When I was very young I spoke with my mother about witchcraft. I was only curious to know if her experience had anything to add to what I had been able to piece together from reading and, of course, popular media. I wasn’t surprised at all when she told me a few things she knew about the existence of witches in the region where she was born- Pomerania.
It’s important to know that this area has a fascinating past. I will not go into much detail here, but it is worth your time to learn more about it. Pomerania is located on the Baltic Sea’s southern shore. It lies between and is part of different lands depending on the period of history. At times Germany, Prussia, and Poland each had a claim on this land. Even Sweden grabbed onto the land for a while. Also, though, a part of the land of Pomerania, mainly the east, was claimed by the Kashubians. All I knew as a child of that name was that when we were in Germany for our long visits with the family, my Oma would occasionally, in annoyance at something Opa did, roughly call him an old Kashubian. I didn’t really understand what the jab was about, but I understood the intent. And that was enough for a child to know.
So when my mom told me that she knew from her own childhood that her mother had on a few occasions visited a Kashubian witch, I figured it was just what one did from time to time in that region. She told me that the witch was a woman who knew about natural remedies, medicine from plants, and also things about magic spells. Otherwise she was just a regular part of the little community of farmers and fishermen on the Baltic. She tended her chickens, kept a garden, and went to church. They were unusual in one particular regard, my family, in that they were part of the only Catholic community in that area. The majority of northern Germany was Protestant, but with their proximity to staunchly Catholic Poland, I suppose it fits.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the witches in most areas and times is that they are godless or worse, in league with the devil. However, they would tell you that the opposite is true, that their knowledge and craft does nothing without faith in God. Yet that didn’t stop trouble from finding the witches of Kashubia. They were put on trial and executed just as in the rest of Europe. The last witch to be tried and executed there suffered the so-called water test. Krystyna Ceynowa was bound and thrown into the sea to drown.
In the excellent article, “Women Who Know- The Witches of Kashubia,” Stasia Budzisz conducted research and interviews in the region. The modern women who are left with the knowledge seem to be a dying group. They have no one left to pass their knowledge to because you have to believe in God to make it useful.
Thinking all along as a child, and then holding onto these ideas for years, I thought there must certainly be some science behind the remedies they created. As it happens, the collected folk wisdom, witchcraft or not, we find out more and more that the healing properties of the plants involved are, indeed, present and potent.
It was this realization that led me to search for recipes or versions of remedies dating back as far as I could manage to find them. I have found several under different names. Some of the recipes became especially useful during times of the plague. When nothing was helping from the medical establishment, people did what they could. They relied on folk wisdom for their cures. There is no data to support the efficacy of these remedies, but I choose to believe it helped then, at least for some. I also believe it helps now.
There is a long history around the quest for an elixir of youth, life, health, and so on. Mythology is rich with references to these magical brews which were said to even cheat death. It has had many names and has come from many sources. Four Thieves Vinegar, Master Tonic, and more recently, Fire Cider, have certain qualities in common. They contain potent healing ingredients, and they are combined with apple cider vinegar and then allowed to ferment. The result is a liquid that is powerful and filled with a complex flavor profile like nothing else you have had.
The particular recipe I have used will not be published entirely or exactly here. I have been making my Old Kashubian Elixir for about two years now. I started out of curiosity to see if these remedies I had been reading about were, in fact, viable today. Since I have been using the elixir, and also giving it to my kids, there have been no health issues more than a temporary nasal congestion. On a normal day, I give myself 2-3 droppers of the elixir. Since I teach in public schools, I am exposed to a lot of unpleasant microbes. If I feel the slightest tickle in the throat or notice anything amiss, I take the same droppers, but three or four times a day. And, of course, with our new outbreak of everyone’s favorite mass panic virus, I am taking more than I normally would, just out of caution. I know it isn’t something to make light of, but I also know that the microscopic realm is constantly waging war on us. Use your kindergarten skills, and much stress can be avoided. Wash your hands thoroughly. Keep your hands to yourself. Stop touching your face.
The Old Kashubian Elixir, as I have called my mixture with a nod to my childhood and heritage, contains a variety of potent and vital ingredients. Each of the most powerful ingredients has properties that are in demand during times of exposure to sickness. This could be any time, so I recommend a daily dosage.
The first of the super ingredients is garlic. It is the triple threat of the microverse. Garlic is antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. I am not going to delve into the scientific studies which support this and other claims, but it is helpful to know that garlic has been seen as a supporter of good health for a very long time. The Roman Legions, for example, were in the very dirty business of warfare. Roman soldiers at daily roll call were made to eat a clove of garlic, or several, before they were dismissed. Every single soldier carried garlic with him along with other rations.
Onions are the next member of the super food list of stars. Onions are known to have potent diuretic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown onions to be an effective expectorant, making them useful for moving the bad stuff along its way. . Onions are also rich in quercetin, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing cholesterol from attaching to arterial walls and blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots.
Horseradish has in its arsenal the added property of being antiparasitic as well as several of the other qualities already mentioned. It is a great immunoenhancer, just as the others can be. It supports better circulation as well as general good breathing. It has nothing much to do with horses, by the way.
Ginger has been touted as a wonder root for centuries. It has properties similar to the others mentioned and is a strong microbial warrior.
As an antiinflammatory and antioxidant, turmeric is also a part of the arsenal of the elixir. Also, because of the curcumin contained in the root, this elixir takes on the characteristic yellowish hue one would expect from a nice curry.
Adding a bit more to the power base is the compound called apigenin from good old celery. The elixir also contains varying amounts of capsaicin from a blend of chili peppers I grow in my garden. Some are stronger than others, but it all goes in the mix.
Finally I add the benefits from one or two citrus fruits, usually lemon and orange. I have tossed around the idea of experimenting with other ingredients as well, such as ground avocado seed, rosemary, mustard seed, and several others. I will develop those ingredient profiles over time, but all of the ingredients rest in a base of apple cider vinegar. This performs the very important job of fermenting the mix. I keep the process going for three to four months, longer than is typical from what I have read from others.
There are those who want a more immediate product, and so skip the months long efforts completely. They simply boil everything at once. There is a whole different science lesson behind that which I will not get into here. Fermenting, among many benefits, means that my product, once it is strained out and bottled in amber flasks, has a shelf life of just about as long as you want it to. No refrigeration is needed.
I’m using right now the last flask of my elixir from the previous batch. I am just about ready, as coincidence might have it, to bottle the new batch that I have been tending to for the last four months. I’ll fill up a dozen, or maybe thirteen, amber bottles with the elixir. Each bottle holds about four ounces of liquid. Doling it out by the dropper, and not the shot glass, I should be set for a while. But I may try to start a new batch sooner than I normally would in light of our current health crisis.
Some friends have asked about it, and wondered if they might have some. I don’t mind doing that, but I do understand that this is a commodity. Call it an investment in the marketing department. If I follow the guidelines of the witches of Kashubia, I would simply do it to help those in need. This I have done with my family and a select few friends. If I ever do move it into a commercial realm, I certainly have a plan for that as well. So, who knows? You might one day see the Old Kashubian Elixir on a store shelf or on a table at the local farm market. These are strange times.
Peace to you, and thanks for reading.