With the summer heat now upon us, it’s time – no pun intended- to harvest some of our herbs. Here in the Central Valley of Oregon, things are a bit trickier, gardening wise, so we need to pick hardy perennials. With that in mind, let me introduce you to our Herb of the Month-Thyme.
Thyme is a member of the mint family. It is generally a low growing perennial, winter hardy to zone five. Leaves are dark, gray green in color and the labiate flowers are tiny and generally pink. Blooms in early to midsummer. There are many tiny oval-shaped leaves on each slender, woody stem.
Thyme comes in over fifty varieties with different fragrances and flavors. Fresh or English thyme are used most often in cooking.
A native of the Mediterranean, Thyme was spread throughout Europe and used frequently by the Romans. Their soldiers added it to their bathwater to increase bravery, strength, and vigor. It enjoyed a long association with bravery. In Medieval England, ladies embroidered sprigs of thyme into their knights’ scarves to increase their bravery. In Scotland, highlanders brewed tea to increase courage and keep away nightmares.
Thyme is also a purificatory herb; the Greeks burned it in their temples to purify them and so thyme is often burned prior to magical rituals to cleanse the area. In spring a magical cleansing bath composed of marjoram and thyme is taken to ensure all the sorrows and ills of the past are removed from the person.
It is said that places where wild thyme grows are blessed by fae, and due to this association thyme is often used in work regarding fae.
Parts used – Whole Herb
Thyme can grow in the ground or in a container. Either is left outside in wintertime. New leaves will emerge within the early spring. Thyme thrives in full sun and loves heat. Thyme likes well-drained soil as it doesn’t like “wet feet.” In the garden, plant with other drought-tolerant perennials.
It’s hard to grow thyme from seeds as they are slow to germinate and easily “drowned”. It is much simpler, and more satisfying, to buy the plants from a garden center or take some cuttings from a friend. Over time, you can propagate from your own cuttings.
Plant cuttings or young thyme plants any time after the ground temperature reaches 70°F. This is usually 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost in well-drained soil about 9 inches apart.
Space young plants 12 to 24 inches apart, depending upon the specific variety. They will spread out quite a bit so they need plenty of room.
Thyme does well in greenhouses and even indoors with proper grow lights and moisture levels. This is important in Central Oregon as are many micro-climates can make growing any herbs a challenge.
Thyme is used most often to flavor soups, stews, meats and veggies. I use it in my pasta sauce, beans and sprinkle it into chicken soup. It’s great on roasted potatoes, and even in fresh bread.
Thyme can be used either fresh or dried. Dried has a more powerful flavor so use less than you would fresh, roughly one third of the dried herb compared to fresh. When using fresh you can use the entire stem (remove the stem before serving) or remove the leaves from the stems and sprinkle into your dish.
Thyme infused vinegar is a wonderful way to add flavor to salads and veggies. Fill a jar with fresh thyme (dried can be used in a pinch but it is harder to strain) and then cover with white wine vinegar. Let the jar sit for several days to a week. You will know when it is ready when the vinegar has a strong thyme taste. Strain the vinegar and discard the thyme. Place back in the jar or a fancy serving decanter.
The information provided below is for educational purposes only and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Before using any herb medicinally, always consult with your physician.
Thyme is often used for acute respiratory infections including coughs and colds. It can sooth gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, gas, and indigestion.
Thyme is a powerful disinfectant and antiseptic when used both externally – as a wash – and internally in a tea or tincture.
Some benefits of using Thyme are:
Our Herb of the Month-Thyme, is an amazing plant. It is hardy, easy to grow, great for cooking and packed with medicinal benefits. May this humble yet amazing plant grace your garden and bring you joy.
Sources: Gladstar, Rosemary, Medicinal Herbs, a Beginner’s Guide, Storey Publishing 2012; Tierra, Michael, The Way of Herbs, Pocket Books, 1988
Vervain, commonly known as Verbena, is an extremely versatile herb, both magickly and medicinally. Found all around the world, it has a rich and useful history. Vervain has been considered a magickal and sacred herb in many different cultures throughout the centuries. It is best remembered as a sacred plant to both the Druids and the Roman priesthood.
To the ancient Romans the name “verbena” meant altar plant. The twigs of the plant were put into bundles and then used to sweep the altar and temple areas.
The name “vervain” comes from the Celtic term “ferfaen; “fer” meaning “to drive away” and “faen” meaning “a stone”. Healers would gather this herb to be used to treat kidney stones – something it is still used for today.
Vervain is a slim plant that may grow to be about 80 cm (32 in) tall. It is a hardy perennial and self-sows. It grows freely in the wild and is often found along roadsides and in dry or stony grounds. Today it is a favorite in many a garden and a staple in every witch’s herbal cabinet and apothecary.
