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Notes from the Apothecary

November 1st, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Coriander

Coriander

 

November is an odd month for herbs if you live in a temperate climate. There are a few still hanging on in the garden; maybe a tough sage or some rosemary that’s well rooted in, but many of the deciduous plants have already dropped their leaves, so we home herbalist have to rely on either dried product, or those herbs that we can grow from seed on a bright windowsill.

Coriander is one such herb. It grows quite easily as long as it is kept moist and warm, and with a bit of tender care can bring a vibrant verdancy to the cold season.

The Kitchen Garden

Coriander is also called cilantro, Chinese parsley and Mexican parsley, although Mexican parsley may also refer to verdolagas which is a completely different plant. If you shop in Asian superstores, you may find it referred to as dhania.

In cooking we tend to use either the seed or the leaves. The seeds are like little, round, crunchy balls, that give off an amazing citrusy aroma when toasted or dry fried. These can then be ground to make a spice mix or paste, or left whole to add texture as well as flavour.

The leaves are still citrusy but earthier and warmer, and in my opinion you can rarely use too much! They are best really, really fresh and even the stems are tasty as long as they aren’t woody.

Asian cuisines such as Indian and Pakistani make good use of coriander, as does the very different Mexican cuisine. This is an herb that does equally as well in eye wateringly hot dishes, as it does in mild, refreshing dishes, such as raita or guacamole.

You can also add it raw to salads, which I like to do with a little splash of soy sauce. Experiment!

Apparently the root can also be used, and is prevalent in Thai cookery. The root of coriander is harder to come by in shops though, so you may need to grow your own.

Once the warmer weather returns, plant some coriander outside in a sunny spot. The flowers will attract hoverflies, one of the best organic pest controls there is.

The Apothecary

The leaves of coriander are absolutely stuffed with good news vitamins. Vitamin A, or retinol, boosts the immune system, helps maintain good vision and is very good for the skin. Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, keeps our cells healthy and helps the body heal itself. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and healthy bones. Coriander is full of these vitamins, as well as calcium and potassium.

Coriander was used as a medicine, as far back as ancient Egypt. Seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs, and it is thought that they were used as an aphrodisiac.

In modern aromatherapy, coriander fragrance oil is used to ease the mind and fight fatigue. It has a calmative effect on the digestive tract, and is supposed to help detoxify the body. It can also be used as an ingredient in massage oil to help relieve stiffness of the joints and improve circulation; an application recommended by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine. This can be applied in cases of rheumatism and arthritis. Always consult a doctor first!

The Lab

Coriander, like many of our herbs with ‘volatile oils’, has anti-fungal properties. A very recent (2014) study found that the herb was potentially very effective against oral thrush, and the same study strongly encouraged further research into other health benefits of coriander.

The dislike of the taste of coriander is a hereditary trait!

The Witch’s Kitchen

It’s important to understand that we believe, due to archaeological evidence, that coriander has been widely used for over 3000 years. This herb has a majestic history, and deserves respect.

In Ancient Egypt coriander symbolised eternal love and enduring passion; the unity of body and soul. This is most likely why it was used as a burial herb for loved ones.

The Book of Exodus speaks of manna, a substance like coriander seed but much tastier. This sustains the people of Israel as they search for a new land.

Coriander can have a slightly narcotic effect, but you would have to eat a huge amount before experiencing this! However, a couple of seeds in some incense, with the right intent, could aid a meditation for visions, or aid a sleep for dreams.

Continuing the Egyptian theme of passion, coriander has been used in love potions throughout the centuries. Now personally, I don’t approve of love spells, but if that’s your thing, coriander is certainly a potent ingredient.

Coriander is also associated with longevity and immortality, healing and overall good health, and the element of fire. It may be associated with Mars but occasionally it is also linked to the moon.

Home and Hearth

Make a cloth sachet and fill it with cotton wool and a few coriander seeds. As you sew the sachet together, think of your most wanted goal; something you wish to draw near to you. Visualise your goal complete, as you place the seeds in the sachet and seal it. Keep the sachet on your person for a whole cycle of the moon. If you move closer to your goal in this time, keep the sachet in a safe place. If not, bury it with thanks and try again, or meditate upon your goal first.

