"SEASONED GREETINGS: Deck the blahs with boughs of holly" by Molly Frances (Arthur No. 25/Winter 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (Winter 2006)

THE NEW HERBALIST
By Molly Frances

The holiday commonly called Christmas brings with it general feelings of dread and depression, as well as the intrusion of traffic, crowds, family, chocolate-covered everythings, large rectangular boxes, turtlenecks, and relatives with weird hair giving even weirder gifts. Well friends, I’m here to tell you: It has nothing to do with that!

Whichever winter holiday you choose to celebrate, from the Winter Solstice on down to Kwanzaa, I think we can do it better. We can make new rituals and traditions to define what these holidays are really supposed to reflect: faith, love, and rebirth.

The recently published Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals of Yuletide by Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling (Inner Traditions Press) is a fascinating resource to explore the origins and varieties of our holiday traditions. If you thought Christmas was a time to lay low the libido and close your heart for the season, this book begs you to reconsider. Resist the mood-killing family gatherings and neutering woolen sweaters and breathe in the seductive aroma of the ages. The very spices, plants, and incense that make us cringe when encountered in uncomfortable holiday environments have been used for hundreds of years to invoke fertility, love, and magic during the winter “feast of love.” Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, anise, saffron, ginger and vanilla were used in ancient Roman kitchens in baking and beverages, and many of these spices were considered to be aphrodisiacs. The authors instruct that “in medieval times festive meals were sprinkled to the thickness of a finger with spice powder, most often pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.” So gather the freshest ingredients you can find and get to work on those gingerbread houses, cookies, and spiced ciders to rekindle ye olde ancient holiday magic.

The greatest burden of the holiday season is of course the madness surrounding the selection of gifts, but it needn’t be this way. Why not offer your friends a bowl of steamed kale greens garnished with olive oil, lemon juice and a festive toss of dried cranberries? Tell them you offer this bowl of nutrient-rich greens to open their heart chakras. They will be so overcome by your gesture of goodwill and caring that that marshmallow santa will be thrown to the ground in favor of real nourishment. Give your beloved a pomegranate, the symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This deeply romantic gift will sweep away all previous longing for that iPod or riding lawnmower they were expecting. Traditional and modest gifts of candles, plants, and incense are often the most potent and symbolically rich. Frankincense is described in the book as stimulating feelings of intense sensual joy and, due to its THC content, can create “pharmacological effects.”

When we decorate and give gifts of green plants and flowers we are maintaining an ancient connection to faith and the hopeful message that winter will pass into spring. This is a time to celebrate the cycles of life, the light that we know will follow the dark winter days. Pagan Christmas reminds us that the Christmas tradition contains many holdovers of pagan rituals that were adopted by Christianity due to their undying presence in the popular mind. The disconnected presence of the living room tree can bounce back to a joyous significance when you consider that “pines are a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The idea that lucky children could find treasure hidden under them may come from the tree’s long history as an object of pagan worship. Like fir and spruce, the perfume of the pine needles and pine resin was considered forest incense.” The beauty of nature can thrive even in the dead of winter—or the suburban horror of Uncle Frank’s den.

Let’s not allow the manufactured and cynical distractions of the winter season to bully the magic from our thoughts. Creativity and passion can inspire us to cultivate new ideas about sharing time and and gifts with the people we love most. The authors of Pagan Christmas point out that even normally bummed-out Nietzsche would perk up in anticipation of Christmas approaching. Instead of dredging your defeated soul to the mall, pay a visit to your local farmers market and browse the bounty of the fall harvest. Spread nature’s sweetest gifts of tangerines or bags of pecans. Plant a tree in someone’s name (http://www.americanforests.org/planttrees) to celebrate the proliferation of nature. Break out of your Jello mold and create a spicy new holiday dish. And If you find yourself alone this winter, as all of us do one time or another, why not adopt a cat or dog? They will keep you warm, and if you feed them they will love you forever. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

"Wise Walnut" by Molly Frances (Arthur No. 23/Sept. 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (September 2006)

THE NEW HERBALIST
By Molly Frances

“Wise Walnut”

Fall is here. Embrace the wisdom of the squirrel and gather up your nuts. We need them more than they do.

