saffron

Notes from the Apothecary

September, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Calendula

Calendula or marigold? Last month we explored the magic and mystical beauty of the true marigold and I mentioned in that article that marigolds are often confused with calendula. Botanically they are actually very different. Calendula are often called pot marigolds or common marigolds, but true marigolds are in the genus tagetes although both tagetes and calendula are in the Asteraceae family, along with sunflowers. Tagetes are native to North America, whereas calendula came to America from the Mediterranean. They have beautiful orange or yellow blooms, with an extremely long flowering season.

The Kitchen Garden

From Mrs Grieve’s Modern :

It was well known to the old herbalists as a garden-flower and for use in cookery and medicine. Dodoens-Lyte (A Niewe l, 1578) says:

‘It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising.’

She refers to calendula as the common marigold, and notes that it is easy to grow as long as the position is slightly sunny and the ground kept free of weeds. Calendula self-seed, and can spread quite easily although they are annuals so the new foliage replaces last year’s plants, rather than joining them. The seeds are curly little horns, perfectly beautiful and very decorative in their own way.

Calendula petals can be used as a substitute for saffron, but only for the yellow colour they impart, not the taste. The flowers make a tasty and beautiful garnish for salads and other foods, and can be mixed into butters and cheeses for colour and flavour. Even the peppery leaves can be eaten to add spice to a salad.

The Apothecary

Natural Living Magazine published a great feature on calendula and its many practical uses. The publisher, Amanda Klenner, notes that she uses the petals in skin lotions, body butters and salves. She also makes marigold tea which soothes irritated mucous membranes and internal tissues. She uses the tea for digestive health, and adds that the petals are used in some cold and flu remedies. She also believes it supports the lymphatic system, crucial for our immune systems.

In the same publication, Nina Katz states that the herb is, “Anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-septic, vulnerary, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulant, immunostimulant, cholagogue, heart tonic, hypotensive, lymphatic, respiratory tonic, emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, astringent, aperient, diaphoretic…”

Many of these terms might be unfamiliar to you if you’re not an herbalist or phytologist. Vulnerary means healing of wounds or inflammation. Cholagogue means to stimulate the gall bladder to produce bile. Emmenagogue means to promote menstrual flow. This means it can be useful for period pain or delayed periods, as it stimulates the uterus. Pregnant women should not ingest calendula for this reason. Always check with a medical professional before changing or starting any type of medication.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Many believe that the term marigold comes from an association with the Virgin Mary. However, that supposition is a little backwards. The marigold (calendula) became associated with the Virgin Mary because the name sounded a little like Mary’s Gold, however the term ‘marigold’ was first coined by pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, when referring to the marsh marigold, a plant related to neither calendula or tagetes (true marigolds). However, calendula has been used to honour Mary for so long that, if your path leans this way, it still makes a fantastic offering or altar decoration. It’s just good to know the origins and history so you can make your own mind up about what’s appropriate.

Cunningham tells us it is a masculine herb, which I presume is because of the plant’s association with the sun, and fire. I find it has a very feminine energy, but plants are complex and it’s often hard to pigeon-hole them. He advises picking calendula at noon in bright sunlight to ‘strengthen and comfort the heart’. He also states that calendula is used for protecting the home from evil, and scattered under the bed can give you prophetic dreams and ensure a safe night’s sleep. Calendula petals in the pocket will keep justice on your side if you need to attend court. His final and my favourite point about calendula magic is that, if a girl touches calendula petals with her bare feet, she will be able to speak to birds in their own language. How wonderful that would be!

Calendula has historically been used in divination, particularly relating to love and knowing who one’s true love may be. Rachel Patterson recommends the flower for spells or incense blends involved with psychic powers. She also writes that they promote happiness and uplifting energies, and can be used to make gossip about you cease.

Home and Hearth

As we move from summer into fall, calendula should still be flowering for some time yet. If you are lucky enough to have calendula in your garden, pick a few of the flower heads and separate the petals out. Create a circle of petals on a clean cloth or on your altar, one petal at a time. Have the base of each petal pointing toward the centre of the circle, so the end of the petal points outwards. As you lay each petal, think of something in your life you are happy about, or grateful for. You don’t need to write this down or prepare for it. It should be spontaneous and from the heart.

The bigger you make your circle, the longer it will take to complete, but you will think about more happy things! If you have been struggling with dark feelings or depression, it may be sensible to start with a small circle. This can prevent you feeling like you ‘should’ have more to be happy about, which can actually make you feel worse. Sometimes, we may only have a few bright sparks in our lives, and that’s okay. We can still celebrate that, and as we move into the darker months, focusing on the good things we have becomes even more vital and soul supportive.

I Never Knew…

A snuff of marigold leaves was sniffed up the nose, to encourage sneezing to rid the sinuses of excess mucous. Lovely!

Image credits: Flower of calendula by Wouter Hagens, public domain; Calendula officinalis, Seeds by H. Zell, copyright 2009 via Wikimedia Commons; Calendula officinalis – Botanischer Garten Mainz by Natalie Schmalz, copyright 2011, via Wikimedia Commons.

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About the Author:

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

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

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors

 

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways

Notes from the Apothecary

April, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Crocus

 

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As we move further into spring in the Northern Hemisphere, a wealth of flowers is bursting from the warming soil. Some of this treasure appears in royal gold and imperial purple, and occasionally even snow white, like a throwback to winter. These are the crocuses, a tiny, beautiful flower named for the Sanskrit word for saffron, the expensive spice made from its stigmas and styles.

