Category Archives: Bioregional Herbalism

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The Evolution of the Apothecary

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 8 Comments

Once upon a time I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest at the foot of a mountain, the city on one side, a sea inlet on the other. I could step out my front door into groves of impossibly tall red cedar, douglas fir, and western hemlock trees. I went into the woods every day and foraged often, making friends with the local plants and trees and leaving many offerings. I turned my wild harvested plants into magical and medicinal goods to sell in my apothecary. I loved my mountain, I loved my home, and I loved my business… but I left my partner at the time and consequently lost all the things I loved and had to move to an apartment in the city.

I found that it was very hard to find the time to forage when the forest wasn’t right outside my door. I was only able to get back to my mountain a couple times a year to visit and harvest.  I ended up focusing on my flying ointments and my artwork instead. It was rewarding, but I missed foraging, I missed gardening, and I missed being cloaked in a mantle of green. I urban foraged for myself and friends, you can find some really cool things like wild plums, hawthorn trees, escaped thimbleberries, wild fennel and white yarrow… but it’s not the same as walking through the deep wood of native plants and trees. How I longed for tall red alder trees, sweeping hemlock boughs, oemleria, and devil’s club. I craved wild things, a lack of people, and a lack of the noise of civilization.

Foraging in a red pine and oak forest Round Lake, Ontario in winter

So here I am in rural Ontario and loving it –even near the tail end of a snowy Canadian winter. It is very different out here. There are no tall jagged mountains, no vast ocean and sea inlets, no impossibly tall trees, and all four seasons exist with gusto. Here the land is a shield of rock with stunted trees, rolling hills of green, beautiful farmers’ fields, vast lakes, rushing rivers, and wild forests. There are sugar maples instead of big leaf maples, balsam fir instead of douglas fir,  and many more deciduous hardwoods by far: ashes, birches, basswood, beech, elm, oak, maples… It is a land of forgotten ghost towns, abandoned farms, old log cabins, long-quiet saw mills, and forests young from over a century of logging.

Our goods at the local farmers' market

I cannot really garden here until the weather cooperates in the first week of June, but I have already been foraging and plan to do it as much as I possibly can this year. Alex and I have been making arrangements with multiple homesteaders to forage on their acreages. The bigger variety of herbal goods introduced to the online shop in the past few months is a reflection of the wild bounty available here. It has been so rewarding and happiness-inducing to collaborate with my forager and product gnome Alex, making goods for the apothecary out of the freshest and best quality botanicals possible because we harvested and prepared those botanicals ourselves. It is hard to beat the amazing fragrances of balsam fir, eastern hemlock, and spruce and pine resins which have filled my kitchen all winter. There is always chaga being cut and ground by hand, conifer branches hanging to dry, and bags of divinely scented wild harvested pine and spruce resins waiting to be turned into incense and ointments.

spring-break-blue2 spring-break-blue1

The wild changes will continue as I adjust to my new life in the Ottawa Valley and continue to discover the amazing medicinal and edible plants now at my finger tips. I merged my local apothecary of wild medicine with my online magic shop to make my life easier and things less confusing since becoming a regular vendor at the local farmers’ market and having the plan to do so for the foreseeable future. I’ve also had a good handful of locals coming to the door to purchase medicines. The Fern & Fungi Apothecary now has it’s own blog of foraging, cooking, and herbalism posts and will feature articles from our other team members in the future. This is to provide a writing space to really feed into those passions of foraging, feasting, and folk herbalism with a big emphasis on bioregionalism and terroir.

I will still blog as often as I can on my own website, but with more of a focus on animism, witchcraft, every day life, and any adventures I have. Sarahannelawless.com is my personal portfolio of my artwork and writing and will continue to be so. I do not like duplicates, so I will likely not cross-post on both sites. If you want to make sure you get writings from both my personal website and my business, be sure to follow both facebook pages (Sarah Anne Lawless and Fern & Fungi) and/or the newsletter.

