Category Archives: herbs

The Interconnectedness of Man and Plants

This is an article I wrote for a now-defunct magazine almost ten years ago. I believe it still holds true.

I live in the woods and frequently have city friends come to visit, to “connect with nature”.  While getting out into the country, away from city noise, light and smell, is a great thing to do, Man and Nature are already connected, even for city dwellers.

Plants have nourished every other living thing on this planet since time immemorial.  When thinking about eating plants, most people’s minds automatically turn to the vegetables or salad on their plate.  However, you are indirectly eating plants when you consume meat or dairy products.  Plants nourished the animals that produced those food items, too!

Other plants, namely trees, help keep our air clean by filtering out pollutants. We use their wood to warm ourselves by a fire and build our homes.  Water-based plants help keep water clean for those creatures that drink or breathe it.

We and our green brothers and sisters are the same in many respects … we all need air, water and sunshine; along with minerals for use in our bodies.  The same pollutants that harm our bodies also harm the plants.  Today’s buzzword is “organic” but the idea is not just to prevent the chemicals used on commercial farms from getting into your body and wreaking havoc.  Organically-grown plants are generally higher in vitamins and minerals than those treated with pesticides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers.  The healthier the plant, the more vitamins, minerals, and other substances it has to share with you.

The marvelous thing about plants is, not only are they nourishing, they have beneficial healing powers.  Their unique combinations of chemical compounds have provided us with a way to help virtually every human ailment, with the exception of cancer and HIV (and those are being studied even as I write).

Man has known about the healing power of plants for millennia.  Excavations of Neolithic villages in England and Switzerland have shown that our ancestors there used plants … probably not just as food but for their healing qualities as well.  A prehistoric man found frozen in the Italian Alps carried a piece of fungus we know would have cured his intestinal parasites. It’s estimated he lived 5,300 years ago.

So, how did we find out about all this?  Science says “experimentation”.  Because I hear plants speak, I believe that the plants themselves told us. Before the advent of industrialization and technology, Man lived his life close to and in harmony with Nature.  It’s not hard to imagine someone walking in the woods, feeling very poorly, and hearing “if you eat a few of my leaves, I can help you feel better.”   It’s also not hard to imagine that person, noticing he did feel better after eating part of the plant, take one of the plants home and put it in the ground near the entrance to his cave or hut, just in case the same malady struck again.  The same thing happened to other people and word spread.

Man learned to cultivate plants for both their nourishment and their healing abilities.  In older times, a kitchen garden would contain not only vegetables but herbs.  Herbs would flavor the food, but the lady of the house would also use them to treat the injuries and illnesses of the household.

Science, in its infinite curiosity, wanted to know how the plants did what they do to heal us.  When chemical analysis became available, they started breaking the plants down into their constituent parts and then figured out how to synthesize the “active chemical constituent” or what they thought was the reason the plant worked.  Sometimes they were and are right and the synthetic drug works.  Many other times, however, the synthetic either doesn’t work as well, or has side effects not found if you take the plant in its whole form.

There’s a reason for this.  Plants are much more than their chemical compounds.  They are a harmonious whole, made up of the air they breathe, the water they drink, the vibrations of the sun and moon on their aerial parts, and the minerals their roots pull from the soil around them.  It’s this harmony that works to bring our body back into balance with itself when we use plants to help a human condition. I can think of only a few problems when taking herbs in a correct format and dosage, yet the list of side effects for synthetic drugs seems to grow faster than kudzu.

In a way, Science’s synthesizing did Nature a favor by preventing over-harvesting of some plants.  Synthetic drugs have been a way of life for most people in the Western world for over one hundred years.  However, recent “back to nature” health trends have endangered some plants again, most notably American Ginseng, Black Cohosh and Wild Yam.

Growing your own herbs not only helps prevent the extinction of many plants, it has an added benefit. If the plant lives in the same environment you do, it will interact with your body more easily and, strangely enough, provide you more of what you need than the same plant grown in completely different surroundings.  Admittedly, we can’t grow all the herbs we need. I haven’t figured out how to keep a Commiphora (Myrrh) tree alive in Georgia when it’s a native of the deserts of Yemen.  But the basics like Peppermint, Feverfew, Sage and others will grow just about anywhere, even in pots on a deck or balcony.

Unless we actively cultivate our friends, they won’t be around to help us when we need them.  Grow your own and support groups like United Plant Savers (which keeps an eye on endangered plants) and the Arbor Day Foundation (which advocates planting more trees).  Without our green brothers and sisters, life will not go on.

