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Notes from the Apothecary

September 1st, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Aconite

 

 

What a wide range of marvellously maleficent names this poisonous plant boasts: Monkshood, Devil’s Helmet, Queen of Poisons, and my favourite, Wolf’s Bane, to name but a few. Unlike most of the plants and herbs we have discussed on this column, this herb is not to be trifled with. DO NOT PICK OR EAT as this plant can be deadly. However, this plant has potent magical power, and a history in folklore to be envied.

 

The Kitchen Garden

 

This is not a plant for your kitchen garden, that needs to be said from the outset! Although beautiful, with blue to violet blooms, you would not want to have this near your edible herbs, due to its extremely poisonous nature.

 

If you wished to cultivate the plant, just be wary of other visitors to your garden, such as pets and children, and don’t ever get it mixed up with another plant. Accidents can happen, even to the most experienced herbalist.

 

The plant likes a shady spot, often beneath a tree, and can be grown from seed or by splitting the roots. Always wear gloves if you do decide to handle the plant.

 

The Apothecary

 

NEVER use aconite as a medicine yourself. This information is for historical interest only. Although there are some medical applications, these should only ever be explored or prescribed by a qualified, medical professional.

 

Mrs Grieve tells us that the herb is used in homeopathy, and is classed as an anodyne (painkiller), a diuretic (increases urination) and a diaphoretic (causes sweating). She mentions that it is used as a tincture or a liniment, or even injected. She suggests it has been applied externally to aid neuralgia, lumbago and rheumatism.

 

Internally it may reduce the pulse, and aid in the early stage of fever and in cases of local inflammation. This means it has been seen as useful for laryngitis, pleurisy and pneumonia. Children with tonsillitis were sometimes prescribed aconite; something which simply would not occur today! Occasionally the aconite was combined with chloroform or the poisonous belladonna to make it even more potent.

 

Pliny wrote that ‘the ancients’ (vague, I know) utilized aconite as a remedy for scorpion stings.

 

Other Uses

 

As you might expect from such a poisonous plant, it has been and still is used to purposefully cause death, particularly in hunting. There are over 250 species of aconite, all poisonous, and many of these are gathered or cultivated specifically to use as a poison. Aconitum ferox (image above) is used to create a Nepalese poison called bikh. Arrows poisoned with aconite are used to hunt ibex in Ladakh and bear in Japan. The poison has even been used in whale hunting, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

 

 

 

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

Pliny the Elder (in his Natural History) waxes lyrical about all plants being gifts from the gods, and he has plenty to say about aconite. He tells of how the herb was created from the foam of Cerberus, when Hercules dragged him from the underworld, and that the plant is a signpost showing the way back to the underworld. This gives the plant a strong connection to Greek mythology, in particular Hades, the god of the underworld. The term underworld here means the literal, chthonic sense; beneath the earth. It’s worth remembering that Hades is enormously powerful, being brother to Zeus who rules over the sky, and Poseidon who rules over the sea. Although often seen as a ‘dark’ figure, Hades is actually a lawful, orderly figure who strives to maintain balance amongst the dead and ensure none return to the world of the living when they should not. He is crucial to the correct balance and order of life itself.

 

Aconite can be seen as a symbol of this, through both the associations to the chthonic deity, and the fact that it can be used to both harm and heal. Aconite can represent both life and death; the underworld and the earthly world; healing and destruction; the visible and the unseen. It also represents the balance between these contradictions, and how these aspects of life are all necessary; neither good or evil, they simply exist.

 

Aconite is also associated with Hekate, being one of the plants named for her garden in the Orphic Songs. Hekate has a strong association with hounds, linking the herb back again to Cerberus. Hekate is a liminal goddess, with power in earth, sea and sky, so aconite can be seen as a transitional herb, with links to all the physical and metaphysical planes.