One of the most ancient of foods, walnut fossils have been found dating from the Neolithic period over 8,000 years ago. Rumors of the walnut groves in the hanging gardens of Babylon have been circulating for some time, and King Solomon is said to have often strolled among his walnut trees “into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley” (Song of Solomon 6:11).

In the Middle Ages, the “Persian” walnut became known as the “English” walnut as colonial-minded English sailors carted off loads of the nutty bounty and spread them about Europe, and eventually the “new world.”

Jupiter’s royal acorns, as the ancient Romans liked to call them, bear a suspicious resemblance to the human brain. That makes walnuts brain food in every sense of the word. They’re loaded with Omega 3 essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and minerals necessary for mental and heart health. It’s no coincidence that as our intake of omega 3s have decreased drastically, depression and heart disease have risen. Get this, slim jim: Your brain is 60% fat, and cell membranes will build themselves out of whatever fats are available. Omega 3s are the optimum choice, but most people fill up on omega 6s, found in polyunsaturated vegetable oils and animal products. An imbalance skewed towards Omega 6 fats are associated with inflamation, degenerative diseases, and mental disorders of all kinds, including increased violent activity. Sound like anyone you know?

Dr. Andrew Weil believes that the lack of Omega-3s in our diet is “the most serious nutritional deficiency we have in this country.” This deficiency is believed to be responsible for a wide range of diseases such as alzheimer’s, arthritis, ADD, diabetes, heart disease, PMS, and severe and manic depression. Omega 3 oils are found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and sea greens such as hijiki and kombu. They are essential for retinal function and vision, immunity, promoting good cholesterol, and cancer prevention.

Got the blues? Skip the sundae and go right to the nuts. Omega 3s stabilize moods and increase energy levels. They are also beauty oils, keeping skin youthful and glowing and hair soft and shiny. Get healthy and happy by replacing some of those 6s with 3s. How about a handful of walnuts as a snack or on a salad? How about some ground-up flax seeds? Why not? Let’s all learn how to cook up some delicious sea greens like Hijiki; it’s fun to say and more fun to eat.

Make certain to store shelled walnuts in the refrigerator (up to six months) to keep the oils from going rancid, as they can become carcinogenic. Chopped and ground nuts go bad more quickly than whole raw nuts. You can tell a bad bag of nuts by the smell – if they have the aroma of oil paint throw them away.

Enjoy a bag of organic raw walnuts or whole fresh walnuts from your local farmer’s market. Nothing says “I have arrived” like a big bowl of walnuts on your table and a nutcracker placed just so. You’ll have a potential moneymaker on your hands as well, playing the shell game with your friends. The increased walnut-fueled brain power is sure to benefit your sleight of hand.

"A Better Way to Cool Off" by Molly Frances (Arthur No. 23/July 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

The New Herbalist
By Molly Frances

“A Better Way to Cool Off”

As spring fever’s eager blossoming inevitably withers into the summertime blues, we seek quick relief among the abundance of icy blended concoctions that our advanced civilization offers us. Unfortunately, though that iced coffee provides a momentary respite on a balmy day, it will also quickly return you to a state of dehydration and turn up the heat of your internal thermostat.
The ingredient for the most soothing and refreshing of summer drinks is probably already growing in your garden. For a deeply cooling drink, brew up a tasty pot of mint tea.

A handful of the fresh herb plucked from your garden and tossed into a carafe of hot water will have you living the good life in no time at all. Be sure to include the stems of the plant. This tea may be served cold as well, but resist the temptation of pulling out your blender. Frozen drinks and ice cream will hold heat in your body and freeze digestion. To really keep extra cool this summer, avoid your freezer and enjoy your summer beverages without ice.

For a truly sublime experience, serve your friends a pot of Atay bi Na’na’. Made from boiling water, fresh mint, a small amount of green tea and honey to taste, Morocco’s most popular drink is consumed all day long. Usually served in ornate silver pots and small decorated glasses, it is customary for three servings to be offered by the host, who pours the tea from a distance of up to several feet above to aerate the brew and show off his skills. Practice this before the guests arrive.

