Ritual Herbal Wash (Horehound)

Early fall before a first frost is a perfect time of year for moving stagnant energy and purifying living spaces or objects. All cultures use water for cleaning, discharging, rejuvenating, sanctifying, restoring, connecting , stimulating, cooling, heating, celebrating, replacing, nullifying, resolving, clarifying, repairing, blessing, balancing, transforming, regulating and proving communion with various forces. This ritual wash can be used to wash floors, items, or people. It can also be used as part of something more elaborate like a ceremony.

I like to have a container of dried herbs like mugwort, sage, horehound, oregano, rue, lavender, bee balm on hand to make an infusion for ritual use.If it is the growing season I will add in the fresh leaves of basil, or clary sage and the fresh flowers-of marigolds, roses, malva, hops, feverfew, or calendula. These plants have a history of being used for healing, aromatherapy, or “magic”.

When creating your ceremony think of the aesthetics of color, smell, chosen objects, and arrangement. Add in prayers, poems, words or song to create connection or move energy. Gestures or actions create sacred space, altered states, and serve as offerings.

If doing a house blessing one can imagine bringing abundance, health, fertility, wealth, good luck and other positive qualities into a home. When doing an energy clearing one can imagine illness, bad memories, misfortune, conflict, obstacles, traumatic events, stress and negative aspects being expelled. This is an opportunity to do some “house cleaning, start over, repair ruptures with people and nature, or begin a new habit or project.

To prepare the solution pour 1 gallon of boiling water over 1-2 cups of fresh or dried herbs. Let cool to room temperature and strain out the herbs. Some people like the sensual and ritual practice of squeezing and straining out the plants by hand. Compost and discard them with respect when you are done.

Water prepared with herbs can be used as a/an

Ablution-to wash, purify or sanctify as part of a ceremonial act.

Libation-to pour a liquid out as an offering

Lustration-to brighten or clean with water as part of ritual or to prepare a sacred space

Ritual casting-into another body of water or the environment into order to “throw away” something no longer wanted so that it can be recycled.

Spray to asperse-blessed water

Splash onto hot rocks to discharge negative ions and release essential oils that can be absorbed through the skin, smelled or breathed in.

Horehound may seem to be an odd choice in a ritual wash. It really does not have a “magical” history for this use in any culture that I know of. I chose it for my mixture because 1) I have an overabundance of and few uses for it. 2) I happen to love the smell of it-fresh, clear, sweet. Maybe I have strange tastes but I think it’s aromatic notes are under appreciated.

Marrubium vulgare

White horehound is a perennial plant in the mint family that grows easily on several continents. You will find it in gardens, dessert pastures, the wild, and wastelands. The entire plant is downy and has a silver “bloom”. The fibrous twisted root sends up several square shaped stems. Numerous leaves are opposite, petioled, round/ovate, wrinkled and soft underneath. Tiny with a pink/white two lipped flowers with a spiny calyx grow in axillary whorls in late summer. Prefers sun and well drained soil.

Marrubium has been used for healing since ancient times. It is a common ingredient in cough syrups and lozenges because it clears phlegm and prevents infection from moving into the lungs. It is thought to helps with bronchitis, laryngitis, hoarseness, sore throat, asthma, pneumonia, and a hacking cough. Historically this plant has bee used to treat fever, anemia, hepatitis, retained placenta, stomach issues, heart conditions. It balances bodily secretions and makes a bitter digestive tonic. It increases circulation (vasodilator) and sweating. Stimulates the production of bile and supports the liver.

Externally a serum can treat blackheads and rough/dry skin. Adds a healthy glow and moisture to the skin. As a poultice/compress it can be used on deep wounds, a rash or for shingles.

Taste: highly aromatic/pungent (volatile oils) and bitter. Requires a lot of sweetner to make it palatable.

Energetics:Moves energy, clears heat/cooling and toxins. Drying.

