April 2017

I spent this month mainly with work on the next row of wooden seed boxes, adding new herbs to the set and reading up on them. The central theme this time were summer herbs (with the summer solstice in mind), which are sown in spring or early summer, such as poppies, cornflower, chamomile, evening primrose, yarrow, viper’s bugloss etc. Then I paid attention to Harold Roth’s book “The Witching Herbs” (signed copies available here), and included seeds for the magical herbs discussed there. Besides these I added some endangered plants such as the wonderful centaury and plants that are in decline, such as the field larkspur. With wood betony and motherwort there are some new old, forgotten about healing herbs joining the series.

Another herb I was curious about (and I know that you are too), is the enchanter’s nightshade. It is quite inconspicuous in appearance, almost invisible between other herbs. It is not poisonous at all and in fact, much more beneficial than, what its name suggests. This makes for some very interesting treats for employing this herb in sympathetic magic…

Along with adding more new herbs I also updated the sowing tables and added info texts for each. Further, my attention was drawn to the Euphorbiaceae plant genus. Last year I had been pointed to the spurge as part of a Martial incense recipe. I started researching but could not pinpoint which type of spurge was meant. There are many plants in that genus, which is found in large diversity all around the globe. But which is the one most relevant in Western medieval / renaissance magic? By chance and when searching for spurge seeds, I came across a seller on eBay who just mentioned randomly that the caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris), with its impressive size, poisonous milky sap and auspicious shape, was the plant famously believed to break hexes and ward of witches from one’s home…. Well, here we go. It is now added to the selection of poisonous herbs coming with the boxes and I can’t wait to grow it myself.

What more? I finished and shipped the last of my “Poisoner’s” seed boxes. I will now overthink the concept and design for this one.

I also spent a lot of time in the garden, harvesting masterwort root, thinning and weeding out, pricking out seedlings and sowing more…

My shortage of henbane last winter led me to sow new henbane, which resulted eventually in hundreds of little plants of black, white and the rare Egyptian henbane! These have now been separated and planted in trays of 24 each + 1 mixed tray. The temperatures are still low and even though it did not actually freeze again, it is too cold for the small plants (the test tray doesn’t seem to like my outdoors experiment on the window sill). I am therefore keeping the trays with the white and the Egyptian henbane indoors, together with purple Indian datura and several moon vine plants. The tray with the black henbane seedlings stays in the unheated greenhouse.

This month’s harvest:

  • Lamarck’s Aconite (Aconitum lamarckii), thinning out, Tuesday (11th)
  • Masterwort root (Peucedanum ostruthium), thinning out, Tuesday (11th) and Thursday (27th)
  • Herb Gerard (Aegopodium podagraria), weeding out, Saturday (22nd)
  • Myrtle (Myrtus communis), pruning, Sunday (23rd)
  • Horse tail (Equisetum arvense), weeding out, Friday (28th)

Besides, l am now a lady with a barrow full of fragrant lily of the valley! 🌱🌱🌱 (Thanks to an unexpected gift from our neighbors, who are restructuring their garden.) I now have to prepare a spot for them to grow. Else, that barrow has now met its final destiny…

Herbs I plan to sow this and the following weekends:

  • blue hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ‘Caeruelus’)
  • caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)*
  • centaury (Centaurium erythreae)
  • clary sage (Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica)
  • enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)
  • evening primrose (Oenothera odorata ‘Sulfurea’)
  • honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’)
  • lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus)
  • poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
  • snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus ‘Night and Day’)
  • st. john’s wort (Hypericum perforatum ‘Tauberthal’)
  • thyme (Thymus vulgaris ‘Frnech Summer’)
  • wood betony (Stachys officinalis) *

So long, I wish my followers a Blessed Walpurgis!

March 2017

Spring is here

Since some years, just before Lenten, I am spending a little fortune on oriental hellebores. This year it had to be – among others – a filled purple-black variant. It is not as black as I had hoped, but still a lovely sight and very Gothic. The bees love it too, along with crocuses and other early spring flowers. Out of a heap of soil left out on the meadow from last year’s construction work grow little snowdrops. Looks like this one will have to stay. I am thinking ‘herb spiral’…

Sowing Season

I have sown a couple of new plants, among others different species of henbane. I bought the seeds from a french seller on eBay, who shipped them at near speed of light and included  gift seeds of Datura discolor. I have sown them beginning of March, without priming. The Hyoscyamus niger var. agrestis seeds germinated within a week. The seeds for the rare Egyptian henbane (Hyoscyamus muticus) germinated after 2 weeks, as can be seen in the following pictures. I am really satisfied with the results.

