August 6, 2012 at 23:51 (Basics, Herbalism, Ingredients)
Tags: Books of Shadows, Cheese, Cooking, Cooking tips, Healing, herbalism, Herbs, Magic, Natural Medicine, Recipe, Salad, Soup, Spell, Witchcraft, Yarrow
You have probably seen this plant thousands of times, because – on the Northern Hemisphere – it grows pretty much everywhere. It’s a modest, unassuming plant, though the deep green colour is rather nice. The small, white flowers aren’t decorative enough to make bouquets of them, and the smell is sharp, a bit “medicinal”. No wonder, really – it’s a very valuable medicinal plant, and one worth keeping.
You can easily recognize yarrow for its leaves : slim and feathery, with a mass of tiny strands (the Latin ‘millefolium’ translates to ‘thousand-leaf’, which is actually one of its common names). The stem is tough and stiff, so if you’re planning on harvesting some, don’t even try to break it by hand. The right way to harvest yarrow is to take a very sharp knife and cut the blossoming stem roughly in the middle – taking half away and leaving half to grow. Yarrow grows back very quickly, which is why it is prized as a pasture plant, said t o “grow back right under the beast’s teeth.”
- Medicinal uses
Close-up of the characteristic leaf
Yarrow’s most interesting qualities are those of a medicinal plant. Fresh or dried plant (millefolii herba) can be used – in decoctions or macerates – both internally and externally. Drinking yarrow infusions is generally advised in gastrointestinal trouble, as its healing properties can alleviate inflammations and cramp pains (although with serious cramps, fennel is a better choice.) Externally, yarrow preparations can be used in compresses and poultices to speed the mending of wounds, in which task it is very effective. This property is so well known that most yarrow names deal, in one way or another, with healing wounds : nosebleed plant, herba militaris, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort… and not just in English, either. I have come across one extreme case – a solitary person wounded in the wild – who found yarrow growing nearby, chewed it into a pulp in his mouth and put the resulting mass over a cleaned wound. This was very smart of her, I must say. Even if it didn’t miraculously close the wound in seconds, it was still the best thing she could have done.
Yarrow has a bittersweet taste, and a strong, sharp smell. It does not come to mind as the best foodstuff when you pass it by in the park, but it used to be quite a popular vegetable, used similarly to raw sorrel – in soups, and salads of boiled leaves. Nowadays, we have more interesting vegetables and yarrow is hardly ever consumed, but it’s still worth you attention from time to time. Especially if you have any kind of skin trouble – acne or suchlike – you will often hear how it can be treated with zinc pills and drugs, many of them quite expensive. Whereas yarrow leaves, and especially flowers, contain a large concentration of this valuable mineral which can be ingested when eating the plant. Tea-like infusion is one good choice, but seasoning a salad with the small, white flowers is even better, because you get a medicinal, cosmetic, gastronomic and aesthetic effect all at once. Yarrow leaves can also be chopped and added to quark cheese with tasty results.
Due to its healing properties, yarrow in herbal magic is best used to symbolise just that – healing, mending and closing of wounds. Herbal talismans containing yarrow are often made to help with hurt feelings and aid in moving on with one’s life after a traumatic event, searching for closure. Dried flowers are the best choice for these purposes, due to their sharp smell and pleasing appearance.
July 18, 2012 at 23:15 (Basics)
Tags: Book, Books of Shadows, Candle, Equinox, friday 13, Herbs, Incense, Kindle, Magic, Pasta, Spaghetti, Witchcraft, Writer's block, Writing
“Do you know what they call a rain that falls from the sky but never reaches the ground? They call it Virga.
Do you know what they call a love that leaves one heart but never reaches another? They call it love.”*
It feels strange to be back here. Just a few months ago I was complaining about having a partner that was easy to please ; which is one complaint I shan’t be making again anytime soon. It almost seems like a cycle of some sort – a vicious cycle. Another year, another solar festival, another heartbreak. I’m so tired of crying and yet Life always supplies me that one more reason to do so.
