Visiting Provence: Lavender Fields

One of my longtime dreams was to visit the lavender fields of Provence. In my mind, nothing could be more romantic; it was like a fairytale you could experience, something magical. And in 2015 I was lucky enough to finally be able to go. With surreal blue skies, cypress trees, castles, hills, Roman structures (some still in use so they can’t be called ruins), and, of course, lavender fields, Provence really is magical. When I was there my guide (Elodie of Provence Authentic) told me the fields are disappearing as farmers replace them with more profitable grapevines, which would be like Paris taking down the Eiffel tower to put up highrises. If you ever have a chance to visit the Luberon, the region where these fields were located, take it– while the lavender, and so much of the magic, is still there.

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

By the way, the smell was incredible. Forget whatever you think lavender smells like– there’s nothing like an entire sun-warmed field of these flowers.

In the next photo, you can just make out a castle on the hill in the background. Apparently it once belonged to the Marquis de Sade. When I was there it was owned by designer Pierre Cardin, who was raising money to restore it. I wonder how that went…

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
The flowers in this field haven’t quite opened yet. Lavender blooms in the Luberon from June until August, depending on location and type of lavender.
Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
The farm’s name, “La Savonnade” means soap. By the way, “lavender” comes from the French “lavendre,” meaning to wash.
Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Mallow flowers among the lavender.

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Surrounded by lavender fields is the lush green garden of the world’s luckiest homeowner. I wonder how they feel about unexpected houseguests…

Some local wildlife…

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Visiting Provence, Lavender Fields, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Before we left, we moved l’escargot off the road to more pleasant surroundings.

Have you visited any lavender fields, in France or anywhere else? Share in the comments…

Want to read more about France? Download my FREE story Tooth & Claw, set in early 1900s Marseille, and inspired by actual events (there aren’t any lavender fields, but there are vampires.)

Tooth & Claw, free short story by Aspasia S. Bissas

 Smashwords Barnes & Noble Kobo Apple Books

Further Reading

Visiting Provence: Carpentras

Vampire’s Garden: Lavender

Note: All photos in this post are © Aspasía S. Bissas. They were originally shared on my other blog Whimsy Bower (click to see more photos there).

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Welcome to Vancouver

0 welcome

Since travelling is off the table for the foreseeable future, I thought I’d share some photos from a past trip. I was lucky enough to visit beautiful Vancouver on Canada’s west coast back in April 2018. If you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend it. Mountains, ocean, gorgeous gardens, good coffee, friendly people. Some take issue with all the rain Vancouver tends to get, but I found it cozy (I also noticed it tended to clear up by early afternoon on most days anyway). I hope I can go back again– there was so much I didn’t get to see last time (like whales!)

These were taken in the north end of downtown Vancouver and the Gastown neighbourhood. Vancouver has one of the only steam clocks in the world.

0 tower0 steam clock0 mountain0 building

I got these shots (and the “Welcome to Vancouver” sign) on the way to Stanley Park…  Continue reading “Welcome to Vancouver”

Vampire’s Garden: Nettle

Vampire's Garden: Nettles, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is ninth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Please also note: Nettle is known as stinging nettle for a reason. See “Caution” below.

Botanical Name: Urtica dioica

Common Names: Stinging nettle, common nettle, nettle leaf, stinger, burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel, feuille d’ortie, slender nettle, tall nettle, wild nettle. (Not to be confused with dead nettle, Lamium spp.)

History: Native to Europe, temperate Asia, and parts of northern Africa, nettle can now be found throughout the world. It grows abundantly in areas that receive regular rain, such as the Pacific Northwest, and locations that have been disturbed by humans (e.g., ditches and fields). The German idiom “sich in die Nesseln setzen,” or to sit in nettles, means to get into trouble. The medical term for hives, “urticaria,” comes from the Latin word for nettle: Urtica (from urere, “to burn”). It has been used as medicine, food, tea, and as a raw material for textiles since ancient times.

Language of Flowers Meaning: Rudeness, coolness, scandal, pain, slander, cruelty, protection (no two sources I found gave the same meaning).

Cultivation: Perennial. Nettle needs moist, rich soil (it’s also an indicator of fertile soil wherever it grows wild). Start seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date, or sow seeds directly in spring or autumn. Transplant hardened seedlings in spring, spacing plants 30 cm (12 inches) apart. Make sure to grow nettle away from high-traffic areas in your garden. The plant grows 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in summer and dies back in winter. Harvest leaves in early spring (don’t use once the plants have flowered) and roots in autumn. Nettle spreads easily via rhizomes, so if you’d like to grow it but don’t want it taking over your yard, keep it contained with a barrier around its roots (if it gets invasive, regular and persistent tilling can help get it under control; otherwise, you may need to resort to herbicides). Add nettle leaves to compost as a source of nitrogen (or make compost tea). You can also forage for nettle in green spaces and open woodland (just be sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or steeped in car exhaust).

