Monthly Archives: November 2009

For the Birds

I know a lot of city dwellers think I’m nuts but I love living in the woods. As I write, there are two deer wandering & foraging on the hillside outside my office window … it looks like one mama and an almost-yearling. They are part of a herd of around a dozen that live in our “neighborhood”. If I look out the front window, the birds are helping the squirrels out by flinging seed from the feeder to the ground. Most of the trees are asleep for the winter but the pines, cedars, cypress and hemlocks provide bright spots of green against the landscape of browns. Even in autumn and winter there are wondrous things to look at each day.

The browns of the landscape are my clue that there isn’t much left for the birds but what’s in our feeders. The bugs are even leaving or dying so the woodpeckers don’t have a lot of food available. I can tell … instead of hearing their “rat-a-tat” on trees, I’m hearing “knock, knock, knock” on the house as they go after the spiders on our wood siding. It’s time to provide them with a little more sustenance to keep them going through the winter months: suet.

The birds in our neighborhood are quite spoiled: I was in a hurry one week so purchased a block of suet instead of making it. The only birds exhibiting any interest in the store-bought stuff were the crows – and they’ll eat anything. It wasn’t until I got busy in the kitchen that I could again watch more than just the crows peck at it. It’s quite amusing to watch the large pileated woodpeckers try to keep their balance as the cage turns & swings, and get a beakful of suet at the same time.

My recipe (that I got from a PBS gardening show a few years ago):

1 cup lard (not shortening)
1 cup peanut butter (I use the chunky kind)
1 cup flour
3 cups cornmeal

Melt the lard & peanut butter together. Reduce the heat to very low to keep this in a liquid state. Gradually add in the flour and cornmeal, stirring constantly. Turn out into an 8×8 baking pan and refrigerate overnight. If you cut it into 4 quarters, they fit neatly into the inexpensive cages sold specifically for suet.

You can add in other things like dried fruit. I usually use a couple of those little snack boxes of raisins but at this time of year, I have a few cranberries leftover so I put those in. The birds also like leftover bread or biscuits. If you use a bread of some kind, break it up well before mixing it in. You’ll need to reduce the amount of cornmeal … usually by about a cup but it depends on how dense your bread is and how much you use.

There’s only one problem with this recipe: not only do the birds love it but so do the deer, possum and other critters. I’ve also lost two cages when the local black bear discovered the suet, managed to break the chain and haul the cage off somewhere. I now bring the suet in every night.

For my US readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. In the words of a friend, “I plan on a hefty food coma on Thursday!”

Top 10 Herbs

I’ve been getting some inquiries from folks just starting to investigate herbs about which ones they should start with. My usual reply is “start with solving a problem you currently have and then build from there”. However, having some on hand “just in case” isn’t a bad idea. I also recognize that not everyone has room for a huge apothecary so I tried to narrow my “beginner’s list” down to 10 that can come in handy. So, in no particular order:

Peppermint Mentha x piperita is an extremely versatile herb. First, it makes a rather tasty, cooling tea – especially in the summer when you’ve been working in the yard. Further than that, it helps bring down fevers, calm tension headaches, get rid of nausea and bring colds & flu to a quick end. Rubbing a fresh, crushed peppermint leaf on gums will also calm the rattled nerve endings associated with teething. Magically, it adds a lot of “oomph” to healing and purification spells.

Garlic Allium sativum is another very versatile herb. The list of therapeutic actions is almost endless. Two (raw) cloves a day are just as good as an apple – will keep the doctor away in many instances. It’s used to bring down high cholesterol and high blood pressure, get rid of infections (topical or internal), stimulate digestion, also to bring down fevers. Scientific research also suggests garlic is an immune system enhancer so can be taken as preventive measure. Raw garlic can cause indigestion so experimentation is necessary. You can roast it or take capsules if your stomach doesn’t like it raw (but its medicinal properties won’t be as strong). Magically it’s used in healing, purification, and protection spells.

German Chamomile Matricaria recutita is a very calming herb – many people drink Chamomile tea before bed to help them sleep. The same properties make it good not only for insomnia but nervous tension and neuralgia. Topically, it’s great to calm skin reddened by weather. Magically, use it in love, money & purification spells.

Myrrh Commiphora molmol is one of my favorite antibacterial herbs. It’s used extensively for mouth problems: halitosis, pyorrhea, gingivitis, thrush and mouth ulcers. It will also help heal skin abrasions quickly. Myrrh incense has been used for centuries to purify an area and create peace – great for background when meditating or use it to purify ritual tools.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium will staunch bleeding before your eyes. It’s also another good herb to have on hand for colds, fevers and bronchitis. Because of its antibacterial, antimicrobial and astringent properties, it helps tremendously with urinary tract and vaginal infections. Magically, use yarrow in love spells, to strengthen psychic powers, and to stop fear and grant courage.