 

Home and Hearth

 

An image of aconite can be focused on to make a journey beneath the earth, in either meditation or pathworking. The plants chthonic (underworldly) origins make it a great catalyst for this, so for druidic work where you may step down through a hole in the roots of a tree, or for other visualisation such as burrowing into the earth or entering a cave, the image of the aconite may ease this transition, as it is a kind of key to the liminal state required to make this kid of journeying.

 

I Never Knew…

 

Despite its poisonous reputation, aconite is a crucial part of many eco-systems as it feeds the caterpillars of tiger moths and various other species of moth.

 

 *Images: Aconitum Ferox, 1897, public domain; Aconitum variegatum, Bernd haynold, via Wikimedia.

 

***

 

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.



Aromatherapy

What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from natures flowers and herbs. They are used singley or in blends. The aroma is inhaled, and the oils mayb be applied to the skin, as well. The herbs/flowers or combinations address specific disorders or needs. It appears the body is able to utilize the healing properties of the oils through the olfactory system of the body and so initiate the healing process. These illnesses maybe physical or emotional.

Seasonal Aromatherapy
Season’s are changing and it’s getting colder out. I thought I would share with you some aromatherapy tips on some seasonal disorders that you may find useful. These are mainly physical.

 

Nasal Inhaler
Use to inhale the vapors when you have a cold or sinus congestion.

You’ll need

rock salt
2 drops essential oil eucalyptus
2 drops essential oil rosemary
1 drop essential oil peppermint

Put a few pieces of rock salt into a glass vial, add the drops.
The salt will absorb the oils.

Or Simply add the drops to a handkerchief to inhale.

 

Sinus Infection

A compress with Peppermint oil relieves the symptoms of a sinus
infection.

Mix 5 drops of Peppermint oil in two cups of warm water.

Lay a small cloth dampened with the mixture across your nose
and your cheekbones.

Breathe deeply, keeping your eyes closed.

 
Winter Skin Relief

Here’s a blend for dry, rough and scaly skin.

Lavender 4 drops
Patchouli 2 drops
Sandalwood 4 drops

Use in 1/2 oz. of carrier oil. (Find out about Carrier Oils)

 

Sore Throat
At the first sign of a sore throat try this.

DO NOT SWALLOW!!

Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon salt in warm water and add 2 drops of Tea Tree essential oil, stir well.

DO NOT SWALLOW!!
Gargle, repeat several times.

 
For Windburn Chapped Skin

Mix 3 drops of Lavender or Chamomile in
1 Tablespoon Jojoba

Apply to skin.

 
Winter Protection

Mix 20 drops of Sandalwood in 3 oz. of base oil.
Sweet Almond, Grapeseed and Safflower oils are
some to try.

This blend is said to strengthen
the immune system against colds and flu.

Use as a massage oil.
Massage feet before bed, put on socks and go to sleep.

 

Sore Throat Gargle

Just 1 drop of Cedarwood Atlas Cedrus atlantica,in 1/2 cup water can be used as a sore throat gargle.

Allergies with Sinusitis

Allergies such as hay fever will often cause sinusitis.
A little Lavender gently massaged into the sinuses at
either side of the nose will help to clear the condition.
Be sure to dilute in a carrier oil. (Find out about Carrier Oils)

 

Allergy FootBath

Essential oils are easily absorbed through the feet
therefore an aromatic footbath can be effective for
allergy related symptoms.
Try this blend for allergy relief symptoms

1 drop Geranium
1 drop Rose
3 drops Lavender

Combine with 2 Tablespoons Sea Salts.
Add to a basin of tepid water.
Soak feet for 15 minutes.

Use as a preventive during seasonal changes
when you expect allergy symptoms
Headaches

When using essential oils for a headache,
try inhalation from a tissue. This method
often works faster and better than massage.
Oils to try are Lavender, Chamomile, Peppermint,
Basil and Rosemary.

