Monday, 30 December 2013

Bye Bye 2013

Not with a bang, but a whimper.  Who was that now?  Must look it up. 

My first thought in this likely to be very disorganised post is to give a totally random (in the proper old fashioned sense) piece of parenting advice to anyone who might be a parent or think of procreating: expose children to music of Mike Oldfield while tiny and still wriggly, and keep at it.  Early Mike Oldfield in particular, but nothing wrong with those later singles either.  Ability to fly in the head will result, simply taught, from a remarkably early age.  Also encourage to pay attention to music on TV and in film.  What seems to be background is running your consciousness, so be familiar.  Learn what you like and what presses your buttons, so you control it and not the other way round.  (And don’t only get addicted to sad or angry music.)

That’s completely aside from anything else I might say.  Which will be remarkably little.  I don’t have any resolutions this year.  I don’t have any thoughts on Christmas, or my unfashionable liking of it (which is starting to be more and more a thing of the past, a thing in my head, a bit of history).  I usually look on the approach of a New Year as a very spacious mental event.  I start to see a whole new segment appear.  Something curls round me and says: possibility.  All warm and furry.  This year, what I have is…none of that, or else it’s a dead cat, and its wet, and it’s starting to smell.  I will bury it, respectfully, as I love cats.

(Have never understood the whole thing about being a cat OR dog person.  I definitely enjoy cats a thousand times more; but dogs are fine, also good.  They are friendly – as a rule – they love with a seething bouncing loyal passion.  Nothing wrong with that.  And I get cross when people say they are stupid.  Any cat lover will have to admit for every time their cat is spectacularly intelligent suddenly, it will fall off a TV while licking its arse the next minute…I’m a cat person.  But dogs are fine too.  And both are quite possibly better than most people, eh?)

Myself and The Prince both have New Year funerals to attend.  Which could be seen as sort of an underlining of what’s gone and a greeting of the rest of the year, once you get home and loosen the tie, kick off the shoes etc.  I’m seeing mine as ill timed and depressing, but then I do tend to view things in this way.  Sometimes.  I’m in one of those times.

A friend on facebook put up an interesting status this morning.  She said usually she can look back on a year and…sort of quantify it; give it some adjectives, a flavour.  And this year she couldn’t.  She found this intriguing (which I read as thought provoking, rather than bothersome).  I can’t do mine either.  And I am bothered at that.  It feels chaotic in hindsight.  I remember a mad quest for TIME TO MYSELF that was vaguely successful only.  I remember a very successful reading of sequences of books; watchings of sequences of DVD film or TV series.  Themed music listening.  That was me desperate for order and control (and getting it, in those cases).  I feel there were constant interruptions, All Damn Year, to any time Stanley and I tried to have together.  We mourned the fact we were so short on personal time that when we had some, we mostly took it singly not together almost as a survival strategy, as we needed so badly to regroup and recharge – it became almost more precious than hugging time.  We have been running on fumes; we know it, we seem to be getting by; we’re surprised at this (being veterans of love lost for less and more than this).  We monitor.  This was the year we found little Fluffhead has difficulties.  You have to adjust your dreams and expectations when you find your child is developing differently.  That is fucking painful.  As is the fear you feel for them.

Fry has been travelling his own road.  His road worries me.  But it’s his road, so I’m not talking of it here, right now, anyway.  Nothing can cause you pain like your children can.  He said an interesting thing the other day, about your thirties being when you lose your hopes and dreams (this from a man in his early 20s).  I thought that a strange age to cite.  I feel like my 40s is me realising that I believe in very little indeed, realising just how much of what I used to take for granted, or chose to subscribe to, is redundant for me now.  Notice I don’t say its bullshit.  It just doesn’t fit me anymore.  Very little does.  I’m hoping this is a case of growing out of one thing and into another, a variety of others.  I haven’t lost everything: my love of green things, trees and nature and wanting to hug flowers and such is still very much with me; its grown and changed and is definitely different to its earlier naiver form – hence I liked that poem last post…there was mess and pain in there with the beauty: much more realistic to life.

