It’s weirdly cold and misty today, but in only a few weeks, the coldest part of our year here in the South will be past, and all of us with thumbs on the greener side will have to start thinking about what we’re going to plant in our gardens. Really, if you’re starting from seed and you have the space somewhere with enough light, you can start seeds now for the longer-growing and easier-transplanting plants now– tomatoes, root veggies, onions, sturdier greens like kale, cabbages, broccoli, things like that. Our winters, even when they’re as schizophrenic as this year’s has been, are mild compared to most of the rest of the country, so almost anything that doesn’t mind a few frosts and a lot of rain can be started.
For a Pagan gardener, it’s a mix of practicality and spirituality. When you plant the seeds, whether inside or out, say a little prayer over them, asking the nature spirits or Gods to help them grow strong and produce well, and to protect them from both the worst of the cold and the worst of the heat to come– and make sure you know how much light and water they like, and what sorts of soil they prefer. We’re blessed with the sort of climate that lets annuals frequently grow as perennials, with peppers and tomatoes continuing to fruit through the winter, but it still helps to know what the plant likes.
Here are suggestions for beauty, food uses, herbalism and magic that grow well here in the South:
Basil: Represents love and is linked to sunlight and warmth. The tea will help with fevers, cramps, digestion and vomiting, but don’t take it if you’re pregnant, and don’t drink more than a cup and a half a day, or it can be too much. Use it to bless a new home with good luck, and to mend lovers’ quarrels. Florida is a lot like southern Italy as far as environment goes, and if you get a sturdy seedling, or start a few seeds while it’s still cool, it’ll grow into a massive bush by the killing heat of summer– and if you keep it well watered, and maybe give it a shelter from the hottest and brightest hour or two, it’ll sometimes live through the winter.
Sage: Means immortality, longevity and wisdom, and is almost impossible to kill here, so long as you keep it in the sunlight and in well-drained soil so mold can’t get it when things get damp. Culinary sage isn’t the same as the sage that’s used in Native American smudge sticks, but the dried leaves can be used the same way. It’s antiseptic, and makes a good mouthwash, and it tastes really good as a fortifying tea with raspberry leaves. It drives away negativity.
Citrus: Means love, luck, and money. The Chinese say that when you pick an orange and a stem and leaf stays attached, it means friendship and should be shared. Both the peels and the leaves (when crushed) are good for repelling bugs and make a nice perfume, as do the flowers (though it may irritate really sensitive skin). Dried peels make an excellent tea full of vitamin C, which helps with colds, allergies and general health, and can be used as really nice and nice-smelling kindling for fires, especially good for sun-celebration ritual fires. Lemons attune you with the moon and make an excellent Esbat perfume or incense. Lime attracts love.
Tomatoes: Once called Love Apples, are sometimes thought of as an aphrodisiac. The fruits are good for liver function, are full of antioxidants, have lots of potassium which is good for hypertension and restless legs, and a slice of tomato placed on a sunburn for fifteen minutes will take out the heat and prevent blistering. Tomatoes are good for love spells and as summer offerings to feminine Deities.
Roses: Good for love, healing, protection and beauty. Rose water is good for the skin. Rose-petal tea is delicious and healthy, and rose hips make excellent syrups and jellies that have up to 50 times as much vitamin C as oranges. The stems are good for protection charms because of the thorns, and make excellent wands. The flowers are wonderful offerings for Litha, or to Venus. Use them in love rituals, spells and recipes. Rosepetal jam can be used in tea cakes, in ice cream, or with clotted cream on scones. Plant roses in the garden to attract faeries. They’re tricky to grow in Florida, but the more old-fashioned ones are usually hardy enough if you feed them blood and bonemeal once in a while, and give them plenty of water and shelter from the harshest cold and heat.
Pine: One of the Druids’ sacred trees. Tea made from the needles is full of healthy trace minerals and goes well with a strong-flavored honey. The vapors are good for chest and lung ailments, and the scent is calming to lungs and nerves. Burn the branches to purify the home and promote healing, and especially good mixed with equal parts juniper and cedar for ritual purification. The cones and nuts are fertility charms. Branches make good besoms.
Aloe: A classic healer for sunburns, cuts and scrapes, it means protection and keeps away negative influences from the home, but here it’ll grow rapidly and take over the yard if you don’t pull up the little ones and give them to friends once in a while. The pulp is a traditional Asian remedy for stomach and intestinal problems.
Sunflowers: Represent the sun, as you’d probably guess from the name. The seeds are edible and nutritious, the small flower heads make a nice yellow dye and are cooked and eaten like artichokes, the root is a laxative and is used to treat stomach pain. They represent a healthy ego (balanced and strong, not overpowering), wisdom and fertility. Women can eat sunflower seeds as a charm for conception. Grown in the garden, they protect from pests and bring luck to the gardener. The petals are nice added to green tea, or in summery baked goods.
Lavender, Marigold, Calendula, Oregano, and Thyme will all grow through the spring or fall, though they usually die off before it gets really hot; sometimes Oregano and Thyme will grow back after summer if you leave the roots alone.
Lavender means love, protection and happiness, and is a popular herb for making relaxing incense and room-sprays from. It also tastes good in green tea or mixed with chamomile, so long as you don’t add to much, and is really nice with a tablespoon or so added to sugar cookies (be sure it’s fresh from your garden or tea-grade). Throw some on the fire at Midsummer as an offering to the God and Goddess together.
Marigold is for protection, and is the marriage flower in India and the death flower in Mexico. The flowers are good offerings for Ostara and Beltaine, and the petals are edible; Mix them with honey into fresh butter (which caneasily be made by shaking whipping cream in a jar for about half an hour– and it’s really good exercise!), bake them into muffins or sugar cookies, drink them in tea, or eat them in spring salads.
Calendula is also for protection, and is good in salves to treat dry and sensitive skin, or as a rinse for plae hair colors. Magically, it’s similar to Marigold. Carry it into court for a favorable verdict. Represents the sun and can be used as it’s representative in ritual.
Oregano means Joy of the Mountain and brings good luck. It’s oil or a poultice of it’s leaves is good for healing wounds, clearing acne, treating dandruff, and generally helping skin disorders. Oregano tea treats digestion problems, cramps, cold and flu, fever, and problems of the throat and lungs. Plus, it’s a must for pizza and pasta.
Thyme means health, healing, love and purification, is one of the main flavors of our local Minorcan Clam Chowder that can blow any Manhattan Chowder out of the water, and is good as a mouthwash for sore gums, digestion, headaches, cold and flu, anemia, and as an antifungal wash for things like athletes foot.
And more than a decade of reading everything.