In addition to its cooling properties, Mint tea settles the stomach and digestive disorders, eases migraines, and helps draw out infection upon first signs of a sore throat. The powerful antiviral properties of peppermint are due to its main active ingredient, menthol oil, which opens and heals sinuses, bronchial tubes, and vocal chords. It is also said to create a mentally stimulating and relaxing vibration that reduces stress and anxiety.

So what have we done to deserve this magical leaf? As the legend goes, Hades, god of the underworld, was busted by his wife Persephone in mid-frolic with a hot young wood nymph named Mintha. Persephone, who had been somewhat rudely snatched down to the underworld by Hades in the first place, was in no mood to overlook this infidelity and stomped the little nymph underfoot, transforming her into the plant we know today as Mint. In a gesture of atonement to Mintha, Hades would endow the plant with its sweet and unmistakable aroma.

Persephone may have extinguished Mintha in the flesh, but her spirit has lived on in this most promiscuous of plants. There are few lands that the wildly propagating mint has not traveled to, and few cultures that she has not seduced. As 16th century herbalist John Gerard declared, “The smelle rejoiceth the heart of man.” From Egyptian temples to Roman baths, Mint has been used for all varieties of healing and pleasure. The Pharisees even paid their taxes with it, as revealed by this scolding from Jesus: “Woe to you, Pharisees! You tithe mint and rue and every edible herb but disregard justice and the love of God.” Ouch!

While perhaps more prized for its pleasure-inducing than medicinal properties, the mint julep has been the preferred drink of the Southern Aristocracy. Accept nothing less than fresh mint, water, sugar, and Kentucky bourbon. As one of its key proponents, S.B. Buckner, Jr. warned in 1937: “A mint julep…is a ceremony… a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee.” He instructs, “Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home.”

As Mintha clearly gets around, she has crossbred into hundreds of varieties including chocolate mint, basil mint, ginger mint, Persian mint, Corsican mint and Pineapple mint. All this intermingling frustrated one ninth-century monk, who declared, ” I would rather count the sparks in Vulcan’s furnace than count the varieties of mint.” The most popular forms are spearmint and peppermint, the former most often used in cooking but the latter more medicinally potent.

As Buckner proclaimed, “bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.”

Molly Frances on the best condiment: VINEGAR

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (April 2006)

vinegar_revised

The Best Condiment
by Molly Frances, “New Herbalist” columnist

In February, Mrs. Susie Potts Gibson of Tuscumbia, Alabama, passed away at a youthful 115, the third oldest person on the planet at the time. Mrs. Gibson was by all accounts a spirited and healthy SuperCentenarian who lived on her own until she was 106. So what did Mrs. Gibson attribute her extended stay on the big blue marble to?

Vinegar.

That’s right young’uns: the “sour wine” just may be what flows from the fountain of youth. Not only has vinegar been revered for thousands of years for its life-extending property, but also as a remedy for a host of ailments: arthritis, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, weight control, laryngitis, migraines, chronic fatigue, warts, acid-reflex and sore throat. Hippocrates, ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Julius Caesar, Christopher Columbus and Japanese samurai warriors all made use of its awesome tonic properties.

Longevity’s not your bag, you say? Then how about a little spring cleaning? Not only is vinegar a naturally-occurring antibiotic that heals your insides, it is also an antiseptic that will spruce you up on the outside too. It fights germs, bacteria, mold and viruses. Hot date coming up? Surprise your lady with a mold-free shower, sparkling faucets and streak-free mirrors and windows. A 50/50 combo of vinegar and water administered through a spray bottle beats any industrial cleaning product hands down and keeps you from trudging down the least savory supermarkets aisles. By using vinegar as your prime cleaning agent you are also saving money and reducing the amount of unnecessary chemicals in our water supply.

If you’re feeling dull and down, ditch the coffee and booze and reach for a glass of apple cider vinegar instead. This potassium and enzyme-rich concoction made from fermented apples is the nutritive powerhouse of the vinegars and the primary variety for internal use and personal hygiene. Dry skin, fungal infections, ear infections, poison ivy, shingles, varicose veins, insect bites, sunburn and gray hair are all at your mercy when armed with nature’s tangy nectar. Susie Potts Gibson knew this; not only did she splash it on everything she ate, but according to her granddaughter, she applied it topically to chase away those meddlesome aches and pains. So go ahead and ask for that vinegar massage you’ve always wanted. It also makes an excellent de-toxifier when added to a hot bath, or a reinvigorating shampoo. Lord Byron consumed loads of the stuff to maintain the pale complexion that drove the ladies, as well as the boys, hog wild.

