s I sit here sipping my fragrant fresh ginger-mint tea, sweet with honey, it is easy to reminisce about my recent urban foraging adventure with the Poisoner. He has a different magical background than I. Where he delved deeply into Thelema, Satanism and Taoism, growing poisons like his beloved monkshood, I was getting my hands dirty with folk magic, green witchery and hedge witchery growing vegetables and medicinal herbs. The Poisoner expressed a desire to learn what I know, so on a hot sunny day I took his hand and off we went exploring the neighbourhood, its back alleys and hidden bits of untouched green, to harvest herbs. And what a treasure trove we found! We harvested flowers of ambrosial cabbage roses, sweet red clover, wild chamomile, and lavender, an abundance of mint and rosemary, and the potent healing herbs of comfrey, plantain, st. john’s wort, and selfheal. I also saw bittersweet and white nightshades (solanum dulcamara and solanum douglasii) and a good patch of beautiful and tiny ivy-leaved toadflax (cymbalaria muralis) – an ingredient in my toadman’s ointment.
As we collected the herbs with garden shears, carefully putting them into soft cotton bags, we also saw many beneficial insects revealing this little city’s healthy ecosystem – honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies (I love the tiger swallowtails), spiders, and lady bugs. When we returned home to sort our harvest, we found the tiniest snail in the roses and named him speedy. I love snails, wee little creatures of fertility always climbing trees. Shortly after that a tiny green grasshopper appeared – a symbol of good fortune and happiness in China if it enters your house. I’ll take the luck!
The haul was a good one. I laid all the freshly picked herbs and flowers out on a big cotton cloth covered by another (to keep the cat and dust out) and left them over night to wilt. In the morning I processed the medicinal herbs of comfrey, plantain, st. john’s wort, and selfheal and put them in a one litre canning jar with grapeseed oil, ground poplar buds, and some of the lavender flowers to make a potent healing salve. If you let fresh herbs wilt before you make a salve, their water content evaporates and won’t get trapped in the oil causing issues like mould or spoiling.
Usually I make my salves by heating the herbal oil in the oven, but it’s far too hot so instead I’ll let it infuse in this warm weather hidden in a dark cupboard for a month. After that time I’ll strain out the herbs and add beeswax to it in a double boiler and pour it into jars. It will be good gentle salve for skin problems, bug bites, burns, and healing wounds. There is no comparison to making a salve with fresh herbs – I’ve found they have the most potent medicine.
The rosemary I hung up to dry for use as a cooking herb. The rest I dried completely (didn’t take long in the heat!) and made a delicious herbal tea blend of mint, rose, chamomile, and red clover. Oh my goodness there is nothing like crushing freshly dried herbs in your hands – the gorgeous smells! It resulted in a soothing tea perfect for calming nerves or indigestion as well as helping one to fall asleep. I put the blend in a lovely canning jar and gifted it to a friend and fellow herbalist, keeping the remainder to treat myself.
The Poisoner watched all of this curiously, touching and sniffing all the herbs, taking mental notes of names and methods. Since our harvest he’s been excitedly telling me about patches of herbs he found on walks. He’s currently obsessed with wild lettuce (a “poison”, of course) desiring to make tinctures and resins.
The night before the full moon we went to the beach to a music festival. We drank ginger beer, we sat on the earth of a three-way crossroad in a wooded area at sunset and my friend the chaos magician pulled out her Thoth deck and red the cards for me. The major arcana made quite the appearance. I read for her in turn, wild rabbits hopping around us in the brambles.
The night of the full moon I performed my own rites – lit the altar candles, bathed in moonlight, howled at the moon, smudged the house with local evergreens, flicked holy water on all my wards with my rowan wand to cleanse and recharge them, then ate cookies and ice cream with my spirits while sandalwood incense and candles burned on the altar.