Element: Air

Contraindications: pregnancy. Excessive use may lead to hypertension. Fresh juice applied to the skin may cause a reaction. Large doses may act as a laxative.

Chicken Soup Medicine for the Soul (Lycium/GOJI berries)

In Eastern medicine it is common to add a paper bag of ingredients to something like a soup. Things like dried fruit, bark, twigs, roots or deer antler/gelatin. This becomes medicine instead of something a Western herbalist might prescribe like a tincture. These soups typically have chicken, rice, and vegetables. If you have traveled much in Asia you might be familiar with congee. A porridge like meal that is served to infants, the elderly, and sick because it is nourishing, easy to eat and digest. Congee may not look or sound appealing but actually once you have had it you start to crave it. This chicken soup with goji berries has a terrific balance of textures and flavors. Perfect for winter or recovery. You can play with the amount of water to create anything from broth, to stew, to congee.

Last summer I noticed a strange stalk growing from the neighbors yard under my fence. Since he is a doctor of oriental medicine I suspected it might be something interesting. Sure enough I discovered it was Goji. It managed to over winter in our climate, send out many more stalks and produce some lovely berries this year. I have been purchasing the dried berries recently. I like to use them in my rejuvenation pastes. I also eat them by the small hand full when I crave something sweet after dinner. I love the slightly astringent/bitter taste at the end. I find the fresh berries pleasing as well. I look forward to larger harvests through the years and experimenting with another powerful “heal all”.

Medicinal Chicken Soup

In a large cast iron stock pot saute on medium heat until just soft-

4TBSP of olive oil

4 TBSP of finely chopped fresh, peeled, ginger root

1/2  large onion coarsely chopped

Then add

3 pounds of chicken defrosted and coarsely chopped This does not include the weight of bones etc, if you used a whole chicken. I used boneless breasts and thighs.

You can add more vegetables or mushrooms later if you want to skip the meat). Increase heat and cook until starting to brown.

While this is cooking you can chop your vegetables to save time.

Then add……

1 cup of fresh gourmet mushrooms ( I used large trumpet) chopped into bite sized pieces.

To the pot add……

8 cups of water , bone broth or stock.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Then add…….

1 cup of dried medicinal or “Asian” mushrooms/fungi of your choice (shitake is easy to get) Break these into pieces if you can.

2 TBSP of soy sauce or substitute

2 TBSP of umami spice powder

1/2 tsp of Chinese 5 Spice powder

2 TBSP of salt (maybe less if your stock was salted)

1 -2 cups of peeled carrots coarsely chopped or other root vegetables such as parsnips or fresh burdock root.

2 cups of peeled and diced butternut squash

Simmer on low for one hour with a lid then add………

1/2 cup dried goji berries. One could also add some Chinese red dates.

2 cups white rice, cooked. Brown rice will hold its texture better if you want more of a stew.

 1 TBSP of unflavored gelatin powder(optional if you did not use both broth or chicken with bones)

Cook for 30 minutes Then add…..

2 cups of loosely packed spinach, nettles, dandelion, or other greens. Part of my mix included chrysanthemum.

Salt to taste

Cook 15 minutes then serve. You can add more water if you want a thinner broth like soup or continue to cook until you get a congee like consistency. If you are going for congee I would chop the meat and vegetables into much finer pieces, use white rice and really let it break down during the cooking process.

Lycium chinesis

This evergreen/perennial is considered native to Asia but is commonly cultivated in Europe. It is in the nightshade family (ground cherry, tomato, chiles/peppers) The “bush” typically grows from the ground in 6ft long stalk/stems which may have short occasional short branches. These fall over like tomatoes and benefit from being on a trellis. Stems may have spines and have a whitish film, Leaves are medium green, alternate, narrow, spade shaped, with smooth margins. Orange/red berries are drop shaped. Pale purple (greenish) flowers are tube shaped with 5 partially joined petals. Prefers full sun and poor , well drained soil. There is a native variety that grows in the American Southwest (L. pallidum).