Cook a meal for loved ones with coriander as a garnish, as a symbol of how much they mean to you, and how unbreakable your bond is.

Make a pentagram of coriander stems and hang it on your door to attract positive energy into your home.

I Never Knew…

…until very recently that Salsa Verde (the Mexican type, heavy with coriander) is absolutely beautiful after a shot of tequila! The herby sauce completely removes the sting of the alcohol.

Notes from the Apothecary: Angelica

Angelica

 

 

A tall, stately plant that I remember well from my mother’s herbaceous garden when I was tiny, Angelica is as beautiful as the name suggests. Unlike many of the herbs in my Apothecary, Angelica can withstand quite cool climates and is found as far north as Iceland and Lapland. In seeming contradiction to this, the plant’s ruling astral body is the sun, and it is mostly closely associated with fire. Despite being classed as a masculine plant, Angelica is linked to the goddess Venus; deity of love, beauty, sex, prosperity and fertility. We can follow the link from the mother of Romans to Aphrodite, her Greek forebear, so Angelica is a perfect offering for either of these deities.

The Kitchen Garden

Angelica is yummy. Known as the ‘herb of the angels’, it is closely related to parsley and celery so it’s no surprise it has a flavour to back the relationship up. A diverse plant, the stems can be used to replace celery in recipes, and the younger shoots candied and used as sweets or cake decorations! The seeds are used to flavour wines and gin and the leaves to lend body to stews and pasta sauces. The Japanese even make tempura from angelica stems. Despite the myriad of uses for this wonder herb, the stuff is nigh on impossible to get a hold of (in the UK at least). Even candied Angelica diamonds, the mainstay of traditional Christmas Cakes, has left our supermarket shelves although you may still find it at small, independent stores. The only answer is to grow it yourself.

As a medicine…

One of the reasons Angelica is so widely used as a seasoning is because of the way it aids digestion. Angelica actually helps promote the production of digestive juices and bile, making it particularly useful (as well as flavoursome) with meat or fatty dishes. It is also an anti-spasmodic so a tea of the herb is excellent for stomach or uterus cramps.

As a diaphoretic, angelica is useful as an herb to bring fever down say during a cold or mild flu episode. The root is cleaned and bruised to free the juices. Boiling water is then poured over the root to create an infusion. This can be drunk 3 times a day.

The root can also be dried and powdered; I have a spice grinder for jobs like this, but you can use the traditional mortar and pestle if you wish.

Mixed with honey, angelica is effective at soothing a sore throat. The leaves also relieve flatulence after a heavy meal!

Science tells us…

Like its cousins parsley and celery, angelica is an emmenagogue, meaning it can stimulate menstrual blood flow. For this reason, you should avoid these plants if pregnant or trying to conceive. Users of warfarin should also avoid angelica as it can react badly and cause bleeding.

The Icelandic Science Institute have proven that there are compounds in angelica that can influence cancerous cells, but the ramifications of this are not yet fully understood. They are also researching the impact of angelica on the immune system. If proven to have a positive impact, this would justify the use of angelica as a tonic for the last few millennia!

In the Witch’s Kitchen…

In her Modern Botanical, Mrs Grieve tells us that Angelica was associated with ancient Pagan festivals, and that it wards against evil spirits and dark magic. Even after the advent of Christianity, the name Angelica was linked to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, and was also known as the ‘Root of the Holy Ghost’ and held in much reverence for its protective properties.

Angelica2

 

Cunningham corroborates Angelica’s powers of protections, adding that bathing in the herb may help break a curse or hex upon one’s person. The plant is also used for exorcism, and to ward against negative energy. He also states that the plant was used in America as a gambling talisman, carried in the pocket.

Angelica can be combined with lavender to create a peace spell for home and hearth. It is also used in a similar fashion to protect new-borns; a piece of the root is hung in a bag near the child (not so near the child can reach it!).

Historically angelica has been associated with women’s health and reproduction, particularly women who are trying to conceive. However, as stated above, angelica promotes menstruation, not conception, so use with caution if this is your goal.

