Monthly Archives: March 2010

Nuts About Nuts

While perusing my research material for something to write about today, I came across the fact that today is “Pecan Day”. I must admit, I’m continually amazed at the number and variety of special days, weeks and months. Pick a date and you’ll find something celebrated that day.  Pick a subject and you’ll undoubtedly find a day, week or month that celebrates it.  I’m not complaining, mind you. All these days, weeks and months give me ideas for writing this blog.

Back to my chosen topic: nuts in general and pecans in particular. I have been a nut lover since my childhood. Over the winter holidays, my family used to buy bags of mixed nuts in the shell and we would spend hours cracking, picking and eating.  Little did I know back then that I was eating a healthy snack!  (I wonder why those bags are only available in December?) Today if you put almost any kind of nut in front of me, I’ll eat the entire supply.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 found that eating a handful of pecans each day may help lower cholesterol levels similar to the result that is often seen with cholesterol-lowering medications. Pecans contain protein, unsaturated fats, plant sterols and are rich in omega-6 fatty acids (but they contain about half the omega-6 of walnuts, to which pecans are related).  Some research by the US Department of Agriculture found that pecans contain more antioxidants than any other nut and have one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food. By now we all know that antioxidants help decrease the risk of cardiac disease, cancer, diabetes and some neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Even the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a qualified health claim, “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease”.  If the FDA can approve even a qualified statement, that suggests there’s merit there, beyond their “qualification”.

One caveat: if you eat nuts for your health get the unsalted kind. While the nuts themselves are healthy, all the salt they coat them with is not.

I wish pecan trees would grow in our climate. I saw groves of them in southwest Georgia a few years ago when we were on our way to Florida and they are gorgeous. They grow up to 130 feet tall and spread up to 75 feet across. I can imagine the cool shade they’d provide – quite comfortable as long as you didn’t sit under them in October when the nuts start to ripen!  You’d think they would grow here – they’re supposed to be happy all the way up to zone 5 but for some reason, they don’t like the mountain air.  So, I’ll just have to content myself with buying them where I can.

Until I started researching the magical uses of plants many years ago, I didn’t realize that pecans could be used for employment issues. It is said that you should eat a shelled pecan (of course … you don’t want to break your teeth on the shell) to help you get or retain a job. Had I known that, I would have gorged myself on pecans at a time that I was unemployed – using the appropriate intention while munching.

So, go nuts!

Spring Cleaning

Just in case you’re living in a cave somewhere, let me remind you that Saturday is the Vernal, or Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere.  Scientifically, what that means is that the sun crosses the equator and the days and nights are of equal length. A lot of my friends are getting ready to celebrate Eostara, which honors a Germanic fertility goddess, or you can honor Eostre, the Saxon version. My Christian friends are gearing up for Easter in a couple of weeks, and my Jewish friends are getting ready for a six-day celebration of Pesach, or Passover. (For a whole list of celebrations on or around the Spring Equinox, this site gives a nice overview.)

I’m not the religious sort so for my part, I look at this day as a day to start spring cleaning – but not the house.  Just as I change the batteries in the smoke detectors on the day we switch to Daylight Savings Time, the Spring Equinox is a reminder that I’ve been in winter hibernation mode for several months and it’s time to clean out the sludge that’s accumulated in me.

The first thing I do is a liver cleanse. The liver functions more or less as the body’s chemical processing center and with all the toxins floating around and my occasionally poor diet, it can get congested and not work as well.  When I get up in the morning (at least an hour before eating breakfast and before coffee, even!), I take 1 tablespoon olive oil mixed with one-half tablespoon fresh lemon juice. 3 days on, 4 days off, 3 days on. I also do a week of dandelion root & nettle leaf tea – one-half cup twice each day. This combination is just all-round a good spring tonic.

After that ten-day regime, I feel like Spring has finally sprung internally. Between that and the increased amount of time I’m able to spend outside in sunlight, I have more energy – even enough to tackle the house’s spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning the house falls a few weeks later – after all the pine trees have graciously donated their profuse, thick yellow pollen to the cause (theirs, not mine).  I do the standard heavier-duty stuff: cleaning tops of doorways, washing windows, taking books off shelves and dusting behind them. While I’m doing all this, I do a magical cleaning as well.  It seems to me with everyone cooped up inside during the winter months negativity seems to build, even when everyone is in a relatively good mood.

Like some, I dislike the smell of smoldering white sage. I’ve only used that when I feel I need some more “oomph”. There are a lot of folks with asthma or allergies that can’t handle smoke, too. For cleaning there are many other herbs you can use and you don’t even need to smudge! My favorite method is to make a strong tea of Rosemary – I usually make a quart. I wet my dusting rags with this the night before I know I’m going to clean and let them dry. I put the rest of the tea in a spray bottle and spritz it into all the corners of the house, visualizing “cleaning” all negativity away (remember, in magic, intent is everything). Rosemary happens to be my favorite herb and when I’m done, the house smells heavenly – at least to me. The atmosphere seems lighter as well.

How do you celebrate Spring?

An Apple A Day

Today, March 11th, is “Johnny Appleseed Day”.  It commemorates the death of John Chapman, otherwise known as “Johnny Appleseed”.  I remember as a child reading a book about this folk hero, who planted apple trees throughout the Ohio Valley.  Wikipedia has an interesting article on him.