So what do you do? What do you do when love dies – suddenly, strangely, in mysterious circumstances – in one heart, but lives in the other? Of course, there isn’t one determined thing that “you do”, unless we count “trying not to go crazy as everything and everyone everywhere reminds you constantly of the huge, gaping wound in your heart.” The last time this happened to me, I turned to alcohol, which is one mistake I’m determined not to repeat. So this time, I’ve turned to Fire.
Of all the Elements, Fire is the most extreme : the most dynamic, the most transforming, the most uncontrollable and destructive. But not always. Sometimes, its extreme ability to change things with its tiniest touch can be very liberating. This is something we all feel. It’s an universal impulse to burn the photos or letters of unfaithful lovers – don’t pretend you never felt like it. Watching the flames consume those symbols of your pain can and does relieve the pain itself, if only for a moment. Practically all religions incorporate some form of Fire worship, and many – some scholars say that all – of them have started as a Fire cult. Because Fire is strange, wild, it can save you or it can kill you. Of course, this is true of all Elements, but what puts Fire at the top is the scale : you need a lot of water for it to hurt you, but you only need a tiny flame to feel its menace.
So, as I offered my love to the flames (symbolically, of course), with a little help from sage oil to make it burn easily, I felt much better and I strongly advise you, if you get these incendiary urges, to go through with them. With proper care and precautions, of course. These little rituals can speak to your subconscious much better than many therapists and “reasonable” advice you get from your family or friends**. Which is why I feel confident that I will finally get things going in here – there will be posts! There will be recipes! (just as soon as I stop alternating between my two favourite types of pasta, because, seriously, I’ve gotten way too fat from of all this.) And there will be a new book, since I’m working on a story that is partially inspired by The Person Concerned. So wish me luck, and stay tuned.
* This is not an exact quote, and I’m not telling you where it comes from because I don’t want you to know what a huge nerd I am. Suffice it to say that it was written by someone whose talent I truly admire.
** Alejandro Jodorovski said that one must address one’s subconscious “in its own language”, i. e. by simple, instinctive, sometimes irrational actions.
May 1, 2012 at 18:11 (Basics, Herbalism)
Tags: Cleaning, Cuisine, Equinox, Herbs, Imbolc, Incense, Magic, Music, Salad, Solstice, Spell, Spring, Witchcraft, Writing
Hello, my dearest readers! As You can see, I’ve not abandoned the blog, but, to quote the poet, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. It being a way to add the damn pictures to the posts. I just can’t afford to buy a camera, and my cell phone does not have the function.
So, until I discover some way to make photos, I’m afraid updates will be rather rare, as I can’t imagine a wall of text would be a pleasant way to spend Your precious minutes on. However, I still feel obliged to give you the customary Beltaine blessings, and hope You’ve had a glorious celebration. Mine was… well, there wasn’t any this year, but that’s not important right now. Neither is the strange thing I’ve come to think of as a “relationsheepish anti-agreement”, so I’m not going to mention it. See? No mention at all.
Anyway, (who said that?) there’s this little pest I want to write You about, and I don’t mean the guy. I mean the Red Spider Mite. It’s a very common pest that can be very dangerous to Your plants, as a friend of mine has recently discovered. Following my advice, he bought a small mint plant in a grocery store and potted it for kitchen use. The plant did not do well, the leaves yellowed and changes in watering regimen did not help. Of course, it was infected with the red spider mites.
Now I’m not generally in favour of interfering with the natural order of these things, but keeping plants in pots at home is already quite far away from what’s natural, and actually it is for this reason that the red spider mite is much more dangerous for Your indoor, potted plants than for those that grow outdoors. Besides, there’s not much point in letting Your herbs die, and that’s exactly what will happen if You don’t take action against the damn things. I’ve lost a lovely lavender bush to them once, and it was a gift from my mother, too…
The worst thing is that these insects (or, more specifically, arachnida) are unnoticeable at first glance, and chances are You’ll only start to suspect something once Your plants are very far gone. The mites are tiny, barely visible red specs and keep to the underside of the leaves, constantly draining the sap. If You’re not specifically looking for them, You’ll probably only notice the thin web they weave under the leaves or close to the stem, and by then it’s usually too late. They also migrate from one plant to others nearby, so they can really be a pest. What’s more, practically all fresh herbs I’ve bought in a grocery store had at least a few of them, probably because the manufacturers’ sell them shortly after growth and don’t care if they die after You’ve bought them (or actually hope for just that).
