Fixin' to Work Roots
Hoodoo began in folks' sheds, basements, and kitchens. It seems as though once it spread into the hands of merchants, the demise of this folkcraft began. The renewed interest of late in Hoodoo, rootwork, and conjuring affords a wonderful opportunity to start fresh from scratch. If you want to be a hoodoo, who else can you depend on to procure the proper ingredients, and blend them at the right time and in the right way to produce the desired results?
Time and Space
Time is one of the main elements needed for rootwork. Luckily, you don't have to run out and buy it. You do, however, need to have some set aside. I can't sugarcoat this for you. Just like a good soup stock, tasty stew, or homemade pie, your herbal brews and fragrant oils will take time and skill to fix them up just right. On average you will need to invest at least an hour for the preparation of your handmade treatment. While recipes that require infusions or distillation will take longer, some treatments are instant. If you crave convenience, the latter are the recipes for you. One of the main reasons the making of Hoodoo products was relinquished to others was the rise of companies interested in marketing to African Americans. This group of companies, salesmen, and merchants saw an opportunity to profit from the folk beliefs and the lack of time folks faced for mixing their own products. Now, instead of quality products, we are sold inferior blends that often are little more than sweetly scented, colored waters and synthetic oils-a pale memory of the depth and texture the old hoodoos who were well versed in herbalism invested in their roots.
The real deal is, if you want your rootwork to take, you need to be absolutely certain that the roots, berries, beans, and herbs are authentic and that the harvest was correctly timed astrologically according to the effects desired. Many of us are unaccustomed to spending hours in the kitchen, and even less time in the garden or woods. However, if you want to be a good hoodoo, let me help you become reacquainted with the lost art of patience in pursuit of quality. Start slow; take your time, gradually build up your expertise, taste, and skill, and before you know it you'll have all the herbs and equipment needed to formulate a unique repertoire of recipes for your loved ones and yourself.
Clean, organized space is also essential. Having a work space (such as a level table or countertop) clear of clutter for your cookery is very important. Clean space will save you the agony of messy accidents or contaminating your brew after all of the love and care you've put into making it.
Equipment and Tools
In this book I have tried to give ample options in the recipes with consideration for various budgets, time constraints, and geographic locations. This is designed to ease your passage into the art of rootworking as gently and painlessly as possible. Before fixin' to work up a mojo, sachet, wash, or anointing oil, however, you need certain equipment to get started.
A plastic "splash-proof" apron sold by soap suppliers and chemical shops is highly recommended for protection against the caustic sodium hydroxide used during cold-processed soapmaking. Also consider putting on old clothes to use as smocks or work clothes.
A blender is used for thorough mixing and liquefying.
Bottles and Jars
Bottles and jars are very important pieces of equipment. I like using recycled bottles as much as possible for shampoo and conditioners. Mouthwash, liquid dish detergent, shampoo, and conditioner bottles, as well as lotion, yogurt, and baby food containers are all useful. Glass storage jars are used mainly for oil infusions and tinctures. Tinted glass ones with spring or cork tops work well.
At times you will want to make special blends as gifts or for stores. There are plenty of specialty container suppliers who carry powder dispensers, spritzers, cologne bottles, flip-top body-wash bottles, and decorative jars with screw tops for this purpose. It's nice now and again to use these decorative containers for yourself -especially the powder dispensers, since powders are essential to hoodoos. Pretty perfume bottles used for storing personal scents also add a nice touch. They can be bought new or at antique shops. There is more information in appendix B about commercial bottle suppliers.
Remember, when using recycled materials, it is very important to sterilize them first by boiling plastic containers and cleaning glass bottles with very hot, soapy water. Rinse and allow to dry before beginning. They can also be sterilized in a dishwasher if you have one.
A cauldron doesn't have to be fancy or bought from a specialty shop; a plain, castiron Dutch oven will do. However, if you want to brew your roots in a proper cauldron, there are plenty of suppliers who carry them.