Plant: Common Vervain
Scientific Name: Verbena
Genus: Verbena, L.
Latin Name: Verbena Officinalis, Verbena Californica, Verbena Hastata (Blue Vervain)
Folk/Secret Names: Van Van, Dragon’s Claw, Enchanter’s Plant, Herba Sacra, Holy Plant, Frog’s Foot, Juno’s Tears, Pigeon Grass
Astrological Signs: Gemini
Deities: Venus, Cerridwen, Isis, Mars, Venus, Aradia, Jupiter, Thor, Juno
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Vervain is a sacred plant, potentially the most mystical plant on earth. It is used on altars and is a staple plant in magic ceremonies. It is a versatile herb that has many magickal uses.
Parts Used: Flowers and Leaves
Substitutions: Motherwort, Skullcap, California Poppy
This easy to grow plant is a favorite in many home gardens. The Verbena genus is large, contains both annuals and perennials, and has a range in height from 10 cm through to 1.4 m. Vervain (Verbena) as an annual grows in zones 1 to 10, as a perennial: zones 3 to 10. In general the plants have dark green toothed leaves, and bloom from summer until the first frost of winter. Depending on the variety they may have clusters of tiny flat fragrant flowers or spikes with tiny flowers, making Vervain a great attractor of butterflies and bees to the garden.
Vervain can easily be started from seeds. Be sure to stratify the seeds (follow link for definition) to increase the germination rate. Sow seeds outside after the last frost of spring. Seeds can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to germinate, so don’t get discouraged. Alternately you can pick up plants from your local nursery.
Plants need full sun and well-drained soil. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Spacing of your plants will depend on the variety. Consult the information on the seed packets or plant tags to determine the planting space required for your variety. When in doubt, consult the staff of your favorite nursery or garden center.
Depending on your soil quality and acidity, Vervain needs very little fertilizer. I usually add a bit to the soil before I sow seeds or add new plants and to any established perennials in the early spring.
Blooms are very long lived. However, Vervain is self-sowing so if you don’t want your garden overrun with these beautiful plants cut the flowers before they go to seed.
The information provided below is for educational purposes only and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Additional Information
Verbena Officinalis is most often used medicinally. Alternately you could use Verbena Hastata. Some of Vervain’s properties are:
Vervain is most often used to treat:
Please consult a licensed Herbalist and your Physician before using any parts of the Vervain plant medicinally.
Beyerl, Paul The Master Book of Herbalism Blaine, Washington, Phoenix Publishing Inc. 1981
Dugan, Ellen Garden Witch’s Herbal, Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications 2009
Mueller-Ebeling, Claudia, Ratsch, Christian, and Storl, Wolf-Dieter Witchcraft Medicine Vermont Inner Traditions 2003
Tierra, Michael The Way of Herbs New York, NY, Pocket Books, 1998
In our last two installments we planned our garden and then planted our seedlings and sowed our seeds. In this, “The Witches Garden: Part Three” we will be discussing how to maintain your newly planted garden.
Our first step in maintaining our garden is to thin our newly sown seeds. If you’ve planted nursery plants, you’ll be able to skip this step.
As your seedlings emerge, use the information on your seed packet to thin them out. The cilantro plants shown here need to be thinned to 6 to 8 inches apart. Thin your plants when the second set of leaves have appeared. Thinning your seedlings, gives them the space the require to grow to maturity without being crowded.
If you placed a mesh screen over the tops of your seedlings, remove it once the new plants are pushing up against it. Otherwise, your plants will bend sideways and their growth may be stunted.
Maintaining your garden includes protecting your plants and seedlings from the attack of predatory insects. Snails, slugs, earwigs, aphids and mites love to munch on young plants, often with devastating results. There are several organic methods that can deter or eliminate these predators.
Weeds are the bane of most gardeners existence. These persistent plants seem to pop up exactly where we don’t want them. Unfortunately, if you wish to keep your garden as organic as possible the best method to rid yourself of weeds is to pull them.
Note: Let your seedlings grow a bit before weeding. If you are unfamiliar with how your new plants look you may inadvertently pull them instead of your weeds. When in doubt, do a quick internet search. Information and images of your plants in all stages is readily available to you.
Pulling your weeds doesn’t have to be a chore if you do it a little every day. Weeding is actually a wonderful way to enjoy the sun, play in the dirt and listen to the earth around you. The act of pulling weeds can even be meditative as long as your entire focus is on the repetition of pulling out the weeds.