Ironically, once You know they’ve affected Your plant, the red spider mites are fought by the simple means of clean water. That’s right, no need for chemical stuff or complicated nettle and garlic macerates : just rinse the plant thoroughly under a cold shower (in extreme cases, You can use a sponge to wash it using water and soap, I’m not kidding), and then, spray the whole plant with clean water at least once a day. Just make sure You’ve not stopped too soon or the mites’ll breed back.
I’m writing all this now because I bought a second basil plant recently, after a prolonged inspection in the shop, since every plant was infected – finally I had to choose the one that had the least of them and fight the damn things at home. The salesman was very upset by this, probably on general principles since I wasn’t picking leaves or messing up the plants in any other way. When he finally cracked and asked me whether I “hoped to find a husband in there” (strange, I know) I said, “I don’t need a husband. And I don’t need tetranychus urticae, either.” Neither do Your home plants, so check up on them periodically, and blessed be.
Oh, and here’s the customary celebration music.
February 2, 2012 at 18:16 (Basics, Candlemaking, Herbalism, Uncategorized)
Tags: Book, Books of Shadows, Candle, Candlemaking, Cheese, Cleaning, Cooking, Cooking tips, Equinox, Hand-crafted, Herbs, Imbolc, Incense, Magic, Music, Recipe, Red wine, Salad, Solstice, Spell, White wine, Wine, Witchcraft
It seems my displeasure with the weather was taken into account – it’s even colder today. But we Witches know that the year is round, and the frost has the promise of fire deep within it, as a great author once wrote. So we wait, and do our best to pass the time reasonably and wisely. And we make candles, eat cheese and celebrate the day of Imbolc.
The recipe for the mulled wine will come up in the next few days, although to be honest You already have it all on the greeting card.
January 31, 2012 at 15:20 (Basics, Herbalism)
Tags: Cooking, herbalism, Herbs, Magic, Tea, Witchcraft
Yes, it's a green floating infuser with a little leaf on top.
Winter’s been a little lax for the last two months around here, so I’m guessing what we have now is meant to overcompensate for that. Now I admit I’ve been missing the real Winter – it really felt disquieting, this unnatural Autumn in December – but a temperature of -15 Celsius is a little much. Just sayin’.
I’ve been combating the weather with a hot water bottle and a lot of tea (with my adorable floating infuser – it’s a gift), perhaps the occasional cup of mulled wine. And this has led to a conversation, a few days before, that got me… thoughtful. The tea, that is, not the wine.
I was rather surprised to find myself face to face with someone who saw it important to voice their absolute disgust with the so-called “herbal tea”. Indulging in a long rant on how “silly people like you will swallow anything if it’s got the word ‘herbal’ and a picture of green leaves on it”, said person seemed adamant that there is no such things as “herbs”, just “grass and ordinary plants and suchlike that get suckers all excited”.
Well, there is a grain of truth there, inasmuch as herbs are “plants and suchlike” and mostly what separates those with medicinal uses from others is our own knowledge rather than their innate characteristics. But the exchange – unpleasant though as it was – got me thinking. Personally, when I say ‘tea’ I mean the evergreen shrub native to China, Camellia sinensis, and infusions thereof. It would not occur to me to make a chamomile or sage infusion and call it ‘tea’, but then again, this might be because of my general interest in herbalism.
But, etymology aside, why so much anger? Why the condescending attitude? It is fairly common, I must say, and I think I know what causes it. Let’s say someone gives me a glass of brown-ish liquid, strong-smelling, with black specks floating in it, and tells me it’s “good for you”. Well, depending on who it was, I might believe, or not. But I suppose that people expect something with a beneficial effect to be mysterious and exotic. Finding that You’ve been given a cup of something that grows in your back yard might be disappointing.
