Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Herbal Halloween

Right now the weather is ugly. It has me going back in time, to other Autumns, other Halloweens, and the deep blue skies, crisp breezes, and fluffy clouds. I was thinking today about the first time I ever planted saffron bulbs. I forgot about them soon afterwards, and was stunned to find the crocuses bloomin on Halloween a month or so later. I pulled this article from the Sept/Oct 2004 issue of The Essential Herbal:

An Herbal Halloween
Michele Brown,
Possum Creek Herb Farm
www.possumcreekherb.com

Think of Halloween and what comes to mind? Jack O’ Lanterns, black cats, witches riding their brooms across a moonlit sky, bats? Not too far-fetched actually. Many traditions that we use to celebrate the autumn holiday come from superstitions and the medieval use of herbs and charms to ward off evil spirits used for centuries.

So, pull up the quilt, turn on the light, bolt the door and read on…

Centuries ago, the village herbalist would often brew up a concoction to provide relief from whatever disease happened to be plaguing the folk at that time. However, as time passed and as other religious beliefs took over, the lowly herbalist was forced to hide her gardens and her tools of trade. Witches they were called back then and for many who were caught they often were punished for creating what was thought to be dangerous or even accused of calling upon the devil himself while dancing around their cauldrons. What we have found about these women and men who tried their best to take care of those folks who came begging for help is that many herbs and plants were most beneficial in healing or repelling diseases or the cause of the disease.

Juniper, rosemary and thyme were hung at each doorway of the village homes to rid the house of vermin. Today we find that the antiseptic properties of these herbs help repel mice, ants and other little critters that want to make our home their home. The twigs of Ash, Willow, Hazel and Elder were reported to be protection against snakes and warts. Apparently no snake worth his skin would cross a line drawn with an ash twig. Even today the juice from the Hazel twig is helpful as an antiseptic for wounds, warts, bruises and bumps. Of course, we call it Witch Hazel. Mugwort, of the Artemisia family, offered protection from evil spirits, lightning and bad fortune. It was placed under the bed, in the shoe, or sown in a dress hem to be carried everywhere. Mandrake, considered a powerful aphrodisiac, was said to shriek loudly as it was being harvested. And then there is good old common parsley. Believe it or not, legend has it that parsley was the devil’s special favorite. And apparently only the wicked and bewitched can grow it. Uh oh….

But there were some herbs of saving grace back in medieval times. Rue stood for repentance and was an antidote against poisons. Rosemary grew in the gardens of the righteous. A symbol of faithfulness, love and purity, it kept away bad dreams. A bountiful sage plant growing in the garden meant prosperity and good health to the household. St. John’s Wort was used as a protection from illness and made one think they were invincible when going into battle and Yarrow banished all fears.

A legend that began many years ago which has thankfully gone by the wayside was that giving of a cutting or a start of a plant was considered unlucky and it was thought unlikely that the plant would ever grow. Friends refused to offer a cutting and often turned their backs so the other could “steal” a piece from the desired plant. What work that would be today.
So, enjoy the full autumn moon in your herb garden. Carry a little rosemary, mugwort, garlic, sage and thyme in your pocket and whistle a little tune. Just because...

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