Environment, Plants and Herbs

Dead Nettle Folklore and Magical Properties

’tis the season for deadnettles!

If you have any semi-neglected patches of ground in your life, you may have seen them — short plants with heart-shaped leaves, arranged like low towers accented by tiny flowers. Though they’re not native to this area, they’re pretty abundant. If you’re into controlling invasive plants, you’ll probably be happy to know that they’re also delicious edibles!

Don’t let the name fool you. Dead nettles aren’t poisonous, and they’re not nettles. They’re called “dead nettle” because they look an awful lot like stinging nettle, but their leaves are stingless. In reality, they’re part of the mint family (which probably explains their prolific growth and ability to thrive pretty much anywhere).

A bee enjoying some soft pink dead nettle flowers.

One of the best things about these nutritious plants? They’re easy to identify and don’t have any poisonous lookalikes. They’re also useful in all kinds of other ways.

Dead Nettle Folklore

Medically, purple dead nettle is used for allergies. It’s rich in quercetin, and has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for people with spring hay fever.

Some areas call it purple archangel, because it appears there around the Feast of the Apparition (May 8th). This was when the archangel Michael was said to have appeared on Mount Gargano, Italy, in the sixth century.

White dead nettle is sometimes called bee nettle. This is because it provides an early source of pollen and nectar, so it’s very popular with bees (and children! Kids sometimes suck the nectar from white dead nettle flowers, kind of like how kids used to suck the honeysuckle flowers that grew on the elementary school’s fence when I was little).

Some white dead nettle flowers. A small ant is crawling inside of one of them.

In Lancashire, it was said that white dead nettle flowers always come in twos, because they’re actually pixie shoes that have been left outside. These flowers also have two black spots inside, which are sometimes called “Cinderella’s slippers.”

White, spotted, and purple dead nettles are all used to treat stings from actual nettles. Mash the plant, squeeze out the juice, and apply it to the stung area. You can also chew some of the leaves and apply the resulting paste.

Magical Properties of Dead Nettle

Dead nettle is associated with determination, due to its ability to grow pretty much anywhere. (I’ve been harvesting it from cracks in the concrete, here.) It’s also connected to happiness, optimism, and relief.

Bright pink dead nettle flowers.

Like other members of the mint family, it dries well. Harvest some, hang it upside-down, and put a paper bag around it to keep off dust and catch any dropped leaves or flowers. Once you have some dried dead nettle, you can use it in teas, incense blends, sachets, poppets, jar spells, or pretty much anything else. This small, unassuming herb is fantastic any time you need a hit of joy and motivation.

Dead nettle is also useful in kitchen witchery. Add it to soups, salads, or even pesto to benefit from its magical and anti-inflammatory properties.

This plant also works wonderfully in tinctures, salves, and oils. This is a great way to preserve it well beyond its season.

For now, I’m pulling it out of my raised beds to prepare them for other things. Some will be left for the birds (chickens, especially, seem to love the stuff), and the rest will be brewed into tea, blended into smoothies, eaten fresh, dried, and pureed and frozen in ice cube trays to add to soup or fill out pesto!

Blog, crystals, life

“Fine, but I’m not getting any more rocks.”

I knew it was probably a lie the moment the words left his lips.
Still, I didn’t really intend to buy anything, I just wanted to go to the local mineralogical society’s mineral and gem show for kicks. We didn’t have any other plans, it was close by, and tickets were like six bucks. Why not?

I’ve also wanted to learn more about our local geology. Maryland has an interesting state mineral called Patuxent River stone, which is a form of agate that I think is a lovely, almost luminous color. I really want to find some in the wild, but the minerals I’m most likely to encounter where I am are white quartz, mica, beryl, and serpentine.

With all of this in mind, spending an hour or so at a local rock show seemed like a nice way to pass some of the afternoon. Also, sometimes there are interesting bony boys to look at.

This was before my partner saw the big geode cracking machine. I also think they’re very cool — I was used to getting tiny geodes as a kid and cracking them open with hammers like a tiny caveman, but all I’d get from that is a lot of small, shattered pieces. These machines use a large metal chain, shaped like a bike chain, that applies even pressure to a small area around the geode. They’re similar to soil pipe cutters but have a wheel that allows you to tighten the chain a bit more easily. The end result is a geode that cracks much more cleanly, usually in two halves that follow the natural features of the stone, so you preserve a lot more of that beautiful internal structure.

We talked to the owners of the machine for a bit, asking about the origins of their geodes (remember, always know where your crystals come from) and their mineral composition. That’s the nice thing about shows like this: The people there are super stoked to talk about crystals.

