Taking in the Midsummer Harvest

Midsummer is really the beginning of summer here in central Massachusetts.  We are about six weeks off from the traditional British harvest holidays, with the cross quarter fire festivals marking the height of each season rather than its beginning. At least that’s been my experience.

There are a number of sacred herbs that can be harvested from my land. Midsummer seemed like a good time to accomplish this, but I also wanted to incorporate some lunar correspondences. The Full Moon was in Capricorn just after Midsummer, which traditionally is a time where  pruning, or harvesting, is done to promote more vigorous growth in the plant. (Although why I would want this for the Mugwort is beyond me.)

And then it rained on the day of the full moon. All my lovely plans were foiled.

So, I went out the next morning, which was still within 12 hours of the moment of the Full Moon. It was the hour of Venus on a Thursday, the day of Jupiter, both of which should be auspicious for harvesting healing herbs. I managed to bring in the Motherwort, Agrimony, and Mugwort then. For future reference, I will be harvesting Motherwort much sooner next year, as it’s seedpods are very sharp and spiky.

Unfortunately I had to complete my harvest in the afternoon, which is when the essential oil concentrations are the lowest. On the “bright” side (ha!) this was now during the hour of the Sun and I brought in Sweetfern, Lavender, and Feverfew.

I had spied a glorious Yarrow by the side of the road earlier that morning. Sadly, someone mowed it down between that time and when I went out in the afternoon to harvested. I was really cheesed off. I did find a couple of other smaller sprigs though, and I’ll see what wild crafting I can do down in the conservation land for this little herb.

I’ll likely be doing another round of harvesting during the Dark Moon, especially for Mugwort (and probably the Agrimony as well, just because I don’t want it going to seed). I’ll probably wait until the next Full Moon for the rest of my culinary herbs like Sage and Oregano.  But for now, it looks like a goodly supply drying on the walls of my kitchen!

Motherwort and Other Characters

This past week has been one of splendiferous adventures in plant identification.  My best friend recently introduced me to the New England Wildflower Society’s plant ID website, and it has been so much fun tracking down all manner of flowering plants.  Blooming this week in the Assabet River bioregion, we have Common Cinquefoil, White Campion, Motherwort, Sweetfern, and Horsenettle.

 Motherwort set me off on this journey of discovery.  You see, there was this strange little seedling in my garden plot this spring, but it looked so purposeful, that I talked with my row partner and we decided to leave it and see what happened. Now, she (the mystery plant, not my row partner!) is about two feet tall and happily feeding the bees. Motherwort is also a friend to humans, especially women, with many useful medicinal properties. We’ve decided to transplant her to the community herb garden, marking her with a sign as medicinal.

Common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex) was another little mystery flower that had been bugging me this year.  Some sources claim cinquefoil as a fairly common medieval spell component, I’m guessing because the five finger leaves are reminiscent of hands. It’s astringent, antiseptic, soothing for the skin, and the powdered roots can be used to stop bleeding.

Every year I forget the name of White Campion (Silene latefolia) and have to look up. Maybe this year it will finally stick.  While it doesn’t have any medicinal uses, being high in saponins (much like quinoa), simmering the root will create a sort of soap. And, it’s just plain pretty to happen upon in the meadow.

Sweetfern is one of the first plants I got to know when I moved to my current home. It is very much associated with poor soils and stands of pine, both of which happened to be abundant on our property. Sweetfern can make a very nice tea and be useful in a variety of ailments, especially as an astringent. I’ll likely be harvesting it this year to experiment with as an insect-repellent incense.

Horsenettle is a member of the nightshade family–Solanum carolinensis to be specific. It’s often classified as a noxious weed, and I’ve had trouble finding any constructive use for it (if someone in the audience knows of one, leave a comment!). It’s the only member of the Solanums that has thorns, which makes its removal particularly tricky.

Lastly, I helped my father identify this little fellow as Sheep Sorrel, a member of the vast dock and sorrel genus. It’s been driving him crazy in the garden, as it sends its roots right underneath other plants and makes it extremely difficult to remove. He noted with some dismay that it doesn’t even have the decency to wilt after it’s been picked!  On the bright side, it is edible, and lens a lemony flavor to salads and soups.

I’ll be harvesting the Motherwort and Sweetfern, along with Mugwort, Agrimony, and Feverfew over the coming days.  I’m finally feeling like I have enough a) reading knowledge and b) glass jars to try making tinctures.  Agrimony is one of the things that keeps me from turning into an absolute badger in March/April when Seasonal Affective Disorder seems to hit me hardest.  I’ve made tea from the dried leaves in the past, and have taken a commercial tincture, but I’m looking forward to trying some of my own brew.

Oh, and the first blackberries are also ready to pick.  Just one more reason to love the Solstice season!

Kitchen Witchery: Mirror, Mirror

I was fortunate enough to find this lovely old mirror in the thrift store for six dollars. I figured with a little bit of elbow grease and some homemade furniture polish it would brighten up in no time.


Apparently, homemade furniture polish is only slightly different from homemade salad dressing: vinegar, oil, and lemon juice. There are a number of different recipes with which the Google-Oracle can provide the curious kitchen witch.

First I treated the wood with the salad dressing/furniture polish mix, removing all the dust and grime–paper towels and an old t-shirt work quite well. Then it was just time to sit down and polish up the glass was some glass cleaner and paper towels.


