life, Plants and Herbs

It’s basically like some kind of artery loofah.

Hi. I have high cholesterol.

Well, “borderline high,” according to the internet.

My doctor gave me the disheartening news that it’s genetic. I think it’s more likely to be a product of falling too easily into the temptation of getting takeout in a place with so many awesome places to eat.

Either way, I’m avoiding statins if I can. For now, I’m trying a different protocol:

  • Taking vitamin K2, on my doctor’s recommendation.
  • Taking vitamin D, because I tested low.
  • Eating 35+ grams of fiber per day. Oat fiber is supposed to be the best for maintaining a healthy blood lipid ratio, but I can’t have oats. So, psyllium, chia, and other fibers it is.
  • Going plant-based.
  • Eating more avocado. The thing is, I already cook almost exclusively with avocado oil because it has a higher smoke point than other oils, so I’m not sure how much of an impact this’ll have.
  • Increasing my physical activity. I’ve started with a round of sun salutations each morning, and a set minimum of any kind of other physical activity throughout the day. I get bored easily, so I won’t stick to a routine. Telling myself that it doesn’t matter what I do, as long as I do a half hour of it, seems to be the best way to ensure that it actually happens.

I was vegan years ago, but I say “plant-based” now. This is mostly because veganism isn’t really a possibility — I wear vintage leather, because it is better and less harmful than either new leather or vinyl alternatives. I use collagen to keep my joints functioning, and there is no vegan equivalent. I eat honey, because bees are unionized. I feed my kefir grains with plain sugar, which is sometimes whitened with bone char. There are some things for which there is either no less destructive alternative, or no actual replacement.

I’m also using complementary measures. This is mostly because fixing my blood lipids is mostly a matter of changing things and waiting — there isn’t really a whole lot to do. I have an aventurine and serpentine bracelet that I wear on my left wrist, so putting it on and noticing it throughout the day helps me a) feel like I’m actively doing something, and b) draw my attention back to getting my blood back out of whack.

I’ve also been using meditation. I meditate routinely as it is, but I’ve shifted my focus to very specific imagery, sounds, et cetera. Even if this doesn’t lower my cholesterol, meditation has enough other cardiovascular and general health benefits to make it worthwhile.

It’s going to take a bit for these things to have an effect. My cholesterol didn’t raise itself overnight, and it won’t lower itself that quickly either. Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to have my blood drawn again and see that I’m back in a healthy range.

Have you lowered your cholesterol without statins? If so, what’d you do?

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life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Wood Sorrel Folklore and Magical Properties

Take a look at your lawn. Unless you maintain it to putting-green smoothness, you’re likely to see some yellow flowers.

Not the dandelions — look closer.

You might mistake them for buttercups at first, but they’re really quite different. These little yellow five-petaled flowers are yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta). They’re a native wildflower where I live, and vastly superior to the grass that still attempts to poke its way up through their heart-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers.

A plant with heart shaped leaflets and five-petaled yellow flowers.
A tuft of yellow wood sorrel.

As a native herb here, it doesn’t have a long history of use in old European grimoires. There are, however, many other varieties of wood sorrel — some native, some not, and some of questionable origins.

I’m a big proponent of using native alternatives to exotic herbs whenever possible, so I figured I’d give some background on wood sorrel and a few ways to use its magical (and delicious) American cousins.

Wood Sorrel Folklore

The species name Oxalis comes from the Greek word oxus, meaning “acidic” or “sharp.” The leaves of wood sorrel have a very tart flavor which makes them a tasty addition to salads. When dried, wood sorrel can be used to curdle milk for cheesemaking.

These plants are connected to fairies and woodland spirits. In Wales, wood sorrel is called fairy-bells.

A European wood sorrel plant (Oxalis acetosella), with heart-shaped leaflets and white, bell-shaped flowers.
The white flowers of Oxalis acetosella show why this plant’s sometimes known as “fairy bells.”

In herbal medicine, a decoction of the leaves was used for thirst and fever. Applied externally, the crushed leaves have an astringent effect which helps with abscesses, boils, and wounds.

Dried leaves are said to attract luck and, due to the doctrine of signatures, be healing and protective to the heart.

It’s also said that the dried leaf will allow the user to see fairies.

