Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

With colds, the flu, and COVID-19, elderberry syrup has made a lot of appearances in various “crunchy” and DIY blogs. Elderberry is touted as an herbal “medicine chest” — even Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder had a hard time overstating the herb’s value. It’s said to improve allergies, inflammation, sinus problems, and pain, and, with prompt use, shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Elderberries and syrup.

That’s not all elderberry is used for, though. This tree, with its white flowers and dark, shiny berries, has a lot of folklore and a long history of magical use behind it.

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

The elder tree is believed to house a spirit with the power to help or harm. In Denmark, it is Hylde Moer. Elsewhere, it was dryads, or simply the Old Lady of the Elder tree.

Taking any of the tree’s gifts has to be done with permission. If permission is granted, they have the power to heal and protect. If it isn’t, they have the power to harm. One charm for cutting elder wood goes:

“Old Lady of the Elder Tree,
Let me have some of your wood,
And, when I am a tree,
You may have some of mine.”

In southern Italy, the wood is used to drive out evil, and protect against thieves and serpents.

In Germany, hanging elder branches in a home on Walpurgisnacht protects from evil.

The spongy centers of elder branches are soaked in oil and used as a kind of lamp wick to reveal all of the witches in an area.

In England, carrying an elder stick or cross made of elder wood was said to protect from rheumatism.

Building a cradle from elder wood is a bad idea, for spirits with pinch and poke any child that sleeps in it.

It’s considered a very bad idea to burn elder wood. In Ireland, it was believed that burning elder would would make you see the devil in the flames. Part of the Wiccan Rede goes as follows:

“Elder be the Lady’s tree. Burn it not, or cursed be.”

(Considering the cyanide content of uncured fruitwoods, and the fact that hydrogen cyanide is liberated by heat, this is probably very good advice!)

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The scent of elder flowers is said to be narcotic in nature. Sleeping under an elder tree would cause the sleeper to dream of the fairy realm, or else not wake up at all.

Magically, carrying elder wood, leaves, twigs, or berries is said to protect you from harm, while hanging elder branches over doors and windows of a building protects its occupants.

Elder is associated with death and rebirth — all parts of the plant are toxic (except the ripe, cooked berries), and elder grows quickly from cuttings.

Elder wood is used for wands, and for making instruments whose music is said to be favored by spirits.

In some situations, elder is used as a commanding herb.

Using Elder

All parts of the plant produce cyanogenic glycosides, hence all of the old admonitions against the improper use of elder. The berries are used medicinally, but that’s only after proper preparation.

Magically, elder is a powerful tree — which stands to reason, since the plant itself contains the power to heal and kill. Any tree should be asked for permission before gathering its products, but that goes double for elder. From what I have read, elder wood should be avoided for mundane purposes, and its use should be restricted to magical tools.

 

Elder has gotten a lot of press lately because of its use as a remedy for respiratory illness, but there’s only so much it can do. It can help with sinus problems, inflammation, and shorten cold and flu symptoms, but the best way to keep from getting sick is still to eat well, rest well, stay hydrated, and stay away from people.

Plants and Herbs

Pansy Folklore and Magical Uses

Pansies remind me of my late grandmother. She used to grow them in her backyard garden, as little cheery-faced border plants. She also had a very gentle, relaxing aesthetic — I remember the grandfather clock in the hallway, the little embroidered pillow full of fragrant pine needles, the print of geese with cheery blue ribbons on the kitchen wall, the way the hallway always smelled like roses and the kitchen smelled like fresh coffee. I can always tell when she’s around me because of those smells.

It was nice spotting these little flowers last week, with their yellow faces turned toward the sun. I’m not positive about their exact species, but they resembled my grandmother’s pansies enough to make me curious about their uses.

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And this appears to be some yellow Viola tricolor.

It’s probably unsurprising to hear that pansies have a wealth of properties associated with them. You can heart it in their names, too — heartsease, call-me-to-you, love-lies-bleeding, love-in-idleness.

Heartsease Magical Properties and Folklore

In Roman mythology, the viola turned to love-in-idleness when Eros mistakenly struck it with one of his arrows, causing it to smile.

In Greek mythology, Zeus created the flowers as a way to repent for his treatment of his lover, Io. She was once a beautiful maiden, but Zeus’ wife, Hera, became jealous. To protect Io, Zeus transformed her into a cow. Since she was forced to be on a diet of grasses and herbs, Zeus made the earth yield flowers.

In another legend, Cupid worshipped the heartsease flowers. To stop this, Aphrodite turned them from white, to tricolored.

Pansies and violets are associated with Venus, and often used as a love ingredient. Placing some under your pillow is said to attract a new lover. Planting them in a heart shape is a bit of sympathetic magic — if they thrive, so will your relationship.

They are also associated with Pluto, and death and rebirth.

