Ivy Skin Tightening Wash

English ivy (Hedera helix) is used in commercial bath preparations and massage creams. At home, the primary cosmetic use of ivy is in the treatment of cellulite, the orange peel appearance of skin that dimples thighs and other body parts.   It can also be made into a facial wash that will tighten the skin. The recipe below can be used for either purpose.

The Recipe

2 tbsp dried ivy leaves, crumbled

2 tbsp water, boiling

3 tsp rosewater

1 tbsp linseed

Pour the water over the leaves and infuse for 2 hours.   Strain, warm the rosewater in a double boiler.   Turn off the heat.   Add the linseed, leave 2 hours.   Strain and combine both liquids.   Pat on the skin of the face and neck.  Leave 15 minutes.   Rinse off with clean water.

CAUTION:

For external use only.    Ivy is mildly toxic when eaten and can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.   The berries are more poisonous than the leaves, but both contain toxic saponins.    Contact with ivy can cause skin reactions in those who are sensitive.  

© Anna Franklin, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Kitchen Herbal, Llewellyn, 2023

Eat Your Marigolds!

The pot marigold is so called because it was added to pottage (a kind of stew), not because it is grown in a pot. Calendula petals have been used for culinary purposes since ancient times. Their use was certainly documented in ancient Rome, while Culpeper (1616 –1654) explained that it was common to dry and store the petals for winter use, when they were added to soups, stews and porridge.

The petals have long been used as a cheap substitution for the very expensive saffron. Certainly, all the bags of ‘saffron’ I saw in the souks of Egypt were marigold petals!

Marigold petals add colour and flavour to rice, chowder, custard soups, cream cheese or yogurt dips and potato salad. Add them to baked goods and egg dishes or use as a garnish for salads and vegetables. They can be candied, made into wine, vinegar, marigold buns, or added to cordials. Historically, marigold petals were used for colouring butter and cheese. To give up their colour, they must be bruised and finely chopped.

Marigold Curd Cheese

1 litre whole milk

Pinch salt

1 tsp vinegar (or vegetable rennet)

1 tbsp. marigold petals

Pour the milk into a pan with the petals and salt. Bring to the boil, take off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Leave it to stand for 10 minutes. The mixture will curdle, the curds rising to the top, and the whey (the watery part of the milk) sinking to the bottom.  Set a muslin cloth over a bowl and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into it. Tie up the corners, suspend it over the bowl and leave to drip for at least 4 hours. Unwrap and put into a covered dish in the fridge. Will keep for 3 days refrigerated.

Marigold Butter

70 gm fresh petals

100 gm butter or margarine.

Combine the ingredients and spread on scones, bread etc. Will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Marigold Wine

1 litre/ 2 pints of marigold petals
225 gm/ 8 oz raisins
1.1 kilo/2½ lbs sugar
1 orange
4 litres/ 7 pints water
Yeast and nutrient

Put the petals, the juice and zest of an orange into a brewing bin. Heat the water and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Pour it over the petals. When the liquid has cooled to lukewarm, add the yeast and nutrient. Cover and stir daily for 4-5 days. Strain the liquid into a demijohn and add the raisins. Fit an airlock and leave to ferment out. Strain into a clean demijohn and leave for 6 months. Bottle.

CAUTION:

Make sure you correctly identify your plant as Calendula officinalis, the pot marigold as other types of plants that are called marigold can be toxic.  Preparations of calendula flower are considered safe for most people, but to be on the safe side, do not take internally if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, for two weeks before surgery, or if you are using prescription sedatives.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, forthcoming, Llewellyn, 2023

Plant Spirits

THE ROOTED PEOPLE

We’re surrounded by plants wherever we go, and we depend on them to provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, but this is only a tiny part of their role in the ecosystem. 

Plants are linked to the living Earth from which they spring.  Each plant is a living teacher and must be approached as an individual spirit, a vital life force which may become your ally if approached with love and respect.  Witches utilise plant spirit powers, but to capture these without alienating or dissipating them is not simply a matter of walking three times around a tree and saying ‘can I have a branch’ and leaving a coin in return.  When properly approached they may share something of their life force, their spirit. 

Sometimes a plant or tree will call to you, and you should listen and trust your instincts.  Every plant has a role, a place within the great pattern.  Accept any insight that is given to you, no matter what the circumstances.  If the plant is approached with love and trust, its force will harmonise with you and share its secrets.  If the plant is taken with the wrong motives, if it is mistreated or misused, it may cause discomfort, mislead or seek to gain control of the you. 