Fern & Fungi goodies Spruce amber resin and balsam fir ointment

I will still be making my flying ointments. I may always do so. They are so pleasant and so very effective for pain and sleep issues… This winter there has been a big mandrake, henbane, and datura shortage with suppliers so recently I’ve only been able to keep ointment recipes made with belladonna in stock. If the ointment section seems sparse, this is why! Do not despair, I should be able to get my hands on more henbane in a few weeks, more datura in the spring, and more mandragora officinarum root in a couple years if Molly, my solanceous herb grower in Michigan, is successful with her crop. When spring comes I will of course be trying to grow all the nightshades and aconites I can fit into my yard. There is just no comparison to working with lovingly grown, freshly harvested medicinal herbs! Hopefully I can grow a large enough quantity on my own to preserve enough flying ointments herbs to last us through winter supplier shortages in the future. *crosses fingers*

I am making plans to expand how much I teach this year. I will be teaching herbal workshops and plant journeys out of my home and yard, plant and tree identification walks in the area, and hosting workshops and rituals at Raven’s Knoll events. Keep an eye on the websites’ events pages once spring comes around for good! I thank you all for your patience with me in all the changes I’ve been making since my big move out East. I hope you will continue to join me on my journey to rewilding myself and my herbal practice.

Blessings of the deep and the wild,

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harvesting-fir

Forest Chai

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Cooking, Recipes | 5 Comments

Chai tea is a delicious way to start working with local plants. Tailor your own chai recipe with aromatic herbs native to the forests of your region and then learn how to identify, seek out, and properly harvest the botanicals needed for the recipe. The process will lead to you becoming comfortable with identifying, harvesting, and preparing a good handful of edible plants which grow all around you. Then maybe out of curiosity you’ll research the medicinal properties of each botanical, then maybe other edible uses, and then maybe you’ll stumble onto some traditional indigenous uses for folk magic and ceremony… Then you will have more plant knowledge than you can shake a stick at (ok, at least much more than you started with). The result won’t be a true chai, but it will be your chai and will become your tasty gateway drug to the wonderful world of bioregional herbalism.

Boreal Forest Chai

2 tsps Fresh or Dried Chaga Mushroom, ground
1-2 tsps Dried Large-Leaved Avens root, roasted and ground
1 tsp Dried Balsam Fir Needles
2 tsp Cinnamon Bark, crushed

Non-native suggestion: The avens root and the chaga are chocolatey, but raw, freshly ground cacao nibs push this combination over the top. Without the cinnamon this becomes balsam fir hot chocolate (which is not a bad thing at all).

Simmer in a pot on the stove on low for 20 min, strain, and add milk or cream and your favourite sweetener. I highly recommend homemade balsam fir tip syrup, maple syrup, or local honey. Unlike other coffee/black tea substitutes, chaga must be simmered low and slow rather than steeped and the same tea bag can be used up to three times to make three equally strong and tasty pots of tea.

Forest Chai

Eastern Forest Chai

2-3 tsp Acorn Coffee (avoid acorns from the poisonous Red Oak)
1 tsp Dried Eastern Hemlock Needles
1 tsp Dried Labrador Tea Leaves
1 tsp Dried Sweet Fern Leaves
1 tsp Dried Sweetgrass
1 tsp Fresh or Dried Wild Licorice Root

Non-native suggestion: A cinnamon stick and/or a few cloves will complete the chai flavour.

West Coast Forest Chai

2 tsp Dandelion Root, roasted
1 tsp Chicory Root, roasted
1 tsp Dried Western Hemlock Needles
1-2 Dried Salal Leaves
1 tsp Dried Rocky Mountain Juniper Berries, crushed
1-2 tsp Fresh or Dried Wild Ginger Root, thinly sliced (specifically Asarum Caudatum)
1 tsp Fresh or Dried Licorice Fern Rhizome, sliced or crushed
1-2 tsp Dried Vanilla Leaf

Non-native suggestion: just a cinnamon stick!