There’s some debate about shamrocks (an Anglicization of the Gaelic seamróg, meaning “little or young clover”). Shamrocks are associated with Saint Patrick, who used a three-leafed plant to explain the idea of the Christian Holy Trinity. Most depictions of the shamrock show it with three heart-shaped leaves. Since clovers have rounded leaves, this indicates that the shamrock may actually be a species of Oxalis and not a clover at all.

The ancient Druids were said to have regarded the shamrock as a sacred plant with the power to drive off evil spirits.

In the Victorian language of flowers, wood sorrel represented joy and motherly affection.

Wood Sorrel Magical Uses

Magically, wood sorrel is used in spells for luck, healing, protection from evil and misfortune, and love.

These plants can also be useful for working with three-part deities, like the Triple Goddess or Brighid. They make good offerings, or even natural representations of the deities themselves in a pinch.

Using Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel isn’t a substitute for a visit to a doctor, but it can be a helpful herb for minor problems. Be sure you can reliably identify sorrel before attempting to consume it or use it topically.

If you live where wood sorrel naturally grows, you may want to cultivate a native species in your yard or garden space. This is especially true if you have an altar or dedicated space for nature spirits — wood sorrel is strongly connected to these entities. I’m planning to put an offering bowl and some large bull quartz crystals on the edge of the patch of yellow wood sorrel here, for example.

Using wood sorrel as a protective plant is an interesting idea. This protection may stem from the plant’s three-leaved appearance, which is reminiscent of various triple deities. The number three is also regarded as sacred in itself, since it reflects the past, present, and future; youth, adulthood, and old age; birth, life, and death; and the upper, middle, and lower worlds. Wood sorrel may also be considered protective because it’s very sour. Sour things, like lemons and vinegar, are often used to ward off or cleanse away negative energy.

Yellow wood sorrel leaves. The leaves consist of three heart-shaped leaflets, arranged similarly to clover leaves.
This picture shows the heart-shaped leaves and small yellow buds of yellow wood sorrel.

With all of this in mind, I’d brew a tea of wood sorrel and use it to wash doors, windows, and thresholds. Growing wood sorrel could also have a protective and luck-drawing quality.

The dried leaves and flowers would make a very nice addition to jar spells and sachets for love magic. I’d probably combine the flowers with roses, apple blossoms, and other seasonal blooms associated with love-drawing, then use this mixture in a magical bath.

If you’ve never tasted wood sorrel, I highly recommend it. The tart leaves and flowers are a very interesting addition to salads, soups, and sauces. If you’re into kitchen witchery, these edible wildflowers can be a powerful way to work with your local landscape to bring love, protection, and luck into your life.

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Apple Folklore and Magical Properties

So, apples.

They’re versatile, inexpensive, and delicious. You can use them to carve stamps, prepare stuffing, or make a pie. Got an apple core? Feed it to worms or toss it in compost. They’re a delightful package of deliciousness, nutrition, and fiber.

They’re also pretty prominent in the religions of the areas from which they come. Eris tossed a golden apple and started the Trojan war. Iðunn’s golden apples give the gods youth, immortality, and vigor. Manannán mac Lir tempted Cormac mac Airt with a branch covered in nine apples of red gold. Emain, the otherworldly Plain of White Silver, had silver boughs with white apple blossoms.

We don’t have magic apples here, though I feel like Chehalis apples come close. I was drawn to their colors, ranging from emerald green, to golden yellow, to a pale, almost ethereal shade somewhere between the two. (I’ll just be happy if I get to eat one of these apples without the birds and wasps getting to them first!)

An apple ripening on a tree.
One of the little Chehalis apples on the tree in the back yard.

But apples are more than just magical symbols of the Otherworld, anyway. They’re also an indispensable ingredient in kitchen witchery, and even herbal healing.

Apple Folklore

Teasing out the folkloric significance of apples is more challenging than it might seem. Up until the 1800s, the word “apple” was used not just for apples, but also for as a generic term for fruits other than berries. This is why we have “oak apples” (a plant deformity caused by gall wasps), “earth apples” (cucumbers or potatoes, depending on who you ask), “love apples” (tomatoes), or “May apples” (a low-growing relative of barberry).

