Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Sting of it All

Mother Nature must be PMSing. The tornadoes throughout the Midwest and the Southeast in the last month have been devastating. Living in the mountains, I don’t normally worry about such bad weather (the hills usually break up wind rotation) but we got hit big time yesterday … with hail. I’ve seen hailstorms before but nothing like this. Most of it was marble-sized but there were pieces sized somewhere between a golf and tennis ball.

I love listening to rain on our metal roof. Hail, however, is another matter. My office is right under the roof and I had to go to a lower level to preserve my eardrums. There was so much that the house literally vibrated with the hits. The poor cats were wide-eyed & trembling, even under the bed.

This morning I took a walk around to look at the damage. My garden looks really sad. The Chamomile I had planned on harvesting this morning is flattened. There’s not a blossom to be found. The rose is OK … anything that was open was knocked off but one bud did open this morning. I think (hope) the rest of them will perk up with time.

A few plants didn’t seem fazed by the onslaught: the Nettle … of course.

Nettle (or Stinging Nettle), whose Latin binomial is Urtica dioica, grows rampant around here and most other places around the world. It really does sting – the whole plant is covered with little hairs that, if you brush up against them, feel like bee stings. So, if you’ve a mind to pull some from your yard, be sure to wear good gloves and long sleeves (personal experience speaking). If you do get stung by it, look around for either Dock or Plantain. Both plants usually grow close to it – Mother Nature’s version of companion planting. Crushing then rubbing a fresh leaf of either on the sting will make it feel better immediately. Or, if you want to brave the plant again, the juice inside the stem of the Nettle will also help. Harvest it in late Spring, before it flowers. If you don’t get to it before it flowers, compost it. Nettle manufactures microscopic crystals as it ages which negate its medicinal effect.

Nettle has a long history of varied use. Before flax & hemp were introduced into the north of Britain, Nettle was used to make cloth. Even as late as WWI, Germany and Austria used Nettle for cloth-making when they ran out of cotton. It has also been used to make paper.

Medicinally, it has also been used for centuries, especially in the Spring. Nettle has a reputation as a blood purifier (or tonic) and it has been made into teas, puddings, beer (!), and the young leaves are used in salads to Spring clean the body. By ingesting Nettle a couple of times per day, it helps clean out all the allergens, thus helping those nasty Spring allergies. Overall, it’ll help rid you of all the toxins you accumulated during the Winter months. It’s also a folk remedy for rheumatism & gout. A caution: if you are on any anticoagulant drugs, don’t take Nettle internally. It could interfere with the drug’s actions.

Another really good use for Nettle is to staunch bleeding. A few drops of the juice on a small piece of cotton stuffed up the nostril will stop a nosebleed very quickly. To get the juice out of the stem, put on your gloves, cut the stem lengthwise and then squeeze it like half of an orange into a jar or bottle. (It won’t just squeeze out like the gel inside an aloe vera leaf.) Refrigerate to keep it fresh for up to a month.

It is also good on your skin – Nettle tea will soothe a burn. Cosmetically, either the juice or tea used as a final rinse will make your hair very strong and shiny. It’s also said to stimulate hair growth so if you have thinning hair, give it a try!

Here’s another ‘noxious’ (and strong) weed that has some very good uses!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes …

The beginning of David Bowie’s song has been running through my head these past few days …

Have you ever noticed how different astrology interpretations can be? I read several each month and try to distill them all into a cohesive outlook. (Learning astrology so I can do my own interpretation is on my bucket list.) However, my forecast here was spot on for May. One part really rings true: “This has been a time of review and of revisioning your purpose. You are in the midst of a very important transition time for your entire life …”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately. A little over a year ago I wrote a blog post about the Crooked Path. When I wrote that post, I had no idea that just a few months later I would be taking another fork in life’s road; as a caregiver to my mother.  I knew it would take up more time but what I didn’t count on was the energy drain. Although I know this isn’t a permanent situation, right now I can’t juggle all the businesses/projects and still have enough mental equilibrium to deal with her. Something’s gotta give.