The most effective way of ridding your garden of pesky weeds it to be certain to pull the entire root of the weed. Merely yanking the tops of the weeds does nothing because the roots will continue to shoot up new plants. Loosen the soil gently around the weed and then pull the plant close to the root ball or tendrils. Weeds such as clovers may have an intensive root system so they may require a bit more work to eradicate. Be patient!
In order to keep your garden blooming and thriving you must have two things: 1) Water; 2) Food – in the form of fertilizers.
Different plants have different water and food requirements. Always check your seed packets and information provided with your plants to determine how much water they require. Some plants may like moist soil, which means you will have to water more frequently than those who like dry or sandy conditions.
How you water is up to you and your location. Some areas get a great deal of rain in the spring and summer so your plants may only need an occasional hand watering. Here in the California Central Valley our summers are extremely hot and dry. I have many of my plants on automatic drip watering systems to insure that they are not getting parched under the summer sun.
Be cautious. You can overwater your plants. If your plants are yellowing or losing leaves, back off on the water. Conversely, if your plants are drooping and turning brown, they need more water. It takes a bit of trial and error to determine a successful watering schedule. A few minutes each day observing your plants should be all it takes to determine what they require.
Feeding your plants is fairly simple as well. Most plants will require additional nutrients every 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the type of plant and the fertilizer being used. Check your labels for amounts and timing, as each type differs.
Following the manufacture’s direction, sprinkle or spray your plants about three weeks after planting or after new seedling have gotten their second set of leaves. Fertilizers may have to be worked into the soil around the plant a bit. Water immediately after fertilizing to help release it into the soil.
You’ve planted, watered, fertilized and then protected your new Witches Garden. Now is the time to sit back and watch your garden grow. Maintaining your garden doesn’t have to be overly time consuming or difficult. On the contrary, if you take a few minutes every day to maintain your garden you’ll find that you’ll spend more time enjoying and less time working.
Part Four of the Witches Garden – Harvesting and Preserving – will be coming in a month or so. Until then, may your garden bring you hours of joy, lots of beautiful flowers, herbs and veggies.
Spring is finally here and in the California Central valley it is planting time. Part Two of our “The Witches Garden” series will discuss some of the ins and outs of planting our garden. From soil and amendments, to placing our seeds and tender plants into their pots and plots, let’s get our witches garden planted!
In Part One we decided what type of plants we wished to add to our gardens. We discussed the pros and cons of seeds versus purchased plants. Today I will walk you through both planting seeds and transplanting nursery seedlings. Let us begin by making sure we have the optimal bed for our new plants by looking at soil and fertilizers.
If you are going to be planting in raised beds or pots you will need to purchase a good quality, organic soil. Prices and quality vary greatly from area to area but I would suggest you purchase a soil that includes a combination of the following ingredients:
I love using “Happy Hippie Mix”. It is contains all of the above ingredients along with a few more. While not technically organic, it is pretty darn close. It does not contain any added fertilizers so I am able to add in the organic types that work best for me. As always, when in doubt as to the correct soil, check with your local garden center professional.
When planting in-ground, preparing your plot is key. I could spend an entire book going over how to dig and prepare your beds for planting. However, there are three key areas I’d like to mention:
After testing the PH levels (kits are available at garden centers) and checking what the optimal soil conditions for your plants are, you will need to “feed” your soil by adding some fertilizer. To begin, I would suggest an all-purpose organic fertilizer be added to your raised beds and plots.
Sprinkle your fertilizer into your pots, raised beds and garden plots according to the directions. Till it in thoroughly and then give it a good watering. If possible, let it sit overnight so the fertilizer has a good chance to begin its work on the soil.
Some plants such as blueberries, grapes and specialty flowers will require individual fertilizers to optimize their health. I have special food/fertilizer for my camellias, fruit trees, blueberries and orchids. When in doubt what type to use on your plants check the internet. Google has a wealth of information on gardening to help you out.
Now comes the fun part – getting our hands dirty and planting. Before you begin you will need to gather a few supplies and tools:
Once you have gathered your supplies, head for the beds to start planting. To demonstrate each step, I have planted Calendula seeds in my raised planter.
To begin, I read the directions on the package to determine how deep my seeds need to be planted and then how far apart they need to be for optimal growth. Using my pinky finger, I poked holes into the soil, pushing to just below my first knuckle – about 1/2 inch deep – and made each one about 3 inches apart. I dropped two seeds into each hole. This is because not all seeds may germinate properly so adding in two gives me the best chance of success. I can always thin them out at a later time if necessary.
