Spices: Clove Bud

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Clove Bud, Franz Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897. Public Domain.

Every spice cabinet I’ve ever opened has the underlying aroma of clove. Clove is that spice that you buy maybe once every five years, except if you’re my mom, then it’s once every thirty.

True story, a few years ago McCormick published an ad that listed their different herbs and spice packaging throughout the years, accompanied by a tagline that urged people to clean out their spice cabinet. Well, some of my mom’s spices were from the early 80s. Thirty years!

Until I had a toothache last week, I never knew of much use for cloves outside of baking. I remembered reading in my favorite essential oil book*  that clove had antiseptic properties and was often used as a dental analgesic.

I put a few drops on some cotton gauze and stuck it in my mouth. After a few moments the gum was blessedly numb. Granted, my mouth tasted like I licked my mom’s old McCormick clove tin, but I was grateful for the relief.

Clove Bud

Latin Name: Syzygium aromaticum, of the family Myrtaceae. Also in the family Myrtaceae (Myrtle family) are myrtles, guava, allspice and eucalyptus.

Native to: The Maluku Island in Indonesia, historically known as the Spice Islands

Parts Used: The flower bud of the clove tree

Common Forms: Ground, dried whole bud, essential oil. The active compound of clove is eugenol, also contained in basil, bay leaf, cinnamon and nutmeg.

History:  Archaeologists have found evidence of cloves in Syrian pottery dating back to around 1720 BC (1). The first reported use of clove is from the Hang Dynasty (260 BC to 220 AD). According to written records, “officers of the court were made to hold clove in their mouth when talking to the king.” (2)

Clove is one of the four “major” spices in trade and history, along with nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. Procuring it sparked expeditions and wars. For more information: History of Cloves.

Using Clove: Clove is used in a variety of ways. Most of us know clove from culinary applications–my favorite being Soft Ginger Cookies.  Historical Europeans preserved meat using cloves, as well as enjoying it for its added flavor (clove studded ham spiral, anyone?). Jamaican jerk spice blends and Indian curries also can contain cloves.

Medicinally, clove has been used for thousands of years. In Ayurveda, clove is indicated to aid slow digestion. Perhaps it’s best known application is as a dental analgesic and antiseptic, for which it is still used (rather,  its active compound, eugenol) in modern dentistry.

Magically: Because it belongs to the myrtle family, I associate clove with Aphrodite (3). Therefore, use in spells, charms, or ritual involving relationships, love, beauty and sexuality would be appropriate.

When I’m practicing in the kitchen, I use clove as a warming and comforting agent. Use sparingly, however, since it is very powerful because of the eugenol. Excess eugenol can have definite physical effects in the mouth.

Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs lists Clove as masculine and associated with Jupiter and fire. It is also indicated to use for protection, money and exorcism.

Sources and Resources:

*The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Woodward. I can’t recommend it enough.

1. 2. “Clove” from Wikipedia. Footnote 18. Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clove

2. “Cloves” by Cynthia Gladen. https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cloves

3. “Aphrodite” http://www.theoi.com/Summary/Aphrodite.html

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Book Discussion: The Tree of Enchantment by Orion Foxwood (Part One)

So, this isn’t going to be a book review so much as…a book discussion. Because this book is…

Difficult? Complex? Dense? A little…strange?

All of the above?

The Tree of Enchantment is by (“a conjurer in the Southern folk tradition, a traditional witch, and founding elder of the Foxwood Temple of the Old Religion…”) Orion Foxwood. I’ve heard him mentioned several times on various podcasts, and the shopkeeper at Ancient Mysteries recommended the book to me when I asked for something with more structure.

Well. Boy howdy.

The book details Orion Foxwood’s Faery Seership tradition.  He posits that we, humans, are each three different ‘walkers’ operating with one soul, in three different planes of existence. They are all separate (the Dream/Surface/Star Walker and the Sea/Stone/Star Worlds), but they all interact at different levels. He maps out personal, spiritual, and magical development on a Kabbalistic-like grid called the Tree of Enchantment.

Ugh. I already feel like I’m writing in circles.

It would be wrong to categorize Tree of Enchantment under typical Wicca or Witchcraft books. This isn’t a new Wiccan ‘tradition’ with Celtic and Southern magic white-washed on top. However, there are numerous influences from all sorts of esoteric teachings, including Kabbalah, neo-Celtic, neo-Native-American, Appalachian Folk, and even some Christian symbolism.

Faery Seership and T.o.E. comes across as a personal or individual-coven-based system, one that is very well-developed and thought out. Obviously, it’s had personal success with Foxwood, and he’s decided to elucidate the concepts for the rest of us.

(Here’s a more in-depth review of all of the book’s influences, if you’re interested.)