Ethnobotanists have made some compelling arguments for apples being used as a symbolic substitution for fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), an entheogenic fungus. This is an interesting bit of information to keep in mind as you read through the rest of the folkloric and symbolic significance of apples.

The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Christian mythology is often said to be an apple. This is particularly interesting when you consider the effect of that apple and Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of humanity’s development. This widely-criticized theory holds that entheogens (specifically Psilocybe cubensis) are responsible for much of the progress of humankind. If Adam and Eve’s apple could be viewed as an entheogenic fungi, then the Christian story of the fall of man would be an allegory for entheogens leading to the development of clothing, agriculture, and more.

The larynx, which is usually (though certainly not always) more prominent in male humans, is called an “Adam’s apple” because of a bit of folklore that claimed that the prominence was created by the fruit sticking in Adam’s throat.

In later Christian mythology, Jesus Christ is portrayed as holding an apple. Here, the apple transforms from a sign of the fall of humanity, into a sign of redemption. Considering that this redemption leads to eternal life, this apple is somewhat akin to the apples of Iðunn.

In the Norse Prose Edda, the goddess Iðunn is said to carry an ash wood box in which she keeps golden apples. When the Norse gods begin to grow old, they eat her apples and become young again. The gods, then, depend very heavily on Iðunn’s presence and good will in order to maintain their youth and strength.

Apples weren’t always associated with youth and life, however. In the Heiðarvíga saga, the poet speaks of the “apples of Hel.” These appear to be the antithesis of Iðunn’s apples — the food of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Eris felt insulted when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis like the other gods were. As revenge, she tossed a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the fairest” in between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They immediately began arguing over who deserved it, and asked Paris to mediate. Aphrodite promised him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world if he chose her, so he did. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was Helen of Troy, and Paris’ decision kicked off the Trojan War.

The island of Avalon, the mythical, mystical place of Arthurian legend, is the Island of Apples. The name “Avalon” is thought to stem from the Welsh word “afal.”

In Cornwall, Kalan Gwav (Allentide) is a time for giving shiny, bright red apples to friends and family as tokens of luck.

In the Irish Echtra The Voyage of Bran, Bran mac Febail sets out on his adventure when he receives a silver apple bough brought from Emain, the Plain of White Silver.

The Irish sea god Manannán mac Lir’s golden apples emitted a kind of magic lullaby. This could soothe people afflicted with injuries or illnesses to a healing sleep. The name of his paradisical home, Emain Abhlach, comes from the Old Irish “Ablach” (“of the fruits” or “of the apples”).

Apples, fresh flowers, and sheet music on a wooden table. One of the apples has been cut in half to expose the seeds. An ornate knife sits nearby.

In the mythology of the people from the North Caucasus, there is a tree that groows magic apples capable of guaranteeing a child to whoever eats them.

During the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, people dip apples in honey and eat them to bring in a sweet year ahead.

Wiccan lore views apples as a sacred symbol. This is because, when cut in half horizontally, their seeds and core form a pentagram.

An old bit of boat builder’s lore holds that it’s bad luck to make a boat from apple wood, since apple wood was used to make coffins. Doing so was believed to doom the sailors to an early grave.

A common bit of marriage folklore says that, if an unmarried woman peels an apple in one long, continuous piece, then throws it over her shoulder, the peel will fall in the shape of the first letter of her future spouse’s name.

Wassailing is an old English folk practice performed to bless the trees and bring in a big crop in the next harvest season. (I went to a wassail ceremony earlier this year, and it was a ton of fun!)

The Magical Uses of Apples

Apples are a common autumn food and addition to altars for autumn and winter holidays. This is because they’re in season during autumn, and tend to keep very well if they’re stored properly. Apple sauce, apple cider, dried apples, and carefully-stored fresh apples were vital additions to the western European diet during the cold months.

An apple bough with buds, flowers, ripe fruit, and unripe fruit is said to mark a door to the Otherworld.

In general, apples are magically associated with love, fertility, protection, and prosperity. The flowers are excellent additions to charm bags, the fruit is great for kitchen witchery, and the leaves can bring fertility and prosperity to one’s home or garden.

Using Apples in Magic

Apples are possibly one of the easiest and most convenient magical ingredients. Since apples are pretty sturdy and edible when raw, they’re often used as a kind of edible “package” for magical intentions. Hold an apple in your hands, visualize it filling with your intention, whisper your intention to it, and eat.