That got me to thinking about the saying, “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away”. I either heard or read recently somewhere that phrase was coined by apple growers during Prohibition because hard (fermented) apple cider wasn’t on the ban list. I can’t find any substantiation to that claim, especially since it seems to stem from a Welsh proverb first heard in the mid-1800’s, “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”

The phrase really ought to be altered to read, “An Apple a Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away”.   Apples are very healthy eating.  A recent research study found that people who ate an apple 15 minutes before lunch ate almost 190 fewer calories than those that didn’t.  Makes sense.  The high fiber content in an apple (not to mention the acidic content) would make you feel somewhat full prior to picking up your fork.

But it’s not just that. The pectin encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and may reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Apples are full of flavonoids, which are antioxidants. These help improve immune system function. One of those flavonoids, quercetin, may kill the herpes virus that causes cold sores.

Green apples help cleanse the liver and gallbladder (again, the acidic content); eating an apple gives your gums a nice massage and helps to clean your teeth at the same time. Be sure to leave the peel on. This helps with the massage and most of the healthful chemical compounds are located just below the peel.

Apple wood is used extensively.  I’m sure you’ve heard all the recent hype about “applewood smoked bacon”. It does have a different taste than the usual wood used in smoking meat, which is hickory.  It’s a hard wood, used in making mallets and golf clubs. I’m told it also makes excellent wands (as does pear wood, which is a relative). A friend of ours used to own an orchard and I’d take some of the fallen wood for our fireplace – the smell is heavenly.

From a magical perspective, how and why apples and love became associated with each other isn’t terribly clear. Perhaps it’s because in the 7th century BCE, apples were so expensive in Attica, Greece, that bridal couples had to share one on their wedding night.  However, it must go further back than that. Apples are a favorite of the goddess Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. I’m pretty sure she was around long before the 7th century!

Whatever, the apple is now used in spells designed to divine love. One that I remember from my youth: as you peel an apple, recite the alphabet. When the peel either breaks or is completely removed, the letter you’re on will be the first letter of the first name of your “true love”. I’m not sure this spell works … My grandmother was a whiz at peeling an apple in one continuous spiral  and my grandfather’s name started with a ‘A’. I, on the other hand, after all these years of making pie, still can’t manage more than a turn or two before the peel breaks and my beloved’s name starts with a ‘P’. 

Moving to the sticks was an apple education for me. I had formed an attachment to Granny Smith apples because I like my apples tart and those were the only less-sweet ones available at the grocery store. There is an orchard not too far from us and a trip through their store was an eye opener. I couldn’t believe the number of varieties not seen at the chain grocers!  My current favorite is “Mutzu”. It’s sort of a cross between a Granny Smith and one of the sweeter varieties such as Rome or Jonathan. Unfortunately, that variety isn’t available year-round so I hurry over in the fall to get enough to make several pies and some applesauce – which don’t last long around here.

So, add that apple to your daily diet. If you live near an orchard, pay them a visit. They have all sorts of interesting apples – and they’re fresher than those you find at the chain stores. If you choose to peel your apple, I hope you have better luck with your love divination!

Spring? Please?

The old saying goes, “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb”. It definitely came in like a lion this year … we had 3½ inches of snow in just a few hours on Tuesday. Snow doesn’t usually bother me and I go regardless of the weather. After all, I grew up in the upper Midwest and 3½ inches is a miniscule amount up there. But this particular snowfall set me back on my heels. The effort to put protection spells on my car has paid off. Less than 4 miles from home I couldn’t make it up a hill, slid back down a ways and ended up with my rear wheels off the road but not completely in the ditch. I managed to turn around and, fighting the road all the way, got back to my parking spot in front of the garage. It took me 45 minutes to go a little over 7 miles but both the car and I are in one piece with nary a scratch.

North Georgia does get snow, and sometimes “quite a bit” (six inches to a foot is a lot around here). I remember the blizzard of 1993. But that was just one event. It seems we’ve had snow every few days this year and I’m totally over it. I moved south to be able to get outside nearly year ’round and as I write this there is still snow on the ground, although it’s finally melting. Even if it was a tad warmer, the ground is so wet that nothing can be done. Our private road is a mudslide waiting to happen in spots.

It’s supposed to be sunny and warm enough this weekend to get outside. I’m afraid to look at the garden. Although herbs are generally fairly hardy sorts, this year has been pretty brutal between the snow and protracted cold. I always give the Rosemary their own “greenhouse” in the winter with stakes & plastic and I noticed yesterday that the weight of the snow has torn the plastic off the stakes. The plants are still covered but there’s no telling how much cold has seeped in through the holes or whether the snow not only tore the plastic but crushed the plants as well.

The Wormwood is still poking its nose up above the snow but I can’t tell whether it survived or not. Same thing with the Lavender & Thyme. I’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see if they come back.  Last year at this time I was watching the Chamomile start to blossom and the Feverfew come up. All I see is white when I look at those beds.

Cabin fever has set in with a vengeance. I want to get outside and putter around so bad I can almost taste it. Could I have some Spring, please?