In the end, we decided on two geodes — one large one that was filled with tiny, sparkly, sugary-looking white quartz crystals (and a few double-terminated ones, too!) and a smaller one that seemed to be smoky quartz and blades of either calcite or selenite. They’re gorgeous!

A geode made of layers of opaque brown and transparent black crystal. In the very center, there are flat blades of clear, sparkling crystal.

The show also had some fascinating displays of fluorescent minerals, insects, fossils, and really nice specimens of minerals that had been collected locally (or semi-locally, within a few states or so). Upstairs, where the dealer’s tables were, there were beads, handmade jewelry, carvings, and several gorgeous and very high-end specimens for sale.

A wooden case of preserved moths. They're shades of brown, cream, and orange, and many of them have large spots on their wings that look eerily like eyes.

In addition to the two geodes, we came away with a trilobite from Ohio. I have named him Tobie.

If you’re into geology, like fossils or minerals, or are even into crystal healing, I can’t recommend local gem shows enough. In Michael Gienger’s book Crystal Power, Crystal Healing, he talks about the role that your local geology can play. For example, the effect that living in areas with specific minerals can have. If you’re not learning about what’s around you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

It’s also just really nice to talk rocks with people who are super into it. Even if you’re not necessarily so, it’s just cool to listen to someone who’s both knowledgeable and passionate about something.

If you’re a collector or crystal enthusiast who’s concerned about the environmental and ethical considerations of your hobby, then local shows are also a huge help. Most of the specimens we saw were clearly labeled with their place of origin. A lot of them were domestically collected, usually by the people selling them. There was a transparency that’s hard to get in a lot of (though certainly not all) conventional crystal shops. Some of the people there have brick-and-mortar stores, too.

These events also often support local hobbyist groups, and are a great way to meet other people in your community. Now that we’re actually setting down some roots here, it just feels good to be involved in stuff like this, even if it’s just as a spectator.

So yes. Support your local mineral people. They rock.


A Happy and Blessed Alban Eilir

This past Saturday, my partner attended his first full-on ritual. A Druidry group that I’m part of collaborated with a pretty big, local Wiccan-inspired group to have an Ostara/Equinox celebration — there was a meditative walk through the forest, chanting, singing, dancing, and a big potluck full of tasty food.

And we almost completely missed all of it.

See, we’d offered to give a ride to a group member who doesn’t drive. “No biggie,” I thought, “Twenty minutes to go scoop him up, avoid the marathon, then we get out of the city and we’re good.” There was only one problem: The half-marathon pretty much bisected the entire city, to the point that getting out was very time-consuming and complicated. In the end, we almost had to drive back home and start over from there, because completely leaving the city and driving around it would’ve been faster and simpler than trying to go through it. Yuck.

This wouldn’t have been too bad, but we hit some navigation issues the rest of the way down. What was, “It’s okay, we’ll just miss the walk and make it in time for the ritual” then became, “Okay, so we’re going to miss the ritual, but we’ll be there for the potluck at least.”

Fortunately, fate smiled on us and we managed to roll up exactly when everyone was going from the pavilion to the ritual circle. The three of us ducked into the back of the line and picked up the lyrics and intonation of the chant on the fly.

(Fun fact: Mouthing the words “watermelon, carrots, peas, and bubblegum” can help you get through any lip-synching that you’re not sufficiently prepared for.)

A small patch of purple crocus flowers.

We sang, we clapped and drummed, we spiral danced. Day and Night did a dance to illustrate the victory of light over the darkness and gave a short speech on how Night entrusted the world to Day, and Day would return it to Night during the darker, colder months of the year.

Then it was time to eat!

The food was amazing — I think I ate my weight in lemon bars and curried chickpea salad. (We brought some cases of sparkling water, because the potluck sign-up sheet only had one other person bringing beverages and extra fizzy water always seems to go over pretty well.) There was quiche, a whole chicken, very spicy-sweet beans, curried chickpeas, banana bread, lemon cake, lemon bars, artichoke and crab dip, crackers, cheese, fruit, jam, you name it.

The conversation was great, too. We met some very cool new people, and talk seemed to flow easily. We talked about brewing mead and making water kefir and why wasps are actually great. Despite the stress of trying to get there on time, the vibe was extremely chill and comfortable.

I also have possibly made friends? This is both delightful and terrifying because I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve always been socially anxious, and the pandemic has made things weird.

