Plant Magic: Wisdom from the Green World

Whether you live in a city or the countryside, the magic of plants can be found everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Be open and explore the magic that surrounds you.

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Sandra Kynes

Sandra Kynes

The author of over a dozen books, Sandra is an explorer of history, myth, and magic. Her writing has been featured in SageWoman, The Magical Times, The Portal, and Circle magazines, Utne Reader and Magical Buffet websites, and various Llewellyn almanacs. Although she is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, she travels a solitary Goddess-centered path through the Druidic woods. She has lived in New York City, Europe, England, and now Maine where she lives in an 1850s farmhouse surrounded by meadows and woods.  

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Spice is Nice but Magic is Better

Whether carved for Samhain or made into a pie for Thanksgiving, this is the season of that American icon, the pumpkin. Here in Maine, the town of Damariscotta has an annual pumpkin festival where all things pumpkin is celebrated. However, it’s not enough to just grow and display a giant pumpkin. You have to carve it out, put an outboard motor on it, and join the giant pumpkin boat race on the river. Yes, really.

The pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) is a variety of the plant that also produces yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, acorn squash, and others. The plant is a creeping vine with winding tendrils and coarse, prickly stems. The rounded leaves are lobed and have serrated edges. Large, bright-yellow or orange, trumpet-shaped flowers precede the fruit (by definition it’s a fruit), which can be a range of colors, sizes, and shapes.

Originating in Mexico and Central America thousands of years ago, the pumpkin was a source of food and medicine for indigenous people throughout the region. The Aztec and Inca cultivated them. By the time Europeans arrived in the New World, the Cherokee of the Southeast, Ojibwas along the Great Lakes, and the Pueblo people of the Southwest and many others were growing them. European settlers adopted the pumpkin along with other indigenous crops and transported it to Europe in the sixteenth century. By the time the Pilgrims set foot in Plymouth, they were already familiar with pumpkins. English settlers in New England removed the seeds, filled them with honey, milk, and spices, and then baked them. Colonists also made soup and beer from pumpkins.

Originating as a carved turnip in Ireland, the jack-o-lantern became more impressive with a pumpkin. Hollowed out and lit from within by a candle, jack-o-lanterns were placed in windows during the dark of the year to keep wandering spirits at bay. In Central Europe, eating pumpkin was believed to increase male virility. Dreaming about pumpkins has a number of interpretations. In Europe it was interpreted as a bad omen or that witchcraft was being used against you. In the Middle East, it was an indication of good health.

Overall, the pumpkin has come to symbolize abundance and as such, it can aid in drawing it into your home. Place three small pumpkins on a kitchen windowsill or table during the autumn season. As you do this say three times, “May wealth, health, and love abound; in this house and all around.”

Like reading tea leaves, a handful of pumpkin seeds can be used for divination. First, hold them between your hands as you visualize your question or whatever you seek guidance for. Toss them into the air, and then look for patterns or symbols that they may form on the floor. Make a circle with seeds on your altar for an esbat ritual or when working with moon magic to draw the power of Luna. When blowing out the candle inside a pumpkin, place an index finger in front of your mouth as you blow, and make a wish.

Of course, you can always enjoy a pumpkin spice latte before, after, or maybe even as part of your magic work.


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Rosehips – For Tea and For Magic

