of his family are faint…they are overshadowed by a strong memory of hunger. About the only thing he remembered well is scrounging for food in the discards outside a tavern and being caught by a large man who turned him over to a slaver. It was a common enough occurrence in his town that no one came to look for him.

Familiars are born with the knowledge of our kind and the natural instincts of the species we occupy. Even as a newborn kitten, I knew what I was and what I was supposed to do. I must say, waiting for a corporeal body to grow to adulthood can be a frustrating experience.

Also frustrating, we cannot make ourselves known to our human until that person’s magic manifests – usually around puberty but, as you well know, may be much later. It is not until then that their conscious mind will accept our presence. Abou’s magic did not come in until two years after he found me. I spent those first two years being a simple cat. Once I had been weaned off the goat’s milk Abou fed me, I killed rats alongside the other library cats. They were my food but more importantly, by keeping my part of the Library rat-free, I helped preserve the papyri, scrolls and codices of knowledge.

When Abou reached puberty, his magic manifested and I was finally able to fulfill my destiny as his familiar. My first few efforts had him running to his master for a headache remedy until I learned gentleness. After a lot of odd behavior on my part (like nuzzling his face while he was practicing), Abou finally realized the pressure was me and that his magical efforts seemed stronger and more precise. My presence was accepted and we began our partnership. Telling him I wished for water in my dish was as easy as projecting a sense of thirst. Although I still killed rats when I found them in the library, I mostly left that chore to the mundane cats. Abou quickly learned I preferred to share his meal of fish and was not averse to the occasional treat of goat’s milk.

For some reason, he decided not to tell his master about me. Instead, I was perceived as a favored pet and something of a security blanket: Abou took me with him nearly everywhere he went. He even made a comfortable carrier for me when I let him know that the sandy streets were too hot for my delicate paws in the summer and I disliked the mud in the rainy winter months.

I presume you studied something of that time in your history? No? Your educational system is sorely lacking. Then I must give you a brief history lesson before continuing.

Egypt was already an old country when I was born. They worshipped many gods and magic was thought to be a gift of these gods. They did not know about the gene that transmits magical ability. It was a time when magic was a normal part of life, although the practice of it was limited to the priesthood. If a common person manifested magic, it was considered a sign that a male was destined for priesthood to a male god, a female as a priestess to a goddess and those children were brought to a temple of the parents’ choosing as an offering.

While Egypt was a country with many gods, there were some that were only worshipped locally and others who were considered state gods – or those whose worship was dictated by their ruler, or pharaoh. As with most civilizations, they tried to live peaceably with their neighbors but if that could not be achieved, they made war. Egypt was at war quite a bit in my time there.

When Abou’s magic manifested, his master took that as a sign from his god that Abou should follow in his footsteps as a mage-priest and began teaching Abou, rather than simply using him as an errand boy. When not helping visiting mages consult the ancient scrolls for a particular piece of knowledge, fulfilling his function as a priest to his god through ritual and creating spells for petitioners, he taught Abou the Craft. I may have been there only to boost his power but along with Abou, I learned the methods of human magic: how to manipulate energy, the herbcraft of the time and place, and their rituals to their gods. As an aside, camel grass, an ingredient in kyphi, one of their favorite incenses, makes me sneeze violently. Please do not ever use it.


To be continued…