Last fall, I went to the nursery with Andrea and bought a bunch of what I like to call ‘old world’ herbs, many that I was missing and have never owned before. They are mentioned in all the old herbals and religious texts and included in ancient remedies for everything under the sun, including the breaking of hexes and the warding off of evil. They were in every witch’s garden according to old texts. Many are still used in the kitchen or for teas, and in health food stores in that section I like to call the ‘hippie aisle’ where you can get things like ‘tinctures’ and ‘ear candles.’ Some of them are toxic and deliciously dangerous. If this were another time and another place, I would be condemned for practicing witchcraft and burned at the stake just for growing them and knowing what they can do for you, or to you. But this is here and now and I get to do whatever I want with my herbs!
What I did when I bought them is put them in the one and only patch of sun available in the winter garden and hoped they would survive, leaving their little nursery markers in the dirt with them until I could learn something about each one. They not only survived, they thrived. Now they’re bushing into each other and don’t have quite enough room. First, I took pictures of each plant with its marker and removed the markers, which kept getting mixed up by the weather and the cats. Then, I rolled out my unbleached craft paper and wrote the names on the paper. Cuttings of each plant were taken and placed on the paper near the name. All of my books came off the shelf and I combed through each one for information on the plants, writing the good stuff down in my journal. This information will be supplemented by anything modern I can find on the internet. This is a necessary step because modern science has allowed the testing of plant chemicals and you need to keep updated. Some plants we once thought were safe are now known to be toxic. As I study the cut leaves and read all my data, I’ll get a feel for each plant until I can get to know it by sight and smell, and not have to rely on the markers. If you’re going to have toxic plants and edible herbs, you need to know very positively how to distinguish one from the other, especially since many herbs look similar. Over the next month I will be moving them to permanent homes where they have room, and also posting mini-articles and photos for each one.
It’s a project I’ve had in my mind for a long time and the herbs have been whispering in my ear all Spring. Their names have been on the wind for hundreds of years. These herbs are important to me, they represent our history, the unimaginable power of plants, women’s folklore, and forbidden knowledge. When I’m done learning, drying, tasting and transplanting, or breaking any hexes I see laying around, I’ll get some new herbs and start all over. Not a bad way to spend a summer.