Anyhow, despite being trapped in a car with us for three hours, the person we’d given a ride too suggested taking a walk through the woods after we ate. Since the walk was the one part we’d ended up missing, the forest seemed lovely this time of year, and I was sincerely shocked that he wasn’t completely sick of us already, I was down for it.

We ended up posing for photos as part of an effort to Save Lake Accotink (which is a pretty complex issue — it’s a man-made body of water, and maintaining it requires regular dredging. This has become expensive and complicated. Opponents cite the cost and some environmental concerns, but the alternative to dredging is turning it into a managed wetland. I haven’t seen estimates for what kind of environmental and monetary impact this would have over time, so my concern is that the managed wetland would eventually become a neglected area and the silt that it now captures could negatively affect waterways downstream.

It also seems like a lot of the issue is development and poor stormwater management in the area, which creates water-impervious surfaces that allow more runoff into the lake. Lake Accotink has been around since the 40’s, so it’s been a watery habitat for a while now and I don’t know what kind of impact it would have to try to put that genie back in its bottle. In some of the articles I’ve read, the social and environmental concerns also seem tacked-on and secondary to the monetary cost. All of this is why I haven’t really formed an opinion on whether the lake should still be dredged or not — it seems like it’s going to be a very difficult, disruptive, kind of sucky situation for everyone and everything involved either way.)

We also saw… Well, we weren’t entirely sure what we saw.

What are those?”

We tried to creep closer down the bank without startling them. They were all standing in a row on a partially-submerged log, long, sleek black bodies pointed toward the sun like arrows, beaks tilted to the sky. My partner snapped a few blurry pictures of them, like cryptids, while we tried to guess at what kind of (bird? low-stakes chupacabra?) creature we were looking at. The bank was a bit treacherous, so we couldn’t get very close.

(They were cormorants, which I had never seen before because we don’t really hang out in the same kind of places. Standing there, they looked like something between a heron, a goose, and a loon.)

A dark colored water bird stands on the bank of a lake. They have a thin beak with a hook on the end, and bright orange patches near the edge of their mouth.
We weren’t able to get close enough to snap pics this clearly with our phone cameras, but here’s a better pic courtesy of SamuelStone on Pixabay.

The only real damper was the sheer number of beech trees that were carved over with graffiti. I’m not very good at identifying trees by their bark, but it seems like carving is almost an identifying characteristic for these guys. Their bark is a silky medium gray, which appears to make it almost an ideal canvas for thoughtless dipshits people who want to carve their name in something.

After a long day of car rides, dancing, singing, eating, talking, and walking, we made it back home in a decent amount of time. (Fortunately, the marathon was over and the city didn’t require any vehicular shenanigans.) I’m feeling energized and can’t wait for our last frost date to pass — I really want to get my hands back into the dirt!

Hoping you all had a lovely equinox,

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

A Little Late Wassail.

This weekend, my partner and I had the pleasure of wassailing some baby trees.

Traditionally, this was something that was done December-ish, but this particular wassail was for some very young trees that’ll be going in the ground soon. Consider it a kind of baby tree blessing.

Wassailing is a ritual to bless fruit trees, drive away unwelcome spirits, and ensure a bountiful harvest. It involved drinking cider, singing, making noise, and giving offerings of drinks and cider-soaked toast to the trees.

This wassail was hosted by someone in a Druidry group to which I belong. Another member put together songs and blessings, and all of the attendees gave their own blessings to a little sour cherry, a baby fig, and a small (somewhat struggling) dogwood.

A red squirrel in the branches of a fruit-laden cherry tree.

(I wished that the fruit trees would produce lots of flowers and nectar for the insect community, and tons of fruit for the birds, squirrels, and human community. To the dogwood, I just said, “Good luck, buddy.”)

The food was incredible. There was wassail cake flavored with lots of bright orange zest, homemade root beer, chocolate-Guinness cake, meat and vegetarian hand pies, tiny apple hand pies, fresh vegetables, ginger snaps, cheese, fruit, and so much more. We’re still without a decent oven, so we brought some extra sparkling water, graham crackers, fancy chocolate, and vegan marshmallows for fire pit s’mores. In lieu of hanging cider-soaked toast on the trees, there were bits of cider-splashed graham cracker.

The singing was fun, the yelling and cheering was fun, and the blessings were heartwarming. There was an adorable dog who did happy zoomies all around the yard, with deep, happy “doggy laughs.” I can’t tell you the last time I went to any kind of house party, so the feeling of gathering with a bunch of kind, warm, intelligent, funny people was almost indescribable. (It also set off my brain’s own personal social anxiety afterparty, during which I questioned every interaction I had all afternoon for several hours.)