Blackberry Cove Herbal – A Review

I don’t know about you, but when I read a non-fiction book, I always check out the references and recommended reading section. I found this one listed in another book and am so glad I did!

Ms. Rago takes us through a year of happenings (herbal and otherwise) at a cabin in the West Virginia mountains. She grew up there, as did her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…I think she has the “native” part down.

Her writing is extremely evocative – you can easily picture yourself walking alongside her in the hills or sitting on the cabin’s porch and admiring the view while drinking a cup of herbal tea. Along with stories, she tells you how her grandmother and other elders used the herbs she harvests in those hills. Interspersed with current-day happenings and recipes (receipts being the word used there) are charms spoken for healing purposes. A little magic woven in never hurts!

Granted, what she finds in the hills and hollers of West Virginia is somewhat different than what grows in the southern tail of the Appalachians, but I still found “folk” uses of plants I use that I’d not heard of before and they’ve been added to my notes.

I think this book is out of print (at least, I couldn’t find it new) but if you’re interested in herbs, especially those used in the Appalachian Mountains, this is a must-have for your shelf.

5/5 stars

By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root – A Review

When the publication of this book was announced, I got excited. Yet another book to add to my collection on poisonous plants! In addition, Ms. Draco is a respected author in the occult world.

Once through this small book (a whopping 96 pages), I was both pleased and disappointed.

The pleased: She gives a very nice history of poisoning, detailing instances from Socrates’ famed ingestion of hemlock, through the times of the Roman Empire, to the Borgias and de’ Medicis of the Renaissance, poisonous intrigue in the English courts, and finishing with various accounts of poisonings in the 18th century (which, naturally, were mostly perpetrated by women 😉 ).

An entire chapter was devoted to the “Proving Tree”, which was a “metal stand (often attached to the salt dish) that had from five to fifteen different ‘stone’ pendants hanging from its branches.” For a few centuries, it was thought that dipping one stone or another into food would either detect or neutralize any poison found in food. Servants would have been a part of that “Proving Tree” because several would taste their master’s food before it even got to him.

The final chapter, “Cursing v Bottling”, was useful. She goes to great lengths to discourage someone from cursing which, in a book for public consumption, is a good thing. A milder retaliation is bottling and she’s got some good ideas in there.

The disappointment: the listing of the plants themselves. While the information presented is, for the most part, accurate, only a chemistry buff would be interested in the list of toxic chemicals in each plant. I’m used to reading scientific papers and I found my eyelids drooping at points. Foot- or endnotes would have made reading easier, rather than citing sources within the text.

It’s obvious this book wasn’t reviewed by someone who is an herbalist prior to publication. One example: she cites “Margaret Grieve” as the author of A Modern Herbal (Chapter 3). The initial “M” stands for Maud.

Another: she lists “Bryony black and white” as Bryonia dioica. B. dioica is red (or sometimes white) bryony, while white is B. alba. Black bryony is in another genus (Dioscorea) altogether, although no less toxic.

And one final nitpicking: all but one of the Latin binomials are in lower case, sometimes without the species name attached (making it a monomial). In case you didn’t know, the genus is always capitalized, the species not. If all species in a genus are considered, then ‘spp.’ should be after the genus.

So, I’ll give this 3.5 stars of 5. It presented a lot of good information on poisonous herbs but there are other books out there that present it better (a couple she used for reference and cited in the bibliography would be a good start). Buy it for the history lesson and how to bottle rather than curse.



Honey to the Rescue!

I normally have mild spring and fall allergies, fall being just a little worse. A little sniffing, a little sneezing, a little itchy eyes for a week or so, and I’m back to normal. I don’t even consider them bad enough to take anything. Usually.

Not this year. Whatever was blooming, on top of the dust from dying leaves and drought-dry everything else, made me miserable for a month. The allergies then (I think) turned into a full-blown sinus infection. On top of that, my immune system was (and is) trying to battle the germs from husband’s fall cold (which the stubborn man refuses to treat, even just to ease or shorten the symptoms).

Nothing I tried worked. The inflammation and congestion in my sinuses stayed firmly put no matter what herbal allies went to battle for me. Desperate, I did some internet searching.

