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Insane in the Membrane

By | Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes | 24 Comments

It has been over a year since I wrote a blog post and I only wrote three blog posts total last year. It’s pretty unprecedented for me! I have been blogging for 15 years and never have I written so little. Granted I did write a few posts for my wilderness education website and I have been working on my book, but it’s still very little writing for this writer! I have never been the apologetic blogger, my policy has always been to write when I can and not worry about it when I can’t, but it’s gotten to the point people are emailing me to ask if I’m okay! What happened? Go read The Dark Year for perspective (in 2016 I was very ill and lost three people very dear to me all in a row).

In the past four years I had two children, my little boys who are now ages one and four. My heart bursts with love for them and little ones are so freaking cute, but man does having children turn your life upside down! It is hard to run a business, write, and travel to teach when you have babies. You are a caregiver now and it’s not about you. There are a lot of sacrifices and waiting but those times are also filled with lots of time with your beloved partner and tiny cute faces and voices of your little sporelings adorably trying to become human like you. My older son turned out to have multiple health issues that make life more difficult, but my partner and I do our best to keep things silly and keep the kids happy. I am unfortunately in the percentage of mothers with the luck of getting postpartum depression (PPD). It revealed an anxiety disorder that had always been there but was never diagnosed until this past winter.  Depression and anxiety were compounded with severe sleep deprivation. The new baby would not sleep through the night for an entire year. He would wake up every two to three hours like clockwork. I was completely broken. I would cry all day and my nerves were so shot I would have anxiety attacks resulting in vomiting and migraines.

My partner took me to the hospital and had me admitted for a psych evaluation. They prescribed me a week of trazodone for bedtime and to let my partner worry about the baby. We began a brutal couple months of sleep training and emerged broken but victorious. Both children sleeping through the night. With sleep for us adults, the worst of the madness went away. This was in March-April of this year. My health practitioner prescribed me sertraline for the depression but it made things worse and I had all the adverse side effects, so they switched me to desvenlafaxine and after a couple months I feel almost human again. Yes I am a herbalist and I like my medicine natural, but I shut up and I took the damn pills. I was in no place to help myself. My partner Alex has suffered from depression for his entire adult life and has been incredibly supportive through this difficult time. We’d both rather not be on the meds, but understand that the situations in our life making our mental health worse aren’t going to go away for a while and that we need help in the meantime. He has one of the healthiest views on mental health of most people I’ve met in my life and he shines with compassion when things are especially hard.

And they have been hard. On top of all our troubles we also had to deal with my narcissistic ex who is the father of my older son. After moving to Ontario, I had to ask him to leave because he was being abusive on top of not taking care of his health and mental health issues. He did not like this and kept trying to trick his way back into the house. Once Alex and I fell in love, he tried to make life as difficult for us as possible. Living within sight of my house despite the lack of job opportunities in town, threatening my partner to the point the police were called twice, breaking into my garage and stealing, spreading rumours and lies in our small town, and using our son to manipulate and intimidate me; like using visit pick-ups and drop offs with the kid to verbally abuse me and Alex. Typical narcissistic bullshit, but when it’s done to two fragile people with depression and anxiety, the results are not good. We were terrified of him. He had a violent past and he liked to brag about it. You think you know and love someone and then you experience them turning into an unrecognizable monster when they don’t get their way. I was very pregnant at the time and scared. I reached out to a local non-profit women’s shelter and support resource. They gave me a free counselor who really helped keep me sane and helped us write and implement a safety plan as well as encouraged me call the police and take things to family court.

Almost two years ago, I had enough and I started court proceedings over custody and access. I received sole custody with full decision-making powers and he was ordered not to contact me, come to my property, or come near me. Due to his past abusiveness, my ex was ordered by the court to sign up for the local supervised visitation centre for access if he wanted to see his son and if he did so, he could see him a minimum of once a week. If he did that, and there were long-term notes with good feedback from the visitation centre social workers, then my ex could broach the subject of unsupervised visits. It didn’t go so smoothly, of course. Family court is brutal and the case is still not settled. It keeps getting adjourned because he didn’t file his paper work, he waited an entire year to sign up for the court mandated visitation centre, he failed to follow the court orders, and, of his own doing, he only had visits for a few months out of a period of two years so our son has no idea who he is now. It mostly just makes me sad my son’s biological father cares more about hurting me and winning some imaginary battle than actually being a dad to his son.  So, I just keep going to the court dates as, in my opinion, it’s already settled.