Buy charcoal blocks in quantity, as they are the most efficient way of burning loose herbal incense. Avoid those that contain saltpeter; it is toxic when burned. (Traditionally, saltpeter was an ingredient used by hoodoos. Sadly, the type sold today is sodium nitrate, a highly combustible substance that is also harmful to the skin, eyes, and lungs.) Pure bamboo charcoals from Japan are available and make a more wholesome alternative.
A chiminea is a portable, miniature fireplace that is generally kept on the patio. This is great for burning incense and for fire rituals if you don't have a fireplace.
A coffee grinder is a convenient way to grind tough spices and roots compared to its ancestor, the mortar and pestle, which requires hand grinding and lots of elbow grease. Watch out though; really tough spices and roots need to be ground by hand or they'll break your coffee grinder. Trust me, I've been through quite a few.
A double boiler is an indirect way of heating that prevents waxy mixtures, like ointments and candle wax, from cooking too quickly. A double boiler can be improvised by floating a stainless-steel bowl in water in a pot that is slightly larger than the bowl.
Droppers are essential for dispensing droplets of essential oils, fragrance oils, body fluids, or other precious liquids that you don't want to waste. Throughout this book I ask that you drop in essential oils, as this is the approach used by good perfumers. It helps ensure that the oils don't clump up; instead, they disperse evenly. See appendix B for suppliers.
A drying rack is where fresh herbs are hung by their stems to dry. Also, it's an attractive way to display and store dried herbs indefinitely.
Even a mini food processor without all the fancy attachments will do to blend and liquefy ingredients for personal-care recipes.
A freestanding mixer is convenient, but not essential. It is used for whisking and thoroughly blending ingredients while saving your energy.
Funnels are used to prevent spills and ease the transfer of liquids, oils, and powders from the bowl or pan to a small-necked bottle (referred to here as bottling).
A Teflon or stainless-steel grater is recommended because it lasts longer and resists sticking and rusting. It is mainly used for shredding beeswax and refining roots.
A kettle is used to boil water for infusing herbs.
Measuring cups are used to measure both dry ingredients and liquids. Pyrex, tempered glass, and stainless steel work best. Glass and stainless steel are easy to clean completely to prevent cross-contamination of ingredients.
Measuring spoons made of stainless steel with clearly marked measurements etched into the surface are preferred.
Glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel mixing bowls are recommended because they will not become stained from colorants, nor will they harbor bits of leftover ingredients once cleaned properly. Cleanliness is very important because dirty bowls or other equipment will introduce bacteria to your recipes, lessening their longevity and efficacy.
Mortar and Pestle
Recommended for tough spices and roots. See "Coffee Grinder" section above.
Stainless-steel pans with heavy bottoms work best because they distribute heat evenly and resist burning and overheating. Most importantly, stainless steel stays inert, which prevents contamination and depletion. Contamination and depletion are likely to occur while using cast iron, aluminum, or copper. Make sure you have tight-fitting lids handy as well. They help retain the medicinal qualities of the volatile oils, otherwise these precious substances evaporate.
Stainless-steel stirring spoons are preferred.
A stirring wand, usually made of nonreactive glass or ceramic, is used similarly to a cocktail stirrer to blend perfumes while discouraging cross-contamination.
Storage bins are used to hold dried herbs. Dark glass containers with spring tops or stainless steel is ideal. Keeping light away from the herbs helps them retain their medicinal qualities longer. Some folk store them in brown paper bags, particularly when they are being dried. This works well only if you don't have moths or other pests that might try to eat the herbs.
Stove or Hotplate
A stove or hotplate is used for heating, drying, and simmering brews.
A straining device can be cheesecloth (muslin) stretched over a preserve or other wide-necked jar and secured with a rubber band or twine. I prefer to use a stainless- steel sieve.
Sun Tea Jars
Glass or plastic sun tea jars are used to brew herbs in sun- or moonlight.
Candy thermometers will work, but a meat probe is my first choice because it will not break as easily. Thermometers are essential when making soap, and are useful for checking temperatures during the creation of creams, salves, and healing balms.
Twine is good for tying herbs together at the stems before hanging them to dry, and for fixing muslin to a jar for straining. Hemp (marijuana) string is an excellent alternative for its strength and durability.
