Witches Have Worts (not Warts)

Like me, you probably grew up hearing that witches and warts went together like professional wrestlers and spandex. As you may have also noticed, those nasty skin bumps caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) do not solely affect the magical of us. It’s unfortunate that mythical connection between witches and warts is strong in common culture yet the connection of witches and worts is weak.

What’s a Wort?

Think plants. St. John’s Wort, or St. Joan’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is likely the first greenblood that comes to mind. Often toted as a great herb for depression, it also helps with inflammation and a slew of other associated conditions. Witches have been partnering with worts since time immemorial to heal themselves and their fellow humans.  Worts are any plant, lichen or fungus used for healing. The old Germanic version, wyrt, morphed into today’s wort and also relates to “root”. Back in the day, the line between food and medicine was much more blurred and the roots gathered found themselves in everyday teas, brews and stews. Brewers are familiar with worts as the base of their beer, a sweet grainy soup broth which serves as the growth medium for yeasts to transform sugar into alcohol. Check out Stephen Beuhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers for more on this topic.

The A-Z of Worts

I love the functionality of the English language. Though witches themselves were persecuted and their traditional knowledge was mostly discarded, they managed to preserve herbal wisdom in their plant, fungi and lichen names – sometimes for appearance, sometimes for function. Take a look for yourself at this exhaustive list from Wikipedia:

Witches have SO MANY WORTS. So next time you’re feeling a wart coming on,  grab some mugwort and St. Joan’s Wort and treat that condition!

On the First Night of Hanukkah… or Fat – Part 1

Today marks the first day of Hanukkah. It’s also Christmas Eve, but as I don’t come from Christian traditions, I’ll leave the waxing poetic on that history to someone else. For the eight days of the festival of lights, or the celebration of the blessed oil that lasted eight days, we’ll be exploring the importance of FAT!

In conversation today, a wise friend pointed out that the Universe, as we know it, is not made mostly of things, but of space between the things. So often we focus on things that we neglect the spaces between. I believe that this is where magic lives – in relationships. I commit myself to tending these relationships in their ever evolving forms. Relationships of all sorts, friendships, loverships, kinships, partnerships sprout, grow and die in their own time and place. All I can do is be present with what is and honor everyone’s path, including my own.

Relationships also exist through the cloth of time. My ancestors called themselves Yehudim, or Jewish, people. Before that, they were assorted clans. The pre-Jewish traditions that shaped themselves into rituals and ceremonies, stories and songs of modern Jewish culture are what resonate most deeply with me. The honoring of the light and the belief in miracles, I’m finding in this year in particular, to be essential to my mental health.

In lighting the Hanukkah candles for the first time this evening, I asked my companions what fuels the light within them. I ask you,

What fuels the light within you?

And as the brilliant Shayne Case noted in a workshop titled “Hearts on Fire” at the Portland Plant Medicine Gathering,

How do we live in a place of nourishing light rather than a constant fire?

I lit the candles and sang the Hanukkah blessing. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, malech haolam, asher kid ‘shanu b’mitzvotov v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. 

My answer, for myself, is co-creating a world of abundance and shining a light on the dark, oft neglected spaces in between.  Fat’s role in cooking is to be of the in-between spaces.

I can’t think of anyone who makes fat the center of the dish except Russians who salt pork fat (sala), slice it on bread and call it a sandwich. Fat is most often the mediator, a heat mover between the pan and the food you’re frying, allowing foods to cook way beyond the boiling point of the water they contain*. It’s the tenderizer, working its way in between the dry and tough areas of pie crusts and steaks. It’s the lubricant, causing food to not dry when exposed to heat but to experience crispness, the Maillard effect, or GBD (golden brown and delicious). It’s the butter in the oatmeal, helping you get down all those so-called healthy foods. It’s a force of synergy, enhancing all the flavors in the food that you’re tasting by coating the tongue in a slow symphony of smells and tastes that would otherwise whizz through your mouth. On this day and the following seven, the Jewish people of Earth celebrate FAT!

Fats fuel the light within me. Nourishing, delicious foods full of fats that…. well, I’ll save that for tomorrow’s lighting of the second candle.

*For this reason I strongly advocate against owning a microwave for cooking purposes.