Category Archives: Folk Medicine

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Wild Harvest Moon

By | Folk Magic, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Wildcrafting | 4 Comments

As 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!

Teeny tiny snail

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 herbal haul

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.

Delicious herbal tea

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.

whiskey-for-cailleach

Whiskey for An Cailleach

By | Folk Magic, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes | 14 Comments

For An Cailleach

I woke up early this morning and the Poisoner had made me tea. “Don’t look outside,” he said. So of course I did. The first snow of the season in this old town. Thick, heavy, fluffy snow, driven hard by a fierce wind, falls from the sky; contrasted against the ancient holly tree bearing its bloody fruits. The Cailleach has arrived, shaking her apron. Groggy with sleep, my first instinct was to light the candle in the kitchen window and pour her a glass a whiskey. “For the blue hag,” I said, and pointed at the Cailleach mask hanging on my wall. It’s always better to welcome and appease the fierce Old Woman. A Scot and a witch too, the Poisoner didn’t blink at my simple rite.

View from the backyard

There is fresh ginger root and lemons and cinnamon sticks and honey in my kitchen. Time for another Scots tradition since we’re both sick with a nasty cold: a hot toddy.

  • 1 oz whiskey or rum
  • 1-2 cups hot water
  • 1-2 lemon wedges
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Soothes a sore throat, but only have 1-2 a day during your cold and drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic tea to keep yourself hydrated. I feel a very strong desire to make a fresh ginger and honey cough syrup with coltsfoot and mullein… But now to curl up with my hot toddy and an early Yule gift of a book of 1800’s Scottish folklore while my flying ointments infuse warmly in the oven.

Hot toddy

uncivilization

Pilgrimage to Uncivilization

By | Bones & Blood, Ecological Consciousness, Ethnobotany, Folk Magic, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Pacific Northwest Folklore, Storytelling | 18 Comments

The road to the warmth of a friend's home

Me and Little Red met Jan and Seb at The Gathering this spring and were lucky enough to hang out with them again at Freyfest in August. Much mischief and mead was involved (they seem to follow in my wake…).  Since then Little Red (aka the hot Asian schoolteacher in our local pagan community) got married to her love and Jan and Seb got engaged. Jan is a survival-skill/outdoors type with James Dean’s hair and looks, dressing all in black, and quick with a joke. Seb is part woodsy shaman and part sexy punk, shy but full of mischief. They both work for a wilderness school in Washington and invited us down for the thanksgiving weekend to visit and to hike to the Goldmyer Hot Springs with them.  Of course we said yes and drove across the border last Friday, excited for adventure with a sunny forecast ahead of us. The GPS tried to kill us by leading us into a stone quarry instead of Jan and Seb’s home, but eventually we found it outside a small town in a beautiful cedar and fir forest behind farming country.

Little Red and I were a bit early and so we explored the yard with its ancient blackthorn and apple trees, grove of hazels with a fire pit in the centre, fearless grazing deer, and vines ripe with juicy blackberries. We went for a walk down the road into the woods admiring the green of the tall trees and moss and ferns. We stumbled upon an old Dodge truck moss-covered and rotting, being swallowed by the forest. It was post-apocalyptic — like we’d stumbled upon the end of civilization and the forest had eaten all we knew.

Black-tailed deer

An old Dodge rotting in the forest

When walking back to the house I heard a whistle unlike any bird’s, repeated it back, and heard it again. It was Jan and Seb walking out of the woods from the other direction. We said our hellos and Seb showed us a freshly dead small snowshoe hare she’d just found in the forest. She will keep the eyes, the skull, and its soft fur.

A dead wild hare found in the forest

Horseshoe over the cabin door

Into their little cabin we went, with its stained glass windows and stacks of firewood lining the front. The walls are wood and covered with art, the kitchen cozy and inviting, the living room and its little iron stove filled with books and bones and hidden shrines of skulls and feathers. The kitchen pantry is cleverly fitted with shelves under the stairs full of homemade canned goods, tinctures, blackberry vodka, and herbal vinegars. Seb is an amazing artist and showed us her studio full of paintings, illustrations, found object art, block prints, and stone and wood carvings.