I really do love old furniture. Imagining the history and stories behind each piece is so much more satisfying than buying another soulless sofa from Eddie’s Furniture Basement. It’s easier to see the spirit of an old piece. There can be a wonderful exchange in caring for a well-crafted-but-slightly-battered antique, filling in scratches, polishing and shining it.  You develop a responsibility and even kinship towards the object. It serves you well, and in return you see its own sacredness and keep it whole.

I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with this mirror.  There are a few scratches and the silvering is a touch cloudy, but he has so much personality shining through his finish.

Now all I need to do is find a dresser!

Kitchen Witchery: Fire Cider

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The same day that Sarah F. and I were making hag tapers, we were also cooking up a batch of fire cider.  Actually, it was the fire cider that was the impetus for the get-together, as apparently someone, not the person who originally wrote down the recipe,* has decided to sue anyone marketing a similar product under the name “fire cider.”

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So in the good ol’ Druidic spirit of “up yours!” Sarah suggested we brew our own. Here’s the original recipe:

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Make Your Own Fire Cider
It’s fun, simple, and easy to make. There are hundreds of variations on this recipe. Here’s the original.

½ cup grated fresh horseradish root
½ cup or more fresh chopped onions
¼ cup or more chopped garlic
¼ cup or more grated ginger
Chopped fresh or dried cayenne pepper, whole or powdered, to taste.*

Optional ingredients: turmeric, echinacea, cinnamon, etc.

* To taste means should be hot, but not so hot you can’t tolerate it. Better to make it a little milder than too hot; you can always add more pepper later if necessary.

Place herbs in a half-gallon canning jar and cover with enough raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to cover the herbs by at least three to four inches. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Place jar in a warm place and let set for three to four weeks. Best to shake every day to help in the maceration process. After three to four weeks, strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid. Add honey to taste. Warm the honey first so it mixes in well. “A little bit of honey helps the medicine go down…” Your Fire Cider should taste hot, spicy, and sweet. Rebottle and enjoy! Fire Cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry, but it’s better to store in the refrigerator if you’ve room. A small shot glass daily serves as an excellent tonic or take teaspoons if you feel a cold coming on. Take it more frequently if necessary to help your immune system do battle.

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We also added golden seal to the mix, since Sarah had some in her amazing and impressive herbal stash.  We decided to leave out the cinnamon, since it didn’t quite seem to blend well with the prodigious amount of horseradish we ended up adding to the brew.  The kitchen smelled nothing short of spicy and wonderful.

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I’ve always loved making potions. Happily, my mother and father indulged my early attempts at chemistry and herbalism, though they sometimes despaired that I had yet again ruined or made unusable some container with my concoctions.  Probably the most successful creation of my youthful dabbling was a weedkiller made by soaking black walnuts in water for a couple of weeks.

The fire cider promises to be much tastier.  I’ve been faithfully shaking my jar, so it should be ready the day I’m scheduled to close on my new home.  I love it when things come together!

*Rosemary Gladstar is the creatrix of the recipe. She also has a video describing how to make her original version of fire cider.

Hag Taper

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Mullein is one of my favorite plants. First, it’s great for the garden since it breaks up compacted soil and brings all sorts of yummy nutrients to the surface. Second, it’s a wonderful herbal remedy. Third, you can make candles with it! Which is exactly what Sarah F. over at Starflower Alchemy and I did before Samhain (though I’m just getting around to posting about it now).  We melted up some beeswax on her stove, wrapped a wick around the dried mullein stalk, and then began the delightfully messy process of soaking the taper.

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These are smokey, but make great torches. Definitely something to be used outside!  If you want to know more, Sarah Lawless has a great post about mullein and its various magical uses, as well as a reference list. It can be found here.

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Kitchen Witchery: Better Living Through Chemistry

Thrift stores have got to be one of my favorite places to find ritual items. Take, for example, this large silver Revere bowl that I picked up from Savers for $4.99. I’ve been after a new scrying vessel, and this certainly fit the bill. It just needed a little TLC.

Which (or witch!) brings us to today’s inaugural episode of Kitchen Witchery: Better Living Through Chemistry.  For this little bit of magic, you’re going to need:

  • Aluminum foil
  • 1 c boiling water
  • 1/2 c white vinegar (the cheap stuff)
  • 1T salt
  • 1T baking powder

Fair warning: this technique can pit or otherwise damage the silver, so you may want to try another cleaning method if you’re worried about your piece. But for a $5 thrift store find, I was willing to risk it.

Line the bowl with the foil, place the dry ingredients on top.

Ingredients, assemble!

Ingredients, assemble!

Add the vinegar. Fizzing will ensue.

Scrubbing bubbles?

Scrubbing bubbles?

Then add the boiling water. Finally, place your silver piece in the bowl so that it comes in contact with the foil. Leave it there for about 30 seconds and…

Bwahahaha!

Bwahahaha!

Presto! Tarnish-b-gone!

A bowl so shiny, you can see an elder god in it!

A bowl so shiny, you can see an elder god in it!

I had to dunk this bowl in several times since it was rather large, but it seems to have worked. I’ve also used this technique with silverware and jewelry. Just be sure to rinse your pieces well and buff them with a soft cloth when you’re done.