December 5th, 2013
My inner child has been whining, “WHY?” for the last several days. WHY do we associate many warming spices with the holiday (Yule/Christmas) season? I’ve just spent a couple of hours browsing the Internet for answers and haven’t found a danged one. Oh, yes, there are plenty of sites giving generic spice history but nothing specifically associated with the holiday season.
So, I’m going to go out on a limb and do some conjecturing.
First, most of our holiday traditions come from the northern hemisphere where it can get bone-chilling cold in the month of December. Cinnamon, Clove, Ginger, Nutmeg and Pepper will all warm your innards in addition to adding interesting taste to otherwise bland foodstuffs. (Eggnog without spices? Milk, egg yolks, sugar & rum. Yuck. Add in Cloves, Cinnamon, Vanilla & Nutmeg – YUM!)
Second, up until the last century or so, spices were expensive and not generally available to the masses. Yule/Christmas (along with other feast days) is generally considered a time of splurging so those who could incorporated the expensive spices into their cooking. (For an interesting perspective on spice usage in the Middle Ages, read this.) Once most spices became affordable to the common man, food became tastier more often and the more expensive stuff (like Ginger and Nutmeg) was used in foods served on holidays.
Lastly, decorated gingerbread (either cake-like or in biscuit/cookie form) can be traced back at least 500 years. Food (generally biscuits/cookies) was the first decoration on Yule trees. The ubiquitous gingerbread men are attributed to Queen Elizabeth I, who served man-shaped, decorated cookies to visiting dignitaries. Along came the Grimm Brothers with their candy witch’s house in the 19th century and gingerbread houses became widely popular.
Have I answered my own question? Nope. I’m telling my inner child to shush. In the meantime, I’m putting some Clove & Cinnamon oil into the warmer while I pull cards from my grandmother’s recipe box for my annual bake-fest. One of my favorites:
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup molasses
3 drops Anise oil
1 tablespoon hot water
3-1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon White Pepper
Mix shortening, sugar, egg, molasses, anise oil & water. (Works best if you put the oil in the water before adding to the bowl.) Blend in remaining ingredients. Knead the dough until it’s the right consistency for molding. Shape by level teaspoons into balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for about 12 minutes. Store in an airtight container. (My grandmother rolled hers in confectioners’ sugar before storing. I like them best plain.)
November 15th, 2013
I have a problem.
I had an idea for an online course, based on my books (which are an outgrowth of my passion): teaching medicinal and magical herbalism together. I started writing it and made good progress … something like 70 pages of basic information. However, when I got to writing about the practical part of magical herbalism, I ran into a roadblock.
I have no idea how to put into words what I do almost completely by intuition. If I need to do a spell, my gut (and sometimes the plant spirits themselves) tells me what to use. Yes, my years of study and practice have hardwired a lot of information but many times, something I don’t expect worms its way into the equation. And because all my spells are individualized to the situation, there’s no set this spell for that problem. (See this post for my methods.) How does one go about imparting that kind of information?
I’m not completely giving up, just putting it on the back burner. Like everything else, I’m sure it’ll come to me when I’m not consciously thinking of it – like waking me up at 2am with the ‘aha’ moment. I’ll let you know when that happens.
November 14th, 2013
Three years ago, I picked up a fungus under the nail of my pinky finger. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. What kind of fungus? Don’t know and it doesn’t matter.
It didn’t bother me unless I looked at it. Then, it did. The nail was lifting … at one point it was nearly 3/4 of the way down to the cuticle. Every now and again, I’d make an attempt to resolve the issue but because it didn’t hurt, my efforts were half-hearted.
At one point, I found a website (can’t find it again, naturally) that said not to clean out the dead skin under the lifted part of the nail. So, I didn’t. I just trickled Tea Tree essential oil as best I could under the nail. The nail would look like it was healing, I’d forget about it and the next time I looked, it would be lifting again.