The problem is that these things really are good for You, or at least for some conditions, and applied consistently, these ‘herbal teas’ (what a silly term) can be of much help. But You have to know what are You drinking and why, so I’ve made a short list of the most common herbs that can be used in the form of a ‘tea’ for health benefits.
- common sage - salvia officinalis – a weak infusion, drank daily, can help with over-sweating ; sage infusions are also an effective disinfectant
- heartsease – viola tricolor – regular drinking of this infusion helps with skin diseases
- chamomile - matricaria chamomilia – sedative, good for headaches and insomnia
- beewort – acorus calamus – best used as a cold macerate, very helpful in long-lasting intestinal troubles
- lemon balm - melissa officinalis – mildly sedative
There are of course innumerable others, but the point is – herbal tea can be good for You, if used wisely, even though it’s just “grass and ordinary plants and suchlike.”
January 4, 2012 at 14:08 (Tools)
Tags: Cooking, Cooking tips, Knife, Magic, Music, Salad, Witchcraft
Oh, heads of lettuce will roll!
A year ago – actually, even more – when Kitchen Witchcraft was a debuting little blog, I’ve put up a short post on kitchen knives and their properties, because it’s very important to have proper tools for any job, and for cooking tasks especially. So You probably have grown accustomed to the sight of an old, short knife with a wooden handle that pops up every now and then on the photos.
Well, my knife family has expanded recently and the newcomer is pretty impressive. It was a holiday gift from – You guessed it – my brother, and damn useful as usual.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not throwing my old wooden friend away just because I got this sparkling, silvery eight inches of vanadium steel. But there was a lot of cabbage chopping to be done for Christmas, which my family celebrates, and even I was astonished at how effortless it was with my, admittedly, peculiar present. The long, annoying task that was usually shared between my Mother and myself, was done in the matter of minutes and without turning a hair.
I have to say I didn’t expect it to make that big a difference, but that’s the mark of a good knife – it does the cutting for You. The best ones are heavy, so that You only need to apply minimal force and their weight adds cutting strength ; the blade is thick on one side, for extra stability and to prevent it from bending, and only thins towards the cutting edge. All these qualities can be found in my new weapon of choice. And I do think of it like that, because it gives the awesome little kshing noise when drawn from the block, just like a sword drawn from a sheath. Trust me, I know
So, why should this interest You? Well, I’m not sure, but since I’ve already done quite a lot of culinary exhibitionism around here, I might as well continue. And for those who do not care, here’s something more interesting:
December 21, 2011 at 17:46 (Basics, Uncategorized)
Tags: Books of Shadows, Candle, Candlemaking, Carrot, Cooking, Cooking tips, Equinox, Hand-crafted, Herbs, Imbolc, Incense, Magic, Music, Solstice, Wine, Witchcraft
It’s Midwinter again – the second I am celebrating by, among other things, writing a post here. I know I’ve been neglecting my readers more than usual lately, and I also know you must be growing tired of constant excuses. So there won’t be any.
Let me just say something that hasn’t been said in here for some time. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I wrote here and was not, in some way, depressed. It was probably some time around last autumn, although there have been plenty of reasons to feel lousy since. And yet, here I am, all optimistic and eager to finally make something of my life. We’ll see how long this lasts.
And in the meantime, we have the Solstice to celebrate! It’s not as astronomically significant as the last one, but hey, can’t have everything. And the turning of the tide of darkness should always be a moment of joy. Which, of course, can be greatly expanded by right food, company and music.
I can’t promise to upload the recipe today, but I’m celebrating with a carrot cake this year and you will definitely hear about it in near future. Well, if it comes out all right.
So, there’s no pentagrams in the snow, no blood-shedding, just the warmth of candlelight and of the oven. Time for some plans, too, because it’s going to be all uphill from here.
And, as a small solstical bonus for my readers, here’s a ‘recipe’ – really, it does not deserve the term – for cinnamon oil macerate. It’s pretty handy for both solstical baking and prosperity charms.
