Hawthorn – Elder’s less revered unidentical twin

When I was young I was always told that Hawthorn berries were poisonous. It was in a hedgerow herbalism course that I was told the instructor frequently used it – both for colouring and for curing.

Herbal medicine

All these herbal uses are new to me! I’ve never used it and still have a bit of a fear of picking them.

It’s used in tinctures and tablets made from the flowers and berries for the heart and to strengthen the blood vessels. It has been thoroughly researched and has been found effective for these uses; studies on people showed that it improved heart rate, lowered high blood pressure and helped in general with heart disease patients. Bioflavanoids found to be present, help strengthen the blood vessels. It is also used, along with other herbs, to improve memory by increasing the circulation to the brain.

Remember, before using a herb for your health, remember that you should do plenty of your own research and always consult a doctor who knows about your condition and the side effects of the drug (because herbs are drugs too).

A Touch of Witchcraft

The flowers, in folk lore, were said to be the flowers of death and would bring fatally bad luck if brought into the house. It might be due to the fact that the flowers have within them a chemical that’s one of the first produced as dead animals start to decay. It is also strongly associated with faeries, so if you have one planted in or near your garden you might be looking out to The Otherworld. It grows abundantly in my area and I’ve always feared the guardians that protect the Hawthorn tree more than those who guard the Elder.

Hawthorn was strongly associated with Beltane, just as you might put Elder flowers above your door to usher in luck and fertility at the time you would also wear hawthorn flower crowns. In some Christian superstition, the thorny crown is often thought of quite sacred, as the crown Jesus wore as he was put on the cross. It was said that Hawthorn is only safe to pick and have in the house if you say this while picking it:

“Under the Thorn

The Saviour was born”

We ourselves, at that time of year celebrating the rebirth and life of our god, can say something like

“Under the Thorn

Lugh is reborn”

Samhain

Of course, though the Beltane folklore is interesting it is Samhain that we are drawing nearer to right now. Samhain, I like to think of as Beltane’s big brother (also probably the favourite brother as far as we pagans like to go!). I thought it fitting to suggest that while we place the flowers around the place at Beltane we should now be placing the berries on our altar on Samhain, or if you’re absolutely certain you’ve got the right berries (don’t go ahead if you’re not sure!) you could include some hawthorn berry recipes in your Samhain feast. Making a wine from the berries as offering on the the altar sounds perfect.

I’ve not seen any folklore or pagan references guiding you to do so but something, while I was walking out and about looking at the lovely berries out there, clicked in my mind; It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

Too much of the time am I trying to find things to put on the altar that just don’t grow abundantly around my area (up in the windy coastal hills with wet clay soil) and sometimes it should just boil down to celebrating the harvests that surround you, not the ones in the supermarket.

Rowan

x~x

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Aside

Yarrow

I’ve always been attracted to this plant. The first thing I ever learnt about it I read in a book about native (to the UK that is) wild flowers. It also landed me in what could have been to others a mess and what turned out to be an embarrassment to my school, but look at all the monkeys I give about embarrassing my school!! (In sensible words that just means I don’t care.) We were on a medieval day trip and one of their actors was telling us about the wall he was building in the castle. One of the teachers made a remark about the large tankard he was drinking from being ale of some sort and the awesome actor guy said it was actually yarrow tea, to keep him healthy and strong. To this I couldn’t help saying something along the lines of “I hope you didn’t pick that yourself, for picking yarrow will make you feminine and beautiful”, and something else about magic or witchcraft I can’t remember. For the rest of the day I was dubbed ‘the witch’. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, my history teacher was worried about how a year 7 came across such a thing. Haha The very same history teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to cast tarot in school. :/ Reasonable, actually. School is not a very appropriate place for tarot. It was my friends who were the most peeved because they ended up not being able to get tarot readings!! XD

Traditional Uses

Yarrow was said to have grown from the rust from Achilles spear when he was healing the wound of a fellow warrior. (and just thinking about that sent my mind off in a whir about Brad Pitt… ) It was once known as ‘nose bleed’, for its ability to stop bleeding. It has been used in salves and ointments for millenia to treat wounds. It also contains salicylic acid, one of the most traditional headache cures.

