Herbs Essential to Magic

By Paris Wolfe

Herbs have power. They change health and beauty. In the past such abilities were headoverheels_smallconsidered magic. And, those in the know were often considered witches, witch doctors, wizards and the like. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Today we know the science behind herbal powers, and that may mean ancient herbalists were among the earliest scientists.

Regardless, on Halloween it’s entertaining to don an archetypal witch costume and pretend to cast spells on unsuspecting mortals. Year ‘round, nonetheless, real practitioners of Wiccan “religion” use herbs for good.

Practicing witch Ellen Dugan may be considered one of the top Wiccan authors. She has written a number of books combining herbalism and spirituality or “green magick.”

In Garden Witch’s Herbal (Llewellyn, 2015), she defines green magick as “a practical, nature-based system of the Craft that focuses on reverence for the natural world, the individual’s environment and the plants and herbs that are indigenous to the practitioner’s own area.”

Who can argue with that?

She notes that, throughout the year, “certain botanicals … align with the energies of the season.” During Samhain or Halloween (or the night before All Soul’s Day in the Catholic religion), for example, rosemary symbolizes remembrance of loved ones who have passed. Sounds like a good herb for the season in Christian or pagan practices.

Garden Witch’s Herbal is full of such associations. “A green practitioner is well known for their connection with their living and working environment, by their ethics and by their affinity to the powers of the natural world,” writes Dugan.

Her book knits together quotable quotes into a collection of essays exploring green witchcraft in a way that makes the craft seem like it should be mainstream.

Again …“Creative [garden] design is what turns a collection of trees, herbs, perennials and flowers into a garden. The clarity and color schedules found in your magickal garden give focus to your goals and intentions. The complexity in your plant forms, such as texture and pattern will make for a sensual garden that begs to be touched, sniffed and enjoyed.”

Dugan has me convinced that a little herbal magic may be what people and the environment need. Check her out online.

Among other things, the author of Herbal Magick (New Page Books, 2002), Gerina Dunwich, collects myths and superstitions. Particularly playful (helpful?) on All Hallow’s Eve might be “Herbal Spells to Ward Off Evil Spirits.” The list is as follows:

  • Burn a dried ginseng root
  • Carry fennel seeds in a mojo bag
  • Hang fennel over your doors and windows
  • Wear the root of a devil’s shoestring around your neck
  • Shake a hollowed-out gourd filled with dried beans
  • Plant holly around your home (I’m safe)
  • Wear or carry an orrisroot or peony root as a protective amulet
  • Hang some plantain or periwinkle above your front door and windows
  • Burn a sage smudge wand
  • Sprinkle an infusion of vervain around the perimeter of your property

Have a magickal Halloween!


Paris Wolfe is an award winning writer of business, food, and travel articles.

Safflower: A 4,000 Year-old Herb for Man…..and for Birds

October2019 HOM SafflowerBy Maryann Readal

This month’s Herb Society of America Herb of the Month, safflower, (Carthamus tinctorius), has had many uses throughout its long history. Use of safflower dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used the flowers for dyeing cloth a brilliant red color. Garlands of safflower flowers were found in the tomb of King Tut, and cloth found in the tomb is believed to have been dyed with safflower flowers. It is interesting that in the dyeing process, both yellow and red dyes can be achieved by using the same batch of safflower petals. The flowers are also used to color cosmetics and a variety of food products.

Safflower has been called “poor man’s saffron” and “bastard saffron” because the dried petals resemble the real saffron (Crocus sativus). While it may give your paella a nice yellow color and be a cheaper alternative to using the real thing, you may be sacrificing taste by not using the real saffron. Safflower is used in Middle Eastern cuisines and was used as a saffron substitute by Spanish colonists in the new world. The tender shoots of safflower can be eaten as a salad,  and the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted.  According to the American Heart Association, safflower oil is a healthy choice for cooking. It has a high smoke point.

Safflower seed is pressed to produce cooking oil, margarine, and salad dressings. The seed oil is also used in paints and varnishes because it does not yellow with age. The leftover product from pressing the seed for oil is used in livestock feed.

safflower seedsIf you are a bird lover, you will probably recognize safflower seed as an ingredient in some birdseed. If you grow safflower in your garden, your garden will attract a variety of song birds, including chickadees, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, mourning doves and cardinals, who love the safflower seeds. Safflower seeds are oblong shaped and a bit bitter, making them not attractive to bird-feeder bullies like grackles, starlings, and squirrels.