Did I mention my ex is a satanic Thelemic witch? So not only do I have to deal with his mundane bullshit (thankfully only through the bullet-proof shield of the Ontario court system now), I have to waste my time smacking down his stupid curses and evil eye every once in a while. Even though he’s a dark, creative curser, I’m lucky that he’s a very lazy, complacent old magician who hasn’t done any real work since the early 1990s. I know what you’re thinking, hot foot powder, right? I was seriously thinking of slipping some in the next court papers I have to legally serve him with… but then a couple months ago he fell from the top of a warehouse at work and broke his hip, an arm, and some ribs I think. I didn’t work any magic, but I have some friends I’m suspicious of. The ex was in the hospital for two months and it was really nice to be able to reclaim space in our little town for that time. But now he’s back, and still within sight of my house. He’s across the creek now though, and it’s pretty hard to throw curses over moving water. I’m not so afraid now, to see that once big, frightening man be sickly, skinny, and limping. In my life I have done very little cursing as I find the people who deserve it the most curse themselves best. They tend to end up alone, broke, ill, and in pain like Aleister Crowley. Even dark familiar spirits will abandon you if you don’t feed them offerings. Having patience while moving on and living your life as best you can is sometimes the most destructive curse you can cast on someone who is bitter.

So the old narcissistic tiger is toothless and limping and this witch is medicated, therapized, and starting to feel more human. My oldest boy will start kindergarten this fall and my one year old will be old enough for daycare in November which will help with our current childcare deficit. Things are starting to look up! The trouble is, sleep deprivation is literally torture. It’s probably number one in the international “how to torture” manual. Me and my current partner’s brains are swiss cheese — they are full of holes. Some of the damage will heal over time, but honestly some of it will not. We are both having severe issues with short-term memory loss. I am a lot slower than I used to be at everything, I can’t multi-task any longer, I can’t remember even the important things. We are both having a lot of trouble juggling a business, caring for young children not yet in school, and keeping on top of normal household chores (dishes, laundry, garbage, recycling, etc). We just move too slow right now and there are never enough child-free hours in a week to get things done. We have two kid-free days a week and that is the only time we have to do all the work we need to for the business. It is insane!

Our broken brains can barely keep up with our current life. This is one of the main reasons we closed our Fern & Fungi online store to focus on teaching foraging and why have pared things down to just making and selling medicinal nightshade ointments (aka my flying ointments – different name, same thing, same dosage). You can find the new home of my ointments here: Medicinal Nightshades. We were really hoping to be able to hire a Canadian manufacturer to make the ointments and a professional shipping fulfillment service to handle our shipping for us… but it’s not meant to be at this time. Because of red tape, no one will make our touch my nightshade ointments until we register them with Health Canada (our FDA) and receive approval and natural health product numbers for each different recipe (NPN). I’ve tried, but I can’t even start the application process until I first add the nightshade herbs to the natural health products ingredients database, but I can’t even start that application because they won’t give me the form and the only link in the internet universe to the form is broken and I have failed to hear back after contacting them about it. So, I’ll have to get back to you on that process later. In the meantime, it is still just me and my partner Alex. I make the ointments and he does the shipping.

So this is my life right now. Keeping the kids alive and happy, remembering to take my meds, remembering to turn the dishwasher on, remembering to water the plants, and trying our best to get orders for the business shipped out within 1-2 weeks of purchase. It’s hard when supply shipments are always late, supplies and herbs are always out of stock, your oven catches fire and dies (it did, two days ago), you forgot to order more beeswax, the kids keep passing on cold viruses to you, it’s monsoon season and the power keeps going out, your printer won’t work, the post office’s online shipping tool is always crashing, you go through three computers which all die… (see what I mean about having to slap down dumb curses all the time?).

How do I deal with all this stress? Going to bed early because I can’t afford losing my mental health from staying up late to work or watch tv. Asking for help from my partner, my family, and any social programs available to me. Lowering my expectations, like really lowering them and being okay with dirty floors and laundry piling up. And honestly, weed. My health practitioner point blank told me to, especially for help falling asleep and preventing panic attacks. Welcome to Canada where cannabis is poised to be sold in liquor stores any time now… any time now. It is a common part of medicine and culture in my area. Bootleg forest weed and whiskey have long histories in my county despite it being a Bible Belt. The weed came with the commune hippies and draft dodgers hiding in the woods here in the 1960s. Farmers do not get paid well for their hard job, so even if they’re not fond of hippies, many local farmers have hidden cash crops to supplement their income from corn and soy. So it’s still here, crossing social and economic boundaries. I had no idea moving from the cannabis capitol of Vancouver that there could be such a prevalent cannabis culture in the middle of nowhere in Ontario. If you ever wondered why Canadians are so chill and polite, now you know. It’s because from coast to coast, we’re all smoking the pot.

