A journey through the hands of a maker of magical items, discovering not only the secrets of Sacred art, but also the history and preservation of disappearing forms of Artisan work.
The Craft Of Herbalism - Part II
Marigold (Calendula Officinalis), homegrown.
The second article of this series will cover two topics – making the most of your own herbal garden, and a short introduction to wildharvesting and guerrilla gardening.
When I say that I grow over 50 different medicinal and magical herbs, readers think that I have a huge and wonderful tropical garden. But I don't. Houses with gardens or back yards are not common here in the islands, and all our plants grow in containers in the roof terrace of the house. We have a six month summer with desert winds and extremely high temperatures, so growing anything here is a big challenge that requires much devotion and patience.
I am explaining this because, if you want to grow herbs, living in an urban environment is no excuse, unless your house receives no light at all. Most herbs grow wonderfully in containers, as long as the soil is well fed and the plants are pruned regularly. Even a few pots in a windowsill IS a garden, and can bring lots of magic and protection to your home.
Tulasi/Holy Basil Flower (Ocimum Tenuiflorum), homegrown.
In Your Garden:
- First of all, learn which part (or parts) of the plant are beneficial and which is the medicinal and magical use of each, as different parts of the same herb can have different effects on your body and are ails for different illnesses; for example, the fruit of the Passionflower (Passiflora Edulis) contains the higher amount of vitamin C of all fruits, thus being a wonderful aid against anaemia and an immune system booster; but, the leaves and roots are sedative, and used against anxiety and mild depression in tinctures and tea.
- Always harvest, transplant and water your plants during the first hours of dawn or the last hours of dusk – plants suffer when pruned/transplanted during hard sunlight hours, and water drops on the leaves can burn them if the sun is too high, acting like small magnifying glasses. If you have no choice, water the soil, not the plants.
- You can either save small parts of the plant during growth as you prune your herbs, or harvest the complete plant after its natural cycle of life has ended. This is another step where research becomes very important; sometimes you can leave the roots on the earth for next year’s regrowth, and sometimes you can simply uproot the whole plant, clean the roots and set it to dry. When herbs have already gone to seed, the plant is exhausted and usually has less healing power than a plant that has not seeded yet, so keep that in mind; what we do is keeping several plants of the same type, allowing some to go to seed while others are pruned to prevent flowering.
- If you are growing herbs in containers, remember to feed the soil regularly with nutrients. Nettle and Bean leaves tea, coffee grounds, powdered eggshell and of course organic fertilizers like manure are a must. A very cheap and simple trick is to pick up bags of soil when you go wildharvesting, and renew the soil of your containers, either by adding small amounts on the pots, or simply by transplanting the herbs into pots filled with the new, fertile soil.
- Always remember to thank the spirits of your garden with an offering after harvesting – If you have a garden altar (and you should), offer incense, candles, fruits, bird seed, etc. Spoil your plants by talking or singing to them, place gemstones on the pots, or send them healing and growing energy through meditation. Your plants will reward you with their secrets, and will grow wonderfully!
Lavender (Lavandula Stoechas), homegrown from wildharvested cutting.
- Keep a “wildharvesting kit” always handy in your car/backpack when going into Nature. Ours consists in a pair of hard duty kitchen scissors, a sharp small knife, cotton yarn for tying bundles and a selection of plastic bags in different sizes; small ziplock bags for seeds, bones and other small finds, and bigger one for the herb bundles. A tip – those long, sturdy bags from sliced sandwich bread are a great addition to your kit.
- Wildharvesting requires the utmost respect for Nature and its generosity – don’t be a Nature pirate! Harvest just what you need, harming the plant as little as possible and leaving enough of the plant for it to regrow and feed the local fauna. If possible, harvest from several plants, instead of decimating one single plant. Learn how to prune herbs correctly so you encourage growth.
- Nature spirits love offerings – bird seeds, fruits, stale bread/cookies/cereals, milk, crushed eggshells, honey… the options are almost endless. Don't leave bottles, plates or candle wax leftovers. Remember not to leave any offerings that may be poisonous to local fauna, like chocolate, and try to make your offerings as eco-friendly as possible.
- Guerrilla gardening is the act of planting useful, endemic plants on abandoned urban spaces. You can simply transplant seedlings you have grown at home, or just sow seeds. We gather all the seeds from our kitchen scraps (pepper, pumpkin, papaya, etc.) and any seeds from our garden that we don't need, dry them and mix them in a bag – once dry, you can keep a small amount in your purse and just plant them wherever you have the chance. Remember not to spread invasive plants, and use only varieties that are native to your environment. I think it's a wonderful way to give back to Mother Nature, to make our urban spaces more beautiful, and to give the urban bird and insect fauna more sources for food and shelter.
Part III coming soon – preserving and storing your herbs!
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