If you have access to apple leaves (either pruned or fallen — please don’t pick fresh leaves from the tree), bury thirteen of them in your garden. This is said to increase its productivity for the next year. I’d argue that you could also add these leaves to compost, or bury pruned or fallen apple wood in your hügelkultur mounds.

Apple blossoms are great ingredient for love magic. Their action is said to be gently seductive. They are also used for peace, contentment, and success. This suggests that they’d be a useful addition to any spell for attracting happiness into one’s life.

Apples are also said to be protective. Apple cider vinegar can be a useful (and pungent) addition to jars and bottle spells for protection against both one’s enemies and malevolent energy.

Another small Chehalis apple ripening on a tree.
Another little Chehalis apple.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for apples this year. The springtime apple blossoms were incredible, and I check on the ripening fruits with excitement every day. Here’s hoping you can find ways to incorporate these magical fruits into your meals, rituals, and daily practices.

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Increasing Landscape Resilience with Native-ish Plants

Hello! It’s April, it’s going to be almost 90° F this weekend, and winter skipped us.

Well, we had like one cold week, but that was it.

Honestly, it’s had me worried. A number of plant species that are native to this area require cold stratification — in other words, they need a period of cold and some pretty big temperature swings in order to trigger them to germinate at the correct time. This includes a tree that’s very important to me, the bald cypress. They’ve evolved to need cold stratification because without it, their seeds could germinate far too early and die off in the middle of winter.

I have packets of seeds that I want to plant, too, that need to be sown within a narrow window of time. I’m talking when temperatures are cool (but not too cool), usually right around the last frost date. The trouble is… like I said, it’s going to be in the high 80s this weekend. Our official last frost date was a few days ago.

Now that I’ve gotten my complaining out of the way, there’s an idea I’ve been exploring.

I first ran into it when I was researching native hydrangeas. I love hydrangeas in general (my grandfather had a big hydrangea next to the house I grew up in, alongside a strangely persistent and hardy opuntia cactus), but they’re not really known for their heat tolerance. They are, by far, not the only plants that are going to suffer as temperatures increase either.

A hand touches a cluster of purple Hydrangea macrophylla flowers.

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is native to this area. They also prefer daytime temperatures in the 70s and require supplemental irrigation when it gets too hot and dry.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are native to the Southeastern United States. In other words, they’re from the US, just a bit lower than where I live. Changes in average temperatures are expanding the range of some southern plants and animals, while driving others further north.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that a single person can do to keep their cool temperature-loving plants from suffering from this effect. It’s also debatable whether we should — landscapes are ever-changing and evolving, and state borders are artificial constructs that plants and animals don’t recognize. It may increase the resilience of the landscape to work with this shift, rather than against it.

For this reason, I’m experimenting with oakleaf and smooth hydrangeas. Experts point out that this area’s climate is slowly aligning with species that used to be relegated to more southern states. Blending some Southern species with Midatlantic species could help create a plant, animal, and fungal community that’s more resilient to climate change, and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation or treatment for diseases related to heat stress.

Saving seeds from the individual native plants that seem to struggle less with the heat can help their species adapt over time, which will feed and protect the native animal species that depend on them. Adding in native-ish species from a bit further south can help the land adapt. It also ensures sources of food and nesting sites for the animals that are also being driven north as temperatures rise.

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!

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!

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Crocus Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s spring (kind of)!

At least, it’s getting spring-y here. Granted, I think we maybe had about four days of actual “winter,” but it’s been t-shirt weather for the past few days, and looks like it’s going to stay that way for at least another week.

Since things were warming up, I stepped out back to take a look at the yard. The elderberry bushed that I planted last year have some new leaves coming in, the bulbs I planted are starting to poke up through the mulch, and the apples are both looking good.

There’s also a large patch of surprise crocuses that seem to have popped up overnight next to my shed.

These are either Crocus vernus, the spring crocus, or Crocus tommasinianus, the woodland crocus. They’re beautiful, but decidedly not native to this area. (Crocus vernus and C. tommasinianus are related to C. sativus, the saffron crocus. However, these crocuses are definitely not a way to make rice more delicious.) Still, I am determined to enjoy them before it’s time to remove the bulbs and put in some native coralberry bushes. I’ll probably keep the bulbs and move them to somewhere where they’re less likely to spread.

