Uncategorized

Time to prune the @#$% out of this apple tree.

I am not many things. An arborist is among them.

Unfortunately(?), with this house, I have become responsible for a smallish apple tree. I was excited to discover that it was a fruit tree when we first toured the place — there were a few sour greenish apples clinging to the scraggly branches. I didn’t know anything about apple trees, but this still seemed like a positive development.

I have since learned that apple trees are basically livestock.

I bought it a friend, a little Chehalis apple tree, so it could produce more fruit. I watered and fed it.

Like sheep, apple trees also need to be trimmed. Branches cross, or grow from weird, narrow angles, or jut straight up in the air. They weaken the tree, which sends its energy reserves to put leaves and buds on these branches that will inevitably snap in the wind and never bear fruit. They’re a source of illness, insects, and injury. In the event of some kind of apocalypse, it won’t take very long before it’s no longer fruitful — fruit trees as we know them have developed alongside humans, and we rely on each other for survival.

So that’s how I ended up on the internet looking up how to beneficially injure a small tree.

Narrow branch angles. Crossed branches. Watersprouts. I memorized what each one looked like, and how to best cut them. (At an angle, as close to the branch collars as possible.) Then, armed with a set of hedge clippers and a pair of saws, I trudged out to go sort shit out.

A dwarf apple tree that hasn't been pruned in years. It's winter, so the branches are bare.
Depicted: Fruit chaos.

I should note that I was not prepared for how much work it’d be. I figured it was cold out, so I dressed warmly — winter boots, my wedding sweatpants, a flannel, et cetera. Within minutes, I was stripping down.

The actual pruning process wasn’t too intimidating. The tree’s a dwarf, so it was easy enough to navigate the branches. I left some that I know I shouldn’t’ve, just because they were providing support for a wild grape vine that I’m hoping will return next year. Others, I either snipped with the clippers, or carefully sawed through while muttering apologies through clenched teeth.

If anything, the toughest part of the process was the anxiety. What if I cut something wrong, or that’d make it grow all weird? What if my tools weren’t clean enough, and I introduced some kind of disease into the soft, green wood? What if I was doing more harm than good?

When you’re climbing around under a tree and trying not to get cracked in the skull or speared through the eye with falling branches, it’s not the best time to start losing your nerve. I was projecting a lot of my own anxiety on the tree — I’ve been in a position where someone held me down and injured me, insisting it was for my own good, I know exactly how that feels — but maybe this wasn’t it. So, I did the tree-hugger thing.

I put my non-dominant hand on a robust branch and let myself fall into the xylem and phloem, breathing with the slow, wintry pace of the circulating sap. What I felt surprised me. There wasn’t really fear, though there was some pain. If I really had to describe it, it felt like what I imagine the cows in those hoof-trimming videos feel like. (If you haven’t fallen down that rabbit hole yet, you’re welcome.) Tension and relief. The acknowledgement that something is wrong, and fixing it won’t be fun, but the result will be worth it.

I’ll probably have to go back and do some more pruning, but I’ve got the bulk of it done. The problematic parts have been removed, so now everything else is just shaping and ensuring that the branches have enough space around them.

The end result remains to be seen. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of apples next year!

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

So I says to the maple tree, I says…

A big part of permaculture is observation.

You don’t just test your soil, see where the sun hits, then plant a bunch of things. It’s a slow progression during which you watch the land to see what grows where, how it thrives, and who visits it. You let the dirt tell you what it wants and meet it in the middle, so everyone gets to eat and thrive.

I figured one way to help this process would be to just… well, ask. I took myself, an offering, and some incense, and climbed up the hill to the big red maple in the back yard. There’s a perfectly butt-shaped arrangement of some of its roots near its base, so I settled myself in, rested my back against the trunk, and let myself kind of fall into it.

