Recipes, Spells, and Wisdom from the Hedgerow
Once upon a time the witch held a place of esteem in the village; her knowledge of local plants and wayside herbs were used to heal; her wisdom and empathy made her the village matchmaker and marriage counselor; and her ability to commune with nature and animals gave her a place of revelry and wisdom. She was the Hedgewitch.
Aimed at the busy witch, who is both breadmaker and breadwinner, this book revives the spirit of the Hedgewitch and teaches you how to make every day one full of wisdom, healing, and magic. For the practicing or would-be witch whose life is more jeans, chaos, and the never-ending question of what’s for dinner than it is black robes, cauldrons, and incantations, Mandy Mitchell has a recipe for you!
“I want to demonstrate how daily chores can become magical rituals with the potential to enrich and transform your life—everything from the way we form relationships with our families and friends to cooking, cleaning, and healing.” —from the introduction
Journey through the wheel of the year with one eye on the kettle and the other on the magical!
This book spans the seasons and is rich with information on how to get the most from everyday. With correspondences and references to recipes and practical magic, this book is a boon for all those who practice a more traditional life. What seems mundane can often be a ritual. Every stitch in a sampler a spell...every ingredient in a weeknight dinner a way to say I love you...everything has meaning and Mandy Mitchell does a great job of showing you how to look at your world just a little bit differently.
Don’t worry, no long drawn-out history lesson here. I am definitely more a student than a teacher. And goodness, my history teacher was sooo boring that he could send the whole class to sleep with one sentence, bless him! But I digress—never a good sign in an introduction! So to get back to our topic, why Hedgewitchery?
“Hedgewitch” is a relatively new term. It refers to the old village folk who were revered in their communities as healers and keepers of wisdom. For women, they may have been midwives; for males, I think they were known as “pellars”—particularly in Cornwall. These “cunning folk” were an important part of the old com- munities and a certain mystery surrounded them. They were solitary practitioners. Their knowledge of herbal and medicinal laws was unrivaled, and in a time when there was no modern medicine they treated all types of ailments using the things around them. They knew the folklore behind the local plants and put together brews, spells, and medicines from the hedgerow and from their kitchens.
The other important role these “cunning fok” played was as community counselors. They were often trusted to keep secrets and advise on different situations. This is where the term “Hedgewitch” comes from. Not only did these keepers of knowledge use food and plants to help and heal, they crossed the boundary, or “hedge,” that contained their community to converse with other realms. Through meditation and visualization they visited the fairies and spirits, and consulted with them or asked questions to help them resolve community problems. This can take some practice! But as communities dispersed and we lost touch with the wisdom of these “wise ones”—these keepers of local knowledge—they came to be reviled as evil witches and were treated appallingly. What threat did they pose? Purely a different point of view, great wisdom, and success!
In more recent times, our families and ancestors held some of this knowledge and used it in everyday life. Our grandparents and great-grandparents probably knew all the plants around them and their uses. They knew the hidden meanings in the food they ate and the things they used. To them, this was wisdom—passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Not much of it was writ- ten down—after all, there was no need. Families and communities would never disappear, would they?
But today, in our modern era, this is the biggest problem we have. Our communities and families have dispersed like sand in the wind. We don’t live together in groups anymore; families don’t stay together all in one place from cradle to grave. Communities rarely exist in the way they used to, particularly if you live in a large urban town or city. Today, even living in a pretty rural village can be very isolating. The modern age has reduced communication to words on a screen and all things Internet and mobile. Even the written word is in decline. When was the last time you sent or received a letter?
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it sometimes comes with quite a high price. We are at risk of losing the bond that exists between us, and with it, all that precious old knowledge—knowledge that is no longer being handed down as it once was through teachings and folklore.
This, I think, is where the modern Hedgewitch comes in. We are, in the main, solitary practitioners, but we do still have a community to serve—our friends and families. We have very little time for contact with the outside magical community, but we do now have, thanks to the Internet, a whole world of like-minded people with whom we can converse. So many people are now turning to new “online com- munities”; they are springing up everywhere.
Most of our work, however, is still done from the comfort of our own homes and hearths, as solitary Hedgewitches of the modern age. Our role has, in a way, become vital in this world—to record and pass on our knowledge to the next generation and to close the gap a little on all the lost years. We can try to return to the old wisdom our grandparents knew and lived by, using simple household ideas that can enrich people’s lives. What we can do is to learn as much as possible, and to practice our magical ways and observe all the important times and tides that our ancestors did. We can strive to make life better for others and for ourselves by using the things around us, and also by having an understanding of the reasons behind using them.
Time to make the world a more magical place again, don’t you think?
We all have to eat. It’s a very simple fact of life—and one that most of us think about a lot and take quite seriously. Food is a source of fuel, but we use it in so many other ways as well. Comfort eating, entertaining and socializing, chicken soup for what ails you—the list goes on and on. But we shouldn’t just take food at face value. Most foods have a tradition and folklore associated with them, so it makes sense to use them to their full advantage.
No one I know relishes the thought of slaving over a hot stove for hours, cooking up what amounts to an entire day’s pay, only for it to be gone in seconds or to be pushed around the plate. Ask any mother or father what weaning their precious baby off milk and onto “proper food” was like. Watch as that rosy glow disappears from their faces as they recall the battles at every mealtime. My granddaughter has this down to a fine art. She scans the plate of food in front of her with precision and brilliant speed. This is usually followed by the word “done,” as she picks up the plate and casually drops it over the side of the highchair! It is an inherited skill I think and proves to me the existence of karma, since her mother did exactly the same thing. It is soul-destroying, however—and not only because of all the expense and effort we went to to give the dear little thing a meal.
