I know of the leafy paths that the witches take…
Whenever people visit our workspace, with piles of herbs in dark corners and long, stringy roots steeping in jars of alcohol, we hear the word “witchy” used more than a few times. We take it as a compliment, because we love the mystical images associated with witchcraft – be it in the form of great, beautiful healers, dark sorceresses, or old women of quiet mystery and kitchen magic stirring cauldrons over the fire.
Of course, this picture of a witch, mixing up potions and casting peculiar spells, is more a Western concept than an Eastern one. In China, where our founder Jess grew up, the meaning of the term is closer to the Western understanding of a Shaman – a term traditionally associated more with holiness and respect than evil and disrepute. Unsurprisingly, it is this reverential interpretation that most closely matches our own experiences with people and practices that are so often described as “witchy.”
Much of our inspiration and medicinal knowledge come from the strong women in Jess’ family, who always had a remedy on the stove in the kitchen or advice for a healing food, as almost all mothers do in this culture. They picked out herbs – and yes, sometimes animal parts – from local apothecaries and brought them home for their families, brewing them while explaining their work, and so ancient wisdom is passed down this way through generations.
With these women in mind, we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, made all the more relevant for us as team made up solely of women. On this day, we are reminded about this idea of a witch, and how we’ve been hearing this term used more frequently this past year, during a revival of herbalism and potion-making. It is a connection that we welcome, remembering that in many parts of the world the term “witch” carries with it a complicated history relating to the economic, social, and emotional realm of women. It was not so far in our past that witch hunts were commonplace, or when a woman taking interest in medicine and science, or displaying any signs of strength or opposition, was suspected of witchcraft and stripped of her dignity, freedom, and often her life. A word that for ages carried with it such fear and persecution, that became an excuse for distrusting the influence of women, now seems to be gaining a positive sense of mystery, strength, and power, especially as more women choose to work as healers in the new wave of botanical and herbal apothecary businesses.
We’re proud to be part of this revival, and want to honor all of the women healers who inspire us with their perseverance, knowledge, and mystical powers. On March 8th and everyday, we remember our roots as part of the historic community of strong women, of female doctors and herbalists, of female entrepreneurs, and of witches.
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Our spirits dwell in the early spring of old China, amidst quince blossoms and new peonies. We find our home, however, in Northern California, and while buds are starting to swell on the magnolia trees and narcissus blooms are abundant, it is still too cold to sit in the grass and get lost in the warmth of a lazy afternoon. So, for now, we look to the dream walls of long ago and far away for the springtime images and warmth we crave.
What would our dream wall be?
The Han dynasty brought with it a new art form – hand-painted folding screens depicting scenes that transported the exquisite nature of birds and flowers to the interiors of palaces and houses of royalty. Romantic and decadent, their richly layered gold inlay and intricate imagery could warm up large, cold palace halls and their fame quickly spread. During the Age of Exploration the art form traveled by trade routes and Eastern expeditions, taking shape first in Japan and then westward across the continent. By the 18th century, beautifully painted screens and walls could be found throughout Western Europe, beginning the trend of Asian-inspired motifs and imagery found in Chinoiserie, and later in the Art Deco movement.
Walls like these have gone in and out of fashion, and are now experiencing some renewed attention. Our favorite places to shop and be inspired are the exquisite, hand-painted galleries of de Gournay, or vintage wallpaper websites like Secondhand Rose. If our offices had walls like these, we might not go home.
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Flowers really do intoxicate me. – Vita Sackville-West
According to Chinese medicine, scent has its own healing power, and here in our kitchens when we open a bag of lavender or a satchel of rose petals, we know this to be true.
An arpeggio in time, some invisible intoxicant will transport you, quickly flipping through images back to the moment where the fragrance was fused to your history. Sorrow, comfort, desire, or pain, we are infused with the scents that tangle themselves in our memories and pull us back into the depths of our lives.
It must have been this, centuries ago, that the Emperor of Qianlong experienced when he first met Iparhan – the “Musky Woman” – known throughout her land for the natural aroma of her body. The Emperor felt compelled to name her his consort. Though she refused to love him, he kept her there and showered her with lavish gifts and gardens, so intoxicated was he by the way she smelled.
What salvation did he find in her aroma?
The myth of the Fragrant Concubine is short, and unembellished, yet its significance lies in how it has lingered. For centuries the tale has inspired painters, musicians, filmmakers and writers. The people of this story are long gone, and still we seek to capture her essence, to find a fragrant concubine and breathe in her aroma to soothe ourselves. Each of our elixirs preserves the aroma of the plants we use – a gift to fill your imagination and ease what ails you.