Finally, a little over a month ago, I decided to really attack the problem. I’m happy to report my nail is now growing naturally again, although it’ll be about three months until the tip is as long as the rest of the fingers on that hand. Here’s what I did:
- Despite what that website said, it seemed to me the dead skin would harbor fungus. So, I cleaned all the dead skin out from underneath the lifted portion of the nail and then clipped the nail as far down as I could get. If you need to, use a pair of cuticle scissors so you can cut it back as close as possible to where the nail is still attached to the bed. (An attached nail has a pinkish hue. Unattached will be whitish.) Keep it clipped.
- Everywhere I looked, it said to keep the nail dry. This makes sense: fungi love moisture. For me, however, this is a difficult thing to do. I’m always washing something, whether it’s just wiping down counters or mopping floors. I have gritted my teeth and unless I’m showering or washing my hands, I put on a pair of rubber gloves – even when brushing my teeth. If you blow-dry your hair (I rarely do), point the dryer at your nail (edge-on) for a few seconds. (If you’re going to be wearing the rubber gloves for any length of time, put on a pair of cotton gloves, first, to absorb your sweat. Avoid moisture of any kind!)
- This will be the most difficult part for a lot of people. I have very small hands so it’s relatively easy for me. Every night I stuck my pinky into the top of a bottle of Tea Tree essential oil so the entire nail got soaked. It looked and felt strange – I sat for 10 minutes with the bottle upended on my finger. However you manage it, ensure your entire nail is covered and soaking in the oil. After 10 minutes, wipe the excess off your skin but allow the oil to air dry on the nail and any exposed nail bed. Your nail will look a little dry after this but it’s a good thing. Do not put any moisturizer of any kind on that nail for the entire course of this treatment.
You must be diligent in doing all this. I kept up the Tea Tree applications for a week after my nail looked normal. Fungus will take any excuse to grow again and it only takes one live spore to generate a colony. Although I’ve discontinued the Tea Tree oil, I’m still being anal about putting on rubber gloves if I’m working with water. I’ll keep this up until the tip has grown out and everything finally looks normal again.
If you’re sensitive to straight Tea Tree (some are), dilute it. If you can’t handle it even in a diluted form, other antifungal essential oils that may be used are: Garlic, Thyme, Calendula, Clove and Cinnamon. These will need to be diluted with a carrier oil, first: 10 drops essential oil to 1 fluid ounce carrier oil. I’d suggest using Coconut oil because it, too, is slightly antifungal. Whatever you use, keep up your treatment for at least a week after your nail looks OK. You can’t see fungus spores.
My doctor said an old folks’ remedy for nail fungus is to smear your nail with Vicks Vaporub® before bed, covering your nail with a cotton glove. If it were made with all pure essential oils & petroleum jelly, I’d buy this: camphor will kill just about anything. However, I looked at the ingredient list: the camphor they use now is synthetic. I doubt it would work but you could certainly try.
It goes without saying: ladies, no nail treatments. No fake nails, no varnish, nothing.
If all else fails, go to your doctor and have him/her remove the nail completely. Then treat with the antifungal oil for a week or two to kill any remaining fungus. Be prepared: nails take about six months to grow out so your finger/toe is going to look really ugly for awhile.
November 11th, 2013
I’m going to preface my remarks by warning you: I’ve been a Henriette Kress fan for years and was thrilled to get a sneak peek at her new book.
Practical Herbs 2 is as wonderful as Practical Herbs. Down-to-earth advice for a variety of ailments, detailed descriptions of 20 herbs, directions for making a variety of herbal preparations …
One of my favorite things, especially in the herbal solutions sections, is that she doesn’t limit herself to herbs. Some problems can be due to deficiencies in vitamins, diet, lifestyle, etc, and she doesn’t hesitate to tell you when you should be taking a vitamin supplement or going for a daily walk rather than or in addition to an herbal preparation.
When she’s writing about individual herbs, not only does she give you color photos (generally of more than one Species) and a written description, the instructions for harvesting and drying are detailed – down to how to deal with the itchy hairs on Burdock seeds.
Ever the scientific herbalist, she does use some technical terminology and gives the main chemical constituents for each herb described. It may glaze some peoples’ eyes but this information is necessary to understand why the herb does what it does.
