Fillet of Fenny Snake & Samhain Spirits

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,…
… Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
– Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I

20161031_144210-11In this fabulously eerie scene from Shakespeare’s tragedy, the three witches brew up an evil potion whilst reciting a litany of shiver-inducing ingredients. But are the ‘fenny snake’, ‘scale of dragon’ and ‘baboon’s blood’ which they add to the pot really as ghastly as the playwright would like us to believe? Were the crones actually using juicy amputated animal gobbets to weave their spell, or is this an allegorical device? What really was the ‘tiger’s chaudron’ dumped into that hellish cauldron?

Turns out we shouldn’t take the recipe quite so literally. ‘Eye of newt’ and ‘wool of bat’ et al. are simply arcane and exotic-sounding aliases for ordinary plants and animals that by their true names would have been well-known to most Tudors. The witches are casting a hocus pocus spell – deception by bedazzlement – in order to trick Macbeth and the audience into thinking he’s all-mighty and invincible. Witchcraft was reviled at the time the Bard wrote this scene, and practitioners were in constant danger of persecution, as well as theft of their spells by other witches. By using fancy-pants words for common objects, the hags are covering their own sackcloth-clad cabooses by keeping the components of their craft secret.

Shakespeare probably consulted a herbalist to get his facts straight; many of these plants had real medicinal applications or are irritating, foul-smelling or toxic. Perfect ingredients for a nasty hell-brew!

I’ve listed some of them here, in the order they appear in the play:

Fenny snake:  Fenny refers to the boggy fens of eastern England; probably not a snake at all, but a leech (‘snake’s head’), which was used extensively in medicine for bloodletting.

Eye of newt:  Any flower with “eye” in its name, eg. Eyebright or Ox-eye Daisy (which means ‘day’s eye’), most of which were associated with the sun, health and protection. Another interpretation is black mustard seed, which was thought to be vital for casting a spell of discord, confusion and disruption.

Toe of frog:  A species of buttercup, Ranunculus bulbosus, otherwise known as ‘Frog’s-foot’; toxic to livestock when fresh.

Wool of bat:  English holly (Ilex aquifolium) leaves, otherwise known as Bat’s Wings. Holly is toxic (although not usually fatal) to humans, and the berries act as an emetic.

Tongue of dog:  Houndstongue (Cynglossum officinale), a herb once carried by thieves because it was believed to stop dogs from barking.

Adder’s fork:  Either Plantain or Adder’s-tongue fern (also known as Christ’s spear), both of which are reputed to have healing properties.

Blind-worm:  Okay, this one’s not allegorical; it’s a tiny, venomous snake.

Owlet’s wing:  Possibly cleavers or goosegrass, a straggling, creeping plant with sticky hairs that clings to animal fur. Can cause an unpleasant rash but was also used medicinally and cooked as food.

dsc_3738-7Scale of dragon:  Possibilities include Calamus (Dragon’s Blood), Tarragon, a.k.a. Little Dragon, for its potent taste, or Bistort, which was also called Dragon Wort.

Witches’ mummy:  Powdered mummy (as in ancient Egyptian, not your mother) was used as medicine for conditions such as epilepsy and gout.

Root of hemlock:  Deadly poisonous hemlock, which is referred to elsewhere in the play as the insane herb, “digg’d i’ the dark”. Shakespeare may have been referring to the traditional practice of sowing and harvesting crops and foraging for food and medicinal herbs by the light of the moon, according to the time of month or season. Or maybe just ’cause it’s spooky.

Slips of yew:  This tree was often planted in graveyards, and the wood is an irritant and poisonous; thus, a double association with death.

Tiger’s chaudron:  This one really is gory – the entrails of a tiger.

Baboon’s blood:  A spotted gecko, which was known in alchemical circles as a Hamadryas Baboon. Also, blood referred to a tree’s sap or the juice from a plant.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Such a spine-tingling way to welcome Samhain! From sunset to sunset October 31 to November 1, we celebrate the ancient Gaelic festival of the final harvest, the coming of winter, and the beginning of the Celtic New Year.

dsc_3995-5Samhain marks the halfway point between Mabon (the autumnal equinox) and Yule (the winter solstice). Pronounced variously SAH win, SOW in, SEW in, sah MAIN or sew VAN, this time of feasting and sacred ritual melded over time with the Roman Catholic holy day of All Saints, or All Hallows (November 1), and All Hallows’ Eve (or Even), October 31, lending many of its pagan rituals and symbols to the modern-day Hallowe’en.