TIP: Aphids love nettle. Grow nettle to keep aphids away from other garden plants (like roses).

Uses:

Medicinal: The fresh plant is a traditional spring tonic. Fresh or dried leaves and the powdered root have been used to treat disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract, and for sore muscles, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and gout. The leaves are also used for skin conditions, to treat anemia, and to reduce hay fever. There is some evidence that nettle lowers both blood sugar and blood pressure. Some folk practitioners still practice Urtication, or flogging with nettles, to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and to increase circulation (although this has been shown to be effective, before you try it keep in mind that Urtication has also been used as a sentence for criminals).

Hair Care: A tea made from nettle leaves can be used as a hair rinse to add strength and shine. Some people believe it also stimulates hair growth, but that is purely anecdotal.

Culinary; Nettles are rich in Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and protein. Use young plants picked in spring (plants that have flowered or gone to seed contain gritty particles that can irritate the urinary tract and kidneys). The sting can be removed by cooking or drying nettles, or by soaking them (I can confirm that cooking and drying works, but I’m hesitant to try the soaking method– please let me know if you have, and how it went). Fresh nettle can be used like spinach or other greens, or made into chips or pesto. Dried or fresh leaves and flowers can be made into tea. You can also brew beer from young nettles.

Fun Fact: There’s a World Nettle Eating Championship, where people compete to see who can eat the most fresh nettles. Those with a low pain tolerance need not apply.

Wildlife: Nettle provides food for the larvae of several species of butterflies and moths. Ladybugs (a beneficial garden insect) also prefer laying their eggs on nettle. When harvesting, watch out for eggs and caterpillars (a curled leaf can be a sign of a resident) and avoid damaging those leaves.

Textiles: Nettle has been used to make a linen-like fabric for at least 3,000 years, and unlike some plants (looking at you, cotton) nettle doesn’t need pesticides. Some modern European manufacturers are starting to produce nettle fabric again.

This short video demonstrates how to make nettle fabric:

And this video shows how to make paper from nettles:

Natural Dye: Nettle produces yellow dye from its roots and a yellow-green or grey-green hue from its leaves.

Caution: The leaves of most nettle species are covered in hollow needle-like hairs that inject histamine and other irritating chemicals into the skin when touched, causing a stinging sensation and contact dermatitis (known as contact urticaria). The sting is removed when nettles are cooked or dried. Wear gloves and use caution when handling the fresh plant. Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for nettle stings, and dock often grows close to nettle (you can also use spotted jewelweed, plantain, antihistamines, or anti-itch creams).

Caution 2: Nettle has been deemed likely unsafe to take during pregnancy, as it could potentially cause a miscarriage. Although it has a history of being used to induce lactation, it is now recommended to avoid nettle while breastfeeding. Nettle can also interfere with some medications; let your doctor know if you are using it.

Mara’s Uses: Mara would include nettle in tinctures and teas to help strengthen bloodletters (human volunteers used by vampires for their blood) and to prevent or treat anemia.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Further Reading

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Make sure to download your FREE copies…

Love Lies Bleeding: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Blood Magic: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Tooth & Claw: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

 

Canadian Wildlife Federation (includes recipes)

Gardeners’ World: 10 Uses for Nettles

Penn State Hershey (medicinal use)

Surprising Ways to Use Stinging Nettles (with recipes)

Stinging Nettle: Useful and Delicious

Tips for Growing Nettle

How to Use Nettle as a Fertilizer

Dyeing with Nettles

Wikipedia

Floriography, Language of Flowers

Meaning of Flowers

WebMD

Vampire’s Garden: Garlic

Vampire's Garden: Garlic, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Nick Collins on Pexels.com

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is eighth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

COVID-19 Note:

Vampire's Garden: Garlic, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Read more of the WHO’s coronavirus/COVID-19 advice here.

Botanical Name: Allium sativum

Common Names: Ajo, Allium, Clove Garlic, Camphor of the Poor, Poor Man’s Treacle, Stinking Rose, Serpent Garlic, Spanish Garlic, Common Garlic

History: Native to Central Asia, garlic has naturalized in many areas and can even be a weed in some places. Garlic has been used in food, medicine, and in religious rituals for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks left it at crossroads as an offering to the Goddess Hekate. Medieval European folklore claims that garlic can be used to repel demons, vampires, and werewolves. Historically, garlic has been used to improve strength and endurance; to treat snake bites, arthritis, and respiratory illnesses; as a cure-all; and as an antibiotic (it was used in both World Wars to prevent gangrene in wounds).