Do not confuse with other members of the solanaceae family that have red berries like Solanum dulcamara or americarum which are poisonous.

Lycium is used in both Eastern and Western medicine. You may not find this plant discussed in some of your Western herb books because it is not cultivated much in the US. Goji berries are a great adaptogenic herb for when the body is ill or under stress. As a nutritive herb, the provide support/strength for the liver, kidneys, endocrine system and the “blood”. Lycium helps remove toxins and is considered a Yin tonic. This herb has been used to treat weak muscles/back/ligaments/veins, night sweats, fevers, colds, pneumonia, dizziness, bleeding, inflammation of the bronchial tubes, asthma, hair loss, low blood sugar, infertility, symptoms of hormone imbalance or menopause, tinnitus, vertigo, aging, diabetes, anemia, high blood pressure, varicose veins, poor circulation, fatigue, dry skin/tissues, poor immune system, tumors, impotence and to reverse weight loss associated with cancer or AIDS. They may improve eye health (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma) and sight as they are high in carotenoids, lutein, and flavonoids. When used regularly in the diet, berries can help support the growth of healthy bowel flora and decrease cholesterol levels.

Latin Name: Lycium barbarum/chinensis (most commonly cultivated)

Botanical family: Nightshade/Solanaceae

Parts used: fully ripe or dried berries. The bark and root only by experienced doctors of Oriental Medicine. The immature leaves sometimes in soup.

Energetics: sweet, warm, bitter or neutral, cooling and sour

Element: water

Emotional/spiritual uses:grounding, nourishing, calming, strengthening

Contraindications: acute fever, diarrhea, bloating, “damp” constitution

Pinto Bean, Purslane and Oregano Salad

I have a bumper crop of oregano this year. Homegrown fresh or dried oregano tastes so much better than anything you could ever buy in a store. Purslane also grows in my garden in great abundance. Highly invasive but also high in nutrients like Omega Fatty Acids and vitamins A, C, and E. Thankfully it is pretty easy to remove. This recipe is inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s cookbook, written when she lived in the Southwest. Oregano is a common ingredient in many global cuisines. The Greeks and Spanish have paired this herb with purslane for centuries. In the US purslane is an “emergency” food for some but in a harsh environment foraged regularly by Indigenous people. It is unknown how it reached the Americas before colonization. Purslane is both salty and sour, a bit slimy like okra. This salad is great cold or heated and served with eggs for breakfast. My recipe is vegan but traditional ones probably contained pork. I replaced that protein with pinto beans.

Purslane, Pinto Bean, and Oregano Salad

For the dressing combine in a small bowl….

Juice of 1 small lemon

3 TBSP of olive oil

1 tsp of ground cumin

1 tsp of ground coriander

1 tsp paprika

salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

In a medium frying pan saute……….

1 medium anaheim chile with veins and seeds removed-coarsley chopped

1/2 small onion

1-2 cups of loosely packed fresh purslane, washed and roots removed

3 cups of cooked pinto beans

Once cooled to room temperature, place in a bowl or dish, add the dressing and stir. Chill 1 hour before serving.

Origanum spp.

As a member of the mint family Origanum/wild marjoram has its own aromatic essential oils. It is a common perennial found all over the world. Lots of small, ovate shaped, gray/green leaves grow oppositely on a single, downy, square stem (sometimes purplish). These are dotted with very small depressions. This plant grows about 24 inches high. Numerous, tiny ,two lipped white flowers ( with pink or purple tints) grow on erect, terminal clusters. Oregano often appears to grow as a bush shaped patch. It will thrive in just about any soil, tolerates drought, and prefers full sun.