The foundations of this festival are the end of summer and the beginning of the darkest part of the year, fire and its association with the life-giving Sun, and communion with the souls of the dead.

To prepare for winter, folk brought their livestock in from summer pastures, passing the healthy ones through the purifying smoke of bonfires, and culling the old or weak ones for food. Fire was thought to hold back the darkness of winter (we still do this today whenever we light a candle) and was used for divination. Home fires would be extinguished, then relit from a communal bonfire, serving to strengthen the bond between one villager and the next.

Most importantly, Samhain is the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and communication with the spirits of deceased kin was considered possible. This tenuous “twilight” was mysterious but not frightening, and was welcomed with food, drink and partying. Places were set at the feasting table for the souls of departed loved ones. Costumed mummers, impersonating winter spirits (or possibly disguising themselves from mischievous faeries, which could cross the otherworldly boundary along with the good spirits) would put on entertainments in exchange for refreshments. The custom of children dressing up as scary beings (to confuse those pesky sprites), carrying turnip lanterns and going from door to door asking for sweets and money, originated in places such as Ireland and the Isle of Man – and, of course, still goes on today.

Samhain symbols include the sickle, scythe and ale (the harvest), candles, fire, turnips and pumpkins (keeping darkness and evil at bay), nuts, apples and bones (used to predict the future), masks (worn by mummers) and besoms (sweeping out the old year, negativity and evil influences).


To honour my English, Irish and Scottish roots, I carved this primitive turnip lantern for Samhain.

Perhaps you will take time this night to honour in your own way the old traditions and remember the cherished spirits of those who have passed before us to the Otherworld.

Stay tuned for November’s theme: The Charm of Making


Witches, Get Your Broom On (or, Get On Your Broom)!


Miniature besoms using a variety of materials on linden wood handles. Top, L to R: rosemary, pine needles, yew, sage. Bottom: linden twigs

When most people think of witches, what more iconic (albeit laughable) image is there than a warty old hag flying across the face of the full moon on a crookedy old broomstick? Where did that stereotype come from, anyway?

The story goes that, back in the Middle Ages, witches made “flying ointments” using hallucinogenic herbs such as mandrake and belladonna. They would smear the stuff on their bodies (possibly applying it with broom plant fibres), then run around fields mounted on their broomsticks, jumping up and down to “teach” the crops how high to grow. The psychoactive drugs would enter their bloodstream and produce a feeling of flying.

Besom (BEE zum) is just another word for the household broomstick, which was traditionally made with broomcorn stems or birch twigs lashed by thin willow withies to a stave (handle) of ash, hazel or hawthorn. All of these plants had symbolic or sacred significance, and modern-day pagans have adopted the besom for ritual cleansing of a space or readying a circle for casting. In handfasting ceremonies, an ancient Celtic tradition, couples join hands and jump over a broom to celebrate fertility, sexuality and the unification of male (ash, and the handle’s shape) and female (birch, and the triangular shape of the bristles).

Besoms are seen as protective symbols to be placed standing upright outside a door. Smaller versions can be hung in other parts of the house as a blessing. They are used to sweep prosperity in – always through the front door – and negative influences out through the back door. Usually this is done symbolically, with the end of the broom held a few inches off the ground. I’ve even seen a Pinterest article showing how to make paintbrush besoms from twigs and herbs!

I spent yesterday afternoon making up several small besoms, each a little different. They don’t cost much to make. I already had almost everything I needed from foraging outdoors and from my crafting; I purchased the fresh herbs from the grocery store and will use them for cooking later.

The method is pretty straightforward. Although I like to keep my crafts as natural as possible, I did use a glue gun on the twig and pine needle besoms; for the others, I used a twist tie to keep the stems in place while I was arranging and tying them.

The besoms shown here are 6 to 9 inches long. Of course you can make yours any length you want, including full size, but they won’t hold up to actual use. Real broom-making is quite a skill and art. If you’re interested in functional broomsticks, see this wonderful tutorial from craft broom maker, Shawn Hoefer.


