Vampire’s Garden: St. John’s Wort

st johns wort

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 fourth 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.

Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum

Common Names: St. John’s Wort, Tipton’s weed, goatweed, common St. John’s Wort, perforate St. John’s Wort, Balsamo (Greece)

History: Native to temperate Europe and Asia, St. John’s Wort is now considered an invasive/noxious weed in more than 20 countries (it’s also toxic to livestock). Its use goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where is was used for snakebites, burns, wounds, sciatica, and to treat recurring fevers, among other things. It was also believed to protect against witches’ spells. Later, it was associated with the Norse God of Light and Summer, Baldr, thanks to the plant’s bright yellow flowers and tendency to bloom around the summer solstice (21 June). Eventually 24 June became St. John’s feast day and the plant was renamed. The flowering shoots were hung over doors and stalls to ward off evil spirits, and to protect both people and animals from harm and illness. In Greece it would be hung in homes over religious icons of St. John, which led to its botanical name (hyper, meaning “above” and eikon, meaning “picture” or “icon.”)

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Animosity

Cultivation: Perennial (Zones 5-7). Produces creeping rhizomes and seeds–can be invasive (check with your local authorities before growing St. John’s Wort). Can be easily grown in any reasonable, well-drained soil; tolerates dry conditions. Prefers sun (will tolerate part shade). Start seed indoors and transplant to a permanent outdoor location after all danger of frost is past. Harvest flowering shoots and dry to use later, or preserve fresh flowers and buds in oil (see below). Because it spreads so easily, it can be readily found growing wild in fields, near creeks, and by the sides of roads.

Uses:

Medicinal: Taken internally, St. John’s Wort has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate depression and symptoms of menopause. Be aware that supplements are not regulated and can vary widely in quality, reliability, and efficacy.

Externally, the oily extract is used to heal wounds, bruises, and various skin conditions. It can also be rubbed on sore muscles. Research has found that hypericin, one of the plant’s chemical compounds, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Make your own extract by filling a sterilized glass jar with flower buds and flowers. Cover completely with olive oil (or other vegetable oil). Cover the jar and leave on a sunny windowsill for about a month. Wipe away any condensation that forms inside the jar. Oil should turn a deep red colour. Strain to remove flowers. Store extract in a cool, dry place. If mold develops while oil is steeping (usually because the plant material isn’t fully covered or there’s too much moisture in the jar) discard and start over.

You can also make a tea with fresh or dried flowers. Cool and apply the tea to skin with a clean cloth or cotton pad. Use for wounds, bruises, skin conditions, and burns. You can also drink the tea (hot or cold) for its medicinal benefits, although beneficial effects will be milder than from a supplement.

Caution: If you’re taking prescriptions (including anti-depressants, heart medicine, and birth control pills), avoid using St. John’s Wort internally, as it can interfere with absorption and cause interactions. It can also cause photosensitivity–avoid sun exposure entirely or cover up and wear sunscreen if you’re using St. John’s Wort in any form. Don’t use St. John’s Wort if pregnant or nursing.

Caution 2: If you’re taking St. John’s Wort for depression and decide to stop, make sure to wean off it slowly by gradually decreasing the dose. Stopping abruptly can have adverse effects.

Possible Side Effects: Restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, skin rash and tingling. It can also cause vivid dreams.

Crafts: Alcohol extracts of the plant produce a deep red dye. Used with different mordants, it can produce various shades on wool, silk, and other fibres.

Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Hypericum as a plant worth studying for her blood substitute. It would also be part of her apothecary business, added to tinctures and extracts for other vampires to give their bloodletters (both to combat depression and to heal wounds), as well as for to human customers.

Further Reading:

St. John’s Wort Oil: Benefits & How to Make

How to Use St. John’s Wort

Natural Dyeing with Hypericum Perforatum

Wild Colours Natural Dyes

Briargate Botanicals

Monterey Bay Spice Company

WebMD

Encyclopedia.com

Wikipedia

Vampire’s Garden: Comfrey

comfrey
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

 

Vampire’s Garden: Love-Lies-Bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
Photo from http://www.adaptiveseeds.com

If you’ve read Love Lies Bleeding, you’ll 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 will be the first 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 historical interest only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself.

Latin name: Amaranthus caudatus

Common names: Love-Lies-Bleeding, Pendant Amaranth, Tassel Flower, Velvet Flower, Foxtail Amaranth

History: Native to South America, this and other varieties of Amaranthus were grown for their edible, protein-rich seeds. The Aztecs also used it in religious ceremonies, which led to the Spanish conquerors making its cultivation a capital offense (they still never managed to wipe it out). Some varieties were used to make a red dye, and betacyanins, which give Amaranthus their red colour, are still used to produce non-toxic food dyes. Medicinally, it has been used to treat swelling, ulcers, and diarrhea.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: hopeless love or hopelessness

Cultivation: Annual. Easy to grow from seed, Love-Lies-Bleeding prefers full sun and is both drought and moisture tolerant. It grows to be 3 to 8 feet (1 to 2.5 metres) tall. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted outside after the last frost (start in April to transplant in May). Sow or thin to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm). Can self sow but generally isn’t weedy.

Uses: Ornamental, cut flowers, edible (seeds and leaves).

Wildlife: Birds love the seeds–leave plants in the garden over winter for the birds.

Mara’s Uses: Following the Doctrine of Signatures, Mara considers Love-Lies-Bleeding to be a potential ingredient in her theoretical blood substitute.

Bonus: Mara’s full name is Amarantha, which shares a root and meaning with Amaranthus: “unwilting” or “unfading.”

Further Reading:

Adaptive Seeds

The Sacramento Bee

Wikipedia

WebMD

Inhabitat

 

Summer Fun for Creatures of the Night

abstract beach bright clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:

Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)

So unfitted. But never mind the heat, there’s a bigger issue with the sun: I can’t stand the feel of it on my skin. Hell, I don’t like being in direct sunlight even when I’m completely covered. No, this isn’t some sort of melodramatic goth affectation (not that I’m opposed to those). Up until age 8, I loved the sun and spent my summers outdoors, usually in the nearest pool. And then my immune system decided to start going after me instead of sticking to fighting bacteria and viruses. All of a sudden sunlight was uncomfortable, exhausting, and overall unpleasant. I don’t know if this is a common side effect of auto-immune disorders or if I’m the lucky exception, but I can relate more than a little to my vampire characters.

not you

So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?

  • stay inside as much as possible during the day
  • when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
  • if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
  • movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
  • look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
  • reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.

Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:

Blood Magic: Myth and magic collide in this FREE story about choices, transformation, and retribution: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Love Lies Bleeding: a novel about delusion, obsession, and blood: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35524549-love-lies-bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

Make sure to leave a rating or review on your favourite book site!

What’s summer like for you? Share your thoughts in the comments…