Many older classic herbals leave this herb out as it is more known for culinary use in the US. If you wish to dig deep into the medicinal uses of Oregano you might consider resources originating from Hispanic cultures and countries. Here you will see it used for “cold invasion” or a more bile/pitta constitution. Oregano is gaining more popularity in the west for its antiseptic/antiviral and vasodilating properties. Historically this plant has been used to treat childhood illnesses, headaches, the flu, fever, colds, bronchitis, and asthma. It may help with digestive issues such as colic, gas, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, and parasites. Some herbalists have used it for problems related to menstruation, cramps, headaches, earache, insomnia, inflammation and high cholesterol. Externally it is used as a liniment, poultice, or compress for sprains, injuries, swelling, pain, itchy skin, animal or insect bites/stings, dizziness, and bruising. When inhaled as steam it can help clear and open the lungs, relieving a bad cough. In Hispanic cultures oregano is a popular remedy for conditions of a “spiritual” nature where it might be used in a ritual spray, bath or cleansing.

Energetics:pungent, bitter, warm, dry

Element: air

Contraindications: avoid all but culinary use during pregnancy

Sleep Tea (White VERVAIN)

I am pretty much out of ideas for tinctures, salves and oils until I move some product. My apothecary cabinet is just bursting. I hate to see my plants go to waste. I set the goal of trying to harvest as much as I could from the backyard pharmacy over the this summer. That means formulating lots of bath, tea, and steam mixtures. I usually only make very small batches of these types of things for home use. Dried products often require large amounts of fresh herbs, more than my garden can produce for sale. But my crisis care packages are a spontaneous gift which I put together based on what have on hand until it is gone. Each bag contains items to support the spirit during times of grief, death, environmental disaster, chronic illness or stress.

My sleep tea contains-white vervain, mint, chamomile, rose and dandelion leaf to support relaxation, recuperation, and stress relief.

White vervain

I planted some white vervain in my garden this summer on a whim. I was not expecting to find much on it while researching for this post. I don’t know many herbalists who use it. It is not found in my oldest most used book. But it happens to be one of those ancient “heal all” plants with so many important uses.

Blue vervain is native to North America and is more commonly used as here as medicine. White vervain is a European perennial that is under a foot tall. It has smaller , opposite, palmate leaves with toothed lobes on a very still square stem. Tiny, simple, white/lilac colored stems that appear continuously starting from the bottom in June-October. These grow on long slender spikes, often widely spaced and with no scent. This plant prefers moist soil and sun.

Historically both plants has been used internally for seizures, nervous system support, mental exhaustion/mind racing, insomnia, anxiety, PMS, mood swings, constipation, digestive issues, poor absorption, colds, fever, flu, inducing a sweat (hot tea), hot flashes, congestion, asthma, pneumonia, female tonic, painful/irregular menstruation, parasites, low milk supply, mastitis, jaundice/hepatitis/liver weakness, gallstones, gout, urinary tract infections, edema, incontinence, kidney/bladder stones, headaches, lowering blood pressure, poor circulation, removing heat, chronic conditions/fatigue, thyroid issues, inflammation, lax tissues, cysts/growths, bleeding, detoxifying the lymphatic system, and restless/hyperactive/irritable children.

Externally these herbs have been used for skin conditions like rashes, poison ivy, eczema, acne, boils, burns, scratches, wounds, ear infections, rheumatism, bruises, sprains, gum disease, dry skin, hemorrhoids, nosebleeds, and neuralgia.

Latin Name: Verbena officinalis (white) or Verbena hasta (blue)

Family: Verbenaceae

Parts Used: Leaves, stalks, flowers

Energetics: bitter, acrid/pungent, cold, tissue relaxing/sedating, drying, opening.

Element: Earth

Spiritual/Emotional Uses: as an offering/blessing to nature spirits or elementals. To support peace, abundance, joy, tolerance, moderation, grounding, and balance. To banish unwanted things and emotions. As “brooms” for energetic cleansings. To clarify ones thoughts or expand perception/view. To purify spaces and objects, especially water. As a way to decrease the speed, intensity, over activity of a situation and accept things/people as they are in the present moment.

Contraindications: use during pregnancy. Large dose may cause vomiting.

