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Notes from the Apothecary

April 1st, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Tulips

As the earth in the Northern Hemisphere warms between the Spring Equinox and Beltane, we can look forward to seeing the world painted with the vivid colours of the spring flowers. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite as I love so many, but tulips are definitely close to my heart. I grew black ones when I was in my goth phase. I’ve had deep, blood coloured ones, and scarlet ones winking red-eyed at the sky. I’ve had yellow ones vying with the daffodils for the brightest frock contest. They are glossy, bold and brash… and I love them.

The Kitchen Garden

Tulips aren’t edible, please don’t eat them, thank you! There are places on the internet (dark, horrible places) that tell you it’s OK to eat tulips, particularly the bulbs (the onion-like part under the soil). It is not. They can kill you. They are particularly toxic to livestock and pets, so please be aware, especially if you have a dog that likes to dig your flower beds up and chew on things. There are some recipes from during the Second World War, which indicate that in desperation (food was heavily rationed in many places), tulips were experimented with for cooking. The key was, you had to cut out particular parts of the bulb. This sounds like risky business to me, so my advice is don’t bother. According to Henrie A. van der Zee of Holland, “Almost everybody tried it out and nobody liked them,” which tells you all you need to know.

For a witch, the kitchen isn’t just about food, of course. Tulips can add a splash of colour, either just outside the kitchen door in pots or borders, or in vases in the kitchen, if you have access to cut flowers. Tulips can be great for colour magic, as they come in such a diverse range of hues, so find your favourite colour and exploit the glossy brilliance of these flowers to perk up the heart of your home.

The Witch’s Garden

At their most obvious, tulips are a harbinger of true spring. They tell us we are past the delicate yet hardy snowdrops of Imbolc, and not yet at the turning of the May Blossom, yet warmer weather and sunnier days are on the way. They represent the ever-turning wheel and the points in between the major festivals. As a bulb, they also represent returning life, and hidden life in the winter months.

In different cultures, the tulip has had very different meanings, so context is everything. In the Netherlands, the tulip represents the brevity of life, as it flowers and dies in a relatively short period of time. In contrast, in Turkish culture, the tulip represents paradise on earth, possibly due to its otherworldly beauty. In either case, it’s worth remembering that even after the beauty has died away and the flowers have returned to the earth, the plant lives on in the bulb beneath the earth. This is an important lesson that physical beauty is transient, but substance remains. It could also be indicative that beauty is subjective; in the eye of the beholder.

Tulips in Eastern culture are also associated with wealth and abundance, so could be used in money magic. Prosperity is also indicated, which may not just mean wealth but health and happiness too.

In Turkish mythology, the tulip was formed from the blood of ill-fated lovers who sadly killed themselves, each believing the other to be dead. The tulip is their love made everlasting, and as such has been an ingredient in love spells. Also in Turkey, the tulip is also used as a charm against evil, indicating protective properties.

Colour magic was already mentioned, as tulips come in a huge variety of colours. If you want some petals to boost your colour magic, you can plant or buy a variety of tulips, as they range from almost black to white and pretty much everything in between. The petals are strong and glossy, so have a vivid visual impact when used in spell working or as part of a ritual. Here’s a few colours correspondences and appropriate tulips to use

Red: Love, passion, fire, the cardinal direction of south, warnings, blood, family. In Celtic witchcraft red is one of the colours of the Morrígan, and heavily associated with sorcery, prophecy, life and death and making a connection to the supernatural or Aos Sí. Grow tulipa linifolia for red flowers with just a touch of black at the base.

White: Purity, fertility, death, angels, air, the cardinal direction of east, creativity, inspiration, cleansing. In Celtic witchcraft white is often seen as an indication of magical prowess and is associated with druids, and also magical symbols such as mistletoe. It may indicate a particular power with words, and is also the colour of other-worldly creatures, such as the Cú Sí in Irish mythology, or Rhiannon’s horse in the Welsh tales. Grow tulipa biflora for white, star-shaped flowers with a touch of yellow and grey.

Black: Fertility, mystery, the new moon, scrying, the unknown, meditation, banishing, protection. In Celtic witchcraft black is the colour of boundaries, the liminal, and the separation between this world and the world of the fae. It is liminality, and the point upon which the world changes. It is earthly magic, and speaks of physical power and transformation. Although there are no truly black tulips, there is a variety called ‘Paul Scherer’ which is such a deep maroon, it is almost black.

Home and Hearth

Between the spring equinox and Beltane, have tulip flowers in a vase in a prominent place in your home to encourage happiness, prosperity and positivity to wash throughout your abode. If placed at your front door/main entrance they will prevent evil passing over the threshold into your home.

I Never Knew…

There’s an English tale about a man convicted of stealing tulip bulbs. His defense was that he thought they were onions, and couldn’t understand why they tasted so bad! Needless to say, he was convicted and forced to pay for the dubious ‘onions’.

