Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Sunflower


Despite being used by many Pagans as a symbol of the Summer Solstice, the bright and bold sunflower actually flowers a little later, in the deep heart of summer, during July and August. When the lazy, hot days take over, before the light starts to wane, these great, golden faces nod towards their namesake, spreading sunshine wherever they grow.

Sunflowers range from small, cheeky bright yellow flowers to towering golden giants, yellow and black, resembling great, mutant bumblebees on stalks. There are darks ones, pale ones and even some that seem almost black or purple.


The Kitchen Garden

Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, and the seeds are often given to kids to encourage them to enjoy gardening. Competitions to see who can grow the tallest sunflower are common, and watching the plants soar skywards in the warmer months is a prize in itself.

Although they are named for their resemblance to the sun, sunflowers do actually need a sunny spot to achieve their full potential, along with some well drained soil and good compost. Many sunflowers can be grown for their seeds, which are nutritious and tasty when toasted. The seeds are cultivated commercially for their oil, which is used for so many culinary purposes it would take the whole article to list them here! Sunflower oil is a healthier alternative to many fats, even some types of olive oil. It’s fairly neutral in flavour, which makes it widely popular as it can be used in a diverse range of cuisines. Across Eastern Europe, a crumbly version of the sweet halva is made from a sort of sunflower butter.


The Apothecary

Mrs Grieve tells us that the seeds of the sunflower have diuretic properties, meaning they help us pass water more frequently, which can be useful to flush out our kidneys if combined with drinking lots of water. It’s important to remember that when using any diuretic, some important minerals and vitamins can be lost, particularly potassium. Dandelion is a great way to remedy this.

The seeds have also been used as an expectorant, and this application helps with bronchial, larynx and pulmonary issues including whooping cough. Grieve recommends making a medicine with 6oz sugar and 6oz gin! After that much gin, I’m fairly certain that whatever the ailment, you will begin to feel somewhat better… or simply not care that you feel ill!

In other cultures, sunflowers were used to help with snakebites.


The Witch’s Kitchen

Klytie, the Okeanid nymph of Greek mythology, fell in love with either Helios or Apollo (Sol, the Sun), but was forsaken for her sister, Leukothoe. After watching the sun and pining for a time, she was transformed into a flower that followed the sun. Originally, this was the heliotrope, but in modern retellings, due to folklore that states that the sunflower follows the sun throughout the sky, Klytie has become the nymph who transformed into the sunflower. This makes the sunflower a little tragic, a symbol of unrequited love, and a reminder to let go of that which does not serve us.

Sunflower oil is one of the few foods that was historically permitted throughout lent, symbolising fasting, spiritual cleansing and self-discipline.

In a very literal sense, the sunflower represents the sun, and therefore fire, south, passion, love and creativity. Use the petals or whole flowers to decorate the southern aspect of your altar or sacred space. They make a useful offering or decoration at Lughnasadh or Lammas (1st August or thereabouts, depending on your tradition), as not only do they represent the sun at its height, but the harvest, food, wealth and well-being.

Cunningham tells us that sunflower seeds have been used by women who wish to conceive, and also as a protection charm against smallpox. Considering smallpox was eradicated many years ago, this use could be expanded to a general health charm, or a general protection charm, perhaps when combined with other magical elements. Cunningham also states that cutting a sunflower at sunset while making a wish, will cause the wish to come true before the next sunset, if the wish is not ‘too grand’. This is a touch vague, but reminds us to be down to earth, realistic, and that sometimes we need to make our own wishes come true!


Home and Hearth

If you wish to know the truth of a situation, meditate upon the image of a sunflower, or on an actual plant, either outside or in a pot in your house or sacred space. The sunflower represents an open face, total honesty; revealing all aspects of a situation. If you are able to, cut one of the flowers (with permission, never steal flowers and never cut wild-flowers) and when you go to bed that night, place the flower under your bed, all the while focusing on the situation you wish to know the truth of. Make sure that before you go to bed that night, you put a note pad and pen on your bedside table. You should dream of the situation, and the dream should tell you the truth of the situation. As soon as you awake, write down as many details of the dream as you can remember. If you do it immediately, you will remember more detail, so don’t delay!

Use the details in the dream to establish the truth of your situation. If it makes no sense even after this, it means the truth has been hidden for a reason, and you need to let it go.


I Never Knew…

Sunflowers have been used for thousands of years to make dyes for fabrics, in colours ranging from the expected orange and yellow, to brilliant blue!


Image credits: Sunflower (Helianthus L.) by Pudelek via Wikimedia Commons; Blütenstand (tellerförmiger Korb) einer Sonnenblume (Helianthus annuus) in Balve-Eisborn by Asio otus via Wikimedia Commons; Photograph showing a field of sun flowers and a sun spot by Thomas Quaritsch 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: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.






Rebel Rede

August, 2010

Be Careful What You Don’t Wish For

We have all heard the saying “Be careful what you wish for” and it is actually good advice. Sometimes we think we know what we want, but we do not understand the real ramifications of our wishes. For example, someone may wish to win the lottery, only to win the lottery and end up hating what their life becomes. Once someone is famous and well off they often wish they were normal again instead of constantly being asked for money or being blackmailed. Our wishes are not always in our own best interest. As witches we do not have this problem too often. We have the ability to manifest our wishes with the use of spells and other magickal means. If we are properly trained and continuously growing we should have a good grasped on what we want to get out of life. In my experience we witches have the opposite problem. It is not what we wish for that becomes a burden, but rather what we do not wish for. Every time I say no thank you to the universe the universe does not accept my answer.

Recently I have been training to be a High Priestess. I reached the point in my studies where I was supposed to start taking on new students. I also felt “called” to start a coven. Once these things started to become a reality though, I got scared (and a little lazy to be honest) and decided never mind on the whole leadership thing. Ironically as soon as I decided I was not cut out to be a High Priestess I had multiple students contact me. These new witches ended up bugging me until I said yes to teaching them and yes to starting a coven. I quickly learned that it is not wise to tell the Divine no when they have called you to do something. We think we know our own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities but the universe knows even better.

Not only did I tell the Divine no at first, but once I realized they would not accept my answer I started making stipulations instead. As my coven began to emerge I asked the universe to provide me with a couple of experienced Wiccan/Pagan women to help me get the coven started. I was already tired from the coven starting process, and from the teaching of new students. I just wanted some new “easy” coven members. I was really worried that I did not have what it takes to be a leader and so I asked for an easy way out. Instead, I received more new students and more difficulties with starting the coven. Again it is not wise to try to weasel out of the Divine’s calling in your life.

It was a long process, but eventually I decided to accept my Divine calling and to get to work. I am happy to report that my coven is doing much better now. We are definitely not perfect and there is still a lot of work to be done, but at least I know where I stand in the whole process now. I have accepted my task from the universe. I found out once I stopped being scared and lazy that the universe finally did answer my wishes. I now have a couple of experienced coven sisters who have taken over some of the coven duties to help free up my time. They have been a Goddess-send already! Things might have gone a little easier for me if I had just listened to the universe a little sooner and if I had not blatantly told the universe what I did not what in my life. I guess that is how we learn and grow though-by our mistakes. At least now I know it is not “Be careful what you wish for” but rather “Be careful what you don’t wish for.”