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Here in northern California, our drought has ended, and we are grateful! The constant rain, however, has left us feeling that kind of chill that is hard to shake. Ancient Chinese medicine tells us that cold and dampness can easily enter the body in this environment, after a day walking around in the rain, with wet hair and cold shoes. So, we have been reaching into our Bulk Remedy jars of dried ginger to warm ourselves from the feet up. This remedy came to us from our founder’s childhood in Hong Kong. On chilly nights or at the onset of a cold, Jess’ father would prepare a special ginger foot bath for healing.
The strong heat in ginger acts to balance and soothe the body in the darker months governed by the slow, cool yin energy. Grown in the rich soils of Hawaii, this potent tropical root is the perfect remedy for removing cold and dampness, aiding the flow of blood, and promoting a warm and restful sleep deep into the long winter night.
Like all self-care rituals, this is best done in a comfortable and relaxed environment. Here is our recommendation…
Prepare the foot bath. Set aside a full 45-60 minutes for yourself, preferably when you will be undisturbed. Heat a large pot of water over the stove or run a shallow bath at the hottest temperature setting. While the water is heating or the tub is filling, gather what you need to create a warm and relaxing atmosphere, and be sure to place a glass of water, soft towels and socks or slippers nearby for after the foot soak. When the water is hot, toss the satchel of ginger into the water and let it steep for 10 minutes.
If using a foot tub, pour the potent ginger brew into the tub and add colder water for an optimal temperature, the tub should be filled to cover the ankles. Soak your feet and ankles in the hot water for at least 20 minutes. You might feel your body heating up significantly, and some sweating is normal. As you soak, activate your senses. Luxuriate in the feel of the warm water and observe the heat spreading through your legs and into your body. Breathe in the spicy steam rising from the water and listen to the subtle sounds or gentle music around you.
TIP: If you do not have a foot tub or large enough vessel, the foot soak can be done in a bathtub while showering. Just leave the bath stopper in, and allow the tub to fill and the ginger to steep before jumping in the shower.
Have an early night. Dry your feet, and continue to keep them warm with socks or slippers. Drink a glass of water and keep activities to a minimum. Try to go to bed early to take advantage of your enhanced restful state.
Repeat the ritual. The next morning, notice how you slept the night before, and how you feel. Herbal remedies are often subtle at first, and their effects cumulative. Try the foot bath a few nights in a row and see how it feels (it should feel like a treat at the very least!). In time, you will begin to sense when your body is not in balance, when you are chilled or have excess heat, when your digestion is sluggish, or sleep is uneasy. This is when to turn to these simple, soothing and effective practices.
Most of all, Enjoy Yourself! Happy bathing!
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To our muses, daughters of memory, who provoke in us a spark of longing as they cooly radiate that otherworldly spirit of passion and artistry. Shrouded in silks and golden threads, these women are the embodiment of fine Chinese art. They blur the lines between Old World and New, East and West, and so transcend time and place. We see the secrets behind their eyes and the blush in their cheeks, captivated and curious, we are inspired. . .
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Chinese New Year celebrations have begun, and it’s one of our favorite times of year — offering the promise of a fresh cycle and new opportunities. This holiday also marks the passing of the torch in the Chinese zodiac, as we shift now out of the year of the Monkey and into the year of the Rooster….
Using a complex and ancient astrological system weaving symbolism and mythology, cosmic forces and subtle observation, the Chinese have discovered a way to find our fortunes in the stars – and we like the idea. We have translated these horoscopes directly from a famous Chinese astrologer and he doesn’t mince words – so be prepared – not all horoscopes are created lucky!
But, luck is ever-changing, so take your fortune with a pinch of salt. We see it as food for thought on the never-ending quest for better living, and we hope you might too. In any case, we can hope that to be forewarned is to be forearmed! Look below to discover your fortune…
Rat: After a year of avoiding potential traps, you may relax and take in your new-found good luck. It’s time to go outside and be social, start relationships and take chances in work. What was old will now feel new! However, beware of trips and falls, disagreements and arguments, keep kindness in your heart to avoid unnecessary altercations!
Ox: Your compatibility to the Rooster serves you well this year! Particularly in love, career and wealth, the stars are in your favor. Take advantage of every opportunity, for you will be regarded in high esteem and many will seek to help you along your path. But, watch out for temptations Oxen, and try not to tangle yourself up in things that do not matter, frivolous distractions do not need your focus.
