Nicholas Culpeper‘s books and “herbals” have been considered classic and well-respected references for hundreds of years now. Packed with recipes, plant profiles and lore, Culpeper sets out the proper way to identify plants, diagnose and treat patients based on astrological rulerships, “The doctrine of signatures” and Galen’s philosophy of humors.
Not only do they give us a peek at medical and herbal practices of his times, but woven between the lines, one finds a wealth of information on traditional plant alchemy and medical astrology. Some of this more esoteric information is in the open and presented as a matter of fact, some lies a little deeper for those who have the eyes to see. His books are a “must read” for anyone who has an interest in plant alchemy, traditional European herbalism and medical astrology . This particular volume contains some of his most important writings. I will transfer the book to it’s own page in a few days so it can be easily referenced. Enjoy!
Being Saturday’s Child and ruled by Saturn, this last full moon was perfect for harvesting Witch Hazel leaves and twigs at their fullness, before they succumb to bugs and the wear and tear of the year. I feel a sense of delight each time I point out Witch Hazel trees, and the thrill of exposing a friend playing hide and seek. At the same time, I am always honoured such a world famous individual should thrive in my own back yard. Witch Hazel is used by millions around the world for its powerful and reliable healing properties.
There is an eerie image associated with Witch Hazel, one that obviously starts with its name. Witch Hazel is an understory tree, this means it is content to live in the shade of other more statuesque and well known sun loving trees. In this darker understory forest world, Witch Hazel strategically places leaves on each zig, and each zag of its crooked forked branches to catch as many beams of sunlight from the high forest canopy as it can. This unique crookedness adds to the feeling of eeriness that shrouds it. Reaching out like bony hands, a name that conjures images of wart nosed, child eating crones, Hazel even flowers around Halloween time when most of the trees are bare and the forest is populated by skeletons. The bravest of us might feel a twinge of panic as we are grabbed by those crooked gnarled finger branches in the dark forest dusk. Spooky. Lucky for us there is much more to this tree than its name and its appearance.
The early North American settlers were so impressed by the many medicinal uses local native tribes found for this modest shrub, they not only incorporated it in their own healing systems, but they developed new products with it, built factories to process it, and popularized its use all over Europe where it is still used by millions of people every year for a broad range of healing applications. Witch Hazel is one of the best yet gentlest astringents available. Externally and internally it tightens, tones, cools and heals. The extract and the distillate of Witch Hazel leaves, twigs and bark are used to stop bleeding, cool and reduce inflammations and swelling. A tea or decoction was used by native tribes to treat diarrhea, dysentery, amenorrhea, and as a gargle for sore throat, sore or inflamed gums or loose teeth. Witch hazel is a key ingredient in many over the counter products for hemorrhoids, piles and varicose veins. It is recommended for postpartum bleeding and soreness, diaper rash, insect bites, poison ivy, chicken pox symptoms, tired eyes, swollen eyes and bags under the eyes. It is used effectively to treat itches and rashes, cuts and scrapes, it reduces bruising and swelling from blows. It is an excellent treatment for minor burns, scalds, sunburn, windburn, chafing and chapping. Witch Hazel is one of the few natural products that can help with the pain and discomfort of varicose veins, reducing pressure and inflammation, strengthening and toning vein walls and is one of the most recommended natural remedies for easing and treating hemorrhoids, piles and the trials of childbirth. You can find Witch Hazel in anti-aging products, wrinkle cremes and acne medication, The distillate is a reliable and effective skin toner and cleanser and can be dabbed on pimples to reduce inflammation. It makes an excellent aftershave lotion, acts as a styptic to stop bleeding and heal razor cuts, and regular use may improve facial skin and reduce the likelihood of it. I have come across it as a treatment or remedy for psoriasis and eczema. Quite a list of uses for such a modest looking shrub hiding in the shade of bigger trees in the forest!
