Herbs: For Magick and Medicine

In the kitchen 'herbs and spices' are almost universally mixed up. An 'herb' is the leafy green part, or flower, occasionally stem of a plant — bay leaves, rosemary, thyme. A 'spice' is the seed, fruit, bark or root of a plant — cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns. In the kitchen we usually call everything our 'spices'.

Outside of the kitchen we usually call everything 'herbs' (including cinnamon and ginger).

Herbs have a multitude of uses, and people who have the space to grow large herb gardens sometimes have three beds: medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, and aromatic herbs (potpourri, incense, magick). Naturally, there is a great deal of cross-over. Rosemary, for instance, fits into all categories — it is helpful in getting rid of headaches, it is flavorful to cook with, and it smells great in incense and potpourri, with magickal properties of love and remembrance.

Herbs are collected from living plants, and unless we're using a root, or using poor harvesting technique, the plant continues to live after we've taken what we need. The magick of herbs wherever they are used, should be kept in mind — the simplest meal has magickal overtones if you keep in mind the magickal correspondences of the herbs you use. "Rosemary, that's for remembrance —"

Witches and pagans who have an affinity for the kitchen and herbs should research 'Kitchen Witchery'. Sounds harmless? You would be surprised at the manipulative magick that can be performed with food — it and sex magick are the oldest of the magicks.

Herbs are also used by many, pagan and non-pagan, as a form of alternative health care. The important thing to remember is: herbs used as drugs can be dangerous, use as directed by your health care practitioner, if you are going to self-prescribe, make sure you know what you’re doing! Herbs were the first medicines, they were also the first poisons. Part of the reason herb-wives were so prosecuted with the advent of male doctors and their leeches was that so many of their cures were well-known poisons. But a poison in the right do sage is sometimes a cure. Digitalis, the heart-drug from the plant foxglove, is fatally toxic in most circumstances. Unless you have medical and pharmaceutical training, never self-prescribe toxic plants!

The Medicine of Herbs

One more time: Never self-prescribe toxic herbs. In the following recipes, stick to the specified amounts. Remember that everything is toxic, in great enough quantities. If it says 'for external use only' it means for external use only.

Healing with herbs may not seem particularly spiritual, pagan or magickal. But is part of our heritage as pagans — in the old days when it was not understood what precise chemicals in the plants aided healing, it was considered a magical art — and as such, frequently frowned upon, regardless of the efficiency of it. Nowadays, it is not so arcane. But it should be — it is a wonder that cures to so many of our ills can be found in the world around us. I'm not suggesting each of us become proficient in this art, but I recommend trying a rosemary tea next time you have a headache, instead of aspirin or even a purchased herbal remedy. Remember the magick of making it yourself!

Kitchen Medicines

The common culinary herbs and spices so often added to food for flavor also have considerable healing properties and it is likely that they were added to foods in the first place for this reason. Most herbal spices are carminatives (preventing and relieving gas), stimulants and aid to digestion. Many of them are also used to relieve nervousness, spasms and coldness. They are often regarded as 'crisis medicine', being useful for the first acute stages of disease.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum): Useful for breaking up mucus and is thus used for hard dry coughs where expectoration is difficult. A tea is made by adding a cup of boiled water to three teaspoonfuls of crushed seeds, steeping for twenty minutes, and sweetening with a little honey. This tea will also stimulate the production of mother's milk. The seeds may also be smoked or added to a cough syrup formula. It is also used to treat flatulence and colic.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Sweet basil is good to use as a tea for indigestion, fevers, colds, flu, kidney and bladder troubles, headaches, cramps, nausea, vomiting, constipation and nervous conditions. A tea made with one ounce of basil leaves to a pint of water simmered for twenty minutes with three powdered black peppercorns per cup will be effective for most fevers.

Bay (Laurus nobilis): The bay tree was dedicated by the ancient Greeks to Apollo and Aesculapius, the god of medicine. One or two bay leaves added to soup and beans improves the flavor and helps prevent gas and indigestion. Too strong to used in large amounts internally, the leaves can be applied as a poultice on the chest with a cloth covering to relieve bronchitis and coughs. Oil of bay, which is made by heating the leaves in a little olive oil, can be applied with great benefit to rheumatic and arthritic aches and pains, as well as sprains and swellings.

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum): An excellent remedy to take at the first sign of most diseases. Yogis consider black pepper to be one of nature's most perfect foods and useful as both a cure and a preventative, taking a dose of seven peppercorns ground (one eighth teaspoon powder) and mixed with honey each morning. This mixture is useful to over come cold mucus diseases and sore throats.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): Used to warm the organs to treat chronic diarrhea, cramps, heart and abdominal pains, coughing, wheezing, lower back pain. It is effective used as a tincture given every fifteen minutes or so to stop bleeding from the uterus. Simmered in milk and taken with a little honey, cinnamon is very effective for indigestion, gas, diarrhea and dysentery.

Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum): Increasing circulation, improving digestion and treating flatulence, vomiting, and nausea. Oil of cloves gives quick relief for toothaches, and cloves may simply be chewed for this purpose.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum): Steeped in tea, it is a useful to relieve fevers (a small amount of black pepper may be added). Use two teaspoons off crushed seeds in a cup of boiled water and steep twenty minutes. Coriander is added to laxative formulas to help prevent griping (cramping.)