 

 

Ravensara Oil

Helpful for chronic fatigue.
An essential oil which has a regulating effect
while energizing the immune system
and balancing the circulating immunoglobulins.
A very good expectorant, helpful for bronchitis.
Gentle yet effective. Can be used on young and old alike.
Can be used neat or undiluted on the skin.
Apply neat to cold sores.
A very powerful anti viral oil

 

Muscle Cramp Rub

Adding Tangerine to a massage oil will help to relax cramped muscles.

 

Fever

Eucalyptus can effectively bring down a fever.

Add 6 drops to a bowl of tepid water. Mix.

Dampen several clothes in the water, wring out and apply to wrists, feet and forehead.

Wipe down the rest of the body with one of the cloths.

 

Help Clear Sinuses and Ease Breathing

To help clear sinuses and ease breathing,
place 1-2 drops of Sweet Marjoram oil on
a handkerchief or tissue and inhale deeply.

 

Muscle, Nerve, & Joint Pain

Eucalyptus oil is an effective analgesic and is
often used to relieve muscle, nerve and joint pain.
Apply a massage oil to the affected area before a
warm bath,then massage the area again after your bath.
You can use a blend of Lavender and Eucalyptus for even
better results.
When massaging small areas like a shoulder you can
double the amount of essential oils used.
ex. 20-30 drops per 1 oz. carrier oil. (Find out about Carrier Oils)

 

Colds & Flus

Keep this blend on hand for colds and flu.

Blend together

5 drops of Lavender
5 drops of Tea Tree
5 drops of Eucalyptus

Store in an amber or cobalt bottle.

When ready to use blend 5 drops in a teaspoon of
vegetable oil. Rub over swollen glands and neck area.

May be applied once every hour.

 

For Lowered Immunity

Choose Rosewood when you want an immune stimulating oil
but not an energizing one like Tea Tree.
Rosewood is gentle, a very safe oil, a good oil for anyone with
lowered immunity. It is also helpful for chronic fatigue.

 

Upset Tummy

Upset Tummy Aid

7 drops Mandarin
4 drops Ginger
4 drops Peppermint

Add to 1 oz. carrier oil. (Find out about Carrier Oils)
Massage on tummy as needed.
Try inhaling directly from the bottle.

 

These are just some recipes to help you get through the season changes.  Remember sometimes just burning a smelly candle helps sooth the senses.   Share some of your seasonal recipes with us!

Notes from the Apothecary: Hawthorn

apothercary1

What would May be without May Blossom? The sweet yet pungent, delicate creamy petals that appear as if from nowhere; a pale messenger of summer’s imminent return. Since I was a little girl we have brought hawthorn flowers, or May Blossom, into the house at or around Beltane, of course always asking the trees permission, and thanking it for its gift. The smell would hover around our hearth for days, and the resulting bare branches once the blossom had died would be burnt on the next bonfire.

Hawthorn has more folklore surrounding it that any tree I know, and is particularly mentioned in Celtic and Faerie mythology. The Eildon tree; by which Thomas the Rhymer met the Queen of Elfland and thus vanished into the hollow hills, is supposed to have been a hawthorn, and indeed hawthorn trees are often found at the boundaries of things. They mark the edges of fields, the end of one person’s land and the beginning of the next, and they mark the edges of the world, where the veil is thin and we can step through and see beyond the mundane.

The Kitchen Garden

Hawthorn is readily available in most temperate climates, and need not be cultivated in a garden unless required as a hedgerow, which is its primary agricultural use. Cunningham tells us that once upon a time witches would have had hawthorn hedgerows. I find this a touch fanciful, but agree that a hawthorn hedge for a witch’s garden would be absolutely perfect.

The main part of the plant that is used for culinary purposes is the berry, or the haw. Don’t eat the haws whole and raw, as there are tiny fibres that can upset the digestive tract, and there is very high concentration of tannin which can also cause problems.

The berries can be cooked and used in a variety of ways though, including jelly, jam (in the UK jam and jelly are not the same thing!) and ketchup.

My friend makes an amazing apple, chilli and hawthorn jelly which is just delicious. The benefit of using the haws is they are packed with nutrients. For more ideas have a quick google, but I found plenty to be going on with here.