The first round was sown on the 4th of March. I prepared another tray two weeks later, with dream herb, sinicuichi and primed moon vine. Further I primed seeds of mandrake, morning glory, white henbane and datura, which were sown 25th of March.

Thus far only the Ipmoea alba germinated (it did so within 3 days after priming with 100% germination rate). But no sign of the daturas yet or the other herbs.

Now here are also the results from my 2016 winter solstice sowing:

The wormwood was the first that germinated, but now is going slow. The second photo shows what I hope to be a comfrey seedling. I would love to have it in the garden. Comfrey is easier to propagate via cuttings, but you know seed -> genetic diversity… The third photo is of different henbane seedlings. It will show which of the henbanes are annuals and which are biennials. I had sown a lot more but nothing happening thus far.

The garden awakens

From seed to root, from flower to fruit – impressions of the plants in the garden, which is just getting started…

The greater celandine has sown out itself in a circle and now forms an auspicious ‘fairy ring’. I am not sure yet, what to do with all of it. Tincture the entire circle? For the moment it just looks fancy.

The aconites return – thankfully. I had lost half of them last year due to root rot. (Partly my mistake.) I was wondering though, why other plants grown in that corner would fade as well. I had grown wormwood there earlier. Wormwood emits substances into the soil that keep other plants from growing in its proximity. Could it be that these are still in the soil and effecting other herbs? On the other hand it had a lot of rain and the ground was sopping. Aconite likes a moist ground but this may have been just too much.

The deadly nightshade now appears in places where I can’t remember to have planted it. Nice coincidence: on the above picture a single thin thread of spider web is attached to the plant, which is named after the Greek Atropos. (Atropos was one of the three fates and in charge of severing the thread of life.)

Last year I planted a small Aconitum hemsleyanum, which I had grown from seed and kept in the pot for too long. It was on the brink (pot left outdoors during ceaseless rain).

Far from tender is the masterwort. In the raised bed it found the perfect spot, ready to conquer all. I don’t mind, its root is a powerful magical and medicinal agent.

Closing this round, the lovely lovage is working its way through the ground elder. Lovage does not like competition. I will have to help here – which means, it will be another year trying to dig up and decimate the obnoxious  ground elder.

New Seed Boxes

This month I also got to work on the next row of wooden seed boxes (numbers 31-36). I received such a wonderful feedback last time and more emails. I have been working on them non-stop for the past weeks and they are near completion. Emails will be sent out to those that reserved one and then it’s first come first serve… Meanwhile here are the last four sold and shipped earlier in March:

Useful

Herbs to sow in March: agrimony, bittersweet nightshade, chamomile, columbine, evening primrose, henbane, mandrake, monkshood, poppy, thorn-apple (pre-culture), tobacco, viper’s bugloss, wood betony

Herbs to sow in April: agrimony, black cumin, borage, caraway, catnip, chervil, clary sage, columbine, elecampagne, enchanter’s nightshade, evening primrose, fennel, henbane, lemon balm, lovage, mandrake, marigold, marshmallow, moon vine, morning glory, motherwort, mugwort, poison hemlock, poppy, purple coneflower, rosemary, rue, sage, tobacco, tansy, thyme, valerian, wood betony, wormwood, yarrow

Links: plantacasa (Hellebores), Odysseé Naturelle (seeds)

 

Rauhe Nächte, Contemplating Time

I could write about the stiffness inducing cold of the approaching winter and how I very much would like to hibernate together with the green in my garden.  How I would like to sleep all day and wake up only to nurture my self and then return to sleep wonderland.

I could write about the past, present and future – the terminologies in and of themselves, happenings, the greater context, details… The form of thoughts and thought forms… How solutions are only possible when 1.) a problem has been recognized and 2.) the problem has been understood. But…

…for convenience we come up with problems that can be solved and ignore the problems we should solve.

The realization of this ignorance is the source of this moment of nihilistic reluctance. Every part of me screams change and action. Yet I am as paralyzed as the frozen tops of the plants in my garden.