From an Astrodynamic perspective, Witch Hazel is ruled by Saturn. Saturn is the great teacher, limiter, restrictor and constrictor, setter of boundaries, rules, laws and consequences. Saturn’s energy is considered cold & dry, astringent and bitter, inward drawing, limiting and defining. It governs the slow and steady, order and form, structure and crystallization. It is obvious when looking at the qualities of Witch Hazel that there are a great many benefits and medicinal applications to all these cold, contracting, restricting and limiting energies. Even though Saturn is considered an “unlucky” planet from some astrological perspectives, It provides the perfect counterpoint when things are hot and bothered, loose or swollen, flowing, uncontrolled, itchy, scratchy and painful.
Hamamelis Virginiana, Winterbloom, Snap Hazel There is mostly consensus as to how Witch Hazel got its names. Though it does not belong to the Hazel tree family, there is a great similarity of its leaves and seed pods/ovums to the Hazel or Hazel nut tree. That is the straightforward part. Its first name, “Witch” is thought to come from old Saxon and middle English word-Wicce, or “Wyche”, which means “bends” or bending, flexible or “Lively” according to some sources, referring to either the suppleness and flexibility of its branches, or the gnarled, zig-zag bend to its branches at each leaf node and its raggedy zigzag flower petals. This is believed to also be the root of our word “wicker” as in basket weaving, where thin pliable strips of bark or wood are soaked in water and woven together to create baskets, tools and furniture. The word “Wicca” and the word “witch” are also thought to be derivatives of this word. That covers the English name of our tree of the day, The Latin name has its own roots and meanings. “Hamamelis Virginiana”. The Virginiana part refers to the area it grows in, eastern united states from Florida up to Ontario and I believe into Quebec and Nova Scotia. The first part of its name, “Hamamelis” is theorized to come from 2 Latin words, Hama, “at the same time”, or “together with”, and Mela meaning “Fruit”, referring to another of the Witch Hazels unique qualities, that it flowers, (Fragrant!), in the fall/winter, while releasing its “fruit” of the last season.. Flower and Fruit at the same time, Hama-Melis.
This fall/ winter flowering has also given rise to another name for Witch Hazel which is “Winterbloom”. Witch Hazel has another very unique attribute portrayed by another of its names, “Snapping Hazel” When the seed pods mature they release the seeds with a loud popping or snapping sound and shoot them a great distance, from 10 to 20 feet away from the tree.This is indeed a very unusual looking and behaving tree. However we are not done extolling the virtues and the idiosyncrasies of this modest shrub. Another of the unique qualities attributed to Witch Hazel is its usefulness for dowsing. This method of looking for water hidden underground has also been called “Water Witching“. and Witch Hazel has either gained her name, or lent her name to this activity from being so well suited and so often used when “witching for water”. Which Witch is which, and which came first, we will never know.
According to historical records, it seems that our current methods of water dowsing, (Wyching or witching), were developed in the mid 1400’s. Dowsing gained enough of a popular following that it was banned by the Church in Germany. At the time, forked branches from trees such as ash, elm, Hazel and willow were used to divine the whereabouts of underground water sources, mineral ores and treasure. Since then, there has been much research done on the accuracy of dowsing, to determine whether it is a science, art or hoax. I think there are still ongoing studies and experiments and there may always be.
Traditional dowsing or divining rods are made by taking a fork in the branch so one has a Y shape. The two arms of the Y are each held in a hand with thumbs pointing outward and the main, connecting axis upright. When one comes in proximity to that which one is seeking, the main the rod bends or bobs downward towards the item that one is dowsing for. Variations abound on the shape and material of dowsing rods. One of the simplest and most popular designs now days is the use of two pieces of wire, or coat hangers, each bent in an L shape,each with a long and a short side, with the short side held loosely in ones fist while the long ( receptive ) gently rests on the side of ones forefinger. A pivot point is found which balances both rods parallel to each other and creates a delicate status quo where they can swing dramatically towards or away from each other at the slightest disturbance. Whether these disturbances are caused by external energetic influences, or internal impulses that direct the rods is an ongoing debate. Similar in some ways to divining with a pendulum, any one can try dowsing, and divining with a pendulum and decide the validity of these methods for themselves.