A stainless-steel whisk is preferred.
Gathering and Drying Herbs
Suggestions to Urban Dwellers
For folk living in cities, apartments, or other tight spaces where land comes at a premium price, the primary source for gathering herbs will be specialty catalogs, health-food stores, and the Internet. Even within this commercial arena, the way you go about gathering is critical, and the relationships you develop can be meaningful, educational, and fun. Things to look for are as follows:
Are the herbs ethically harvested? Be careful about barks and roots. Some,like Little John, are overharvested and face extinction.
Are the herbs organically grown? This is the safest method for personal-careproducts and consumables.
Are the herbs fresh and within their expiration date? They should have abright color, strong scent, and no mold or mildew.
Are the prices fair, without excessive markups? Do some research and compareprices.
Are the herbs usually in stock, available without delays? Is the source convenient and practical for you? Is a knowledgeable person available to answer your questions?Start out with a local shop, if possible. Then, as you become comfortable with creating your own brews, you can branch out into wholesale. Buying herbs in bulk saves big bucks! Other options include visiting your local farmer's market, or driving outside the city to support roadside farm stands. If you so choose, you can also grow your favorite herbs in pots on the windowsill, terrace, or even inside using grow lights.
Suggestions to Suburban and Rural Dwellers
If you are fortunate enough to have enough space to grow your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables, the following suggestions are for you. Please remember, when gathering Mother Nature's gifts, approach the plants with respect and thank them for sharing their healing energy with you.
Harvesting Leaves-Look for leaves of a consistent green color without brown or yellow spots. Harvest midmorning after the dew has evaporated. Gather leaves before the plant begins to flower. For plants that have long growing seasons, such as basil or oregano, pinch back the tops to prevent flowering. (Flowering takes energy away from the main body of the plant.) Keep herbs separated by type, and tie the stems loosely together in a bundle with twine or hemp string. Until you are very familiar with all of the herbs, it is best to label the bundles and date them as well. Hang them up to dry immediately after harvesting to prevent mildew or deterioration.
Hang the herb bundles stem up in an area with good circulation away from direct sunlight. The ideal temperature for the first twenty-four hours is ninety degrees, followed by seventy-five to eighty degrees the rest of the time. Most herbal bundles will dry between two to three weeks. Petals and leaves should feel light, crisp, and paperlike. If there are small buds or tiny leaves that may fall off during the drying time, create a roomy muslin bag to encase flowers and leaves and tie it loosely with twine or hemp string at the stems. This is particularly important with seed-dropping plants, such as fennel or sunflowers. When herbs are completely dry, store the whole leaf and stem away from direct sunlight in dark glass or stainless-steel airtight containers.
Harvesting Flowers-Flowers are extremely delicate. Select healthy flowers in the early afternoon during dry weather conditions. Take extra care not to bruise the petals, refrain from touching them, cut from the stem, and allow the flowers to drop into a basket. Dry smaller, more delicate flowers, such as lavender and chamomile, whole. You can hang them upside down tied with twine over a muslin cloth or large bowl or wrapped loosely with muslin to retain dried buds. Use fresh flowers in the home whenever possible. You may also freeze them in an ice cube tray filled with spring water.
Harvesting Seeds-Collect seeds on a warm, dry day. Seeds need to dry in a warm, airy environment. Make provisions to catch the quickly drying seeds by placing a bowl or box underneath the hanging plants. Harvesting Bark-Bark peels easiest on damp days. Choose a young tree or bush and, if possible, one that has already been pruned, cut, or taken down naturally by wind or stormy conditions to prevent damage or even death to the plant. Stripping too much bark from a tree will kill it. A thoughtful approach to Mother Nature's gifts is essential. Bark may harbor insects or moss, so wash it first and allow it to dry flat on waxed paper in a location that is well ventilated and away from direct sunlight.
Harvesting Roots-Roots are ready for collecting after the autumn harvest. Dig up roots after their plant has begun to wither and die. Extract the whole root while trying not to bruise it. Like bark, roots need to be cleaned before they are