Using a pyrography tool, I woodburned the bindrune for joy, protection and harmony on the linden wood stave.

• Small branch or wooden dowel for the handle, cut to desired length
• Bristle material: twigs, shrub stems, herb sprigs, raffia, straw, pine needles, etc., cut to desired length, either all the same or slightly different lengths for a rustic look
• String to tie on the bristles and for a hanging loop: household or baker’s string, twine, raffia, jute, hemp, embroidery cotton, ribbon or wire
• Scissors, utility knife or pruning shears
• Twist tie or rubber band
• Drill or Dremel™ tool, or eye hook (both optional)
• Hot glue gun (optional)
• Sturdy needle (optional)
• Optional adornments:  woodburning tool, markers or paint to decorate handle; crystals or beads; pentacle, etc.

If you’ll be hanging the besom, drill a small hole through the stave (handle) about ¼ inch from the top. (Alternatively, screw an eye hook into the flat top end.) • Cut a handful of bristles to length, either all the same or varied for a more rustic look. • Arrange bristles around the bottom inch or so of the handle, laying them side by side as flat as possible. Make sure to cover enough stave so you can wrap string a few times around to secure the bristles. • Use a twist tie or elastic band to hold them down temporarily as you work, or hot glue in place. • Tie a long piece of string tightly around the bristles and thread free end onto needle. • Pulling tightly as you go, wrap string around bristles several times until they feel secure. If desired, use the needle to thread under existing loops for extra security. • Tie off the string with a knot and trim, tucking the end under some of the loops or hot-gluing it down for a neater look. • Trim the bristle ends into desired shape. • You may wish to decorate the handle or add other embellishments; for my twig besom, I woodburned a bindrune using a pyrography tool.


Whether for ritual, decoration, a blessing or drying herbs, hand-made besoms are a personal way to bring natural materials and a bit of history into the home. So mote it be!

For the pine needle besom, I laid the needle clusters (they usually come off the tree in bundles of 2 or more, depending on the species) with the sharp ends pointing to the handle’s top, and the clustered end (where needles are attached to each other) flush with the stave bottom – this is where I added tiny dabs of hot glue. I wrapped the bristles a couple of times with string, then gently bent the needles back over themselves and the string toward the stave bottom. Fresher needles will flex; some will break. Holding them in place temporarily with a twist tie, I did the finally wrapping and tying off with the same piece of string, which I brought up through the bristles to the outside.

I had fun making these besoms. They smelled lovely as I was working with them, and each has its own character. I might hang one from the mirror in my car; the besoms made with rosemary and sage are a cute way to dry the herbs for later use!

Ill Humours & Old Medicine

dsc_3166-6In medieval Europe, herbalism and medicine were practiced chiefly by monks, barber surgeons and village wise women. These healers would base their treatments on what they saw in nature; they’d note the plants that animals ate and the effects the plants had, and would then use the same ones on their patients. Sometimes plants would be used to treat the body part they resembled, or would be chosen for the warming or cooling effect they were thought to have on the body’s constitution. Charms, curses and counter-curses were also important tools of the trade! Monasteries maintained charitable healing centres where folk could come for their cures; herbs commonly found in infirmary gardens included betony, chamomile, comfrey, dill, hyssop, lavender, rue and sage.

If you were living in, say, 12th century England, you would most likely be familiar with the following ailments, as well as their remedies and the people who administered them. (Hark! If squoodgy things make your tum-tums go weak as water, read no further.)

Ague:  Fever and chills

Barber Surgeon:  Trained in monasteries, barber surgeons looked after soldiers during and after battle, and were expected to do everything from cutting hair, giving enemas and pulling teeth to bloodletting, setting broken bones, amputating limbs and other surgeries. Talk about multitasking!

Bloodletting:  3,000-year-old medical procedure still in use today. In the past, patients would be bled from various parts of the body to regulate the humours [See Humours] and “cure” their disease. Unfortunately, this procedure weakened the patient and encouraged infection, and patients sometimes died not from their malady but from the therapy itself. (Charles II and George Washington are famous victims; Washington, suffering from a throat infection, was drained of 3 litres of blood in less than 10 hours and died the next day.) Modern bloodletting is known as therapeutic phlebotomy and is used in western medicine to treat conditions requiring the reduction of the number of blood cells. See Scarification.