It’s a process that’s hard to describe — if pressed, I’d say I “breathe” along with the tree. This is probably a bit hard to conceptualize since trees don’t breathe the way we do, but gentle breathing and just feeling things out for a while seems to put me into a very comfortable looping sensation. I feel the water moving up the xylem, sap flowing through the phloem, waste moving back down to excrete into the soil through the roots. I feel a sympathetic flow from my feet to my head, then back down and into the soil. Sometimes, this is just a way to relax and get out of my own head (and into a consciousness that’s very alien to my own). Sometimes, it’s a helpful way to get information.

In this case, I got a lot of messages about water.

I wasn’t really surprised — red maples have shallow, spreading root systems and produce “dry shade” under their canopies. The soil here is heavy clay, and there’s a fairly steep hill. There’s also a ton of non-native grass and not much biodiversity. The angle, hard, slick soil, a tree that blocks rainfall to the ground, and thirsty, high-maintenance grass made the water messages make sense. It doesn’t look like a desert, but it’s a place that just feels subtly thirsty.

I left the experience resolved to put in more ways to catch rainwater — barrels, a stock tank, something. I wasn’t sure what else to do. What else could this water-hunger mean?

Flash forward to Pagan Pride Day. At one point, I sat for a tarot reading. It was full of “wild hares” — cards that seem to leap from the deck unbidden, as if demanding to be part of the reading, without anyone having to draw them. The resulting message was one of herbs, plants, and a figure that would help me realize my vision.

“Neato,” I figured, and didn’t think much of it.

Flash forward a bit further. My partner and I are at a hardware store to return a defective trowel and buy more mulch with which to murder the front yard. While he gets it, I browse the shrubs outside. There’s a triangular gap between the house, porch, potted rose bush, and rue plant that I’d like to fill with something tall and fairly thin. A voice asks me how I’m doing, and if I need help with anything. I look up to see an older man in a purple shirt. He’s the plant supplier for the stores in this area, he says. We end up having a long conversation about plants, soil, pH, sunlight, tattoos, and taxes. He tells me that the heavy clay is trouble. Without organic matter, it’s too compact for roots to penetrate and doesn’t absorb water well.

What I need, he says, is leaf compost.

And there it was again. The way to get more water isn’t just to trap it, it’s to undo years of raked leaves and monoculture. Layers of compost (good thing I have a big tumbler), paper, yard waste, and shredded wood. Part of the reason the red maple’s roots jut up through the grass is because the clay makes it difficult to exist otherwise. There’s no softness, no air space, no absorbency, no acid.

We’re layering rotted leaves and shredded wood over the clay now. Sprinkling it with mushroom spores and seeds that will sleep in the cold until spring. Eventually, we’ll get there.

Uncategorized

Sorry, hoss. Time for my cabbage bath.

(With apologies to Chris Onstad for this title.)

I love butterflies and moths. I’ve purposefully picked plants because of their appeal to pollinators. I just wish they could read.

It’d be great if I could have a sign that say something, like, I don’t know. “Food is over here ->,” or “Please pollinate here,” or “I refuse to be responsible for raising your children, you absolute deadbeats.”

My issue is not, of course, with little guys like the yellow woolly bear from the other week. No. I am dealing with a decidedly human vs. cabbage white butterfly situation here and I’m pretty sure it’s the same damned bug every time.

A degenerate insect on a pretty purple flower.

See, my original plan was to plant a row of strawberries in one of the raised beds out front. It’s a bit late in the season for that so I figured I’d get some kale, broccoli, and rainbow chard starts instead. There was still a bunch of empty space so I also hucked in a handful of red mustard seeds that I had left over from a microgreens kit. I didn’t give too much thought toward companion planting since my selection of cold-weather crops is a bit limited. Despite this incredibly laissez-faire attitude toward horticulture, my small garden is (astonishingly) thriving.

So is all of the associated fauna, including a particularly persistent cabbage white butterfly which has anointed every single one of my brassicas with eggs and varying stages of cabbage looper. I wouldn’t mind this were it not for the fact that I need to eat those eventually. I refuse to become responsible for the offspring of this obvious delinquent.