I read in a very unlikely book the other day some weird and unexpected psychology of control, that I know to be at least partially true: “indifference is power”, “the secret to controlling any situation is manipulation of everyone involved, but successful manipulation of others begins with self-control”…i.e. not caring.  If you don’t care you can’t be hurt or controlled.  Something I’ve been after for a very long time, and have given up any hope of attaining. I care, therefore highs or contentment; I care, therefore lows or abysses.  No high without low, it seems.  So if I didn’t care, I might as well be dead, as I’d lose my sense of beauty and love.  Now, you wouldn’t expect a Charmed tie-in book to get me thinking along these lines would you?  Even one about troubled teens, foster homes and correctional facilities that turn out to be Darklighter training grounds[1]

I’ve read some most interesting and possibly helpful work recently, for my ‘mentalisms’ (as my favourite other blogger Aethelread[2], calls his own issues; it tweaked my humour, so I’ve adopted it), and so you may yet see a more adjusted me sometime soon.  I never stop trying to be a calmer Blackberry Juniper.  Might even review the book/s maybe.  Best things I’ve read since Existentialism, which is tough tough tough (the way doing Zen Buddhism properly is like being slapped round the face by a real proper utterly dead wet fish…or cat, to stay with the earlier disturbing analogy – its hard stuff, not easy at all).  But…worth doing.  (And easier to deal with than hangovers, since your brain is actually with you as you try.)

And since this post had no direction whatsoever and is not developing any as we move along, I am going to go now…the next post will have more direction.  Once I decide what it’s about.  I just wanted to say goodbye to this year.  Even if in a rather confused, definitely depressed, fuffly way.  Not sure I’m quite up to welcoming the next one yet…but I have hope.  I live. Forlornly, in the bottom of Pandora’s Box.  I’m probably hiding, or trying to have a nap. 

I’m going to leave you with a tune that’s been in my head all day, and I’m finding it comforting, hypnotic and helpful. (One of the gifts of Stanley.  People who give music are always precious.  And coffee.  That last comment aimed at both Troubadour and Time Traveller.)

[1] Mist and Stone, by Diana G. Gallagher, 2003, Simon & Schuster, NY.  Charmed TV tie-in book.  Unexpectedly profound in places.
[2] See my blogroll.  If you haven’t read him, READ him. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Words of Someone Else...had to share...

This is an unusual one for me, but I loved this poem that a friend found on the web just now, so had to share it with you.  Its by Tom Hirons, his blog is here, go find more of him:

Its called:


Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.
 When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

He will not ring the doorbell;
Instead he scrapes with his fingers
Leaving blood on the paintwork,
Though primroses grow
In circles round his feet.

You do not want to let him in.
You are very busy.
It is late, or early, and besides…
You cannot look at him straight
Because he makes you want to cry.

The dog barks.
The wild god smiles,
Holds out his hand.
The dog licks his wounds
And leads him inside.

The wild god stands in your kitchen.
Ivy is taking over your sideboard;
Mistletoe has moved into the lampshades
And wrens have begun to sing
An old song in the mouth of your kettle.

‘I haven’t much,’ you say
And give him the worst of your food.
He sits at the table, bleeding.
He coughs up foxes.
There are otters in his eyes.

When your wife calls down,
You close the door and
Tell her it’s fine.
You will not let her see
The strange guest at your table.

The wild god asks for whiskey
And you pour a glass for him,
Then a glass for yourself.
Three snakes are beginning to nest
In your voicebox. You cough.

Oh, limitless space.
Oh, eternal mystery.
Oh, endless cycles of death and birth.
Oh, miracle of life.
Oh, the wondrous dance of it all.

You cough again,
Expectorate the snakes and
Water down the whiskey,
Wondering how you got so old
And where your passion went.

The wild god reaches into a bag
Made of moles and nightingale-skin.
He pulls out a two-reeded pipe,
Raises an eyebrow
And all the birds begin to sing.

The fox leaps into your eyes.
Otters rush from the darkness.
The snakes pour through your body.
Your dog howls and upstairs
Your wife both exhalts and weeps at once.

The wild god dances with your dog.
You dance with the sparrows.
A white stag pulls up a stool
And bellows hymns to enchantments.
A pelican leaps from chair to chair.