For you to try at home

Sow angelica seeds in a small pot and keep moist, but not over watered. When the seedlings have 4 leaves, move each into its own, larger pot. When the plants have a sturdy stem, move them into an eastern point in your garden. They will reach up to greet the rising sun, the fire of the skies, and the haunt of Venus. This is just one way you can tie your herbal garden into the elements and directions of your Pagan path, or of any path that observes the movement of the seasons and the skies.

If you don’t have a garden, just keep one plant on a windowsill that gets some sun, and give the others away. A healthy angelica plant would be a great gift! Remember though, the plant can get quite tall, so make sure you have enough room for it.

When the plant goes to seed, collect enough seeds (3 or 4 at least) to start a new batch of plants. The rest of the seeds, gather into your palms and hold them close to your chest, thinking of all the things you love about your hearth and home. At the new moon, walk the outside perimeter of your home, dropping a seed every few steps, imagining an invisible barrier appearing between the seeds that keeps all negativity out, but allows love, happiness and joy through both ways. When you have walked the full perimeter, thank the plant for its protection and ground yourself with wholesome food and water.

Finally, one thing you didn’t know about Angelica…

According to John Parkinson (1629), angelica used to be taken with wine as an anaphrodisiac, to ‘abate the rage of lust in young persons’!

Notes from the Apothecary: Rosemary

rosemary

Rosemary; anthos; dew of the sea. This fragrant, woody evergreen has been cultivated by humans for millennia. Its uses range from pest control to flavouring fine foods, with a gamut of others in between. Simply brushing past Rosemary causes the most amazing smell to present itself; like a spirit arriving unseen, it makes your senses tingle. Rosemary is a powerful herb yet readily available, and can be grown in a pot on most windowsills. For those that simply have no way to grow, most supermarkets/grocery stores stock the dried product.

In the Kitchen

Rosemary is often paired off with lamb and not much else. That does this diverse herb a great disservice, as well as being mean to vegetarians and vegans! Rosemary is well suited in many Mediterranean dishes, adds flavour to soups, broths and stews, is amazing with roasted vegetables and can even be used for teas and in smoothies.

I particularly like the combination of garlic and rosemary, and often use this to flavour starchy, otherwise bland items such as bread or potatoes.

For you meat eaters, try rosemary as a seasoning for beef sometimes. The smell while the joint is cooking is quite astonishing! Rosemary also reduces the amount of carcinogens produced by meat cooked at high temperatures, so it’s well worth remembering the herb when thinking of your barbecue marinades.

Science tells us…

The fantastic and unique aroma rosemary produces may actually be an aid to good memory. This is very interesting, because as early as the 17th century, we know (thanks to Shakespeare) that rosemary was used as a herb of remembrance. Jemma McCready and Mark Moss of University of Northumbria, UK found that in studies, healthy adults were better not only at remembering past events, but also at remembering to do tasks in the future. The findings may have implications for treating those with memory impairment, or perhaps even conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Rosemary is also linked to improved intellectual performance.

As a Witch…

It’s worth remembering that Rosemary has a magical heritage reaching all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Aphrodite was born draped in rosemary, suggesting connections with life, birth and otherworldliness. Rosemary is even mentioned in stories about the Virgin Mary. Any herb that can make the jump from ancient mythology to modern Christianity without being denigrated in some way is clearly a powerhouse of the phytological world.

Despite the association with goddesses, rosemary is considered to be a masculine plant, with strong correspondences to the sun and fire. I often use rosemary as an ingredient of incense for the Morrígan, as the fire and passion aspect of her personality, and the masculine aspect creates balance.

Like sage, it can be burned to cleanse or smudge a sacred area, and is particularly good for banishing negativity and keeping it away. Rosemary is a protective herb, and some hung on the outside of your door marks the boundary of your territory and helps keep unwanted presences away.

Rosemary was used throughout the middle ages as part of wedding garlands. Some say this means the herb is associated with fidelity and love, but I prefer to see it as a sign of commitment or devotion. Use rosemary when you want to make a commitment to your deity or spirit, or to yourself. Use it in incense, have a pot of it or some leaves on your altar, or maybe cook some delicious food with it. Whatever your intent, you are making a promise to yourself and the universe that you will carry through with it; you will be true to your purpose.