Since I also refuse to hose my yard down with insecticide, that means that, every day, I go out there with a sponge and a jar of soapy water to physically wipe butterfly eggs off of my salad. This is hilariously futile, however, since the cabbage white butterfly follows me and deposits new eggs on the leaves I’ve just wiped off. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day this is either — it appears out of the woodwork to laugh at me and rub its butt all over my food.

My next steps are to try to mist the leaves with BTI, horticultural soap, and diatomaceous earth, then cover them with bug netting. I’m hoping I won’t have to do this, but I also don’t want to have to continue to give my broccoli a soapy bath every day.

Next year, I’m planting an absolute assload of nasturtiums. They can have those and leave the kale alone.

Wish me luck.

Environment, life

In which the squirrels pay their tab.

So, remember how I accidentally got a bunch of squirrels hammered a bit ago?

They paid their tab.

Like I mentioned in that previous post, permaculture requires a lot of fallow time, at least initially. There are a few things I could plant, but otherwise it’s mostly observing, identifying what’s already there, and tending to the raised beds in the front yard. In this process, I’ve decided on a few plants that I think will do very well.

So, imagine my surprise when I went out and noticed a bunch of seedlings of these same plants, newly growing adjacent to the squirrel kegger.

A squirrel peers down from a branch.

Seriously. My delinquents planted tomatoes (so many tomatoes), beans, and a whole host of other plants I’m excited about. It’s late in the season, so I don’t know how well they’re going to do right now, but still. I’m basically feeling like the hillbilly trash Snow White of gardening right now.

It was slightly annoying to have a band of rowdy rodents making and chugging bathtub squirrel gin in my platform feeders, but I’m not even mad.
Well done, my dudes.

(I’m still not buying you more cranberries, though.)

Environment, life

I made a rodent speakeasy.

I’ve tried to be conscientious in the way I take care of this yard. Permaculture isn’t achieved overnight — it can take up to a year of just observation to understand what should actually go in a space, and what arises naturally. While I’ve been on a crusade to get rid of a lot of the less-useful, non-native plants that were introduced here, I’ve tried to balance this with working slowly, patch-by-patch, and providing more sources of food, water, and habitat to replace what I’ve removed, and then some. (I even found and transported a yellow woolly bear caterpillar from a soon-to-be-doomed spot in the front yard, to a thriving bee balm plant in the back.)

Still, until I’m able to provide more food plants and water sources, I figured I’d put out some simple platform feeders. I’d already noticed bees descending on my yard after I watered the raised bed there — even when nothing had been planted yet, they were attracted to the water. Thirsty little buzzy people bobbed from tiny puddle to tiny puddle, eagerly drinking it up and trying to beat the heat. A platform feeder, I figured, would allow me to provide some water sources and a little bit of food for the larger guys out there.

I started fairly simply. I threw in a handful or so of sunflower seeds and some sulphite-free dried cranberries that I’d had laying around for a while, and put a bit of fresh water in the water dish.

Then I forgot about it. I mean, I had a lot of other things to contend with, like my war against lawns as a concept (and this lawn specifically). It was after a few days of rain and a bit of a hot spell that my partner called me into his office.

“Those feeders are really busy!”

“Yeah?” I asked, leaning in to peer out of the window overlooking the deck.

“Yeah! There’ve been a bunch of squirrels there all day!”

“Huh. Weird, they weren’t paying any attention to it befo-”

I squinted at the squirrels as it all clicked.
Fruit. Water. Heat.
The feeders didn’t collect rainwater, but it had rained enough to make those dried cranberries plump and juicy. The warmth just helped the sugar, water, and natural yeast along.

“Oh, shit,” I muttered.

Those hairy little delinquents were doing shots of fermented cranberry on my deck.

There was an excellent reason why these fruits, long ignored and forgotten about, were suddenly teeming with squirrels.
Glassy-eyed squirrels.
Glassy-eyed squirrels with burgeoning alcoholism.

Through my own negligence, I had managed to create some kind of speakeasy for squirrels. And they were having a fantastic time. Fantastic enough that I hesitated to rush out and try to chase them away from their ersatz kegger. (I mean, I don’t know how many drunken squirrels it’d take to kick my ass, but I knew how many they had on their side.)