In the distance, warriors pour from their tombs.
Ancient gold grows like grass in the fields.
Everyone dreams the words to long-forgotten songs.
The hills echo and the grey stones ring
With laughter and madness and pain.

In the middle of the dance,
The house takes off from the ground.
Clouds climb through the windows;
Lightning pounds its fists on the table.
The moon leans in through the window.

The wild god points to your side.
You are bleeding heavily.
You have been bleeding for a long time,
Possibly since you were born.
There is a bear in the wound.

‘Why did you leave me to die?’
Asks the wild god and you say:
‘I was busy surviving.
The shops were all closed;
I didn’t know how. I’m sorry.’

Listen to them:
The fox in your neck and
The snakes in your arms and
The wren and the sparrow and the deer…
The great un-nameable beasts
In your liver and your kidneys and your heart…

There is a symphony of howling.
A cacophony of dissent.
The wild god nods his head and
You wake on the floor holding a knife,
A bottle and a handful of black fur.

Your dog is asleep on the table.
Your wife is stirring, far above.
Your cheeks are wet with tears;
Your mouth aches from laughter or shouting.
A black bear is sitting by the fire.

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine
And brings the dead to life.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Meadowsweet: Snippets of Interesting Things, Part 4

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Meadowsweet is famous.  But we’ll get to that in a mo.  You’ll have seen this one about, its both prolific and beautiful, a lovely sight: frothy smallish  offwhite/cream coloured flowers, smelling of marzipan and tasting gently of almond according to James Wong, herbalist, ethno-botanist and author of the catchily titled Grow Your Own Drugs (2009), and of cucumber according to Jeff Cox and Marie Pierre-Moine, authors of The Herb Garden for Cooks (2010).  It’s a member of the Rose family.

It’s another hardy herbaceous perennial.  It grows between2-4 feet high and spreads about 2 feet outward when it’s growing happily in good dampish ground (it would like my garden).  Its leaves are darkish green, serrated and deeply veined, smelling of oil of wintergreen when crushed[1].

Meadowsweet has uses today even beyond its most famous one, and beyond its strong use in modern herbalism; it’s very handy in the kitchen.  Jekka McVicar has this to say: “both the leaves and flowers are edible. The flowers have a mild almond flavour[2] and can be added to stewed fruits, jellies and jams.  They are also good for flavouring meads and beers, and make an interesting wine.  Young spring leaves have a dry flavour and can be added to salads and soups.[3] 

The roots are also used for a black dye, to this day, in some UK textile factories; though meadowsweet is actually very versatile when it comes to being a dye, and depending on mordant, was used in Scotland in the past to create yellow (using the flowers; mordant: alum), reddish brown (using the root; mordant: ferrous sulphate) and a grey black (which utilised the flowers, not the root; and again, used ferrous sulphate as mordant)[4].

Usage in History

Meadowsweet has a long history of being used to flavour mead, especially in Scotland. Highland Wineries use still, for example.  Agnes Walker (2003) wrote a book on historical herb usage in Scotland, and has this:
Gerrard (1663) says that ‘the floures boiled in wine and drunk do maketh the heart merrie’.  According to Dickson and Dickson the old name for meadowsweet in southern Scotland literally means ‘mead plant’.  Extensive research into the types and proportions of pollen, found a sticky substance in a funerary beaker from a Bronze Age cist in Fife (dated 1250) that contained immature pollen from unpollinated flowers and mature pollen which could have been picked up by bees in making honey.  Other pollen grains found were common ingredients of honey.  This led them to conclude that the mixture must have contained a honey drink, perhaps fermented, flavoured with meadowsweet flowers. Experiments by a distillery firm showed that adding meadowsweet flowers to barley ale produced an ale that remained drinkable for months[5].

She adds that, culinarily speaking it was the favourite stewing herb of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and among the nobles.  They also used it as one of their floor strewing herbs, as they found the release of the wintergreen oil on treading pleasant, especially in the winter months.  It was also used to scent linen and the flowers used for pot pourri[6].

