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Herb Lore


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Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Whilst reading about old rituals you cannot help but notice the use of plants in them. One such plant Vervain (Enchanter's plant, Herb of the Cross, Holy herb, Juno's tears, Pigeon's grass, Pigeonweed, Simpler's joy, Herb of Grace) or given it's latin name Verbena officinalis was used by Levi whilst doing his famous summoning and has connections with Midsummers Eve. It was a sacred herb of the Druids and was called hiera botane, or sacred plant, by the Romans. It is a known sedative, relaxant, nerve tonic, thymoleptic, spasmolytic, mild diaphoretic, hepatic, reputed galactagogue.

Obviously the pharmacology properties of plants is extremely important and even more so in pre-industrial times. I should imagine that with vervain being a relaxant amongst other things it's properties would have been noted as being useful for rituals. Does anyone know of anymore such plants with links to mystical rites?

Mauro
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Herb Lore

The Devil's dung or merde du diable (Ferula assafoetida) has long been used in magical rituals as a last resort to drive away obnoxious spirits that could not be persuaded to leave by normal means. While it has obviously been in use for centuries the first time it was mentioned in literature is in Benvenuto Cellini's (1500-1571) autobiography.
The Mandrake (Mandragora sp.) has been a "magical" plant for millenia. As such it is mentioned in the Bible and I think most of us have least heard that if you pull its roots without taking proper precautions it will issue a deadly scream. And as such it has been represented in the immensely popular Harry Potter series.
Frankincense or olibanum (the resin from Boswellia sacra) has been associated with religious practices for longer than anyone can remember. This is usually associated with the very ancient belief that deities will feed on smells; as recent religions do not believe that gods need to feed anymore it has become just another mean of worhip. Of particular note is the so called Abramelin Incense, allegedly invented by the Jewish magician of that name in the XIV cetury and popularized by the Golden Dawn and Crowley.
More as I remember it...

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Daniel Parkinson
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Herb Lore

The use and properties of plants in folklore/ancient medicine and ritual is a vast subject, and one I considered devoting a whole section to on the main site (MystBrit). Many plants were considered to have special properties, an example is mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) a common roadside weed, once believed to secrete a coal from its roots on midsummer's eve that would give protection from lightning and plague, for anyone who could find it. It was also used as hops substitute, and as a tea, moth repellent and a fumigant. (although I don't fancy moth ball tea) other plants such as henbane are believed to have been used in the past in so called flying ointments - to induce hallucinations. I imagine much knowledge has been lost over the centuries.

Again a huge subject I did a lot of research into some time ago - wild edible plants are also interesting subject if you avoid the ones that resemble poisonous species, Fools Parsley anyone?

Just as a footnote Richard Cavendish in his 'Magical Arts' mentions some of the herbs used in ritual - noting that they are likley to cause stupor, delirium and hallucinations:"hemlock,henbane,black hellebore, hemp and opium" probably no wonder that results were forthcoming in some rites.

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Ian Topham
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Herb Lore

It would be interesting to see how far the properties of some of these plants used in various rituals could responsible for any reported experiences. It would of course depend upon how the plants were used.

