HALLOWE’EN – An Inner Journey with Herbs and Friends

Follow me on a brief journey and get to know just a few of the plants and herbs that have been used to celebrate, commemorate and ritualize the phenomenon known as Hallowe’en. Strap on your riding boots, this broom is ready to fly.

Also known as Samhain, Hallows, and All Hallows Eve, the night we call Hallowe’en traditionally represents “… the time when the separation between life and death, between the born and unborn, the veil between the worlds, is at its thinnest… it is the dar sky and dark night that make the new moon possible, the intrinsic duality of new beginnings… That beginnings and endings meet is the great law” of Hallows.

(from Diane Stein, THE WOMEN’S SPIRITUALITY BOOK).  https://www.amazon.com/Womens-Spirituality-Book-Llewellyns-New/dp/0875427618/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508455529&sr=1-1&keywords=the+women%27s+spirituality+book+diane+stein

Hallowe’en is decidedly of Irish origin, and was a time for honoring the ancestors. Many of our contemporary trick-or-treating festivities hail from a time of shadows and mist and fae, for when the torch was out… it was dark… Considering the Druid calendar begins on November 1st, we can say that Hallowe’en is also the Witch’s New Year!

Here are a few curious Hallowe’en traditions:

The Star in the Apple

In many areas, an apple is present during this time as much as the pumpkin – after all, Hallowe’en is the 3rd and final harvest festival of the Celtic year. The apple symbolizes the soul: cutting one in half laterally reveals a star shape, not unlike the human form.  An apple can be ritually buried on Samhain to symbolize nourishment during a symbolic death until rebirth in the Spring.

Boo!

As a precursor to our jack-o-lantern, large turnips were once hollowed out, lit candles placed inside, and then set in windows to guard against any unwelcome spirits that might be stirring on that auspicious night.

For those who choose to meditate on the symbolism of the season, the following botanicals will lend their otherworldly vibrations toward that journey.

Oil of Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) can be used on Hallowe’en to honor and remember those who have passed on, and to be reminded that death is but a doorway to another kind of life. Cypress emanates vibrations of blessing, consecration, protection and grounding. Place a few drops into some steaming water and inhale.

Italian Cypress, looking somewhat like juniper

Hazelwood ( Corylus) which is to be gathered on All Hallows Eve, is used to draw a protective magickal circle, and can also be used for divining such as water dowsing.

A Hazelwood thicket

Often burned with Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) – which lends itself to prophetic dreams – Wormwood (A. absinthium) – oh yes, the plant which fortifies The Green Fairy Herself, Absinthe – is used for protection and to induce visions. Both of these plants are easy to grow. Light a small amount in a heat-proof dish then let it smoulder to perfume your lucid dreams.

mugwort in flower
wormwood

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrah) has long been used as an incense for meditation and visioning, and for its protective energy, while Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) energizes our love-center as well as protects.

Myrrh trees
Clove tree

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is another herb used for clearing negativity and lending it’s own love vibration to our incense. It offers us the space to focus.

Rosemary plant in bloom

Rosemary is a main feature in this recipe for Meditation Incense, given to me many decades ago, and very inspiring. All ingredients called for are dried, except for the oil.

Meditation Incense

  • 2 cups rosemary herb
  • 1-1/2 cups orange peel
  • 1-1/3 cup lavender buds
  • 1-1/3 cup benzoin resin
  • 1/4 teaspoon patchouli essential oil

Blend everything together in your magickal blender (you may need to give it a good soaping afterwards). Burn in your usual way – my usual way is either in a heat-proof dish of sand, or on my woodburning stove. Please take every precaution with burning incense or anything else with embers or flames.

To learn more about magickal herbs, read Scott Cunningham’s CUNNINGHAM’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MAGICAL HERBS. https://www.amazon.com/Cunninghams-Encyclopedia-Magical-Llewellyns-Sourcebook/dp/0875421229/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

To learn more about Samhain and the Great Goddess, read THE SPIRAL DANCE by Starhawk.   https://www.amazon.com/Spiral-Dance-Rebirth-Religion-Anniversary/dp/0062516329

For a more scholarly approach, read THE PAGAN MYSTERIES OF HALLOWEEN by Jean Markale.   https://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Mysteries-Halloween-Celebrating-Dark/dp/0892819006/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508455450&sr=1-1&keywords=jean+markale+halloween

 

copyright 2017 – Doreen Shababy

 

New Book by Stephanie Rose Bird, reviewed here

I have recently had the opportunity to  review a new book called Earth Mama’s Spiritual Guide to Weight Loss  by Stephanie Rose Bird, author of several self-help books rooted in earth magic and ancestral wisdom. Stephanie is also an accomplished fine artist with work in many galleries and exhibits.