The first crocuses of the year always fill me with excitement. They show that winter is truly ending, and that the wheel is turning towards warmer days, woodland walks and those magic mornings of wind and sunshine. Crocuses aren’t as early as snowdrops, which can burst right through the frost, and they aren’t as widespread as daffodils, cultivated as a kind of badge of spring. They come before tulips, and are the first splash of really rich colour; the first hint of the promise of far-off summer.

The Kitchen Garden

The main reason humans cultivate crocuses is for saffron, which is a reddish-orange looking spice that appears to be made of tiny threads. These threads are, of course, the stigmas of the crocus flower, usually a sexual organ used for reproduction, however the saffron crocus is unable to reproduce in this way and must rely on its corms, or bulbs (the tuberous part underground) splitting and multiplying in order to make more of itself. As only this tiny, thread like part of the plant is used in saffron production, it takes up to 75000 individual flowers to produce 1lb of the spice. So, if you are thinking that you could cultivate your own saffron, it’s only worth a go if you have a few acres of land to spare!

The spice is used in a variety of cuisines, including Indian, Arab and Turkish food to name but a few. Saffron is used for its unusual, slightly sweet flavour, and its strong colour which is reminiscent of turmeric yellow. Spanish paella often incorporates saffron, and this can be what gives the rice its glorious golden colour.

The Apothecary

A 2014 study showed that saffron improved symptoms in patients who suffered from major depressive disorders, and could be seen as a useful supplement for those suffering with mild to moderate depression.

This harks back to the Persians who believed that saffron could cure bouts of melancholy. I always find it fascinating when science catches up with magic!

Saffron has been used throughout the ages as a cure for gastrointestinal problems. An ancient Egyptian recipe actually called for crocus seeds, rather than the stigmas, to be mixed with beef fat and other spices as a cure for stomach pain.

Mrs Grieve’s Modern herbal is a fascinating resource for anecdotal accounts of the use of traditional medicine. She notes that in 1921, a medical witness gave evidence of saffron being used in a tea made with brandy to cure measles. She also notes that the spice is useful in the relief of flatulence, to induce sweating, and to stimulate menstrual flow.

In 1347, the Black Death, an horrific plague which swept across Europe, caused a sudden and incredibly high demand for saffron. It was believed that it held medicinal properties key in combatting the plague, yet many of the farmers had succumbed to the ravages of the disease, so supply was not meeting demand. This led to theft and piracy, including a fourteen-week ‘Saffron War’ over a stolen load of 800lb of the spice.

Other Uses

 

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Some Therav?da Buddhist monks wear robes dyed with vegetables and spices, including saffron, which gives the cloth an orange-yellow tone. The robes were originally made from ‘pure’ cloth; fabric that was unwanted or had been discarded. The rags were boiled, dyed and stitched together into a suitable robe for the holy person.

Saffron has also been found in paints and pigments dating back thousands of years. Medieval manuscripts were often illuminated using the pigment provided by saffron, to give tones of yellow and orange.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The use of saffron by humans can be traced back 50000 years, although the mass cultivation of the crocus is much more recent. Saffron was used as a magical spice by the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians, Indians, Romans and many more.

One of the primary uses of saffron is as an aphrodisiac. In India, a potion of milk and saffron is brought to the bedchamber of newlyweds on their wedding night. In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra is said to have dropped saffron into her baths prior to making love, to heighten the pleasure. Greek courtesans known as hetaerae used the spice as a perfume.

For those following a Minoan path of spirituality, it is interesting to note that the first image depicting saffron was found in a Minoan fresco. Although it is not clear what the Minoans used the plant for, it is clear it had some special significance for them.

The ancient Greeks have two legends about Crocus, a young man. In one, he is accidentally fatally injured by the god Mercury, during a game of discus. As he dies, three drops of his blood fall into a flower, thus creating the red stigma of the crocus. The alternative and more commonly accepted legend is that Crocus is chasing the nymph, Smilax. She grows tired of his advances and when he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, turns him into a flower. Take note: No means No!

From these legends, we can make some assumptions about the associations of the plant itself, including the links to the God Mercury and therefore money, luck, communication and because of the nature of the legend, friendship, regret and transformation. We can also see the crocus flower as a symbol to not cross boundaries that are made by others without permissions; to be courteous and listen to others. If someone is not listening to you, or is harassing you, the crocus could be your point of focus in a spell to get them to back off.

Cunningham tells us that the plant is associated with Venus and water, and has a feminine aspect. This is interesting, as biologically the male part of the plant is sterile, so in reproductive terms the plant truly is feminine.

Home and Hearth

Plant crocuses in borders or pots in your garden to delineate the boundaries of your home. If you don’t have an outdoor space, a potted crocus on a windowsill is just as good.

Don’t pick wild crocuses; always grow your own, as there is a European superstition that picking the plant will sap your strength. Anyway, it’s simple courtesy to leave beautiful flowers where everyone can enjoy them!

I Never Knew…

If you have been robbed, burning a little bit of crocus or saffron may allow you to have a vision of the thief.

Image credits: Crocus autranii by rainbirder via Wikimedia; Iran saffron from Khorasan by Alphaomega1010 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.