We, as adults, have a built-in need to feed children; any children will do if our own can’t be found. This is why I think I could never leave my mother’s house as an adult without being pestered to eat and to take a “goodie bag” of food I neither asked for nor wanted tucked under my arm. I believe this comes with the parental territory—ummm, maybe it’s hormones?
Cooking is pretty much as old as humanity. It’s the most basic form of alchemy we have—blending things and transforming them into something spectacular. Well, that’s the theory anyway! But in this modern time, we all set ourselves up for a fall before we begin. Food is not what it once was. You can never be entirely sure exactly what is in that beautiful ripe tomato in its pretty plastic tray. I do often wonder what happened to all the “ugly” food. You know what I mean—the misshapen carrots and the knobbly potatoes. It seems as if, in this day and age, we are destined to have an identical diet containing who knows what from who knows where, and as for when—well, who knows?
Today, the food seasons have merged and blended into one long-running show with no end. Whatever ingredient your heart desires can be found lurking in a sterile grocery store aisle alongside things that have no earthly reason to be there, given that they have absolutely no chance of growing in your climate! Do we need them all? Well, it is wonderful to have such choice, but surely a strawberry in summer tastes sweeter than one in the winter?
The cook’s role, to me, comes down to using a few basic ingredients effectively: seasonal foods, local foods, affordable foods, and free foods. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t eat other foods—good grief, no! I am not that virtuous, believe me. Most of the time, I like to use seasonal produce—selfishly, because I know it’s at its best and therefore tastes amazing, requiring very little effort from me. I want my local foods to be as local as I can get—whether they come from the garden, from a friend’s garden, or from a local shop. Next, I go after regional items, then those from across the nation, and finally, imported fare. But “imported,” to me, just means longer in transit, and so less flavorful and more work for me.
Price is a tricky issue too. Times are tough everywhere for all of us, so price will often come at the top of our list of priorities by necessity. Sometimes the money just won’t stretch; so, with the best of intentions, we have to make compromises. Let’s face it; we are not going to starve ourselves or our loved ones over a bit of food snobbery. Hot, tasty food at the right price is the order of the day, but it does require a bit more effort and a great deal of imagination.
And finally, free foods! These are the very best, and they really should be at the top of everyone’s list. Find and forage for what you can; gather it, cook it, and serve it with the knowledge that you are doing something your ancestors did. Why have we forgotten this skill? I know you all think I am mad. “Did you not just write all about the realities of modern life in your introduction?” you say. “Do you not grasp that I don’t have a minute to breathe?” you say. “Forage?” you say. “What nonsense!” But I really am that busy too, and I know it does take some effort—but it is free! You can’t find usable free food in all months, I know. And fortunately, the season when it’s most scarce is the winter, so you don’t have to go trudging around in the freezing cold. But if you can get out, preferably with a small child to do the work, do try it!
The Magic of Hedgerow
I hope all of this sounds very sensible and very doable, for now is the time for the magic to begin! All the ingredients we use in our cooking hold a magical element— an unseen energy that used to be known by all but that has now largely been forgot- ten. By understanding what that energy is and harnessing it, we can infuse magic into everything we create. For example, when you go to the shop for some shower gel, you stand in front of a vast array of what’s on offer—different bottles and labels and colors. How do you choose? Are you a label reader or a sniffer? Either way, you choose the one that suits your needs—fresh lemon, relaxing lavender, blends that tell you they revitalize you or warm you up or cool you down, or even make you super sexy! The herbs and spices in these gels are specifically selected by the manufacturers to do a job, and you buy that product to do that job for you. You already know that if you want a relaxing soak, you buy the lavender or chamomile, not zesty lemon or mint or pepper. We make so many choices about what works to enhance our day-to-day lives; we hold so much of this knowledge already. We just need to put some of it to work and use it magically.
Try, if you can, to return to the days of our ancestors. Cook with fresh ingredients, with love and intent. Use your ingredients to help you in your life. You don’t have to be a slave to the stove—nor do you have to be a martyr. Even a simple cup of tea can be made magical if you make it with focus and wisdom. That’s why I call myself a Hedgewitch cook!
So welcome to the first book from the kitchen of a Hedgewitch cook. Here, we will ramble through the year together, considering as we go anecdotes, memories, folklore, recipes, spells, and rituals that relate to each month. In each chapter, I’ll give you tips for working everyday magic with the foods, materials, and natural treasures abundant in each month. And I’ll share some of my own experiences working with these energies as well.
At the beginning of each chapter, I have given a list of foods that are seasonal to each month and a list of correspondences for each month that represent the magical side of the year. I have also included an appendix that gives a list of the magical properties of herbs, plants, and trees for you to use as a reference. These are just my take on things and are in no way intended as exclusive or exhaustive lists. They are given only to show you some possibilities and to make suggestions. As with all things magical, correspondences and properties are different for each person. Those given here are just the ones that I find work for me. They may be useful as a starting point for you, but I have no doubt that everyone will have his or her own ideas. So, my apologies if I’ve missed something important to you or something obvious. As I said, I do ramble!
Excerpts provided by Weiser Books.