My major annoyance was the fact that it is a personal tradition, but it’s written about as if this is the way it is. As if Faery Seership is the best, or only, way to get in touch with the Fay, the Underworld, the spirits, ancestors, whatever. Kind of weird, given his admission of syncretism and synthesis of many different traditions.

Now, all that said, it is a well-developed system. I actually took notes on the text just to keep it straight, something I’ve never done (or had to do!) with a Pagan book. It’s highly structured, and there are numerous practices, meditations, and exercises. He writes in a style that is redundant but ever-evolving to the next “ah-hah” moment.

The book contains much food for thought. Much of it is poetic, obviously written with passion and dedication. Also, unlike most of the tripe chucked at the Pagan audience, T.o.E. is composed by someone who has actually spent a good part of his years developing, practicing, and experiencing his tradition. It’s definitely not another gussied up book of correspondences.

Still, I can’t really get into it. A part of me would like to–and I probably will do some of the exercises, just because they seem well thought out–but, so far, I think this is a case of a spiritual tradition that I’m glad is out there for those who like it, but is ultimately not for me. The most use it has had so far is illuminating things that I don’t want (at least, right now) in a tradition. If I even want a tradition. Who knows?!

I will finish it though, and return for Part Two.

Have any of you read it? What do you think?

Herbs: Calendula (Pot Marigold)

Open fresh your round of starry folds,

ye ardent marigolds!

Dry up the moisture from your golden lids,

For great Apollo bids

That in these days your praises should be sung!

—“I Stood Tiptoe” by John Keats

Latin name: Calendula officinalis from the Asteraceae family. The asteraceae family is huge! It includes sunflowers, daisies, lettuce, safflower, dahlia, Texas Tarragon, echinacea, chamomile….and the list goes on!

Native to: Probably Southern Europe, though it’s not certain.

Popular Cultivars: The cultivars are basically differences in colors and petal production. Some flowers have double-layered petals. Most calendula flowers range in color from pale yellow to bright orange-red.

Growing Calendula: Calendula is a relatively easy plant to grow, especially from seed. You do need to plan though. For this year’s crop, I sowed the seeds in late last September (I’m in Zone 8B, click here to find out your Zone) and kept them moist throughout the winter. Winter was mild, so I didn’t have to protect them much. The seeds sprouted in October.  Greenery grew slowly throughout the winter, and I saw the first buds in early February. I began harvesting in early March. I pulled up the plants in early April, because they were attracting too many caterpillars.

Next year, I’d plant calendula (and chamomile) in a completely separate bed from any vegetable seeds you might be starting. Calendula tends to attract the bugs with the munchies, and chamomile attracts aphids.

As with most flowers, cut the bloomed flowers as you see them. This will encourage more blossoms. Drying them is easy: lay them on a kitchen towel in a well-ventilated area, dry, room that doesn’t receive much (if any) sunlight. Rotate them around every couple of days to ensure even drying.

Using Calendula: After the flowers have dried thoroughly (2-3 weeks) pull the petals off and place into a clean glass jar. Keep the jar away from sunlight and too much heat (don’t store next to your oven, etc.).

Calendula is typically used to help with inflammation, eczema, and sunburn. It has antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral as well as astringent properties. Truly, a very useful herb.

The easiest way to use dried calendula is to simply make a tea with it. Take a couple of tablespoons of dried leaves, pour near-boiling water over the, steep for 10. Strain and drink. The tea can be used for upset stomach or sore throat. You could use the tea topically either in a bath or by making a compress.

Since I haven’t worked much with my own batch yet as far as actual products go, here is a good link on how to get started with salves, creams, sprays and oils.

Magically: Calendula/Marigold is associated with the sun (as are many of the asteraceae family). Calendula’s element is fire, and its associated gender is masculine. According to Cunningham, marigold aids in protection, prophetic dreaming, legal matters and psychic powers.

To me, calendula has a gently masculine feel. It was the first hot-colored bloom of the spring, vigorous and so showy! But when working with the plant itself, the feel was comforting and…old. The petals gave off a calm, warm, healing energy as I processed them. As if to say, “Lady, I’ve been around a long time.”

Resources Used:

1. Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs, DK Natural Health, Penelope Ody, 2000

2. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Revised Edition, Llewellyn,  Scott Cunningham

3. A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, Destiny Books, Ellen Evert Hopman, 1995

4. Growing and Using Healing Herbs, Rodale Printing, Gaea and Shandor Weiss, 1985

(On that note…I need a  more up-to-date herbal!)

(One more note…be careful when using Calendula/Marigold that you’re using the real deal: Calendula officinalis, not the other ornamental ‘marigold’, whose botanical name is Tagetes. Tagetes is *not* a medicinal herb.)

Disclaimer: Before using any herbal remedy, check with your doctor.