One of the benefits (for me) of working the Galactic Expo in Nashville is getting to see some very dear and trusted friends in person. Although my husband is a logical thinker & great sounding board, he also loves me. (I continually question his sanity.) When I can’t figure something out on my own and Pete only offers up “whatever makes you happy, honey”, I turn to these friends for their opinion. So, I had a serious chat with a couple of them last weekend and they essentially confirmed what I knew in my heart had to happen:

After ten years, my herb shop, Thistle & Moon is going to ‘go away’. Although enjoyable, keeping everything freshly stocked and traveling to shows is very time consuming.  I’m not going to cut it off at the knees but as something sells out, I’m not going to reorder. I’m also not going to do shows anymore. (My hips are already thanking me.)  If there’s something you want or need, I suggest you get it off the website before someone else does.  If you’re looking for something in particular and don’t see it, pop me an email and I’ll see if I can help.

Because the shop will take awhile to wind down (and I still intend on selling my own books) I’m also going to reorganize my corporate structure and move everything under the “Herby Lady” banner. That way I only have to maintain one website. Sometime within the next couple of months (after I get all the legal work out of the way) you’ll get a redirect when you go to the shop link above. No worries. It’s still me and my stuff.

By cutting out just the one business, maybe I’ll have enough brainpower left to just sit quietly and actively listen. I haven’t had that for awhile and I miss the murmurings of the plants and the whispers of my spirit guides.

So, what am I going to do with all this free time (ahem) I’m generating? Write. Book #2, A Green Witch’s Formulary is at the publisher and should be available in about four months. That’ll be it on the herb front for awhile. Honestly? I don’t want to be one of those authors that rearranges information just to get another book out and I’ve said all I can think of on that subject at the moment. Book #3 is a work-in-process & a complete departure from the first two: I’m trying my hand at fiction. There’s no deadline; it will take as long as it takes to finish. I’m having a ball with my witchy protagonist and am not in any hurry to find out what happens to her. It’s fun and isn’t that what life is supposed to be?

Herbs: For Art, Too!

Just a quickie today:

Three years ago, one of the wonderful volunteers at the Galactic Expo had to do a piece for one of her art classes using all natural substances. Three years later she finally remembered to bring the finished project so I could see it.  It’s gorgeous, my photography doesn’t do it justice but (with her permission) I just had to share:


The entire thing is done with herbs off my rack. I am so impressed (and jealous), Sharon Parker!


Hug/Scratch/Love Your Cat

You know how we always criticize the greeting card companies for creating holidays? It ain’t just them. Purina has declared today “Hug Your Cat Day”.  If you can’t celebrate today, someone else has declared the same thing for 24 May. I don’t know about you, but hugging my cats isn’t something they like me to do. Perhaps they ought to rename it “Scratch Your Cat” day. Scritches are always welcome! (Every day is ‘Scratch the Cat’ and ‘Rub the Tum’ day in this house.)

If you’ve followed this blog for a month, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that we have two kittens in the house.  That hasn’t happened in eight years and I’d forgotten just how rambunctious they can be. Purrs & kisses wake me up in the dead of night; there are 3-ring binders in odd places in my office to block them from getting into the snakes’ nest of cables behind my desk; and we’ve had to hide all sorts of things in cupboards because they’ve figured out how to climb up to the counters. (I’m waiting for the traditional opening of the lower cabinet doors. That ought to happen within a month.)

Hiding things also means protecting them. That means some of my herbs and all of my essential oils. Most herbs won’t hurt a cat but unlike dogs, they can’t metabolize essential oils at all and the last thing I want is for one of them to lick a stray drop on a bottle and poison themselves.