Place the herbs in a drawstring muslin bag, a self-fill paper tea bag, or cheesecloth tied with string and place in your favourite tea pot. Pour freshly boiled water over top, put the lid on the tea pot and cover it with your tea cozy or a dish towel to keep it hot. Wait 10-20 minutes to steep the tea. When ready, remove the tea bag, pour the chai into a mug and add milk/cream and sweeten with honey, maple syrup, birch syrup, or a herbal syrup to taste.

Forest Chai

Forest Tea Ceremony

With a nod to a simple animistic practice from indigenous peoples, create your own tea ceremony to connect with local plant spirits. Go to the edge of a forest or your favourite spot in nature with your travel mug of pre-made tea or be a hardcore hippie and brew it on site with a fire. Pray to the plants as you brew the tea and call the genius loci you wish to work with, spirits great or small. Sip the tea with calm, focused intent. Pray and ask what you want of the spirits: a relationship as spirit ally, their healing powers for an ailment, for their blessing to go into the woods and harvest plants or hunt… whatever your desire may be. Ask for a sign or a dream to reveal their blessing: “grant me your blessing in the form of a raven’s call.”

A herbal tea of local plants is a simple way to connect with your wintery wildwood, but also warm yourself at the same time with the exotic spices. Leave a cup as an offering at your ancestor or genius loci shrines, serve it to guests to show hospitality, or give out cups of it to warm up participants of outdoor winter rituals. Good tea is always worth the effort of harvesting, preparing, and sharing!

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Hunting Mycelium in the Wildwood

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Ethnobotany, Herbalism, Wildcrafting | 10 Comments

There is a forager in town who lives a two minute walk from my house. We kept running into each other because small towns are small which led to conversations over local beer about medicinal mushrooms, wild harvesting, and beekeeping which led to me purchasing super fresh chaga and turkey tail mushrooms from him, which then led to me hiring him to help me make and ship products for the shop. As an extra bonus, he was raised by a Wiccan mom so nothing I do or make is weird to him, yay. Everyone give a warm hello to Alex! He could very well be the one who bottled and labelled your elixir or packaged your order to mail out.

Witches' butter

Witches’ butter – jelly fungi

Foragers are always looking for more places to forage, so when I told Alex about my parents’ 83 acre farm, half of which is wild forest, he was intrigued and wanted to see if the land would be good for harvesting wild mushrooms. Last Tuesday we drove out of town to Lawless Lane Farm and off into the woods we went, him with an axe in his pocket and me with my foraging basket, antler knife and shears. The first thing we found were spruce tips covered in sticky, sugary resin which just screamed to be infused into good whiskey with maple syrup.

It was very cold out, but just brushing aside fallen leaves on the forest floor revealed endless amounts of fuzzy white networks of mycelium. It is a very good sign of a healthy forest with a balanced ecosystem. The farm will most definitely be a mushroom foraging hot spot next spring! We did find some mushrooms, but none were good enough to harvest due to the cold; witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica), ancient turkey tails (Trametes versicolor), birch polypore, and some small, clustered brown ones we couldn’t identify growing on a dead fir log.

Turkey tail mushroom

wild fungi

The highlight of the hunt was finding some chaga growing on a very tall and still living yellow birch tree. Alex’s favourite word of the day was sclerotia, which is a mass of mycelium growing like a keloid or scar tissue over wounds in trees. Chaga is the sclerotia growing on birch trees and can be found across the Northern Hemisphere, though it is best known for growing in Russia, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Boreal Forest of Canada where it has been prized as a medicinal mushroom for boosting the immune system. Humans have been using it medicinally for thousands of years so I figure our ancestors were on to something. It has an earthy chocolaty flavour which makes it great to mix into hot chocolate, coffee, and chai recipes. I’ve made chocolate ice cream with it and have found it added to raw brownie and bliss ball recipes– raw because any temperature over 125°F supposedly kills its medicinal properties. I know it doesn’t seem as if a tumour-like growth on a tree would be very tasty, but it can be!

