flower

Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Sunflower

 

Despite being used by many Pagans as a symbol of the Summer Solstice, the bright and bold sunflower actually flowers a little later, in the deep heart of summer, during July and August. When the lazy, hot days take over, before the light starts to wane, these great, golden faces nod towards their namesake, spreading sunshine wherever they grow.

Sunflowers range from small, cheeky bright yellow flowers to towering golden giants, yellow and black, resembling great, mutant bumblebees on stalks. There are darks ones, pale ones and even some that seem almost black or purple.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, and the seeds are often given to kids to encourage them to enjoy gardening. Competitions to see who can grow the tallest sunflower are common, and watching the plants soar skywards in the warmer months is a prize in itself.

Although they are named for their resemblance to the sun, sunflowers do actually need a sunny spot to achieve their full potential, along with some well drained soil and good compost. Many sunflowers can be grown for their seeds, which are nutritious and tasty when toasted. The seeds are cultivated commercially for their oil, which is used for so many culinary purposes it would take the whole article to list them here! Sunflower oil is a healthier alternative to many fats, even some types of olive oil. It’s fairly neutral in flavour, which makes it widely popular as it can be used in a diverse range of cuisines. Across Eastern Europe, a crumbly version of the sweet halva is made from a sort of sunflower butter.

 

The Apothecary

Mrs Grieve tells us that the seeds of the sunflower have diuretic properties, meaning they help us pass water more frequently, which can be useful to flush out our kidneys if combined with drinking lots of water. It’s important to remember that when using any diuretic, some important minerals and vitamins can be lost, particularly potassium. Dandelion is a great way to remedy this.

The seeds have also been used as an expectorant, and this application helps with bronchial, larynx and pulmonary issues including whooping cough. Grieve recommends making a medicine with 6oz sugar and 6oz gin! After that much gin, I’m fairly certain that whatever the ailment, you will begin to feel somewhat better… or simply not care that you feel ill!

In other cultures, sunflowers were used to help with snakebites.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

Klytie, the Okeanid nymph of Greek mythology, fell in love with either Helios or Apollo (Sol, the Sun), but was forsaken for her sister, Leukothoe. After watching the sun and pining for a time, she was transformed into a flower that followed the sun. Originally, this was the heliotrope, but in modern retellings, due to folklore that states that the sunflower follows the sun throughout the sky, Klytie has become the nymph who transformed into the sunflower. This makes the sunflower a little tragic, a symbol of unrequited love, and a reminder to let go of that which does not serve us.

Sunflower oil is one of the few foods that was historically permitted throughout lent, symbolising fasting, spiritual cleansing and self-discipline.

In a very literal sense, the sunflower represents the sun, and therefore fire, south, passion, love and creativity. Use the petals or whole flowers to decorate the southern aspect of your altar or sacred space. They make a useful offering or decoration at Lughnasadh or Lammas (1st August or thereabouts, depending on your tradition), as not only do they represent the sun at its height, but the harvest, food, wealth and well-being.

Cunningham tells us that sunflower seeds have been used by women who wish to conceive, and also as a protection charm against smallpox. Considering smallpox was eradicated many years ago, this use could be expanded to a general health charm, or a general protection charm, perhaps when combined with other magical elements. Cunningham also states that cutting a sunflower at sunset while making a wish, will cause the wish to come true before the next sunset, if the wish is not ‘too grand’. This is a touch vague, but reminds us to be down to earth, realistic, and that sometimes we need to make our own wishes come true!

 

Home and Hearth

If you wish to know the truth of a situation, meditate upon the image of a sunflower, or on an actual plant, either outside or in a pot in your house or sacred space. The sunflower represents an open face, total honesty; revealing all aspects of a situation. If you are able to, cut one of the flowers (with permission, never steal flowers and never cut wild-flowers) and when you go to bed that night, place the flower under your bed, all the while focusing on the situation you wish to know the truth of. Make sure that before you go to bed that night, you put a note pad and pen on your bedside table. You should dream of the situation, and the dream should tell you the truth of the situation. As soon as you awake, write down as many details of the dream as you can remember. If you do it immediately, you will remember more detail, so don’t delay!

Use the details in the dream to establish the truth of your situation. If it makes no sense even after this, it means the truth has been hidden for a reason, and you need to let it go.

 

I Never Knew…

Sunflowers have been used for thousands of years to make dyes for fabrics, in colours ranging from the expected orange and yellow, to brilliant blue!