As with Practical Herbs, my Virgo nature had difficulty with the fact that she doesn’t group information together. The herb information pages are broken up by recipes, herbal solutions to medical issues, and some further information. However, that problem is solved by the extensive index.
If you don’t have her first book, you should get it as the second builds on the first. The two together are a marvelous resource for someone interested in using herbs for health.
October 30th, 2013
image courtesy wikinut.com
Warning: may be profanity-laced. I’m irritated. NB: I am not a historian. Just a somewhat-intelligent woman who happens to be a witch.
It’s that time of year … the media feels a need to talk to “real” witches to tell their story. 99 times of 100, they interview someone who follows the religion of Wicca and imply the interviewee speaks for all. Facts aren’t always straight, either. Most of the time I can just shrug it off. But this op-ed piece is … somewhat misinformed, shall we say? (Not to mention thin-skinned.) I could probably write a novelette-length rebuttal but who’s got time for full-blown research along with scholarly citations? It would take hours to pull out all my books and search them for just one proper footnote.
This statement in particular set my teeth on edge: “And it is a slander on a living religion called Wicca or Witchcraft.” Please allow me to set the record straight yet again: the practice of Witchcraft is not a religion. It may be an aspect of a religion, or not. And it’s not solely an aspect of Wicca. There are other religions that have witchcraft/sorcery/magic as an aspect.
I don’t follow any organized religion. I don’t follow the Gregorian calendar which dictates October 31 shall be Hallowe’en or the astrological one, which puts the Wiccan/Celtic holiday of Samhain on November 6th/7th this year. Oh, I have no problem with anyone who does … whatever floats your boat. But please don’t assume when I tell you I’m a witch that October 31st is automatically a holy day for me. Remember: ass-u-me? I don’t require a calendar to tell me what’s happening in my little corner of the world and act accordingly.
The opening and closing paragraphs of the op-ed piece were aggravating, too. If I recall correctly, Shakespeare’s MacBeth (first performed in 1611) was the first known portrayal of witches as ugly women. We probably have James I of England (VI of Scotland) to thank for that: his fear of witchcraft (and most likely women in general) is legendary and he was a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company. I’ve read a translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (originally published in 1486) and I don’t remember anything in there about “ugly”.
The op-ed author apparently chooses to ignore Hollywood’s gorgeous witches. I’m not up on all television/movies but Glinda was portrayed as a beautiful witch. And hey, you think Kim Novak (Bell, Book and Candle, 1958) is ugly? How about Catherine Bell (Hallmark Channel’s The Good Witch series)? If so, I’d hate to see your idea of “beautiful”.
As a bona fide practicing witch and a crone at that, I have absolutely no issues with dressing as an “ugly old witch” for Hallowe’en. If I did, do you think I would have helped my mother look like the Wicked Witch of the West for a party? Did that years ago, complete with green face paint, hooked nose and warts. It’s fun. Although that’s all it is nowadays, the practice of putting on a costume for this holiday goes back at least five hundred years, probably more.
My advice: enjoy the fun, secular part of Hallowe’en, including the “ugly”. (Most of it is rather comical, anyway.) If others’ decorations and/or costumes bother you, don’t look or better yet, grow a thicker skin. BTW, spooks do exist … most people call them ghosts or spirits and they are very real.
Whaddya know? I got through it without a single expletive.
October 7th, 2013
Lovely wake up … rain soughing on the metal roof while a cold front breezed through the window that made my nose cold while the rest of me was warmly snuggled under the covers.
Fresh hot coffee … Maks and Mischa feeling energized, emptying out their toy box & playing with toys they haven’t looked at in months.
Hot shower then … Brrr. The on-demand water heater (conveniently located in the basement) decided to throw an error in the middle of rinsing my hair. Well water is COLD even in Fall.
I’m awake. How ’bout you?
September 27th, 2013
(No, I’m not high in this photo. I have an overbite. And I forget my tongue sometimes. Wanna make something of it?)
Meow. I’m Mischa and I’m hijacking DJ’s blog today to bring something of extreme importance to your attention. (Maks was supposed to type this because he’s more dexterous but the idiot is out on the deck chasing a lizard.)
Oooh. Milk ring. Be right back.