Every science nerd knows that vinegar is the essential ingredient in any homemade volcano, but did you know that a splash of vinegar followed by a quick dust of baking soda makes an unbeatable homespun, non-Alzheimer’s-causing underarm deodorant? Just be aware of the possibility that in addition to long-lasting, non-toxic odor protection, you may also experience the aforementioned “volcano effect.” Do not panic. This is normal.

If you can’t be bothered with using vinegar out of vanity, do it for the animals! A few teaspoons slipped into their water bowl will send the fleas and parasites in search of a new host. Your old dog may finally muster up the energy to learn a new trick or two.

What kind of vinegar should you buy? As you know, the industrial powers-that-be have found devious ways to produce visually appealing products while robbing them of their inherent benefits. Vinegar has not escaped this fate. The most common form of commercially produced vinegar is distilled, a process that destroys the spongey cobweb-like particles—known as “Mother” in vinegar lore—that linger in properly fermented vinegar. Don’t be afraid of Mother. Mother is good for you. So do your part to crush the dominant paradigm, and embrace your Mother. Go for the cloudiest, most particle-ridden vinegar brew you can find. This will usually require a trip to your local health food store or farmer’s market, or find it online at bragg.com.

You can drink two teaspoons daily of apple cider vinegar straight up, add honey and water to make a healing elixir, or just drizzle it generously over your veggies. It also makes a mean salad dressing when paired with olive oil and fresh spices. The prophet Muhammed didn’t declare it “the best condiment” for nothing.

Recently discovered delights in L.A. and elsewhere, by Molly Frances

originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008)

Recently Discovered Delights
by Molly Frances

1. Nite Jewel
This one-woman act has been haunting nightclubs around Los Angeles and beyond this summer, dropping nocturnal transmissions and electro dust into the atmosphere. Accompanied by her bubbling synthesizer and deep tunnel beats, Nite Jewel would make the perfect house band on the mothership that’s going to take us all away from this place. myspace.com/nitejewel

2. Raymond Chandler
What a different city Los Angeles would be without the mythology of Phillip Marlowe and the many shadows cast by Chandler’s noir mysteries running through its city streets. Fall’s a good time to revisit these stories of an honest man lost in a sea of corruption.

3. Avocado with poppy seeds
Slice an avocado, add lemon, and roll in a generous heap of poppy seeds. Exotic.

4. Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle by Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna (2005)
You will never get tired of looking at this book. This catalogue from the 2005 traveling exhibit spans the years of mid-’50s to early-’60s beatdom, when an artistic and literary utopia formed around the mysterious figure of artist Wallace Berman and his arts and literary journal Semina. You couldn’t find it on newsstands or in bookstores; most of its few hundred copies were mailed by Berman to friends and peers. The book not only reproduces all nine issues but is a Who’s who of West Coast bohemia.

5. Walking really far
Walk for two hours in any direction and see where you end up. Maybe you are missing something. Maybe you will find it.

6. Velaslavasay Panorama
The North Pole is tucked right into South Los Angeles. Go and see. It’s hidden in the second floor of the beautiful Union Theater. Take yourself to the endless horizon. panoramaonview.org/

7. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
The 17 tracks on FlyLo’s second record seem to flow without beginning or end, stacking dusty samples, sandpaper beats, and washy synths into a collage as dense and sticky as an august afternoon in Van Nuys. You’re stuck in traffic, the sun is in your eyes, a jackhammer echoes an unsteady rhythm in the distance, your radio suddenly plays all its stations at the same time. For a second it all makes some kind of sense.