Chaga on a yellow birch treeForest feast

We took a break to sit on a fallen log and share some sausage and cheese roughly cut up on the spot with my knife. My mother’s border collie (who looks like a black bear) happily ate some, convincing me it was totally cool for her to accept offerings on behalf of the forest spirits. When the food was gone she ran off back into the woods, she’s mostly wild and has free reign on the farm.

Hiking through the bush once more we harvested spruce tips, grand fir, and Eastern hemlock to make conifer herbal goods for the shop. I snip some tiny-needled hemlock branches with my shears and then remove some dead fallen branches and large clusters of dead leaves from its boughs as a thank you offering. Alex helps me and then feels free to talk to the trees without feeling silly about it.

Wandering onward I found some beautiful, large club mosses. The Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) looked almost like heather instead of moss and the Running Ground Pine aka Stag’s-Horn looks like the fuzzy stag antlers it is named for. The latin name for both club mosses translates to mean wolf paw. This pleases me greatly. Can you believe that millions of years ago they were as tall as trees?! The ground pine is made into a medicinal tea by Natives and carried as a talisman to ward off disease and likely evil spirits too. Medicinally the Running Ground Pine seems to be used for everything under the sun. The coolest fact I found out about it is that if you gather a high enough concentration of the spores they become explosive, creating you own wild harvested flash powder for magical effects.

Club MossesGround Pine Club Moss – Running  Ground Pine Club Moss

Forest cows

At the pond in the forest we ran into the cows my Irish-Scots-Canadian father has kind of stolen from his neighbour after they broke into his hayfields on a weekly basis. He simply fenced them in on his property, informed his neighbour, and then proceeded to name them all. My father used to raise an Irish heritage breed of cows called Dexters. I think he’s really missing his days of raising cattle… enough to take in a whole herd like they were stray cats. The cows were friendly and curious, if a bit shy, and tried to make off with my foraging basket. I’ve always loved cows. They are like the fattest, stubby-legged deer you could imagine. You just know I’m going to go nab all that manure for my compost.

Happy with our chaga and conifer haul, we returned to my house and set about processing the chaga while it was still fresh. If you let it dry it becomes very hard to break up and process, I know because I have three pounds of dried chaga I am not looking forward to chopping and grinding! Alex broke the large hunks into smaller pieces with his axe and I chopped them into even smaller pieces with my garden shears. Then I ground it all up in my nut and spice grinder until it resembled coffee grounds. Once ground, it becomes a nice even chocolate brown colour. It sounds like it all went smoothly, but the reality was that Alex almost sliced off a couple fingers with the axe and went home with a couple bandaids, I cut myself with the shears, and there was chaga flying all over the kitchen counters and floor. Next time I need to build a wood box to do the cutting in to prevent chunks from flying everywhere.

Processed Chaga

We decided to use the fresh chaga to make a tincture. Chaga tincture takes a long time to make and requires a lot of plant material compared to other recipes. If you do make it, make a big batch. I filled up a 2 litre jar with the ground chaga mushroom and added 1 cup of freshly ground cocoa nibs, leaving 2 inches at the top of the jar. Then we topped it up with half and half brandy and vodka. An alcohol that is 40% is acceptable, but higher is always better. It will be left to infuse for 2-3 months and then it will be strained and the leftover chaga will be made into a decoction which is then mixed in with the infused alcohol. Here is a link to recipes for chaga tea and tincture. Really this ends up being more of a liqueur! Mmm chocolate chaga liqueur… sounds like it would be pretty good in coffee or just mixed with cream and drunk as is. And now we wait.

I have good hopes for more collaborations in the future. Alex is teaching me all about the local mushrooms, and words like sclerotia, and I taught him to identify trees and small plants. This coming week we’ll be making a lot of herbal goodies for the local christmas farmers’ market and also for this month’s CSW collection. I’m excited to make things after two weeks straight of shipping!