Herbal vinegars infuse in the pantry

Fellow bone collectors, I was treated to seeing their collection of skulls and bones, neatly cleaned and well-loved. After a delicious dinner we circled in the living room while Jan lit a fire in the stove and we talked of bones, spirits, magic, mysticism, shamanism, witchcraft, dreams, and ghosts while drinking delicious local mead and Seb’s rich blackberry vodka.

The skull collection

Tea with crows

As we talked, the sun set and the moon rose behind the tall fir trees.  We stood on the porch and the smoke of Seb’s organic tobacco curled up into the night sky like an offering to the stars. Coyotes howled and yipped in the  distance answered angrily by territorial farm dogs. A male barred owl nearby asked us “who cooks for you”? We stayed up late into the night philosophising, telling stories, and laughing – soothed to sleep by the warmth of the fire.

The trail to the uncivilized world

In the morning there was bacon and tea and packing the car. Jan drove the four of us out to the mountains, up a winding dirt road full of pot holes, and deep into a perfect Pacific Northwest rainforest for an hour and a half into a valley. Then we parked, loaded our gear upon our backs, and set off to hike the six-mile trail to the hot springs. We walked past rivers, waterfalls, giant trees, medicinal, magical, and poisonous plants in an untouched old growth forest. The only sign of civilization along the way was the dirt and stone road beneath our feet. Six miles is a long way by foot carrying camping gear. Our packs were heavy but our spirits were light.

As we walked, Seb and I told us all stories of native spirits who haunt the woods of the Pacific Northwest coast, of sasquatch-like creatures who protect teens and teach them lessons, of Monster Woman of the Woods who eats children, and of Old Man who tricks people into eating salmon that turns into rotting cedar in order to steal souls.

Bristly pholiota grew from rotting logs and mossy trees

Almost there...

The old growth forest of green, light and shadow

Devil's Club

We finally made it to the crossroad where the trail narrowed, full of tree roots, and took us uphill to a little wood cabin nestled deep in the forest to check-in. We were greeted by a cheerful young woman who had us sign in for our reservation and told us about the hot springs and the non-profit’s dedication to a zero footprint mentality to protect the forest. We followed the trail down a bit further and set up our camp – so very happy to put our packs down for a good long while. At sunset we climbed up a steep trail armed with towels and flashlights and arrived at the hot springs in the dark. We were delighted to find the hot spring was actually a natural cave set into the wall of a rock face on the mountain – the water trickling down into two slightly cooler pools formed out of raw stones with a cold pool nearby. We all stripped off our clothes and climbed into the cave – both hot spring and sauna at the same time – lit only with two small candles.

(Pictures of the hot springs: photo one, photo two, photo three)

Our camp site in the forest

It was otherworldly to float in that dark cave, misty with steam, smooth walls glowing from the candles and the water clearer than clear.  At the very back was a wood bench to escape the hot waters. We gathered in the end of the cave and sang the Freddie Krueger song as softly and creepily as we could, hoping to scare the other bathers outside. When we became too hot, we moved outside the cave into one of the smaller pools and bathed in it, listening to the river below and admiring the stars above, surrounded by the black shadows of trees. We talked of life and love and ritual soaking up water and starlight until our skin shrivelled like raisins and we could take no more heat. Our sore backs, shoulders and legs wonderfully soothed, we headed back to our camp, ate fruit and meat and chocolate while sipping my cherry-cinnamon-vanilla brandy, and fell asleep to the sound of the river.

Mountains in the setting sun

In the morning Little Red went back to the hot springs, Jan nursed his sore feet, and Seb and I went exploring by the river – her the rocky riverbed for quartz and pyrite and I the old growth forest behind it. I found ancient giants covered in mosses and fungi with thick roots like fingers digging into the earth. I saw devil’s club, fireweed, and pearly everlasting everywhere – still at peak harvest time despite it being October.