Here is my review of this book in exchange for a signed copy from Stephanie.

Earth Mama’s Spiritual Guide to Weight Loss

by Stephanie Rose Bird.  Somerset, England: Green Magic Publishing, 2017.

Spirit helpers, affirmations, meditations and more are all intrinsic to Stephanie Rose Bird’s own roller coaster weight loss journey. More than a “diet” book – and she does talk about food, how we are hard-wired to make certain food choices, and how food addiction affects us –she shares with the reader her insight, backsliding, humor and hope.

There are many useful guidelines in this book, starting with Part I – Wisdom of the Sages. The author, a bit of a city girl, tells us about her experience living in the Australian “out bush”: the knowledge of some of her aboriginal friends; and the earth wisdom she acquired spending time with them.  There is an introductory section about herbs and how to prepare them for use, with emphasis on a few herbs (and foods) that the reader will likely use for weight loss supplements. A fun hand-crafting project follows; these are interspersed throughout the book and are designed to inspire and attune the reader with the teaching.

After meeting Gaia, the author takes us on a Goddess Vision Quest to meet our Power Animal. Gods, Goddesses, Iwa of the African diaspora, and beings of the Hindu pantheon: we are taught that they “hear” us in our need. They encourage us with healing and discretion. There is nothing we can’t talk to them about, and nothing they have not heard.

In some of the herbal sections, the author explains how to use flowers for the journey, an especially lovely gesture. Flower Essences, Hydrosols (floral waters), potions, essential oils, the exotic Monoi Tiare oil, all enliven and beautify. The Rose flower affirmations are delightful and relevant. Herbal baths, healthful smoothies, an Ayurvedic primer (including short pieces on Tulsi Basil and Henna), and numerous activities are found throughout the book. I especially liked learning more about the author’s personal relationship with deity, the vast African pantheon and reading the African proverbs such as this from the Maasai: “Happiness is as good as food.”

Stephanie Rose Bird, author, artist, scholar, Earth Mama

I like the author’s approach toward food and eating. She often refers to weight loss as a personal “journey”, and surely this approach can apply to any issue one is dealing with. The book seems to target women, with reference to baby-weight, PMS and menopause, and personal adornment (although this is mostly gender non-specific).

The author loves aromas and aromatherapy, and I am all over that bandwagon. She also loves (as do I!) Lord Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles. What I do not love is the way the book is organized; it could be more useful if the subjects were put into chapters. The author has assembled a good bit of information here and I would like to access it easier. Also, I could appreciate some editing relative to sentence structure and repetitive wording. Perhaps a revised edition in the future?

The generous spirit of this book is to instill confidence, self-esteem and sensuality, finding delight in self and nature, and knowing you don’t have to do it alone. The Goddess has your back on this, and so does Stephanie Rose Bird.

book review © 2017 Doreen Shababy

https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Rose-Bird/e/B001IOBPQU

https://stephanierosebirdfineart.wordpress.com/

http://www.stephanierosebird.com/

Enjoying Edible Flowers

… or, “Gramma, why are there flowers in the salad?”

Yes, indeed, there are flowers in the salad. Many folks are surprised to see even the common violet or nasturtium in their green, leafy salad, but people have been eating flowers for centuries. In dayes of olde, some flowers were pounded with sugar and eaten to dispel unseemly humours, while some flowers have been fermented into delightful alcoholic beverages – another way to improve one’s humor. There are also some flowers that should never be consumed, which I will get to later.

Kitchen Herb Flowers                                                                                                        Generally speaking, all the culinary herbs – such as Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary and Savory – have edible flowers. Normally we try to harvest these herbs before they are in full flower, but some do get away from us, and these flowers are just as useful in the kitchen as the leaves; they pretty much taste the same as the leaf. These flowers can be tossed into salads, minced into omelets or frittatas, and added to rice or soup toward the end of the cooking time. Thyme flowers make a good tea for chest colds and sore throats.

Flowering Thyme

While not often used in cooking, the flower petals of Monarda, often called Bergamot or Bee Balm, add a spicy, minty, almost oregano-like flavor to salads, and they also make a snappy cup of tea, useful for coughs and lung congestion.

Monarda blossom, spicy and pungent

To make a simple herb-flower tea, boil 1 pint water, remove from heat. Place 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried flowers into a teapot or other suitable vessel,  pour the hot water over the herb, then cover and steep from 5 to 10 minutes; strain and serve, using honey to sweeten if desired. Do not give honey to babies under one year old.