Uses Today

I would like to say a lot of science will back this up but I can’t find vast amounts of research into the herb. Yarrow is effective for flu and fevers; make a tea with yarrow, peppermint and elderflower for the best mix of effects. Yarrow is still considered effective for both internal and external bleeding. It is also said to help with menstrual problems, as is nettle so if one doesn’t work try the other. Yarrow is also a bitter tonic, which means it aids digestion and appetite.

I don’t know much about gardening it because it’s not a popular plant in gardens in my area so I’ve only been growing it since last year. I noticed some uprooted by someone skidding through a hedge. What are the chances? So I rescued it and put it in my garden… being a wild plant I’m not entirely sure if that’s legal (…?). Anyway, I thought it had died last year and forgot about it. So when I saw these little feathery leaves growing up I thought they might be another weed that I’d left in. Out of curiosity I left them alone, to see what they’d grow into. It was only on Sunday when I was writing the blog about Yellow Dock that I remembered what I’d planted! Lucky I didn’t uproot them!

Despite having hardly ever used it, this is one of my favourite herbs. I just feel very much drawn to it.

Yarrow Info

The tiny white flowers grow in little bunches on the end of tall green stalks. It has feathery leaves and grows in meadows and sometimes in verges and hedges. It’s native to humid countries and spreads easily by root. Pick and dry aerial parts (leaves, stalks, flowers) in the summer, but all of the plant can be used for remedies.

A touch of Witchcraft

This is an air element plant. It’s also attributed to the Goddess Venus, which is most likely why picking it is said to make you beautiful. (I’ll try find the original poem which is meant to be said as you pick it… there was something about lips as sweet as strawberries and full round hips…) It is also attributed to Mars, probably because of its great uses on the battlefield. (When both these deities come together, typically this means great passion!) Used with other herbs, its said to boost all love magic and divining with it will tell you if your love is true, or your true love’s name. Yarrow stalks were once used in I-ching instead of coins. Throw into a fire to add to pyromancy or any divination ritual with a bonfire. Add some to your dream pillow for prophetic dreams.

IF USING THIS HERB FROM THE WILD, MAKE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE PICKING. IF IN DOUBT, REFRAIN!

Rowan

x~x

Mint

Mint is very well known for its use in food. Make a very simple mint sauce with a hand full of chopped up spearmint (fresh) and about a small cup of half and half vinegar and boiling water. Stir well and add a teaspoon of sugar. (Modify it to taste by adding more/less sugar, salt, other herbs et c. but there’s a basic mint sauce for you.) Add fresh chopped mint to peas, if you like. For a refreshing drink, add Applemint leaves to a jug of cold water and ice. I’ve never tried it but mum came home after a day over a friend’s house and couldn’t stop telling me how nice it was. (I’m preying my Applemint thrives this year!)

Traditional Uses

Mint has always been known for its ability to calm and to ease digestive problems. Only the other day, I was feeling ill like I was going to be sick and a peppermint tea and a lemon, ginger tea and a couple of hours later I was fine and happy. ^.^ My brother had severe hyperactivity problems when he was younger and when he felt like it was going to be a bad day he would always have a peppermint tea as soon as the signs started showing. For one thing, it has magnezium in it, a depletion of which scientists have linked with some cases of ADHD. Not saying it’s flawless, but it definitely helped in my brothers’ case.

Uses today

It’s still considered a very good herb for digestive problems and researchers have found it effective against IBS. The volatile oil in it has also been found to be an effective antiseptic, antifungal, anaesthetic and good at cooling. Peppermint is sometimes used in creams to use on joints with arthritis, mum and dad swear by the stuff. The diluted oil can be rubbed on the temples for headaches.

Mint Info

You can get an infinite variety of mint. Ones I’ve come across are Spearmint, Peppermint, Catnip, Banana Mint, Ginger Mint, Apple Mint and Chocolate Peppermint. Trust me, there are more! Mints usually have a strong sent and flavour, a reddish stem and green leaves (although varieties may be different; the stem may be green or almost maroon in colour and the leaves can be yellowish and dark green). One thing is certain, this herb is an unstoppable propagator. It spreads roots under the ground and grows up from them. I planted my chocolate peppermint last year and thought it had died. 😦 It didn’t seem to be growing at all. Then I was about to plant a new rosemary when I dug down only to find a network of roots spread around less than a cm deep in the soil. I cut into one and the aroma was unmistakable! The plant couldn’t be bothered to grow up as long as it could grow out! This is the surest way of propagating mint, by the root. Although, it’s not impossible by seed. 🙂

