Category Archives: Beth Trissel

Herbal Lore and The Bearwalker’s Daughter


The_Bearwalkers_Daughter_Cover3As my earlier posts feature herbs and the lore surrounding these age-old plants, I’m sharing several herbal related excerpts from my recent release, historical fantasy romance novel The Bearwalker’s Daughter.

Set among the clannish and superstitious Scots-Irish in the Allegheny Mountains, the story is similar to others of mine with a colonial frontier flavor and also features Native American characters, with the addition of an intriguing paranormal thread.

Remember, the herbs didn’t have to originate in America for the settlers to use them.  They brought seeds, cuttings, and rootstock with them from the Old World and learned about native plants from the Indians.

This first excerpt is from the old Scots-Irish woman, Neeley’s, point of view:

A brooding darkness hovered over the McNeal homestead. Of that, Neeley was certain. And she sensed from where it came. She needed all her wisdom now to prevail against it. She’d limped stiffly through the home sprinkling a sweetly aromatic decoction of angelica root into every corner, the most powerful herb for warding off spells and enchantment. Then she’d hung a bough of rowan wood above the doorway to lend protection from evil. The leafless branch dripped with clusters of orange-red berries, pleasant to behold as she sat by the hearth.~

And later in the chapter: Her needle winking in the firelight, Neeley sewed the blue fringe on the cape collar and around the long hem. The fragrance of angelica, the most sacred of herbs, rose from the linen. She’d sprinkled a decoction of the holy root over the cloth to bring protection to the wearer. Jack would need all the defense he could get.

As for Karin, her innate goodness would aid her, but Neeley wasn’t taking any chances. An herbal bath of angelica mingled with the purifying power of agrimony, redolent of ripe apricots, awaited the girl. Jack too, if Neeley managed to coax him in.~

This excerpt is from the heroine, Karin’s, point of view:

Neeley rose stiffly from her chair and shuffled forward, her stooped figure a head shorter than Karin’s. “You’ll want my help, John McNeal. Fetch the woundwort, Karin. Sarah, steep some comfrey in hot water and bring fresh linens. Joseph, the poor fellow could do with a spot of brandy,” the tiny woman rapped out like a hammer driving nails. Old, she might be, and as wizened as a dried apple, but Neeley took charge in a medical emergency whether folks liked it or not.

Sarah dashed to the cupboard to take down the brown bowl. Karin flew beside her and grabbed the crock reeking of salve. Sarah snatched a towel and they spun toward the hearth as the men made their way past the gaping crowd. The stranger lifted his head and looked dazedly at both women. Karin met vivid green eyes in a sun-bronzed face stubbled with dark whiskers. A fiery sensation shot through her—and not just because he was devastatingly handsome.~

The two following excerpts are from the hero, Jack’s, point of view.

The matriarch called Neeley bustled into the room with a steaming basin of what Jack supposed, from the herbal scent wafting in the mist, was a medicinal wash.

“Thomas, see Sarah gets to bed and brew her a cup of betony. That’ll calm her,” Neeley directed.

“Come on, Sarah. You’ll do better with a rest and some tea.” Thomas helped his stepmother to her feet and guided the unsteady woman from the room and through the assembly clustered beyond the door.  Murmurs of sympathy accompanied her departure.

Then Neeley set the white porcelain bowl on the washstand and squinted down at Jack like a hen hunting for spilt grain. She gestured with bent fingers at the girl peering from behind John McNeal’s bulk. “Karin, come closer. You’re my hands, lass.”

Her eyes, too, Jack suspected.~

And later in that scene: Karin dabbed his shoulder dry, then dipped her small hand into the pungent crock. Pursing rose-tinged lips, she smeared the aromatic paste on his wound. “I’ll give the salve a while to work before I dig the ball out and stitch you up. Ever had woundwort, sir?”

“Dulls the pain right well,” Jack managed, hiding a grimace. Even her soft touch stung like the devil, but he wouldn’t push her away for anything.~

I interweave herbs and other plants through all of my stories, though some more than others.