And came across mention of not just regular honey*, but Manuka honey. From New Zealand. Virtually everything I read was anecdotal evidence. A lot of it was taking the properties of regular honey and extrapolating possible results due to the higher nutritional content of Manuka honey. (There are few clinical trials on regular honey, much less this type.) But, as I said, I was desperate. So, I ordered some of this holy-shit-that’s-expensive honey (UMF 16 for medicinal purposes) and ate my first tablespoon of it the night it arrived. (It’s not quite as sweet as regular honey and is much thicker, in case you’re wondering.)

Public Domain image

Another tablespoon the next morning and evening, repeat. Within 48 hours, blowing my nose became a productive thing rather than a waste of tissue. Five days later (two tablespoons per day), my face no longer feels like a brick is laying on it (ignore the properties of gravity – you know what I mean). So, I’m going to say my investment was worth it, and continue to take this twice a day until the symptoms completely subside. Once I feel healthy again, I’ll reduce it to once per day as a prophylactic measure during cold and flu season.

YMMV but if all else fails, do some searching, read up on this stuff, and make an investment. You might thank me. (Or not.)


*I don’t mean that crap in the grocery store that comes in cute little plastic bears. That’s been so processed it’s only good for flavoring. I mean the stuff you get from the farmer’s market or even a local beekeeper that’s not processed.

Bug Spray


For years (my entire life, actually) I have been bug lunch. I tried everything – even the icky commercial repellents didn’t work. I’ve always known I have a weird physiology but to not have a single one work? I had pretty much resigned myself to not being able to enjoy our deck in the evenings without slapping myself silly then spending the next week scratching bug bites.

Until…a friend from Alaska (where, like Minnesota, the mosquito is the unofficial state bird) suggested a combination of clove and yarrow. Now, neither of those individually had worked but at that point, I’d try anything.

So, I combined, then diluted tinctures of clove and yarrow. Skeptically, I sprayed it on earlier this year and went to sit by my husband on the deck one night. No bites. Not a single one!

That became my go-to bug spray. However, it didn’t do a damned thing to repel the flies (houseflies, deer flies, horse flies, fly-flies) that irritated me in the garden. Rue is the best fly repellent I know. So, I tinctured some rue and added it in. Tried the new combo this morning when I went out to the garden. Not only no bites but they didn’t even buzz my head!

So, my recipe:

A compound consisting of equal parts clove, rue and yarrow tinctures. Whatever amount you use of this compound, dilute it 1:1 with distilled water.

I use a fingertip sprayer like the one below that you can find in dollar stores. It mists rather than sprays.


Spray all exposed skin & for good measure, mist your hair, too. It smells strongly of clove and when this aroma disappears, it’s time to respray. Depending on what I’m doing, that’s about every hour or so.

Some people are sensitive to one or all of these herbs so please do a test before going hog-wild with the spray. I also wouldn’t use it on young children, whose skin is still rather delicate.

I can now enjoy the outdoors any time of the day or night without being driven batshit crazy by flying-and-biting critters!

Book Birth Day!

A Green Witch’s Cupboard is LIVE!

A Green Witch’s Cupboard (Small)

You can find it in paperback at Amazon US or Amazon UK. It will take a few days for it to reach other Amazon outlets and what they call “expanded distribution” (competitors).

After looking at the sales numbers from other books, for the moment, it’s only available electronically on Kindle US and Kindle UK. If I get enough bitching, I’ll put it in other outlets, too. (But I have to wait 90 days to do so.)

If you want an autographed copy, give me a week or so to get my stock. I’ll let you know when I have that available.


Cover Reveal!

Phew! After many trials and tribulations, A Green Witch’s Cupboard is nearing completion!

Here’s the cover:

A Green Witch’s Cupboard (Small)

Do you love it as much as I do?

If everything goes as planned (cough) it should be available in paperback and e-book by the end of the month – just in time for the holiday season – and all those witches on your shopping list! 😀

OMG- Fleas!

I can’t believe it. All four cats are indoor cats (their only “outside” is the deck, which has no egress), yet we got fleas. Obviously, they came in with the humans – or maybe that bat Maks caught about a month ago…

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a flea on Maks in the sparse hair in front of his ears. Shudder. Where there’s one, there are many. As much as I deplore chemical remedies, I know my cats well and attempting anything herbal on them would have disastrous effects – as in, I’d look like I’d been in a war. So, I bought a commercial flea remedy specifically formulated for cats. Even applying that was an adventure. The “little” boys, especially Sev, aren’t very amenable to being snuggled for a bit in such a position to get that stuff between their shoulder blades where they can’t lick it.