Wishing you wintery blessings from the woods.

Fir coats

incense

Guide to Pacific Northwest Incense

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Ethnobotany, Folk Magic, Herbalism, Recipes, Wildcrafting | 19 Comments

Burning smudgeBurning botanicals for pleasure, ceremony, and medicine is something we humans have performed for millennia. We just really like to light things on fire and the act never fails to bring us a child-like awe and some kind of primal pleasure. Imagine our pyromaniac ancestor’s excited delight in discovering that certain plants smell amazing when lit on fire and the smoke inhaled.  I burn incense on an almost daily basis. I started blending my own loose incenses and making my own smudge wands eight years ago and my passion for knowledge on native plants quickly drove me to research which aromatic botanicals from the Pacific Northwest would be best for incense and smudge. This guide is the result of almost a decade worth of research and hands-on experience.

This short guide is designed for use by those with some wild harvesting knowledge and experience. Please practice ethical harvesting of any of the botanicals mentioned only taking 10% of a plant or colony of plants and 20% of the aerial parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, seeds). Special care should be taken not to harm trees when harvesting resin which should not be confused with tree sap. Resin flows from wounds and is needed by the tree to heal itself – only take the excess drippings around a wound. Many trees can produce resins, but the ones listed in this guide are the ones that can be easily found for wild harvesting or for purchasing.

QUICK SUBSTITUTION GUIDE

  • Benzoin – Bee Propolis Resin
  • Copal & Frankincense – Douglas Fir or Lodgepole Pine Resins
  • Myrrh – Poplar Buds
  • Palo Santo – Western Hemlock Needles/Resin or Western Red Cedar Wood
  • Red Sandalwood – Fresh or Decayed Western Red Cedar Wood
  • White Sandalwood –  Willow Bark
  • White Sage – Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)

Western Hemlock Harvesting Hemlock for incense Pacific Northwest Incense

AROMATICS FOR INCENSE MAKING

To learn more about each botanical I recommend a good local field guide to learn how to identify it, where you you can find it in your area, and the best time to harvest it.

Flowers: elderflowers (Sambucus cerulea and racemosa), rose petals (Rosa nutkana, Rosa gymnocarpa), wild violet flowers and roots, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Conifers: Alaskan Cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis), Juniper leaves and berries (Juniperus communis and scopulorum), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta), Mountain Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar

Resins: Bee propolis resin (naturally created by bees from tree resins and beeswax), Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata), Black Cottonwood balsam (poplar bud resin), Douglas Fir resin, Lodgepole Pine resin

Herbs: Field Mint (Mentha arvensis), Mountain Sagewort (artemisia artica), Northern Wormwood (Artemisia campestris pacifica),  Suksdorf’s Mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii), Western Mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana), Silver Burweed (Ambrosia chamissonis), Sweet Flag root (Acorus calamus americanus), Sweet Gale seed and leaf (Myrica gale), Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata), Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla), Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii).

Wild Sagebrush

SMUDGING BOTANICALS

When crafting smudge wands, it is best to always do so using fresh botanicals and to make the smudge wands the same day or the day after you harvest the materials. All you need is a pair of garden shears, scissors, and a vegetable fibre string such as cotton, hemp, or flax.

Smudge Wands

There is no right or wrong way to craft smudge wands. Get a nice thick bundle of fresh herbs and tie them at one end with string. Wind the string tightly and evenly around the bundle, tucking in any loose bits as you go. Tie off the string again at the opposite end. Trim any sticky-outy bits with scissors and then allow to dry in a paper bag in a warm, dry place for a few weeks before use. You can light smudge sticks with a lighter, a small blow torch, a burning charcoal, a gas flame, a fire, or even a car cigarette lighter. To extinguish, snuff out in dry sand or dirt until no part is glowing orange or smoking – do not get wet.