Getting back to the healing properties of the Witch Hazel tree, we are very lucky to have such a versatile healing resource in our back yard. Every year or two, I harvest a modest amount of twig and leaf and prepare some medicine. This year it is a batch of Witch Hazel oil for cremes and salves, a water based extract that has all the tannins, bitter principals, flavonoids and anti-oxidants in it, and a distilled aqueous extract preserved with the alcohol from the infusion, which brings with it the essential oils and any other volatile components. The tannins and flavonoids are left behind in the maceration to be separated and used in a creme and liniment. Another unusual fact about Witch Hazel is that the distilled product one purchases at the store does not contain any tannins, which are considered the main astringent compounds in the leaf and twigs, yet the distillate of Witch Hazel does a great job of being a powerful and gentle astringent without them! It reminds me a bit of the “Magic” of Homeopathy. Why? How? It just does.
p So… Here,(on the left), is the maceration in preparation for distillation of Witch Hazel. After collecting the distillate and adjusting it to 14% alcohol, the remaining aqueous solution will be pressed out of the maceration and used in cremes and liniments for Acne, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, etc..This solution is full of all the obviously astringent, antioxidant and healing compounds found in the leaf and twigs of the tree. Besides tannins, bioflavonoids resins and essential oils, Witch Hazel leaf, twigs and bark contain many other important phytochemicals. Here is a link to further information on its chemical constituents. The photo on the right is of the oleous extract macerating. It too will be used for external applications similar to and sometimes combined with the aqueous solution in light water oil emulsion cremes. A tea & a tincture are available for internal use when recommended by a healthcare professional.
When this years Witch Hazel products are ready and on the shop shelves I will post links to them here if anyone would like to purchase and try them.
Heartache or toothache, which is the worst? I still don’t have an answer for that one. At least for a toothache there is an obvious and effective way to address the source of the pain. Winter is the time I experience the most discomfort and pain with teeth and gums. (And heartache :-(. ), If something is going to go wrong in my mouth, it will, without a doubt, go wrong during the winter months.
The one consistent help and comfort has been the oleo-resin from Commiphora Myrrha. Myrrh. It is the only thing that has given me a naturally sourced reprieve from pain and misery of toothache, sore, infected or inflamed gums and loose teeth. Over the years I have found that the essential oil and tincture of Myrrh have done some amazing things for my teeth. (I have had many problems with them). I have had teeth that were so loose I was sure they would simply fall out within hours. Though it seemed obvious it was too late to reverse the damage, a couple of days of diligently swooshing with the salt water Myrrh mix, tightened them back up and saved them for a few more years.
Add 1 or 2 ML. of tincture of Myrrh to a salt water “gargle”, (1/4 teaspoon salt to 1 cup of warm water). Swoosh in mouth over gums and teeth as many times as you can or need per day. It works like a charm.
In the past I used essential oil of Myrrh for this purpose, smearing the bitter tar on my teeth and gums, or trying to infuse what I could of the thick essential oil into the water. It worked, however I have found that using the alcohol/water tincturein salt water greatly accelerates the process. I am continually surprised how quickly it brings my teeth and gums back to normal, reducing swelling, pain and discomfort. Adding tincture to the water immediately creates an emulsion and turns the water white.This is a sign you got it right. (See below)
Fresh Myrrh Resin Chunks, essential oil and emulsion of Myrrh tincture with salt water.
Also, it doesn’t hurt if you swallow some. The bitter principal in Myrrh is good for you. Especially considering how in our western diet we avoid the bitter principal and flavour as much as possible, and we overdo it with the sweet instead. Some attribute many of our western ills to this imbalance in our diets. Bitter flavours are usually associated with stimulating and toning Liver, spleen or gall bladder.
There is simply nothing as effective for healing oral distress than Myrrh. Canker sores, spongy gums, sore, inflamed, infected gums, toothache, (Make sure to get it looked at by a dentist!), Gingivitis, bad breath, loose teeth, sore throat, post extraction swelling and pain, Denture discomfort, irritation and soreness of any kind.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfBUHwkIXI8 A short video tutorial….