After I placed the seeds into each depression, I covered them lightly with soil and gave them a good watering. When completed, I marked the bed with a row marker noting the name of the plant. Here, I am using craft sticks as they are inexpensive. I have also opted to cover my seed beds with a mesh material because my yard is a bird haven and they like to eat my seeds. The screen allows the light and water to come through but keeps their little beaks out.
Transplanting is a bit simpler. Again, read the nursery label for instructions as to depth and spacing of your plants. If adding them into containers, try not to overcrowd them. While it can be fun to mix and match varieties into a pretty pot, just give each individual plant some room to grow.
Using your trowel, prepare the bed, row, or pot by digging a hole deep and wide enough to fit the root ball of the plant. Carefully remove your plant from its container by turning it upside down, while holding the plant gently, yet securely, at its base. Tap on the bottom of the pot (and maybe the sides) to release it. Place your plant into the prepared hole. You may need to adjust the depth by removing or adding soil to the bottom until the plant is in the correct position. Fill around the root ball with soil, covering it completely. Your plant should sit securely, the soil no higher than its first set of leaves. Give it a good drink, place a marker and you are done!
Your planting is done and you can sit back and watch your garden grow. But your work doesn’t stop here. In our next installment we will talk about maintaining your Witches Garden – keeping it growing strong, healthy and beautiful. So go on. Go get your hands dirty and plant away.
Basket in hand she slowly walks down the cobbled pathway of her witches garden. Her bare feet make not a sound as she wends her way through herbs and flowers. Humming a happy tune, she looks right and then left, studying the plants that line the path. Adjusting her broad-brimmed hat she peers down at a lush green Mugwort plant. Reaching into her basket she pulls out a sharp, white handled knife. Skillfully, she makes several cuts to the plant stems and then places the cuttings into her basket. Bowing her head towards the Mugwort, she thanks it for its sacrifice. She pulls an offering of fertilizer out of the voluminous pocket of her garden apron. Sprinkling it around the plant she bows again in thanks. Smiling, she turns and continues down the path, scanning her charges to see who else may be ready for harvest.
This is a glimpse of the iconic Witches Garden, a garden that seems a dream to the majority of us. However, a witches garden doesn’t need to be located on a huge plot of land or even in a country setting. Your garden can be on a balcony in the city, a patio in an urban area, or in raised beds in your suburban back yard.
In this the first installment of The Witches Garden, we will discuss how to plan and create your own magickal oasis no matter where that may be. To begin, let’s discuss the types of plants you may wish to include. Please note: When in doubt about a plant and its ability to grow in your area, check with your professionals at your local garden center.
In order to decide what I would like to add into my witches garden I think of the herbs and flowers that I use most in my magick. For me these include:
Next, I will make a list of culinary herbs that double as magickal herbs as well. My favorites are:
Already we have quite an extensive list going. If you have limited space you may have to pare your list down to accommodate the planting area.
Next, check to make sure that a) the plant will grow in your area; b) if the plant will grow best in containers and/or in the ground and; c) how much sun each plant requires during the day (Full sun, part sun/part shade, full shade). You will have to spend some time watching your intended garden plot to see when the sun hits each area. Full sun plants require 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Part sun/part shade plants will need 3 to 6 hours of sun. Full shade plants will require less than 3 hours of sun per day. Plan accordingly!
Once you have determined which plants will grow in your area, the proper amount of sun required, and how they need to be planted, we can move on to the next step. Here, we determine whether or not we are going to purchase our plants ready to transplant or if we will start them from seed.
Making the decision to begin your garden with transplants or seeds depends on a few factors: 1) Cost- Plants at the nursery tend to be more expensive than starting plants from seeds; 2) Some plants like Tarragon, cannot be started from seeds. A quick Google search can show you how best to start your plants, and; 3) The amount of time you are willing to invest in starting your garden – Starting from seeds takes considerably more time.
Personally, I like to use a combination. I tend to start with purchased plants for my tomatoes and other veggies because I tend to have better luck than I do starting them from seed. Most of my herbs and flowers are all started from seeds, bought from my favorite on-line vendors.
I would suggest using organic seeds and plants, especially if you are going to be harvesting them for food or medicinal purposes. While I prefer that my magickal plants be organic as well, they are not always easy to find. Rule of thumb – if you are ingesting it, keep it organic. Otherwise standard plants or seeds will work.
Our planning is nearly complete. All that remains is laying out our Witches Garden. Take a few minutes to sketch out the area that you have available (you don’t need to be an artist to do this – Goddess knows I’m not). Take notes as to the amount of sun in the area and whether or not the plants are going into the ground or containers. Jot down the square footage (see here for instructions on how to determine this measurement), for either the in-ground or container area. Once you know how much space is available you will have an idea of how many plants you can grow and/or how many containers (pots, raised beds), you can place in your new garden area.