December 21, 2011 at 15:45 (Ingredients)
Tags: Books of Shadows, Candle, Candlemaking, Carrot, Equinox, friday 13, Hand-crafted, Herbs, Imbolc, Incense, Magic, Recipe, Spell, Witchcraft
As I’ve already mentioned, one of the simplest means to prepare an herbal extract is by maceration. These macerates can be used for many different purposes, which of course have to be kept in mind during their production.
Oil macerates are rarely used in medicine, although some can be potent remedies. They are relatively common in cooking, though, and there’s hardly anything simpler to prepare.
Of the substances that lend themselves well to oil maceration, the most common and desirable are aromatic herbs. Their essential oils, themselves lipids, dissolve in oil easily, thus lending their properties and often preserving it from spoiling as well.
The most common oil macerate is made similarly to an alcoholic tincture – the ingredient in question is placed in a disinfected receptacle and oil is poured over it. The receptacle is then closed and stored safely while chemistry does its work.
However, unless You use an extremely potent ingredient, such as garlic, it takes over a month to feel any noticeable results, so sometimes people speed up oil maceration by using the great power of fire. That is to say, heating it up.
In this particular case, I took two spoonfuls of ground cinnamon, one star anise and a quarter of nutmeg for good measure, put it all in a small pot and poured a glass of oil over it. Of course, the better quality oil, the better result. For these kind of ‘sweet’ spices, like those usually put in gingerbread, sunflower or grapeseed oil are good choices. Olive oil, on the other hand, will clash with their aroma unpleasantly.
The pot is then put over a small fire and heated up until tiny bubbles appear on the surface. Once this happens, keep it on heat but stir it constantly, for about two minutes more. Take out the whole spices, if You’ve added any, and put them in a disinfected bottle : I kept both the star anise and the nutmeg, adding two whole cinnamon canes for good measure. The oil should then be filtered into the bottle to remove the dregs. Since ground cinnamon is a very fine powder, the best thing to use here is… thin pantyhose. Yup, that’s right, a scrap of old thighs You’ve made a hole in is a good friend in the kitchen (washed, of course). Failing that, a paper handkerchief is a good choice. I advice against using cloth, even very thin will still be too thick for the oil and filtering will take forever. It does even if You use paper tissue.
Even filtered, the oil will still get slightly opaque. That’s normal. Keep the bottle shut for some time, allow it to digest in peace – the longer You keep it the stronger aroma You get. Of course, it won’t be as strong as the essential oils you buy for aromatherapy, but that’s not the point – the point is to have cinnamon oil that’s edible.
It’s great to use in baking, when a recipe calls for oil, and in magic, naturally. Oil macerates made of aromatic herbs are also very good for seasoning salads.
October 6, 2011 at 15:56 (Basics, Candlemaking)
Tags: Candle, Candlemaking, Cooking, Equinox, Hand-crafted, Imbolc, Magic, Recipe, Solstice, Witchcraft
The weather is lovely and the sun is so beautifully warm You’d hardly believe its Autumn here on the Northern Hemisphere. But it is, and soon, days will get short and light will be grey and cold. There are many ways to counter that, of course, such as tea, music, cocoa or cooking. And candles.
If You haven’t noticed already, I like making candles. Shops nowadays can offer really great candles, with lovely, steady light and practically all colours, but my favourite pillar candles always leave a shell of wax behind that just begs to be used again. And who am I to refuse them? Making Your own candles allows You to add all sorts of fragrances and herbs to them, not to mention the additional advantage of having made something with Your own hands. It’s important, at least for me, to know that I can make things, not just use them.
I’ve already shown how to roll something that resembles the usual table candle. But, as a friend of mine remarked recently, it’s damn hard to make them look good and usually their appearance can’t rival the nice, straight shop candles. So, in order to please her aesthetic sense, we’ve worked out an easy way to make votive and pillar candles without specialised equipment, using… Well, garbage, actually.