Recipes For Calming the Fuck Down

In case you are feeling insane in the membrane too, here are some recipes to help you chill out. You don’t have to be part of cannabis culture to enjoy and benefit from the plant and its effects. If you live in a state or country where it is legal, why not see if cannabis can help you? There’s not much to lose as the effects wear off in 1-3 hours. Don’t try it if your employer has a zero tolerance policy and drug testing, however!

A note on making herbal preparations with cannabis:

You will need a small scale to weigh the herb. If you’d like to make these recipes medicinal for pain management, select a high CBD strain. If you want your oil or liqueur to be psychoactive, then choose a high THC strain, such as a hybrid or an indica, and make sure to decarboxylate it before adding it to any edible or topical herbal recipes. To do this, spread the flowers out on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 225°F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then the flowers are ready to grind and use.

Cannabis Flying Ointment

7-15 grams cannabis flower, decarboxylated
500 ml vegetable oil (coconut, almond, sunflower, grapeseed, olive)
60 grams beeswax, chopped or pastilles

Place oil and herb in a double boiler on low heat for 5-8 hours, stirring every 30-60 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out the herb. Add the strained oil back to the double boiler in a clean bowl and add the beeswax. When the beeswax melts, pour the ointment into jars and allow to fully cool for a few hours before putting on the lids. Do a patch test with a pea-sized amount of the ointment and wait four hours for all the effects to be revealed. Then try using larger amounts. After you’ve made it once and know how it effects you, try making it again and adding your favourite essential oil blend or other herbs.

Cannabis Smoking Blend

3 parts cannabis flower
1 part dried motherwort leaf
1 part dried rose petals
1 part dried spearmint leaf
liquid honey to blend herbs

Pick through the dried herbs and remove any stems and hard bits that won’t break down. Then rub the herbs with your hands until they break down but are not a powder. Drizzle a few spoons of liquid wildflower honey over the herbs and then mix them with your hands, rubbing the mixture between your hands, until the honey is completely blended in. The honey moistens the smoking blend and prevents it from having a dry, harsh smoke. When it is blended, store in an air tight container until use. It can be rolled with papers into herbal cigarettes or smoked in a pipe or with some vape pens.

Cannabis Elixir

15-30 grams cannabis flower, leaf, and/or stems, decarboxylated
15 grams dried damiana
one handful of ground, raw cacao beans (optional)
1/4 of a vanilla bean pod or 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
3 thick slices of fresh ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick, crushed
500 ml of dark rum, bourbon, or brandy (don’t cheap out!)
1 cup unpasteurized honey

Smash up the herbal and spice ingredients, but don’t grind them to a powder. Place it all in a canning jar, seal the lid and leave it for 7-10 days to infuse, do not leave it for longer or it will be bitter and undrinkable. Shake it every day, as many times as you can remember to. When it’s ready, taste it. If it tastes a bit too strong, strain it quick! If it tastes weak, wait another couple days and taste it again. Strain out the herbs and put them in a canning jar and add 500 ml of water and seal it. Shake it every day for three days. Strain out the water and mix it with the alcohol extraction. Add more honey at this point if needed. Allow to further infuse, rest, and clarify for 2-4 weeks. It’s important you do not shake it anymore during this period. After the time has passed, pour your finished liqueur off of any herbal sediment on the bottom of the jar and into a new, clean jar or fancy bottles. It’s ready to drink or gift but will improve with 4-8 months to age. The resulting elixir will be around 20% alcohol. Dosage is 1-2 shotglasses (with a shotglass being 1 fluid ounce or 30 ml).

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!

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.