The great roots of a Douglas Fir

Coltsfoot growing among rocks by the river

I found wild coltsfoot growing among the rocks by the river. Its leaves are smoked to heal the lungs or to see spirits and visions (it also makes an excellent cough syrup for winter colds). There was vanilla leaf everywhere (aka deer’s foot or sweet after death), especially lining the paths, making the forest smell sweet as well as keeping away insects. It smells the most when dried and campers often hang the leaves in their tents to fend off mosquitoes. Vanilla leaf can be hung in your closet or stuffed into sachets in your clothing drawers to keep away moths  and is also excellent for sweetening incense and smoking blends. Use it in folk magic for love or as an aphrodisiac.

Vanilla Leaf (aka Deer's Foot)

By our camp site was star-flowered false Solomon’s Seal – a small plant in the lily family whose roots were used by the local medicine men mixed with sweet flag roots to create plant spirit fetiches for their spells. The roots can be used medicinally like true Solomon’s Seal for colds and coughs, indigestion, arthritis, rheumatism, allergies, and insect bites. The berries are yellow and striped with red, usually three stripes, but the ones by our tents had six. They are edible, but not eaten, and make beautiful beads which are only temporary as the stripes fade with drying.

Striped berries of false solomon's seal

We packed up camp and headed back out at noon for the six-mile hike back to the car. Our sore muscles and heavy packs not deterring us one bit from laughing at each other’s stories and taking in the gorgeous scenery around us. Halfway back Seb discovered a whole dried American toad along the path. It had been squished by a mountain biker in a hurry — a symbol of our destruction of nature in our simultaneous attempt to grasp its untouched beauty.

We arrived back at the car with more glee than you can imagine at putting those heavy packs down once and for all. We rested, drank water, and then made the long drive back to Jan and Seb’s warm home for one more night of mead and blackberry vodka cozied up by the wood stove and falling asleep to coyote songs.

Dried toad on the trail

After more bacon and tea for brunch the next day, Little Red and I were sent home with lovely gifts of homemade raspberry-huckleberry jam, blackthorn sloe and blackberry jam, hand carved bone needles, and pieces of ebony and purple heart wood for me to carve. Jan gave me a lovely green hardback copy of Grimm’s fairy tales as he had two and knew how I love my stories. We said goodbye and headed North back to Canada Monday afternoon, reluctant to leave our wonderful new friends and their lovely cabin in the forest full of books and bones and herbs. Here I sit now in my own home with tea, surrounded by books and bones, smiling at the warm memories of mischief and mead with kin.

herbal-tea-experiments

Herbal Tea Experiments

By | Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes | 18 Comments

Lavender Lemon Tea

I managed to avoid all the plagues of my friends all winter so far, but I am apparently not so immune to the plagues of small children and finally succumbed to a cold. There’s nothing I hate more than a runny nose and a sore throat and I wasn’t about to put up with it for too long. My solution to almost every trouble is tea. Worried and stressed about something? Drink tea. Crappy day at work? Drink tea. Someone was mean to you? Drink tea. Get sick? You guessed it – drink tea! After three days of drinking copious quantities of homemade herbal teas, my cold was gone. They weren’t even fancy or exotic and they all tasted pretty good – especially with some delicious throat-soothing local honey stirred in. I love to make my own teas; to play with ingredients and flavours and see if they have any medicinal or emotional applications. They always make me feel better than drinking store-bought teas. To give them a try yourself I’ve included the recipes below. If you’re a vegan try substituting maple syrup for the honey.

Elderberry-Cinnamon

Makes 1 pot of tea, steep for 10-15 minutes

1 Tbsp elderberries, dried
1-2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1-3 Tbsp of honey, to taste

Good for sore throats, coughs, cold and flu, bronchitis, asthma, etc – see the throat and lung connection? Also good for pleasure as it tastes like rich, fruity, spicey awesomeness. Wonderful in the evening after dinner as it’s like liquid dessert.

Ginger-Mint

Makes 1 pot of tea, steep 10-15 minutes

1 2-inch nub of fresh ginger root, sliced
1 bunch of fresh peppermint or spearmint (6-8 sprigs)
1-3 Tbsp of honey, optional

Good for coughs, nausea, headache, and generally cleansing the system. Tastes like a warm hug – no really. A tea I’d drink every day. If you don’t have mint in your garden or kitchen window, it’s one of the easiest herbs to find fresh in markets and grocery stores. Dried is okay, but just not the same – especially when you’re sick.