Because the cats weren’t scratching themselves overly-much and I’d seen none other than the one on Maks, I thought I’d licked the problem. Nope. One jumped on me the next night as I was sitting in my recliner. So, treating the rugs & upholstery was added to my ‘to do’ list. Here, I could use natural remedies.

First up: working food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into all the upholstery & rugs. (Don’t get the stuff sold for pools.) You can also use finely ground salt. Put your kitchen salt into a grinder to powder it. Sprinkle it on, then use a scrub brush (or broom) to work the powder down into the fibers. It’s a workout, I tell you! You’ll get some powder floating around in the air. It won’t hurt you but if you have respiratory issues, wear a mask while doing this. Either DE or salt works its way into the innards of any bug with an exoskeleton (like fleas) and kills them. Leave it there for at least 30 minutes (overnight is recommended if it’s a heavy infestation), then vacuum up. Immediately discard the bag & its contents outdoors.

Then, because I believe in the belt-and-suspenders approach, I made up a voile of distilled water and essential oils for a repellent*. There are a bunch of oils that will work but the ones I chose were Rosemary, Lavender, Peppermint and Geranium. (Rosemary and Geranium are the two most-recommended when I was doing my research.) You can add up to 10 drops per ounce of water. Use your nose – you want it rather strong-smelling. Put this into a spray bottle that has a ‘mist’ setting on it, shake well and spritz all upholstery and rugs. Let it dry, then mist everything again.

NB Cats do not metabolize essential oils the same way dogs (and humans) can. Do not put EOs on your felines, even in diluted form! If your cat will allow you to bathe her, you can dilute an herbal infusion and use that.

We didn’t have a heavy infestation so this one treatment has worked. If yours is really bad, plan on doing it twice, about a week apart. The DE may not kill all the eggs in the first go-round.


*If you don’t have the EOs but do have dried herbs, make a strong infusion by steeping 2 teaspoons herb in one cup just-boiled water (covered) for about a half hour. Strain, then put into your spray bottle.

Today in the Garden

Got out today for the first time in almost 2 weeks. It rained, then I sprained a toe, then it rained…

I’d like to say I was playing in the dirt but in reality, kids and I could have made some marvelous mud pies with the dirt in the beds. Over two inches of rain in three days will do that. The skies are still mostly overcast today and there’s a good chance of even more rain over the weekend. And mowing needs to be done…

I thought I’d share what I saw today – besides mud and weeds:

IMG_0059A spot of sunshine on a gloomy day – Calendula
IMG_0061Someone, probably a deer, couldn’t sleep. (Can you see the gnawed-off stalks?) Skullcap
IMG_0062Rosemary has three unusual neighbors – Leucocoprinus birnbaumii. Not usually found outdoors in my climate.

As always on overcast days, I was accompanied by Larry the Cable Guy’s grandmother – the solar water fountain that sounds like that when there isn’t enough solar radiation to fully power it. Squelch, squirt, squelch…

The Alphabet of Galen – A Review

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I love reading historical herbals and other medicinal texts. I find comparing what “they” knew “then” to what we know today an interesting (and sometimes mind-boggling) exercise. You’d be surprised at how accurate some entries are, without scientific evidence.

The Alphabet of Galen wasn’t written by the Galen (c. 129-217 CE) but predates him by probably one or two hundred years. Someone a few centuries down the line gave it that name – who knows why? The translator was able to see eight manuscripts dating from the seventh to the twelfth centuries (none identical, some fragmented), along with the first printed edition (1490). Although I can’t read Latin, I’m still jealous. I do own several pairs of white cotton gloves…

The first third of the book is discussion of the history, sources, translation/dating and the manuscripts themselves. The last fifteen percent or so is an extensive bibliography and index. In between are the 302 entries with Latin on the left and English on the right. It’s extensively footnoted.

Yes, some of the entries scared the bejeezus out of me. Bathing in lye, anyone? The same fragmented entry mentions something about “[…] true for the internal uses […]”! Others made me a little queasy – I’m not sure I’d ingest a skink’s inner flesh (in a twelfth of a pint of wine) as an aphrodisiac. Yet others, however, told of properties we still know today, such as St. John’s Wort “heals burns when applied topically by means of a compress”.

Mr. Everett did a wonderful job not only translating but cross-referencing this Materia medica with other well-known writers such as Dioscorides and Pliny.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into far-ancient times. Unlike many of its contemporaries, there isn’t a spot of superstition or magic. It’s all “fact”.

Five stars.