Blend red cedar, juniper, western hemlock, or douglas fir tips with white sage leaves or branches of wild sagebrush for a unique spin on the traditional sage smudge wand. Create herbal smudge wands by adding clippings of any of the flowers or herbs listed above under the aromatics section to a bundle of sage or conifer tips. Try wild mint or yerba buena with wild roses, mugwort, and sagebrush. Western hemlock, northern wormwood, and sagebrush would be excellent for attracting benevolent spirits.  Western mugwort, red cedar, juniper, and sagebrush would be good for protection, and yarrow, mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush would serve you well when burned during divinatory rites.

Rocky Mountain Juniper Smudge Wand

Sweetgrass Braid

If you can get your hands on fresh sweetgrass, gather pieces of the same length, tie at one end and then divide into three bundles. Carefully braid until you run out of even ends. Tie again and then allow to dry for a few weeks before use.

Witch’s Whisk

A traditional smudge wand from the British Isles. Harvest the tips of fresh blackberry vines, snipping off the leaves and shaving off the thorns with a knife. You can alternately keep the thorns on if you wear heavy leather gloves. Bundle many of the vines together until it is one or more inches in diametre and bind it very tightly with string. Allow to dry thoroughly for a month before use. Remove the string, cut the long bundle of vines into smaller ones and tightly bind only one end of each to create the whisk.  Optional – soak in warmed beeswax for 10 minutes and allow to cool. This will cause the witch’s whisk to burn better. Burn to clear a space of evil spirits. Burn to cleanse a person, place, or thing of a witch’s curse. Burn before rituals indoors or outdoors. Burn in and around your home for protection.

Witch's Whisk

HOW TO CRAFT YOUR OWN INCENSE

There are many different types of incense, but in this guide I will only describe how to craft ambers, compound incenses, and loose incense. I don’t make cone or stick incense myself as I prefer my incense to be more pure and without fillers.

Amber Resin

Amber resin is not referring to the ancient fossilized tree resin we use as beads for jewelry, but to amber incense which is usually crafted from beeswax mixed with solid and liquid benzoin resin and sometimes styrax resin blended with vanilla. All of these ingredients, minus the beeswax, are very exotic (and don’t usually have the most ethical harvesting practices) so I created my own amber resin recipe using plants native to my area. Bee propolis resin is the substitute for benzoin and already contains beeswax so it seemed a natural and delectable choice.

3 parts bee propolis resin, cleaned, dried, and finely powdered
1 part sweet grass, cut, dried, and finely powdered
1/2 part vanilla leaf, dried and finely powdered
local honey

Place the resin in a mixing bowl, put the sweetgrass and vanilla leaf through a seive before adding to it. Blend well. Add a few spoon fulls of local unpasteurized honey. If the mixture sticks together, but is still a bit crumbly, it is ready. If it’s still too powdery and dusty, add more honey.

Line a square or rectangular container with waxed paper and firmly press the amber resin mixture into it. Loosely place another piece of wax paper on top of it and put it somewhere dark, warm, and dry for 1-2 weeks. Remove from mould and wax paper and cut with a serrated knife into smaller burnable chunks.

Propolis Amber Resin

Compound Incense

This type of incense uses plants, tree resins, honey, and liquid mixed together and pressed into shapes or crumbled. It is only semi-dry and thus not powdery like loose incense. One example of a compound incense is an Egyptian kyphi – an ancient recipe method we can use today substituting our favourite aromatics.

Wet Base:

  • Dried berries or fruit that form a sticky paste when ground. currants, gooseberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries, juniper berries, mountain ash berries, and rosehips all work well.
  • Local unpasteurized honey such as clover, dandelion, or fireweed.
  • A fragrant liquid that will evaporate when the incense is cured – local wine or mead, rosewater, and hydrosols are best.

