Vampire’s Garden: Comfrey

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Photo via Mary’s Heirloom Seeds

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is second 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.

Latin Name: Symphytum officinale

Common Names: Boneset, Bruisewort, Knitbone, Slippery Root

History: Native to Europe and parts of Asia, comfrey has a long history (at least 2000 years) in healing. It has been used to treat coughs and lung ailments, stop excessive bleeding, treat stomach problems, and to ease joint pain and inflammation. Its most common use, however, has been to heal wounds, bruises, and broken bones; in fact, almost every name (in all languages) for comfrey refer to knitting or mending bones or healing cuts and contusions. “Comfrey” comes from a Latin word meaning “to grow together,” and the botanical name “Symphytum” comes from the Greek, meaning plant that knits bones together. It was once also used as food for both people and animals.

Caution: Comfrey has been found to be toxic to the liver when taken internally in large amounts. It’s generally safe to use externally, but is best avoided by pregnant and nursing women, infants, and by people with liver, kidney, or vascular disease. It’s also toxic to animals, so be sure not to let them eat it.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Home sweet home

Cultivation: Perennial in zones 4 to 9. Easy to grow from seed, comfrey prefers full to part sun and rich, well-drained soil. It’s quite adaptable and can survive less-than-ideal conditions, including drought. Sow early indoors or outside as soon as soil can be worked. Sow just below surface of soil and tamp down–keep seeds moist (not wet). Sow seeds or seedlings with 2 feet (60 cm) of space around them as the plants get fairly large. Once plants are established in a spot they can live for decades and be difficult to remove, so take care when selecting a site. Comfrey is generally non-invasive, although it can self sow.

Uses: Comfrey is still used externally to treat inflammation, joint pain, and closed wounds and bruises. You can crush fresh leaves to make a poultice, apply fresh leaves to the affected area, use a salve, or apply oil that has had comfrey steeped in it. Treat poison ivy blisters by rubbing a fresh leaf on them. You can also use the chopped roots to make salves, ointments, and oils (or use a combination of leaves and roots). Leaves are best used before the plant blooms; roots are best harvested in late autumn or early winter.

In the garden, nitrogen- and potassium-rich comfrey leaves are used as fertilizer, in compost, and as mulch. Avoid using stems as they can take root and spread the plant where you don’t want it. You can also make a compost tea with the chopped leaves by steeping them in water for several weeks and then straining and diluting the resulting dark liquid 12:1 before applying to the garden.

Mara’s Uses: She makes a poultice of comfrey leaves to help speed up healing of a particularly bad injury. Comfrey would be one of the herbs used to make salves and oils for her apothecary business.

Further Reading:

Permaculture Research Institute

Natural Living IdeasNatural Living Ideas

Comfrey Growing Guide

Mother Earth News

WebMD

Wikipedia

 

Read Fiction, Be Happier

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Sign outside Waterstones, Bloomsbury, London

I have a theory that people who don’t read aren’t happy people. Or at least, they’re not as happy as they could be. It’s a highly unscientific theory, and maybe a little unfair, but think of some famous readers you know, then think of someone who famously doesn’t read, and decide for yourself whether I might have a point.

Actually, it turns out that I’m not entirely wrong. Science is discovering that to be a happier, healthier, and overall better person you do need to read…fiction.

Apparently (and unsurprisingly) reading fiction teaches empathy, provides a sense of belonging, and relieves stress. It helps with cognitive and social skills–it might even help you live longer. And it offers a healthy escape from a not-so-healthy reality.

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Anyone who reads both non-fiction and fiction will recognize the difference in the two experiences. Much as I enjoy non-fiction, it’s rare to get lost in facts. Non-fiction is interesting, it can make you excited about learning–but it doesn’t capture you. Fiction makes you part of the story, it lets you live another life. A good work of fiction will lead you to happily blow off everything else you had planned for the day, just so you can keep reading. For me, fiction shows the possibilities of what could and can and does exist. Fiction is proof of the power of imagination. And it’s good for you too.

Read some fiction right now–download my FREE short story Blood Magic.

Check out this new review of Blood Magic on Vamped.org.

Find out more about why reading fiction is good for you.

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas jpg

 

Mental Health Break

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Like so many people (especially the ones in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get out of bed. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (not blessed, or motivated, or magically able to control your emotions–just lucky).

This past week has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. One of the events that made the week so bad (for countless people besides myself) was the tragic suicide of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t know him, but he’s been part of my life for a couple of decades now. He was an inspiration, something of a kindred spirit (other than that time on No Reservations when he decided hipsters were okay), and a truly decent human being. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’re all worse off without him.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it as best I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed–there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.

If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby). In Canada, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645. You can also chat here: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

There’s also good info here: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
If you’re not in crisis but are struggling, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed. If you feel like you can’t deal with other humans, then go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant).
Plan a Trip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t go because it turns out planning trips makes people happier than actually going. So have fun planning your dream vacation (or  research anything else you’re interested in).
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re feeling depressed or anxious? Share in the comments.

Why You Need to Read Books

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I always find it strange that people need to be convinced to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. For me, books have always been magic, gateways to other worlds, other lives. They’re adventures and dreams, knowledge and potential, all packed into conveniently portable packages. Forget apps–no matter what you want or need at any given moment in life, there’s a book for it. How could anyone not instantly see the value in that?

00 books are worlds

And yet… According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of American adults have admitted to not reading even part of a book in the last year (and I’m sure the numbers are similar in Canada). Clearly a lot of people don’t realize they’re missing out.

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If magic, knowledge, and adventure aren’t enough to get you interested, maybe I should also mention that:

Yale researchers found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day live longer than those who read magazines or who don’t read at all.

(This reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where someone was reading a book in parts to their elderly relative, always leaving the story on a cliffhanger to keep the person hanging on well beyond a normal lifespan. #goals)

Successful people read (and they share some of their favourite books here).

People who read short stories are more open-minded and creative, according to a University of Toronto study.

Need a short story to get you started? How about “Blood Magic,” available free here, and at other online booksellers!

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

You can read more about the benefits of reading books here, or you can just pick up a book and find out for yourself.

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Today is also World Book and Copyright Day! It’s the perfect day to start a reading habit or to encourage others to start one. How will you be celebrating? Share in the comments.

Lastly, the Copyright Act is under review in Canada. The current Act has allowed copying of copyrighted works to the extent that Canadian creators and publishers have had their royalties decline by 80% since 2012. I urge everyone to read more about it here, and to show your support for Canadian writers and creators (like me) by sharing the message on social media using the following hashtags: #IValueCdnStories #CreativeCanada #ValueGap #INDU #cdnpoli #WBCD2018 #worldbookday2018 #worldbookandcopyrightday