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum): One of the best spices to prevent and relieve gas. Cumin is of benefit to the heart and the uterus and is given to women after childbirth to increase breast milk.

Garlic (Allium sativum): What doesn't it cure? Use in the treatment of all lung ailments, for high and low blood pressure, against parasites and infections, for headaches and nervous disorders. Onions work similarly and are often used in combination with garlic. To preserve the beneficial aspects of garlic it should not be boiled. The fresh juice is the most effective preparation. For nervous spasms, cramps and seizures, crush one clove of garlic in a glass of hot milk. For high blood pressure, take one clove of garlic each morning.

Prepare oil of garlic by placing eight ounces of peeled minced garlic in a wide-mouthed jar with enough olive oil to cover. Close tightly and shake a few times each day; allow to stand in a warm place for three days. Press and strain through an unbleached muslin cloth and store in a cool place.

For colds, flues, fevers and infectious diseases, take one teaspoon of oil every hour. For earaches, insert a few drops in the ear with a wad of cotton. For aches, sprains and minor skin disorders rub the oil directly on the affected area.

Prepare a syrup of garlic by placing one pound of peeled minced garlic in a wide-mouthed two quart jar and almost fill the jar with equal parts apple cider vinegar and distilled water. Cover and let stand in a warm place for four days, shaking a few times each day. Add one cup of glycerin and let stand another day. Strain, and with pressure, filter the mixture through a muslin cloth. Add one cup of honey and stir until thoroughly mixed. Store in a cool place.

For coughs, colds, sore throats, bronchial congestion, high or low blood pressure, heart weakness and nervous disorders, take one tablespoon of the syrup three times a day, before meals.

Ginger (Zingiber offinale): Ginger tea, made by grating one ounce fresh root and simmering ten minutes in a pint of water, is used to indigestion, cramps, and nausea. Taken with honey and lemon, it is an excellent treatment for colds and flues. Ginger root should always be added to meat dishes to help the intestines detoxify the meat. Squeeze out the juice of fresh grated ginger and combine with equal parts olive or sesame oil to produce an oil that can be massaged into the skin for relief of muscle pain. The oil can also be applied to the head for dandruff, and a few drops on a wad of cotton inserted into the ear is good for treating earaches.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana): The tea, made with one-half ounce marjoram steeped in a pint of boiling water, is used for upset stomach, headache, colic. It can be used for cramps and nausea associated with menstruation, and for severe cases of abdominal cramps. It may help seasickness. Oil of marjoram can be used externally to relieve aches and pains. Added to the bath, it relieves insomnia.

Mustard Seed (Brassica nigra): In large doses, mustard seed is emetic. Internally, a teaspoonful of crushed seeds in warm water acts as a mild laxative and blood purifier, but a tablespoonful acts as a quick emetic (emetic induces vomiting). The mustard plaster is made by mixing powdered mustard with cold water to make a thick paste. The paste is spread on a cotton cloth. Another thin cloth is placed on the skin and the mustard cloth placed over it. It should remain on the skin until the skin reddens and a burning sensation is felt. Remove it, and wash the skin. Used for aches, sprains, spasms.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragans): A small amount, about the size of a pea, can be taken once daily over a long period to relieve chronic nervous disorders and heart problems. Large doses can be poisonous and may cause miscarriage.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Of great benefit in treating headaches and may be used as a substitute for aspirin. It is high in calcium and thus of great benefit to the entire nervous system. A tea is made by adding one-half ounce rosemary to a pint of boiled water and steeping for ten minutes in a covered vessel. Rosemary is also good for the hair and scalp — use a cooled, strong tea as a rinse after shampoo. Rosemary is smoked with coltsfoot leaves to treat asthma and mucous congestion of the lungs and throat.

Sage (Salvia officianlis): Is used for excessive perspiration, night sweats, clear vaginal discharge, and to stop the flow of milk. It is also useful for diarrhea, dysentery, the early stages of cold and flu, sinus congestion, and bladder infections. A tea is made using one-quarter ounce of the herb in a pint of boiled water, steeping in a covered vessel for ten minutes. It should not be used for more than a week at a time, but during this period it may be taken up to three times daily. When combined with rosemary, peppermint and wood betony, it is effective for headaches. A half cup of the infusion, made from equal parts of the herbs (one ounce per pint of water), is taken every two hours until relief is obtained. Sage tea is also used as a gargle for sore throats and ulcerations of the mouth.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Thyme is important as a parasiticide for intestinal worms. It is frequently used as a tea for bronchial problems such as acute bronchitis, whooping cough, and laryngitis. An ounce of the herb is steeped in one pint of boiled water and then strained and sweetened with honey. It is also of great benefit for the treatment of diarrhea, chronic gastritis and lack of appetite. It should not be used in large amounts, one ounce being adequate for a daily dose taken as tea. Externally, its antiseptic properties make it a useful mouthwash and cleansing wash for the skin. It will destroy fungal infections such as athlete's foot and skin parasites such as scabies, crabs and lice. For these purposes, a tincture made from four ounces of thyme to a pint of alcohol, or the essential oil, is used.

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