I haven’t yet found any of them nursing tiny hangovers or passed out in the grass, but I still discarded the old fruit and put out fresh cranberries. If they liked dried fruit, they could have those.

Then I noticed that they were putting them in the water dish next to the feeder, presumably to create some kind of backyard rodent pruno.

I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen when I run out of cranberries, to be honest.

life, Plants and Herbs

Quantity: 15 (or, I will be eating strawberries until I die. Possibly of strawberries.)

We’re officially past our last expected frost date here, so I’ve been having Notions about making the balcony all fancy.

I started with two railing planters od garden sage, calendula, basil, and dill. While our spot doesn’t exactly get full sun, it gets several hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon, so these seemed like a suitable experiment. After all, I figured, if they don’t thrive out on the balcony, I can move them to my south-facing windows.

I also moved my hanging plant stand out there, and festooned it with mosquito plants, snapdragons, and pansies. We even got a small cherry tomato planter, some lettuce, and a raspberry bush.

Oh. And strawberries.

I had an idea that I thought would be neat — I could use a terracotta strawberry pot, plant it all around with strawberry starts, and put a vining plant at the top. I could train it to grow using the balcony as support, and it’ll look neat. I wasn’t really able to find a suitable plant with a vining habit, so I went with some crookneck squash in the end. I was able to find some strawberry starts, so I picked three different varieties and trucked them home, excited and ready to get my hands in some dirt.

The thing is, there are a couple of different ways that plant starts are sold. When we went to Home Depot, they had tons of individual Burpee starts in little dark green pots. When we went to the independent garden store, they had starts in white square packages. They were about the same circumference as the Burpee pots, so I figured the only difference was branding.

I’m going to pause for a moment to mention that I was also wearing a brand-new pair of glasses, which I feel may not be quite the correct prescription.

Anyhow, this is how I ended up with 47 strawberry plants.
I did not need or want 47 strawberry plants.
I have no idea what I’m going to do with 47 plants’ worth of strawberries.

Once I got the starts home and got a better look at the packaging, my stomach dropped into my knees. I pressed every spare container I could into service — old planter liners, spaghetti sauce jars, cartons, some terracotta pots I’d been planning to use for another project, you name it.

A windowsill filled with terracotta pots of tiny strawberry plants.
This is my bedroom windowsill, and also every other horizontal surface that gets basically any sunlight.

My balcony is covered in strawberries. My windows are covered in strawberries. I have strawberries growing in the fancy-pants greenhouse cabinet in my partner’s office. I wake up to strawberry plants. I trip over strawberry plants. I have yet to find anyone who wants spare strawberry plants.

A gif from Forrest Gump. "There's pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp..."

They are the first things I see in the morning, and the last I see at night. I’ve been looking up recipes for pies, jams, sauces, salads, and brews. I’ve been hunting for reusable multi-gallon freezer bags. I’ve been researching deities who enjoy strawberries as offerings, in the hopes that I might be able to unload some of them like an overly friendly neighbor with too much zucchini.

It’s been about a week, and they’re flowering and thriving. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have the heart to just toss them, and, like I said, I don’t know anyone who wants them. I wouldn’t know how to ship them even if I did.

An image entirely filled with strawberries. Nothing else is visible.
An artist’s rendition of my life for the foreseeable future.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to get very tired of strawberries in the near future.

Environment, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Daily Earth-Healing Meditation

Since today is Earth Day, I figured it’d be a good time to post about a small, simple daily meditation that I use to start my day.

It’s a combination of a grounding exercise and a planet-healing. You don’t need anything to do it, other than a comfortable, quiet place to sit (or even lie down) and five or ten minutes to spare. It’s based around the incredibly important role that fungi play in every ecosystem.

eyelash-fungi-4593804_640
Tiny eyelash fungi on mossy wood.