Plantain Plantago major is found in just about everyone’s yard nowadays and can generally be found growing close to nettle. There’s a reason: rubbing a fresh leaf on the spot will calm the sting from a nettle almost immediately. For the same reason it calms the itching of insect bites and rashes, including eczema. It’s an immune system enhancer, and a refrigerant so it will help calm and heal burns and scalds. Use plantain to enhance the effect of almost any spell or for healing or protection.

Thyme Thymus vulgaris is another herb with a long list of reasons to have it on hand. Thyme is a great disinfectant: I use thyme tea to clean wounds before treating them further. It’s good for coughs, colds, fever, sore throats, tension headaches, muscle spasms, skin rashes, and arthritis. Its aromatic (or deodorant) properties make it good for purification rituals, and it is a powerful addition to health and healing spells.

Lemon Citrus limon is very well known as a refrigerant – it will calm the pain of a sunburn. Lecturers and singers know it well as an ingredient in tea (with honey and hot water) to keep the throat clear. The same recipe is good for sore throats due to a cold or cough. Its astringent properties make it a good face wash for those with oily skin and a lot of people use it as a bleaching agent for freckles. Lemon juice mixed with a little water will cleanse ritual items or other magical objects purchased secondhand. It’s used in the bath for purification and in spells to draw or seal friendship.

Sage Salvia officinalis , besides being an ingredient in turkey stuffing is well known as a fever reducer. Its astringent qualities make it great to help stop bleeding, to clear up mucous in the lungs and to calm the itch of insect bites. Sage will also help calm nervous tension and dry up a mother’s milk if she’s trying to wean a child. Magically it’s used to cleanse an area of negativity, to promote wisdom and to strengthen mental powers.

And last but not least

Tea Tree Melaleuca laternifolia is one of the strongest antimicrobials in my medicine cabinet. I haven’t seen the dried herb on the market here in the US but there’s no need – the essential oil is what you want and it’s readily available. Use Tea Tree oil for athletes’ foot, insect bites, acne and cold sores. I also dab it on cuts after cleansing and before covering with a bandage. Some people find Tea Tree to be a bit too strong for their sensitive skin so you may have to dilute it in a carrier oil before use. A friend of mine puts some in her washing machine – especially if she’s laundering baby clothes.

This list was essentially off the top of my head. There are countless other herbs that can be used for many issues. Do some research and experimentation!

Herbal Dental Care

I just got back from having my teeth cleaned. While it’s not on my top-100 list of favorite things to do, it seems to be one of those necessary evils. However, the last two cleanings have been short and, while not pleasant, weren’t painful. I put it all down to the fact that I quit using commercial toothpaste.

First, let me preface the rest of this post with “do everything your dentist tells you to do”. Brush, floss, rinse, get regular checkups, the whole nine. I don’t need the ADA climbing down my throat.

Back to my thoughts: nearly a year ago, I had to quit using any of the mints (which contain salicylates) due to a protocol that I’m on to treat my fibromyalgia. (Sigh. I really miss mint-chocolate-chip ice cream and now there’s a television commercial for a seasonal peppermint milkshake that’s making my mouth water.) The toothpastes on the shelf where I do my shopping is all mint-flavored or salicylate-containing of one variety or another. There are a few toothpastes out there that don’t have mints or salicylates in them but the price made me choke. So, I decided to make my own tooth powder. I figured if it was good enough for folks prior to about 1850, it should be good enough for me.

To one-half cup of baking soda (the same that you buy at the grocery store), I add ten drops of Myrrh essential oil (antibacterial) and three drops of Sage essential oil. Sage leaves have been using for eons as a tooth cleaner and whitener. I’m too lazy to powder some dried Sage so I use the EO. (If you want to use powdered Sage, use about one tablespoon per half cup of baking soda.) If you want the minty flavor, add up to ten drops of Peppermint or Spearmint essential oil; or spice it up a bit with up to ten drops of Cinnamon EO. (You may have to experiment a bit to get the flavor to your liking as the EOs are strong-tasting.) Mix very, very well to get the oils completely distributed through the powder. Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the same place you keep your toothpaste.

To use, wet your toothbrush and dip the bristles in the powder, getting just a little less on the brush than you would toothpaste. Brush and rinse as usual. I do one more thing for cleaning and whitening purposes: instead of using water to wet my toothbrush, I use hydrogen peroxide – available in the first aid aisle of most stores. Hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant, antiseptic and a bleaching agent. The bottle you buy at the store is only a 3.5% solution so it’s a weak version but helpful nonetheless.

I smoke (yes, I know how bad it is – no nasty comments, please) and do other bad things like drink coffee, tea and cola. I have a white bathroom sink so I can see how much stain is coming off every time I brush – it’s not a pretty sight. The first time I saw the dental hygienist after I started using this mixture she thought I had quit smoking. Today she remembered that I still smoke but commented on how little she had to do, either scraping or polishing. I also have no gum problems and no new cavities.