Herbs: Basil

Latin name: Ocimum basilicum from the Lamiaceae (mint) family

Native to: India

Popular Cultivars: Lemon and cinnamon, African Blue, Holy Basil, Thai Basil

Basil, King of Herbs. It almost seemsredundant to do a post on basil, but I was inspired by some drying in my workroom. Truthfully, they’ve probably been left too long, but I can’t bear to take them down.

Basil has a long, venerable history across many cultures. Basil itself is thought to have originated in India, and was commonly used for religious and medicinal purposes. From there, it spread both east and west.

There are conflicting views and traditions surrounding basil. Some cultures associate it with death and hatred, others with love, fertility and exorcism. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is sacred to both the Hindus and those of Greek Orthodox faith. To the Romans, basil was an herb of fertility, and “they believed that it would only flourish where it was tended by a beautiful young maiden” (1). Nicholas Culpeper, the famed herbalist, seemed to think basil as an evil plant, stating that: “This herb and rue will not grow together…and we know rue is as great an enemy of poison as any that grows.” (2) Culpeper associated basil with “the planet Mars and under the Scorpion…it is no marvel if it carry a virulent quality with it.” (3).

Modern Pagan associations aren’t as negative. Scott Cunningham associates the herb mainly with the planet Mars, the element of Fire and with the applications of love, fertility, exorcism and wealth. Ellen Dugan’s book, Cottage Witchery, agrees and corresponds Basil to wealth and good luck.

My personal correspondences with basil are: hot, fire, summer, energetic, moist, growth!, hardy and fresh.

Medicinal uses range from applying fresh leaves to insect bites (this was found in all of my books and throughout history) to drinking an infusion as a tonic for motion sickness and head colds. (4)

Basil needs to be grown in rich soil and in full sun. It loves the heat and can survive extreme temperatures as long as it gets a good drink. Basil is an easy herb to grow from seed, just scatter in a pot and cover lightly with dirt and compost. Keep it moist–but not drenched–and you should have enough basil to keep you from spring to autumn. In  most locations basil is an annual that needs to be replanted every year.

My favorite way to use basil? Fresh and in food! Pesto, caprese salad, julienned on top of pasta sauces and sautéed veggies. I’ve used basil as a remembrance of old friends and to heal emotional wounds. Basil brings me joy in the garden, from its strong and frisky anise aroma to its vigorous growth throughout the season.

(1) The Book of Magical Herbs by Margaret Picton, published 2000.

(2) DK Natural Health: Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Penelope Ody, MNIMH, published 2000, second edition.

(3) Growing and Using Healing Herbs by Gaea and Shandor Weiss, published 1985.

(4) See citation 2.

(5) Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, published in 2011, second edition, nineteenth printing.

(6) Cottage Witchery by Ellen Dugan, published 2005.

This post is meant to be fun and educational, and in no way meant to be used for self-treatment of self-diagnosis. If you have questions, speak to your doctor.

Halloween/Samhain 2011

Halloween and Samhain 2011:

-Baby C as a cow (running around mooing) and Mama M as a thrown together gypsy to great our…one group of trick or treaters. How does that happen? Last year there were 75. This year our whole street decked out for the occasion and we had one group! I blame the church ‘fall festivals’ and ‘trunk or treats’. Spoil sports.

-We had Colcannon, as always. Simple, adjustable recipe as follows: melt butter in a skillet. Add chopped ham. Let the fat render a bit. Add leeks, sauté till soft. Add cabbage. Turn off heat. Make mashed potatoes. Add cabbage/ham/leeks to your mashed potatoes and stir together. Top with cheese, if you wish, and bake until bubbly. Delicious.

-I set a dumb supper for the first time. Very calm and reflective.

-Divination with Tarot cards, the Wildwood Tarot Deck. I want to jive with that deck so badly, but I just…don’t. I can’t seem to get a clear reading, and I feel like the card meanings are too positive. Sometimes that can be encouraging, sometimes it just makes the message hard to decipher. It’s so silly though, because I feel like if I go back to reading with the Shadowscapes deck then I’ll be ‘abandoning’ the Wildwood. So silly.

-Performed some magic/ritual/whatever. It was a nice ceremony, a general banishing-bad-habits type of thing. I always seem to forget that when one does that, one should expect those bad habits to rear their ugly head in full force. And they definitely, definitely have. The past three days have been…kind of ugly…in many ways. Today I feel more grace though, and I thank the Great Whoever for it.

-I love the Samhain season. For the past few years I always hated waking up on November 1st. Kind of like the let down of December 26. But when I read the term “Samhain season” on an email I received this week I thought: “Yeah! A season of Samhain!” and…its true. It’s a season, a period of time, the process of drawing inward and dying. It takes time for the earth to do that just like it takes time to truly banish bad habits. To mark that continued remembrance I plan to get a professional Tarot reading done on Saturday. I’m excited. I haven’t had one since Imbolc 2010.