Measuring is done by eye based on how much plant matter you have to work with. To your ground fruit, add a few spoon fulls of honey and glugs of liquid and blend with a metal spoon or your hands until it forms a thick, wet, and sticky paste. Place in an air tight container and alllow to rest for one week

Dry Base:

  • 1 part tree resin(s)
  • 1 part aromatic herb(s)

The dry base is a half and half blend of resins and herbs that can be dried, ground, and powdered. You can use one resin or a blend of many. The herbs can be roots, flowers, leaves, or even aromatic seeds. Powder, blend, and place in an air tight container separate from the wet base and allow to rest for one week to infuse the scents.

After a week is up blend the two bases together adding more honey or liquid if needed. Place back into an airtight container and allow to rest one more week. After this time, remove and form into shapes, or press the entirety of the mixture into a wax paper lined baking sheet. Place another sheet of was paper loosely on top and allow to cure (air dry) for 2-3 weeks. Now you can put your incense into a sealed container and burn it a little bit at a time at your pleasure.

Loose Incense

Loose incense is the easiest method for making incense, easier even than smudge. Simply grind and powder your ingredients until they are all roughly the same size, blend well, and then burn a pinch at a time on charcoal. You can craft loose incense using only resins, only smudging herbs, or a blend of both. The possibilities are endless and up to you. Below are some recipes to play with.

Pine, Poplar, and Propolis resin blend

RECIPES

Ritual Incense

1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds

Dry ingredients and grind with a mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder. This is a substitute for the traditional blend of frankincense and myrrh. Burn a pinch to cleanse a space for any ritual or spellwork, or to call, feed, or banish spirits and deities.

Temple Incense

1 part bee propolis resin
1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds

Burn for tranquility, for prayer and meditation, or rituals. A substitute for the traditional blend of frankincense, myrrh, and benzoin used in churches.

Purification Incense

1 part sagebrush leaves
1 part red cedar leaves
1 part conifer resin

Burn for cleansing people, places, and objects. Excellent for house cleansing or for purifying people before performing a ceremony or interacting with spirits

Ancestor Incense

1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds
1 part white willow bark
1 part northern wormwood
pinch of pacific yew needles
pinch of graveyard dirt

Burn to summon the spirits of the dead. Best used on or near the dark moon.

Good Spirits Incense

1 part western hemlock needles, dried
1 part red cedar leaves, dried
1 part conifer resin

Grind and burn to attract benevolent spirits to your magical rites.

Spirit Food Incense I

1 part bee propolis resin
2 parts red cedar wood, powdered (fresh for animal/plant spirits, decayed for the dead)
2 parts western hemlock needles, dried

Burn to give offering and energy to the spirits of the dead or familiar spirits during rites. Make sure the spirits are the ones you intended to call and work with before feeding them.

Spirit Food Incense II (Kyphi)

Wet Ingredients:

1/2 part yew berries, de-seeded and dried
2 parts mountain ash berries, dried
Local wine or mead
Local unpasteurized honey

Dry Ingredients:

1/2 part fly agaric (amanita muscaria), dried (caps/skin only)*
1 part decayed or fresh red cedar wood
1 part conifer resin
1 part poplar buds
1 part bee propolis resin

Grind berries and mix in wine and honey until it becomes a thick paste. Place in an air tight container and let rest for 3-7 days. Grind dry ingredients and blend, place in an air tight container and let rest for the same 3-7 days. After waiting, blend the wet and dry ingredients together, place into a container again and allow to rest for 1-2 weeks. Form into small balls or bricks and air dry for 1 week or place in a dehydrator.

*fly agaric is psychoactive – be careful when burning indoors.

Spirit Banishing Incense

1 part conifer resin
2 parts wild rose petals, bark, leaves, and thorns
2 parts red cedar leaves
1 part juniper leaves and/or berries

Burn to say a gentle farewell to familiar ancestral or other spirits with kind words or to forcefully send dangerous or uncooperative spirits back to their realm with a sharp tongue and help from your spirits or deities. Removes attachments of spirits to people and the middle realm.