Picking the herb on a sunny day is said to cause a storm to come. Picking one that’s still dewy brings death.

Using Heartsease

I think love magic gets a bad rap. When many people think of it, they picture a desperate, lovelorn person, performing spell after spell to convince the object of their affections to want them back. That’s not really the case, though. I mean, if you think about it, everything is love.

Want more money? You really want your boss or your clients to love your work.
Want to be more successful or popular? That’s platonic love.
Love magic is attraction magic. If you draw in love, you can use those same attributes to attract whatever you desire.

Pansies come in a variety of colors, which lends them well to color magic. Each color has its own particular attributes. The little yellow ones I found could be found for mental abilities, divination, happiness, travel, or blessing a new home.

If I could, I’d plant a pot of yellow pansies near the front door of my home. Bless the space and draw in love all at the same time!

Medicinally, heartsease has been used to treat asthma, inflammatory lung conditions, and cardiac complaints. Externally, it’s used for skin problems like eczema. Considering this, and considering how many other herbs’ medical uses mirror their magical ones, it’s really not surprising that it’s an herb of love and death.

 

Pansies are demulcent, mucilaginous, and anti-inflammatory. They have been used to calm irritated skin, ease chest complaints, and soothe other matters of the heart, too. They’re also easy to grow, so, if you have the room, I definitely recommend planting some of these cheerful little flowers!

Blog, life, Plants and Herbs

The end; no morel.

(That pun’s pretty bad. Sorry, readers. Sorry, internet. Sorry, college.)

I don’t really know as much as I’d like about mushrooms. I mean, I know enough to know that I don’t know enough to trust myself to eat one I pick myself. (Every mushroom is edible. Many of them are only edible once.)

I still like looking for them, though. My S.O. and I find some very neat ones sometimes — a massive chicken-of-the-woods, honey fungus, bird’s next fungus, eyelash mushrooms, all kinds. I know it’s still early to find any here (probably? I’m mean, I’m assuming), but I was still stoked to go looking for some. It’s only barely March, and things like morels and dryad’s saddles probably won’t be around for weeks yet. After being cooped up all winter, I would’ve been happy to find some of last year’s dried-out bracket fungi.

Alas, there were no mushrooms.

I did find some really neat moss, though. Complete with seed heads!

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We sat on a fallen tree to have a picnic. It was really beautiful out — chilly, but not cold. Bright, with the sun slanting through the trees and not a cloud in the sky.

“Are you taking a pic of me eating a sandwich?”

“Yeah. The sun looks neat. Besides, you’re one of my favorite subjects to photograph.”

“Aww…”

“… Y’know, I’m glad you took that as a compliment. I just realized that my dumb ass came out here unreasonably excited to see, like, fungus and moss and shit, so there were a lot of ways that could’ve gone.”

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He’s pretty cool about indulging my whims. Even when those whims mean crawling around in dirt and leaves to get pictures of extremely tiny things.

Or when they mean me dragging him through the art supply store and spending twenty minutes deliberating between cotton and linen canvas, which I did on the way home.

Next weekend, I might take him hunting for cryptids. We’ll see.

 

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Squill Folklore and Magical Uses

Every time I find a new plant buddy, I end up spending a few hours reading up on what they’re used for — even things like mushrooms, lichen, and moss. When I spotted these pretty little blue flowers, I was immediately curious. I’d never seen them before, and their color was so vibrant against the brown dirt and handful green leaves poking out of the chilly ground. They were so small, I almost missed them.

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Scilla siberica, wood squill.

I wasn’t able to find much about wood squill specifically, other than that it’s native to Southwestern Russia (despite its other name, Siberian squill).

When most herb lore and magical texts talk about squill, they’re really talking about red (Drimia maritima) or white squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana). All of these are in the same subfamily, Scilloideae, but aren’t otherwise really synonymous.

The word “scilla” comes from the ancient Greek “skilla,” which is of unknown meaning. (A Modern Herbal claims that it means “to excite or disturb,” the way that an emetic disturbs the stomach, but I haven’t been able to verify this.)

For some people, only the actual plant that a spell calls for will do. For others, it’s okay to use a relative, if they’re close enough. This can be especially useful if the plant you want to work with is poisonous, endangered, not native to your area, or otherwise not a super great idea.

Squill Magical Properties and Folklore

Squill root is a money herb.

In hoodoo, placing squill in a container with one coin of each denomination, is used to draw in cash. (Some practitioners say it’s particularly effective if you can get a hold of old silver currency for this spell, like Mercury dimes. Others say that silver objects, like chains or beads, are even more effective than non-silver money.)

Holding squill root in your hands, focusing your intention to be unhexed, charging it, and carrying it with you is said to break all hexes and curses.

Using Squill

Red squill is used as a rodenticide, owing to a toxin called scilliroside. In creatures without a vomiting reflex, scilliroside is deadly.