Apparently hawthorn wine is a thing, and will be investigated later in the year…

If you have any sort of heart condition, you must speak to your doctor before consuming hawthorn because…

The Apothecary

…hawthorn literally increases the amount of blood pumped out of the heart, widens blood vessels and increases nerve transmission. It can also lower blood pressure which, while usually a good thing, may be problematic for some.

Further research has indicated hawthorn may have positive impact on cholesterol, lowering the LDL which is commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’.

Going back in time to 1931, Mrs Grieve wrote that ‘Both flowers and berries are astringent and useful in decoction to cure sore throats.’ She also concurred that the plant was a great ‘cardiac tonic’.

Hawthorn berries have also been used as a remedy for indigestion, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and even anxiety, although I imagine the anxiety relief may be a symptomatic relief i.e. if suffering palpitations or similar, the hawthorn would help regulate these.

Once more, please do not take without consulting a doctor.

The Lab

The sweet smell of may blossom is so sweet and sickly at times, it reminds you of rotting flesh. This is because the chemical trimethylamine is present in the petals, and this is one of the first chemicals found in decaying animal tissue. So if you feel that the hawthorn has associations with death and the underworld, there is an actual, scientific reason for this!

Hawthorn wood is extremely hard, and has many uses, including making parts for boats. In this way, it transcends earth, sea and sky.

Because of the dense nature of the wood, it burns at very high temperatures so is good for campfires on a cold night!

The Witch’s Kitchen

For me, hawthorn is the ultimate liminal plant. It is all about boundaries, edges, the moment before transformation, anticipation, pause, balance and reflection.

I love that hawthorn blossoms at Beltane, because for me, Beltane is the Celtic fire festival of the start of summer; the light part of the year. It is half a turn away from Samhain, and as such, just like at Samhain, the veil is thin and we walk side by side with our ancestors. The hawthorn tree reminds us of the liminal nature of Beltane; that we have one foot in winter and one in summer; one in this world and one in the next.

Hawthorn is useful when doing any work that demands a cross over into other realms. Dream work, work with the ancestors, divine meditation and path-working will all benefit from the boundary guarding attributes of this sacred tree. Any activity where your body needs to stay grounded whilst your mind, spirit or energy wanders; these are the activities where a hawthorn wand, hawthorn blossom or even the berries can be beneficial.

Hawthorn is associated with the roman goddess Cardea, who is the goddess of the hinge, literally that by which doors open. Cardea has two compatriot deities; Forculus, the deity of doors and Limentinus, the guardian of thresholds, whose name shares the same roots as the term ‘liminal’. These deities, and the tree itself, remind us that many actions may be required for one thing to happen. The door is nothing without the hinge, and cannot exist without the threshold. These gods were particularly involved in the marking out of boundaries and sacred spaces, so a hawthorn wand or staff is absolutely ideal for these purposes.

Hawthorn lives at the hub of all the elements. Like most trees, it is born of earth, watered, lit by sun and reaches for the sky. But because hawthorn is a boundary guardian, it has great power in all the elements. If I had to choose one element I would associate it most strongly with, it would be fire, due to the time of its blossoming. However, I would also suggest that different parts of the tree can be used for different elements: The red berries for fire, the white flowers for air, the leaves for water and the branches for earth. This is my own personal interpretation, and I encourage you to find how the tree works for you best, perhaps by spending time in the woods or by holding part of the tree while meditating.

The Celts used Hawthorn to determine whether a File (a bard or satirist) had spoken ill of a king or leader. The File would face the kingdom with a hawthorn tree at their back. They would hold a piece of the tree in one hand, and a stone in the other, and speak words from their poem or satire aloud. They would then place the wood and stone beneath the tree, and if their words were false, the ground would swallow the offerings.

As such, hawthorn is associated with the power of words, justice, clear judgement, honesty and natural magic of all kinds.