It’s having cold snow-less nights and days. Sometimes it rains. Right now it’s freezing again and the green remain covered in white ice crystals. Yet the garden is filled with live. Song birds of all color strike up their daily pre-winter concerto. The white flower heads of the black hellebore show up when most other plants are dead above ground. Some plants also stay green despite or because the shortness of daylight, safe under a blanket of fallen leaves and taking advantage of the extra light that permeates through barren trees. The mandrake, rue and rosemary, which I planted in the raised bed, seem to be doing fine thus far.

I could write about how I am craving a glycerin equivalent in my blood to protect me against this debilitation. But the truth is, I cherish this moment. I insist on this temporary luxury. I enjoy this moment of purposeless Venusian fatigue and procrastination, of musing about my garden and the nature of time. Because I know it won’t last long. In fact, when I post this, it is already over. Time – this strange intangible abstract concept, which all and everything is subject to.

The future as the elimination of all possibilities save for one?

Physics says our perceived “flow of time” is actually more like a “frozen lake”, in which all possible events are already contained and that the notion of past, present and future is an illusion created only in our minds. Yet it is real on an everyday level. Because what is future is soon present and subsequently part of an unchangeable past. We still have to bother about the future and the consequences of our actions. On a larger level it means, that whatever I do in this second, my action already contains the consequences within it.

The universe as we know it moves away from an ordered state towards a disordered state. To uphold order requires effort/work/energy. Not only does the entropy increase but it does so exponentially until the literal end of time or until the entire universe will be “devoured” by black holes. Due to this ongoing process, which we are a part of, time cannot move backwards and we cannot go back in time and change it. My cells age, whether I want it or not. On a larger scale this process is part of the increase of the universe’s entropy. But depending on my location and movement this process may occur faster or slower. Because every object or person has its own time. Literally, my slice of time is different from your slice of time, depending on where I am located, whether I stand still or move and in which direction and how fast I move. Impacted by gravity a person at sea level may age faster than a person on a mountain.

Life is in a way, one huge effort at trying to maintain a higher ordered state against that primal impulse towards entropy and ultimately nothingness.  Or perhaps it can also be viewed as an attempt at moving against the direction of the pre-established arrow of time, away from the increase of entropy and dissolution of time in a distant future and back towards a state of highest order at the beginning of time. A vain endeavor it may seem, yet it gives our ephemeral existence purpose and meaning.

Reflecting on these circumstances, I do well investing some of my limited life time into realizing the reality above and outside my own. Then I wouldn’t miss out on the greatness of the sheer impossibility that is my existence. Nothing is easy, everything else isn’t. In heated up times such as these, it is for example not easy to tend a garden. The only advice I can give to myself: when the mind feels cluttered or the ego feels hurt, go in front of the door, observe nature, read up on nature science, clean up and get back to work.

So much about my musings on time. I did without referencing any mythical creature or man-made deity. Only the “magic” of nature. In my next post I will hopefully write about my winter sowing. Also, new seed boxes are in the making, the last for 2016! 🙂

Columbines

These lovely columbines have sown out themselves in our front yard and I’m now giving away seeds for each:

From upper left to lower right: Aquilegia “Bordeaux Barlow” with filled flowers, Aquilegia vulgaris with white-pink , pink and blue “petticoat” shaped flowers. The petticoat probably comes from cross-pollination with common columbines. The flower heads have a compact, tighter form than those of common columbine. I love them all and am happy for the bees and wind to have brought them here.

Pricing for seeds: 2 Euro per bag with 50 seeds and 3 Euro for a mixed bag with 200 seeds from all four. Shipping in Germany is 0,70 Euro and 1,50 Euro for shipping worldwide.

Solstice Serpent Seal

Wiebke Rost

Solstice Serpent Seal by X.A.121

Only one week left until midsummer! This seal is dedicated to the rituals surrounding the summer solstice, when the sun reaches it’s annual zenith. The seal is inspired by the viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) herb and adorns the vessels containing the solstice incense, which you can order from my etsy shop and which will also go up at the mail-order site in a few hours. Below is a preview of how the blend looks:

Summer Solstice Incense Summer Solstice Incense

The ingredients are the herbs and flowers traditionally associated with the summer solstice. The incense blend evokes in particular a vision of a summer meadow at dusk: bushes of blue flowering viper’s bugloss cover the ground and transform into nests of serpents. Plantain, thistle and St. John’s wort grow at its side. Nearby, the fragrant yellow flowers of the evening primrose glow in the evening light and emit their sweet scent into…

