...or how to make green magic
At the bottom of our garden, or rather the top since we are on a slope, is an old shed. It looks a little bit like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel, without the candy canes. Sometimes, if you approach quietly at the right hour of the day, just as the late afternoon sun is sending out its long shadows, you might catch a witch at work there. That witch is me, tending to my sweet pea seedlings, and wondering when it is going to be warm enough for wild carrot to germinate in the sunny corner near the window.
I am following in a long tradition of witches and gardens, going all the way back to the poor misunderstood woman in Rapunzel, who asked her neighbour for his first-born child in return for the salad leaves his pregnant wife craved. It is no accident that witches are often to be found living in the middle of woods, where they are surrounded by the healing power of nature, as well as being beyond the bounds of polite society. Witches were usually women of a certain age, who were seen as having outlived their function of fertility. But of course they have another important role, that of wise woman with the knowledge of which plants and herbs can act as remedies, and if you happen to get on the wrong side of their green magic (let’s not call it black or white), then more fool you.
The secret of green magic is in getting to know the properties of plants and working with them, for like all things in the natural world, they can never be entirely tamed. Take mint. I planted a small pot of this herb underneath our dwarf apple tree, believing that as it is rampant, it would provide a lush carpet. Instead, it wilfully did its own thing, running off in different directions and sprouting up messily. The dwarf apple tree died this winter (after being used as a tent peg on Halloween), but the mint is still rambling around, perfect for picking for cups of tea and to add to stronger drinks when the weather is warmer.
All around the garden, the comfrey is now in flower, a truly magical plant which was used in traditional medicine in poultices to help heal sprains and broken bones, hence one of its common names ‘knit bone’. Nowadays, we witches brew it into a stinking tea (not fit for human consumption) - picking the leaves once the flowers have gone over and steeping them in water for several weeks - to make an environmentally friendly fertiliser for other plants later in the year.
Melissa, or lemon-balm, is a favourite of the bees. Rub the leaves between your fingers to release a powerful lemony scent. This can be used in lip salves or again in a tea, this time one that is safe to drink.
We don’t have wild garlic in our garden, and it can be a bit of a thug so should only be introduced if you have space, but it fills the woodlands at this time of year, with its pleasant pungent odour, and makes wonderful pesto, mixed with parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil (we witches are nothing if not cosmopolitan).
The first fronds of bronze fennel are already appearing and this new growth is when the plant is at its best to be chopped and added to salads or sauces. It has a liquorice taste and is beneficial, with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The seeds can be used in baking or again in tea.
These are just some of the many common garden plants which can be used in green magic. I would love to hear about others in your own gardens. My career as a witch is only just beginning…