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Anna Franklin  Author & Illustrator

Herb Craft &  

Hearth Witchery

In the past, every woman knew the secrets of herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices. She made inks, dyes, soaps, household cleaners and perfumes, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys…


Herbs have always been part of the wise woman's armoury. In the past, every woman had to be something of a herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable, too expensive possibly dangerous to boot.


Nearly every home had a still room, set aside from the kitchen and kept clean and sweet smelling with drying herbs and flowers. It was the place for making herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, inks, dyes, soaps, household cleaners and perfumes, for brewing wine and ale, preserving fruit, making jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys.


A girl was initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how. Such expertise is not valued in today’s society, but it formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and they developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no historian wrote about them or accorded women status for their invaluable contribution to society; women’s work and women’s knowledge has always be derided and ignored.


Even after the coming of Christianity to Britain, the village wise women cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Their natural magic, in harmony with the rhythms of life, centred and nourished the spirits of the whole community. They were honoured for their wisdom and knowledge: when they spoke, people listened. The practices of wise women and cunning men had much in common with shamans and witch doctors around the world - a belief that we are surrounded by spirits and that we can commune with them, that the land is alive and must be honoured and cared for, that our actions affect the world around us and we must seek to live in harmony with it, that we are part of the ebb and flow of the seasons and must perform certain actions at the correct time.

Herbs for Healing


Herbs for Magic


Herbs in the Home


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Herbcraft

The garden is full of roses this week. They flop over the fences and scramble up the trellis, their soft, sensual blooms filling the air with a voluptuous perfume. It is easy to understand why they are sacred to so many gods and goddesses of love - Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Eros, Cupid, Inanna and Ishtar to name just a few. I bless the plants and gather armfuls of flowers.


I take them into the house and lay them on the kitchen table and begin to separate the red flowers from the white. I’m reminded that in one Greek tale, when the goddess Aphrodite first arose from the ocean and stepped onto the shore, the sparkling sea foam fell from her body in the form of pale white roses and took root, but later, as she pursued the beautiful youth Adonis, she caught herself on a thorn and her blood dyed the roses crimson red, symbolising innocence turned to desire and maidenhood turned to womanhood. For magical purposes, while my white roses stand for purity, perfection, innocence, virginity and the moon, the red roses represents earthly passion and fertility. Wound together, they signify the union of opposites, symbolism we use at Beltane to celebrate the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, an act which reconciles male and female, summer and winter, life and death, flesh and spirit, and brings about all creation, driven by the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe – love.



However, Midsummer is tomorrow and roses play a part in our solstice ritual since, like other flowers with rayed petals, they are an emblem of the sun. Like the sun, which dies each night and is reborn each day at sunrise, the rose is an emblem of renewal, resurrection and eternal life, which is why the Celts, Egyptians and Romans used them as funeral offerings. I set aside some to make offerings for dead friends later, and others to make chaplets for Midsummer.


I’m still left with an abundance of blossoms. I take down two clean glass jars from my cupboard and pack both of them with the scented petals I carefully pull from the stems. One jar I top up with white vinegar and set it on the sunny kitchen windowsill. I will leave it there for two weeks before straining the liquid into a clean jar. My resulting rose vinegar can be used as a delicate salad dressing, as an antiseptic wash for wiping down my kitchen surfaces, or dabbed onto my forehead to relieve headaches.  The second jar of rose petals I fill up with one part distilled water to three parts vodka.  I label it and put it in a cool, dark place in my pantry where it will stay for three weeks. When it is ready, I will strain the liquid into a clean jar, and lo and behold, I have made my own rose hydrosol.  I use it just as it is as a skin toner, but I could chill it to make a compress for puffy eyes, or use it as a final conditioning rinse for my hair. Next month I will incorporate some into skin lotions and creams.


The gorgeous fresh petals I have left could be baked into cakes and cookies, made into a delicate jam or a wine for next year’s Midsummer solstice, or crystallised for cake decorations.  Tonight I will drop some petals into my bath to make a relaxing soak after a hard day in the garden, and before I go to bed I will put a handful into the teapot and infuse them in boiling water to make a subtle, fragrant tea, which is mildly sedative and good for tension headaches.  


I spread out more petals on a tray and put them to dry in the airing cupboard. These dried petals are not only good for rose tea later in the year and the usual potpourri, but can be employed in magical talismans, charm bags and incense -  red for love, yellow for Midsummer, renewal and the sun, and white for moon rituals. So many virtues in just one plant, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the rose has to offer. Each day, Mother Nature has a different gift for me.