The life force – or spirit – of the plant is more important than any ‘active ingredient’ in magical work.  Spend time with your plants, noting where they live, in sun or shade, on chalky soil or sandy soil and so on, their growth habits, when they flower, and when they set their seeds.  Note the shape of the leaves, their texture and colour, and their taste, if edible. 

In this way you will begin to learn from the plants themselves.  It is a knowledge that cannot be bought, and which cannot be learned from books, but only by doing.  Allow yourself to trust your inner wisdom.

Communicating With Plant Spirits

Choose a plant to try to communicate with, perhaps one you are specifically drawn to.  Contemplate its colour and shape.  What is it that attracts you? How does it feel to the touch? What is its scent like? Take your time and gently feel your way with this.  Be grateful for the time you spend with your plant and come to appreciate it more.  Try sensing its aura, its spirit.  Try sending it feelings of love and gratitude.  If you open your heart, you may find the plant spirit responding, and begin to communicate with you.

Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, forthcoming Llewellyn, 2023

The Witch’s Kitchen

Food is one of the most basic necessities of life. Food is life, a gift of Mother Earth, and we acknowledge that gift only when we treat it with reverence. Preparing, cooking and serving food is a day-to-day ritual of hospitality, love and sharing, and expresses the cycle of the year when fresh, seasonal food is used.

Whether you are cooking for a sabbat or just for supper, treat it as a conscious act of magic and reflect that when you eat, you take in the life-energy of the food you are consuming, not just its nutrition. Each ingredient possesses its own virtues and energies, and you can utilise these gifts to create culinary magic. Do you want to add sage for wisdom, rosemary for remembrance, lemon balm for joy? You can cook up a love feast, a meal for peace and healing, or a dish of abundance. All nuts are associated with fertility, all grains with abundance, and most fruits with love. The kitchen is a magical workshop, the oven an alchemical tool that transmutes raw ingredients into sustenance for the body and spirit. Prepare your food with intent, stir your dishes sunwise to wind up the magic, eat consciously, and give thanks to Mother Earth for her gifts.

Food Ethics

A concerned Pagan has to consider the ethics of their food choices, which have an impact on health, the environment and animal welfare. Most Pagans say that the code they live by is “an’ it harm none, do what you will”. It is difficult to make ethical choices in a world dominated by factory farming that treats animals as unfeeling ‘production units’, that promotes genetically modified plants and processed foods full of strange chemicals, that advocates the use of poisonous fertilizers and pesticides, wasteful packaging, overfishing, exploitative labour practices, and a global market that means that many food miles are added to a product.  Sometimes the tide of injustice and suffering seems overwhelming. So what are we to do? I think the only answer is that we do as much as we can as best and as honestly as we can. For me, that means being vegetarian, eating organic wholefoods and growing as much of my own food as possible. For some it means being vegan and buying only from local growers, for others it might mean buying high welfare standard meat, or only using Fair Trade products. 

Ritual Food

Foods have always played a key part in rituals and the worship of the Gods. Without food we would not live at all, and its production was one of the central themes of ancient religions.

One of the most valuable of the ancient foods was grain, which could be made into flour and then bread. It is one of the most important symbols of the nurturing Goddess, sometimes seen as her son, the vegetation god who would awaken in the spring, grow through the summer and mature in the autumn, only to be harvested and die. The shed seeds lay dormant in the cold, winter earth, the belly of the Earth Mother, ready to shoot again in the spring. This was a never ending cycle of life, death and rebirth, a cycle also promised to worshippers.

For ancient Pagans, grain and wine were god-essences. When we consecrate bread and wine in a ritual, we invoke that god-essence, the spiritual core of the food; through it, we absorb the power of the Gods. It nourishes us, physically and spiritually.

Wine is one of the ‘god-containing’ substances believed by the ancients to allow people to share in god-consciousness. Whereas bread is viewed as the body of the sacrificed god, wine is his blood, or sometimes it is seen in traditional British Craft as the blood of the earth goddess. [1] The taking of the two together signifies the union of opposites. The cup that contains the wine symbolises the cauldron or grail, which contains wisdom and inspiration.