They’re not allowed into the greater outdoors so I don’t have to worry about fleas or ticks, thank goodness.  If they did go into the woods, this herby person would be using the commercial flea & tick preparations formulated specifically for cats – I don’t know of anything herbal that deters ticks. There are some herbs/essential oils that may help with fleas but again, I wouldn’t apply them directly to the cat’s skin. If you want to try the herbal route, soak some cotton braid of a length appropriate for your pet in a combination of rosemary & rose geranium essential oils. Hang it up to dry and then use the braid as a collar for your dog or cat, fixing the ends with sewn-on Velcro or a clasp off an old collar. You can also scatter powdered pennyroyal around their sleeping area, or sprinkle it on your carpeting & vacuum after 30 minutes or so. (Pennyroyal essential oil can be toxic – even to humans. Use the herb, please.)

One thing Maks & Misha do is make me slow down. I can’t help but stop what I’m doing to watch them play, or sleep all piled together (Misha with his tongue sticking out).  No matter what, they bring a smile to my face … they’re so cute. Our 13 year old, Belette is even getting used to them – she’s only taken a couple of swipes this week and allows them to touch noses.  That makes me smile, too. I don’t ever expect her to cuddle up with them (I’d probably have a heart attack if she did), but as long as they don’t get into any spitting matches, things are good.

I need to stop now so I can finish my preparations for this weekend. I’ll be peddling my wares here. Will I see you there? If not, give your pet a hug (or a scritch) from me.




Writing (Magical) Style

The other day, I was asked by a (very non-magical) friend why I use a fountain pen to autograph books. After all, there are many less-expensive alternatives on the market today. The answer to me was simple but it took about thirty minutes to explain it to him: the ink I use is specifically charged.

Charged ink is useful if your spell requires something written; if you’re doing sigil work; or for entering something really important in your journal. It adds a little oomph to your project (or signature ;)).

Many people think that black ink is was all that was available until modern times. Nay, not so! As early as 1200 BCE, scribes were using colored inks made from plant materials and in many cultures, a specific color ink carried a ritual meaning.  For a lot of people, that holds true today.

Making magical ink can be very difficult or very easy. It depends on how much time & energy you’re willing to put into it. Difficult is making ink from soot. Once upon a time, ink was made from the soot produced by burning oil lamps, hence the name lampblack. You can accomplish the same thing with soot from a burning candle, burning wood or resin incense. Light your chosen source and hold a spoon a couple of inches above the flame or smoke column. Eventually you’ll see a layer of soot form on the spoon. Scrape that off with a knife into a bowl. (I recommend doing this in a place you don’t mind getting black. The flakes won’t always cooperate & float directly into the bowl.) Repeat. Repeat again, ad nauseum. It takes awhile. Once you have enough soot collected in your bowl, thin it just a bit with distilled water and voilá, black ink.

A little easier is to soak about a tablespoon of crushed Dragon’s Blood resin in five tablespoons of clear alcohol (grain alcohol works best but vodka is OK, too). When the two substances have combined well (about an hour), strain out any remaining resin and add a little gum arabic or gum traganth to thicken. Dragon’s Blood is the only resin (to my knowledge) that will produce a legible (red) ink. Everything else comes out clear.

Easier yet is to crush some fresh berries, strain out the pulp and use the juice. Pokeberries are widely known as an ink source; as is a relative of Holly, Ilex glabra, commonly known as ‘Inkberry’. However, even the blueberries you pick up at the store will work.

And the lazy man’s charged ink: purchase a bottle of ink at the store, add a few drops of an appropriate essential oil and your own energy. Don’t go overboard on the essential oil or the ink won’t adhere to the page: no more than fifteen drops to an ounce of ink. (I did try soaking dried herb in commercial ink, as if making a tincture. It didn’t work as well as I would have liked. It was a rather expensive experiment but you don’t know until you try, do you?)

I generally use a calligraphy pen (dipping-style, not reservoir-style) because then I only have to charge a very small amount of ink for whatever I’m working on. I’ve been doing this for years so I know about how much I’ll need for a given project. Waste not, want not, y’know. A friend has one bottle she uses specifically for writing in her journal. I have an entire bottle of charged ink for autographing … I hope to be doing a lot of this in years to come!