Now that autumn is almost here, many types of rose bushes are producing fruit known as rosehips and rose haws. The dog rose or wild briar (Rosa canina) and the sweet briar rose (Rosa rubiginosa syn. R. eglanteria) produce some of the best rosehips. These roses have simple flowers with five petals. The flowers of the dog rose are white to pale pink; the sweet briar flowers are pink with white centers. Sweet briar’s leaves have an apple-like scent. Both plants are thicket-forming shrubs with arching stems studded with thorns.
        If you want rosehips to develop, the flowers must stay on the bush after they fade. Wait for cool weather before collecting rosehips. At the time of harvest, hips should be firm but have a little give. Sing or chant as you gather the rosehips, to put magical energy into them. They can be used for magical practices as well as a healing tea.
         Faeries are said to enjoy cavorting in dog rose thickets; the rosehip from a dog rose is also known as a pixy pear. In Scandinavia and Germany, roses were believed to be under the protection of elves and dwarves. During the Middle Ages in parts of Europe, a dried rosehip was carried as a charm against certain diseases as well as for protection against enchantment and sorcery. The rose was known as Frigg’s thorn to Germanic people.
        For drying rosehips, you will need a heavy-duty needle and thick thread to string the rosehips together into a circlet. Hang it in a cool, dry place until the rosehips are hard. Make a circlet large enough so when you lay it on your altar you can place things within the circle. Rosehips are especially supportive for clairvoyance. Consider making a smaller circlet to wear as a bracelet for divination, or psychic work. It can also be hung on your bedpost to enhance dream work. Use dried and crumbled rosehips to break hexes and in spells to banish unwanted things from your life. Carry a whole, dried rosehip to attract luck or provide protection.
        Rosehips are full of vitamin C and make a wonderful healing tea to have on hand for the winter. Gathering and preparing your own rosehips gives you the opportunity to infuse them with magical, healing energy. Give them a thorough rinse with cool water, let them dry, and then cut off the ends. If you are drying a circlet of rosehips, don’t cut off the ends.
        For use as tea or magical powder, cut the larger rosehips in half so they will dry faster. Lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them on low heat in the oven with the door ajar. They will be hard and brittle when dry. Use a food processor to chop them into small pieces. Place the pieces in a sieve and gently shake them. This gets rid of the little hairs that grow on the rosehips. Store them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid out of direct light.
        When you’re ready for tea, put one to two teaspoons of rose hips in a mug and pour in a cup of boiling water. Cover and let it steep for about fifteen minutes, and then strain. Rosehip tea is a little tart, so you may want to add a spoonful of honey. While it can help ease a cold, a cup of steaming rosehip tea brings cozy comfort on chilly nights.

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Don’t Blame the Magical Ragwort

At this time of year when wildflowers are keeping the meadows colorful and we want to spend as much time as possible outside… allergy season comes creeping in. The biggest culprit is ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), but unfortunately ragwort (Senecio jacobaea syn. Jacobaea vulgaris) blooms at the same time and is blamed for hay fever. Having a similar name doesn’t help, either.
        Ragwort leaves have deep lobes with uneven edges and an unpleasant odor when crushed. So, the plant’s not perfect and that’s why it has a folk name of stinking Willie. The flower stem is red at the base and branches at the top with a spray of flowers. The yellow, daisy-like flowers grow in clusters. The seeds have downy, white hairs that carry them on the wind.
        This plant is also known as fairy horse and in Ireland it is dedicated to the faeries. With a magic word, the fae were said to turn ragwort into golden horses so they could gallop to their midnight revels. Samhain was a favorite time to ride. In the Hebrides of Scotland, ragwort was considered sacred to the fae who used it to ride between the islands.
        According to other legends, ragwort and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) are daytime disguises for faery horses. Stepping on one of these plants after sunset reputedly causes the horse to rear up and gallop off with the unsuspecting human on its back. At dawn they would be left far from home with a sprig of ragwort in their hands. Faeries were believed to take shelter from the rain under ragwort, especially on stormy nights.
        As part of a spell to attract wealth and prosperity, place dried flowers in a sachet and keep it with your financial papers. If you can’t find the plant near your house, ragwort flower essence is available to purchase. Counteract any spells sent your way by dabbing a little ragwort flower essence on an amulet. Cut long stems of flowers and position them wherever you need to dispel negativity. When working with the fae, visualize swaying stems of ragwort as golden horses preparing to carry you to faeryland. You can’t do that with ragweed.

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Meadowsweet, Mead, and a Faery Queen