Lemon Balm Honey Butter

As herbalists we are very familiar with using the medicinal properties of herbs and fats in the forms of infused oils and salves. Plants have many fat soluble properties such as certain vitamins, pigments, steroids, alkaloids, lipids, waxes, triterpenoids, chlorophyll, saponin, carotenoids, phytoestrogens, and volatile oils just to name a few. Plants in the mint family, like lemon balm, have high levels of essential oils that infuse well in oils like coconut, olive, and butter ( also its substitutes). They also impart lovely tastes and smells to the meals we consume. The fats we use for foods can be quite cheap, easy to come by, and contain beneficial phytonutrients. Food builds community and culture which is also a type of healing. Let us not forget and also consider all the creative ways that humans have ingested the medicinal properties found in the vast botanical world. Medicine can taste good and come in lots of beautiful forms that make it more interesting and palatable. Fresh feverfew leaves are a bit bitter on their own but when made into a butter support regular consumption and the treatment of migraines. Just about any culinary herb can be made into a tasty butter. I have made one using chive blossoms that is quite pretty. Adding in honey, a plant’s colorful flowers, or using a fancy mold can enhance flavor and impress all who come to share and eat.

Instructions

Set out a stick or block of butter on the counter for 15 minutes. You don’t want it to be hard from the refrigerator or warm enough to cream for baked goods. Cut it coarsely into pieces and place into a food processor. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of fresh herbs. If making a butter that might be used on baked good you can add honey to taste. Turn on the food processor and whip the butter until it has a creamy consistency. Use a spatula to remove. You can put the finished product into a container. Better yet use a mold. The sky is the limit as to what can be used- Ice cube trays, silicone candy molds/baking cups, cookie cutters, wooden butter molds, or jello molds. My favorite ones to use are the really decorative ones commonly used to mold rice/sushi. Freeze the mold for 30 minutes before removing the butter from it. Then serve or refrigerate.

Herbed butters can be placed in the freezer for longer storage. The can be used on grains or roasted vegetables. Honey lemon balm butter is pretty decadent just smoothed on a simple piece of good homemade bread or a warm muffin.

Melissa officinalis

Lemon balm is a perennial found in the Mint family. Its many tall, auxiliary, four sided stems have very small two lipped flowers at their tips. A favorite of bumblebees these can be white, lavender or pink. The leaves are brilliant green, heart shaped/oval with a point. These are oppositely arranged with slightly serrated margins. Most members of the Mint family possess highly aromatic essential oils which repel pests. Mellissa has a unique smell of artificial lemon. This herb can grow as high as two feet tall. Easy to grow- it prefers moist, rich, well drained soil in shade or partial sun. Lemon balm grows well in pots and in most climates but can self seed and become an invasive plant. Remove volunteers/babies as they appear to prevent this.

Melissa is versatile and has a long history of use. It is cooling, calming, and cleansing. Its antispasmodic action makes it useful for treating menstrual cramps, general pain, headaches and infant colic. As a digestive it reduces indigestion and gas. High levels of the volatile oil cintronellal are helpful for depression, insomnia, restlessness, nightmares, teething, and anxiety. Lemon balm is a favorite tea with children due to its mild taste. Powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties make it popular to treat childhood illnesses, the flu, colds, and viruses in the herpes family. As an antihistamine it is useful for allergies and eczema.

Lemon balm can be applied externally on sunburn, wounds, burns, insect bites, and boils.

Medicinal Parts:leave and immature tops. Due to loss of volatile oils it is better to use it fresh or frozen rather than dried.

Energetics:sour, cool, dry

Element:water

Contraindications:Hypothyroidism. If you have a bee venom allergy do not use the essential oil in homemade bug repellant as bees love the smell.

Lemon balm appears in recipes to wrap fish. It can be a substitute for basil or parsley in pesto, salsa and tabouleh. Replace it for green in salad, soups, and sauces. Try it in a jelly, curd, or butter. Slip it into muffins and other baked goods.