Home and Hearth

apothercary2

If you celebrate Beltane, why not crown a May Queen with a wreath of the blossom? Use wire or similar to make a rough circle the right size, then weave blossoms into the frame, using thread or string if necessary to keep them in place. The crown won’t last long, but neither do the blossoms on the trees, and neither does summer. It reminds us that the world and the seasons are ever changing, and to grab opportunities when they arise, and not let them pass by.

In late summer, gather some of the berries and use them to represent south or fire on your altar or in your sacred space. Always leave plenty of berries on the tree though, as they are a vital food for birds, particularly song birds, including the pictured robin, and the blackbird, lon dubh, who is also a guardian at the gates to the Otherworld.

I Never Knew…

‘Thorn’ in a place name (e.g. Thornhill) refers to the hawthorn tree. As such, there are more English place names with this tree in than any other, and the hawthorn is the most frequently mentioned tree in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters.

Image credits: Top, CRATAEGUS MONOGYNA – AGUDA by Isidre Blanc via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom, Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Daventry Country Park by David Merrett via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes from the Apothecary: Snowdrop

 

snowdrop

 

 

Imbolc is upon us, and I am now seeking snowdrops with every step. Snowdrops symbolise the first stirrings of spring very strongly to me, ever since I placed a closed flower on my altar and within minutes of my ritual it had fully opened; a tiny, star like wonder. Although they grow all over Britain and the US now, they weren’t classed as a ‘wild’ plant until the 18th century, as they were only introduced from Southern Europe in the 16th century. They have some delightful alternative names: February fair maids, Eve’s star, white bells, dew drops and even death’s flower, presumably a reference to the fact that snowdrops are poisonous. As well as causing physical harm when eaten, there are some superstitions that snowdrops are very unlucky, particularly if taken inside the house. There are some English anecdotes of people dying suddenly after someone brought snowdrops in to decorate the home, however I have never suffered any ill effects from using them on my Imbolc altar.

The Kitchen Garden

Snow drops are not edible at all, but they are extremely beautiful. If you decide to grow snowdrops, you can usually get the bulbs via mail order, or your local plant nursery. Please don’t dig up bulbs from the woods or from grass verges. The Latin name is galanthus, which you may need if ordering online. One fantastic thing about snowdrops is that they are perfectly happy in shade, so they can be used to fill a space in your garden where other plants would miss the sun. Plant your bulbs in the early fall, in loose soil and a bit of compost. Don’t leave your bulbs too long before planting or they can dry out. Mark the space where you plant them, as when the flowers die down, the ground may look bare again and you may accidentally dig them up!

 

 

snowdrop2

 

 

The Apothecary

A fifteenth century glossary classes the snowdrop as an emmenagogue, something which promotes menstruation. There are also hints that it may have been used as a digestive aid, however the effects of the toxin in the plant are actually harmful to the digestive tract.

John Gerard, the 16th and 17th century botanist, claimed that the snowdrop had no medicinal value, but Mrs Grieves disagreed, citing the above information which pre-dates Gerard’s findings.

Currently, there is some research being undertaken into the properties of galantamine and how it can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and galantamine is found in snowdrops as well as some other spring bulbs.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The snowdrop is a clear indicator that spring is on the way, and as such, carries all the symbolism that this implies. You can use snowdrops to symbolise east, the sunrise, new beginnings, air, winters end, and as an offering to Brigid or Persephone. If using on altars, please keep out of the reach of children and animals as they are toxic.

As well as the physical associations with winter’s end, you can take a more metaphysical approach and use the snowdrop as a symbol of something coming to an end that you have been struggling with. Seeing snowdrops in a visualisation or meditation may mean that something in your life is about to change, or that a goal you thought was out of reach may be coming close; look out for opportunities and grasp them when they occur.

Snowdrops represent hope, light and determination. They are so small and delicate, yet they are the first living things to break through the hard, frozen ground. They are the epitome of hidden strength.