Divination Incense

1 parts conifer resin
1 part bistort (polygonum bistortoides / viviparum)
1 part northern wormwood
1 part western mugwort (or substitute mountain sagewort)

Burn to enhance psychic gifts before divining with your chosen method.

Curse Reversal Incense

1 part fern leaves
1 part tobacco

Burn to remove curses and crossed conditions.

Journeying Incense

2 parts conifer resin
1 part juniper berries*
1 part northern wormwood*
1 part western mugwort (or substitute mountain sagewort)*
1 part yarrow flowers

Grind ingredients to an even consistency and blend. Burn on charcoal or a fire and inhale the smoke. Good for trance work, spirit work, crossing the hedge, seership and divination. *ingredients are mildly psychoactive, use caution.

Sweet Love Incense

1 part bee propolis resin
1/2 part bitter cherry resin
2 parts wild rose petals
2 parts sweetgrass

Burn to sweeten your home and the people in it. Burn to promote happiness and love.

Insect Repellent Loose Smudge

2 parts red cedar leaf
2 part western mugwort
1 part yarrow flowers
1 part sweet gale
1 part vanilla leaf

Burn to keep away unwanted insects (especially mosquitoes and flies). Great for outdoor rituals – throw on the bonfire.

burning

HOW TO BURN INCENSE

It may seem like a simple thing to some, but many do not know how to burn resins or loose incense. We are so used to stick or cone incense or white sage leaves which burn so easily and steadily. Don’t worry, there is no need for fancy or expensive supplies. The simplest way to burn resins, kyphi incense, amber incense, or loose incense (powdered) is on charcoal.

To make your own incense censer at home all you need is a small plate and an empty and clean cat food/tuna etc can placed on the plate upside down. You can also use any fireproof container and fill it with sand. A large coffee can, a clay flower pot, an iron cauldron or a small brass or copper planter or bowl with feet all work. Thrift stores often have such useful containers for a dollar or two. You can get sand from a dollar store, garden store, a beach, or your kid’s sandbox.

Now you need charcoal. If you have a fire place or a fire pit you can make your own and take a piece of wood charcoal out of a burning fire with tongs and place it in your homemade censer. The most common practice is to use incense or hooka charcoal, also known as self-lighting charcoal. You can buy a roll of the black charcoal disks for a dollar or four at most Middle Eastern shops. The shop two blocks from my house sells three different kinds. Sometimes you can also find them in Chinatown – especially at shops that sell ancestor worship supplies. Failing that, you can buy them on-line from most large herbal retailers like Mountain Rose.

Light the charcoal round with a lighter or match while holding it (if you’re afraid to hold it, use small metal tongs). Wait for it to spark and for a wave of orange-red sparks to start moving through the charcoal. Place in your censer and wait 5 minutes until the entire charcoal disk is glowing red and hot. If it doesn’t light, try again and hold it for a bit longer before placing it in the censer. If your charcoal is crumbly and won’t light it may have been exposed to moisture. Toss it and use a new package.

Once it is happily glowing, add a pinch of pure resin or a loose incense blend. If it burns too fast, place aluminum foil on top of the charcoal and your incense on top of the foil – this works especially well with amber resins and kyphi incense which should be burned slowly. Need charcoal ready to go for a long ritual? Light one, and once it’s completely glowing orange, place one to two more charcoal disks underneath it. The heat from the first one will slowly light the others. You can do this before, or in the middle of the ritual when your first charcoal is half burned out. Dust off ashes and residue with tongs or a metal spoon each time you are going to put more incense on the charcoal.

Other incense burning options include purchasing an electric incense burner or simply placing a piece of aluminum foil on top of your lit cast iron wood stove and placing a piece of resin or a pinch of loose incense on top of the foil (I wish I had a cast iron stove so I could do this). If you are performing a ritual or a healing somewhere with a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, you can throw a large handful of smudging herbs on the fire once or many times as needed.


Article and photos © 2014 Sarah Anne Lawless.

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