If you’re also experiencing a flush of these tiny colorful flowers, here’s some old folklore and a few ways to make them magically useful.

Crocus Folklore

In ancient Greek legend, Crocus was a human man. The nymph Smilax was in love with him, but, ever the fuckboy, Crocus was dissatisfied with the affair. The gods turned him into a saffron crocus.

Another version of this story claims that Crocus was a companion of Hermes. Unfortunately, he stood up at an inopportune time during a discus throwing match, and Hermes accidentally killed him. As Crocus’ blood fell on the soil, saffron crocuses sprang up.

Spring crocuses are associated with Persephone, Aphrodite, and Venus. Mythology would also appear to tie this flower to Hermes.

A London source claimed that picking crocuses tended to “draw away the strength.” Therefore, only strong men or healthy young women should attempt to.

A field of purple and white crocuses at the base of a mountain.

According to Pliny, wearing crocus around the neck would prevent drunkenness. Interestingly, Swiss parents would place saffron around their children’s necks as a protective charm (presumably not against drunkenness, or else they’ve got some explaining to do).

In the Victorian language of flowers, crocuses represented cheer and youthful gladness.

This flower is associated with the planets Venus and Mercury, and the element of Water.

Crocus Magical Properties

Historic mentions of crocus as a protective charm typically refer to saffron crocus, not the spring crocuses. It can be hard to tease out folklore and uses attributed to spring crocuses, since the autumn-blooming saffron crocuses were generally considered more useful. For our purposes, I’m going to focus on spring crocuses here.

Spring blooming crocuses are used in charms for love, including platonic love or love of the self.

As an early spring-blooming flower, spring crocuses are also useful for spells for new beginnings.

These flowers are common altar decorations for Imbolc and Ostara. However, use caution if you bring spring crocuses indoors — all varieties of crocus other than C. sativus are toxic. Spring-blooming crocuses can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and digestive upset, while autumn-blooming crocuses can cause liver and kidney damage.

Simple Crocus Spells

You can include crocuses in charm bags for love. Add the dried flowers to a pink or red pouch along with rose petals, lavender flowers, and a bit of cinnamon bark. If you like, add a piece of rose quartz. Dress it with your favorite love-drawing oil (in a pinch, infuse some cinnamon, basil, and rose in grapeseed or sunflower seed oil, and use that) and keep it on you.

You can also use crocuses as a form of sympathetic magic. Plant a bulb along with a slip of paper with your name, and the name of your partner. Declare that as the plant grows, your love will flourish with it. When the flower is at its peak, pick it and save it for a love charm.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

It’s Imbolc season. Get the bucket.

I think a big part of what kept me from really connecting with a lot of Wiccan-based Paganism when I was younger was that, at the time, the available source material was pretty prescriptive. Sabbats were on specific days, with specific traditions attached, and there was an onus the follower to do things “right.”

Having lived in a pretty big range of climates, I can say that that’s had an impact, too. It’s hard to feel in the harvest or growing seasons when they just don’t line up with the harvest and growing seasons where these traditions were based. If the wheel of the year is supposed to reconnect humanity to nature and its cycles, a strict interpretation is the opposite of helpful. When I lived in California, for example, it felt like observing the traditional sacred days was sometimes counterproductive — spring didn’t look like it did in Europe, or even in the Eastern US. Neither did winter. It made things feel rote, which robbed them of meaning.

That’s why I’m a big proponent of celebrating the High Days when and how it makes sense to do so. If your growing zone means that you’re not going to see the first signs of spring until March, or won’t ever experience cold and snowfall, then so be it.

All of this is to say that the vast majority of my High Day traditions are pragmatic (perhaps to a fault).

Imbolc passed recently, amid surgeries (one for me, one for the Certified Lap Loaf. We’re both doing well!), falling down the stairs (just me. That part of me is not doing well.), and probably other stuff that I’m forgetting because of the first two things. A lot of ADF members celebrate the High Days on the nearest weekend, which is nice. Less pressure that way when your most-of-you isn’t working correctly.

