Honey Medicine

people still give us dirty looks

I learned to make honey medicine from a woman I was jealous of. I thought the man I was with at the time wanted her, and maybe he did. There is a lot we’re drawn to when we’re young that’s not right for us, that’s not right at all. This was before I learned that women aren’t usually the enemy. This was before I learned that I was not under this man’s protection, but my own.

I came to Appalachian Ohio, south of where I was raised, for school, but I think what actually drew me was something deeper. I recognized it as soon as I went in the woods, though even now I can’t really name it. The hills have this kind of dark magic, I remember telling someone who didn’t understand. In the woods, I kept finding bones, feathers, bricks, arrowheads. I found things to eat and a place to live. I found friends and stories. And I found medicine. 

The woman from whom I learned to make this would call herself a witch, I think; I think it runs in her family. I chose that word as my title for many reasons. One of which is that: I live in a small town at the edge of a deep woods at the beginning of a long line of mountains. 

I live in a small town with big gossips. As a single mother, a woman who was left with a baby, left alone in a house on a hill, I will always be a witch: outcast, misunderstood, and maligned. I was, at first, quite alone. The first years of my son’s life were very lonely, mostly just the two of us. Birds. There was a horse on the hill. My cat was still alive. People had left food in jars on the porch. I didn’t know any other parents. 

We live within the town limits now, no longer deep in the country, years later—and things are different. I have a friend just up the street. I have the love of a very good person. But I feel in many ways I will always be the witch of this village: a woman who lives in a rickety old house with a child. A woman who doesn’t have a good job and doesn’t make a lot of money. A woman who feeds the crows and doesn’t weed enough for the neighborhood association and spends most of her time by herself, thinking and making. 

People, especially those with limited imaginations and experiences, still give single mothers dirty looks. They still whisper about us at soccer games where we sit by ourselves, at neighborhood parties where we have no one to talk to. They still worry about their husbands around us. And nothing is more upsetting, more incendiary, to some people than a woman alone. Eating alone, sitting alone, drinking alone, reading alone, even thinking her own thoughts alone, thoughts that likely do not include them.

Based on the experiences I’ve had and the person I am: not a man, not abled, not middle class, not straight, and not without trauma, I think I will always be the village witch, in whatever village or city I live. Right now: I live in a small town at the edge of a deep woods at the beginning of a long line of mountains.

The goldenrod will die soon, so right now is the time to make this honey medicine. I can never seem to make enough to last the whole winter.

Goldenrod Honey Medicine

Stuff as much goldenrod as you can fit, including the leaves, into a mason jar. Fill the rest of the jar with local honey, which you can probably find at farmers’ markets or health food stores. It needs to be local honey—honey produced from your particular area, the flowers that grow near you—and not the mass-produced stuff.

Let the plants steep in the honey for 2 weeks, then remove and pitch the goldenrod, and strain the honey through a cheesecloth or strainer. 

The resulting honey mixture will be thinner than ordinary honey. It will still taste sweet and slightly astringent. Take a couple tablespoons by mouth when feeling sick. It’s especially helpful with a cough or sore throat issues. Local honey by itself can also help with allergies. A spoonful a day is said to “cure” allergies, but I’ve never been able to afford enough local honey to test this theory. 

The woman from whom I learned to make this medicine moved away, taking her bee hives with her. I think most of the bees stayed with her over miles and miles. I didn’t stay with the man who wouldn’t stay with me, and that was the right decision. My grandfather kept bees, and for many years my Christmas present from my grandparents was a huge mason jar of glistening dark honey. After my grandfather died, my favorite uncle tried to take over the hives, but it was too hard. Winter came, disease came. I’m not sure what happened to the bees, who are so vulnerable and so essential. My grandfather’s only love advice to me? Find somebody the bees would trust.