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.
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.
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.
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.
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