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Thursday, November 21, 2013

SOME FUN RESEARCH: THE HERBALS I USED IN 'THE TATTOOED WITCH'

I HAVE LONG BEEN A STUDENT OF HERBAL REMEDIES. I’m also interested in aromatherapy and how various scents affect mood. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for regular meds when I need them – but how we've come by our modern day cures is fascinating. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the background research I did on the herbs and plants I use in The Tattooed Witch. Two of the references I relied upon were The Green Pharmacy by James A. Duke, PhD., and The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood. In order to get a more mystical and magical view on how some plants have been used, I also referred to Scott Cunningham’s pagan Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs

1). Lavender: Early in The Tattooed Witch, Miriam presses a mash of lavender into her father's wounds caused by a potro (a rack-like instrument of torture used by the Inquisition to force confessions). Lavender oil is a natural antibiotic and antiseptic. It’s also an effective treatment for minor burns and scalds. A number of varieties promote sleep, although Spanish lavender, which I feature in the photo below, doesn't. It has a more stimulating effect.

2). Garlic: Garlic was used in World War I to treat infected wounds and dysentery. It has nine anticoagulant compounds and has been used for heart attack and stroke prevention (if you suffer from hypertension, stick to your modern meds). In The Tattooed Witch, Miriam finds a clove of garlic and treats Ephraim with it when she runs out of lavender. This is fortunate, for he suffers a shock, which she fears is a heart attack.

3). Datura: In the novel, I use a little poetic license and refer to Datura as Dartura, but it’s basically the same deadly plant. Joachín, one of my favorite characters and Miriam’s love interest, uses it for healing, but it’s also a dream herb. Joachín is a Dreamer; psychically gifted, he dreams other peoples' presents and futures. In the real world, Datura is a dangerous hallucinogen. For centuries, it's been  used in shamanic practices and religious rites (the Aztecs considered it sacred). Its folk names include: Devil’s Apple, Ghost Flower, Jimsonweed, and my personal favorite – Yerba del Diablo, or in Spanish, Herb of the Devil.

4). Willow: In The Tattooed Witch, Anassa, my Diaphani matriarch, chews willow sticks and drinks willow tea in order to relieve her pain from headaches, arthritis, and old age. Willow bark contains salicin. Aspirin is derived from salicylate compounds, and is found in both willow and other plants (Meadowsweet and Wintergreen, for example).

5). Lemon: As well as being a tasty and refreshing citrus, lemon oil has antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Aromatherapists claim lemon oil works as a water purifier. In The Tattooed Witch, Anassa uses the juice in her tea for both flavoring and purification. Here’s an interesting superstition: lemon pie, served to one’s spouse, is supposed to strengthen fidelity. Lemons and oranges weren't originally native to Spain. The Arabs introduced them around the end of the twelfth century, and Spain, in turn, brought them to the new world.

6). Sage: Sage has long been used to treat bacterial infections, bronchitis, and coughs, but it’s better known among Pagan and First Nations communities for its sacred and protective properties. There’s an interesting superstition surrounding sage – it’s considered bad luck to plant it in your own garden. Find a stranger to do it. (Personally, I’ve never had any problems.) In Witch, Anassa uses sage to smudge and ‘ward’ her Tribe after Miriam is attacked by a demon.

7). Oldenlandia or Tongueweed: I came across this herb when I needed a remedy for snakebite. In Witch, Casi Montoya is bitten by a viper; Ephraim, Miriam’s father, calls for Oldenlandia to treat the bite externally. Today, Oldenlandia is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat sores and carbuncles of the skin. Also known as Snake-Needle Grass, it’s said to lower fever, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain.

8). Oleander: In Witch, this is the plant that Tomás, the Grand Inquisitor, uses to kill Alonso de Santangel. (Not to worry: for those of you who haven't yet read The Tattooed Witch, this isn't a spoiler. We learn that Tomás is the guilty party in Chapter One). Oleander leaves are long and narrow and look similar to willow. The shrub has fragrant pink flowers, although some varieties are white or yellow. All parts of it are extremely poisonous. Apparently, the Babylonians mixed oleander with licorice root to treat hangovers. (Not recommended!)

I recently finished the second book in the trilogy, The Tattooed Seer. It's with my editor, awaiting his suggestions. There are several herbal remedies in it as well, including Rosemary, one of the oldest incenses used and a traditional herb in bridal wreaths, plus Fava Beans considered by some today to be an aphrodisiac. In The Tattooed Seer, both Rosemary and Fava  (I call them Faba) play their parts.

If you'd like to purchase The Tattooed Witch, you can find the links for buying it on the right, or you can order it from your favorite bookstore. Amazon also includes a free peek of the first four chapters here, plus a five star rating and some great reviews. (Thanks so much, to those of you who've given the book your support.) Finally, if any of you are wondering about the release of The Tattooed Seer, I'm hoping it will be available by summer, 2014.
Spanish Lavender

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