Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Witchy Brews

As my son sneezed and sniffed his way to the kitchen, he asked, “Mom, do you have anything to make this cold better?”  I picked my way through the medicines accumulated in a cabinet and realized that I had nothing in for cold symptoms.  At least, nothing he would take.  I hurried over to our local neighborhood store which usually stocks some cold relief medicines but they were completely sold out.  I guess the first of the Spring colds were in full swing.  My sister-in-law, who lives a few doors down from me, also had nothing in her medicine cabinet.  My husband offered to make a run to the CVS but he had worked a long day and was relaxing in his jammies and I didn’t want to make him head out into the chilly night.  What to do?  What to do?

I glanced around the kitchen, deep in thought, and the answer almost slapped me across the face.  On a shelf above my kitchen sink sat assorted jars of dried herbs from the garden and they were practically waving at me.  They seemed to call to me, “Here!  Here!  Use me!  Use me!”  I grabbed a small pot and threw in a few eucalyptus leaves to help open his sinus and nasal passages, a sprig of rosemary for his aching head, a sprig of thyme for its decongestant properties, and a bit of lavendar and chamomile for their relaxing and calming effects.  I added some water and brought it to a boil on the stove.  While I waited for that, I put some honey, fresh lemon juice and a splash of Irish whiskey in a bowl and whisked it together.  This concoction would soothe his throat, making it a little easier for him to cough and swallow.  After the herbs began to simmer, I called my son down from his room.  I stuck him at the kitchen table and made him stick his head over the steaming pot.  “Do I have to drink this?” he asked.  I tossed a towel over his head and simply replied, “Stay there and breathe.” 

He fidgeted a bit, complaining that it was too hot, but I assured him he’d be fine.  I busied myself around the kitchen and chatted with him about school and other 13-year old topics.  Then, I heard him mumble from under the towel, “Is this something witchy?”  I thought for a moment and then answered, “Witchy? No.  Well, maybe in today’s world it would be considered witchy.  But centuries ago it was all they had to feel better.”  I gave him a couple teaspoons of the honey and lemon mixture and sent him on his way.  Right before he went to bed for the night, he gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for making me feel better, Mom.”  Success!

A little later in the evening, while Facebooking, I saw a post from another of my sisters-in-law, who was suffering from much the same cold as my son.  I offered her some all-natural help.  Her husband jumped in the car and rushed over to my house for a baggy of herbs and a few Tension Tamer teabags, a tea that I swear helps me to feel better when I have any kind of head cold or headache.  I checked on her this morning and she too is feeling better.  No more burning painful sinus passages.  No more sore throat.  Another success!

All of this got me to thinking, especially my son asking if this was “witchy”.  I consulted my notes from my online herbal lore class as well as some books about the subject this morning and found some interesting things about the herbs I had used.  For instance, in herbal lore, carrying eucalyptus promotes healing and good health.  Gazing upon the lavendar plant, dispels sorrow and it was used in medieval households to promote sleep, rest and peacefulness.  Of lavendar, William Turner wrote in “A Newe Herball” in 1551, “I judge that the flowers of Lavendar quilted in a cap and dayly worne are good for all diseases of the head that come of a cold cause and that they comfort the braine very well”.  Chamomile, when sprinkled around your property, is believed to remove curses and spells against you.  Old-World gardeners believe that chamomile is a “plant doctor” in that it revives any sickly plants that are planted in close proximity to it.  The burning of rosemary cleanses an area of bad vibes and energy and makes the emotions light and merry.  It was said that the aromatic scent of the rosemary plant was highly valued for its protective power against infection.  As far as rosemary is concerned, Eleanour Sinclair Rohde writes in her book, “A Garden of Herbs”, 1936, “It would be possible to fill a book with all the old herbalists have to say about rosemary”.   

As I weigh this information, it is very easy for me to see why my son and sister-in-law felt better after my herbal answers to their ailment.  Most of the herbs I used were grown in my very own garden this past Summer and dried in my very own kitchen.  They were tended to with loving, positive and healing energy.  The herbs themselves possess healing properties.  I guess it is no mere coincidence that I am currently studying herbal lore, the growing and propagation of herbs, and their practical daily uses for health, beauty and cooking.  I have much more to learn, through studying and trial and error, but, for now, I have had success with my first “witchy” brews as I travel the path of the Village Wise Woman.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Awaiting Spring's Return

Winter is waning.  I have seen so many signs of it over the past two weeks or so.  Robins are digging around in my gardens for earthworms.  The male cardinal and his mate that are in residence in my yard are making more frequent appearances.  The squirrels and chipmunks huddle in nearby trees and bushes and anxiously await my daily visit to the plastic dish in the rock garden that I fill with fruits, nuts and scraps of vegetables.  Then, I watch from my kitchen window as they cautiously approach the dish and speed off with as much food as they can carry.  In one of these daily visits to the yard, I saw my crocuses, tulips, hyacinths and tiger lilies breaking through the top layer of soil in the gardens.  That same day, I checked my potted chrysanthemums, carefully pushing aside the fallen Autumn leaves I had used to insulate them, and found small green buds on the remaining branches. Even the trees around my home are full of buds.  The days are definitely growing longer, with the sun not setting until around six or so in the evening.  With Spring peeking around almost every corner, I find myself anxious to get outside and to spend as much time as I can outdoors.

Soon, my husband and I will begin the overhaul of our backyard, where we will tear out most of the existing garden and grass and replace it with a bricked patio, new fencing, a new firepit, and a new birdbath or small fountain, with potted herbs and flowers surrounding the patio but still incorporating the small existing garden plot where my lilac and itea virginicum have been growing since we bought our home.  An old tree stump is waiting to be turned into a faery house that will be tucked under the Lilac.  The majority of Spring bulbs that are right now beginning to break the surface will be transplanted to the rock garden and a few other spots.  The goal is to transform the existing backyard to an outdoor room of sorts, where we can entertain, where we can celebrate, where we can just sit and enjoy each other’s company, where we can see, hear and smell nature all around us, where magickal things can happen.

The rock garden will also be overhauled this Spring, with a new stone retaining wall and three levels for flowers.  All of the existing plants except for my beloved Burkwood’s Broom (Cytisus scoparius ‘Burkwoodii’), for which I anxiously await its Spring garnet-red blooms, will be removed and replaced with new flowering plants to attract butterflies and humming birds.  The whole area will be a safe haven for all the birds and critters with new feeders, another birdbath, and animal and bird-friendly plantings.  It too will become a magickal place.

I realize as I write this that these projects are all reflections of every aspect of Spring: motivation, new beginnings, rebirth, fertility, growth, potential.  I will await Spring’s joyous return by continuing to plan the new gardens, studying herbal lore, paging through gardening and home improvement catalogs and websites, researching the diets of my local furry and feathered friends, and dreaming of nightly conversation, laughter, reflection and magick in the “outdoor room” as my herbs and flowers grow fragrantly around me.