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Beltane

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Beltane 2016

recreation, renewal, creative inspiration, changes

The sun is here and that means work! The garden and green house needed cleaning up, I have been weeding out and harvesting the first herbs. Here is my Beltane spent in the garden…

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The garden this evening. Say hello to my friends: mandrake, monkshood and foxglove.
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The year’s first herb harvest: lemon balm, fresher than fresh and very aromatic!
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More poisonous friends: the northern wolfsbane, monkshood and belladonna are growing fast now. Belladonna caught a virus (you see the leaves start rolling), but adopts quickly.
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It’s having more space for the monkshood and it likes it.
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And now for a nightmare: any gardener with that plant in their yard will sooner or later despair. It’s thanks to the Romans that it now grows in abundance just about anywhere it finds favorable conditions. Mowing the lawn is one way to prevent it from taking over. Therefore it grows in the shadiest corner and loves hedges, where it’s especially tricky to remove. Today I did just that: weeding out the ground elder from the hedges that surround my little poison bed. I removed quite a few long roots, which was an arduous task. I know I didn’t catch all of them and it’s going to come back. But not as strong as before. And having repeated this a couple of times it will eventually be gone for good. At least in that spot.
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The new babies arrived this week!
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Old and new mandrake plants. Moved from the basement to the green house and need to recover a bit. They didn’t like the winter indoors. The only reason I don’t want to plant them to the ground are snails, which eat the leaves as if it was salad.
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Lilac is going to flower soon!
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Slate black Hellebore: There shall be seeds!
Queen of the night
Queen of the night tulips are almost black. The flowers are a very dark matte purple and they are perfect for a “black flower” theme garden.
Tulips, Roses
Tulips and roses in our front yard… I need to find free time to sort through this maze of tulip and hyacinth bulbs!
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Old planting pots left outdoors, things start happening…
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Just in time for may day: lily of the valley has started showing up! I planted these end of February.
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Our apple-tree just started flowering. As past year I will again collect a bunch for my Qalmana incense and a new, Beltane dream inspired blend…
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April in the garden: for a few days our meadow is abloom with cuckoo flowers
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The white blossoms of our old cherry tree
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Flowers of almond, cherry and Cardamine pratensis
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Feeding the compost!
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It’s also the time when the ferns unfurl their fronds…
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Useful wild herbs: wood avens (Geum urbanum) and greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), both herbs with healing properties and both yellow flowering. These established themselves and I let them grow, giving the ground a break, so it can return to balance after it was full packed with various nightshades in the past years.
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And yet another wild herb in the garden, also with yellow flowers: lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). The herb is poisonous (as it’s a member in the buttercup family), but the young leaves were once consumed to prevent scurvy, as they are rich in vitamin C. Though recently this has been suggested for Cochlearia officinalis.

Fingers II

Wiebke Rost

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This time it is not about a surreal dream and also not about the fennel. But it is about another plant’s “fingers”. In folklore the male fern’s “hand” is a lucky charm, meant to bestow fortunes and the power over the souls of the dead to it’s owner. In order to obtain it, the sorcerer must harvest the male fern’s root on the Eve of St. John. Then he must roast the root in the fire. The hand is made in such manner as to bind five strands of the fronds together: the root base of the stem is left attached and the rest of the frond’s foliage is removed. The result resembles a “hand”, with tendons (hairy stems) and fingers (stipe bases). Frankly, I never made such “hand” in this manner. But I’ve gathered plenty of male fern roots and had the most magical experiences granted through working with these roots in various ways…

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Fingers

Wiebke Rost

I woke up many times last night. The documentary I had watched about the Panama papers, followed me into sleep and seemed to occupy my mind for no good reason, other than that I felt betrayed and somehow sharing into the fears and worries of those people that risk their life and well-being for exposing the truth. So my sleep was already restless and my emotional state was not, what one would consider “sunny”. I got some rest after all, but the dream that woke me up again, was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced… I say experienced, because in dream it’s always real.

I am inside a foreign room. Beside me on the table, is standing one of those plastic bowls, inside of which I usually gather my herb harvest. I am holding a pair of scissors and one by one, I am chopping off fingers from a hand, and placing…

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Male Fern Dragons, Knights Fighting Snails

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)
Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

The fronds of the male fern fade during the winter time and leave behind a flaky root-stock, which grows bigger every year and turns black at the center, whereas new fern fronds sprout at the periphery. I like to think, as the years pass, the root begins to look like the scaly back of a dragon hiding beneath the earth, whereas the fronds form the dragon’s wings…

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) old roots
Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) old roots

…and one may even spot the dragon’s head lurking in the soil.