White squill, on the other hand, has historically been used as a diuretic and expectorant. Compounds called glucosamides, found in the bulbs, are sometimes used in traditional medicine to treat irregular heartbeats. Wood squill also contains cardiac glycosides. This is not intended as medical advice, just an indicator of what kind of practical, medicinal applications it’s used for. As with any herb, medicinal properties can quickly become poisonous properties, so keep them away from children and pets.

 

Considering its medicinal properties and its appearance, it’s kind of easy to understand why it’s a money herb. It’s got that lovely plump bulb full of stored energy — fat like an onion, or the way you’d want your bank account to be. Its use as an emetic and diuretic make sense here, too. Squill has the power to eject all kinds of substances from the body. You put it in a stomach, the stomach’s contents are coming out in abundance.  Metaphysically, it stands to reason that it would be placed in a container with money in the hopes that it’d spew more money into your life.

The emetic and diuretic virtues also go hand-in-hand with hex breaking. If your body needs to purge a physical ill, squill helps. If you need to purge a magical ill, squill helps that, too.

White squill seems to be abundant and easy to find on the market, but there are areas where other varieties of squill (like the wood squill pictured above, or alpine squill) have become invasive. If you’re looking to use squill in your work, I’d suggest picking up a good plant identification guide, and seeing if your area has any invasive varieties lurking around. (Various species of squill are used as ornamental plants. If you decide you want to grow some, be sure to do it in a way that will keep it from escaping into its environment.) You can get the magical ingredients you need, develop a deeper relationship with the plants themselves, and remove damaging invasive species from your environment at the same time.

 

 

 

Blog, life, Plants and Herbs

Sunlight and Early Flowers

I’ve been trying to get more sun lately.

I think I probably get enough vitamin D, in the sense that I’m not technically deficient, but months spent indoors have given me the preternatural paleness of a consumptive Victorian heroine. On some people, this look works. My skin has naturally beige/green undertones, so I just look like I’m half iguana.

This past weekend promised to be sunny and warmish, so my S.O. and I packed up and went for a drive. Saturday was Lake Accotink, where we walked along the edge of the water, enjoyed the light for a bit, did some people-watching, then took a detour on the way home for cheeseburgers.

(By the bye, Big Buns Damn Good Burgers lives up to the name. If you get the veggie burger, though, get it as a burger bowl. It’s very good, but very soft and probably too skooshy to hold in a bun without it falling apart.)

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Even though the trees were leafless and the sand was chilly, the sun was warm and the breeze was gentle.

The next day, we decided to drive to the Arboretum. Most of the trees were still leafless, twisted branches scrabbling at the sky, laden with the remains of last year’s bird’s nests. Still, it seems like every time we go, we find something neat that we didn’t spot before — first the dogwood trees, then the path through the conifer specimens. This time, it was this beautiful Prunus mume, branches half-covered in fragrant, pink blooms, humming with honeybees.

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It smelled so good.

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We wandered around until we found a bonsai museum and an herb garden — closed and bare, respectively, but the area was still beautiful enough. We found an arbor to sit under, which had this really cool-looking (albeit one I couldn’t identify) vine braided along one side.

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With the sun slanting through the trees, backlighting the few leaves and flowers daring enough to open up this early, it was nice. Relaxing.

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… Though maybe I should’ve waited for it to warm up a little before I buzzed my hair again. Whoops.

As we drove through the park, I heard my S.O. huff softly.

Degenerates,” he groused.

“What?”

“Look.”

I turned my head and squinted in the light.

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… I mean, he’s not wrong. I do not like the cobra chickens.

There are a lot of spots in the Arboretum that come alive with color in the warmer months. Bright splashes of orange, pink, and purple nestled into tufts and spikes of foliage, rosemallows the size of dinner plates, the works. There weren’t as many this time of year, but still plenty of color if you didn’t mind hunting for it.

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I think these guys are Scilla siberica, wood squill.

… And also looking very strange while laying on your stomach in order to get close enough for a picture.

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And this appears to be a yellow Viola of some kind.

There were some very pretty crocuses, too, but they were a bit too far off the path for a picture (I’m not about to go trampling sensitive terrain for a pic or two, but, unfortunately, my zoom isn’t quite good enough for a clear shot). Next weekend’s probably going to be too cloudy and cold for more adventures like this, but that’s okay. I’ve got some other plans. Secret ones.

This week’s tarot card’ll be up tomorrow. Have a good Monday!

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Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Chamomile Folklore and Magical Uses

I love chamomile.

No, I mean it. I have a devotion to the stuff that borders on fanatical. I am a chamomile evangelist. Spiritual, physical, or mental problem? Chamomile tea will probably at least help. Even if it doesn’t, it might make you take a nap, and those make everything at least a little less crappy. (Unless you’re allergic to it, but I digress.)