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Courage, strength, or as a ward against illness or “evil spirits” (unwanted suitors).

Cultivation: Perennial. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9, but can be grown in Zone 3. Prefers full sun and loose, dry, well-drained soil high in organic matter. There are two sub-species of garlic: hard necked and soft necked, as well as hundreds of varieties and cultivars. Hard-neck garlic generally grows in cooler climates and produces larger cloves; soft-neck varieties are smaller and tend to be grown in hotter climates. Garlic can be grown year-round in milder climates. In colder climates, plant individual cloves about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. To plant, loosen soil to a depth of 8 inches and plant cloves (pointy end up) 3 to 4 inches deep. Garlic can be planted close together (as long as there’s room for the bulb to mature) and can also be grown in pots. Cover planting area with about 6 inches of straw to help protect the cloves over the winter. Harvest in late spring or early summer. Garlic bulbs are susceptible to a few diseases, as well as to leek moth (AKA onion leaf miner).

Uses:

Culinary: The bulb and scapes are edible and used in a wide variety of savoury (and some sweet) dishes. The flowers are also edible, although they have a much milder flavour than the bulb or scapes. Immature (or “green”) garlic can be pulled and used like scallions. Black garlic is heat aged over several weeks to create a subtle sweet flavour that can be slathered on bread or added to vinaigrettes and sauces. Garlic can be dried or stored in vinegar, but storing in oil can result in botulism poisoning (see below for link on safely storing and preserving garlic).

Some popular garlic recipes include:

Garlic Knots

Pesto

Harissa

Pickled Garlic

Aïoli

Chimichurri

Roasted Garlic Ice Cream

My Mom’s Skordalia

Traditionally served as a sauce with fish or roast meat, skordalia is also good as a dip with vegetables, french fries, and pita bread triangles.

2-3 medium to large potatoes, peeled, and cut in half

10 large cloves garlic, minced or grated finely

scant 1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil for a milder flavour)

1/2 cup reserved cooking water (optional)

Place potatoes in medium saucepan over high heat. Add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and lower heat to medium. Cook until potatoes are soft (about 30 minutes). Drain potatoes, reserving cooking water. Leave potatoes in saucepan and mash. You should have about 2 cups of mashed potatoes. Add minced garlic to mashed potatoes. Add vinegar and salt, stirring briefly after each addition. Add oil. Stir well. If serving as a dip, no further additions are necessary. If serving as a sauce, add reserved cooking liquid, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Serve at room temperature.  Note: This keeps well refrigerated for 4-5 days.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

 

Tip: Garlic breath can be most effectively minimized  by drinking milk with the garlic (it doesn’t work if you drink milk afterwards or with skim milk).

Companion planting: Garlic is said to repel rabbits and moles, and to improve roses when planted near them.

Mosquito repellent: Anecdotal evidence suggests that eating garlic makes you less attractive to mosquitoes. Research shows that garlic may repel ticks, although not as well as commercial tick repellents.

Crafts: You can braid soft-neck garlic (see link below).

Medicinal: Garlic supplements vary widely in quality and efficacy– make  sure to buy  one (preferably enteric coated to protect the stomach) from a reputable manufacturer. Cooking garlic may remove some of its medicinal benefits, while raw garlic can cause indigestion or gastrointestinal distress, although black garlic retains its medicinal benefits without causing irritation. Garlic is most commonly used to boost immunity against infection, for lowering cholesterol, to prevent atherosclerosis, and to both prevent and help recover from heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. Research has shown that it may lower your chances of developing some kinds of cancer.

Caution: Don’t take garlic supplements if you’re taking anticoagulants (blood thinning medication) or have a clotting disorder. Garlic can also interfere with some medications, including some antibiotics and hypoglycemic drugs. Avoid taking garlic medicinally while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Caution 2: Applying raw garlic to the skin can cause burns, especially in children.

Mara’s Uses: Mara does not use garlic in any form because it is toxic to her and other vampires (find out why in Love Lies Bleeding). Blood from humans who take garlic supplements is unpalatable to vampires. Blades are sometimes coated in garlic oil as a way of exacerbating a vampire’s wounds.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Don’t forget to download your FREE copies…

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, then order Love Lies Bleeding from an independent bookshop and support small businesses when they need it most. Click here and scroll down for the full list of available online shops.