Home and Hearth

If you are troubled by the superstition that bringing snowdrops into the house is bad luck, try drawing or painting some to go in your sacred space instead. You don’t need to be Monet; a streak of green with pendulous white dripping from the tip will do. Experiment and find something that says ‘snowdrop’ to you, and makes you think of the little spears of hope reaching for the sun.

Use your image as a focus for meditation, visualise yourself walking among snowdrops, or finding a sudden patch of them whilst on a woodland ramble. Record how you feel, what else is around you; and sounds or smells that may pop up. Is there a familiar presence? Something you have felt when honouring a particular deity, or perhaps a sense of nostalgia that triggers a childhood memory?

Write down your findings, see how they fit in with your current life situation, and use this time to record your hopes for the coming year.

I Never Knew…

In Essex, as recently as the 1950s, snowdrops were known as Candlemas bells, further cementing the association with the start of February, and therefore with Imbolc.

***

Mabh Savage is the author of Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. She is also a freelance journalist, musician, poet and mother of one small boy and two small cats. Find out more at https://soundsoftime.wordpress.com

Notes from the Apothecary: Self Heal

 

 

Prunella vulgaris; prunel, brunell, carpenter’s herb, hook heal, sickle-wort; a common herb in the British isles, and indeed most places in the Northern Hemisphere; currently creeping its way across my lawn, unapologetically purple. I was delighted to find this magical little plant as a ‘freebie’; we didn’t cultivate it, it’s completely made its own way in and it is most welcome. The plant has a long history of medical use, being commented upon by Gerard, Culpeper and many other renowned herbalists and botanists, for its wide-ranging uses, which we will examine further below.

 

Although useful as a magical plant, we don’t find it in Cunningham or similar books, yet there is much history surrounding this little miracle plant.

 

The Kitchen Garden

 

Eat the Weeds tells us that the young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, however the raw leaves can be slightly bitter. This may be an option if you are really low on greens, but I would only cultivate this plant to be harvested as an herb, or simply to be enjoyed as an extremely beautiful addition to any garden.

 

Purple flowers in the garden help attract bees and butterflies, and bees in particular really love this plant (see the pic I took at the top of the article; I had bent down to shoot the flower when the bee buzzed in, a couple of inches from my nose!). If you grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetable, it’s essential that you encourage pollinators, so self heal is ideal for this.

 

The Apothecary

 

Where to start. The common name, self heal, tells you all you need to know and not very much at the same time. We get that sense that for centuries, this plant has been revered for its healing properties, but what exactly does it do?

 

Mrs Grieve tells us that the whole plant may be used medicinally, as an astringent (causes cells to contract), a styptic (stops bleeding) and a tonic (a general restorative). She recommends 1oz of the plant mixed with a pint of boiling water, to make an infusion which is considered a ‘strengthener’. She also recommends the same infusion mixed with honey (yum, back to the bees again) and used as a gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers.

 

In 1657 William Coles wrote Adam in Eden or Nature’s Paradise: The History of Plants, Fruits, Herbs and Flowers. In this ambitious volume he mentions self heal several times, including making a remedy for quinsy (a serious complication arising from tonsillitis) made with a combination of self heal, jew’s ear fungus and elder honey. Seriously, if you are at risk of quinsy though, see a doctor! It’s worth noting that Coles was a staunch advocate of the Doctrine of Signatures, the idea that plants look like the part of the body they are useful for healing. He believed that God would have wanted mankind to know what each plant was useful for. Sadly, this strategy doesn’t always follow through, which is why it’s always important to research your herbs thoroughly and scientifically.

 

Coles also wrote that ‘There is not a better wound-herbe in the world’ and recommended it for leaning wounds to stop infection, and to soothe the nipples of breastfeeding women who had been bitten by their enthusiastic babies. He also concurred with Mrs Grieve in that it is a useful tonic for sore throats, particularly those accompanied by a fever, most likely tonsillitis again.

 

Culpeper tells us that there is a proverb:

That he needs neither physician nor surgeon that hath self-heal and sanicle to help himself.