Botch:  A bump or sore on the body

Bubo(e):  Also known as gavocciolo, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits or neck, usually oozing pus or blood; the most common symptom of (but not limited to) bubonic plague

Catarrh:  Acute influenza; inflammation of the mucous membranes

Chilblains:  Painful, itchy red or purple swelling on the hands or feet from prolonged exposure to cold

Dead Man’s Tooth:  Application of the tooth of a deceased person to heal an open wound

Fat of a Hanged Man:  After a hanging, the body was left to dangle for days, probably as a cautionary example to the public. As putrefaction progressed, greasy excretions would drip and form a puddle under the deceased. Gross, but, hey, it is almost Hallowe’en! This fat (and other body parts) would be collected by the executioner, who did things like set broken bones and sell herbal medicine on the side; it was rendered and made into a salve thought to benefit a number of ailments, including arthritis, lameness and broken bones. Shakespeare refers to this practice in Macbeth: The three witches add “grease that’s sweaten / From the murderer’s gibbet” to their bubbling potion.

Flux:  Excessive discharge or hemorrhage of bodily fluids, especially diarrhea; also a women’s menses

Humours:  It was believed that all diseases were caused by the imbalance of the body’s four “humours” (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, which correspond to the elements of earth, air, fire and water). Bloodletting and purging were the chief methods of ridding the body of ill humours.

Gout:  Known since antiquity as “the king of diseases and the disease of kings”, this is the red, tender, hot swelling of a joint (inflammatory arthritis) usually caused by genetics, obesity and a diet high in rich meats and alcohol.

Gripes:  Digestive upset or food poisoning, usually caused by eating unrefrigerated or improperly cured meat

Headache:  A mixture of goat’s cheese and bull’s blood was drunk to cure an aching head. No guarantees as to what it did to the stomach.

Herbarium:  A room housing a collection of preserved plant specimens and their associated data

King’s Evil:  Scrofula or tuberculosis of the neck and lymph glands; so-called from the time of Edward the Confessor because it was believed disease could be cured by the king of England’s touch.

Leeches and Maggots:  Introduced to a wound to help prevent blood poisoning and infection. By sucking blood, leeches draw away toxins, and maggots consume decaying flesh, thus cleaning the wound.dsc_3194-4

Lepers:  Known to the ancient Greeks as elephantiasis, and today as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is a not-very-contagious bacterial infection thought to be caused by respiratory droplets. An effective cure, discovered in the 1940s, involves using antibiotics for several months. Before this, however, leprosy was thought to be highly contagious, spread simply by being near an infected person, and there was no cure. (The other common belief, that leprosy causes toes and other appendages to rot and fall off, is a myth; nerve and tissue damage and secondary infection are the real culprits.) Lepers caused fear and panic wherever they went, and as a result became social outcasts, relying on religious houses for charity and medical assistance. In the Middle Ages, they were required to carry a bell to announce their presence; this also served to attract attention for charity. Leprosy features prominently in two excellent books:  The Leper of St. Giles, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters, and The Island by Victoria Hislop.

Mandrake:  Perhaps because of its resemblance to the human body and the fact that it’s hallucinogenic – as well as extremely poisonous and potentially deadly – Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), a member of the nightshade family, has a long history of use in magic ritual and medicine. It’s mentioned in the Bible as an aphrodisiac/fertility aid and appears many times in literature (Shakespeare, Donne, Beckett, Steinbeck, Conan Doyle, Rowling) and on screen (Excalibur, Robin of Sherwood, Harry Potter), particularly as protection against the devil.

Mould Poultice:  Bread or yeast soaked in honey and applied to an open wound to halt infection

Officina:  The storeroom in a monastery where herbs and medicines were kept. The species names officinale or officinalis (eg. lemon balm, Melissa officinalis) are a clue that the plant was used by monastic healers.

Physician:  Not the neighourhood GP, but medieval academics who worked in universities as medical observers and consultants. Although they often took up residence in castles to tend their wealthy patrons, physicians considered surgery beneath them, and rarely performed it.