In the past, safflower tea was used to reduce fevers. It was also used externally to soothe bruises, wounds, and painful joints. It has been used as a laxative, though the effectiveness of this use has been questioned by researchers. When rubbed into the scalp and into the nail bed, the oil stimulates hair and nail growth.

The plant requires a long, hot, dry growing season, and full sun. It is grown from seed and can reach three feet in the garden. However, Christine Moore, Horticulturist at the National Herb Garden reports that safflower only grows to six inches and is short-lived at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Safflower’s  red, yellow, or orange flowers bloom mid-summer to fall. It is a thistle-like annual plant with leaves that are toothed with small spines and pointed at the tip. The fresh or dried flowers are very pretty in arrangements. If allowed to go to seed, safflower will reseed itself, giving you plants the following year and also a food source for the birds.

For more information, a beautiful computer wallpaper, and recipes using safflower, visit the Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

An Herbal Craft – Pressed Flower and Herb Note Cards

By Dianne Duperier, HSA Membership ChairDianne finished product

These pressed flower cards are a great idea for preserving the beauty of the flowers and herbs growing in your garden before Jack Frost has a chance to get to them. There is no limit to your imagination when creating these beautiful cards. Use the cards to remember birthdays or any other special occasion. Or—to sell at your next herb event. Or—to use as gifts. Be sure to make plenty! They will be in demand.

SUPPLIES NEEDED

  • Clean, dry, and pristine herbs, leaves, or flowers (woody and succulent stems do not press well)
  • Paper towels
  • 8.5”x11” 20/50# text stock or paper (for pressing)
  • 8.5”x11” 65# cover stock (for note cards)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Thin brush
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Fine-line ink pen
  • Herbal/garden quotes
  • Optional cut printed stock overlay (Scrapbook pages sold at Michaels or Hobby Lobby)
  • Plastic note card gift boxes or fabric bags (Available at Amazon or Uline)
  • #5.5 invitation envelopes (Available at Amazon)
  • Ribbon to trim finished product

PREPARING SPECIMEN

Dianne preparingdianne flowerpressDiane labeling

Select clean, dry, and perfect specimens of herbs, flowers, or leaves. If moist, pat specimens dry by pressing with a paper towel. A flower press can be used or you can use paper and books to press your specimens.

If using books to press your leaves and flowers, fold an 8.5”x11” sheet of text stock paper in half and lay the specimens on the paper. Try not to overlap. Put inside another folded 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet to protect the pages of the books used for pressing. Continue until all of the specimens are done. Press for several weeks or months until ready to assemble.

Unless you know the names of all your herbs, flowers, and greenery, I suggest labeling them before pressing.

PREPARING NOTE CARDS

Dianne coverstockDianne overlay

Cut an 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet into fourths.  Trim if needed. This is the best use of a sheet of 8.5”x11” cover stock. The envelopes and plastic boxes suggested in supplies are based on this size. If making a different size card you would need to order envelopes and boxes/bags to fit that size.

If using a printed overlay, cut a piece of overlay to the desired size and glue to the front of the card using a thin layer of glue. (Some people water down the glue.) Let it dry. Press if needed.

ARRANGING SPECIMENS ON CARDS AND GLUING

Dianne arranging dried productDianne herbs on card

On a large table, lay out your specimens with proper identification.  Assemble 3-5 specimens per card. With a thin brush, lightly apply glue to the back of each specimen and arrange on the card. You may need to blot to remove any excess glue. Let air dry and then weigh down and allow to dry overnight.

FINISHING NOTE CARDS

Dianne inside cardDianne Herbs-With Overlay1 (1)Dianne herbs on card 1

Using a ruler, sign your card, and add the year. Using a ruler, write a message on the top or side of the card. Insert a quote, if desired. (Herb, garden, and seasonal quotes can be found online.) Select five assorted cards and five envelopes for packaging.

PACKAGING NOTE CARDS

Dianne finishedDianne packaging

Insert in plastic note card gift boxes or recycled boxes and secure with ribbon. Another option is to package your cards in fabric drawstring bags.

Lemon Balm – A Very Lemony Herb

By William “Bill” Varney

Here are several reasons to grow lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),  the lemony herb in your garden:

  • It is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial growing to 1 ½ – 3 feet highLemon balm flower
  • It has crafting, culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses
  • It likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade

From the earliest of times, lemon balm has been celebrated by poets and herbalists for its “uplifting” qualities. At one time, the whole dried plant – roots, leaves, and seed – was sewn into a piece of linen and worn under ladies’ dresses to promote “an agreeable disposition.”

