Sep 20, 2023 | 0 comments

Magical herbs and plants: from willow to vervain

Sep 20, 2023 | Culture, Mother Earth's Garden | 0 comments

Herbs and healing plants are part of our daily life. Think of all the varieties of tea that we can make from it or the various extracts with which it is possible to create creams and ointments.

In this third appointment, we continue our exploration of the mystical properties of herbs and plants, and their uses in popular tradition.

The role of the apothecary

A figure that has gradually developed in conjunction with the witch is that of the apothecary. In his shop, he dealt with the preparation of medicines and the sale of herbs and spices. You could also find wax, candles, paper and ink, perfumes, and sweets, prepared by the apothecary himself.

It was considered a prestigious and profitable profession, so much so that it became one of the seven major arts of Florence during the last period of the Middle Ages. And it is precisely in Florence that the famous via degli Speziali can still be found today.

There were many tools that the apothecary had to use for his work: vases, mugs, scales, mortars, and presses. He also had to know the properties of plants and herbs and the different medicines, divided into simple, compound, internal, and external. Theriaca (preparation of miraculous results of very ancient origin, whose recipe has many variations) and mithridatism (constant intake of non-lethal quantities of poisons to become immune to them) were considered the main internal medicines. He recommended almond, juniper, and walnut essential oils as external medicines.

In short, an all-round professional figure, who existed in a world halfway between magic, alchemy, and science. A historical job, that went on for at least five centuries, finally transforming itself into the profession of pharmacists and herbalists.

Magical herbs and plants

In today’s article, we will discover some plants widely used in tradition. Some of these herbs have been around the world, known for specific reasons. Let’s discover them together.

Willow

Salix Babylonica reduced from tab. 59 of D. Brandis, Illustrations of the Forest Flora of North-West and Central India, 1874 published by Kurt Stüber, http://www.biolib.de

Salix Babylonica reduced from tab. 59 of D. Brandis, Illustrations of the Forest Flora of North-West and Central India, 1874
published by Kurt Stüber, http://www.biolib.de

It is said to be a very effective herb on Saturdays. A talisman formed by twelve leaves should be able to give an incomparable moral strength, which can settle any disagreement with the loved one. It is a plant of thought, which instills courage and inspiration.

In Britain, this plant was linked to witchcraft. According to tradition, by intertwining two willow branches to form a cross, you could foresee your death. If the cross left on a sacred spring floated, death was near; if it sank, time was still far off. For the Celts, the weeping willow symbolized fertility, while the Druids used its wood to build musical instruments capable of bewitching the people.

In herbal medicine, willow-based supplements are used for their anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, anti-neuralgic and anti-febrile action.

Elder

Vintage print describing Elderberry or sambucus plant botanical morphology:ornamental plant with white flowers, the berries are used medicinally or for juice, syrup and liqueur.

Vintage print describing Elderberry or sambucus plant botanical morphology:ornamental plant with white flowers, the berries are used medicinally or for juice, syrup and liqueur.

The Roma populations usually call it the beneficial tree, since every blessing comes from it. It is said to wield great power over witches, the occult, and evil spirits, which were stopped wherever there was elderberry.

In ancient times its branches were used to make wands and staves for use in esoteric ceremonies. While in the countryside it was used to make protective necklaces that had the power to protect against diseases. It also has divinatory power regarding the sex of the unborn child and the prosperity of the harvest.

The wood, bark, leaves, flowers, and berries of the elderberry have great therapeutic power; it is used against colds, fever, bronchitis, and cough.

Stramonium

Datura stramonium

Datura stramonium with trumpet shaped flowers used in traditional medicine to relieve asthma. It is also hallucinogenic and deliriant, toxic in quantity.

It belongs to the Solanaceae family and has been known since ancient times for its toxicity, caused by the high concentration of alkaloids, especially scopolamine, present throughout the plant, from the seeds to the flowers.

Highly magical plant and much sought after by wizards for their spells. It is also called devil’s herb or witch’s herb due to its very persistent narcotic, sedative, and hallucinogenic properties.

It was often used in spiritual rituals by shamans of native North American tribes for its ability to bestow intense visions.

Clover

trifoglio

Clover set. Isolated wild plant and leaves on white background. Herbal engraved style illustration. Detailed botanical sketch. A set of clover leaves – four-leafed and trefoil

This plant has very important religious connotations. The Druids taught that there was only one mystical, powerful, invisible god and believed that three was a sacred number, well represented by the clover which thus assumed a mystical value as a sacred and mysterious symbol. Dried and always kept close, it is an excellent lucky charm, capable of inspiring lofty thoughts.

In folk medicine, clover is used as an internal remedy for coughs and whooping cough.

Externally, however, traditional medicine uses this plant for the treatment of eczema and psoriasis.

Valerian

Fig. 1.-Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), one-third natural size. 1, flower; 2, flower after removal of corolla; 3, fruit crowned by the feathery pappus. 1, 2, 3 enlarged.

Fig. 1.-Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), one-third natural size. 1, flower; 2, flower after removal of corolla; 3, fruit crowned by the feathery pappus. 1, 2, 3 enlarged.Encyclopædia Britannica, Public domain, da Wikimedia Commons

In the Middle Ages, love potions were made from it, as the belief reigned that this plant aroused love in all its forms. For this reason, it was also used as an aphrodisiac, and the girls hung a bunch of it in front of the door to attract some suitors. But it was also placed next to the windows as protection against witches and evil.

Valerian root is known for its sedative and relaxing properties. It is often used in rituals to calm anxiety, agitation, and insomnia. Valerian herbal teas are very effective for good sleep.

Vervain or verbena

Hand drawn set of verbena plant, flowers, leaves and twigs. Retro isolated sketches. Vintage figure. Linear graphic design. Black and white image. Vector illustration.

Hand drawn set of verbena plant, flowers, leaves and twigs. Retro isolated sketches. Vintage figure. Linear graphic design. Black and white image. Vector illustration.

In very ancient times it was considered a powerful divinity, dear to Fortune, and sacred to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

With the term verbena the Romans indicated each branch of arbor felix which was used in sacrifices and to decorate the altars. During the Middle Ages, it was instead believed to have protective properties and was used against witch spells.

It was also effective at keeping vampires away. In this case, however, we are talking about odorous verbena, one of its many varieties.

Its medicinal properties are many: it is used as a vermifuge and has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties; it is considered a natural antidepressant and in herbal medicine, it has been used to combat insomnia and nervousness.

Protection and warmth

Why was it believed that many plants could protect us? Why did man always turn to Nature when he needed protection? The answer is that we have never lost touch with that wild and indomitable part that gave us life. Plants can protect themselves; they are capable of giving off smells and tastes that alert other creatures, both visible and invisible.
Nature has protected and cared for us for centuries, now perhaps it’s up to us to give back the warmth with which it has been able to surround us for generations. But despite everything, she is always the one who protects us, mutating and adapting to follow the continuous change of the planet. Let’s stop challenging it and learn to indulge it.

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