 

So self heal, along with other herbs such as sanicle, mentioned here, can be seen as an essential part of a herbal first aid kit, or it certainly was as far back as the 17th century, if not much earlier.

 

The Lab

 

In modern medicine, there is hope that self heal may hold some anti-viral properties, and may even be useful in the treatment or prevention of cancer. The plant is capable of inhibiting a virus’s ability to replicate itself, so may be very useful in modern anti-viral drugs. So far tests have been done involving the herpes virus and HIV. More testing needs to be done though, to find conclusive evidence on this.

 

There is also some indication that self heal could be useful for diabetes sufferers, although again, this theory is in its very early stages.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

There is anecdotal superstition that witches grew self heal in their gardens to hide their malicious activities. Self heal is so common that most people would not look twice at it, so perhaps it was used to mask other, more interesting herbs.

 

Culpeper wrote that self heal was ‘another herb of Venus’, lending the plant a feminine aspect and associations with both the planet and the goddess of the same name. Venus speaks to us of love, sex, sensuality and beauty; not just physical beauty but art, music and all types of creativity. Self heal can be seen as a catalyst for not only healing the body, but healing the soul, and reminding us not to be ‘all work and no play’. Self heal on the altar or in a sacred space can be a symbol for repairing or building a friendship, or perhaps a more intense relationship.

 

Venus is also associated with wealth, and by extension work, business, career and other opportunities. Self heal in a button-hole might be an easy amulet to wear for a job interview, or a business meeting. If this is too ostentatious, try some leaves or flowers in a tiny bag in your pocket, perhaps with a small rock to remind you to be grounded and true to your ideals.

 

Venus, as a goddess, is also associated with victory and triumphs, so self heal can be used as a tool to help you achieve your goals. Place leaves or flowers around you while you visualise your goals coming to fruition. Picture yourself where you want to be; getting that job, winning that race, overcoming stage fright or, for writers like myself, getting that next book contract! Crush a leaf and smear some of the juice on your forehead. This is activating your magical and energetic connection to the parts of the universe you cannot see with your eyes alone, and will help cement your will. Remember to make a commitment to do the work required in the physical world, and ensure you stick to it.

 

If the plants grow nearby, water them and thank them for their help. Always wash the juice off your skin afterwards, and if an irritation occurs, as with any substance, wash it off immediately and seek medical help if necessary.

 

Home and Hearth

 

If you don’t mind the odd ‘weed’ in your lawn, let self heal be when it pops up in your garden. The delightful purple flowers will encourage bees and other beauties, and purple reminds us of spirit, universal energy and balance. As such, you can pick some of the flowers for your late spring/early summer altar, depending on when your flowering season occurs. Mine are just starting to wilt, the glorious violet blooms dropping away to leave the empty flowers heads which have a similarity to ears of corn, making them a lovely decoration for a harvest celebration or Lammas altar.

 

I Never Knew…

 

In Ireland the herb is known as Ceannbhán beag, which translates as ‘little bog cotton’.

 

All images copyright 2017, Mabh Savage.

 

***

 

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 Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

Notes from the Apothecary: Narcissi

 

Apothecary1

 

Most of us will be familiar with narcissi in the form of the daffodil; spring’s signpost. Those yellow heads, nodding towards the returning sun, have provided seasonal inspiration for centuries. Wordsworth, in 1802, was moved to write:

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Which perfectly describes (as does the rest of the poem) the way in which daffodils are able to blanket an otherwise green or brown area, almost as if they are colouring in the season.

Narcissi is the plural of narcissus, the Latin name for these golden trumpets. The name may come from a Greek term for being intoxicated (hence the term narcotic) or may be linked to the Greek hunter of the same name, who fell in love with his own reflection and gave us the term narcissism. Pliny the Elder believed it was the former, and it is possible the Narcissus of Greek legend was named for the flower, and not the other way around.

