Happy Imbolc! In celebration, I’m sharing this recipe for Whiskey Milk Punch from the Gather Victoria ECookery book (for Gather Patrons) which is called Scailtin in Ireland. It can be dated back to the 1700s where it was commonly served in a punchbowl and drunk warm in a mug – but I’m serving it over ice! I’ve also added a touch of Heather Tea to bring its seasonal glorious magic to this creamy libation.
Found growing in across the moorlands of Ireland and Scotland, Heather is said to be a flower/ herb of Brigid. Magically it is wonderful for spells relating to purification, protection and new beginnings – so its use is very appropriate to Imbolc. Ritual bathing was another important custom at Imbolc and so a heather bath would be lovely! Plus herbalists consider this a cleansing and detoxifying plant that can help with aching bones and joints! Just gather a large bundle of heather, place in a large pot and cover with boiling water, let simmer for a few hours, then strain it into the bath.
Heather is also sacred to Venus and often called the “Flower of Passion”. It’s said to enhance both good fortune, good luck and physical beauty! White heather is said to be especially effective for enhancing good luck! Robert Graves claimed heather was a “suitable tree for the initiation of Scottish witches.” Keeping heather in the house will bring peace to the household and in the garden, it will attract the fairy folk.
The Heather Family (Ericaceae) is a huge family mostly used as ornamentals but what’s not well known is their culinary and medicinal use. Most widely used has been Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris) but the winter-blooming Erica ( Irish heath) is a close relation found throughout the Pacific Northwest (and many other places with similar damp climates!)
The culinary medicinal and magical uses of common heather are ancient! Residue of heather beer was found on pre-Pict pottery dating back to 2000 BC and it remains popular for quaffing in Scottish pubs today. Heather tea is also beloved and was reputed to be a favourite of poet Robert Burns.
In the Highlands infusion of heather tops are used to treat coughs, consumption, to soothe the nerves, ease depression, help with insomnia, arthritis and rheumatism. It also stimulates the flow of bile and urine, making it useful in cleansing and purifying teas. (Note: Heather may raise blood pressure slightly, so people with high blood pressure should avoid.)
The branches can be woven into wreaths, baskets, mats, and were traditionally used to make brooms and stuffed into mattresses. In the 16th century, James VI’s tutor George Buchanan wrote that a heather bed “… restores strength to fatigued nerves, so that those who lie down languid and weary in the evening, arise in the morning vigorous and sprightly.”
So tonight (or tomorrow) be sure to light plenty of candles as is the Imbolc tradition and then lift a glass of this Milk Punch with a toast:
“Candle, candle burning bright Winters halfway done tonight. With a-glowing, we are knowing Spring will come again!”
Whiskey & Spice Milk Punch w/ A Magical Touch of Heather
- 1 & 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup of light cream
- 1/4 cup of Heather Tea (just add 2-3 teaspoons of fresh flowers to a cup of boiling water and infuse for about five minutes)
- 1/2 or 3/4 cup of Irish whiskey (you decide on how much!)
- 2 Tbsp honey or to taste
- 1/4 tsp ginger ground
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon ground
- 1/4 tsp. cardamom
- Freshly grated nutmeg or cardamom to top.
- Pour milk, cream, heather tea and whiskey in a small saucepan. Stir in the honey, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Heat slowly while whisking. Do not let it come to a boil.
- Serve warm with a stick of cinnamon OR let cool and then serve over ice. Top with grated nutmeg.