Mauro
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Herb Lore

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
The History
Used as a magical herb ever since the time of the Chaldeans, it was common among the Ancient Greeks to throw bundles of dried peppermint in the funeral pyre of warriors fallen in battle, peppermint being Ares' sacred plant.
It was immensely popular among Medieval magicians, who attributed to it the wildest powers (for example it was an infallible cure for ailing beehives). Muslim alchemists and mystics took a particular liking to it and to this day it's the most widely used and beloved essence of the Muslim world.
The facts
Mint essence has been shown to be a very mild aphrodisiac and analgesic and a good digestive.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
The History
Commonly associated with the infamous absinthe (of which it is just one of the component parts) and the Decadent movement, it has long been a magical herb.
Avicenna (Ibn Sinna) and physicians of the Salernitan School (ie the most influential medical school in Medieval Europe) studied its effects and concluded it was useful to combat seasickness and recover lost appetite after a long illness.
In some European countries a plant of Wormwood, cut just above the root and hung upside down from the ceiling on St John's Day was sure to keep tears and sorrows away from the house. The plant should be renewed each year and the old one burnt to ensure success.
The Facts
In small doses Wormwood can be useful to fight depression and stimulate an healthy appetite. It has long be believed to facilitate pregnancy though this fact has never substantiated by clinical studies.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
The History
Widely used as a cooking spice or as a simple essence, very few suspect the humble Rosemary to be a "ritual" herb. As such it has been used by the Ancient Egyptians: a stalk of Rosemary was put in the Pharaoh's sarcophagus as a love token for his righful spouse, Isis.
It has been used by men asking for a women's hand in marriage for longer than anyone can remember and has always been used in the Mediterrean area for some simple exorcising rites.
The Facts
Apart tasting great (I make up a great steak sauce using Rosemary, Parsley, Mustard, Vinegar and a little Sunflower oil), Rosemary has digestive properties, is a mild nervous stimolant and has long been believed (though not proven) to be good for the skin.

I knew Mugwort was once used as a "poor man's tea" or as a substitute for hops...
Anyway it's closely allied to the Wormwood (both belong to the genus Artemisia) and both herbs are connected with St John.
Mugwort (in parts of Holland and Germany) was believed to have been worn as a girdle by John the Baptists and was gathered for medical purposes on St John's day.
It has slight tonic properties and was once used as a cure for epilepsy.
Burdock, also called Lappa or Beggar's Buttons, (Arctium lappa), is notable in the fact that no animal (except for the ass) will browse on its leaves.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) has been as a curative herb for centuries: as such it was mentioned in the Holy Bible. It was once used to fight pulmonary diseases and as a carminative (ie to fight flatulence).
Blessed Thistle (Carbenia benedicta) has been introduced to Britain, being a native of Southern Europe, probably some time during the XVI century. This was a cure-all herb, and as such even mentioned by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing. The Blessed Thistle is rich in cnicin, an anti-inflammatory substance, which is apparently a very good substitute for aspirin (as is salicin, derived from willow bark). The astounding success of commercial, mass produced aspirin made these traditional anti-inflammatory methodsredundant but now they are being recovered because of alleged anti-cancner capabilities.
PS while we are at it: the Spartans valued the willow above any other plant or herb. Infusions made from its bark proved invaluable to old veterans ridden with rheumatism and war wounds.


__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


Daniel Parkinson's picture
Daniel Parkinson
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Herb Lore

A great website for information on edible and medicinal uses of plants is: http://www.pfaf.org/index.html it has a huge database of plant uses.

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K Corkery
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I think all you need is Tea

I think all you need is Tea tree, Lavender, Garlic, Olive Oil and a little lovin'

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Ian Topham
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Tea Tree

I had never heard of Tea Tree Oil before (I must be a heathen), so I had to look it up on Wikipedia.  It has antiseptic, antifungal and cosmetic qualities....as well as being good at flea control :).

sidney
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Re: Herb Lore

I'm wondering about the Physicians of Myddvai.  i understand that the last one died in the 19th century.  i caught the end of a TV program the other night in which a presnt day doctor was visiting somewhere where the work was being carried on, and herbs were still being grown.
Anyone able to enlighten me?

FYI:  mugwort can be used to grant vivid dreams, and is used by witches to enhance magical practises.

Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
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Re: Herb Lore

Sorry for the late welcome to the site Sidney.  I don't know that much about the Physicians but I'll see what I can dig up.

Englishpsychic
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Re: Herb Lore

 Since I am from India, the only herb I can think of is the Holy Indian Basil. I really love this plant. No worship is complete without it. And it is a panacea for all ills. Smells great too; and gives off oxygen 24 hours per day. A great atmosphere cleanser, which is why Hindus plant at least one in front of their homes. 



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