Monthly Archives: January 2011

How to Make ‘Tea’

It seems I’ve been answering a lot of questions lately on how to make and use water-based preparations of herbs. Apparently, these people haven’t read my book! So, to get the word spread a little further, here’s an excerpt:

“The most widely used herbal preparation is a tea or tisane. (Actually, Tea is an herb. Its Latin binomial is Camellia sinensis [and I blogged about it here]). Medicinally, it’s called an infusion or decoction. Magically, it’s usually called a brew, potion or philter. To make a tea of a leaf or flower (an infusion) put one teaspoon dried herb in one cup just-boiled water. The water should be still steaming but not bubbling. Cover the cup to prevent the steam from escaping and allow it to steep for about ten minutes. Strain before use or use a tea bag or ball. To make a tea of a root or bark (a decoction), put one teaspoon dried herb in one and a half cups cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer until your liquid is reduced to one cup. Again, strain before use.

I’m sure you know you can drink the tea (but be sure the herb is safe to ingest, first). A tea is used to make a fomentation. Prepare a strong infusion or decoction (double the amount of herb you use) and then soak a cloth in it. Bind the cloth around the area of the body you want to affect and cover with another cloth. This is very useful not only medicinally but in magical health workings targeted to a specific part of the body. You can also use a tea in skin preparations; as a wash, whether for yourself, your house or your magical items; or swish it into your bath water.”

Hope that helps someone!

Worth the Effort: Pomegranate

A post on a forum this morning gave me today’s subject. Someone posted a recipe for pomegranate cordial which sounds so yummy, I’m going to have to make a trip to the liquor and grocery stores and give it a try (I’ll share later on).

Pomegranate Punica granatum has long been known for its healthful benefits. Mention of it goes back to the Homeric Hymns and the Bible book of Exodus. Even further back, it’s been found in the Ebers Papyrus. Lately, Pomegranate has been getting a lot of attention for its antioxidant benefits. You know antioxidants: they help keep arteries clean, benefiting the cardiovascular system which in turn may help with diseases like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and a host of others.

Scientists are now studying Pomegranate for its potential to aid in weight loss. Anything that takes that long to eat would probably help. Seriously: they think it might contain beneficial compounds.

While scientists are ‘just discovering’ the benefits of this fruit, use of it for sore throats (as a gargle), and to relieve flatulence goes back centuries.

Many people balk at the thought of eating a Pomegranate. I’ll admit, it’s a pain. Rather than separate the seeds from the fruit, I eat the seeds, too. They’re small enough not to bother with.  They’re a demulcent and the fruit is a refrigerant, making the combination nice when you’ve got fever with lung congestion. The seeds were used in ancient times to expel intestinal worms.

However, just one taste of the rind was enough to convince me that wasn’t the most flavorful part. No wonder: it contains tannic acid and some alkaloids, making it quite bitter. Under proper supervision, the rind can be used medicinally for diarrhea and dysentery. (In other words, don’t try this at home.)

Pomegranate shines on the magical level, as well. Perhaps because of the myriad seeds/fruit, it’s used as a plant of ‘increase’, as in fertility and prosperity spells.  Since pomegranates are usually only available in the northern hemisphere from about December to March, a good substitute in off-months is grenadine, which is made from pomegranate juice. (I’ll bet you Tequila Sunrise drinkers never thought of this!)

Because the juice is red, it can be used as magical ink, too, although it comes out a little light on the page.

Now, for the Pomegranate Cordial recipe (thanks, sweetie, and you know who you are):

3 cups pomegranate fruit/seeds (about 5 whole ones)

4 cups 80-proof brandy

1-1/8 cups sugar

Remove the seeds/fruit from the rind, and remove all the white membrane. Macerate (crush) to release the juice.  Put the whole mess into a container you can make airtight. Add the sugar, stirring until you get a syrup-like consistency. Add the brandy. Tightly cover. Shake hard, once a day for 7 days. Strain (use a coffee filter as a final strain to get all the dregs), bottle and enjoy!

My friend likes his cordials sweeter so uses 2-1/8 cups sugar. I don’t like stuff quite so sweet and will stick with the lesser amount. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

2011 Herb of the Year

The International Herb Association has chosen an “Herb of the Year” every year since 1995, meant to highlight herbs and draw attention to National Herb Week (celebrated the week before Mother’s Day). This year it’s one of my favorites: Horseradish Armoracia rusticana. I’m not a fan of most spicy food but like the also-pungent Ginger, I add quite a bit of Horseradish to my meals.

Honestly, I didn’t know this was an herb until I was in my 30’s. I always thought it was just a condiment! Growing up, grated Horseradish could be requested at virtually every restaurant at the same time as a jar of mustard or bottle of steak sauce. (I still get peeved when I ask for Horseradish & get some creamy stuff that has no bite to it whatsoever – what’s the point?) I had never seen a fresh root and since it didn’t appear on the shelves in the baking aisle but in jars located in the refrigerated section of the grocery, it never occurred to me that it could be an herb or spice. It’s always good to learn something new.