The name Myrrh is rooted in The Aramaic word for bitter. Mar, Mor, Myrrh. Some associate the name Mary, Miriam, Mariam to meaning the bitter of the sea, froth of the sea?(Sometimes associated with the Goddess Astarte, Ashtoreth).
Either way a feminine principle which is appropriate since Myrrh is said to be ruled astrologically by the Moon. ( Frankincense by the Sun). There are many more valuable medicinal and spiritual/energetic attributes to Myrrh, but I will leave those for another post.
Harvested and processed in small batches by hand according to traditionalAlchemical/Astrological methods
St John’s Wort Oil 2010
St. John’s Wort, A.K.A. Hypericum Perforatum, is a powerful medicinal herb found growing over most of the northern hemisphere. Besides its well-known anti-depressant properties, the oil extracted from its flowers is used externally as a potent wound healer, antibacterial, antiviral ,anti-inflammatory, analgesic,(pain reducer), and as a specific for healing nerve related problems.
We have records of its use since before the times of ancient Greece by many cultures around the world. A traditional treatment for the pain of bursitis, sciatica, neuralgia and myalgia , it helps heal cuts and wounds in general, and specifically those in nerve rich areas of the body, such as broken or crushed hands or feet. I have come upon references to its ability to clean and heal dirty, festering sores and ulcers, while its well researched anti-inflammatory properties are known for treating sore or swollen joints, sprains,strains,rheumatism and arthritis
In the Home
In the home it finds a respectable place in the family first aid kit for minor burns, sunburn, dry, itchy and cracked skin, it is a traditional remedy for childhood earaches cuts and scrapes and is known as a soothing treatment for hemorrhoids, piles, caked or sore breasts.
English: A table on medical astrology. From an Icelandic manuscript, JS 392 8vo, written between 1747 and 1752. Now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Astrologically, St. John’s Wort is ruled by The Sun and the sign of Leo.
From an Astrodynamic perspective, the medicinal qualities of St. John,s Wort herb are at their peak when these two astrological influences are prominent and well placed. With an eye to the cycles and placement of the moon, these are the times we cultivate, harvest and process the plant.
Science can determine the chemical constituents in each plant, how they affect our bodies and to what degree they are present in the medicine we consume, but it has no methods yet of measuring the energetic qualities of Plants or how they affect us..
What makes one product of excellent quality and another product with the same ingredients inferior?
When the sun, planets and moon were lined up nicely, the flowers were pounded by hand with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil in one of the larger mortars. An antique from the early 1800′s made from Lignum Vitae, ( Wood of life). A few liters at a time, packed into large glass vessels to bask in the sun for a “Philosophical month”. A method that after many hundreds of years still consistently yields exceptional results. Most herbs will not tolerate that kind of direct exposure to the sunlight or the ongoing heat, but St. John’s Wort loves it! ( One way we can tell a plants real affinities and qualities).
St. John’s Wort Oil. Flowers macerating for a “Philosophical Month”.
Crystal clear, Ruby red, with a crisp, sharp, fresh fragrance. This years’ oil is a beautiful and potent extraction of the plants healing properties. I believe it is my best yet. Kept properly it will serve well for many years.
If you would like to purchase St. John’s Wort oil, or if you have any questions about it and any other items I make, click on the picture below. It will direct you to a page where I will be happy to answer your questions or arrange shipping some to you.
St. John’s Wort oil an Astrodynamic preparation, 50 & 100 ML.
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
Tested on Animals and Babies, Children, Parents and Old Folks.
A sap for resins, ritual, Sun, Moon and Mother Nature.
A journal about Herbs, plants and processes. Recipes, plant Alchemy and our Relationship with Nature. Natural fragrance and medicine. Astrodynamics, rhythms and cycles, Medical Astrology, traditional Wisdom. Herbs and Healing, Science and Spirit. Oh and moustaches.
Fairtrade Frankincense explores our ancient and modern relationship with Nature's fragrant, medicinal oleoresins and provides a link joining traditional harvesters directly with our western market in fair and mutually beneficial commerce.