Reclaiming Ourselves - Back to Basics: Food & Medicine (Part 2)
Last time I wrote about food and medicine, but in doing so, I barely scratched the surface and so here's part 2! I often say within witchcraft to take what works for you and discard the rest and the same applies here too. The aim with these articles is to share some of the knowledge, tips and advice I've picked up along my way in the hope that they will come in useful to you in your own struggles against Capitalism.
Feeding yourself and your family can be expensive, especially when you try to eat well, and especially if you rely on supermarkets to do so. The tips offered here will save you some money, but more importantly, will help you regain a measure of independence.
So here's where it might get a little controversial, but I'm going to talk about going meat free.
I've been a vegetarian since I was about seven years old, but it's only really been the last year or so where I've ditched dairy and eggs (I can't claim veganism though as I do still use honey and eat avocado). The driving issue for me to ditch dairy was the factory farming industry. There is no denying that those animals are amongst some of the most abused creatures on the face of the planet, and that the industry is a huge contributing factor in climate change, and all for our demand for cheap meat and animal products.
So why ditch meat? If you want to eat cheaper, then ditching meat is the obvious choice but it is also a massive lifestyle change, which is why so many struggle and fail. If going vegetarian or vegan is something you've been toying with for a while, then easing yourself into it is an option. The easiest way is to try going meat free for one or two days a week.
Another issue many face is that they don't know what to eat instead. Honestly, it is usually the first question people ask me when I tell them I don't eat meat. There are a wide range of vegan and vegetarian products out there, like lookalike meat, or ready meals, and that is great, but doesn't help in the learning to cook for ourselves. These products can also be pricey, which is another reason people are put off. For example, when I went to my local Pagan Pride, vegan burgers cost £6! Six bloody quid! Talk about rip off. But, when you cook for yourself, eating vegan is a whole lot cheaper. Think about things like beans and pulses. Chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans etc are ultra cheap, costing as little as 30p a tin and nutritious too. And do not fear bland and tasteless food! Seasoning is your friend! Ultimately though, whether you decide to go vegan or vegetarian is up to you, but by cutting down on your meat consumption, you'll help the planet and save yourself some cash in the process.
And so the controversy continues....hunting! So if cutting out meat is not an option for you, then learning to hunt for your own meat is another way in which you can rely less on the State. I know it may come across as weird, for a vegetarian, would be vegan to talk about hunting, but I grew up and still live in a rural town. My father was a poacher in his younger days, and so my sisters and I grew up with hunting and fishing as a viable way to get food.
But even for those of us who live in the countryside, hunting (always for food, never for 'sport') and fishing can still seem weird to people. A friend of mine marvels that my son and his friends enjoy spending their time fishing. He couldn't believe it, whereas I was in shock because he'd never been! Whether you just learn the basics, giving yourself knowledge and skills for the future, if you should ever need them, will only be of benefit. When it comes down to it, I always figure it's best to know something and never need it than to need it and not know it!
And with that, let's touch upon ethics momentarily.
The other year, I bought my partner an air rifle as a gift. When I was talking about it with a friend, they couldn't believe that I would or could condone hunting. After all, as someone who doesn't eat meat and who cares for animals, how could I justify buying my partner a gun that he would use to shoot rabbit? For me, it's easy. That rabbit will have had a better life and a better death than anything bought from a butchers or supermarket. Now, I was telling a pagan friend of mine this, and he happened to disagree with me. He said that for him, that just means that another animal has had to die without alleviating the suffering of the countless farm animals. And I take his point, I really do, but it is precisely that attitude that hinders any movement away from factory farming. I also think that if folks could only eat the meat that they killed themselves, then you would see a rapid reduction in meat-eating.
Anyway, it's up to the individual to decide their dietary needs and wants, but it's all about building up that skill set, whether that includes eating meat or not. Learning to cook, but also learning where to source food from will become vital in the future.
Many of the items I use in my folk remedies are items that I've foraged for locally. It's so important to learn what grows where and how to use it properly as well, so the first step in healing yourself is getting to know what grows where you live. Get yourself some good identification guides and get yourself out!
But once you've foraged and harvested your items, then you'll want to know how to prepare them for medicine. Some ingredients will always be best used fresh, for example any plant items used in poultices (I'll discuss these soon) or in anything that is to be used or consumed straight away. If you're making medicines to keep in a cupboard or first aid box, then preserving any plant matter is a must, else it'll spoil whatever you make. To dry your foraged goods, you do not need any fancy equipment. Simply bunch your plant matter together by the stems, tie up and hang somewhere warm and dry until they are dry and crispy to the touch. Alternatively chop them up into small pieces and leave on on a warm windowsill or radiator to dry (either in a muslin cloth or a loose weave basket). And to dry things that don't bunch together easily, chilli peppers for example, simply thread a needle and push through the thin stem until you have a string of chillies. Hang to dry.
Some of the easiest medicines to make are tinctures. Tinctures are quite simply plant matter steeped in alcohol. You can make washes and waters the same way, but I prefer making mine with alcohol; vodka, rum, brandy, or whatever spirit you have to hand, though it does need to be at least forty percent proof, in order to keep the ingredients from spoiling. And I like using alcohol because some active ingredients within the plants will not be water-soluble, and quite often it is these compounds that are the active ingredient. That's not to say waters and decoctions are not useful - they certainly can be, especially for when compounds are water soluble, but if in doubt, making a tincture is the best way of hedging your bets and making sure that the final product actually contains the active compounds.
Poultices are another simple medical hack for minor complaints and ailments. A poultice is simply a bandage or wadding used to cover the area that is in need of attention. They can be dry or wet, warm or cold depending on the condition being treated. For a burn, for example, you might want to make a poultice using mugwort or any other herb associated with healing burns. Make a paste with the plant matter and water, place on the wound and wrap with the bandage or cover with the wadding and tape. You can use poultices for a wide variety of complaints, for example a simple soap poultice will bring a boil to a head. They are a great way to begin to explore folk / herbal remedies. Generally heat is useful for easing pain because it will draw blood to the area, whereas cold is good for inflammation because it causes the body to direct blood away from the area - good to know when using warm or cold poultices.
As I mentioned in Part 1 folk medicine and becoming more self reliant when it comes to food is such huge topics, it would take books to cover them completely, and I genuinely hope that what you've read here inspires you to look more deeply into this area. Whilst the information is nothing new nor radical, these skills, this knowledge is so important. Whether the collapse of Capitalism happens or not, by relearning these skills, we give ourselves a sense of freedom, if only because it is one more chain broken.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.