Food Offerings and Libations

If the food has been made with intent and consecration, it becomes more than ordinary food, and thus makes a suitable offering to the Gods and spirits. When we bless the bread and wine, before we take any, we offer a portion to the Gods. Bread is thrown onto the fire so that its essence might be released to them with the words “The first is always for the Gods”.  A libation of wine is made in a similar manner. (A libation is a pouring of wine, milk or other drink onto the ground or before an image as an offering to the Gods.). We always leave more food behind in the woods for the local spirits after the feast. In reality, of course, it is the animals and birds that eat it, but we consider that first the spirits consume its essence.

Food for the Sabbats

In addition to sharing the bread and wine in ritual, it is the custom to feast at the Eight Sabbats of the Pagan year. 

In the past people were acutely aware of the passing of the seasons and what each had to offer in terms of foods and herbs. Humankind was bound to the Wheel of the Year which determined times for planting, times for weeding, times to gather seeds and times for harvest. During the summer and autumn, a wide variety of food would be available, but during the winter there would only be stored produce. By the end of winter even that would have been consumed, and only the return of spring and the greening of the land could save the population from starvation. In a time when food is always available in the shops, we tend to forget the importance of the agricultural and pastoral cycle which was everything to our ancestors, when different foods were available at different seasons, and the various festivities and occasions of the year involved their own special dishes. The festivals of the Craft attempt to make us more aware of the natural cycles and our part in them. In our seasonal celebrations, and in our feasts, we try to honour and reflect these magical connections of herbs and plants with the seasons.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Compendium, Llewellyn, 2019


[1] Julia Isobel Reed, pers. com.

Old Beltane 11 May

When the Gregorian calendar was adopted to replace the Julian calendar in 1752, eleven days had to be dropped from the calendar, thus drawing all the dates forward by eleven days, which is why the hawthorn does not usually blossom now on May 1. This makes 11 May Old May Eve, when the Manx fairies and witches are supposed to be particularly active In Ireland the Lunantishees fairies guard the blackthorn trees and will punish anyone who tries to cut its wood on this day.

Solitary hawthorns growing on hills or near wells were considered to be markers to the world of the fairies. Any human who slept beneath one, especially on May Eve, was in danger of being taken away to the land of the Sidhe.  Hawthorn is so potently magical that it is forbidden to bring it indoors except at Beltane. The flowering of the hawthorn marked the opening of the summer season, the time when people could get out and about, and when young men and women could meet up. May was often considered the month of courtship and love. For this reason, and the fact that the scent hawthorn blossom is supposedly redolent of sex, [1] the hawthorn is associated with love-making. In ancient Greece the wood was used for the marriage torch, and girls wore hawthorn crowns at weddings.

However, while in some circumstances it was considered to be a tree of love, like other fairy trees, it was very unlucky to bring it indoors:

Hawthorn bloom and elder-flowers
Will fill a house with evil powers.


[1] Geoffrey Grigson: The Englishman’s Flora, Phoenix House, 1956

The Goddess of the Bees

The bees are busy pollinating the flowers in the garden, the orchards and the fields, and I am reminded that we are reliant on this precious insect for all our crops. Without the bee, a great many (though not all) plants and crops could not be pollinated, and would die out, affecting great swathes of eco systems and agriculture alike. The ancients understood this, and associated the bee with the Mother Goddess herself, the queen bee who rules the hive. She streams with honey, the sweetest substance in the world at the time, [1] which the Greeks believed was the food of the gods themselves.  [2] Many goddesses were associated with the bee, including Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter, Cybele, Diana, Rhea and Aphrodite, the nymph-goddess of summer, who was served by priestesses called Melissae, or bees.

Bees and honey have been important throughout history, the only source of sweetness, and required for making beer, wine and mead, before sugar was known, as well as cakes and desserts. Bees have collected a great deal of myth and folklore. One of the most charming is the custom of telling the bees, whereby a beekeeper must keep his hives informed of important news, such as a death in the family, a wedding, or someone leaving home. If the beekeeper failed in this duty, the bees would find out about it anyways, and go into mourning and might leave their hive, stop the production of honey, or die. [3]


[1] Hilda Ransome, The Sacred Bee, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1937

[2] Hilda Ransome, The Sacred Bee, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1937

[3] Steve Roud, The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2003

Hate Your Horsetail? Think Again!

It’s great for your skin and hair. Horsetail contains a large amount of bioavailable silica, which the body uses to build and maintain healthy collagen, connective tissue, and skin. It also contains smaller amounts of bioavailable calcium and other minerals such as potassium, manganese, sulphur and magnesium. It stimulates hair growth and shine, boosts collagen and skin elasticity. It is a healing astringent when used in the bath, creams and lotions.