Chamomile Magical Properties and Folklore

In Hoodoo, gamblers wash their hands in an infusion of chamomile for luck.

Burning chamomile is said to help bring more money into the household.

The daisy-like flowers with their bright yellow centers are strongly associated with the Sun. Because of this, it’s used to bring positive energy into people and places. Sprinkling a room or washing windows and doorways with an infusion of chamomile chases away negative energy, while inviting in the good stuff.

Chamomile’s relaxant properties make it useful as an herb for dream magic and meditation.

Growing chamomile plants near windows and doors keeps away evil spirits.

Using Chamomile

The easiest way to buy and use the herb is in the form of a teabag — you can steep it in hot or cold water for tea, alcohol for a tincture, oil for an infused oil, or treat the bag itself as a simple herb sachet.

Steeping chamomile in hot bath water, or pouring a fresh cup of tea into bath water, is a fast and easy way to create a spiritual bath for removing negativity.

In medieval times, when strewing floors with fragrant herbs was common, chamomile was a favorite. When crushed, the flowers release a sweet, fruity aroma. With chamomile’s fragrance, coupled with the very solar appearance of the flowers, and its relaxing properties, it’s easy to see where its associations with the Sun and positivity come from.

The fragrance of chamomile might be part of why it’s considered effective against evil spirits. When the miasma theory was still popular, pomanders and pleasant-smelling herbs were credited with keeping disease at bay. It’s not a long jump between foul odors and disease to evil spirits — many of the most powerful negativity-banishing herbs are also the most pungent.

Chamomile is a pretty versatile herb. It keeps bad things at bay, and attracts good. While it’s often used to help gamblers, it can easily be adapted to any situation where you could use a little luck — enchant a tablespoon of chamomile and brew it into a tea before setting out to do anything that could benefit from a helping hand from fate.

Plants and Herbs

Marshmallow Folklore and Magical Uses

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the herbs I talk about here. These allow me to earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting independent artisans, and this site!

I drink so much marshmallow, it borders on the absurd.

It’s not for the flavor, either — marshmallow root doesn’t really have much of one. Let me tell you, though, if you’ve got a stomach ache, bladder pain, or an annoying, dry cough? There’s nothing more soothing than a big cup of swamp root goo. No joke.

I cannot overstate the debt of gratitude I owe to marshmallow.

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(I’d also eat my weight in toasted vanilla Smash Mallows if science would let me, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Marshmallow Magical Properties and Folklore

As its name implies, marshmallow (Althea officinalis) is considered a water herb. It’s often associated with deities of love and beauty, and used in fertility and attraction spells. (Some sources say that the slippery marshmallow extract was even used as a lubricant, so using it in sex and fertility magic isn’t much of a stretch!)

Marshmallow is sometimes burned to cleanse a space, or used to make protective oils.

It’s considered to be a favorite of benevolent spirits. Spirit bottles, used to house helpful spirits, are filled with marshmallow root. Keeping a jar of it and a dish of water on your altar is said to help call helpful spirits to your aid.

Planting marshmallow on or near a grave, or decorating a grave with the flowers, is used to honor the dead.

Using Marshmallow

A big part of why marshmallow root is medicinally valuable is its mucilage content. Marshmallow mucilage is a polysaccharide with a very thick, slippery consistency. When you stand the root overnight in water, you’ll notice that the water becomes more viscous.

Marshmallow expresses its mucilage best as a cold infusion. I usually measure the dose of marshmallow root I need (depending on what I’m trying to do) into a tea strainer, fill a glass jar with clean water, plop the strainer in it, and set it in my fridge overnight.

If need be, you can brew the root the way you would any other tea, it just won’t produce quite as much mucilage. I usually do this if I have a sore throat — the mucilage and the warmth are really soothing.

Marshmallow leaf contains less mucilage than the root. It’s a diuretic and helps with expectoration, and is sometimes used as a topical poultice.

The key words here are “soothing,” “protecting,” and “comforting.” On a physical level, the mucilage in marshmallow root soothes irritated membranes, forms a protective layer, and brings comfort. This is reflected on a metaphysical level, too — as an ingredient in beauty preparations, it’s not surprising to see it used in spells for the same. As something that helps banish pain, it’s natural to use it to banish evil. As an herb that offers comfort, it makes sense to use it to comfort and placate the spirits of the dead.

You can find shredded, ready-to-use marshmallow root from retailers like Mountain Maus Remedies and Grassroots Herb Supply. If you prefer, you can also find it in a finely ground powder form.

 

Even if you don’t regularly perform spiritwork or work with the dead, marshmallow’s a helpful herbal ally to keep around. It makes a soothing tea, and its gentle, comforting nature lends it well to a variety of magical applications. Even though marshmallow is used as a food as well as medicine, consult with an experienced practitioner before use — especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or have any medical conditions.