Notes from the Apothecary: Samhain Special
Welcome to the special Samhain edition of Notes from the Apothecary! Samhain is the approximate midpoint between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, and for many in the northern hemisphere, the time when we start to notice the long descent into the colder months. This means there is less wild food, plus fewer herbs and plants growing, so it’s often time to start using up ingredients stored from summer. In this issue, I’m going to go through some of my favourite herbs, fruits, and veggies to use around Samhain, and why I think they’re so magical.
5 Samhain Herbs, Fruits, and Vegetables
What would Samhain be without apples? Apples provide one simple way to return to the Irish roots of Samhain. Samhain is a continuously celebrated festival in Ireland, and many Pagan paths have co-opted the festival into the wheel of the year, so it’s good to learn about where it comes from and how the Irish did and still do celebrate this turn toward winter.
The Dúchas.ie Schools Collection is a fantastic resource of Irish folklore, and there are plenty of links between apples and Samhain noted here. There’s mention of bobbing for apples, a game called snap apple, eating apples and nuts on All Hallow’s Eve, even pretending to be a ghost in an orchard to trick a landowner into giving up his apples!
Apples are also linked to divination. One transcript tells of the tradition of peeling an apple all in one go, then hanging the apple peel over a door. The next person to pass under the peel would marry someone in the house. Similar in nature is the practice of throwing an entire, unbroken apple peel spiral over your shoulder, then seeing what letter it most resembled. This letter would be the first letter of your love’s name.
You can help complete this excellent folklore collection by assisting with transcription – it’s very easy to get involved and I’ve completed a few pages. More volunteers means more folklore available to all! Click here for more information.
Rosemary is linked to remembrance and memory, not just via literary references like Shakespeare, but scientifically too! Studies show that people perform memory-related tasks better when exposed to the aroma of rosemary.
This seems so apt for Samhain, when we remember those that have gone before. Try rubbing fresh or dried leaves to release the fragrance, or add dried rosemary to your Samhain incense. You can also buy or make rosemary essential oil.
I use rosemary oil on my altar for Hekate, a goddess often honoured at Samhain due to her links to the dead and the underworld. I also use it to try and prompt me to remember all the things I need to plan and do at this time of year!
Can’t have a list of Samhain fruits, herbs, and veggies without including pumpkin! Technically a gourd and therefore a fruit, pumpkins are used in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes and, of course, as jack-o-lanterns. Traditionally, in Ireland, these lanterns would have been carved out of a turnip or swede – the same vegetable with different names depending on where you are. It’s also called a rutabaga. However, pumpkins are now generally the lantern vessel of choice, being larger and easier to carve.
Your jack-o-lantern should be hideous, to ward off anything not welcome near your home.
Many people associate cinnamon with winter holidays such as the Solstice, but it’s also very prevalent around Samhain – just think of all those pumpkin spice lattes suddenly on the menu everywhere! Cinnamon is linked to sleep (Rosa Anglica, 1304-1317) and therefore dreams, and the aroma of cinnamon can certainly evoke a slightly dreamlike state, possibly because its such a powerful yet warm and welcoming scent. Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory, so including it in drinks and food can aid digestion, but too much may irritate, so consume with care. Definitely don’t take a big sniff of ground cinnamon, or try and eat the powdered form. Remember the cinnamon challenge that was doing the rounds a few years back? Kids and young adults dared each other to eat a whole spoon of powdered cinnamon without taking a drink, leading to a major choking risk and, if too much was consumed, danger of organ damage.
Like many aspects of Samhain, cinnamon is both wonderful and healthy yet powerful and dangerous if not treated with respect. Use cinnamon to boost fire spells or wealth charms, place on your altar to represent the South, and sprinkle it as a protector of boundaries.
Parsnips are an often overlooked vegetable, but they are far more than just the carrot’s wan cousin. Parsnips are tough, versatile, and become sweeter after a hard frost. Some parsnips are called sugar parsnips because they are so sweet. Other breeds of parsnip can keep growing throughout the winder – something many of us aim for at Samhain, storing up energy and motivation to see us through the darker months.
I love roast parsnips, both the sweet, honey coated treats often served with holiday dinners, and my own version which is savoury with garlic, salt and rosemary. Top tip: You can fry cut parsnips just like chips or fries, in a pan of hot fat or even an air fryer.
For Samhain, though, I love to make parsnip soup. I fry onions with a little flour, then add chopped parsnips, fry lightly then add water and boil until soft. I use a hand blender to whizz it all up, then add a little nutmeg or cinnamon and a generous glug of chilli sauce – ideal for keeping the cold at bay.
Avoid foraging for parsnips as they are very similar to other plants in the same family which may be harmful.
Parsnip photo by Goldlocki on Wikimedia Commons. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.
Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors, Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.