A picture of the face of a small gray tabby cat. She looks very angry, probably about the blue nylon cone surrounding her head like some kind of fucked-up satellite dish.
Don’t let the barely concealed rage fool you. She’s purring here.

To me, Imbolc is refreshment. It’s deep cleaning, washing my front door, doing repairs, and making food. (This year, it’s also starting plans for home improvements that we won’t be able to do until later spring and early summer, like replacing the roof.) It’s also almost never actually on the first of February.

I don’t set up an Imbolc altar. I follow the same basic ritual structure that I do for any other day. For me, the main difference is the feeling of lightness and renewal that I carry through doing things like scrubbing grout, cleaning out garden beds, de-scaling the dishwasher, and chucking Affresh tablets down the garbage disposal.

When you’re re-learning lost, buried, or reinvented cultural traditions, it’s easy to get caught up in the need for accuracy and correctness. It’s also easy to forget why the High Days existed in the first place — to mark significant occasions throughout the year, largely based on what people who grew crops and raised animals considered significant.
When you get too invested in following the letter of a tradition, you can lose the spirit of it.

From my house to yours, here’s a small thing that I like to do each spring. It works equally well whenever you need to feel that sense of newness and freshness that only spring can bring.

Imbolc Home Cleansing

You’ll want to have:

  • A white candle. (The golden beige of natural beeswax is fine, too.)
  • Dried vervain.
  • Water.
  • A bowl.

First, steep the vervain in some hot water, as if you were going to make a tea. (I like to put vervain and water in a clear jar, then stick it in the sun for a while to infuse. If it’s cloudy where you are, a kettle of boiling water is fine.)

Vervain flowers.

Once the infusion cools, strain out the leaves and pour the resulting liquid into the bowl.

Next, light the candle. Declare, either out loud or to yourself, that this flame represents the return of the sun — whether that’s the literal return of longer daylight hours, or a metaphorical return of warmth and light is up to you.

Carry the bowl and candle to each room of your home, moving in a clockwise direction. Set the candle down in a safe spot and use your fingers to flick the vervain infusion around the perimeter of the room (be sure to get the corners). If you have prayers or chants that feel appropriate here, use them. I usually fall into a kind of stream-of-consciousness monologue about the objective of the working. It’s less important that your words sound nice than it is that they mean something to you and help you focus on what you’re doing.

When you’re through cleansing your entire home, offer the rest of the vervain infusion to your yard, garden, or nearest patch of green stuff. If your candle is small, you can let it burn completely and dispose of the remnants. If it’s a big one, snuff it and re-use it for a cleansing or purification ritual another day.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Nutmeg Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s the time of year when Trader Joes brings out their Wassail Punch. I don’t really drink fruit juices straight, but I like ’em for flavoring water kefir. This one’s blend of fruit and spices makes the end result taste like cola, which is pretty neat.

(Cola is one of those flavors that isn’t really meant to taste like anything in particular. It’s spices. It’s citrus. It’s all kinds of things that add up to one immediately recognizable taste.)

Anyhow, one of the key flavors in Wassail Punch (and probably cola, to be honest), is nutmeg. It’s one of those things that I can immediately recognize when I taste it but am completely unable to remember on its own. It’s like… a clove- and cinnamon-less pumpkin pie? I guess?

It was also one of those most precious substances in the world for a while, and a nearly invaluable magical ingredient.

Nutmeg Magical Properties and Folklore

Nutmeg is a spice that comes from an evergreen tree, Myristica fragrans, native to Indonesia. It’s a weird seed, too — it grows inside of a fruit similar to an apricot, surrounded by an aril that looks kind of like a flat, fleshy spider or extremely underachieving facehugger. The dried aril is the source of the spice mace. The seed itself is the nutmeg.

An image of a ripe nutmeg fruit. The outside resembles an apricot, which has split to reveal the mace-covered nutmeg inside.

It takes a long time for nutmeg trees to bear fruit, though they can do so for several decades after that. Since the spice is native to such a small geographic area, an absolutely horrific amount of bloodshed happened in the name of obtaining it, farming it, and keeping anyone else from getting a hold of it. The Dutch tortured and killed the native people of Indonesia in order to control the nutmeg trade. They also tried their damnedest to keep the English and French from sneaking any viable seeds out of the country, by dipping the nutmegs in lime to keep them from sprouting.