Purge:  An emetic to rid the body of poisons; purging often made the condition worse, not better, as it tended to dehydrate the body

Rale:  Wheezy, congestive rattle in the lungs, and the “death rattle” often heard just before the patient shuffled off this mortal coil

Scarification:  One of several types of bloodletting, in which a scarificator, a small box containing multiple sharp blades, was used to scrape open the skin. Other methods of bloodletting included arteriotomy (puncturing a vein at the temple), venesection (at the elbow), cupping (placing a heated glass dome over broken skin to remove air and blood by suction) and the application of leeches.

Simpling; Simples:  Distilling and brewing herbs; the resulting medicinal brews and distillationsdsc_3227-8

Stillroom:  The distilling room in a great house or castle where herbs and flowers were hung to dry, and medicines, preserves, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, cleaning products and soaps were made. The final products would be stored and dispensed here as well, making the stillroom part laboratory, part brew house, and part infirmary. Think:  Claire’s work- and storeroom at Castle Leoch in Outlander.

Tetter:  Sore, pimple, mark or scar; the scab of a healing wound

The English Sweate:  Sweating sickness was a baffling and highly contagious disease which ravaged England and Europe in a series of epidemics during the 15th and 16th centuries. The cause is still unknown, but a form of hantavirus has been suggested as the culprit. The onset and progression of the Sweate was sudden and dramatic; one could wake up in the morning feeling perfectly fine and be dead before nightfall. Symptoms included an immense sense of dread followed by chills, then the “hot” (sweating) stage, followed by extreme exhaustion, collapse and, finally, death. Some people did manage to recover from the earlier stages, but that didn’t guarantee immunity; many suffered multiple relapses before finally succumbing. It was believed at the time that bloodletting and working up a “natural sweat” by vigorous exercise could ward off the disease. The outbreaks stopped as quickly as they had come, and by 1578 had completed disappeared from England.

Wale, weal, welt:  Ridge or line on the skin

Wen:  Benign boil or cyst, usually on the scalp or face

Whelk:  Raised lesion on the skin; acne

Wine & Egg Whites:  After a patient had been bled, the incision would be dressed with a mixture of strong wine and egg whites. This isn’t as odd as it seems:  the alcohol’s anaesthetizing and sterilizing properties as well as the astringency and binding qualities of egg whites may actually have helped.

Worms:  Were thought to cause cavities

The Hunter & Mistress Moon

I’m a night owl by nature (faugh to the brazen sun, I say!) as well as a hopeless romantic, and I’ve always felt a communion with the Moon. She is decidedly female (although the ancient Celts thought the moon was masculine), and I seek her each time I’m out at night. In the wee hours from our westerly-facing apartment, in her shining fullness, she can make our rooms seem day-lit. I speak to her, calling her bella Luna, and I fancy she smiles sweetly back, watching over me as I go about my business like the benevolent mother that she is.


July’s Buck Moon, also known as Thunder Moon (for the season of storms) and Hay or Barley Moon. f/5.6, ISO-500, 1/1250 sec. © 2016 V. Barrett

For the last few months, my camera and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture Luna at her most rotund. In July, when she is known in some Native American cultures as the Buck Moon (for the time of year when buck deer begin to sprout antlers), I was at the cottage where the night skies are less polluted and quite dark. My photographer-sister and I spent a while that night down at the dock, shooting the full moon. Capturing the details of a bright white disc hung against an inky background is a tricky prospect which has heretofore defeated me; my sister’s instruction on ISO, f-stops and exposure demystified the process, and I got some decent shots. It’s a miracle, actually, that either of us got any good pictures, because we and our handheld cameras were forever jigging up and down as we became an intravenous hook-up for about a billion voracious mosquitoes. (Really, they should change the name to Blood Moon, but I think that one’s already taken.) Ah, what we will sacrifice for the sake of our art!

 In August, Luna assumed another identity, the Sturgeon Moon – the time when those large fish are most abundant in the Great Lakes. (Other names: Green Corn Moon and Grain Moon.) I was at home this time but didn’t get around to taking any photos until about 6:00 a.m. the following day, when la bella luna posed for me quite happily before giving way to her consort, the Sun. With the lighter sky and less-defined contrasts, the results were a bit murky, so I didn’t include that photo here.