I hereby release this article’s text (but not the photos) under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivs License. Meaning, you can share this article on your blog, tumblr, or website as long as I am properly attributed (with my name as author and a link back to the original article on my website) and you do not alter the article or try to make money from it in any way.

wild-violets

Wild Violets Taste Like Spring

By | Cooking, Folk Magic, Herbalism, Recipes, Wildcrafting | 4 Comments

Lady bug and violets

Wild violets taste like green and purple; clean and fresh, they are like clover, budding leaves, and sunlight. The sun came out for a brief, warm flash and brought spring with it, suddenly, everything blooming like an unexpected orgasm. I found an expansive patch of viola adunca a short walk from my home and buried my face in the sweet purple fragrance. I picked every flower I could reach finding bright red lady bugs hugging the leaves and watching honey bees make love to pollen-covered stamens.

“All flowers growing in untrodden dells and shady nooks, uncontaminated by the tread of man, more especially belonged” to Venus and Diana. — Thiselton-Dyer

It is no surprise that violets belong to Venus and the water element. They are so sweet and delicately feminine, their shy purple heads hiding in shady, moist places under trees and near water.  Peaceful, healing, and soothing, when carried or eaten violets will protect from wicked spirits and help to heal wounds physical or spiritual. Mixed with lavender they create a powerful potion of love and lust. Make a wish on the first violet you see and it will be granted. Eat violets to change your luck for the better. To dream of violets means your fortunes are about to change for the good. To see violets bloom in autumn means disaster and misfortune.

Wild violets - viola adunca
Wild violets - viola adunca

I took home my treasure of delicate purple beauty and researched how to make a violet syrup. I was disappointed in what I found. Most syrup recipes aren’t meant for something as delicate and fresh as a flower and the boiling process in the recipes would destroy the colour and the flavour… so I made up my own recipe and I’m happy to say it was a success! For the best results, pick your flowers in the morning just after they’ve opened but before the sun burns away the fragrance and work with them right away.

Packing a canning jar with violets

Violets infusing in distilled water

WILD VIOLET SYRUP

    • Pack a 1 litre canning jar with fresh violet flowers
    • Add 4 cups of distilled water and 2 tbsp of spirits (40% or more)
    • Seal jar and infuse for 24-48 hours – shaking a few times each day
    • Strain, squeeze remaining liquid from petals and discard petal pulp
    • Measure resulting infusion
    • Heat until just boiling and add 1 part sugar per 1 part violet infusion
    • Remove from heat as soon as sugar melts completely
    • Cool and add 1 tbsp of spirits per 1 cup of liquid
    • Strain through cheese cloth
    • Store in the fridge

Pick as many violet flowers as you can and really pack them in – the more you have to work with the stronger in taste your syrup will be. By only heating the infusion long enough to melt the sugar, you preserve the strong violet colour, taste, and smell.

The violet infusion before boiling

Now that you have violet syrup, what to do with it? You can pour it as is over top of vanilla or coconut ice cream or have it for breakfast with pancakes, waffles, or crepes. Brush the layers of a white cake with it, letting it soak in well, and ice with a white butter cream and garnish with candied violets for a gorgeous and simple violet cake. Pour it over wild flower pound cake crumbled in a bowl and add booze, custard, and whipped cream to make a violet trifle.

WILDFLOWER POUND CAKE

    • 1 cup butter
    • 1 1/2 cup pastry flour
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 5 eggs, separated
    • 1 1/2 cup icing sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 cup edible flowers (violets, roses, pansies)

Cream butter. Sift flour and baking soda and gradually add to butter. Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon coloured and add sugar to them gradually. Combine the two mixtures. Beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the mixture, not stirring. Fold in the fresh flowers – the more colourful the better. Pour batter into a greased loaf or cake pan and bake for 1 hour at 350°F. Cool for one hour before eating. Serve plain with butter or eat with ice cream.

Add 1 tbsp of violet syrup per 1 cup of soda water to make home made violet soda. Diluted it is a pale lavender colour and tastes divine. Use it to mix drinks as the violet syrup would pair well with a plain mead, vodka, white rum, gin, or brandy to make your own creme de violette. Mix a Blue Moon cocktail by combining gin, lemon juice, and violet syrup or a Moonlight cocktail with gin, lime juice, cointreau, and violet syrup.

Give it away as gifts or hoard it for yourself. Violets and dandelions are the earliest spring flowers here alongside Japanese cherry blossoms and oemleria, but soon there will be more to come. Try making other flower syrups to celebrate the blooming of spring: magnolia, hawthorn flower, elderflower, Oregon grape flower… With summer will come the wild roses, fireweed, clovers, honeysuckle, and yarrow.

I think next year a small batch of violet mead may be in order…

The finished violet syrup

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