FALL VINEGAR SPELL
First published in Hex Enduction Quarterly, Issue #1 - Fall 2020. 11/2020
Herbal preparations are a great form of spell work because of the utility and application intrinsic to them. You create a substance with practical use and employ it in your everyday life - stitching your intentions into all the small places, weaving a web of your goals and values.
This spell is the making of an herbed vinegar for use when seasoning and dressing food. Why vinegar? Being a fermented food, it’s a general digestive tonic, full of probiotics and enzymes. It delivers herbal nourishment to the skin, respiratory system, and urinary tract, supporting mucous membrane secretions in each. It’s especially good at extracting minerals from plants, compounding its own generous mineral content. The acidity and sharp taste of vinegar cut through heaviness and catch our attention, its enzymes digest and transform, and its high mineral content fortifies and rebuilds. These are dark and challenging times and vinegar feels like a good match for them with its nourishing and potent brightness.
To Do Your Spell // Make Your Potion:
1. Identify your intentions - what do you want to transform and/or nourish? List a few practical steps toward this aim, make yourself a simple guide to follow. Consider setting intentions that can improve our internal and external worlds in tandem (dismantling white supremacy culture, for example) - these can yield beautiful results.
2. Fill a jar 1/3-1/2 full with dried plant material, or 1/2-3/4 full of fresh plant material. Pour in your choice of vinegar (ACV, rice, red wine, etc.) until the jar is full and cap tightly with a non-metal, non-rubber lid. (Vinegar can corrode these, spoiling your potion.) You can tailor the herb/s you use to match your intention, nutritional needs, or curate them for flavor. Try mild nutritional herbs, aromatic spices, or even fruits and berries - experiment freely! (For strongly flavored/scented herbs you may want to reduce the herb to vinegar ratio or infusion time.)
3. Shake your jar regularly and strain plant material out after 2-4 weeks. Now you have an infused vinegar for use in dressings, sauces, condiments, and marinades, and for seasoning cooked beans, leafy greens, soups, stews, rice and more. Often when I’m cooking and the dish needs just a bit of something to make it pop - a splash of herbed vinegar does the trick!
Make the potion, nourish your body and remember your intentions each time you use it.
FIGHT HATE with ROSE & MIMOSA
Sister Rose and Sister Mimosa say: fight hate- with all your heart.
Rose and mimosa nourish our hearts. Support them so they are more sensitive, compassionate, resilient, and strong. Our hearts are like trampolines - they propel us to the highest heights and stretch to catch us when we fall back to earth. We must nourish our hearts so we have the strength and resilience to withstand the fight against hate.
Roses have prickles. Mimosa is soft and sensitive. These are just a few of your tools for fighting hate. Feel the prickle of intuition when something isn’t right. Use your prickles to protect yourself and others from hate. Be prickly when you feel angry and outraged. Those feelings are justified and valid. Use your softness and sensitivity to feel the pain caused by hate. To hold yourself and others in softness as needed to cope with that pain. Be sensitive to the needs of others, particularly those targeted by hate. Be soft and receptive to their stories and experiences.
Nourish your heart so you can...
• Listen and hear what needs to be heard. Even when it’s hard.
• See your own biases and privilege, and work on them with commitment and compassion.
• Support others on their way through this work.
• Educate yourself. When you see hate, racism, bigotry, white supremacy - call it what it is.
• Stand between hate and those it seeks to terrorize.
• Find laughter, joy, love and community. Use these to create ecosystems where hate cannot thrive.
POTIONS #4: CHAMOMILE
First published in POSEURS #14 - 04/2015.
actions: SOOTHING * GROUNDING * PAIN-RELIEVING
systems: NERVOUS * DIGESTIVE * SKIN
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a familiar herb that most of us know as a relaxing sleep aid. Though it does excel in this function, it has so much more to offer us than just a snooze! Chamomile is an herb for irritability and inflammation - both in the physical and emotional realms. It cools what is hot and smooths out the rough patches. It is an excellent remedy for gastrointestinal distress, skin injury or irritation, and emotional irritability or frustration.
Like most aromatic plants, chamomile gently soothes and stimulates our nervous system at the same time. It has a toning effect on the nervous system, it can tighten things up where they are slack or release tension where things are too tight. These effects can be modulated by combining it with different herbs to bring the energy up or down. Our mind and our gut are directly connected though the vagus nerve and chamomile is so good at treating both sides of this connection! I find it particularly useful for GI troubles that "flare-up" or involve irritation, or those that are accompanied by pain or cramping. This is where its antispasmodic action really shines. It's a great choice for gut troubles caused or accompanied by nervousness and anxiety since it can directly modulate a person's mental/emotional state. A cup of chamomile tea will reduce spasms and inflammation in the guts while easing pain and soothing a troubled or anxious mind. I drink chamomile tea to ease the pain of mild menstrual cramps, and as a bonus it dials down irritability and other symptoms of PMS! This pain-relieving action can also be used to treat muscle pain and tension due to stress or bad posture.
One of my favorite ways to use chamomile is on the skin both to encourage healing and to maintain health. As a wound wash it's particularly well suited to children and pets, anyone who might throw a fuss over the sting of hydrogen peroxide. It is antiseptic, soothes pain, reduces inflammation, and encourages healing. To make a wound wash steep 1-2 tablespoons of chamomile in 8 ounces of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Make sure to cover the tea while it steeps, strain it well, and apply liberally to the wound once it's cooled to a comfortable temperature. If you have a new piercing you can put chamomile into your salt soaks too, just be sure to strain it well! I also like to include chamomile in my homemade body butter, where its anti-inflammatory and vulnerary (wound healing) actions keep skin cells in top shape and help to heal small blemishes or sooth irritation from the get go.