***Striking cover by my daughter Elise~

The Great Turtle Island



I stand on the edge of this sacred land the Shawnee people call the Great Turtle Island, where the water meets the shore. Salt spray brines the air, gulls wheel, crying, in the blue and pelicans bob on the waves as the ocean rocks me like a primal cradle. In and out rushes the endless tide, frothing the glistening sand with millions of tiny diamonds. That eternal sound is always in my ears, calling to me. People from all walks of life are drawn to this ancient place seeking some gift from the sea.

Sunburned men with a beer in one hand and a pole in the other fish as though their very sustenance depends on it. Bikini-clad women lie like beached whales basking in the sun, or jog along the shore. Three teenage girls dressed in long navy jumpers wade into the surf squealing in delight. Perhaps this is their first visit to the Carolina coast, or any other. Near them stands an old man, pants hiked to his white knees, gazing out at the waves with contentment on his face. He has come home. Curly-headed children dance in the tumbling foam. One little red-haired girl plunges bravely in while her chubby-legged brother flees to his watchful mother and snuggles against the baby in her arms.

A covey of young builders cluster on the sand with buckets and spades, intently fashioning castle turrets and digging motes. Is there anyone as utterly contained in the present as a child at play? Parents join in the fanciful creations and for that moment lose their cares in the sea. A shark emerges under fingers, large and small, with harmless teeth of splintered shells–as ephemeral as the day. No lasting work is done, yet they build on while folk paddle on rafts or dive into waves. Seekers all. The orange sun sinks low in the cloudy palette of colors and casts fire on the waves. People linger, reluctant to go inside. What do you search for? What do I?

Our family has always sought gold doubloons from sunken Spanish galleons in the battered shells left behind by the tide. Not a likely find. Still, we look for the coins and passing whales. Monday I saw great fins and splashing tails, a whole pod of whales. Not because they were there, but because I chose to. My mother and thirteen-year-old daughter, Elise, saw them too, led by me, and were disappointed today when they were gone. Schools of dolphin really do skim through the wake behind shrimp boats, but I fondly remember the whales and keep an eye out for white-sailed clipper ships.

The ocean is a fertile place for the imagination, also to find healing for the soul. Some wounds are raw and gaping, as if beyond the Mender’s thread. Others are old and crusted over, yet still in need of balm. Creator God speaks to us through our Earth Mother, if we listen, and breathes new life into our troubled spirits.

*I wrote this several years ago at Holden Beach, but the sentiments are the same.
However, the Outer Banks, where I am with my family today, are not as crowded this time of year.

Fabulous Review for THROUGH THE FIRE



Review from ‘You Need to Read:’
Rating: You Need To Read

Reviewer: Laura

At the height of the French and Indian War, a young English widow ventures into the colonial frontier in search of a fresh start. She never expects to find it in the arms of the half-Shawnee, half-French warrior who makes her his prisoner in the raging battle to possess a continent––or to be aided by a mysterious white wolf and a holy man.

Rebecca Elliot, although widowed and in a new country, is brave and determined. Her encounter with Shoka, a Shawnee warrior, has caused her to fall in love. The storyline of Through the Fire is well-written and uncommonly descriptive. It is obvious Ms. Trissel took great time and effort to research Indian beliefs and their way of life. I enjoyed reading about how they prepared for battle and their choice and use of weapons. I read with bated breath every time Rebecca let her temper and stubborness get the best of her. I love the interaction between her and all the other characters in the book. The tension between the Shawnee and the Catawba tribes is palpable. The author writes with great passion and emotion. I know anyone who buys this book will take great pleasure in it.

Warble Me A Song~Thought for the Day



Warble me a song of soft pink roses and lush leafed out trees stirring gently in the morning breeze. This is what I see out my window.

Release Day For Historical Romance Novel THROUGH THE FIRE!



My third release for this amazing month is THROUGH THE FIRE, fast-paced historical romance novel with a THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS flavor & a mystical weave, 2008 Golden Heart ® finalist. Out today at the Wild Rose Press. http://thewildrosepress.com Already out at Amazon, it will soon be widely available at online booksellers in both digital download and print. Local stores can order it in.