People used to joke (inaccurately) about Manhattan being traded for glass beads. The Dutch really did trade Manhattan to the English for some sugar and nutmeg. For real, nutmegs were so valuable that traders would mix a handful of wooden replica nutmegs in with the real ones in order to dupe their customers.

A whole nutmeg, hollowed and filled with mercury, sealed with wax, and wrapped in a green cloth, is considered a powerful charm for luck in games of chance. (You can skip the mercury poisoning by just carrying a whole nutmeg. It’s fine. Really.)

Wrap a whole nutmeg in purple cloth, and it’s said to help you win court cases.

All forms of nutmeg are considered useful for money magic. Nutmeg oil is a common ingredient in money oils, while the powdered stuff is helpful in sachet and sprinkling powders.

Money and luck aren’t nutmeg’s only properties, however. An old spell from Louisiana involves sprinkling nutmeg in a woman’s shoe to get her to fall for you. Food and drinks flavored with nutmeg were also used as love potions.

Whole nutmegs covered in mace.

Ground nutmeg was used as incense in ancient Rome.

One old remedy for rheumatism involved boiling nutmegs and cooling the resulting liquid. The nutmegs’ natural fats rise to the surface and cool, forming a solid layer. This is skimmed off and used as a topical balm. Nutmeg is a warming spice, so this would help encourage circulation and relieve some of the pain caused by cold weather aches.

Nutmeg can make you trip balls. This is not code language.
This spice is a hallucinogen, courtesy of a compound known as myristicin. Unfortunately, you have to consume a lot to feel the effects, at which point you’re putting yourself at risk of nutmeg poisoning. “A lot” is relative here — about 10 grams (two or so teaspoons) of ground nutmeg is about to trigger symptoms of toxicity. It’s not that much, but still way more than you’d typically use in cooking. Nutmeg poisoning is pretty awful, too. While I wasn’t able to find any stories of nutmeg-based fatalities, the cases I did find mentioned nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue, confusion, and seizures. Yikes.

Nutmeg is associated with the element of Air, the suit of Swords in tarot, and the planets Jupiter and Mercury.

Using Nutmeg

The easiest way to use nutmeg is to make your favorite autumn or winter recipe that uses this spice for flavoring. Use a wooden or metal spoon to prepare it and stir it with your dominant hand. As you do this, picture energy coming up from the Earth, down from the sky, and running through your arm, down your hand, into the spoon, and finally into the food or beverage itself. Ask the nutmeg for help with whatever you want it to do, whether that’s getting laid or making some money. Pretty easy, bog-standard kitchen witchery, really.

Whole nutmeg seeds, a nutmeg grater, and a little pile of ground nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg by just… carrying it. As mentioned previously, whole nutmegs are a charm for luck and money. Wrap them in an appropriately colored cloth, anoint them with a suitable magical oil, ask them for their assistance, then keep them on you. When they get old and lose their potency, retire them by burying them in the soil and make a new charm with a fresh nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg for meditation. I wouldn’t rely on it to induce a trance state, but drinking some warm milk flavored with honey and nutmeg can be a pleasant way to begin some meditative or journeying work. Just don’t use too much — the vast majority of nutmeg poisonings are from kids who eat it to get high and end up spending the night dizzy and throwing up instead.

Nutmegs are also good additions to charm bags or jar spells for money or luck. They’re very nice, potent, self-contained magical ingredients. If you have an assemblage of herbs, curios, and other tools, why not throw in a nutmeg? If you can’t afford a whole one, sprinkle in some of the ground stuff instead.

Nutmeg is a spice with a dark history (I mean, most of them have dark histories. Thanks, colonialism!). It’s preciousness as an incense and culinary ingredient has tied it to the concepts of luck and money, so you’ll most commonly see it in spells for financial abundance and good fortune. If you’re not a kitchen witch, a sprinkle of nutmeg can be a good place to start. If you need to practice magic discreetly, you really can’t go wrong with tucking a whole nutmeg in your bag or pocket.

Environment, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Persimmon Foraging Quest

Hello! If you’ve been reading here for a while now, you may have come across the Persimmon Quest.