Medicinal Uses, past and present

Culpeper waxes lyrical again over this one, another herb of Venus[7]:
It is used to stay all manner of bleedings, fluxes, vomitings, women’s menses, as also their whites; it is said to take away the fits of quartan agues[8] […]  it speedily helps those that are troubled with the cholic, being boiled in wine; and with a little honey, taken warm, it opens the belly; but boiled in red wine, and drunk, it stays the flux of the belly.  Being outwardly applied it heals old ulcers that are cancerous or eaten, or hollow and fistulous, for which it is by many much commended, as also for sores in the mouth and secret parts[9].

We’ll come now to why meadowsweet is famous.  It was traditionally used in the Highlands and Islands for treating fevers and headaches[10].  Meadowsweet contains a substance called salicylic acid, from which the Bayer Company in 1889, synthesized acetylsalicylic acid, the basis for what we now know as Aspirin[11]:
The main uses are for alimentary tract disorders and rheumatism.  Unlike aspirin, however, meadowsweet appears to be protective to the stomach lining while providing the anti inflammatory benefit.  There is documented scientific evidence for some of the antiseptic, anti-rheumatic and astringent actions, despite the absence of human clinical data[12].

Modern Herbalism Usage

The aerial parts are used in modern herbalism.  It’s thought preferable to aspirin, its synthesized cousin, because as a plant, it works in compound fashion, reducing the chances of a reaction of the stomach lining that aspirin can induce (aspirin = stronger, but rougher).  Meadowsweet contains more than just salicylic acid; it’s an essential oil with compounds called spiraeine and gualtherin, as well as tannin and citric acid (in other words, for the more nutritionist amongst you: flavonoids, oil, and phenolic glycosides).  It acts as an antacid, anti-emetic, astringent, anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, and is thought of as:  “one of the best digestive remedies for holistic practitioners. It protects and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and easing nausea.  It is used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastritis and peptic ulceration.  Its gentle astringency is useful for treating diarrhoea in children”[13].  Because it also acts as a mild diuretic, it can help with treating edema.  Bartram describes it as “the herbalists bicarbonate of soda”, explaining that the salicyclic acid is so potent because of its anti-thrombotic effect on the blood vessels[14].  Taken as a tincture, 1-4mls is recommended 3 times a day; whereas if taken as an infusion, 1-2tsp of the dried herb should be steeped for 10-15 minutes, again, for drinking 3 times a day, initially.  (Obviously, if you’re feeling all this applies to you, go see a proper Medical Herbalist, yes?)

 Taken from the goodly cooks at

Magickal Uses, past and present

Said to be one of the three most sacred herbs of the Druids, the other 2 being watermint and vervain.[15]

Used as a suitable floral tribute at grave sites in the Bronze Age; shown by analysis of pollen grains found as far and wide as the Orkneys, Perthshire in the North, and Carmarthenshire, Wales in the West.  Druidically (by which I mean a mixture of attempted historical reconstruction and a range of sympathetic neo-pagan modern practices, as enacted by those members of OBOD or the BDO, for example), this is still the perfect herb for funerals, because its considered a rite of passage herb.  A herb journeying from one state to another, much like its traditional usage: from fever to normal temperature, from pain to placidity.  It was also “strewn before bridal couples”, giving it its other main folk name of ‘Bridewort’ or ‘Bride of the Meadow’[16]. 

Nowadays, this herb is often used in spells and charms to lift depression and promote peace, both within the person, and within a home or work environment.  Ellen Every Hopman maintains this is a herb of gentle love spells[17], calling for peaceful affection.  Cassandra Eason goes further, saying it “can bring lasting love, happiness and psychic awareness, especially about those who have wronged you and have malice in their hearts.  It is used for both gentle cleansing and healing, bringing peace within the self, warring factions and globally”[18]. I love the optimism!  That makes me want to carry some about with me forever (at the rate I annoy people; it might well be sensible!).

It’s particularly associated with Lammas, with women encouraged to wear garlands of Meadowsweet to join with the essence of the Goddess[19].  It can be foraged for from June onwards, through to Lammas time, when new growth should be picked – as if you’re planning on cooking or making a cordial with it (say), to honour the Goddess, the fresh new growth will contain more active ingredients and taste better.