Flowers from kitchen garden herbs make an attractive edible garnish. This includes the azure-blue flowers of the Borage plant, whose leaves have an aroma and taste reminiscent of cucumber. Flowering herb stems can also be used to make herbal vinegars. Flowering Basil immediately comes to mind, especially the purple types because they will tint the vinegar a beautiful pinkish-purple and taste wonderful.

Borage flower

A fun summer project using edible flowers is to take your favorite combination of flowering herbs – thyme and marjoram, for example – and tie a few sprigs together with kitchen string, and hang them to dry for use later in soups and stews. Put these miniature bouquets into a wide-mouthed glass jar for easy retrieval. They also make useful gifts. You can even string together several of them on a length of jute or twine and make a rustic garland to decorate your kitchen.

Sweet-Faced Flowers                                                                                                   As you may already know, all violet, viola, pansy and johnny jump-up flowers are edible, the domestic varieties as well as the wild. It’s hard to describe the taste of a violet flower; it’s almost anise-flavored, yet it isn’t… I guess they just taste like themselves. It’s my annual tradition to use violets in spring salads. The yellow variety that grow in the woods near my home blooms at about the same time as morel mushrooms are emerging, and both are great in risotto. Sweet Violet flowers make an enchanting syrup like nothing you’ve ever had. Many herbal chefs use this family of flowers to decorate butters and cheeses, creating something that resembles a tiny float from the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade – almost too pretty to eat! Try it yourself sometime, or get your kids to do the decorating, they will have loads of fun. “Sally, stop eating all the flowers, we’re saving them to decorate the butter!”

Basic Herbal Syrup – In a small saucepan, boil 1 quart water with 2 ounces dried or 4 ounces fresh plant material; turn down the heat and simmer uncovered until reduced by half, leaving 1 pint, about 20 minutes. Strain, then add 1/2 cup honey, stirring until blended. If using sugar, use 1 cup sugar and, when adding to the strained herbal decoction, return to medium heat just until dissolved. Decant the syrup into a super-clean bottle, label and date. The syrup should be refrigerated and will keep about 3 months.

A large quantity of Elderberry Elixir, which is a syrup fortified with alcohol

Unusual and Fragrant                                                                                                         Lavender flowers don’t often make it into the kitchen, except maybe to flavor Lemonade, or in French herbal blends, but have you ever tried lavender shortbread? Simply add 1 tablespoon fresh or dried lavender flowers to you favorite shortbread recipe, and do not overbake the cookies. Be ready for something special.

Another not-so-common flower in the kitchen is the romantic Rose. There are dozens of ways to eat a rose, from the silky petals to the voluptuous hips.

Rose Petal Honey – Gently press 1 pint clean rose petals into the bottom of a saucepan. Pour room-temperature mild honey into the pan to cover the petals, about 2 cups honey, possibly more, and slowly heat over low until the honey is just warm, a few minutes only; too much heat destroys the healthful enzymes. Put this sticky mixture into a clean jar and close tightly. Store at room temperature for about 2 weeks to allow the rose flavor and fragrance to permeate the honey. Reheat honey again over low heat by placing the jar in a small pan of water (like a double boiler); after it softens, strain out the petals and recap immediately. You could also start over again and make a batch of double-infused honey for more flavor. If you have the time and inclination, you could heat the honey in its jar in the warm sun for these procedures.

She Loves Me…                                                                                                                       … and I love her too! I am referring to the sunny marigold, but not just any marigold. The orange-petaled flower with the golden center we call Calendula is also referred to as “pot marigold” or simply marigold. Calendula was widely used in Elizabethan times as a food and potherb. The petals can be made into a tonic tea for toning the lymphatic system. Calendula petals are well known as an herb for sensitive skin, and the petals make a golden hair rinse.

Calendula, sometimes called pot marigold
Lemon Gem Marigold, note the tiny flowers

You can also eat the petals of the delicate Gem Marigolds (of the common garden-variety marigold), and these have a citrusy aroma and flavor such as lemon or tangerine. You can take the petals of either the gem marigolds or calendula and toss them into pancakes, muffins, or even birthday cakes. I have seen wedding cakes decorated with calendula petals and even the white petals from daisies, much to everyone’s delight. Any of these could be folded into a tub of whipped butter. Just use the petals, as the whole head of any of these would not be palatable.

Wedding Cake decorated with edible flowers

Dandelion petals also fall into the category of edible flowers, even the unopened flower bud is used as food. I’m thinking a wilted spinach salad with dandelion buds quickly sauteed in a dab of bacon grease and chopped hard-cooked eggs – kind of bitter, but tasty.