For you to try at home

When studying or meditating, take a tissue and put a few drops of rosemary essential oil on it and place it near you. If you can’t get the oil, rub some of the fresh leaves between your palms, or pop a couple of teaspoons of the dried herb into a bowl of very hot water. Relax before you begin your work, or if meditating, make sure you take a note of the heady fragrance as you are focusing on your breathing. The rosemary should stimulate your brain power, opening up pathways to creativity and intellect. Images and visions from your meditation should be clearer and stay with you for longer, and whatever you study should be retained with less effort. Try it, and see how it works!

And finally, one thing you didn’t know about rosemary…

Although it’s a woody, evergreen shrub, rosemary is actually a member of the mint family. It is, therefore, closely related to lavender. It’s possibly a surprise, then, that smelling lavender can actually have the opposite effect of rosemary, in that it makes you forget things!

Notes from the Apothecary: Chives

 

Chive

 

I love chives. They are so easy to grow in the kitchen garden, and the glorious purple globes are somehow magically supported by the slender, green stems that we love to eat. Chives grow all over North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and are easily cultivated. They are the only member of the onion family that spans the globe east to west. Like most flowers that have colours approaching the ultra-violet end of the light spectrum, they attract a huge array of butterflies. They also attract bees, so even if you never pick a single chive stem, you are helping the environment by growing chives.

The Kitchen Garden

Chives are immediately useful to any gardener as they repel certain annoying pests. Plant them around your carrots, as they are known to repel the dreaded carrot fly as well as damaging aphids.

Chives are closely related to onions, and have a flavour that is similar yet understated; much more subtle. It is like an echo of a sweet onion, warm and gentle. They are wonderful simply torn and tossed into salads, or chopped finely and added to pasta, stir fries and even milder curries. I can often be found simply munching the things straight out of the garden. Seriously yummy.

I found an amazing tip at This Website, which is to finely chop chives, put them in ice cube trays then top up with olive oil or melted butter. Once frozen, they will keep for ages, and can be popped straight into a warm pan to start of a pasta sauce or similar. Nice! Thanks to Mystical Magical Herbs for the tip.

The Apothecary

Chives are basically a milder form of garlic when it comes to medicinal usage. This makes them very useful when treating someone who has a sensitivity to the strong oils in garlic, or a mild allergy. I would always recommend seeking advice from a professional though if this is the reason you are making the substitution.

Chives are very good for the circulation, and need only be consumed regularly in food to have a beneficial effect. They also have a mildly antiseptic quality, so potentially a chive tea would make a good mouthwash to help prevent the onset of a throat infection, for example. They have, in the past, been used to treat intestinal parasites, however this is not a proven remedy.

The Lab

Like many other herbs used as ‘alternative’ (I prefer the term complementary) medicine, chives have had numerous scientific studies done on them to see how effective they really are. Sadly, as far as I can see, all these studies have come back with the answer ‘further study required’; the phrase that tends to make funding go out of the window. However, there is preliminary evidence from China to suggest that chives and other aliums may be useful in the fight against prostate cancer.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Chives can be used as a substitute for onion in most circumstances. Let’s face it; sometimes chopping an onion for a spell is neither pleasant or practical. If you were to place a half onion in the corner of a room for spiritual cleansing, why not try a bunch of chives instead? With the right intent and follow up the green herb will be just as effective. Just remember to remove the stems when they are dry and withered, as they are of no use then.

I have read in a few places that chives are good for weight loss. Um, I have no idea where this comes from, other than the fact that supplementing anything not herby and green in your diet, with something that is, is obviously going to have positive health benefits. Chowing down on chives will not make you into a supermodel, I’m afraid. Plus I really can’t recommend using magic for weight loss. If you need to lose weight for health reasons, discuss this with your doctor. If you feel like you need to lose weight for self-image reasons, then maybe you need to re-examine your relationship with yourself as a whole, and find a way to love yourself. In most cases, if you are unhappy with yourself, changing the way you look on the outside rarely helps. If you are healthy and happy, then weight is just a number.