Culinary Treats!

Since I seem to have gone all contrarily summery in the midst of November, I thought I’d finish this post with 2 brill recipes from ethno-botanist James Wong’s excellent home herbal remedy book A Year With James Wong (2010).  The first is for a pain relieving syrup (with a child friendly variant after, and one that you can also use if you think you may experience any irritation with the salicylic acid in meadowsweet).  The second is for a delightful sounding sorbet.  I can imagine eating this in winter despite how wonderfully summery it sounds, and with the added pain reliving ingredient…sounds good for a cold to me…

Take it away James!  Here on in, it’s all him till the end of the post…
Ehem, irrelevantly pretty ethno-botanist, James Wong 
(image from The Telegraph, thankyou)

Meadowsweet Cordial

James’s intro:
Sweet, fragrant, and with the power to relieve pain – it’s hard to see how a remedy could get any better.  This flowery syrup is based on the frothy blossoms of meadowsweet plants, traditionally used to treat headaches and fevers, and one of the plants from which aspirin was first derived[20].  The very word ‘aspirin’ comes from the plant’s old Latin name, Spiraea[21].  With a flavour like a fizzy cross between elderflower and marzipan, meadowsweet flowers can be found in damp meadows and along banks and ditches all over Britain.


1 lemon
10-20 meadowsweet flowerheads (pref. fresh)
180ml water
180g sugar


  1. Grate the rind from the lemon and squeeze the juice.  Place the lemon rind and juice with all the other ingredients in a stainless steel pan[22].  Bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally, and the simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Strain into one or two sterilized bottles and allow cooling before sealing.  (Its best to make small amounts of this recipe as the syrup can go mouldy within a week of opening.)  For a year round supply, simply pop a couple of bottles of the cordial in the freezer, where they will last for at least one year.

For Use:
Dilute with water for a refreshing drink.

Should not be given to children under 16.  Don’t take if pregnant or allergic to aspirin.

Keep in the fridge, and use within 1 week.  Or in the freezer for up to one year.

Child Friendly Variant:
For children aged 2-16, you can use other fragrant summer flowering herbs such as lemon balm or elderflower, instead of the meadowsweet.  Just substitute 3-4 heaped teaspoons of the fresh flowers for the meadowsweet, and follow the recipe above.

Meadowsweet and Peach Sorbet

pic from - check for excellent vegan recipes
James’s Intro:
Pairing the pain-relieving properties of meadowsweet with the flavour of sweet summer peaches, this cooling fruity sorbet is a true guiltless pleasure.  (For the meadowsweet cordial component, see the recipe above.)

3 ripe peaches
1 orange
120ml meadowsweet cordial
2 egg whites

  1. Peel and stone the peaches and put them into the blender.
  2. Add the grated zest and juice of the orange, as well as the meadowsweet cordial, and whizz for a few seconds.
  3. Put in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until just beginning to freeze (about 1 hour, depending on your freezer).  Remove from the freezer and beat thoroughly.
  4. Whip the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the peach mixture and freeze until ready to eat.

Gorge on as required.

Should not be given to children under 16.  Don’t take is pregnant or allergic to aspirin.

Will keep up to 3 months in a sealed container in the freezer.

As for the last recipe, to make this child friendly, for ages 2-16, make the sorbet with lemon balm or elderflower cordial instead of the meadowsweet cordial.

(These recipes are both taken from: A Year With James Wong, by James Wong [London: Collins, 2010], pp.102-103 – and thankyou very much for them!  Yum!  I recommend all 3 of James Wong’s books – he writes very readably about basic safe home practice of herbalism.  He’s a great place to start if you’re interested in this topic.  Series 1 of his BBC programme, Grow Your Own Drugs was still available on Amazon when I last checked.  It’s often handy to see this sort of thing done, if it seems at all daunting.  Also check out his website, it has audio, and video clips from his programmes, too:

Till Our Next Merry Meeting, people!  I’ll try and be more seasonal and do a wintery herb next time I do a herb post!!

And remember: just enjoy the info here; I’m not a doctor, I’m just an enthusiast – don’t go dosing yourself without a professional to hand!!