*Image credits: Garden/park field of tulips, copyright John O’Neill 2005 via Wikimedia Commons; Tulipa Biflora, copyright Ulf Eliasson 2007 via Wikimedia Commons.

***

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.

Click Images for Amazon Information

Notes from the Apothecary: artichoke

 

 

January is an odd sort of month, past the solstice but not yet at Imbolc; deep in the heart of winter where the promise of the sun’s return sounds like a distant whisper. In keeping with the oddness of the month, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a plant which is extremely odd indeed: the artichoke. The name artichoke is used for two distinctively different types of plant. One is the Jerusalem artichoke; a sort of knobbly, potato like root which is very tasty and nutritious. However, for this month’s notes, I will be examining the globe artichoke, as far from a root as it is possible to be, as it is the flower of the plant.

The Kitchen Garden

One of my favourite things about visiting our allotment is getting to see what other folk are growing. The first summer when I saw one of our neighbour’s artichokes in full bloom, it took my breath away. Having seen artichokes only in a can or in the grocery store, I was not prepared for the sheer beauty of these extraordinary flowers.

The artichoke is actually a type of thistle, but the artichoke blooms are to the thistle flowers what a lobster is to the tiniest shrimp; huge, extravagant and an entirely different beast altogether.

The seventeenth century almanac by Markham suggests artichokes should be sowed in March, just after the full moon, when the moon is on the wane.

The Apothecary

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the artichoke was, during the 16th century in Italy, reserved for men as it enhanced sexual prowess. Across Europe, the vegetable was renowned for its aphrodisiac qualities, even by royalty; Henry the Eighth supposedly consumed vast quantities of artichokes.

In Turkey, it is believed that a decoction of artichoke will cleanse the blood and the liver, thus improving the skin. It’s possible that the effect on the liver may be backed up by science, as artichokes contain silymarin, a phytochemical which can be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of liver disease.

Other uses include as a diuretic, as a digestion aid and as an antioxidant.

Folklore

A legend of the Sioux people tells of an artichoke and a muskrat. Both are proud, and try and outdo each other with tales of how yearned for they are by humans. The artichoke appears to win the contest by boasting how people will eat his flowers without even cleaning the dirt off first! The tale’s purpose seems to be to teach the qualities of both the animal and the plant, and their usefulness to mankind, or perhaps more keenly, why mankind should admire them.

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

Some sources suggest the artichoke is a plant of Venus, perhaps due to it’s aphrodisiacal qualities. It is also associated with fertility, unsurprisingly! An alternative view is quite the opposite, stating that the artichoke is a vegetable ruled by Mars, due to its thorny nature. The plant itself is actually a hermaphrodite, so I guess go with whatever feels comfortable for you.

The artichoke is also associated with protection, so can be used in warding and exorcisms, and laid at the boundaries of your home. The artichoke is particularly useful at driving out demons, and even banishing bad moods.

The plant also represents courage in the face of adversity; facing your fears and standing up for what you believe in.

The plant can also be a symbol of things not being what they seem, or a sign that you should look at something again. Artichokes change the flavour of the next thing you eat by chemically altering your taste buds temporarily; also, they look like spiky, armoured beasts, then produce the most delicate and flamboyant of flowers. They are transformative and deceptive, and remind us that we are all multi-faceted beings, with many skills and many aspects to our character.

In sympathetic magic, peeling away the layers of an artichoke represents working your way to the heart of a problem. You can do this either physically or in a visualisation or meditation.

Seeing an artichoke in a dream can mean you are stifling your own creativity somehow, and that you need to release your own potential. They can also represent wealth and luxury.

Home and Hearth

For the courage to speak out: take a globe artichoke, a whole raw one either from a grocery store or one you have grown yourself. Find a comfortable place to sit and think of the problem at hand. Imagine what you would say if you had the courage. Start to say each of these sentences out loud, and each time you do, tear or cut a leaf from the artichoke. A sharp pair of kitchen scissors is best as they can be tough; take care not to cut yourself! If they are too tough to cut, then mark them with a pen or pencil, or a piece of charcoal. Imagine yourself as tough skinned as the artichoke; whatever is thrown at you, you can handle, and you will still eventually bloom as beautifully as the artichoke.

Keep repeating the sentences you wish you could say, and keep cutting or marking the artichoke. Once the artichoke is completely defaced, gather the parts together or simply hold the plant and thank it for its strength and courage. Bury the dismembered or disfigured plant or compost it if possible, that way it is giving its nutrients back to the soil. Pour a little water on the ground with the wish that the earth may never hunger or thirst.

I Never Knew…

A close cousin of the artichoke is the cardoon, another thistle, but instead of the flowers being eaten, the stems are blanched and used like celery.

Image credits: An Artichoke in bloom, copyright Little Mountain 5 2009, via Wikimedia Commons; Artichoke in bloom, copyright Unukorno 2015, via Wikimedia Commons.

***

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.

For Amazon information, click images below.

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 

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.

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: 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.

 

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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: 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.

 

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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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