Chives, like their larger cousins, are also used for protection. A small bunch hung inside a door can prevent unwanted people or energy from passing your threshold.

Chives also represent balance, achieving the difficult or seemingly impossible, connecting with nature, home and hearth and the fluidity of time, in particular the way the past affects the future. They can therefore be used to enhance divination or fortune telling magic.

Home and Hearth

If you have ritual work to do and want to keep a space just for yourself and your chose visitors, hang bunches of chives at each quarter corner of the room. This will ward off unwanted energies and allow the space to me more attune with your intentions.

When creating a sacred space such as an altar for the first time, use 5 chive stems to make a pentagram in the centre of the space. Lay the chives slowly, thinking all the while of the protective nature of the plant, and the qualities of the point upwards pentagram; all the elements combined, with spirit in control. This is appropriate as this is your space, and you need to be the boss!

I Never Knew…

Chives made it into Roman poetry, with this little bit of wit from Marcus Valerius Martialis from around 100CE:

He who bears chives on his breath

Is safe from being kissed to death.

Notes from the Apothecary: Lovage

It is an herb of the Sun, under the sign of Taurus. (Culpeper, 17th Century).

lovage

 

Lovage is a tall, beautiful, leafy herb in the same family as Angelica and carrots. Similar in aroma to celery, this herb is just as edible if not as popular in our modern kitchens. It is native to Europe and Asia, so may be harder to find in the Americas, however you can certainly buy seeds online to grow your own. The name may originally have been ‘love-ache’, which actually means ‘Love Parsley’, which is understandable as the leaves have a similar shape and smell to flat leafed parsley. The ‘love’ part is simply an Anglicisation of the original Latin name, Levisticum, which may be derived from ligusticum, which means ‘Of Liguria’, a place in the north of Italy where the herb was prolific.

Lovage may have an emmenagogue effect (may encourage bleeding from the uterus) so please don’t use when pregnant or trying to conceive.

The Kitchen Garden

The first thing you have to think about when growing Lovage is ‘Do I have room for this?’ as the stuff gets massive! Growing up to 72 inches tall, it has a wide spread of up to 32 inches so needs a good bit of space. It also needs sandy or loamy soil, so might struggle in claggy, clay filled soils. It needs to be started indoors, and can be moved outdoors once there is no risk of frost. You could keep lovage as a ‘cut and come again’ plant on the window sill, but you’d miss the opportunity to harvest the thicker stems that can be used like celery, and even the roots can be used once the leaves have started to die back.

Lovage leaves make an excellent, flavoursome addition to a salad, or as a stuffing for meat and poultry. Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall raves about the stuff, recommending it mixed with summer veg, scrambled eggs, new potatoes and all manner of soups.

The seeds and roots have been used in the flavouring of candies and sweets.

In Joanna Asala’a Celtic Folklore Cooking we learn that the roots and seeds of lovage were often used as a substitute for pepper, to add a piquancy to dishes.

The roots can be cooked like potatoes, in stews or casseroles. This is truly a diverse culinary plant.

The Apothecary

Culpeper tells us lovage is the remedy for sore throats, poor digestion and ‘gripe’ (bad or trapped wind). He noted that it ‘mightily provokes women’s courses’ which rings true with the modern research that tells us lovage stimulates the uterus.

Culpeper also noted that dropping a decoction of the herb into the eyes removed redness and dimness, however I wouldn’t recommend this without more modern advice!

Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal tells us that the herb was widely used in the 14th century, predating Culpeper’s works. It seemed it was taken as a general ‘cure all’. She advised the herb has a carminative action, and especially useful in dealing with colic in children.

The Lab

Modern research backs up the use of lovage as a ‘GI’ drug (gastro-intestinal) as the herb gently encourages natural processes such as saliva production and gastric juice production, improving digestion.

Lab tests also proved that lovage can dissolve phlegm in the respiratory tract. There are also reports of the plant having sedative and diuretic effects.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Any reputation lovage has as an aphrodisiac or love tonic is purely a case of mistaken identity. As mentioned previously, ‘Love Parsley’ actually meant ‘Parsley from Liguria’, and it was because the English mistakenly included the word ‘love’ that people assumed the herb would be useful for love potions. In other words, the name came before the use!