Try a rinse of Horsetail Infusion for hair shine and strength, or massage Horsetail Tincture into your scalp to promote hair growth. You could mix a few drops of tincture with coconut oil and brush it through your hair, leave it for 2-3 hours and wash out as a split ends treatment.

Dab Horsetail Infusion onto weak and split nails to strengthen them and help remove ridges.

Horsetail is good for reducing cellulite. Add the infusion or a few drops of horsetail tincture to your bath.

Horsetail Tincture

Horsetail stems

Vodka (or brandy)

Put the stems and vodka into a blender and whizz them up. Pour into a clean glass jar, label and place somewhere cool and dark for 4-5 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into clean dropper bottles. Label. Store in a cool dark place for 2-4 years.

Horsetail Bath

1 litre water, boiling

100 gm fresh horsetail

Pour the water over the herb and infuse for 60 minutes. Strain and add the liquid to a warm bath and soak for aches, pains, rheumatism and gout.

Horsetail Foot Rub

100 gm fresh horsetail

100 ml rubbing alcohol

Put the herb in a jar and pour over the alcohol.  Infuse for 3 weeks, shaking daily.  Strain into a clean bottle.  This is good and cooling to rub onto sore and sweaty feet.

Horsetail Skin Toner

Horsetail stalks, fresh

Witch hazel

Put the crushed stalks in a jar and cover with witch hazel.  Leave 2 days and strain.

Horsetail Nail Oil

Handful of fresh horsetail, crushed

Grapeseed or almond oil

Put the horsetail into a glass jar and cover with the oil. Fit the lid. Leave in a cool dark place for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain the oil into a clean jar and label. using a cotton pad, rub this into dry, flaking nails daily to strengthen them.

© Anna Franklin, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, Llewellyn, 2023

Eat Your Clover!

Both red clover and white clover are edible.  Clovers are high in protein, contain trace minerals, beta carotene, plus vitamins B and C.  The leaves have a grassy taste, and the flowers are sweet if picked on a sunny day. 

The flowers can be made into herb teas.  They are lovely added fresh to a salad, especially potato salad.  You can freeze the blossoms in ice cubes to jazz up drinks and cocktails.  The flowers of red clover make a lovely wine.  Clover flowers (red or white) can be dusted with flour and pan fried in oil to make a crispy snack.

The leaves can be added raw to salads or cooked in soups, stews and sauces. 

The seeds can be soaked and sprouted.  A flour can be made from the dried, ground up flowers and seed pods.  Sprinkle this on cooked food. 

Clover Tea

4 to 6 clover flowers

250 ml/ 1 cup boiling water

Pour the boiling water onto the flowers.  Infuse 10 to 15 minutes and strain.  Drink hot, with a little honey if liked or try cooling, adding mint sprigs and ice cubes for an iced clover tea. 

Red Clover Wine

2 litres/ 2 quarts red clover flowers

4.5 litres/1 gallon water

3 lemons

2 oranges

900 gm/2 lb.  sugar

Yeast

Put the flowers in a brewing bin and pour over the boiling water.  Add the juice of the oranges and lemons.   Cool to lukewarm (20 degrees centigrade/ 68 degrees Farenheit) and add the started yeast.  Ferment for 5 days, strain into demijohn and fit an airlock.

Clover Flour

Pick as many white clover flowers as you would like.  Dry them thoroughly, preferably in a dehydrator.  Grind them up in a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar.  You will be left with a gluten free flour that tastes like peas.

© Anna Franklin 2022, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, Llewellyn, 2023

Beyond the Eight Sabbats

My year as a Witch is a cycle – the balmy days of spring, when life returns, and I begin work on the garden and go out to collect nature’s first wild gifts. The full days of summer when I am busy weeding and hoeing, collecting and preparing herbs and remedies to see me through the year. Then comes the abundant bounty of autumn, when the hedgerows are full of wild fruit and nuts, when all the work on the vegetable plot pays off, and I get busy preserving it, freezing and canning, making jams and wines. Finally come the frozen days of winter, when I cleave to my hearth fire and turn my attention to indoor activities. Then the year begins anew, and the whole cycle starts again, never the same twice, but a continuing cycle nonetheless. The magical and spiritual rituals I celebrate throughout the year reflect this cycle.