The Fungi

Though we often picture mushrooms when we imagine fungi, fungal fruiting bodies make up a tiny portion of the whole organism. Beneath them, spread out in a web, is a vast network of mycelium. The hyphae spread out like thin threads, transporting nutrients, secreting enzymes to break down organic matter, and supplying nutrients to the plants that depend on them. Everything in the world relies on fungi for survival, in one form or another. They secrete carbon dioxide as part of the carbon cycle, and can break down almost anything that isn’t actively toxic to them — even plastic, petroleum, or pesticides. Some fungi turn carbon into melanin, a very stable carbon-containing compound, while others help soil retain moisture. Certain fungi increase soil aggregation, potentially increasing soil carbon storage.

Still, fungi respond to a very careful natural balance. While the soil is a carbon sink, soil fungi also return carbon dioxide to the air — especially in situations where elevated levels of carbon dioxide encourage plant growth, increasing nitrogen demand and upsetting the delicate balance of carbon and nitrogen. Fungi can be vital environmental allies, but the balance needs to be preserved.

white-mushrooms-2582319_640
A pair of boletes.

Soil fungi don’t just comprise one or two species, either. Every patch of soil could be a host to a thousand distinct species. Just like the natural microflora of the body shift and change in response to illness, stress, diet, and medication, different stressors affect how these fungi grow, compete with each other, and evolve.

It’s never been more clear that protecting the planet means preserving all of the microscopic activity below the soil, not just the plants and animals above.

The Meditation

To begin, position yourself comfortably. Let your shoulders drop. Relax your jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Unclench your hands, and let them rest softly in your lap.

Inhale deeply, using your diaphragm and pushing out your belly to take in as much air as you can. Breathe in for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale for a count of seven. Repeat this three to five times.

Visualize your energy reaching from the base of your spine, through your seat, the floor, and into the soil. You don’t have to go far below the grass here — once your energy reaches the ground, let it spread out like the roots of a tree. Picture the filaments of your energy reaching through the soil, touching the filaments of mycelium that connect everything. Let your roots engage with the hyphae, gently befriending. When you have spread your energy as far as you can, begin sending a stream of loving light down through your roots.

Don’t worry if you don’t know all of the ins and outs of your local soil’s chemistry. Visualize your energy stimulating where it is needed, calming where it is needed, and balancing where it is needed. Visualize the soil fungi doing their microscopic jobs to break down what is no longer needed, and return it to the earth in a usable, nourishing form. Let your contact with the living soil recalibrate your energy, grounding you.

Continue this visualization for as long as is comfortable for you. When you are ready, gently withdraw your energetic roots from the soil. Open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and go about your day with a renewed awareness of how our actions affect everyone — and everything — around us.

 

Plants and Herbs

Pansy Folklore and Magical Uses

Pansies remind me of my late grandmother. She used to grow them in her backyard garden, as little cheery-faced border plants. She also had a very gentle, relaxing aesthetic — I remember the grandfather clock in the hallway, the little embroidered pillow full of fragrant pine needles, the print of geese with cheery blue ribbons on the kitchen wall, the way the hallway always smelled like roses and the kitchen smelled like fresh coffee. I can always tell when she’s around me because of those smells.

It was nice spotting these little flowers last week, with their yellow faces turned toward the sun. I’m not positive about their exact species, but they resembled my grandmother’s pansies enough to make me curious about their uses.

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And this appears to be some yellow Viola tricolor.

It’s probably unsurprising to hear that pansies have a wealth of properties associated with them. You can heart it in their names, too — heartsease, call-me-to-you, love-lies-bleeding, love-in-idleness.

Heartsease Magical Properties and Folklore

In Roman mythology, the viola turned to love-in-idleness when Eros mistakenly struck it with one of his arrows, causing it to smile.

In Greek mythology, Zeus created the flowers as a way to repent for his treatment of his lover, Io. She was once a beautiful maiden, but Zeus’ wife, Hera, became jealous. To protect Io, Zeus transformed her into a cow. Since she was forced to be on a diet of grasses and herbs, Zeus made the earth yield flowers.

In another legend, Cupid worshipped the heartsease flowers. To stop this, Aphrodite turned them from white, to tricolored.