 

Image credits: Sunflower (Helianthus L.) by Pudelek via Wikimedia Commons; Blütenstand (tellerförmiger Korb) einer Sonnenblume (Helianthus annuus) in Balve-Eisborn by Asio otus via Wikimedia Commons; Photograph showing a field of sun flowers and a sun spot by Thomas Quaritsch via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Apothecary

May, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Honeysuckle

What a sweet name, conjuring images of bees and summer and jewel like flowers dripping with nectar, while butterflies gorge themselves on the sugary goodness. According to sacredwicca.com, honeysuckle is a Beltane flower, which makes sense as I remember the intricate blooms beginning to open in my grandparents’ yard around this time of year. We would sit in the pale English sun drinking in the smell of the nectar and the gently, bustling hum of honeybees. This exotic looking but fairly common plant holds a great deal of nostalgia for me, and the connection to my recent ancestors makes it an appropriate choice to write about at this other time when the veil is thin; Beltane, the opposite side of the wheel to Samhain, when the fae and their kin are strongest.

The Kitchen Garden…

Eat the Weeds tells us that honeysuckle is ‘iffy for foragers’, basically meaning that it’s one of those plants that has so many varieties, some of which are edible, some of which are not and some of which are downright poisonous. Because of this, if you are planning on cultivating honeysuckle for eating, you should ensure you absolutely know what variety you are growing. Lonicera japonica, or Japanese Honeysuckle, has leaves that can be boiled and eaten, and the flowers are so sweet and delicious they are enjoyed like candy. Lonicera villosa, or waterberry, has edible berries, but is often confused with variants which are not so tasty or even bad for you.

The upshot of this is, don’t eat any part of the honeysuckle plant unless you are one hundred percent sure that you have an edible variety. If in doubt, just don’t. Don’t be disappointed about the dubious edibility of this beautiful plant though. There are many great reasons to have a honeysuckle plant in your garden. As a climbing plant, it’s often used to hide unsightly walls or old fences, replacing urban grimness with nature’s treasure. As well as this, it attracts bees and butterflies, essential pollinators, filling your garden with colour and sound. This in will attract birds, and bats in some climates, so honeysuckle is a great addition to any wildlife garden.

Some species can be invasive, so it’s recommended to keep it away from fruit trees and the like as it can literally use their trunks as ladders to climb, which is not so healthy for your poor fruit trees. But with some liberal pruning when needed, honeysuckle is a beautiful, practical plant which brings a sweet fragrance and a splash of summer colour to any garden.

The Apothecary…

Mrs Grieve, in her Modern , tells us that there are over 100 species of honeysuckle but that only a dozen or so are used medicinally. She tells us that the fruits have emiticocathartic properties, a word which is not common in modern usage but presumably means honeysuckle berries can be used both as an emetic and a cathartic. Emetics cause the body to expel toxins, either by vomiting or defecating, and cathartic work solely on accelerating defecation. This sounds pretty grim, but emetics are often used if the patient is known to have ingested something toxic which needs to be expelled quickly. Of course, the berries cause vomiting because they themselves are toxic (some varieties; see above) so shouldn’t be consumed at all, really.

Other traditional remedies include using honeysuckle leaves or flowers as a diuretic, to ease asthmas, and to help with cramps and even bad skin.

The Witch’s Kitchen…

Honeysuckle is a climbing plant, and reminds us that we have to start at the bottom and work our way up. It is a symbol of perseverance, determination and hard work. Rev. Carol A. Ingle tells us that the plant is associated with the tarot card, The Chariot, allowing you to focus on having discernment, authority and mastery of any task at hand. She also recommends the use of honeysuckle in good luck spells and also bending others to your will. The plant is also great for protection magic.

Culpepper claimed it was a ‘herb of Mercury’. This plant, therefore, is often used in money magic, to attract wealth or new opportunities leading to better prosperity, such as luck for a new job interview. Mercury is also all about clear communication, so meditating on honeysuckle can allow you to open up your mind to allow the words you need to say to someone to come to the fore.

Named Féithleann in Irish, the plant is also known as the Irish Vine, so if you work with the Celtic Tree Calendar, honeysuckle is a great substitute for vine. Please note, I find the Celtic tree Calendar a thoroughly modern construct, as there is no evidence the Iron Age Celts followed a year split up into tree-based months, however it is a lovely construct and one that clearly means a great deal to many people. The magic of trees and plants cannot be disputed, and if this is a way that some practitioners connect with that magic, I have no problem with that. As long as it’s clear that it is not a reconstruction of what our Celtic ancestors followed it is inspired by their reverence for trees and plants, which in itself is a lovely idea.

Home and Hearth…

Irish folklore states that honeysuckle around the door of a home will prevent a witch from entering. Of course, the protective nature of the plant is actually that it will prevent negative energies from entering your house, so this is still great advice!

Bring honeysuckle flowers from your garden into the house to attract money. Keep the flowers in water, then as they start to wilt, immediately discard them, either in your compost disposal or in the eastern side of your garden if possible, to represent the manifestation of your desires.

I Never Knew…

Honeysuckle is much enjoyed by livestock, including chicken and goats. Indeed, the Latin name for one species, lonicera caprifolium, comes from the Latin for ‘goat’s leaf’.

Image credits: Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’ by Wouter Hagens, public domain; Lonicera caprifolium by Sten at Danish Wikipedia; Lonicera nigra by Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817), public domain.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

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