Harvest Moon, September 2016. f/5.6, ISO-1250, 1/1250 sec. © 2016 V. Barrett

September brought the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox at the peak of harvest time. (Farmers often worked well into the night by its light, bringing in the ripe crops before the autumn rains.) On this night, weary of her paparazza, Luna was playing the coy mistress, hiding her nakedness and teasing me as she darted from cloud to cloud. Once I grabbed my camera and hustled onto the balcony, with barely enough time to check my settings, I only had about a minute to shoot hand-held before Luna disappeared for good. The detail you see in her portrait is the result not of skilled photography, but of a lot of coaxing via post-processing.


Waxing crescent of 7 Oct 2016. f/5.6, ISO-1250, 1/500 sec. © 2016 V. Barrett

As payback for her pertness, I interrupted Luna in early October as she was performing a most personal chore: waxing. I think she was not amused. Once again, I had to go heavy on the cropping and editing, but the final result showed me a different face: almost skull-like, staring down with vacant, gaping black eyes. Perhaps the moon’s moodiness was an omen for the scary shenanigans coming later this month.


The constellation Orion © 2004 Mouser / CC BY-SA 3.0

As my hunt to capture the full moon continued, I tried to photograph the so-called “Supermoon” of October 16. (This phenomenon is merely hyped-up tripe, says my ever-practical astrophysicist husband.) I got smart this time and set up a tripod in advance, zoom lens at the ready. Alas, Luna was still sulking and refused point blank to come out from behind her nebulous veil, so I missed capturing the Hunter’s Moon altogether. I did notice, however, that the constellation Orion has returned. Known variously in folklore as The Hunter (Europe), The Giant (Middle East) and The Winter Maker (Native North American), this guardian of the night sky is more constant than the ever-changing moon and is a welcome sight during the long, cold months which lie ahead.

Lunar photographs taken using a Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 70-300 mm lens.


Autumn Canopy, Silked © 2016 Valerie Barrett

Ye Olde Apothecarie: Electuaries, Oxymels & Cordials

Behind a studded oak door, in the shadowy, stone-lined stillroom of an ancient castle, a healer thumbs through the parchment pages of her leather-bound herbal. Her patient, a lad of ten, sits with his mother beside the hearth, at once shivering and sweating in the grips of a troublesome ague. He coughs, his bony body shuddering painfully, and his mother hastens to tuck a woolen shawl more snugly around the ailing boy’s throat. The wisewoman slides them both an appraising glance, thinks a space, then nods and closes the book with a decisive thud, sending the candles sputtering. She bustles about the workroom, taking down herb jars from a cupboard, opening a pot of dark golden honey, her mortar and pestle at the ready. She knows what to do…

The wisewoman – perhaps someone like Claire in Outlander – likely chose an electuary, oxymel or cordial to treat her young patient. These are old-time remedies that most people have never heard of, but which some folk still use today.

20161012_122046-3Electuaries are herbal pastes made by mixing medicinal powders with a sweet binding agent (an excipient) such as honey, sugar-water syrup, nut butters, maple syrup, molasses or jam. In the past, they were a common way to make any unpleasant-tasting medicine more palatable; electuaries can be used today to help ease mild sore throats or colds, i.e. minor complaints which do not require a doctor’s supervision. The consistency can range from a syrupy liquid to a thick paste; adjust the ratio of sweetener to herbs for the desired texture. A good rule of thumb is 1/4 tsp of each dried, powdered herb to 1 tbsp honey. Electuaries can be eaten right off the spoon as needed (usually one teaspoon a day for a short period; do not overuse), rolled into lozenges, stirred into hot water, milk, tea, a smoothie, yogurt or oatmeal, or spread on fresh or toasted bread. Here are some choices for cold and flu season; use another type of sweetener if you don’t like or can’t use honey.