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee.” This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms. Housekeepers once used handfuls of fresh balm leaves to polish and scent their furniture.

Lemon balm thrives in cooler climates. It develops into a bushy plant with substantial roots and a stalk reaching 1 ½ to 3 feet high. Leaves are toothed, textured, and smell strongly of lemon. Yellow buds open into tiny white flowers by mid to end of summer.

lemon balmPlanting and Care – Easy to grow although seeds are slow to germinate. Start from cuttings, root division, or plants bought from a nursery. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. It accepts partial shade to full sun exposure and prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage.

Once established, plants endure in the garden unless a determined effort is made to eliminate them. They reseed easily and spread wide, so provide plenty of space. In small gardens, try growing in containers to control the plants. The stalks die with the first frost and can be cut down to the ground. In cold winter regions, place a thick layer of mulch over the crown to protect the plant; each spring it will regrow from its roots.

Harvesting and Use – One of the sweetest scented of all herbs, which makes it a delightful ingredient for sachets and potpourris. Fresh-cut stems retain their fragrance well and lend a casual flair to floral arrangements. In the kitchen, lemon balm adds a light lemony flavor to soups and stews, fish, lamb, and chicken. Freshly chopped, use it sparingly with fruits or salads. It’s a favorite replacement for salt and an inexpensive lemon zest substitute.

Always add near the end of cooking because its volatile oils are dissipated by heat. Its flavor keeps well in baked goods because it is captured by the surrounding medium. Use as a fresh garnish in hot tea and lemonade or brew as a tea. A leaf or two improves a glass of white wine. Along with hyssop, it is an important ingredient in the liqueur Chartreuse.

Lemon balm is recognized as an aid to digestion and circulation. It is reported to help relieve feverish colds, headaches, and tension. Its oil is believed to be beneficial in dressing wounds, especially insect bites.

One of my favorite recipes for using it is Lemon Balm Bars.

Lemon Balm Bars

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 1 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons lemon balm leaves, minced Grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds

Combine butter, ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1/3 cup almonds in food processor. Process until mixture forms a ball. Pat into a greased and floured 9 by 9 – inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Combine sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, minced lemon balm, and lemon zest in work bowl of food processor. Process until finely blended. Add eggs and lemon juice; blend thoroughly. Pour over crust. Grind remaining 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and 1/3 cup almonds in the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle over filling. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until set.

Yields 9 large lemon balm bars

Varney, Bill. Herbs: Growing & Using the Plants of Romance. Tucson, Arizona, Ironwood Press, 1998.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

Chicory – Herb of the Month – More to it Than Meets the Eye

By Maryann Readal

It is truly astonishing how much is written about chicory, Cichorium intybus, a common roadsidSeptember2019 HOM Chicory (2)e herb that has naturalized to the point that we think of it as a native plant. Chicory is The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month for September. Check out the web page for additional interesting information and recipes using this roadside herbal plant.

Here are several interesting facts about chicory:

Although chicory contains no caffeine, it can be used as a coffcafe du mondeee substitute. It is also used as a flavor enhancer for coffee and is particularly popular in the coffees served in New Orleans. If you have visited New Orleans, you no doubt have had coffee and beignets at Café du Monde. Their robust coffee is flavored with ground and roasted chicory root. In the past, chicory has been used as a coffee substitute when wars have interrupted the coffee trade.

Chicory has been cultivated for thousands of years. Its name is thought to be derived from the Egyptian word “ctchorium,” where it was grown and irrigated by the flooding of the Nile. Many ancient herbalists and writers talked about chicory in their writings. In 16th and 17th century herbals, chicory was recommended for a number of ailments. Due to the sky-blue color of the flowers, Nicholas Culpepper recommended that chicory be used for “sore eyes that are inflamed.” Chicory is one of the bitter herbs of the Bible. Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer and naturalist described how Romans used the plant.

Among historical figures who have recognized the value of chicory was Charlemagne, who listed it among the 75 herbs to be grown in his garden. Thomas Jefferson planted it at Monticello in 1774 as a ground cover, fodder for his cattle, and for his dinner salad. He encouraged George Washington to grow it as well. Carl Linnaeus listed chicory in his theoretical floral clock because its blooms open reliability with the rising of the sun and close at noon.

Besides the clear blue color of chicory blooms, each petal of the flower is really its own flower, having pollen-bearing and pollen-receiving parts, making pollination very efficient and making a visit by bees especially efficient as well. Chicory seeds are a choice source of food for goldfinches.