Fresh ginger and mint tea

Dandelion-Lemon-Ginger

Makes 1 pot of tea, steep 5-10 minutes

1 Tbsp dandelion root, roasted
1-3 lemon wedges, squeezed and crushed
1 2-inch nub of fresh ginger root, sliced
1-3 Tbsp of honey, to taste

Excellent for cleansing and tastes like a gingery earl grey. Makes a delicious every-day breakfast tea as a substitute for black tea or coffee. Good without the lemon too. Yum, yum, yum.

Lavender-Lemon-Herb

Makes 1 pot of tea, steep 5-8 minutes

1 mandarin orange, including peel, squished
1 small lemon or half a lemon, sliced and squished
1 tsp lavender, dried
1/2 tsp rosemary, dried
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
6-8 cloves
1-3 Tbsp of honey, to taste

For chasing away a cold or flu. Tastes like hot lavender lemonade with a mild bitter herbal aftertaste which is softened by the honey. Adding fresh ginger root definitely doesn’t hurt. Not my favourite, but not unpleasant. Only drink up to one pot a day for five days in a row.

Lemon-Herb

Makes 1 pot of tea, steep 5-8 minutes

1 large lemon, sliced and squished
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 bunch of fresh mint
1-3 Tbsp of honey, to taste

A go-to for chasing away colds. Tastes odd, but good. A savoury herbal tea which balances nicely with the lemon and honey. Seems to always do the trick after drinking it for a 2-4 days. Never drink it for more than a week in a row though due to the rosemary and thyme and stick to only one pot a day.

Wild Berry Shampoo

By | Ethnobotany, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes, Wildcrafting | One Comment

Poisonous Devil's Club Berries

Yes, you read the title right –you can make shampoo using berries harvested from the wild! The resulting shampoo doesn’t have the soapy lather or shelf life of commercial shampoos, but it gets the job done and you know for sure you’re only putting wild berries on your head and not any mystery chemicals, toxins, or preservatives. Even if it’s not something you’d do every day, it sure is a fun activity while camping. As usual, practice ethical wildcrafting!

  • Devil’s Club – good for dandruff, dry itchy scalp, and lice
  • Snowberry – good for blond or light-coloured hair
  • Soapberry – good for red or brown hair

To make wild berry shampoo you will need 1 cup of fresh berries or 1/2 cup of dried and 1 cup of freshly boiled water.  Pour the hot water over the berries and mash or put through a blender. If using dried berries, be sure to let the mixture sit for 15-30 minutes, or more if needed, to allow the berries to soften for easier mashing and blending. The mix will last 2-3 days in the fridge and will only last that many washes as well. You can always freeze the fresh berries or the shampoo mixture to have enough for regular use.

To use, massage a portion of the berry mash into damp hair and rinse. Rinsing with cool or cold water keeps hair moist and shiny.

Tips and Tricks: Devil’s Club and Snowberries can only be picked in the wild and cannot be purchased, but Soapberries can be purchased in bulk from some retailers such as Richter’s.  Like the idea but don’t have access to any of the berries? Try making a soapwort infusion instead to massage and rinse your hair with.

If you have dandruff and are making a berry shampoo with Devil’s Club, also try adding 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar to the blend. If you have oily hair, try adding 1 Tbsp of baking soda to 2 Tbsp’s worth of the berry mash.

Want to take the recipe further? Try adding wild harvested nettles or mints, all-purpose hair tonics, by making an infusion with the hot water before adding it to the berries. Also try adding peppermint oil for a stimulating experience great for dry, itchy, flaky scalp.

Warnings: The berries of Devil’s Club and Snowberry are poisonous so make sure to keep the berries and/or the shampoo away from children and pets and keep the shampoo out of your eyes. Soapberries are edible in moderation and are the safer option, especially if you’ll be making this recipe with children.