[1] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.161.
[2] That’s one point to James Wong in the taste test trial, then!
[3] McVicar, p.161.
[4] Agnes Walker, A Garden of Herbs: Traditional Uses of Herbs in Scotland (Scotland: Argyll Publishing, 2003), pp.94-97.
[5] Agnes Walker, A Garden of Herbs: Traditional Uses of Herbs in Scotland (Scotland: Argyll Publishing, 2003), pp.64-65.
[6] Walker, p.82.
[7] Though Ellen Evert Hopman views it as a herb of Jupiter.
[8] ‘Quartan ague’ = Malarial bacterias…
[9] Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: Arcturus, 2009), p.308.
[10] M. Beith, Healing Threads (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1995), p.67.
[11] Walker, p.35.
[12] For much discussion of this interesting angle and the sort of testing that has been done already, on meadowsweet and other herbs, see these 2 books: J. Barnes, L.A. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson, Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health Care Professionals (London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 2002, 2nd edition), AND, C. Newall, L. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson, Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health Care Professionals (London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 1st edition).
[13] David Hoffman, New Holistic Herbal (London: Element Books, 1990), p.215.
[14] Thomas Bartram, Bartram’s Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine (London: Constable and Robinson, 1998), p.287.
[15] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 9, p.7, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[16] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 9, p.8, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[17] Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal of the Sacred Earth Year (Vermont: Destiny Books, 1995), p.99.
[18] Cassandra Eason, The Modern Day Druidess: A Practical Guide to Nature Spirituality, (London: Piatkus, 2003), p.134.
[19] Harold Pryce-Thorn, Miscellany of Superstition (London: Mondham and Son, 1902), p.7.
[20] The other one is Willow Bark.
[21] (This as you remember, is one of the active compounds within the meadowsweet plant.)
[22] This is one of the few herbal recipes that calls for a stainless steel pan; most will insist on enamel (you can get them from specialist cookshops) as it is completely neutral when it comes to simmering herbs for long periods, and there will be no hint of metallic flavour. (This recipe doesn’t have a long simmering time, hence ordinary pans are alright to use.)  Enamel also holds heat differently.  It’s the same idea as when trying to be authentic when cooking a Middle Eastern tagine, for example, and using a….Tagine (the clay cooking pot) as it distributes heat very evenly.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Mugwort: Snippets of Interesting Things , Part 3

It’s been a while since I did any of my Druidry reading, and told you of any herbs.  So today I’ll tell you a little of Mugwort…and then tomorrow I’ll tell you of Meadowsweet.  How’s that sound?

Mugwort (Artemsia Vulgaris)

Jekka tells us this is a hardy herbaceous perennial growing freely both by the road and by small water courses.  It can grow up to 4 ft and spread 18” (apologies, despite being born in 1971, I do not appear to have gone metric at all…).  It has tiny reddish brown (and sometimes yellow) flowers that appear in summer.  Its leaves are dark green serrated and appear covered in down, as are all the leaves of plants in the Artemesia family (including Vulgaris’s close relative Absinthium, aka Wormwood, of the famous scary absinthe drink!; and the brilliantly named Dracunculus, which is French Tarragon, commonly cooked with today).[1]

Historical Usage

If they wad drink nettles in March
And eat muggins in May
Sae many braw maidens
Wadna gang to clay.

This is a poem quoted by folkorists of the mermaid of Clyde’s pronouncement on seeing the funeral of a young girl.  Gabrielle Hatfield, author of Memory, Wisdom and Domestic Plant Medicine [2], explains the poem, and then goes on to tell of a historical phenomenon I’ve read of often when researching herbal remedies for these posts and for my own interest:
The ‘muggins’ mentioned by the mermaid was a plant well known for its use in treating ‘women’s afflictions’.  Known also as Mugwort, this plant appears in proverbs in Scotland and Wales.  Carmichael quotes:

Wad ye let the bonny may die in your hand
And the mugwort flowering I’ the land?[3]

When I began studying plant medicines in use within living memory in Britain, mugwort did not appear at first.  Then a letter from a man brought up in Essex gave this information, recalled from the 1920s: ‘In our garden my father grew a clump of “Mugwort” and I think my mother used this for irregularities peculiar to women.’  He added that he particularly remembered the mugwort because of his father’s strict instructions not to pull it up!  Mugwort grows in the wild, but presumably in this case the family wished to be assured of a constant supply when it was needed.