8. The Late Show (1977, dir. Robert Benton)
Lily Tomlin, Art Carney, a lost cat, blackmail, murder and endless hijinks, set in Los Angeles. Nutty and Noir, this Robert Altman-produced mystery features an incredibly stylish Tomlin as an aimless but charming eccentric and Carney as a cranky over-the-hill detective with one last fight In him. Don’t get the idea that this is one of those awful detective spoofs, it’s actually one of the most perfect movies you’ve never heard of, covering all genres, emotions, and hairstyles. You will laugh many times.

9. Cold brewed coffee
Impress your friends with a rousing pitcher of iced coffee. You will be known throughout many wide and concentric circles for being a dark brewing lord and master of the bean. No one will know how easy it is for you with your cold brew coffee bucket. You grind a whole can of coffee with 9 cups of water and it sits for 12 hours and then you have a pitcher of low-acid coffee that tastes amazing for two weeks. Everyone will love you and want to be your friend. You can buy the cold toddy brewing kit they sell in stores or make your own. It’s off the grid.

10. The Baroque Music station on 1.fm
When one’s radio breaks down, you can discover amazing things that were once hidden right under your nose. Lurking within the Classical Radio tab of that iTunes thing is an endless stream of this amazing music that restores your faith in civilization. It only occasionally loses its affirmative power when interrupted by a commercial for under-eye circles.

11. Raw vegan whipped cream
Soak 1 1/2 cups of raw walnuts (or raw cashews) in water for two hours…then get rid of the water and put the nuts in a blender with 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice and two tablespoons maple syrup (a few drops of almond extract optional) This recipe is from Juliano’s UnCook Book (Regan Books,1999)—good recipes, really bizarre self-portraits.

12.Griffith Observatory
Despite multi-million-dollar renovations during recent years, the main attraction at Griffith is still the view of the twinkling metropolis below. Go at dusk to watch nature and culture collide to form a gold and purple ooze that stretches from the mountains to the sea. Breathtaking.

13. Sylvia Robinson “Pillow Talk” 7-inch single
Found this scratchy 45 in a box at the back of a thrift store in Joshua Tree. Before masterminding Sugar Hill records, Robinson recorded music as ‘Sylvia’ and wrote this song for Al Green. He turned it down because it was too dirty so she recorded it herself and it hit number one on the charts in 1973. With breathy talk vocals, hi-hat swoosh, and sugary string and electric piano arrangements, it’s a fine specimen of the early disco sound that was forming around Philadelphia and other East Coast cities at the time, and is a naughty stepping stone between Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin’s Je T’aime and Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby in the history of simulated orgasm on wax. The flipside sounds like it comes from an earlier, more wholesome time period but is an equally luscious track with a piano-heavy girl-group sound.

14. Jumping on a trampoline
Up and then down. Do it again. Jumping cleanses your cells and lymph nodes and increases your immunity. Up with people.

15. Making your own amazing salad dressing in one minute
Combine cold pressed organic olive oil (a lot), lemon, honey and stoneground mustard. This tastes better than anything you can buy. There is room for error. Salad dressing is very forgiving. Raw sage honey sweetens the deal.

16. Too Late For Tears (1949, dir. Byron Haskin)
All the pleasure of knowing a dangerous femme fatale, none of the risk. 1949 Los Angeles in glorious black and white.

17. Okra
If you slice a piece of okra crosswise, it reveals a circle of five perfect hearts formed from the fibers. I never loved okra, but now that I know it loves me, I’m coming around.

18. Show Cave
This art gallery/performance space in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles has been forming its own hybrid aesthetic out of the goo of contemporary life in its past year of existence. Exhibitions have exciting names like Beast Heat, Glitter and Doom and Survivors of the White Plague. Show Cave also offers a stage to emerging musical talent (see #1). www.showcave.org

19. Low Motion Disco, Keep It Slow (Eskimo)
In one room a synthesizer slowly throbs; in another a band rehearses outtakes from an unrecorded Royal Trux session. In a third room someone is playing records from their parents’ collection. There’s an empty bottle of purple syrup on the floor. The windows to this house are open and there’s a cool breeze that blows down from the mountains. You’re listening to these sounds mingle from down on the street. It sounds like a perfect mix that shouldn’t work at all. It’s too slow to dance to but it’s kind of funky. This is supposedly taking place in Switzerland.

Molly Frances lives in Los Angeles and makes music in Terminal Twilight.


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