It was also really nice to see someone else working on turning their yard into a source of food for their family and the local fauna. It gave me some inspiration for things that might work well in this yard. The warming weather has me absolutely raring to go out and do more to keep my promise to the spirits of this spot, and now I’ve got images of redbuds and sour cherries dancing in my head.

Be in good health!

Blog, life

“I mean, I’m neutered. I don’t understand how this happened.”

It’s often said that orange cats all share custody of a single braincell. This isn’t meant disparagingly; they just have a certain dopey je ne sais quoi.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Pye’s reaction to JJ.

Sure, he started out with the standard territorial huffiness when she first got here. Once she’d gotten her first round of baby shots, some antibiotics, dewormer, flea drops, and ear drops (she really had basically every parasite and minor problem a stray kitten could have), we decided it was time to test the waters of actual introduction.

Kiko wants nothing to do with her, but she doesn’t seem to want anything to do with anyone who isn’t my partner or me. So, no surprise there.

Pye seemed… baffled? Like here is this tiny creature, who appeared out of the ether, and holy crap is this where kittens come from? I can see the wheel wobble-spinning in his head. He’s neutered. How did this happen? How did he accidentally a baby??? help

Well, no matter. What’s done is done. If there’s one thing this magnificent himbo fool apparently doesn’t want to be, it’s a deadbeat dad.

A small gray cat and much larger orange cat look out of a window together.
He teaches her the ways.

I’ve read that it takes on average eight months to a year for cats to become friends. I think he managed it in three days. They play together, and it’s genuine play. If there’s ever a growl, a whine, or a hiss, it’s quickly sorted out and they go back to playing. My partner was nervous about this — the first time one of them hissed, he wanted to separate them again. I stopped him with the reassurance that this was not only okay, it was a positive development. They’re new playmates, and they need to discover each other’s boundaries and learn how to navigate them. The only way for them to do that is to communicate between themselves and interfering would only hamper the process. JJ needs to learn to play nicely, and Pye needs to learn how to play with someone so much tinier than he is. Sure enough, half a second later they were back to chasing each other.

He’s also tried to groom her, though he seemed to very quickly discover that ear drops taste awful. Nonetheless, he is a dutiful boy and persisted in cleaning this small, weird, somewhat gross child.

The cutest part is when he gets tired. He’ll lope away, go lay down somewhere, and trill at her to follow him. JJ, being a font of infinite chaos energy, does not do this. Instead, she watches him and decides that what she should actually be doing is chewing on his face.
He puts up with a lot.

A close-up of a pair of cats. A small gray kitten lays on her back, paws pushing on the fluffy cheeks of a much larger orange cat.
Like, a lot-lot.

It’s also really cute to see the ways that he accommodates her. He lays down to be at her level, rolls on his back, and bats at her slowly. He chases her into the closet, and, as soon as she emerges, he trills and goofily bounds away so she’ll chase him. Seeing the give and take between this 20 pound orange dumbass and this cheeseburger-sized stripΓ©d hellion is honestly really heartwarming.

Now, we just have to work on Kiko.

art, Just for fun

With My Sincerest Apologies to Dolly Parton.

I mean it.

Jolene, Part Two.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
You gotta help me with this lying man.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
Things went so wrong and now we need a plan.

I only meant to frighten him,
I never meant to do him in,
Now I don’t know what we should do,
You know he had us seeing red,
The rest’s a blur, but now he’s dead,
It was a crime of passion, this I swear to you,

He got upset when we accused
Him of two timing me and you,
And I think the neighbors heard it all,
Philanderers should get their due,
But now it’s up to me and you,
And we’re gonna need a lot more bleach,

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
We gotta find a place to put this man.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
You grab those sheets, I’ll go get the gas can.

As long as we don’t drive to slow,
We’ll make it down to Mexico,
We’ll be in Tijuana by the break of day,
We’ll dye our hair, we’ll change our names,
Nothing will ever be the same,
But maybe it’s all for the best, Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
You gotta help me with this lying man.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
We’ll make a brand new start in a new land.
Jolene, Jolene.

I guess I technically wrote this unasked-for sequel to Dolly Parton’s song, but the fact is that I woke up with it in my head more or less fully formed. I do love a good murder ballad. This feels a bit like what would happen if “Jolene” met The Pierces “I Shot my Lover in the Head” and slightly ramps up some of the lesbian overtones many people have read in the original song.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my partner was less than stoked that this fell out of my head. He was pretty good-natured about it, though.