Originally, practical instructions were part of the common knowledge of plant remedies, and would have been passed down orally from one generation of plant users to the next.  Once copied into the literature of the day, they became altered in various ways.  Scorn was poured on them in some quarters, and still is today[4].  In other instances, they were altered and exaggerated, and tied in with astrology and all kinds of other beliefs.  Culpeper, for example, embroidered this aspect of plant medicine.[5] […]  In any case his readers represented the literate minority, and the illiterate majority doubtless continued to use plant remedies in the same way their families had done for generations.  This is an example of how the written version of plant medicine diverged increasingly from empirical plant usage.

As Thompson[6], Ewart Evans[7] and many others have testified, oral testimony is often remarkably accurate.  However, once information is committed to print, any errors that creep in tend to become perpetuated, and an […] example of this has already been mentioned [earlier in her book] where the oral version of a remedy used for horses had survived accurately whereas the printed version in a veterinary book was totally wrong.  This is the kind of incorrect evidence which has often, quite unjustly, brought traditional remedies into disrepute.[8]

Whilst that was a monster long quote there, I felt it needed leaving in its entirety, as I’m not only telling you about individual herbs in these posts, but a little about the history of their usage, and their recorded usage.  It’s as well you’re aware that there have been, and continue to be, sometimes serious discrepancies between oral and written record concerning dosages, usages etc.  (In another post later, on Comfrey, I’ll let Ms Hatfield tell you all about the dangers of incomplete herbal information, too…and why you should always check multiple reliable sources before attempting any herbalism on yourself at home.)

Culpeper, impugned so thoroughly there by Ms Hatfield, has this to say on Mugwort, and we’ll start off where she complains:
This is a herb of Venus, and therefore maintains the parts of the body she rules, and remedies the diseases of the parts that are under her signs, Taurus and Libra.  Mugwort is used with good success, among other herbs, in a hot decoction, for women to sit over, to provoke the menses, help delivery, and expel the afterbirth; also, for the obstructions and inflammations of the womb.  It breaks the stone, and causes one to make water when it is stopped.[9]

He also describes it used as a pessary, and the roots made into an ointment with ‘hogs lard’ to take away ‘wens and kernals about the neck and throat’.  He tells of it also being used as a remedy for an overdose of opium (not sure quite how that would work), and ‘three drachms of the powder in dried leaves, taken in wine’ as a ‘sure and speedy cure of the sciatica’[10].  So he felt it something of a wonder drug; then again, in those days, most herbs were used for multiple functions.

It wasn’t only used medicinally.  In the extremely informative The Medieval Garden, the author describes a house called Bayleaf, in England, circa 1500, a yeoman’s residence, from various papers left behind.  Mugwort was in use as a vermicidal by the mistress of the house.  When the floors were regularly swept out (and the results composted), the new herbs strewn down would always include both mugwort leaves and its relative wormwood to discourage rats and mice, as well as mints and fennel for their fresh smells[11].

Herbalism Today

Mugwort is still in use within British Herbalism today.  It’s known as ‘the Mother of Herbs’ because it’s still used for multiple purposes.  “Best described as a tonic with particular application to the digestive and nervous systems, it reduces nervous indigestion, nausea, and irritability.  As a womb tonic it is useful to regulate periods and reduce period pain and PMS”[12] – so little change in that aspect of its traditional usage.  The parts used are the flowers and leaves, primarily.  Its usually taken as an infusion, dosed at ¼ - ½ tsp 3 times a day.  And strictly avoided in pregnancy, for the obvious reasons above: it interacts too strongly with the womb.