The natural cycle of the year is the basis of the Eight Sabbats observed in modern Paganism – the first stirrings of spring at Imbolc, the gaining of the light after Ostara, the flowering of the earth at Beltane, the zenith of the sun at Midsummer, the first fruits at Lughnasa, the completion of the harvest at the autumn equinox as the light begins to decline, the death tide of Samhain with the coming of winter, and the rekindling of the year at Yule, as the sun is reborn.

However, for our ancestors, the cycle of the year was much more personal, since most of them worked on the land and depended on it for survival. They were acutely aware of the tides of energy flowing into then out of the world, energy both spiritual and physical, and instead of trying to dominate these tides, worked with them, marking them with a myriad of feasts and festivals, myths and folklore. All these together give us half-blind modern Pagans, with all our distractions, cushioned by central heating and a constant supply of food from the shops, places to start to make our own profound connections.  

The Greeks and Romans left us a wealth of written material documenting their beliefs and religious practices, but the Pagan Celts left us nothing – all we know of them comes from much later Christian chroniclers, who failed to record any earlier Pagan ritual practices. However, when the Christian church stamped out Paganism throughout northern Europe, the old festivals proved difficult or even impossible to get rid of, and they were forced to incorporate them into the liturgical calendar but appropriated to various saints’ days. Some of the old Pagan gods were even turned into Christian saints to make the transition easier. We can also look at the folklore customs of the year, which may stem from earlier Pagan practices in some instances, though this is debateable, but which were certainly practiced by people intimately concerned with the cycles of nature. These things taken together give us an insight into the year that goes beyond the Eight Sabbats.

But while we can look to the past, we must also recognise that we work here and now, and that cycles change. When the dinosaurs walked the earth, the planet was on the other side of the galaxy. In the Bronze Age, the solstices and equinoxes fell in different constellations to where they fall now. The hawthorn no longer blossoms at Beltane, because eleven days were dropped from the calendar in 1752, meaning that the cycle shifted on.  Climate change brings larger swings still.

The spiritual lessons of the Gods are always there, if only we have the ability to look and see. Though we thirst for this knowledge, we can die of thirst beside its fountain without being aware of its presence. The pattern of the year tells us that there are times when it is easier to access – when there is a confluence of the season, the pattern of the stars, the time, the place, the preparation of ourselves and myriad other cycles that overlap. Sometimes only a few of those things converge, and we get a partial connection, or at another time different things converge, and we get something else again. And then there are the times when everything aligns, and we experience a profound and life changing gnosis. So we watch for the signs and signals – the pattern of the year, the currents and moods of Mother Nature, the places we work, the synchronicities that give us clues as to our direction: the clews that take us through the labyrinth. These opportunities are always flowing, always changing. The cycles that converge at one Samhain will never be repeated again – ever. Every year will be different. We can only try to discern the patterns, the myriad cycles, large and small, and find the intersecting points, where we can stand, and drink from the fountain of spiritual wisdom.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021

Eat Your Lilacs!

Lilac flowers are edible, but they are astringent so eating too many will dry your mouth out, and taste slightly bitter.  If you want to use them, as with all perfumed flowers, they can be overwhelming, and a little is better than a lot. 

Use as an edible garnish on cakes, ice cream and cocktails.  You can also add a small number of fresh flowers into the batter of cakes, scones and cookies, but too much may be unpleasant.

One of the best ways to use them is to make Lilac Sugar to add to your baking, a Lilac Syrup to pour over ice cream or use as a base for cocktails, or make Lilac Infused Honey to use in baking, teas and drinks.  You can crystallize the flowers for later use as a decoration on biscuits and cakes. 

Lilac Infused Honey

Half fill a clean jar with freshly picked flowers.  Warm your honey a little and pour over the flowers.  Fit the lid.  Infuse for a month.  You can strain this by warming the honey a little again and pouring through a sieve into a clean jar.

Lilac Sugar

To make lilac flavoured sugar, layer fresh lilac flowers and sugar in a jar and let it sit in a dark place for a day. Sift out the flowers.  Use the sugar for baking.

Lilac Syrup

1 litre/ 4 cups water

250 ml/ 1 cup lilac flowers

50 gm sugar

Pour the water over the violets and stand overnight. Strain, discarding the flowers, add the sugar to the retained liquid. Heat gently for 20 minutes (do not boil), strain again. Keep refrigerated and pour over fruit salads, puddings, ice cream.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, forthcoming, Llewellyn, 2023