Pansies and violets are associated with Venus, and often used as a love ingredient. Placing some under your pillow is said to attract a new lover. Planting them in a heart shape is a bit of sympathetic magic — if they thrive, so will your relationship.

They are also associated with Pluto, and death and rebirth.

Picking the herb on a sunny day is said to cause a storm to come. Picking one that’s still dewy brings death.

Using Heartsease

I think love magic gets a bad rap. When many people think of it, they picture a desperate, lovelorn person, performing spell after spell to convince the object of their affections to want them back. That’s not really the case, though. I mean, if you think about it, everything is love.

Want more money? You really want your boss or your clients to love your work.
Want to be more successful or popular? That’s platonic love.
Love magic is attraction magic. If you draw in love, you can use those same attributes to attract whatever you desire.

Pansies come in a variety of colors, which lends them well to color magic. Each color has its own particular attributes. The little yellow ones I found could be found for mental abilities, divination, happiness, travel, or blessing a new home.

If I could, I’d plant a pot of yellow pansies near the front door of my home. Bless the space and draw in love all at the same time!

Medicinally, heartsease has been used to treat asthma, inflammatory lung conditions, and cardiac complaints. Externally, it’s used for skin problems like eczema. Considering this, and considering how many other herbs’ medical uses mirror their magical ones, it’s really not surprising that it’s an herb of love and death.

 

Pansies are demulcent, mucilaginous, and anti-inflammatory. They have been used to calm irritated skin, ease chest complaints, and soothe other matters of the heart, too. They’re also easy to grow, so, if you have the room, I definitely recommend planting some of these cheerful little flowers!

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Squill Folklore and Magical Uses

Every time I find a new plant buddy, I end up spending a few hours reading up on what they’re used for — even things like mushrooms, lichen, and moss. When I spotted these pretty little blue flowers, I was immediately curious. I’d never seen them before, and their color was so vibrant against the brown dirt and handful green leaves poking out of the chilly ground. They were so small, I almost missed them.

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Scilla siberica, wood squill.

I wasn’t able to find much about wood squill specifically, other than that it’s native to Southwestern Russia (despite its other name, Siberian squill).

When most herb lore and magical texts talk about squill, they’re really talking about red (Drimia maritima) or white squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana). All of these are in the same subfamily, Scilloideae, but aren’t otherwise really synonymous.

The word “scilla” comes from the ancient Greek “skilla,” which is of unknown meaning. (A Modern Herbal claims that it means “to excite or disturb,” the way that an emetic disturbs the stomach, but I haven’t been able to verify this.)

For some people, only the actual plant that a spell calls for will do. For others, it’s okay to use a relative, if they’re close enough. This can be especially useful if the plant you want to work with is poisonous, endangered, not native to your area, or otherwise not a super great idea.

Squill Magical Properties and Folklore

Squill root is a money herb.

In hoodoo, placing squill in a container with one coin of each denomination, is used to draw in cash. (Some practitioners say it’s particularly effective if you can get a hold of old silver currency for this spell, like Mercury dimes. Others say that silver objects, like chains or beads, are even more effective than non-silver money.)

Holding squill root in your hands, focusing your intention to be unhexed, charging it, and carrying it with you is said to break all hexes and curses.

Using Squill

Red squill is used as a rodenticide, owing to a toxin called scilliroside. In creatures without a vomiting reflex, scilliroside is deadly.

White squill, on the other hand, has historically been used as a diuretic and expectorant. Compounds called glucosamides, found in the bulbs, are sometimes used in traditional medicine to treat irregular heartbeats. Wood squill also contains cardiac glycosides. This is not intended as medical advice, just an indicator of what kind of practical, medicinal applications it’s used for. As with any herb, medicinal properties can quickly become poisonous properties, so keep them away from children and pets.