Nowadays, a common usage of mugwort is in Japanese Herbalism, where it is used to make Moxas, a cure for rheumatism[13]; and also used in acupuncture, a resinous fluff lump (!- Ok my descriptive powers are limited there) lit gently to smoulder and suspended on one of the needles, so as to heat the needle softly with the additional stimulation simply of heat, to that point where the needle is placed.  (I once had a funny moxa accident during acupuncture; it just fell off, as it was slightly too big for the needle…and yes, I got a burn from it.  In the perfect shape of a triangle on my stomach.  It didn’t hurt too badly, and for years, in a mischievous and silly way, I would show off the scar and tell people I got it when abducted by aliens.  Eventually, due to regular and copious lathering with lavender oil the scar faded clean away, so I have been forced to stop telling that enjoyably untrue anecdote. Tsk.)

Magickal Uses, traditional and current

As suggested by its Latin name, sacred to the Goddess Artemis (goddess of the moon and childbirth).  Its folk remedy characteristics as an ‘easer of the troubles of women’ are reflected here too: periods, menopause, childbirth – but more widely, as a general protector, aimed mostly at women but also available to men.

Used primarily in magickal terms as a cleansing herb, in the same way as Agrimony (see previous post).  Using both herbs in an incense thoroughly cleanses a room, creating an atmosphere conducive to meditation and/or divination.  It’s supposed to aid clairvoyance, and it’s suggested that an infusion be drunk before scrying “to widen perception”[14].  Alternatively, rubbing the infusion over a mirror or other glass surface[15] to be looked into (go get your crystal ball!) will do a similar job. Sleeping with an herb pillow of Mugwort is “an encouragement to Future Seeking Dreams”[16]. Protectively, it was hung over doorways to houses, as a folk charm against lightning, misfortune and thievery; but under the doorway to stop unwanted visitors[17].

Cassandra Eason, prolific modern writer on all things odd and mostly interesting to Blackberry Juniper, adds these as variations on traditional magickal uses for mugwort: it’s a help to shape-shifting (in the vision quest, astral sort of way) and is protective of all travellers, especially from predators, human or otherwise[18].

The leaves are supposed to be gathered on Midsummer’s Eve; the roots during autumn.  The flowers, though so familiar and gorgeous looking, are not often used magickally nowadays.

And there we leave it for today, people!  Remember, I’m not a doctor, so don’t go dosing yourself based on anything I’ve said!  Just enjoy the info, and if interested, do more reading! 

It’s a fascinating subject, herbalism in history and in practice, both medical and magickal – which I stress, are 2 completely different emphases, and Medical Herbalists will get most shirty if you bundle them in with neo-pagan practitioners like myself, so don’t go doing that!!

Till tomorrow, and the gentle Meadowsweet…

[1] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.136.
[2] A Professor of the University of East Anglia for many years, and also an Honorary Research Fellow at Kew Gardens, to list her credentials!
[3] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 6 vols, vol V, p.125 (Edinburgh:1970-71).
[4] From Hatfield’s footnotes: ‘Dr Speller claims there is little in these bizarre and entertaining “cures” that can have any basis in therapeutics’, letter in Margaret Baker, Folklore and Customs of Rural England, 1974, p.169.   Another author goes so far as to state: “In general, native plant remedies are of little value”, D.J. Guthrie, Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 1961, vol 39, part 2.’
[5] Nicholas Culpeper, The English Physician (London: 1652).
[6] E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common (Suffolk: Merlin Press, 1981).
[7] George Ewart Evans, Where Birds Wag All (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), p.18.
[8] Gabrielle Hatfield, Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999), pp.79-80.
[9] Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: Arcturus Publishing, 2009), p.253.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Sylvia Lansdberg, The Medieval Garden (London: The British Museum Press, 1998), p.116.
[12] Sue Hawkey, Herbalism for Health and Wellbeing (Bath: Southwater, 2000), p.32.
[13] Jekka McVicar, New Book of Herbs (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004), p.136.

[14] Miscellany of Superstition, by Harold Pryce-Thorn, pp.76, Mondham and Son, London: 1902.
[15] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 6, p.7, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[16] Miscellany of Superstition, by Harold Pryce-Thorn, pp.78-79, Mondham and Son, London: 1902.
[17] Gwers of the Ovate Grade, 6, p.6, published by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Lewes: 2011.
[18] Cassandra Eason, The Modern Day Druidess: A Practical Guide to Nature Spirituality (London: Piatkus, 2003), p.134.