 

Further Reading

Garlic Scapes FAQ

Green Garlic

Black Garlic

How to Safely Store and Preserve Garlic (pdf)

Wikipedia

What are the benefits of garlic?

WebMD

The Health Benefits of Garlic

Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic

How to Grow Garlic

How to Braid Garlic (video)

 

Vampire’s Garden: Chamomile

vampire's garden chamomile, aspasia s. bissas
Photo via https://nccih.nih.gov

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is seventh in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Botanical Name: Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman or English chamomile).

Common Names: chamomile, camomile, German chamomile, Italian chamomile, Hungarian chamomile, wild chamomile, scented mayweed, Matricaria recutita, Roman chamomile, English chamomile, garden chamomile, Water of Youth, ground apple, mother’s daisy, whig plant, Anthemis nobilis, Anthemis, chamomilla, Flores Anthemidis, Grosse Kamille, Romische Kamile, manzanilla, sweet chamomile

History: Found near populated areas throughout temperate parts of the world, chamomile will grow in any disturbed soil, including along roadsides, near landfills, and in cultivated fields. It has been used medicinally since at least Ancient Egypt, and in beer making (and love potions!) since the Middle Ages. Roman chamomile was thought to be the superior form, hence the use of “nobile” (noble) in its botanical name, although research shows that German chamomile is actually the more potent of the two. Chamomile is the national flower of Russia.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Patience

Cultivation: Zones 3 to 9. German chamomile is an annual that readily self seeds. Roman chamomile is a perennial. Chamomiles like moist but well-drained soil and full sun (or part shade in hotter climates). Start seeds six weeks before last frost. Seeds need light to germinate, so scatter on top of potting mix, press firmly into the mix, and keep moist. Transplant outside after risk of frost has passed. (You can also directly sow seed outdoors in autumn.) Thin plants to 15 to 18 inches (38 to 45 cm) apart. Blooms June and July. After (Roman chamomile) plants flower, cut them back to soil level to ensure strong plants next season.

Uses:

Medicinal: Whichever type of chamomile you use, make a tea from the flowers and drink or apply externally, depending on what you’re treating. German chamomile in particular has been found to be antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for menstrual and intestinal cramps, as well as coughs and colds. Chamomile is calming and has been traditionally used to help anxiety and insomnia. Cooled tea can be applied to skin to calm irritations and help with swelling (it can also be used as a mouth rinse for sores or inflammation). You can make a pot of strong tea and add it to bath water for a healing bath. Chamomile is a mild laxative, but has also been found to help treat diarrhea in children.

Caution: Chamomile can cause allergic reactions in anyone allergic to pollen or plants in the ragweed family. Chamomile may also negatively interact with other herbs and medicines. Avoid using if you’re taking anti-coagulants, NSAIDS, or sleep aids (including herbal kinds).

Caution 2: Pregnant and nursing women are advised to avoid using Roman chamomile. Infants should not be given chamomile, as (like honey) it may be contaminated with botulism spores, which a baby’s immature immune system can’t handle.

Cosmetics: Chamomile extract or essential oil can be added to skin creams as a soothing ingredient. Cooled chamomile tea can be used as a hair rinse to bring out blond highlights. Chamomile can also be added to homemade bath products, such as bath bombs.

Food: Home brewers can use the entire chamomile plant to add bitterness to beer. Chamomile flowers can be used in drinks (lemonade, smoothies, cocktails), in homemade popsicles, or in baking and other desserts. The flowers have a sweet apple or pineapple scent, and are worth experimenting with.

Crafts: Chamomile makes a nice addition to potpourri. You can also scent your home by gently simmering chamomile (fresh or dried leaves and/or flowers) in a pot of water on the stove (do not leave unattended; keep a close eye on water levels).

Gardening: Prevent damping off in seedlings by watering them with cooled chamomile tea. Planting chamomile near sick plants often results in healthier plants.

Mara’s Uses: Mara orders a cup of chamomile tea in Blood Magic (download your free copy here). Chamomile would also be included in remedies she sells via her apothecary business in Love Lies Bleeding, as well as the ones she used to help her fellow passengers in Tooth & Claw (download your free copy here).

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading:

Flower meanings

Wikipedia: Chamomile

Wikipedia: Roman Chamomile

Wikipedia: German Chamomile

The Flower Expert

German Chamomile

NIH: Chamomile

What Are the Benefits of Chamomile Tea?

WebMD

23 Ways to Use Chamomile

What Is Chamomile?

How to Grow Chamomile