Circe’s Apothecary: Kitchen Witchery

If you’ve been following for a bit, my love for food, foraging, and the holidays should be quite clear. Hence, my love for seasonal flavors! Winter herbs and vegetables! Versatile and good for you, they bear unique, delicious flavor profiles.

Beyond that, cooking is a form of self care, and the ritual is strikingly similar to spellcasting. Freshly prepared produce will make you feel clear headed, healthy, and strong. A hot meal on a winter evening helps to draw a line between the work day and the rest of your life. The act of cooking itself forces you to remove all the hats you’ve worn that day and focus only on preparing food, a task that is nearly as old as humanity and appeals to that deeper sense of emotional nourishment and completion.

The scents, the flavors… they transport you. Dark, hearty flavors like rosemary and olive oil on crispy roasted root vegetables, enveloping the senses. Verdant parsley and basil to compliment robust winter pasta dishes. We all have feelings and memories tied into the food we put in our bodies. And when you bring intention into your kitchen, imbue a little magic into your cooking, it comes back to you tenfold.

Western Peppermint - Mentha piperita

Many of us associate peppermint with the holidays, and personally, I have already had my fair share of minty dark chocolate cookies this year. But I must also recommend peppermint tea. It’s great for mild digestive issues, soothing the stomach and promoting gut health, and it tastes like pure happiness. Topically, peppermint aids sore muscles by providing a tingling, cool sensation. Peppermint has a powerful property of recollection, especially around this time of year, when many of us wish to revisit those watercolor memories of candy canes and peppermint hot chocolate in childhood.

True Cinnamon - Cinnamomum verum

If not peppermint, then cinnamon: the holiday sweets we all indulge in have such a strong connection to memory and nostalgia. Not only is it irreplaceable in gooey frosted cinnamon rolls or hot apple pies, the aromatic spice has been used for hundreds of years for its warming and stimulating properties. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties that fight off infection, as well as anti-inflammatory properties for those of us with stiff joints and pain, making it especially valuable in the cold season.

Rosemary - Salvia rosmarinus

In hearty, warm dishes this time of year, rosemary is a star ingredient. It goes with everything savory: meat, potatoes, soups, roasts. You can twist the lovely, sticky spines into a wreath, or place a sachet of rosemary above your door for luck and loyalty and that fresh, spicy scent. An old world herb with a long history, soothing rosemary is associated with Aphrodite, and has been carried by brides and wedding guests since the Medieval period. A common saying goes, “where rosemary grows, the woman rules,” so if your plant flourishes, you must be doing something right.

Parsley - Petroselinum crispum

Though it’s most famous as a garnish, parsley is full of vitamins, is a diuretic, and can cause uterine contractions. It has been commonly used throughout history to trigger menstruation, and that means exactly what you think it means—abortion has been around as long as pregnancy, and was very common until people without uteruses decided it shouldn’t be. Thanks to modern medicine, surgical abortion is a safe, simple, and quick medical procedure that many, many people need every year, though access is often impeded by restrictive and authoritarian legislature, religious groups, and so on. So it’s unsurprising that people today still attempt to use parsley tea or suppositories to induce abortion, but it is simply not safe or reliable—parsley is far better used as a garnish, and it is far safer for people with uteruses to reach out to the Auntie Network to exercise their right to bodily autonomy.

Fennel Seed - Foeniculum vulgare

When I was a girl, every now and then, my mom would come home in the evening and slip me a folded up piece of notebook paper. Inside the makeshift envelope, I would find candy coated fennel seeds, an Indian after dinner treat—almost licorice-flavored but far more inviting, like a sweet mint, with a heady floral scent and a satisfying crunch. Aside from connecting me to my cultural heritage, fennel has been used as a snake bite antidote, insect repellant, and the seeds are often used to help regulate the digestive system. Though they’re not often used in American food, in some parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, fennel seeds are a staple in spice mixtures used for all sorts of dishes.

Basil - Ocimum basilicum

Oh, sweet basil, king of herbs. Why can’t I keep you alive? My favorite for Italian and Thai dishes, fresh basil should be easy to keep on your windowsill, but year after year, mine fail at the first sign of frost. Basil is no winter herb, but it’s included in this list because it is absolutely magical, sparkling and green, fantastic in food and said to have properties in protection and love. Put it in lasagna for a romantic dinner for two, or to ward off unwanted affection, let a sprig wither under your bed. Get you an herb that can do it both ways, and I wish upon your plants all the prosperity that mine have not yet found.

Nothing brings people together like a hot meal, so when it is safe to do so, share your lovingly prepared meals with your household and beyond. As always, exercise caution, consult a professional before using any sort of medical treatment, and keep your intentions clear, strong, and good.