A sovereignty Goddess of the province of Munster, Áine was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a tribe of magical people (also regarded as deities) who arrived in Ireland before the Celts. Áine was and a goddess of love, fertility, light, and summer. Celebrated at Midsummer, June 23rd is sometimes regarded as Áine’s Day.
        Áine is also known as the faery queen of Munster. Her residence was Knockainey, Cnoc Áine in Gaelic meaning “Áine’s Hill” where bonfires were lit at Midsummer and offerings left by the spring/well at the foot of the hill. Knockainey is not far from another site associated with her, the enchanted lake of Lough Gur. Both Knockainey and Lough Gur were believed to hold entrances to the faery realm. According to legend, Áine was traditionally crowned with meadowsweet and reputedly gave the flowers their pleasant, sweet, almond-like fragrance.
        Blooming from June through August, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria syn. Spiraea ulmaria) is also known as bridewort, meadwort, queen of the meadow. Growing up to four feet tall, it has toothed leaves with prominent veins and whitish down on the underside. The tiny, five-petaled flowers are creamy white and grow in loose clusters atop the stems.
        The common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon meodu-swete, “mead sweetener.” Traces of meadowsweet have been found in Neolithic (New Stone Age) drinking cups, attesting to its use in brewing for thousands of years. Its use as a medicinal herb continues today.
       The Anglo-Saxons also used it as a strewing herb to sweeten the air of homes. Queen Elizabeth I reputedly would have no other herb in her chambers. Considered sacred by the Druids, in a legend from the medieval Welsh Mabinogion, meadowsweet was one of the plants used by the wizard Gwydion. In Ireland, it was used to break enchantment by faeries, however, faeries were also noted as dancing amongst the meadowsweet in the fields.
        When used around the home, meadowsweet promotes feelings of harmony and security. Meditate with a cluster of flowers in each palm to bring your energy into alignment or to help you find inspiration. Grow meadowsweet in your garden or sprinkle the powdered herb around your home to delight the fae. In tribute to Áine, prepare a candle with the flower essence and light it in her honor. Sweeten your magic with the queen of the meadow.

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There’s Magic Underfoot in No-Mow May

Often referred to as the magical month of May, there’s a feeling of enchantment as spring transforms the world into a colorful garden. However, in northern New England spring takes its time getting here, but the bees and other pollinators don’t seem to have gotten the memo. When they emerge, there’s little to sustain them and they need all the help they can get.
        In addition to being important for pollinating crops, the honeybee’s long and significant relationship with people dates back to the Neolithic era. The bee was sacred to the Great Goddess and its ability to produce honey echoed her power and role as provider and nurturer. Associated with the power of regeneration, bees represented the quickening life force of nature. Priestesses who served in the temples of Rhea, Cybele, Demeter, and Persephone were called melissae, from the Greek meaning “bee.” Across many cultures, the bee has been a symbol of abundance, community, and fertility.
        To help honeybees and other pollinators get by until the trees blossom and gardens bloom the practice of no-mow May has been catching on. Besides, there’s enough to do around the house and in the yard so waiting until the end of the month to get the lawn mower out buys some time for other chores. Sure, the grass gets a little shaggy but hidden within are small wildflowers that tide the bees over until they can feast. These flowers are also little bundles of magic with a lot of folklore.
        Not so hidden is the dandelion, the bane of anyone who wants a perfect lawn. The dandelion flower looks like the sun and its round seed head like the moon. According to folklore, making a wish and blowing away the fluffy white seeds would make it come true. Seeds floating on the air were called fairies and it was considered lucky to catch one. The dandelion was believed to be powerful enough to ward off witches on Midsummer’s Eve. The dandelion aids in heightening awareness for honing psychic skills.
        The color of violet flowers ranges from dark purple, to bluish, to white. In Germany, it was believed that brushing the first three violets of spring across the eyes provided protection from the evil eye. Because of the sweet violet’s seductively alluring scent, the ancient Greeks and Romans associated it with love. A flower of hope and healing, the violet is instrumental for clearing away negative energy.
        Also known as moon clover, white clover has tiny, white to pale pink flowers in spherical clusters. Although the leaves usually have three leaflets, they can have four or more. In England, wearing a clover leaf in a shoe was part of a love spell. And of course, the four-leaf clover has been regarded as especially lucky. As a magic talisman, it enabled the wearer to see faeries and to enter the faery realm. Clover is a protective plant that can ward off a jinx and break hexes.
        These are but a few of the early wildflowers that aid bees and you can do your part by allowing these plants to grow. So, leave that mower in the shed and dance barefooted across the grass. Let magic bloom in your lawn as you give bees a chance and add a little more color to your life.


