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Notes from the Apothecary

May 1st, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Honeysuckle

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

The Kitchen Garden…

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

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

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

The Apothecary…

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

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

The Witch’s Kitchen…

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

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

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

Home and Hearth…

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

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

I Never Knew…

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

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

***

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Nasturtium

 

 

My seven year old suggested this beautiful flower for November’s Apothecary notes. He planted some seeds towards the end of summer, and despite us worrying that it was a little late for our reasonably cool climate, they flourished, and I have seen many more across my home town this month, trailing out of gardens like fire tipped vines.

 

Confusingly, the Latin name nasturtium refers to a type of watercress. Whilst delicious, I am going to ignore the watercress in favour of tropaeolum, the plant we commonly refer to as nasturtium. The plant originated in South America, and was imported to Mediterranean Europe at least as early as the 16th century, although there are some anecdotes about the round, shield-like leaves being used on trophy poles in Roman times, which would indicate it left South America much earlier than the 16th Century.

 

The Kitchen Garden

There are about 80 species of nasturtium, but for our purposes I’m going to concentrate mainly on tropaeolum majus, the species most people will have in their gardens with the round, plate like leaves and bright yellow, orange or red flowers that start with a funnel flaring out into five, flat petals. The joyous thing about this plant is it is entirely edible. The leaves and flowers can both be eaten raw, and have a slightly peppery taste, which is similar to rocket or indeed the watercress that gives the plant its common name. The seed pods can be pickled, and have been likened to capers when used in this way.

 

For those who grow their own veg and herbs, plant some nasturtiums alongside your plot, as they will help keep away some pests, and even encourage ‘good’ predators, such as ladybirds, who will eat aphids and help keep your crops healthy. Also, cabbage white butterfly caterpillars love nasturtium, and the butterflies will often lay their eggs on the nasturtiums and ignore the cabbage plants; a behaviour which can be of enormous benefit to gardeners and farmers.

 

The Apothecary

 

 

The flowers are relatively high in vitamin C, yielding about the same amount as parsley but with much more dramatic presentation! Vitamin C is great for boosting the immune system and is necessary for cellular repair.

 

Older remedies include mixing nasturtium with flax and honey, to remove pitted nails. (Dioscorides, Materia Medica). Mrs Grieve discusses the benefits of the oils of watercress, which are similar to what she refers to as the ‘true’ nasturtium, or Indian cress. She advises these oils can be used for promoting appetite, cleansing spots or blemishes on the face, and as an antiscorbutic; a food to prevent scurvy, which is backed up by the high content of vitamin C in the flowers.

 

The plant has also been indicated as a tonic for urinary tract infections, coughs and chest problems and as a mild antiseptic.

 

The Lab

Some green veg, yellow carrots, and eggs contain a substance called lutein, which may have a function in maintaining healthy eyes. The humble nasturtium (the species with yellow flowers) stands alone in this field of research, as having the highest yield of lutein of any edible plant that we are aware of currently. This is an amazing fact, and if more research is done into the benefits of lutein in humans, the nasturtium could end up being a very important medical plant indeed.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

The nasturtium is an extremely hardy plant, putting up with dry soil or soaking conditions, and even surviving altitudes of over 10000 feet. The roots live through freezing winters even when the leaves and flowers die away. This plant represents ‘toughing it out’; storing up your energy reserves for when they’re needed and biding your time. They are the knowledge that sometimes we face setbacks, and that’s OK. It’s OK to fall back, regroup, re-plan or approach a difficult problem from another angle. They also represent tenacity, wilfulness, and never giving up, all associated with the element of fire which is often attributed to this plant with its glowing, sun-like flowers.

 

The associations with sun can be drawn out in many ways; for example, you could leave these flowers as an offering for Lugh, the Celtic god with the shining visage who is often seen as a sun god. He is also a master of all trades and skills, from martial arts to music, so the nasturtium here becomes a symbol of versatility and prowess.

 

Experiment with the flower, and the leaves, and see how they speak to you. Remember, the leaves and flowers will fade and wilt once picked, so time your plant-picking so you can use the parts as soon as possible.

 

Making a meal with the nasturtiums can be a magical affair, using the flowers to bring the warmth of the sun into your meals, and the leaves to bring a peppery spice which also speaks to us of fire, heat and the passions of creativity and love. Focus on your intent whilst cooking or preparing your dishes, or murmur blessings over the meal as you decorate it with the glorious flowers.

 

Home and Hearth

Nasturtium flowers make a great addition to the south of your sacred space or altar, especially at this time of year between autumn and winter, when other bright flowers may be less available. The flowers can be pressed or dried, and used as a permanent representation of the sun to last you throughout the winter. You could keep one of the orange flowers between the pages of a journal, and use it as a focus for meditation, which is particularly useful for those who suffer from seasonal adjustment disorder, to remind yourself of the returning spring and that there is colour and brightness even in the darkest months.

 

The leaves grow on long creepers, and although they are not evergreen, if collected before they wilt, you can use these creepers much like ivy to decorate your house or magical areas; a symbol of the green that lives even in the depth of winter. Nasturtium leaves have the added bonus that as well as being decorative, you can chuck them in a salad and eat them!

 

I Never Knew…

The nasturtium is actually a brassica, just like cabbage!

 

*Image credits: Wikipedia

 

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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.

For Amazon information, click images below.

 

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 

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