Growing Garlic (by Jim Gober, the Austin Gardening Examiner)
Natural remedies using catnip (by Katrina Derrico, the Atlanta Alternative Spirituality Examiner)
Creating magick with simmering potpourri brews (by Kris Bradley, the Newark Domestic Witchery Examiner)
Holistic health benefits of rosemary (by Katrina Derrico, the Atlanta Alternative Spirituality Examiner)
Spark Freyasdottir spoke at the Saturday workshop organized by Torvald Adolphson. She shared her knowledge of herbs and gardening, providing participants with enough information to get them going with 5 easy herbs — catnip, chamomile, garlic, fennel, and rosemary.
Her first word of advice — go organic! The phrase “a good organic program” was repeated throughout the presentation. It cannot be emphasized enough. As a Pagan community, as a people who revere nature the way Pagans do, it’s only good sense to show that reverence in practical ways, like gardening organically, if at all possible.
Both Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile were suggested. Both are considered annuals in Austin, however, they are actually perennials and will winter over with a little bit of TLC. Chamomile is a member of the ragweed family and will likely be a problem for people with ragweed allergies. Other than that, Chamomile is extremely safe to use. It’s lack of negative side effects is one of the reasons it is frequently recommended for use with children.
Garlic should be planted in the fall. It was originally from Siberia and is not afraid of the cold. That’s why it will start to grow in the refrigerator. In fact, take those garlic bulbs that are sprouting in the crisper and plant them. Garlic is that easy. Break the cloves apart; leave that filmy skin on the clove; poke a whole in the ground; drop the clove into the hole; cover with dirt. No matter how the clove lands in the bottom of the hole, the roots will still grow down and the stem will still grow up. Watch the leaves for the cue to harvest. The plant is very close to harvest when the tips of the leaves turn yellow. Stick your fingers into the soil and check the bulb. When it is ready, pull it up and use it. If the leaves turn brown, the bulb has matured too much to be of use; it will be soft and mushy.
Garlic is useful for people dealing with high blood pressure, colds, and halitosis. It is a natural antiseptic and insecticide. Gardeners often create a garlic tea they spray on their plants to ward off insect pests.
Fennel hails from the Mediterranean. It is helpful for digestive issues and bad breath. Spark recommended planting lots of fennel based on the fact that the caterpillars in the garden will go to the fennel plants if you provide them the opportunity. This keeps them out of other plants and provides food for the butterflies-to-be. Not only are butterflies beautiful, they are useful. They help pollinate the other plants in the garden. Fennel is a win-win plant as long as the gardener remembers that 90% of the fennel goes to the butterflies and only 10% makes its way to culinary or magickal purposes.
Rosemary is an herb of remembrance and figures in a great many ceremonies — from weddings to funerals. Rosemary thrives in full sun, even in Austin. It also withstands the frozen nights that punctuate Austin winters. While it will not hold up to weeks of frozen temperatures, it nobly survives the occasional snow storm that descends on central Texas. Rosemary is good for headaches, especially tension headaches. It is also good for sore throats and upset stomaches. Brushing a dog with bruised rosemary or rosemary oil after a bath will help control fleas. A couple drops of rosemary oil brushed into a pet’s coat will help control dandruff, an idea people suffering from pet allergies were excited to hear. It’s good for abrasions and also for bruises. Rosemary oil added to witch hazel in a spray bottle makes an excellent cleaning agent.
Catnip is a natural rat repellent. It is a digestive aid, a nerve tonic, and helps babies suffering with colic. Catnip is part of the mint family and it does what all mints do. Like so many other plants, it is a perennial treated like an annual because of climate conditions in Austin. Catnip prefers partial sun, so it does well under trees. Cats are not attracted to the plant itself. They are attracted to the aromatic oils that are released when the plant is bruised. This means, the plant can be grown around cats without incident so long as the plant is grown from seed (so no bruising occurs) or great care is taken to not release the aromatic oils when transplanting. Catnip is also considered extremely safe and is often recommended for use with children.
As an added bonus, Spark commented on Aloe. Although it will burn and will freeze, it is considered a must-have plant because it has so many practical uses. Most people are aware of its uses for burns. Additionally, the pulp is edible, as are its flowers. Ingesting the pulp helps regulate the bodies pH balance.
Answers to questions and other recommendations:
- One participant asked where to get seeds and transplants for starting this garden. The response was overwhelming: Natural Gardner. Another location highly recommended was Garden of the Ancients.
- Crush dried eggshells and sprinkle the pieces around a plant to block slugs and caterpillars. Cayenne powder works, too, although it tends to blow away or wash away considerably faster than the crushed eggshells.
- Plants do not like wet feet. Water once every three days or so. When the temperatures get above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is reasonable to water every day. Of course, this is very general advice and the gardener must still pay attention to the plant itself (not just the watering schedule).
- Dried herbs can be stored in a plastic bag for short periods of time, in the range of a few days to a few weeks. To store dried herbs longer than a month, Spark suggests putting them in a glass jar.
- Coffee grounds and tea leaves are great soil amendments. When using tea leaves, be sure to tear open the tea bag and use only the leaves.
For more info: To learn more about the weekend workshop this article was based on, please read the article Meet-Ups meet for weekend workshop.