Tiger: It is your year, Tigers, so give yourselves a round of applause or a pat on the back. Last year had you down on your luck, but now is your chance to soar. A calm and steady year for love, celestial forces will draw you towards career advancements. Remember though, work is not everything, so care for your relationships and spend time with family. But mostly tigers, take action! Be brave and conquer, this is your year.
Rabbit: Rabbits may find themselves in conflict with the year ahead. Both the Rabbit and its fixed element, Wood, are in conflict with the commanding planet Jupiter, the Rooster, and its fixed element Metal. This bodes poorly for the Rabbit, who may experience setbacks in love and career. However, opposition is not always bad, and preparation may prove the key to success this year. It may feel like nothing is working but, lay low and bide your time, give yourself a boost by changing your look or moving to a new place, and wait for your chance in the wheel of luck.
Dragon: Peach blossoms and peace for you this year! Blessings will adorn you and love and relationship will fall into place with ease and grace. Dragons tend to put excess pressure on themselves, but try not to this year, you and your work will shine with ease. Open the window, feel the breeze, and relax. If you embrace your luck, all the blossoms will surely turn into fruit. Older dragons, take special care of yourself in sickness to avoid possible health problems!
Snake: While last year was not your best, this year is worth celebrating! In love and interpersonal relationships, your compatibility with the commanding planet Jupiter offers you great luck and possibility. Cultivating positive relations will be your saving grace when it comes to your career. Owing to the bad luck of last year, career is still a place of possible struggle, as is wealth, but with uncertain luck coming your way, the effort and care with which you proceed will be to your benefit – and you will not go it alone! Look out for a special helper this year who may make everything just a little easier. . .
Horse: A year of romance for the Horse, and a perfect time to work on your commitments. This year all you need are your friends and loved ones, and all else will follow nicely. Remember though, abundant socializing might be taxing on your body so be sure to exercise and keep healthy! Stay focused on your continued work instead of your accomplishments, and with so many peach blossoms scattered around you – beware of temptation!
Sheep: The sheep face their share of inauspicious stars this year, associated with accidents and negative energy, but nonetheless you should sail smoothly with a little caution. A suitable year for relationships, and potentially good for wealth, this is a steady year for Sheep. Reflect on your past and remember the things you have already done. Live your life and prepare for what may lie ahead.
Monkey: After a year of hard luck, you can smile at the year to come. Things may turn around for you in all areas: love, career, wealth and health. Last year, the year of the Monkey, found you under the curse of bad luck brought to those born in the same year as the ruling animal. However, this may be an extremely social year for you, and good for your romantic life. You will be attractive to those around you so keep up your confidence – and if you have found someone to love, this may be the year to start living with them…
Rooster: You are recovering from a very tired year, but don’t worry, even though you are under the curse of the same year bad luck, your luck is much better than it could be! This is a good year to focus on business and wealth. You will have the help of those you work with. Be aggressive – but beware of your suspicions and unkind thoughts, as they may be a product of your perceived misfortune. Take yourself to celebrations and places of beauty – do not sit complacently by, use your new energy to fight the curse of the bad luck year and things may turn out just fine!
Dog: Dogs may do best to bide their time this year. Take care of your body, tend to yourself, and try your best to keep up your positive attitude. Conserve your energy and focus inward. Learn how to rely on yourself this year, because you have just what you need to keep you going.
Pig: Last year was excellent for the pigs; this year is a year of preparation. Your luck may falter – and you are advised to take extra caution not to take a misstep – but Pigs are naturally gifted and talented and tend to be motivated by the promise of a challenge. So – stay alert! Remember that it is ok to lose – especially if it is one battle for the sake of the war – so take a rest and store your energy. Sleep, work, learn new things and wait for the day when they will serve you splendidly!
We hope you enjoyed your fortune! Whether your year is looking up or down, the most important factor in determining your future is the action you take in the present – so take care of yourself, stay mindful, and encourage those around you to do the same. Happy Crowing!
Explore 100 Seeds
We are a small botanical haven in SF, inspired by the history and healing traditions of the Orient. We’re currently taking a break from making our remedies, but continue to explore projects for preserving the beauty of this old world art form. This journal is inspired by ancient apothecary cabinets of the Orient, called Chests of 100 Seeds, full of precious herbs and hidden secrets, each one a key to a potential new ritual.