A touch of Witchcraft

Use mint to boost divination witchcraft. Add it to your dream pillow for prophetic dreams (add bay leaves and cinnamon also). Make a Mint infusion to sprinkle around an area to promote calmness, or drink it before meditation and rituals. To make an infusion, add a tea spoon of the dried herb to a cup of boiled water. (Do not add when just boiled, wait a minute first) Tie some mint up in a muslin bag to add to a bath, not only to enjoy its pain easing abilities but also to calm you before a ritual or meditation. Mint is an air element plant… which may explain its unorthodox nature! XD And why sometimes its behaviour reminds me of myself!

Rowan

x~x

Comfrey

Also known as knitbone, my interest in herbs started here. Mum started me off with my first bit of gardening and in this flower bed were three plants you can never kill, or at least I never got them wrong. Geraniums, daffodils and comfrey. Mum told me that comfrey used to be used to make casts for broken bones

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Traditional uses

As I said it was used for broken bones once upon a time. I’m told a paste was made of the root and it was set into a cast. It contains allantoin, a chemical that speeds up healing, which made it a very useful herb for broken bones indeed! It was also used for digestive complaints and respiratory problems. This may be because it contains demulcent/mucilage, which soothes mucous membranes, and anti inflammatories.

 

Uses today

It’s still considered an effective healer for injuries, from sprains to fractures, so putting a compress immediately onto the injured part should aid healing significantly.

Comfreys healing powers can be transferred to be used on skin problems also, like acne or eczema. Adding infused oil (very easy to make) or an ointment made from the leaves, and perhaps coupling that with taking a yellow dock remedy regularly could help. 🙂 Do not use the roots internally. The roots contain a chemical which will damage the liver, so only apply externally. Our neighbour (sort of neighbour, but we don’t really live close to anyone out here!) once used a comfrey ointment she made on a deep cut she’d got from falling over. She didn’t know how fast it would work. It healed right over some grit that was embedded in the skin! I’m planning to use some comfrey infused oils as massage oils, I’ll tell you how it goes when I get round to it. ^.^

This is what confrey should look like this time of year (those broad leaves at the back of the picture)

Comfrey Info

Comfrey is native to Europe. It grows quite tall, provided you protect it from the wind… which is definitely where I go wrong. (I’m trying to grow some trees to increase the wind shelter in my little patch.) The flowers range from pale pink (sometimes white) to nearly purple and sometime blue. It has nice big green leaves.

KNOW YOUR PATCH! Before you start picking what you think is Comfrey, be aware that foxgloves look very similar to the untrained eye… and sometimes the trained eye! It’s better to get to know the plant first, I grew up around the stuff and I’m still cautious, and know from experience where it is growing. Wait until the summer. It is easier to tell the difference as the flowers of Comfrey are mostly at the top, whereas Foxgloves flower all the way up the stem. MIXING THESE UP CAN, AND HAS IN SOME CASES, HAVE DEADLY CONCEQUENCES.

Harvest Comfrey root in autumn; the leaves and flowers in the summer. Plant from seed in spring or separate roots in autumn. I prefer to propagate by root. I tend to go by the rule ‘if it’s not flowering it’s ok to move’… which I do not recommend to others but if the spring is the only time you can propagate your comfrey then rest assured it shouldn’t die as long as you plant it in good soil and water well. It’ll not look so happy, though, and you’ll end up thinking you’ve almost killed the poor thing. Be patient. Comfrey’s useless to you unless you can play the waiting game – it’s at its best when it’s been down for a couple of years (lots of lovely roots) and it’s comfortable where it is.