Flowers with Attitude                                                                                                       My favorite edible spring flower blooms atop the slender chive stem. The flavor is sweet and biting, with a crisp texture. The separate florets radiate from the central stem and are easy to snip off all at once to use in salads, soups, and scrambled eggs – my favorite! Nothing says spring to me like fresh green chives and their purple blossoms… even now, in my mind’s eye, I am out there in the early morning garden getting my slippers wet and picking chive blossoms.

Chive blossoms

Other edible flowers that are more of a by-product of over-mature garden vegetables include radish YUM! and arugula, which I think taste much better than the leaves.

One popular edible flower with bite is the nasturtium. The leaves are edible as well, but personally I prefer the flowers. Not only are they tasty torn up into a salad or floating blissfully on the sea of a cool summer soup, they can also be dried and used in winter soups too. In fact, the nasturtium, which is native to Peru, contains a natural antibiotic and enhances the immune system. They also fall into the next category of edible flowers.

Nasturtiums in bloom

Stuff It!                                                                                                                                        And I mean that in a most tasteful way. Nasturtium flowers are great stuffed with a bit of garlicky cream cheese and eaten raw. So are hollyhocks (my Gramma Lil called them Polish Roses); just remove the large stamen in the middle before stuffing, and may I recommend a lemony-chive flavoring to the cream cheese, or perhaps a bit of curry powder. Hollyhock flower is also a gentle diuretic when made into a simple tea; it is related to the marshmallow plant, which has been used as a soothing emollient for centuries. Hollyhock makes yet another soothing tea that is good for sore throats and coughs.

Pink Hollyhock flower

Another edible flower suitable for stuffing, which must be cooked before eating, is the squash blossom, especially from summer squash. Be sure to take the male flowers on the long stems and not the female flowers on the swollen stems, or you’ll be robbing your plants of all the zucchini. Squash flowers are also delicious torn up into soups and scrambled eggs.

Squash blossom

Stuffed Squash Blossoms – Pick the blossoms mid-morning after the dew is dried and before they wilt in the heat of the day; remove any insects that may be inside. Do not wash these flowers, and keep cool until ready to use. Carefully stuff a thin slice or two of jack or mozzarella cheese inside, securing with a toothpick if necessary. Next, lightly dredge in seasoned flour; dip into beaten egg; then dredge again in seasoned breadcrumbs or cornmeal. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, fry the squash blossoms in a bit of oil, turning once, until golden brown.  Sprinkle with a dash of salt, serve immediately and watch them disappear.

 

Squash blossoms, stuffed and fried

Just Because they’re Pretty…   …doesn’t mean they’re edible! Never eat flowers from the florist; they’re all treated with fungicides, insecticides, and other chemicals, rendering them toxic and inedible even if they’re not poisonous flowers.

Under no circumstances should you eat any of the following flowers, no matter if they are wild or domestic. They are noxious, poisonous, toxic, deadly, or worse. Don’t even touch ’em.

ACONITE       BLEEDING HEART (and Dutchman’s Breeches)    BUTTERCUP       CLEMATIS       DEATH CAMAS     DELPHINIUM       FOXGLOVE (digitalis)                                                 HEMLOCK (not the tree)       HYDRANGEA (snowball bush)     IRIS       LUPINE (including the seeds)       NIGHTSHADE     OLEANDER       PEONY       PERIWINKLE       POINSETTIA     SWEET PEA (not the vegetable pea, but the fragrant flower)    TANSY       WISTERIA

There are others, but these are the most common. I would also advise against eating wildflowers (or any other part of the plant) that resemble the dill plant, even though many are edible, since the Umbel family (their flowers look like umbrellas) has some virulently poisonous members in their ranks. So do certain members of the lily family, like the above-mentioned Death Camas, but onions and chives are lilies too, so I guess you can’t judge a whole family on account of one or two members. If you are gathering wild flowers to eat, be sure to make a positive identification first before picking.  If you want to eat garden flowers and aren’t sure which is which, ask at your local nursery or County Extension Master Gardeners for help in identifying the safe from the sorry… Oops! Pulmonary arrest, how inconvenient…

 

The wild Rose, fragrant and edible

 

 

Zucchini Pizza on a spooky Friday night

 

Just a quiet Friday nite in the Shababy/Veitch household, and like many families, Friday Night is Pizza Night. And spooky movies night (or tv shows), like The X-Files.

it’s Spooky out there

In our household, one of us is diabetic, and can’t eat much in the way of what the rest of us would call a “crust” or “bread”, at least not without spiking blood glucose. Gluten-free crust isn’t the answer either to a low-carb pizza, since rice flour and other alternatives to wheat are actually higher in carbs. For this pizza, the approximate total carbohydrate value is around 25g.  This doesn’t consider any sort of glycemic index since that doesn’t always seem to apply for measuring responses. http://nutritiondata.self.com/ 

So we compromise and make a breadless pizza. You could easily serve breadsticks or garlic bread on the side for folks who can eat them.