Cold Buster:  Powdered echinacea root and/or sage in honey
Vitamin C:  Equal parts hibiscus and ground rosehips in honey
Throat Lozenges:  Equal parts powdered peppermint leaf, sage and marshmallow root in honey thick enough to roll into a marble-sized ball (to suck on); roll lozenges in marshmallow root powder and set on parchment-lined cookie sheet to dry; store in jar.
Be Well:  1 tsp dandelion root powder, 1 tsp slippery elm powder in 2 tbsp honey
Tummy Tamer:  Equal parts powdered ginger and peppermint leaf in honey to calm upset stomachs
Get Your Rest:  Chamomile in honey

⇒ Never give honey to children under two years of age.
⇒ Do not give lozenges to small children, as these could be a choking hazard.
⇒ Before taking any herb, be knowledgeable of its benefits, risks and contraindications. If unsure, consult a licensed health care professional before embarking on any kind of therapy.
⇒ Avoid using if you are on medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
⇒ Honey is high in calories and high on the glycemic index, so use in moderation.

Oxymels are made by combining honey and apple cider vinegar, both of which have health benefits, with herbs. The ratio of vinegar and honey varies depending on taste; if you prefer a sweeter oxymel, use 1 part vinegar to up to 5 parts honey. For a tarter mixture, use 1 part honey to 3 parts vinegar. I’ve never made an oxymel, but the method seems simple:  fill a jar 1/4 to half full of herbs; mix raw honey and apple cider vinegar, pour over herbs and continue filling the jar to an inch from the top. Close lid tightly and let sit in a dark, cool place for 6 to 8 weeks. Shake or turn the bottle upside down every day or so. Strain out the herbs and store in a tightly-closed jar for up to a year.

Cordials can be syrup, a boiled infusion of honey and fruit, leaves or flowers, or an alcoholic liqueur. (Remember when Diana gets tipsy on ‘raspberry cordial’ – which turns out to be currant wine – in Anne of Green Gables?) Alcoholic cordials, also known in bygone days as robs, were taken for medicinal purposes. Non-alcoholic varieties made with sugar or honey are more common these days (technically speaking, a syrup is made with fruit juice and sugar, and cordials are made with honey). They can be taken for their health benefits, or used to flavour drinks, as sauces, or simply sipped on their own.

dsc_2965-5How to Make Elderberry Cordial:  For centuries, people have been easing cold symptoms and warding off the flu with a cordial or syrup made from black elderberries (Sambucus nigra), which contain Vitamin C and immune system-boosting antioxidants. Throw in the benefits of honey (antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory) and rob’s your uncle – you’ve got a delicious, versatile and healthful old-time home remedy!

2/3 cup dried elderberries (available at health and natural food stores and online)
3 ½ cups water
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger root
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp whole cloves
1 cup raw honey (Manuka or buckwheat are great for colds)

To a medium saucepan, add water, elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat and mash the berries with the back of spoon or other flat object. Pour the liquid through a fine sieve into a large glass measuring cup or bowl; discard (or compost) the berries. To the lukewarm liquid add the honey, mixing well. Pour the cordial into a glass bottle or jar and allow to cool completely. Keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator for two weeks or more. Elderberry cordial can also be frozen; try pouring into ice cube trays and thaw for individual servings when needed. Makes 2 cups.

To take:  Children ½ tsp a day during peak cold and flu season; Adults 1 tsp a day. If you get sick, these amounts can be doubled until you start feeling better. Take from the spoon or add to hot water for a soothing drink.

⇒ Elderberries can be a mild laxative, so use in moderation.
⇒ Please see other Cautions above.


20161005_135718-5You may not be celebrating a national holiday like Thanksgiving today, as we here in Canada are doing, but I would like to wish each and every one of you a beautiful day, wherever you are. Hopefully you’re spending it doing something you love, and taking a moment to appreciate the wonders – however big or small – that we’ve been given.

I’m heading up to Muskoka today to help close up the family cottage for the winter. It’s a bittersweet time as we say goodbye to a wonderful summer and hunker down for the long wait until we can be there again in the spring. But it’s not all bad: in between chores, I’ll be taking lots of photos of autumn colours, as well as gathering woodsy bits and pieces to use in upcoming craft projects.

I’d like to thank my readers and fellow bloggers for taking the time to visit my site. Your wonderful comments and support have been truly inspiring, and I’ve loved reading your blogs, too. Thank you. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving from Canada!