Inulin, a low-calorie carbohydrate component of chicory, is valued as a support for a healthy digestive system. The food industry uses it as a sweetener and it adds fiber to foods. Chicory also contains a substance that is toxic to roundworms. For this reason, farmers mix it with hay for their livestock.

Chicory is a cool season plant. It prefers temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees. It is easy to grow from seed. It needs sun and the soil should be kept evenly moist. It is ready to harvest 85-100 days from planting. The young leaves are the most desirable for salads.

The next time you spot one of these clear blue chicory flowers growing along the roadside, be reminded that there is a lot more to them than meets the eye. And if you want to use some in an arrangement for your dinner table, remember that the flowers will close around noon.

For more information, visit The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month web page and read more about chicory here on this blog.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

Bouncing Bet – A Soapy Herb

soapwortBy Maryann Readal

How can a gardener resist an herb with the name bouncing Bet? I could not resist this delicate pink and floppy plant after seeing it blooming in the summer heat in my friend’s garden. After hearing the name, I was curious about the story behind its title. For as you know, many herbs have interesting stories to tell.

Bouncing Bet, Saponaria officinalis, sometimes called soapwort, latherwort, and lady’s wash bowl earned some of these names because of the saponins in the roots and leaves of the plant. Since the Middle Ages, the leaves and roots have been boiled in water to make a soapy lather that is good for washing and bleaching delicate fabrics. Research studies show that soapwort was used in the making of the Shroud of Turin. It is true that museums have used the soapy solution of soapwort to clean tapestries and other artifacts. In France and England, where textile shops stood, patches of soapwort could be found because the herb was used in the textile industry for cleaning purposes. The French name for it was herbe à foulon or Fuller’s Herb, a fuller being someone who works with cloth. In the early 1900’s it was referred to as old lady’s pinks referring to its tenacity and ability to withstand harsh conditions.

Friars brought the seeds to England from Europe, where they planted them near their monasteries and used soapwort to keep themselves clean. The English colonists brought the seeds to the New World and used the lather of the plant to restore a sheen to pewter, china, glass, and old lace.

As sometimes happens, a good thing becomes too good as bouncing Bet escaped the garden and became invasive in some parts of the United States and southern Canada, spreading into fields where cattle and horses grazed. The saponin in the plant is not kind to the digestive systems of some grazing animals.  However, it does not seem to affect the deer that consistently consume it in my yard.

Because of the saponins it contains, soapwort’s roots and leaves are potentially toxic and should not be taken internally. However, beer brewers have used it to put a head on a mug of beer and it is used in the Middle Eastern tahini and the candy, halvah.  Historically, soapwort has been used to treat rheumatism, coughs, and itchy skin conditions.

Soapwort is a perennial in the carnation family that grows in zones 3-9. It likes well-drained, alkaline soil, tolerates drought conditions, and likes sun to partial shade.  It blooms in shades of white to pink single or double flower masses on a single stem. Bloom time is from spring to fall and it makes a nice ground cover. Despite the deer, I can’t resist trying to get it to spread in my more acidic soil. I love the flowers and love its rose-like smell.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

HSA Speaker Shares Webinar Recipe for Lavender Martini

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chairmartini

On a recent Herb Society of America webinar, business member Rose Loveall-Sale owner of Morningsun Herb Farm, thrilled viewers with a talk about the multi-functional herb garden. By definition this is a garden filled with herbs that has uses for humans and visiting creatures. These gardens include plants that are pretty to look at, useful for beauty, pleasant to eat, and entice pollinators. The king of the multi-functional garden is lavender and one way Rose enjoys this special herb is in a lavender martini. Below is Rose’s recipe. Enjoy!

Lavender Martini

  • 1 ½ oz vanilla vodka
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz lavender syrup (or a little less if you are lavender shy)
  • 1 lavender sprig

To make the lavender syrup – Combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water and 2 tsp of dried lavender flowers or 1 tbsp fresh lavender flowers in a small pot, bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 1 hour. Strain out lavender buds and pour into a bottle. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

To make the martini – Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add vodka, lemon juice, and syrup. Shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lavender sprig.

Can’t get enough of lavender? Join us on September 17th when award winning author Nancy Baggett shares with us, “The Secrets to Cooking with Lavender.” To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

If you are a member of The Herb Society of America and you missed Rose’s inspiring webinar, you may view it and many others in the member’s only section of the HSA website.  If you are not a member, visit http://www.herbsociety.org to join.


lavender webinar