Careful planning of your garden may seem like an awful lot of effort, but the time you take now will determine how successful of a start all of your plants will have. As in all of Witchcraft and magick, prep is key! Take the time to get things organized and started right and I believe, green thumb or no, you will have a successful garden that you can take pride in. Happy Planning!
Next Week: The Witches Garden: Part Two – Planting
Our plant for March 2019 is the ornamental Camellia flower, Camellia japonica. Known as common camellia, Japanese camellia, or tsubaki in Japanese, this is one of the best known species of the genus Camellia. The other most common type is Camellia sasanqua. The Camellia is an evergreen shrub which is related to the tea plant. It is grown for its showy flowers and shiny leaves.
The name camellia is of Latin origin, and means ‘helper to the priest.’ It was named after a Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel, although he knew nothing about the plant.
Higher Classification: family Theacaea
Scientific Name: Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua
Folk Names: Rose of Winter
Deities: Benzaiten, Shichi Fukujin
Parts Used: Petals or Whole Flower
Substitutions: Roses can often be used as a substitute for Camellia
Camellias are long-lived trees and shrubs that provide year-round glossy-green foliage and cool season flowers. There are 100 – 300 describes species with perhaps thousands of different hybrids. Ranging in colors from pure white, to pink, to red, purple and yellow, these easy to grow plants are a favorite with gardeners everywhere.
Timing is critical when planting your camellias. Gardeners in warm areas (zones 8-10) can plant in the fall, winter and spring. If you are in zones 6 and 7 you’ll need to plant in springs so the plants will have a chance to establish its root system before cold weather sets in.
The information provided below is for educational purposes only and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Additional information
The flowers of the Camellia plant are astringent, antihaemorrhagic, and haemostatic.
Because they are an antioxidant and antimicrobial they are excellent for salves and tonics. When mixed with sesame oil they are used in the treatment of burns and scalds.
Camellias can be a rich source of Omega-9, squalene and multiple vitamins and minerals.
Dill is a semi-hardy annual with erect, freely branching annual herb with finely dissected, lacy, blue-green foliage. Dill is best known for its use in the making of pickles but can be used both as a culinary and medicinal herb. Magickly, Dill – our herb of the month, is a powerful and potent plant ally.
Latin Name: Anethum graveolens
Family: Apeacia (a member of the parsley family)
Folk/Secret Names: Dilly, Dill Weed, Garden Dill, Meeting House Seed, Hairs of a Hamadryas Baboon, Semen of Hermes
Astrological Signs: Gemini
Deities: Anubis, Hermes, Janus, Khensu, Mercury
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and seeds
Substitutions: You can substitute Fennel in your spell work if you are out of Dill as it has similar correspondences.
Dill, our herb of the month, does not transplant well, so sowing the seeds is recommended. Plant 12 to 15 inches apart in a weed-free, semi-rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil in a sheltered sunny position. It takes well to pots and containers, just be sure that they drain well.
Plants may grow to 2 or 3 feet in height. Pinch off the flowers if you wish to increase the leaf production.
As soon as the plant has four to five leaves, you can start harvesting. Pinch off the leaves or cut them off with scissors.
Leaves can be used fresh or dried. Dry your harvested leaves by either hanging them upside down in bunches or spread on a mesh screen or muslin. Place in a warm – not hot – area out of the direct sunlight. You may also dry in a dehydrator.
When growing for the seed try growing more than one plant, one or two for the leaves and one or two for the seed. Do not plant Dill next to Fennel as the plants will cross-pollinate. Keep them away from Carrot as well as the carrots will not grow well with Dill around.
Dill seeds in the late summer or early autumn. Flower can take up to 25 days for the seeds to germinate. The seeds should be collected when they are light brown and fully formed. Place a paper bag over the seed heads and cut, leaving a bit of the stem sticking out of the bag. Tie the stems together and hang to dry for a 10 to 15 days. You will know that they are ready when you shake the bag and you hear the seeds fall.
Warning: Mature dill seeds are toxic to birds! Harvest all seeds before they drop.
Add Dill – our Herb of the Month – to potatoes for a tangy treat.
Create a Dill infused vinegar for use on salads by adding Dill to white wine vinegar and infuse for 2 weeks.
Add some dill to scrambled eggs, omelets and frittatas for some zest.
A pinch of dill creamed into butter with some added garlic makes a great spread for toast, bread and biscuits.
Let’s not forget the pickles! Dill – our Herb of the Month- is essential in making a crisp and crunchy dill pickle. Check out this great dill pickle recipe here
The information provided below is for educational purposes only and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. More information on these disclaimers can be found here.
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