Milk ring subdued. On to the vital information I need to impart.
I’d like you to know that not all cats like Catnip. I, myself, am addicted to the stuff (I can handle it – no intervention needed) and Maks thinks it’s OK but Belette, the old lady that used to be here didn’t like it at all.
On the other paw, if you really want to get Maks’ attention, put some Valerian root in front of him. It smells just like the human male’s shoes, which he loves (that, and the shoelaces are da bomb). The old lady also loved it. She always used her alpha position to grab the toy with Valerian in it and by the time she was done it was sopping wet with her drool. Maks had to wait for hours for it to dry before he could play with it.
The household ancestral memory tells us that one of the cats who has passed on was hooked on Chamomile. Based on what the spirits tell us, he could have used some help from Caddicts Anonymous. While it’s not a bad thing to drink from a human’s beverage receptacle, I understand if the female human’s back was turned, he’d drink her entire mug of Chamomile tea – and that’s after trying to eat the tea bag before she even got it in the water. That is a sign of true addiction, if you ask me.
Just as the household female wrinkles her nose at the male’s whiskey beverage while she sips on rum, we have different tastes, too. Although the old lady was eccentric, her dislike of Catnip wasn’t weird. So if the cat that lives with you doesn’t like Catnip, try Valerian or Chamomile. We all need a nip of something every now and again.
September 18th, 2013
Well, maybe you’ll sneeze, if you have an allergy to members of the Asteraceae family and you stick your nose right in it. But Ragweed has green flowers with pollen that will float on the slightest of breezes. The pollen on Goldenrod is much heavier and doesn’t fly as well.
This tiny specimen lives about a half mile from my house, in one of the few patches of direct sunlight. Farther down on the county road where there’s an abundance of light, the Goldenrod looks like huge clumps of sunshine.
Since childhood, Goldenrod has been my clue that Fall is really happening. Up North, it always bloomed in late August, letting me know school would be back in session very soon. (Back in the Dark Ages, we started the day after Labor Day.) I paid no attention to what was happening on the clumps of yellow flowers, much less have any idea of the medicinal value!
Now that I’m paying attention, I see the pollinators (bees and others) visiting those flowers on a regular basis. Although I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, I read that butterflies also lay their eggs on the flowers. (Like Jen Rue I like to touch things. The flowers are soft. Cushy bed?)
There are 100-120 species of Solidago growing throughout the world (wild and cultivated – they’re showy flowers, no?) and as far as I can tell, they’re all used medicinally. Looking at Native American Ethnobotany (Daniel Moerman, Timber Press, 1998) and taking just the species in the photo as an example: a decoction of the root is good for jaundice and to aid the kidneys; the leaves are used as a poultice on burns and skin ulcers; a decoction of the leaves is used as a disinfecting wash; the seeds are used as food; and the Navajo use the entire plant as incense.
Other species are used for sore throats, as a snuff for headaches, to staunch bleeding, to treat fevers … the list goes on.
If your local species of Goldenrod has “wand” or “club” type clumps of flowers, it’s said that when asked, the flowers will nod in the direction of whatever it is you’re trying to find. Due to the flower color (you know: gold), it makes a good addition to money spells. The Iroquois and other tribes also use it for good luck in gambling; as well as in a compound designed to kill love. (The rest of the ingredients aren’t specified – you’re on your own there.)
And … rubber! The leaves of some species of Goldenrod contain up to 7% latex. In 1927, when Henry Ford was looking for a substitute for the rubber that only grew in tropical climates ($$), Edison took on the challenge. I can’t find the original species name but he chose one then cultivated it to grow larger and with more latex. The resulting plant grew about 10 feet high (the typical plant only grows 2-4 feet) with up to 12% latex in the leaves. This new species is called Solidago edisoniana. Although the experiment didn’t pan out, Ford gifted Edison with a Model T – with tires made from goldenrod rubber.
Take a walk on the wild side – I’ll bet you’ll find some Goldenrod not to far away!
August 26th, 2013
Hello. My name is DJ and I have a problem. I’m addicted to privacy – especially Internet privacy.