What we did was take those cardboard tubes that You get from using up a roll of paper towels or toilet paper, scotch tape and some additional cardboard scraps. Here’s how we went about it :
- Wax (in this particular case, an old green candle cut into bits)
- Cardboard tube (toilet paper here)
- Natural string for the wick
- Scotch tape
- Double boiler
- Scraps of paper and scissors
Home-made cardboard candle mold
We cut a circle of cardboard to close the tube from one end and made a hole in the middle to pass the wick through it. We attached it to the tube using a generous portion of scotch tape to make it as impregnable as possible, since we’d be pouring liquid wax into it. After putting the string in, we tried to seal the hole with scotch tape too, but, as You will see, we sort of failed. Still, some other material such as plasticine or chewing gum should do nicely in this case.
Getting the wick just right
We then cut another piece of cardboard into a cross and made another hole through it. This was used to keep the wick straight and centered from the other end. It’s important, as the wick has to run straight through the middle of the candle or it won’t burn properly and might be dangerous. The wick is put through the hole and the cross arms are folded to keep it all in place.
Candle sets in the mold. Note the spilled wax which drips from the wick hole in the bottom.
Once all that is done, the makeshift mold should be put on a safe surface (I used my cooking grate, because it won’t stand straight on a flat space since the wick comes out from the bottom) and the wax, molten in the double boiler, can be poured in. Because I didn’t get the bottom hole sealed properly, I put a piece of paper to protect the table from spilling wax. Far more of it poured out than I’d hoped, but after tearing the cardboard away I still got a nifty little candle.
The homemade mold prototype
If You have it all glued up properly and use a tube from paper towels, for example, You can make lovely, tall pillar candles, straight and smooth. Shorter tubes result in nice stubby fellows that can be used as votives. Of course, You are limited by the tube’s diameter, but this way You can make Your own pillar candles out of practically nothing. (The little “crater” around the wick is normal and the result of setting wax losing its volume and can be filled with a new portion of wax easily but I was too lazy.)
September 21, 2011 at 15:58 (Basics, Books of Shadows, Cooking tips, Herbalism, Uncategorized)
Tags: Book, Books of Shadows, Candle, Candlemaking, Cheese, Cleaning, Cooking, Cooking tips, Equinox, Hand-crafted, Herbs, Imbolc, Incense, Magic, Music, Recipe, Red wine, Salad, Solstice, Spell, White wine, Wine, Witchcraft
I’ve been neglecting my readers, have I not? Well, there’s not much I have to say to excuse myself, but let me tell You this – I’ve been neglecting a lot of things lately. I didn’t even remember the Equinox was today until a friend reminded me. (Thanks, man!) I was planning to share a recipe for stuffed peppers, but it will have to wait.
Well, the year is round, and Kitchen Witchcraft had made a full circle some time ago. The Autumnal Equinox marks the descent towards darkness, the waning time. But fret not – light will come back again, as it always has. Personally I find much solace in that certainty, as I’m sure I’ve written more than once already. The Autumnal Equinox (on this side of the world, of course. Yes, I know about the existence of Australia) is the time to thank the Earth for all she has given, and let her take her well-earned rest. The gifts of Autumn are bountiful and valuable, but we must use them wisely to let them last for the winter. This is the time to make wine, fruit and vegetable preserves, to dry mushrooms and pickle cucumbers and do all these things that humans invented so that the gifts of the Earth are not wasted.
I was never all that good at making jams, but my Mother is, and she already has. Myself I am probably going to celebrate by preparing an alcoholic tincture of some kind (I’ve just found out that our nalewka is a word used for them abroad as well, and currently awaiting trademark registration) if I have the patience. If not, I’ll pickle some peppers or french beans for the winter. It’s really not all that hard, and I like to think of it as a kitchen ritual that is exemplary of the Kitchen Witchcraft practice – with a spiritual as well as practical meaning.
All You need is a jar big enough to hold the portion You want, water, salt and citric acid. Clean the beans and boil them for a short time (3 minutes are enough). The jars have to be absolutely clean and the lids must fit perfectly. For best results, boil the jars in a big pot just before use. Boil the water with salt and acid, put the hot beans into the jars and pour the brine over them. Screw the lids on tight and put the full jar back into the pot. Boil them for about an hour, then take them out. After 48 hours boil them again for about 40 minutes, and now You have jars of french beans ready for winter.
And traditionally, Kitchen Witchcraft provides You with music for this special day. Have fun, I’m off to celebrate!
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