I was once told that chamomile is a great herb for children or anyone acting like a child. Think whiny, cranky, grumpy, irritable, maybe irrational. Frustrated and fatigued, feeling overwhelmed and taking it out on anyone around. This is the shit for chamomile. She's tender and soothing, but puts our head back on straight in a no-nonsense way. Chamomile picks us up and tells us matter-of-factly we'll be alright, our wounds aren't that bad, kisses our boo-boos and sends us on our way. It is so effective and so versatile, I think every home should have a stash of chamomile on hand - it really earns it's keep!
POTIONS #3: STINGING NETTLES
First published in POSEURS #13 - 03/2015.
actions: NOURISHING * ANTI-INFLAMMATORY * ENERGIZING
systems: RESPIRATORY * RENAL//ADRENAL
Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are commonly known as a "spring tonic" - spring tonics are super nutritious plants that help clean-up and refresh our systems after a long winter of (usually) heavy foods. These plants are also known in herb-speak as "alteratives," they enhance the nutrition and repair of tissues and generally promote healthy changes in a body.
Nettles are a good source of protein, vitamins A, B, C, and D, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, chlorophyll, and silica - whew! They also have an alkalinizing effect on the blood and body. (Things like sugar and wastes acidify the body and things like cancer cells prefer acidic environments, so we want to be slightly alkaline!) It's best to eat nettles fresh to preserve their bioflavinoids, enzymes, and vitamins B & C - but how do you eat a raw plant covered in tiny stinging hairs? Blend it! Nettle juice is alkaline and neutralizes the acid that causes the sting. If I can convince you to make one recipe with nettles, let it be nettle pesto - just swap nettles for basil and process with olive oil, parmesan, garlic, and nuts of your choice. SO GOOD. Nettle nutrition can also be extracted with vinegar or honey for use in salad dressings, sauces and beverages. Making teas or infusions with the dried herb is also a great choice if you don't have the fresh.
Medicinally, nettles are a great herb to know. In acute scenarios nettle tincture can reduce inflammation caused by allergic reactions or asthma by dilating the bronchial tubes, sinuses, and throat. When taken long-term nettle will help to heal lung and sinus tissues. Nettles have a diuretic effect and improve urinary tract health by nourishing the renal and adrenal systems. They're particularly useful for urinary tract distress caused by irritation rather than infection.
Nourishing and supporting our renal and adrenal systems also gives us sustainable energy! One of the mind-blowing things I learned during my first week apprenticing at Cedar Mountain Herb School is that by nourishing our adrenal system, nettles can help normalize our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone our body produces in response to stress or low blood sugar. It's an important and normal part of our stress response, but like anything, too much can be bad news. Symptoms of wacky cortisol levels include weight gain, poor sleep, low immune response, fatigue, low libido, and feeling strung-out or crazy. But nettles help balance us out - how cool is that?! Thanks nettles!!
POTIONS #2: NATURE MEDS
First published in POSEURS #12 - 02/2015.
My partner and I recently made an agreement about being more present. We have a good life and we love each other. We agreed to get comfortable, enjoy what we have now and worry less about how we're going to get to the next big phase in our lives. Will we still hold our future-dreams in our hearts? Yes. Will we work towards them? Yes, but by being present. Our future grows from the seeds we plant now, but the seeds can't grow if we're not here to tend them day by day. We made this agreement after spending a day in the arboretum, which, by the way, is a tree garden you guys. TREE GARDEN! A garden of trees!! (I have a special feeling for trees, they're my gods, but that's probably a story for another day.)
Anyway, the arboretum. Beautiful! Filled with trees and bushes and birds and worms and flowers and mud and mushrooms and every good thing. As we left the tree garden and walked back into the human-made world we realized how good we had felt while we were in there, insulated by nature. We're both anxiety prone people, so deep ease and relaxation are profound and sought-after states for us. While we were there I was present in a way that I'm usually not. My mind was clear and quiet. My heart was light and free to move. My breath was easy and deep. My responsibilities were still there but they didn't stick or hold me down. We bathe in the energy of everything around us and we were bathing in the energy of all those plants and wild-things. In the energy of the air and the earth even. The clattering wheel of human energy was gone and we were left to soak in the good vibes radiating from all those plants.
Plants are really something. I'm tempted to say that plants don't live in the past or the future, only the present - but I think that's a very human busy-brain notion that doesn't apply to plants and wild things. To be honest I don't really know what plants and wild things do, existentially speaking, but I like it and I try to learn from it. It's very clear they know what's up in a secrets-of-the-universe sense. And they do seem to encourage people toward a relaxed and present state of mind and body. They can remind us that we have bodies and that that is a very cool thing, worthy of caring attention and gratitude. They remind us that everything in the world is worthy of caring attention and gratitude - an attitude that obviously leads to good life decisions.
I once heard herbalist Noam McBride say (and I'll paraphrase) that the experience of gathering herbs is his medicine. That he brings back the herbs for the people who can't make it up the mountain or out into the meadow. He said the herbs mirror the energy of their place and are a record of it's healing power. I believe this. I feel it as truth in my primal self. For the vast majority of our existence we lived as hunter-gatherers with the Earth as our garden, and it was good. The plants nourished and healed us directly and indirectly. They still have that power, we just don't interact with them as much as we did then. Time spent in the company of diverse and different forms of life is a way to recalibrate our energies and connect with the universe at large, which can't do anything but help us on our way!
The whole of nature is our most vital and precious potion, let us not forget it. And, please - go out and treat yourself to it!!