 

Considering its medicinal properties and its appearance, it’s kind of easy to understand why it’s a money herb. It’s got that lovely plump bulb full of stored energy — fat like an onion, or the way you’d want your bank account to be. Its use as an emetic and diuretic make sense here, too. Squill has the power to eject all kinds of substances from the body. You put it in a stomach, the stomach’s contents are coming out in abundance.  Metaphysically, it stands to reason that it would be placed in a container with money in the hopes that it’d spew more money into your life.

The emetic and diuretic virtues also go hand-in-hand with hex breaking. If your body needs to purge a physical ill, squill helps. If you need to purge a magical ill, squill helps that, too.

White squill seems to be abundant and easy to find on the market, but there are areas where other varieties of squill (like the wood squill pictured above, or alpine squill) have become invasive. If you’re looking to use squill in your work, I’d suggest picking up a good plant identification guide, and seeing if your area has any invasive varieties lurking around. (Various species of squill are used as ornamental plants. If you decide you want to grow some, be sure to do it in a way that will keep it from escaping into its environment.) You can get the magical ingredients you need, develop a deeper relationship with the plants themselves, and remove damaging invasive species from your environment at the same time.

 

 

 

Plants and Herbs

Marshmallow Folklore and Magical Uses

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the herbs I talk about here. These allow me to earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting independent artisans, and this site!

I drink so much marshmallow, it borders on the absurd.

It’s not for the flavor, either — marshmallow root doesn’t really have much of one. Let me tell you, though, if you’ve got a stomach ache, bladder pain, or an annoying, dry cough? There’s nothing more soothing than a big cup of swamp root goo. No joke.

I cannot overstate the debt of gratitude I owe to marshmallow.

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(I’d also eat my weight in toasted vanilla Smash Mallows if science would let me, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Marshmallow Magical Properties and Folklore

As its name implies, marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is considered a water herb. It’s often associated with deities of love and beauty, and used in fertility and attraction spells. (Some sources say that the slippery marshmallow extract was even used as a lubricant, so using it in sex and fertility magic isn’t much of a stretch!)

Marshmallow is sometimes burned to cleanse a space, or used to make protective oils.

It’s considered to be a favorite of benevolent spirits. Spirit bottles, used to house helpful spirits, are filled with marshmallow root. Keeping a jar of it and a dish of water on your altar is said to help call helpful spirits to your aid.

Planting marshmallow on or near a grave, or decorating a grave with the flowers, is used to honor the dead.

Using Marshmallow

A big part of why marshmallow root is medicinally valuable is its mucilage content. Marshmallow mucilage is a polysaccharide with a very thick, slippery consistency. When you stand the root overnight in water, you’ll notice that the water becomes more viscous.

Marshmallow expresses its mucilage best as a cold infusion. I usually measure the dose of marshmallow root I need (depending on what I’m trying to do) into a tea strainer, fill a glass jar with clean water, plop the strainer in it, and set it in my fridge overnight.

If need be, you can brew the root the way you would any other tea, it just won’t produce quite as much mucilage. I usually do this if I have a sore throat — the mucilage and the warmth are really soothing.

Marshmallow leaf contains less mucilage than the root. It’s a diuretic and helps with expectoration, and is sometimes used as a topical poultice.

The key words here are “soothing,” “protecting,” and “comforting.” On a physical level, the mucilage in marshmallow root soothes irritated membranes, forms a protective layer, and brings comfort. This is reflected on a metaphysical level, too — as an ingredient in beauty preparations, it’s not surprising to see it used in spells for the same. As something that helps banish pain, it’s natural to use it to banish evil. As an herb that offers comfort, it makes sense to use it to comfort and placate the spirits of the dead.

You can find shredded, ready-to-use marshmallow root from retailers like Mountain Maus Remedies and Grassroots Herb Supply. If you prefer, you can also find it in a finely ground powder form.

 

Even if you don’t regularly perform spiritwork or work with the dead, marshmallow’s a helpful herbal ally to keep around. It makes a soothing tea, and its gentle, comforting nature lends it well to a variety of magical applications. Even though marshmallow is used as a food as well as medicine, consult with an experienced practitioner before use — especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or have any medical conditions.