I actively dislike sites that offer something free … in exchange for my name and email address. I know if I give out my email address, I’m going to get unwanted correspondence. These sites don’t allow me to decide if I want further communication – they force me to “opt out” – but they still have my contact information.
I actively dislike sites that require me to log in with my Facebook or Twitter account before I can read an article – choose your topic. While I’m not as private as my husband – I do have a Facebook & Twitter account, which he does not – I refuse to do that. I’m afraid if I were to sign in with either account, that would compromise not only my security but that of my friends/followers, as well.
I actively dislike that everything is going to “the cloud”. As soon as I can, I’m dumping my current smartphone because the only way I can sync it with my laptop is via the cloud. Not just my information but my clients’ information is out there in the ether, somewhere. It’s scary.
While I know it’s inevitable (especially since I have to be sorta “out there” as an author), I actively dislike the fact that with a few keystrokes, you can find out a lot about me. I do like the fact that there are dozens of women out there with my exact name (and even a couple with my date of birth) so those that don’t need my information may be easily confused.
Perhaps it’s my age. I was brought up long before the age of the share-everything-Internet … computers were stored in buildings, not tiny cases that fit in a pocket, and the US military had the only “Internet”. However, dear reader, all this is why I don’t ask for your email address or even name when I offer something for free (like my Top Ten Herbs). If you’ve purchased a book or something else from me, your information is, yes, in my accounting software but you can be assured I’ll never share that with anyone. (Unless the Internal Revenue Service comes calling. Sorry. They have more pull than you. )
I value your privacy just as much as I value my own.
August 2nd, 2013
Today I posted this picture on Facebook:
This is the one Calendula in two beds that has bloomed. None of the others have even budded, yet! And as you can see, there’s plenty of room between this one and its neighbor, although I noticed some late seedlings popping up this morning. Most of the beds that have “flower” herbs in them are the same way. The lack of sun and buckets of rain this year has discouraged germination & prevented what’s supposed to flower from actually flowering. I’ll be thrilled if I get even one Poppy flower and you’ll see me happy dancing if the Carnations actually bloom. My sole rosebush is also a victim of the gloom – it doesn’t have a single bud. I lost two more Lavender bushes to root rot from all the rain.
OTOH, I have Lemon Balm for days and weeks … it likes the unusually cool weather! (I’m all set for next year’s tax season’s stress.)
The first problem: even if all couple-dozen Calendulas bloom, once the petals are dried, they won’t even weigh a full ounce. One Poppy capsule will yield a few drops of latex. My remaining Lavender plants yield about two ounces of flowers. That’s not enough to do a whole lot with. I grow these for the enjoyment of playing in the dirt with them. The flower/herbs I use are purchased online. My husband caters to my Carnation addiction with visits to the florist, who is very happy that mine haven’t yet bloomed.
Second problem: I had grandiose ideas when we built the garden several years ago. It’s 42 feet in diameter with 24 raised beds, plus an additional 8-ft diameter bed over in the shade. I was going to grow, dry & sell herbs! I failed to take into consideration that as I aged, circumstances may change and/or maintenance of all those beds might become problematic. Or how much time it actually takes for one person to properly maintain a garden that size.
We also used “eco-friendly” treated lumber for the bed walls which, while it may not have all the toxic chemicals in it, definitely doesn’t last as long as the other. The wood is rotting all over the place. I’ve been thinking about downsizing for a couple of years but it’s to the point I’m going to have to think hard about that. Otherwise, Ma Nature will rebuild for me in the form of the walls falling away & generally making a mess. I’m a Virgo. I don’t like messes.
So, I have to decide how many beds of what size is reasonable this time around and how I’m going to do it. It won’t be with wood – I don’t want to rebuild yet again in a few years. Stone would look cool but is expensive and time consuming. I’m leaning toward the new “recycled plastic lumber”. Has anyone else used this stuff? I’d love opinions.
Once the construction decision has been made, I get to decide who stays & who leaves (sniff), then dismantle, rebuild & replant each bed individually so I can get the plants back “home” as soon as possible. My winter is going to be busy – if it doesn’t continue to drip from the skies, or flake a lot.