This is an annual quest my partner and I go on every autumn. We call around or visit grocery stores in order to find out who actually has persimmons (preferably the astringent kind, but non-astringent will also do). Then, we purchase and eat massive quantities of persimmons.

The first time I had one was when I still lived in California. It was a Fuyu persimmon (Diospyros kaki), crunchy and sweet, and I was sold. When I had my first perfectly ripe Hachiya, like a water balloon filled with sweet, flavorful jelly, I was smitten. When I realized that one of the trees planted here by one of the former occupants was probably a persimmon, I was ecstatic.

A Druidry group I belong to recently offered a small foraging expedition. One of our members is a biologist, and he’s kind and generous enough with his time to lead seasonal foraging walks. Last spring, we hunted for ramps. Now that it’s persimmon season, we went to track down some trees.

And oh, did we ever.

Three bags of soft, bright orange American persimmons, along with a sprig of coralberry and some dried mountain mint.

Several of them were already bare, picked over by wildlife and wind. Some were still laden with fruit that fell at the slightest touch. We picked only the ripest, squishiest ones, leaving the rest to soften in the sun and feed other things.

My partner and I came away with several pounds, which I cleaned and froze for future use. They’re very different from Japanese persimmons — we snacked on a few as we foraged, and it was striking just how much the flavor seemed to vary from tree to tree. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are most similar to Hachiya-type Japanese persimmons, in that they’re very astringent before they’re ripe. When they look like they’re nearly rotten, they’re at their best.

Most of the ones I tasted were almost floral when compared to a Hachiya. Still very sweet and soft (with a slight astringent bite in a few places), but floral like lavender lemonade is floral. The comparatively large seeds got in the way a bit, but I’ve read some interesting recipes for roasting and grinding them to make a coffee substitute. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m intrigued! If I can get a foraged equivalent for Dandy Blend that isn’t dandelion root, I’ll be excited.

I haven’t yet decided what to do with the persimmons themselves. I might separate the seeds and pulp, then freeze the pulp again in an ice cube tray. I figure, if I want to add them to smoothies, sauces, or desserts, I can just thaw out some cubes of prepared persimmon mush fairly quickly and easily. I could even pop a cube or two in a jar for making persimmon kefir. (One member of the group was considering doing fruit leather but based on my experiences trying to make strawberry leather in the oven, I don’t think I want to tackle that without a dehydrator.)

There was a lot more to see than just persimmons, too. Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) with its stringy bark (good for stripping and braiding into twine). Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) with its bright yellow, tomato-like, deceptively delicious-looking poisonous fruits. Fragrant tufts of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), gray and brittle with age. The most striking were the coralberries (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), their tiny, bright magenta fruits standing in vibrant contrast to their bright green leaves.

I found these berries particularly intriguing. As it turns out, they’re a valuable native food plant for birds, grow in shade, can stabilize banks, don’t have any major pest or disease vulnerabilities, and thrive on neglect. I’m still looking for native/non-invasive plants to help feed the yard’s hard clay soil and reverse some of the damage from supporting a lawn, and coralberry fills a very important niche here. From what I have read, coralberries aren’t of much value as food for humans. That’s okay, though. Not everything in the yard has to — or should — be for me to eat.

Plus they are so pretty.

I’m considering growing some mountain mint, too. Like other mints, they can take over a yard. Since they’re a native plant, I think it’ll be easier to keep them at a reasonable level than, say, the old peppermint that’s slowly eating part of the back yard. Interestingly, it’s closer to bee balm (monarda) than it is to peppermint, and there’s a faint bee balm-ness to its scent that gives that away. Mountain mint also attracts an incredible variety of native pollinators and predatory wasps, and is both edible and medicinal. Medicinally, it’s treated almost as a panacea — it’s considered a digestive, carminative, emmenagogue, expectorant, and more, though I haven’t thoroughly researched the active constituents myself yet. If it can serve as a home-grown, native substitute for peppermint tea, I’ll be all for it. The flavor does lead me to think that it’d be great for seasoning poultry or wild game, and I’m eager to try.

That’s what I love about foraging trips. Not only do I come away with tasty food, but I also get a better idea of ways to try to heal the land I’m now responsible for. Seeing a wide variety of native plants shows me what this patch of grass could be and tells me how I can help it get there. I’m excited!