In Need Of A Spring Tonic?


Sassafras comes to mind and figures prominently in my American historical romances out this May. I love its varied mitten shaped leaves and distinctive, aromatic scent. My mother has a sassafras tree growing in her yard, but I’d have to head into the mountains to get my fix. *Note to self, plant sassafras trees. Maybe if I put in an entire grove some would survive. Our challenge is the cows which occupy much of our land and eat anything not protected behind secure fencing. Saplings are among their favorite delicacies.

You might be interested to learn, as was I, that Christopher Columbus is said to have quelled mutinous seamen by the sudden sweet smell of sassafras which indicated the nearness of land. Not only did it aid in the discovery of the New World, but was an important export to Europe in the early days of colonial American, even exceeding shipments of tobacco.

Wine made from the darkly blue berries has been imbibed for colds. During the spring flowering period, the blossoms were simmered to make a tea for reducing fevers. A blood purifying spring tonic was and still is imbibed from a tea made by brewing the roots. A tea distilled from the bark was believed to aid in the treatment of bronchitis, respiratory ailments and tummy upset. Chewing the bark was thought to help break the tobacco habit, a problem even in the early days of this country. The roots were distilled and the oil from them used to flavor many products including ginger ale, sarsaparilla, cream soda, root beer, toothpaste…

A poultice made from the leaves and laid on wounds was used to stop bleeding and aid in healing. Native Americans steeped in the many uses of sassafras passed their knowledge along to European settlers in the colonial frontier. A tea from the bark was also thought to be beneficial in the treatment of venereal disease, needed by both Indians and colonists alike. If you wonder what ailments afflicted folk in the early days of this country, you need only read what they were most interested in finding treatments for and cancer doesn’t made the top ten.

How to make sassafras tea: One method is to vigorously scrub several roots, a couple of inches long, and use the whole root or cut them in into pieces and bring to a boil in three pints of water. Reduce heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for another ten minutes before straining and serving. Yet another method is to drop several roots into a quart of boiling water, remove from heat and steep then serve. A pound of roots will make 4 quarts of tea and can be used several times before they lose their strength.

For the bark, especially used as a spring tonic, cut or grind a teaspoon of bark and steep in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes, strain and sip. The tea from either root or bark should have a yellowish red hue, rich smell and pleasing taste. It can be thinned with milk or cream and sweetened. I would add some honey, but those of you who like it plain, enjoy.

And good health to us all.

The Old Homes Behind Historical Romance Novel Enemy of the King


Mysterious old homes, shrouded mountains and valleys hidden between misty ridges; the lure of Eastern Woodland Indians and Scots-Irish settlers in colonial American…this is what I know and love. But in writing Enemy of the King I spread beyond my Virginia home base and journeyed into the Carolinas at the height of the Revolution. Enemy of the King is my version of The Patriot with flavors of Daphne Dumaurier’s Rebecca.  Instead of Mel Gibson playing the lead in my historical romance, I have the very kewl Captain Jeremiah Jordan.

Pleasant Grove, the home featured in Enemy of the King, was drawn from Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation in America that’s open to the public, located outside the city of Charleston, SC:

http://www.draytonhall.org/

I also incorporated elements of my ancestral Virginia home, circa 1816, located outside the historic town of Staunton. Called Chapel Hill(pictured above) this Georgian style brick house has been in the family for going on eight generations. The old kitchen, a separate building from the main house, no longer stands but I remember it from my childhood. Some outbuildings still remain; among them the smokehouse and stable. The house itself is filled with a wonderful collection of heirlooms. The miniature china dogs I played with as a child turn up in Enemy of the King.

The ‘snake thing’ in Chapter One is drawn from an incident that happened to me at Chapel Hill when I was a girl. Back in my contest circuit days, more than one judge told me a snake couldn’t possibly get into a house and wind around the antlers of a buck mounted up on the wall. They can and one did; a rather horrifying discovery for a child to make in the wee hours on her way to the bathroom. And then there’s the fact that I always suspected the house was haunted, not sure by whom…