The root has been used until recent times as an anthelminthic to expel tape worms. This is supposedly due to flavaspidic acid, a Phloroglucinol derivate, which is contained in the glandular hairs. The root stock and leaf stalks are deadly poisonous, especially in young plants. Overdosage may result in severe poisoning and death.

Rainy spring day

Banded grove snails (Cepaea nemoralis) overwintered between withered fern fronds. Snails and slugs are a gardener’s nightmare, though I’d like to think these banded snails are the “good ones” as opposed to the brown Spanish slug (which I myself battle by the means of sharp iron tools and worse).

However, not only gardeners of modern times are struggling in the fight against terrestrial molluscs, but also medieval knights went to battle the creatures in full armor, as a recent article at the Smithonian.com website elucidates utterly strange and still unexplained depictions in medieval manuscripts:

The Queen Mary Psalter, c 1310-1320 via British Library

And as if that wouldn’t be enough, snails occur also as a metaphor for death and withering in the biblical Psalm 58:8

As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

Not enough? I strongly recommend you to check out the Hunting for Snails blog, for a plethora of wondrous examples of snails in medieval manuscript art and this collection by the British Library.

Sources:

Echter Wurmfarn + Giftpflanzen.deGrove Snail + Why Were Medieval Knights Always Fighting Snails? + Knight vs. Snail Snail, Psalm 58:8Strong’s Concordances + Hunting for Snails +

Snowdrops and Snowflakes

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snowflakes blooming at the meteorological beginning of spring

Two early flowering plants in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) opens its flowers just a few weeks earlier than the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum). Both carry white, bell-shaped flower heads, sporting a green or a yellow spot on each sepal. Both do also contain poisonous alkaloids, that are a natural self-defense against pests and animals. The same alkaloids are also found in plants of the Narcissus genus.

The flowers of the spring snowflake typically appear after the snow melts, usually in late February and beginning of March. They are shaped like a cup, which gave them the name Märzenbecher in German, literally meaning “March goblets”. The Latin name Leucojum consists of the Greek word leucos for “white” (a bright, shiny white) and ion for “violet”. The flowers emit a sweet fragrance. The epithet vernum comes from the Latin word for “spring”. Other names are snowbell, dewdrop and St. Agnes flower.

The flowers of the snowdrop open in early February, often as early as Candlemass. They are more tender and when still closed, resemble a tear drop or look like a popular type of earring,  called Schneetropfen in German. The English flower name snowdrop is thought to be a direct translation. The name Galanthus derives from the Greek words gala for “milk” and anthos for “flower”, whereas the Latin epithet nivalis means “of the snow” or “snow-covered”.

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snowdrops found in a sink, at the edge of a small forest

For some reason the snowdrop features more prominently in folklore and is now the flower associated with February, Candlemas cleansing rituals and the virgin Mary. I have blogged about this earlier. Interestingly, it seems to be missing in medieval scripture and early Christian paintings. Therefore, the snowflake is to be found on a painting of the Paradise Garden from the early 15th century. Here it is placed next to the infant Jesus and below the hem of Mary’s blue dress:

Paradiesgärtlein, ca. 1410-20,  unknown artist, Städel Museum, Frankfurt a. M.

I found this painting thanks to the Met Museum’s garden blog and include it here, as it features many interesting flowers… Another fragrant, white flowering plant portrayed there is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). It is a distant relative of the former and flowers much later, in May. Though named after the biblical “lily of the valleys”, it is uncertain which plant is originally referred to in the Song of Songs.

The spring snowflake is found spreading across river valleys and forest glades, taking advantage of the early spring sun and blooming when the trees are still leafless. I remember the sight of snowflake-covered meadows in the Polenztal, Saxon Switzerland: shiny white flower-cups and droplets from melting snow, reflecting the light of the spring sun; in the distance the sound of the bickering brook…

It is not surprising, the white flowers of early flowering plants would become symbols of purity and holiness. But there are also darker aspects connected to each of them, some of which I’m currently researching in context with a new incense formula. More about this later…

References:

Springs Snowflakes, by ferrebeekeeper + Snowdrop and Snowflake , at metmuseum.org +