And that was our Samhain! Because our camera died there are sadly no pictures, but hopefully once it gets juiced up again I’ll be back with photos of our winter vegetable garden.

Grandmother Moon

I know that the traditional names for the August Moon are Barley Moon, Corn Moon, Red Moon and such. As of yesterday I titled this post ‘Corn Moon’ after a little protection charm I made. However, today, as J and I set off to buy a chest freezer and I had just finished a batch of jam I knew that I really celebrated my grandmother during this esbat.

Last night, I did a small ritual. I blended up some Solar Protection Oil (is that weird on a Full Moon…eh? Whatever) and had a sheaf of corn that I had dried and wanted to charm for the house/as a harvest decoration. I plan to find a place for it to hang, perhaps at the beginning of September.

Solar Protection Oil: Orange, Pine, Rosemary and Patchouli blended with Sweet Almond Oil

Dried Corn Sheaf Blessed with Protection Oil

The above isn’t the best picture–many apologies, my corn sheaf isn’t photogenic 😉 (That sentence made me laugh.)

Anyway…I woke up this morning and prepared to make my first jam, ever! I’ve never canned before and was extremely nervous. The whole idea of botulism kind of freaked me out. I didn’t want to shell out money for the equipment before I knew if I even liked it, so I took some pointers from this website about how to can without the equipment. I did buy jars, though (she recommends reusing jars). When I pulled them out of the package, much to my delight, they were the same quilted pattern my grandmother had used when she canned.  I hadn’t noticed when I put them in the shopping cart earlier that week.

Mixed Berry Jam with Allspice, Clove, Nutmeg and Ginger

Mmmm. Jam. Lots of finger swiping.

After I set the jam to seal and cool, J and I decided to make a purchase we’ve talked about for a long time: a chest freezer. We have visions of buying a side of grass-fed beef (anyone want to split one if I can find a provider this late in the season…anyone?) and preserving our garden harvest. So, today, we decided to do that.

Not to get sentimental about an appliance, but one of the things I remember most vividly about my grandmother’s house was her chest freezer in the garage. It held all sorts of yummy things, like a plethora of half gallons of Blue Bell ice cream (Tin Roof, Rocky Road, Pecan Praline and the best…Homemade Vanilla). Blue metal utility shelves lined the back wall of the garage, filled to the brim with preserved veggies from their garden, jam and, most importantly, apple butter.

Oh, gods, the apple butter. That will definitely be happening this year.

Anyway, as I set about doing all of these harvest-y, homey type tasks I felt so, so close to my grandmother. She hasn’t passed over yet, but she turned 90 this year and lives under the care of my parents. It’s hard to see her age as she was the matriarch of the family, the rope that bound our family together during some truly harrowing times. Honoring her this moon, remembering her, acting as she taught me to act: to preserve, to be frugal, to make a home, to tell stories, to laugh—is truly a blessing I won’t soon forget.

Summer Solstice/Litha 2011

This post is a little late; I apologize. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the solstice.

When I woke up Tuesday to NPR telling me it was the Summer Solstice I was actually kind of surprised. Somewhere between Saturday and Monday I had lost time and thought I had another day to plan! But, no! I felt rushed because I was in the middle of writing a ritual.  I really, really wanted to do it, but it wasn’t close to being finished.

So, when C went down for her first nap mid-morning I scurried about gathering the tools that I wanted, rehearsing the half-hashed-out ritual in my head. I planted my butt outside, calmed down and performed what I set out to do.

And it wasn’t half bad. I felt the energy palpably raise, the breeze rustled the dry leaves, the sun gently warmed my back as it hit its peak in the sky. Dogs barked in the distance; squirrels nibbled on acorns. As a bonus, later that day I felt that what I had done worked.

All in all, a successful ritual. I learned quiet a few useful things, too, one being that contrary to my previous belief my neighbors can see me when I stand up in our backyard. Whoops.

For the rest of the day I spent as much time in the sun as I could. I talked to C about the solstice. When J got home we drank sangria, and I sunbathed until the ants bit me back inside.

Even better, at one a.m. I woke to lightning flashing and thunder rumbling.

Rain. The perfect way to end the solstice.

Solstice Kitty! She's my writing mascot.

Quick Solstice Sangria: red wine, orange juice, apple-pear soda. Presto!

Our grass has turned to dry straw.

Dead leaves, dry ground.

The ants go marching one by one...

Hurrah! Hurrah!

Inch by inch, row by row/ Please bless these seeds I sow/ Please keep them safe below/ 'Till the rain comes tumbling down

Grain for grain, sun and rain/ Find my way in nature's chain/ Till my body and my brain/ Tell the music of the land

Lyrics provided by The Garden Song by David Mallett