When I think about it, this dish is more like a vegetable lasagna w/o the noodles, particularly since you have to eat it with a fork, but we like calling it pizza, so humor us if you will.

What I am offering here is a simple photographic instruction on how we make this dish. Slather on the sauce if you wish, pile on the peppers, mound up mushrooms, make it how you like it for your family. In the summer when the CSA is overflowing, I like to use eggplant (my personal fave) instead of zucchini, but since it has twice as many carbs as the squash,  we sometimes make both! We love our local CSA, Mountain Cloud Farm. https://www.mountaincloudfarm.com/  

Pan-frying in olive oil

First I prep the squash whether peeling or not, then slice into 1/4″ pieces. I usually slice them into rounds, but not this time. Just brown the seasoned zucchini in a medium hot skillet in a bit of olive oil , they do not need to fully cook.

Aren’t they cute?

I like to line the pan with parchment to keep everything from sticking.  Next we put the sauce on and some pre-grated parmesan cheese, not necessarily top shelf, but appropriate for this application. I had also fried up a hot Italian sausage that I removed from it’s casing to layer on it’s great flavor. We sourced the sausage at Winter Ridge Market where they make it in-house from local pork.  http://winterridgefoods.com/departments/meat/

zucchini pizza in progress
Italian sausage kicking it up a notch
ready for the oven

After the sausage,  we added mushrooms and roasted red peppers, along with a sprinkling of mozzarella.

The red peppers were also sourced from the CSA. When we got them home, we roasted off the skins, laid them flat on a tray, and froze them. Then they were placed in zipper bags with parchment in between to keep them from sticking together. We were able to extend the harvest from our CSA, since during some of the summer weeks there is sometimes more produce than the two of us can eat, so we learned to choose what works best for us… yes, we can pick and choose at this farm, can you?

Then of course there is the waiting… I start out with a hot 425-degrees F. oven for about 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate and check every 15 minutes or so. Use a fork to see if the zucca is tender; I had to drain off a little liquid in last nite’s batch, perhaps a little more browing in the skillet would have made that unnecessary.

The pizza takes 30-40 minutes, which means you can enjoy some pre-supper libations if you choose, or a game or two of gin rummy. And the results?

be careful, it’s hot!

 

This dish is plated – bring on the movie!

As for The X-Files, it was the last episode of the series, a bit of a let-down in a way… but after all, it’s only a TV-show, right? I mean, just because you don’t believe in them doesn’t mean…

how much libation did you have?

 

 

We’re Crazy for spiced Nuts

 

I love nuts! I’m nuts about them. I’ve never met a nut I didn’t like. So I wanted to share a couple recipes with you for two varieties of spiced nuts.

pecans on the tree

 

cashews on the tree

The first recipe for cashews is delicious, with no added-fat, while the second recipe is not for the faint-of-heart since it uses a healthy dose of black pepper for flavoring.

 

cashew nuts

Sugar & Spice Cashews

2 egg whites

1/3 cup natural sugar or ½ cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon each, sea salt, cayenne, cumin and chili powder

¼ teaspoon each, allspice and ginger root powder

6 cups cashews, whole or large pieces

Pre-heat oven to 300-degrees. Line 3 ungreased baking pans with parchment.

In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy but not stiff. In another bowl, mix all the spice ingredients together, then stir into the egg whites. Stir in the nuts. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pans.

Bake the cashews for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, then toss and separate the nuts using a metal spatula. Return nuts to oven, reduce heat to 250-degrees, and bake another 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cashews from oven, stir again, then place pans on wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

 

pecans, loose and in the shell

Peppered Pecans

1/2 cup natural sugar

2 tablespoons sea salt

2-3 tablespoons ground black pepper

4 cups (about 16 ounces) pecan halves

Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Heat a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat, add the pecans and toss for a minute or so, to bring the nut oils out. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle half the spiced sugar over the pecans until the sugar begins to melt, about 1 minute. Add remaining spice and repeat.

After 1 minute or so, pour pecans onto a baking sheet, spreading to cool. Seal air tight to store.

 

peppercorns

 

black pepper on the vine