The Kitchen Garden

One of the problems with bulbs is that they all tend to look pretty similar, and it’s not unheard of for people to go out looking for wild garlic, and come back with some bulbs that may look similar, but which could be narcissi, bluebells or snowdrops. The danger here, as you will learn below, is that most bulbs are quite nasty to the mammalian system, and can even cause death, so please, please don’t eat them unless you are 100% sure, and definitely don’t ever eat daffodils.

In the kitchen, a bunch of daffodils on the counter or kitchen table will brighten up the room, and bring a sense of welcome and peace to the area. As they age, their odour becomes stronger, and speaks of warm, spring days and the promise of summer to come.

Yellow represents happiness, a carefree aspect and vitality, so golden daffodils will bring those feelings into your home. White or orange daffodils will bring peace and kindness, respectively.

The Apothecary

It’s pretty key to understand that narcissi and many other spring bulbs are actually quite poisonous. Having said that, it’s very interesting to note that this aspect was actually used as a medicinal property in times gone by, and they were classed as a ‘purgative’; a chemical which makes one empty the bowels rapidly. Basically, by giving someone a very, very upset stomach, you were hoping that they would pass whatever else it was that ailed them at the same time.

Culpeper also noted that they could cause vomiting, and that this could be effective in soothing ‘tertian ague’; a kind of malaria which he advised occurred more in springtime, coinciding with the arrival of the helpful flowers.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham, in his popular Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn, 1985), tells us that the daffodil is a feminine plant, associated with the planet Venus and the element of water. Using this information, you could place the flowers or bulbs at the western point of your altar or sacred space, or you could incorporate them into astrological workings where Venus was prominent.

If one transmutes the planet Venus into the Goddess Venus, then we have a flower that is connected to love and fertility, which are both facets of this plant, again, according to Cunningham. One can expand further upon this and see an implied association with Aphrodite, which allows the encompassing of the Greek pantheon as well as the Roman. Daffodils could be used as altar decorations when worshipping either of these goddesses, or honouring their feast days. Venus was particularly honoured during April, and there should still be plenty of daffodils available during this time.

Adonia is a festival that celebrates Aphrodite and Adonis, and is celebrated on the first full moon after the Spring (Vernal) Equinox. In 2017 this will be April the 11th (in the Northern Hemisphere) as the Vernal Equinox falls around the 20th March, depending exactly where in the world you are. Daffodils would be ideal to add to the flowers for these festivals, although roses should also be present where possible.

Culpeper disagrees with Cunningham, and finds that yellow daffodils are ruled by Mars. This puts them firmly in the hot, fiery camp, and makes them useful for sanctifying the quarter of south, and honouring the sun. This makes sense, when you think of how firmly these flowers are part of our springtime; nodding the sun gently back into place after the cold, dark winter.

Personally, I like to place my daffodils at east on my altar, and in a central point in my kitchen. They speak to me of Brigid, in the same way that snowdrops do; new beginnings, hard work and courage. They speak of the rising sun, and the pale to golden yellow of spring mornings.

Home and Hearth

 

Apothecary2

 

As we move more firmly into spring, check out your local supermarket/grocery store for offers on bunches of daffodils. I don’t condone picking them from wild spaces, but they are widely cultivated and these flowers are ideal to take home to bring a bit of spring colour into your life.

If you grow them yourself, of course you can pick as many as you like, but I would recommend leaving some to flower and die in the spot they were planted, as they will please your local spirits and also the bees and other insects that are starting to return.

Have a look and see if you can find any of the more unusual plants. You can find two headed daffodils, white ones, orange ones, white petals with a golden trumpet and vice versa. If you are a practitioner of colour magic, you can utilise these different kinds of narcissi in many different ways due to the sheer diversity in shade.

I Never Knew…

Socrates called narcissi The Chaplet of the Infernal Gods due to the level of toxicity the plant produces.

Image credits: Narcissus calcicola, Olaf Leillinger, 2006, via Wikimedia and Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis, KENPEI, 2007, via Wikimedia.

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author and musician, as well as a freelance journalist. See is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

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