Asala tells us that lovage was brought to Celtic lands by the Romans, and that travellers would place the leaves in their shoes to relieve fatigue.

The stem is hollow and you could use this to represent a pipe or musical instrument on your altar.

As an herb of the Sun, you could also use the leaves or flowers to represent the cardinal direction of south, or the element of fire.

As expected with these correspondences, the herb is masculine so bear this in mind if using in incense or poppets. I always try and balance my concoctions, unless I am going for something that is particularly masculine or feminine.

Home and Hearth

To bring balance to a volatile situation:

Pick fresh lovage leaves if possible. If not, use some dried seed. Tear the leaves or sprinkle the seed into a metal, pot or glass bowl. Add to the lovage about the same amount of jasmine, either fresh or dried. I like to use the dried flowers, which I order from my friendly online herbalist.

Stir the mixture deosil (sunwise/clockwise) with your finger chanting

Male and female

Sun and moon

Bring me peace

And balance soon.

Repeat this several times until the words and the aroma of the herbs fill your mind. As your mind begins to calm, visualise the outcome to the situation you want. Thank the herbs and any spirits or deities you may have involved.

You can repeat this as often as you like until the herbs lose their potency. This is either when they lose their aroma, or when there has been a full cycle of the moon.

I Never Knew…

Lovage was eaten by the Scandinavian people most now refer to as Vikings, and is even thought to be a favourite herb of Lofn, handmaiden of Frigga.

Notes from the Apothecary: Rowan

rowan1

 

Image: ‘Flying’ Rowan at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, UK. Copyright Chris Gunns 2006 via Wikimedia, some rights reserved.

As well as what we traditionally think of as herbs, every apothecary should be stocked with some other items. I’ve already spoken about bulbs such as garlic, and spices like cinnamon. Now I’d like to move on to the largest of our green cousins; the trees.

I’ve chosen the Rowan, or mountain ash, as my first tree to explore as it is well known as a sacred and magical plant in many different cultures. I am most familiar with the Celtic tales of the Rowan tree, as it is a path of Celtic Witchcraft I follow. However, my favourite tale about the Rowan is actually from Greek mythology: that it grew from the blood of the eagle sent to retrieve the chalice of Hebe. This is why the leaves are the shape of feathers, and the berries (usually) blood red.

The Kitchen Garden

‘But you can’t eat Rowan!’, I hear some of you cry. Well, OK, I don’t recommend it for the novice, but you can actually make a rather nice jelly out of the berries. You mustn’t eat the berries raw, and even when cooked it’s only the juice or the decoction of the fruit we want. Like rosehips, rowan berries have tiny fibres inside that are extremely irritant to our inner tubes, so they are not for chewing on!

If you boil them up though, breaking them up slightly as they soften, then strain the liquid through muslin, the resulting ‘juice’ has a unique flavour that pairs very well with a pectin high fruit such as apples or pears.

The Apothecary

Our old friend Mrs Grieve tells us that both the bark and the berries have medicinal properties. She advises that a decoction of the bark may be given for diarrhoea and that it is also effective against vaginal infections. The ripe berries, she says, are useful for sore throats and inflamed tonsils. Again, I would warn against eating the berries due to the irritant nature of the seeds. I presume Mrs Grieve means for you to make an infusion of the berries, and strain it well.

Rowan berries are also astringent which may make them useful against haemorrhoids.

Rowan wood has been carried as a charm against rheumatism and the berries hung in a house to ward off flu. Although there’s no evidence to back up the medical claims here, the magical protectiveness of the tree is superb so perhaps this is where the healing comes from in these instances.

Day to Day use

Rowan wood is dense and tough and as such is used for staffs, staves and walking sticks. In Finland, it is used in farm tools and horse drawn sleds.

The berries are also used in dyeing. The berries themselves contain the tannins which help the dye ‘set’, and when combined with the bark produce a dye which stains black. I can’t imagine any item of clothing more potent than a cloak or robe dyed black with rowan.