The use of Horseradish as medicine (not only the root but the leaves, as well) is known as far back as the Middle Ages … and experts are fairly certain it is the same plant called Amoracia by Pliny (23-79 CE). The Latin binomial has even been changed from Cochlearia armoracia to reflect this thinking. It’s one of the five bitter herbs eaten by Jews during Passover. Documentation of its use as a condiment in Denmark & Germany goes back to the late 16th century and it is mentioned for its medicinal uses in the London Pharmacoepias of the 18th century.

Today we only use the root. In its whole form, it doesn’t have much of a smell but scrape or cut it and you’ll release the pungency we normally associate with it.  (The stereotypical odor is created when two chemical compounds stored in separate cells are released and mixed together when the flesh is bruised.) Boil or dry it, and you lose the pungency again.

Because of its pungency, it makes a great addition to any food (or on its own) when you have sinusitis. It’s also an expectorant, so helps well with bronchitis. Using it as a condiment (usually on fish or red meat) will stimulate the appetite and help the digestive organs do their job. Although some may find it irritating, infusing oil with freshly grated Horseradish makes a good liniment for arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica and chilblains.

Maud Grieve recommends infusing Horseradish in milk as a cosmetic for lackluster skin or mixed with white vinegar to bleach freckles.

There are some contraindications: the high sulfur content can cause gastric upset in people predisposed to such; or in high doses, not only the upset but vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the urinary tract. So, if you have any problems with your gastrointestinal system, I think I’d avoid Horseradish. Also because it’s so strong, avoid taking it if pregnant or nursing; and don’t give it to kids under the age of four.

Like its cousin, Mustard (the plant, not the condiment), Horseradish makes a great protective herb. Must be all that sulfur. Grate it up, dry it and sprinkle it around the house … especially if you’re looking to deflect harmful spells sent against you. (I tried ‘sprinkling’ freshly grated once. It didn’t sprinkle but clumped and left blotches of  juice all over the carpeting.)

If you’ve never tried Horseradish, I heartily suggest you do. You can find it in jars in the refrigerated section of the grocery or some stores will have whole roots in with the more exotic vegetables in the fresh produce aisle. Just keep a tissue handy if you grate your own. It’s much worse than chopping onions.

Book Review: Sacred Plant Medicine

Virtually any time a book title has “Native American Herbalism” or something similar in it, it’s going in my reading pile. A lot of times I’m disappointed but this time I wasn’t. I hadn’t even gotten through the ‘Preface to the New Edition’ before I realized that Stephen Buhner is a man after my own heart. In that preface he talks about the electromagnetic field found in everything on this Earth and how that creates a symbiotic relationship between its inhabitants – including Man and Plants. I like it when people can explain in scientific terms what I instinctively know but can’t put into words.

Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism

Whether you believe that plants are sentient or not (I happen to know they are), he explains in beautiful prose how Man and Earth are interconnected. More importantly, he gives you his personal experiences of how he came to use plant medicine and once he found it, his journey to discover more. He describes his meetings with elders of various tribes and some of the information imparted to him, including how to make sacred plant medicine.

One paragraph echoes what I say in some of my talks, “I had been taught, from an early age, that only experts knew what was wrong with my body. … How was it, I finally wondered, that we have all been taught that the individual human being cannot know what is wrong with his or her body? … I realized that I had been taught to fear death and that these strangers were the ones who had been self-appointed to save me from what I had been taught to fear.” Or in my words, who knows your body better than you?

About a third of the book is devoted to fourteen different herbs found mostly in the western US. But it’s not just what the herb looks like, where it grows, or what it’s good for; he includes prayers and ceremonies for and about the herb from several different tribes.

If you have any interest at all in Native American ways with herbs, this is a must-read. It’s informative, calming and uplifting all at the same time.

My Word 2011

It seemed like a good thing to do last year … choose a word that has the ability to make an impact on your life and concentrate on it for a year.  (If you haven’t been following my blog for a year or didn’t completely rootle around in the archives, that post can be read here).

So, I printed the word “Faith” on an index card and pinned it to the bulletin board above my desk. It did serve as a reminder to me that things will all work out, no matter how awful the situation may be (and 2010 wasn’t the best year, believe me).

I need to keep that reminder so “Faith” will remain in front of my face each day. Next to it I’m going to pin another index card with “Chill”, which is my word for 2011. As a worry-wort, I tend to chew on things a lot, which creates even more stress. Given all the BS that I’m going through, continuing to ruminate on things isn’t good for my health, as evidenced by my getting sick twice already this cold-and-flu season when I normally don’t catch anything at all (or if I do, it’s mild enough for me to continue marching on).

Hopefully with those cards in front of me, I’ll remember to take a deep breath, Chill and have Faith that things will work themselves out; rather than let my temper and stereotypical Virgo personality get the better of me.

Have you picked a word for 2011? Share???