Dentists are really mixed in their opinions on using baking soda. Some say it’s perfectly OK, others say it’s too coarse and will harm teeth over time. My dentist falls into the latter category but since there are those that say it’s all right to use, I figure I’ll go with them and save some money. My cost: less than 25ยข. Tube of toothpaste for hubby that lasts about the same amount of time: $2.50. (Can’t get him to switch.)

You can still buy commercial tooth powders – I’ve only found them on the Internet and they’re expensive, too. I’ve been told that they are not as coarse as regular baking soda but frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference. I’ll stick with the homemade stuff.

I’ve seen some tooth powder recipes that include salt – specifically, finely ground sea salt. The rationale behind the salt is sound … it breaks up the sugars in the mouth and naturally tightens gum tissues. I just don’t like to add more sodium anywhere if I can avoid it so I don’t use it in my recipe. If you want to try it, use equal portions of soda and salt.

I’m clear of the dentist for another four months. What a relief!

Seasonal Thoughts

Now that Samhain is over, according to retailers (as I mentioned in another post), we’re officially into the Christmas season. But not for everyone! My school, American College of Healthcare Sciences just posted on Facebook about how they use the change of seasons to refocus on goals. Naturally, they talk about health-related items like drinking eight glasses of water a day, adding two cloves of garlic to the daily diet, and eating enough servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. (They also mention drinking dandelion coffee. Healthy? Yes. Coffee? Sorry, no.)

I hadn’t thought about it but I use the change of seasons in a similar manner. As I notice the seasons turning, I take stock of what has happened versus what I wanted to accomplish; what, if anything, I need to change; and what new something I want to accomplish.

So, my goals for the quarter between Samhain and Imbolc (Candlemas for Christians, or right around Groundhog Day):

1. Get to know a new herb. I like to know herbs … not just what I can read about them but what the herbs themselves can tell me. I sit quietly by a plant (or plants if I have a bed of them) and open up all my senses. Not just sight, smell, taste and touch. I open up my “inner ear” and allow the plants to tell me about themselves. They will give you all sorts of insights into their likes, dislikes and uses if you’re open to a whisper on the wind. I have a bed of Wood Betony Stachys officinalis that doesn’t seem to mind (or perhaps even likes) the cool weather. I think I’ll see what they have to say.

2. Get at least six chapters written of the new book. Since I have a “real” job, writing has to be tucked in between and around the paying work. I think six chapters in three months is a pretty good goal, given that I have a lot of research to do, as well.

3. Try my damnedest to get two of my neighbors jobs. They’ve both been unemployed for over six months and jobs are tough to come by in our rural county. I think a whopper of an employment spell is in order.

4. Spend time with family and friends this holiday season. We live fairly isolated and don’t visit with people often. This year a couple of my long-time clients will be home from Europe (one has a new baby girl that I haven’t yet seen) and family will either be in or passing through Atlanta. My assistant and dear friend was forced out of his condo by the floods in Atlanta in September and I haven’t seen the apartment they moved into so I need to drop by there. Have to come up with a housewarming gift. (Hey wait! I make a housewarming basket that would be perfect. It’s amazing what you think of while writing!)

5. Get to know my new Tarot deck. As I mentioned in another post, I’m pretty good at reading runes but rather lousy at cards. I bought a new deck whose artwork I like and I need to schedule unbroken periods of quiet time to learn it.

And last but definitely not least:

6. Tell my loved ones that I love them. We get caught up in the day-to-day grind and this is one thing normally taken for granted that should be verbalized on a regular basis. I admit I’m guilty and will try to rectify the situation.

‘Tis the Season – Already

I read several blogs every day … keeping up with what’s happening outside my small world. One I read echoed my sentiments almost exactly. Rue was bemoaning the fact that the day after Samhain/Hallowe’en, Walmart is oversubscribed with Christmas items.

IMHO, retailing is getting more desperate each year. Hallowe’en candy was in the stores in mid-August. (Despite the preservatives, can you imagine how stale it would be by the end of October?) While watching the baseball game Saturday night, I saw a commercial with a Christmas theme. What happened to Thanksgiving?

Once upon a time (and I’m not that old), the retail seasons progressed naturally. We didn’t see Hallowe’en items until late September. Thanksgiving waited until after Hallowe’en and Christmas came out the day after Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, I don’t have to pay attention to the marketing people at the major stores. The trees still have some leaves left (but not many); the days are warm and the nights are cool. It’s still time for apple pies, raking leaves into a pile and then jumping in, or simply dragging your feet through the leaves on the ground and hearing that spectacular swishing/crunching sound.

We haven’t had a hard freeze, yet, so I still have herbs to harvest … I can get another cutting off the wormwood, mugwort and rosemary before covering them up for the winter. It’s nearly time to dig up my two-year-old comfrey and valerian roots. If the current weather holds, I’ll even have another crop of chamomile before everything goes to sleep for the winter.

For me, it’s still autumn. I’ll even ignore the Christmas carols in the stores when I do my weekly shopping tomorrow.