The Witch’s Kitchen

One of the plus points of Rowan is that any witch can use all parts of the tree; the leaves, the wood, the bark, the roots, the flowers and the berries.

The wood makes an excellent wand, although of course don’t destroy any trees in order to find your perfect piece. Rowan trees are quite small generally and won’t be happy about having huge chunks torn off them. I tend to look for lucky windfalls after a gale. Rowan wood is an excellent protective wood, and wards off energies that seek to harm you. A rowan wand would make an excellent tool for cleansing and consecrating, especially a sacred space. The wood can also be carved, so you can personalise your creation without difficulty if you have the talent.

The leaves have several uses. The type of leaf is ‘pinnate’, meaning ‘like a feather’. They remind us of the feathers of the eagle in Greek mythology, and so represent air and the realm of birds. They also symbolise courage, fighting for what is yours and retrieving lost items. They also symbolise earth (being part of a tree) and balance; just look at the symmetrical imagery in each leaf stem.

The flowers also represent balance as they are hermaphroditic, meaning each flower is both male and female. It is self-contained and independent. The flowers are white, the colour of creatures beyond the veil, contrasting with the fruit which is generally bright red, the visceral colour of our flesh and blood existence.

The bark is an ancient medicine and as such can symbolise knowledge, wisdom and healing. Grind it into an incense or place pieces on an altar to magnify the power of healing magic.

The root is not widely used, but as a sacred tree that fell from the heavens to earth, the root symbolises the link between earth and sky, and we can go further and understand that as the root draws water from the earth into the tree, it is a link between earth, water and sky. It is reminiscent of the great world tree, Yggdrasil, in that it links all the realms, although Yggdrasil is a true ash, rather than a mountain ash.

To complete the elemental quartet, the berries are our fire source. They are strongly associated with the sun, and so fire and the south. They remind us of passion, especially the passion to fight for what we believe in. They are attraction, desire, hunger and hunger fulfilled. They are the fruition of hopes and dreams. They are the driving force of ambition.

Overall, all parts of the rowan tree will protect you and reflect negativity and unwanted magical advances.

Throughout Celtic mythology the rowan tree is used again and again as a portent of magic or misdeed. The chariot of Mug Ruith, the blind druid of Munster, had axles made of rowan wood. Beguiling lips were described as ‘red as rowan berries’ in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga. In The Siege of Knocklong, the druid Cith Rua tells Cormac a druidic fire must be made with rowan sticks. These are a tiny selection of the many references throughout what remains of the Celtic tales. If you need any convincing of the magic of the rowan tree, these stories are definitely the place to look.

Home and Hearth

rowan2

 

Image: Rowanberries and leaves in Helsinki Finland. Copyright Jonik, 2004 via Wikimedia.

At or around the autumn equinox, use a handful of rowan berries instead of a candle as your focus of meditation. If you pick them yourself, thank the tree and always leave a few berries for the birds to find. As well as feeding the birds, this helps spread the seeds so there will always be more Rowan trees.

Relax, and breathe normally. Focus on the berries and let their image fill your mind. Other thoughts will come and go. This is normal, don’t try not to think other thoughts as this is counterproductive. Just let the thoughts slide through your mind and either dismiss them or agree to return to them later.

If you find your eyes sliding shut, try visualise the berries in your mind. Remember their vivid colour, their perfect form and their smooth skin. Try to recall any flaws or pocks, and notice how this only makes them more gorgeous and vibrant.

As you dwell on the image of the berries, you may find other images popping into your head. Follow these images wherever they may take you.

When you leave the meditative state, breathe normally for a while, drink some water, and make a record of the images and thoughts that came to you. These will normally be of significance moving into the darker part of the year, and if you can’t interpret them right now, you will usually find clarity will come by Samhain. In times of stress, close your eyes and remember the perfect, round globes of the berries and how you felt when you were focused on them. Allow this peace and stillness to fill you, and push out the anxiety and worry.

I Never Knew…

Rowan berries apparently make an excellent wine! I look forward to testing this theory later in the year… Watch this space!

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