 

A touch of witchcraft

 

My little patch of comfrey, growing in a worn out tyre

 

Realising the patch I’d decided to take from was what I call a ‘faery patch’ I asked permission for the plants (whether there are or aren’t faeries there I don’t know all I know is it’s a little pocket of magic down there). The first three pretty much walked out with me but when I went for a forth it wouldn’t budge, I took the hint. I’m allowed three, no more. ^.^ I love it when the message is clear. ^.^ So I just thought I’d say, later in the week I’m going to buy a lady bird house and put it near this area. This is my little offering. Of course there’ll be a miniature ceremony for it, and I’ll try post that up when I’m done. 🙂

 

Comfrey is also used to protect luggage in transit from theft and to protect travellers in general. Put leaves or roots in your luggage as you travel or furniture as you move house to ensure they arrive in their destinations safely. Carry with you on journeys to keep you safe. 🙂 Comfrey is a water element plant, so you could boost its energies by planting it in the water corner of your garden.

 

Rowan

x~x

(Tell me about your experiences of using comfrey, in medicine or magic, or even some offering suggestions in comments below. 🙂 I’d love to hear what you have to say)

Rowan’s been Gardening!!!!

… oh dear!

The herb garden last year, before weeding

Haha, the reason there’s an ‘oh dear’ about that is that I’m such a terrible gardener. I love getting my hands dirty and there’s nothing better than planting; it’s just that bit where you have to dig up weeds. You see they’re not weeds to me! They have the same right to be there as another plant. Last year I tried growing herbs through my patch of yellow dock and clover… Thus my garden is quite bare, especially since I’ve realised my mistake and removed the said yellow dock and clover. The only survivors? The same things that have been successful every time I grow something, a few Alpines, some Confrey, Rosemary, Strawberries, Chamomile, Mint (spearmint, apple mint, chocolate peppermint and I can’t remember what else but I went mint crasy!), Sage and Lemonbalm. All those pretty flowering seeds I threw onto the ground, that structural Borrage that attracted so many bees last year, all three varieties of Thyme I tried to grow, Anise Hyssop, oh and so many more I can’t bare to think! And why won’t Lavender ever survive?!!! (I’ve been trying to grow it for nearly ten years!!!!)

Garden this year, after weeding

Yesterday and today I moved some plants (they were growing anyway but not in the places that will work best for them).

They are:

  1. Confrey
  2. Chocolate Peppermint
  3. Lovage
  4. Yellow dock (Yes, I love it so much that usually instead of weeding it I just find it a new home)
  5. I really don’t know what it is, all I know is it grows!… and it has leaves… GREEN leaves…

This post is really to tell you about the wonders of yellow dock!

Ok, it’s really not that wonderous. Anyway, ready for the anecdotes?!

As a child, I was always told to rub burdock on nettle stings. This is a perfectly effective way of treating nettle rash, although mum got the names mixed up and all this time we’ve been rubbing nettle rash with Yellow Dock! ^.^ The thing is, it is an effective help as well… it’s just the names were wrong. 🙂 Yellow dock’s main attribute is not the leaves, but the roots. They’re full of thinga that will detoxify you. I’ve never made any of the recipes suggested in my books for decoctions and tinctures, so I can’t really say how good or bad they taste. They’re supposed to help with constipation and detoxifying the body, which in turn will help all sorts of ailments from acne to osteoarthritis!

Another little thing. I used to wonder why on Earth is it called yellow dock?! There’s nothing very yellow about it. It has a green stalk, green leaves and rust coloured flowers(? They’re where it reproduces anyway, but I’m not sure if ‘flowers’ is the right word… very leathery little things). The answer came when I was trying to dig some out and just broke the root. IT’S REALLY, REALLY YELLOW IN THERE!!!!

Yellow Dock

Look at its lovely yellowness!!!

Yellow Dock is a wild plant that is native to Africa and Europe. It’ll grow almost anywhere though. It has a deep growing root, like dandelions, so once it’s in it’s in for good! I had to dig almost a foot down to get mine out! It grows to about a couple of feet tall and is very hardy. It’s hard to find attractive, but it grows on you but as I previously said once it’s started growing there’s just no stopping it. ^.^ Most soil types will be perfect for it. If you live in the countryside, why not harvest the wild specimen rather than bring some in to tame. It usually grows in very large patches so if it’s native to where you live it should be abundant. Harvest the root in the autumn, and dry for use in decoctions and tinctures.

only just remembered to add this: IF YOU ARE PICKING SOME FROM THE WILD MAKE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THAT YOU HAVE THE RIGHT PLANT. IF YOU ARE AT ALL IN DOUBT THEN REFRAIN!

Enjoy.

Rowan

x~x