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Papyrus: From Spreadsheet to Magic

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), also known as Egyptian reed, was regarded as a gift from the gods for its wide range of construction and domestic purposes. The Nile delta was a perfect place for this aquatic grass-like plant. Its upright, triangular stem can grow fifteen feet tall with a large tuft of flowering thread-like branches at the top resembling a feather duster. Pith from inside the stem was cut into thin slices, pressed together, dried, and voilà! Paper. Papyrus was THE paper for about four thousand years before being replaced by parchment and rag/pulp paper around 1000 CE.
        The pyramids didn’t only involve moving mountains of stones around, they required documents and accounts for tracking all the materials, people, and everything else. The Egyptians were thousands of years ahead of Microsoft with spreadsheets and paper was a phenomenal breakthrough because it was lightweight and portable, unlike clay tablets. Paper was the ancient information superhighway making communication easy for government, business, and everyone. Personal letters and even shopping lists have been found by archaeologists.
        Papyrus made it possible for everyone to have a Book of the Dead slipped into their coffin; previously it was carved or painted on the walls of royal tombs. A sort of guidebook for the deceased, the Book of the Dead contained magic spells and details on what to do upon arrival in the afterlife. It may be the reason papyrus was also known as the grass of guidance.
        Scrolls were written about any and everything, including magic. One of the most famous is the Greek Magical Papyri, a collection of texts on myths, magical spells, and rituals (c. 100 BCE – c. 500 CE) from Greco-Roman Egypt that now resides in the British Museum. Even before magic was written on papyrus, the plant itself was regarded as sacred and magical. Papyrus was important enough to have its own hieroglyph.
        In temple architecture, columns representing bundles of papyrus stalks demarcated sacred space. According to legend, crocodiles would not attack a boat made of papyrus because it was the type of ship Isis sailed in. In addition, a small piece of glazed pottery in the shape of a papyrus stalk was used as an amulet. Known as the papyrus scepter and wadj, it was believed to impart abundance and vitality to the wearer. It was also worn for protection and used as a sign of prosperity. Sometimes made of green felspar, this amulet was placed with a mummy to represent the promise of new life.
        Sheets of papyrus paper are available today and can enhance the energy of magic work. Write spells on it to tuck into your grimoire or include it in ritual. Create your own amulet with small piece of papyrus paper: write a spell or a few keywords on it, role it up, and then tie it with colorful thread to make a scroll. Let your imagination take you to ancient Egypt and let the grass of guidance show you its magical uses.  


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Motherhood, Death, and Magic

Around this time of year, the white lily is THE flower in the Christian world. The Madonna Lily (Lilium candidum) represents the Virgin Mary, and death and resurrection. But the white lily had these associations long before Christianity. In fact, the white lily may be one of the oldest domesticated flowers. Cultivated in Crete as early as 3000 BCE, it was depicted on Minoan vases and in frescos in the palace of Knossos. The flower was also associated with the Cretan moon goddess of nature and hunting, Britomartis, who was later identified with Artemis.
        Throughout Greece, the white lily was also cultivated for medicinal purposes and enjoyed as garden ornamentals. Also known as Juno’s rose, the lily was associated with Juno/Hera in Roman and Greek mythology. Legends vary, according to one the white flowers sprang up where drops of Juno’s milk fell to the ground. Associated with fertility, lilies were worn by Greek and Roman brides. The lily was also cultivated by the Egyptians who dedicated the flower to Isis.
        The white lily was also a funerary flower to the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians because it was a symbol of hope and renewal. While the flower memorialized the dead and help them on their way through the afterlife, on the practical side it helped to mask unpleasant odors.
        Although the symbology was adapted into Church lore, in medieval Europe the white lily was still used medicinally and as a flower of magic. While the dried root was sometimes worn as an amulet and love charm, the lily was also used to counteract love potions. Medieval magicians used it to manifest spirits. In England, lilies were hung over doorways to ward off bewitchment and grown in gardens to keep ghosts away.
        For modern magic, place a white lily on your altar during full moon rituals to call on the beauty and power of Luna. Dry several flowers and use them in a sachet for a love charm. The lily is a flower of renewal especially because it rises from the ground on its own unaccompanied by leaves. Place a vase of lilies on your altar to symbolize a new chapter in your life or to welcome any type of transition.

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