Magic plants and witches
Today is Halloween and most of us love this day full of magic, strange stories and scary costumes. I absolutely love Halloween too, and I feel that the few evenings leading on to the 31st of October are building up on this magical atmosphere, and I like to think that I could possibly witness a witch riding her broom with her black cat, or spot a leprechaun at the corner of my street (I am mainly lucky with black cats…) Witches are very common now in movies and kids cartoons, but there was a time when they traditionally had a bad reputation… very bad indeed, although they were not drinking human blood, they were not flying brooms and dancing naked in the moonlight – or maybe they were, but who cares? They were in fact very connected to nature, they had a great knowledge about plants and their various uses, and they actually were the ancestors of Naturopaths and Herbalists. I quite like the idea that perhaps I am the great-great-great-grand-daughter of one those witches that they haven’t been able to burn! So, to celebrate Halloween, and as a tribute to those erudite witches, I have selected ten magic and controversial plants for you to discover. Enjoy with your favourite magic potion!
1- Lady’s glove or foxglove (digitalis purpurea): Digitalis This is a delicate and beautiful plant with pink flowers, very charming… but toxic! In the ancient Celtic traditions, this plant had a strong power of protection. Women would use it as a paste to spread between the stones of their cottages, on Halloween night, to repel all kinds of evil creatures. It is also called “foxglove” as wolves were said to eat the plant to become immune to the poisons that humans would put into lures during wolves’ hunts.
2- Catnip (valeriana officinalis): Valerian
From the 23rd of July until the 24th of August, Canis Major, The Great Dog constellation, can be seen in a clear sky. Sirius, the most shining star in the firmament signals its presence; on the pagan calendar, this is the time when plants load up on healing powers. And it’s during this period that valerian load up on its aphrodisiac powers to be used in love potions… Today, you can use it to have a relaxing bath: simply throw a few handfuls of the plant into your hot tub enjoy (maybe with your loved one?!)
3- May bells (convallaria majalis): Lily of the valley
We offer this plant to loved ones on the 1st of May… and it smells delicious! It is traditionally used as a lucky charm, and its appearance in the forests after long days of winter was announcing the arrival of Ostara, the goddess of Spring, even before Christianisation. Lily of the valley is one the most efficient herbal remedy used for heart and brain issues: epilepsy, dizziness, faint. However, it’s efficiency comes from water soluble substances that are very toxic and can cause severe poisonings...
4- Satan’s apple (mandragora officinarum): Mandrake
No other plant in the world have been so much written about! It has been used throughout the times by different civilizations, and it was even mentioned in the Scriptures in 1513 BC as the plant who helped Lia get pregnant of her fifth son. Mandrake therefore became a key ingredient in all sorts of potions, talismans, fumigations or spell. It was treated as a living being: people would dress its roots, bathe it in wine, feed it milk and express their gratitude to it. So many stories have been written about this plant that we could even wonder if it really exists… but it does! The famous naturalist Linné found it and added it to its great botanical classification system. All types of roots or bones were sold as mandrakes in the olden days, but they were just very expensive fake ones. Nowadays, you can buy mandrake seeds and plant them in your garden, and perhaps create your very own potion with it.
5- Bear’s foot (alchemilla vulgaris): Lady’s mantle
This is the medieval alchemists’ magic plant. It was used to make the Elixir of life and the philosopher’s stone. It was the women’s great ally: it was commonly used to fight all kinds of women’s affections, and it was helpful when giving birth. It is also said that hidden underneath the mattress, it would help couples to conceive babies.
6- Devil’s cherries (atropa belladonna): Belladonna
Belladonna is a very toxic plant, classified as a narcotic. It is said that eating ten berries from that plant could cause a man’s death, and even less for a child. Women used to crash the berries and use their juice on their cheeks, when we would use a blush powder. It is a very rare plant that is even protected in Normandy, France, and it disappears totally during the winter months, to reappear in late spring.
7- Red bryony (bryonia dioica): Ladies’seal
The roots of this plant can get huge and weigh up to 2 kilos, or more! Famous aphrodisiac, this plant can help to get all kinds of abundance: luck, strength, money, success, etc… It is even said that it can increase one’s tolerance to alcohol! Ancient people would mix bryony juice with the same amount of vinegar, and would never get drunk… (this is a LEGEND that we’re talking about here…) however, for this spell to work, you would need to extract the root from the earth at the right time in spring, under a favourable constellation, devote yourself to it and dispense a thousand types of cares. Perhaps moderating your alcohol consumption would be simpler?!
8- Hawkweed (hieracium pilosella): Mouse-ear
In the 12th century, this herb was used to determine if a poorly person would heal and survive, or die. You had to let them drink the mouse-ear juice, and if they would reject it, they would die, otherwise if they would swallow it, they would survive! It is also said that this juice, mixed with wine, would neutralise snake or scorpio venom, but only if you would apply the actual herb on the bite at the same time as you would drink the mixture. It seems that any excuse would do the trick to justify any alcohol craving… Mouse-ear water was also famous for its beauty and cosmetics benefits: it would embellish the skin, reduce freckles and black heads, and would eradicate wrinkles!
9- Great basil (ocimum basilicum): Basil
This plant is very dear to my heart, as it is very common in Provence, South of France, where I grew up. Smelling it makes me travel back there in an instant! Fresh basil is a symbol of high protection. It helps women giving birth. It is used in love potions. If thrown on burning coal, it can predict the future of two lovers. If rubbed on your heart, it can make your loved one love you even more! All because its strong scent penetrates the mind and encourages one to enter a meditative state. Therefore, the devil hates it, and by placing basil at your windows, you should be safe from mosquitos, as they are – like all insects – Satan’s devoted servers!
10- Clover (trifolium): Trefoil
The trefoil is a worldwide famous lucky charm. It is the emblem of Saint Patrick in Ireland. The three-leaf clover symbolises life force. It is also a barometer as it folds its three leaves up when it feels the rain approaching. The four-leaf clover represents perfect equilibrium in life; it can also break a spell or send it back to its sender. The five-leaf clover predicts a good reputation. The six-leaf clover symbolises cash infusion. The seven-leaf clover is probably the best: life-long prosperity!!
And now that you know all about those witchy magic plants, why not carve a pumpkin and make your own magic potion?
Here is a nice recipe…
> Angelica punch
- 30g fresh angelica root (finely minced)
- 100g brown unrefined sugar (Rapadura for example)
- 4cl eau de vie or brandy
- juice and zest of a whole organic lemon
- Put 1l of water in a pan, add the angelica root, add the sugar and bring to boil.
- Cover the pan and let it boil slowly for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the alcohol and lemon zest and juice.
- Serve in little tea glasses.
This punch will invigorate you at the end of a cold winter day, and can stop a flu at its very beginning. Angelica has protective, medicinal and magical properties, so you can allow yourself one glass of this potion. However, it should be drank at full moon, on top of the highest mountain from your neighbourhood, at midnight, with a black cat on your left shoulder, and shared with a unicorn wearing a bat onesie. Let me know how you worked that out…