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.  
Forget-Me-Not: Sweet But With a Dark Side

Forget-me-not is a charming little plant with soft blue flowers that the Victorians regarded as a symbol of fidelity and love. It was given as a token of remembrance, a sweet request to not be forgotten.

I had never grown forget-me-not in my garden until last year when a little plant cropped up between the iris and daisies. With property surrounded by meadows and woods, wild flora and fauna turn up in my garden on a regular basis. I decided to let the little blue-flowered visitor stay. After all, it has been considered a lucky plant.

By early autumn, I began to change my opinion. One of the folk names for forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) is scorpion grass, which is also reflected in its species name. Prior to blooming, the flower stalks are tightly curled resembling a scorpion tail. This should be a warning that it wields a metaphorical sting. Forget-me-not doesn’t ask sweetly to be remembered, it clings like a vengeful lover who refuses to be set aside.

During autumn cleanup, I discovered that forget-me-not had made itself at home in the peripheral gardens. It won’t let go; the tiny seeds attach to anything (garden gloves, pant legs, sweatshirt sleeves) and stick like Velcro. This spring, it has turned up everywhere. It will not let you forget it.

Magically, the ancient Egyptians used forget-me-not to aid in receiving visions during the month of Thoth (approximately September 11 to October 10) by placing a few leaves over their eyes. As mentioned, it was considered a lucky plant and in Germany it was used as a talisman for finding hidden treasure, especially if it was guarded by the fae. Forget-me-not was often used for protection from faery mischief; however, judging by the plant’s behavior, I think it is faery mischief.

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Hollyhocks: Old-fashioned Beauty and Magic

I purchased hollyhocks for my garden this spring. Here in northern New England it’s early spring; the daffodils haven’t bloomed yet. One reason I chose hollyhocks was that they were in the gardens of my parents and grandparents. Those tall spires of large flowers were impressive (and still are) as they reach six to eight feet tall.
     The common hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is also known as althea and rose mallow. The five overlapping petals create a bowl-shaped flower that ranges from white to pink to purplish red. The hollyhocks I bought are a cultivar with dark purples, almost black, flowers. Hollyhock has large, heart-shaped leaves with three to seven lobes. They grow up to eight inches long, but become progressively smaller toward the top of the stalk.
     Hollyhocks were a mainstay in cottage gardens and used to treat a range of ailments including snakebites and scorpion stings. They were also grown for beauty; the medieval commoner’s roses. Hollyhocks were also believed to provide protection from the devil and other perceived evils.
     A seventeenth century recipe listed hollyhock as an ingredient for fairy oil, which when anointed to the eyes made the usually invisible fae visible. An elaborate ritual was used to gather the ingredients, which also included grass from a faery circle. With the proper incantations, the oil was also used to conjure a faery known as Elaby Gathon. Nannies called upon this faery to protect babies as they slept to prevent bad faeries from substituting changelings.
     Hollyhocks in the garden attract abundance, prosperity, and happiness. After moving to a new house, crumble a handful of dried flowers, and then sprinkle them around, inside and out, to help you and your family feel at home. Of course, also look for faeries who may also feel at home in your garden with the hollyhocks.

 

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Parsley: A Garnish That Belongs in a Grimoire

Parsley is more than a dinner plate decoration that has a long history of magic and symbolism. The Greeks used parsley medicinally and sometimes wore crowns of it at banquets and festivals. However, it was not used as a culinary herb because it was regarded as sacred to the dead. Associated with Persephone and the underworld, the leafy stalks were used to adorn graves. The Romans had a different take on it. According to legend, Hercules adorned himself with the plant, making it a symbol of strength and vigor.

During the summer solstice in parts of Eastern Europe, parsley was given to cows to prevent witches from casting spells on them, which would effect milk production. In the Pyrenees of France and Spain, parsley boiled in water was given to a person who may have been bewitched.

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Thistles: Protective Magic and More

Thistles have prickly stems, leaves with spines, and pointed bracts (modified leaves) around the flowers, which turn into tufts of white hair known as thistledown. During medieval times, blessed thistle was believed to counteract poisons, heal bites from mad dogs, and even ward off the plague. Often used as animal fodder, young stems and leaves (shorn of their spines) have eaten by people and not just in times of famine. Thistledown was used to stuff pillows and mattresses.
     Thistles were scattered in grain fields to drive away demons and the seeds were burned to cure illness caused by evil spirits. In addition to warding off evil, a thistle flower carried in the pocket was said to avert melancholy. Thistles were planted in gardens to prevent thieves from entering a house.
     A potion of made with thistle seed and St. John’s wort was given to women on trial for witchcraft to make them tell the truth. It was also believed that witches used thistle with the spit of toads to become invisible. In Essex, England, warlocks reputedly used the tall stems as walking sticks. Elsewhere, wizards were said to use them as wands.
     In Ireland, thistles were regarded as faery plants. After casting a travel spell, they were said to ride home to faeryland on thistledown. Pixies reputedly use thistle spines of spear thistle as swords.
     The Scottish thistle (Onopordum acanthium) grows about five feet tall and has flat, spiny wings along the stems, silvery-green leaves, and dark pink to violet flowers. Reaching up to six feet tall, the spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) has purplish-pink to purple flowers and lance-shaped leaves that that narrow to long, sharp spines. Growing about two feet tall, the blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) has red stems and reddish bracts surround the yellow flowers.
     Magically, if you find a thistle flower that is going to seed, hold some of the thistledown in your hand, make a wish, and then blow it to the wind. Use the spines in protection spells or to break a hex. Thistles also aid in working with spirit guides, dealing with challenges, and releasing anything unwanted from your life.

 

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Pine: Scent & Magic of the Season

No matter the time of year, the scent of pine is evocative of winter holidays and stirs up fond memories. Unfortunately, stress is often a part of the season; however, the revitalizing scent of pine aids in dealing with nervous tension and exhaustion. Diffuse a little pine essential oil to perk up from mental fatigue or when you need mental clarity. Fostering a sense of peace and well being, it helps balance emotional ups and downs. To help relax, diffuse two parts lavender with one part pine.

The pine tree was venerated since the time of the Assyrians and Egyptians. The Greeks associated it with Pan and other woodland gods and because it was extensively used for shipbuilding, it was also dedicated to Poseidon. To the Romans the tree represented the power of male virility and the pine cone was a symbol of fertility.

Throughout Europe and the British Isles, elves, faeries, and pixies were said to live in or gather around pine trees. Germanic peoples revered the tree and believed that it was home to spirits. Pine was commonly used as a Yule log and branches were hung in homes to celebrate the winter solstice and to keep evil spirits at bay.

While there is often confusion about the difference between pine and fir trees, there are two simple ways to distinguish them. Pine needles grow in clusters of two or more; fir needles are attached to branches individually. Pine cones hang from the branches and point downward; fir cones sit upright on the branches.

Magically, pine is well known for purification, which works for releasing negative energy and is especially effective in public spaces. This same quality makes it an ally in defensive magic. Use pine for blessings and to attract abundance. The scent helps to steady and focus the mind for psychic work as well as communication with spirits.

 

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Feverfew: Herb of Athena

The species name of feverfew, parthenium, is sometimes attributed to a legend that this herb was used to treat a worker who fell from the Parthenon in Athens during construction. However, the complete botanical name translates as immortal virgin (Latin tanacetum, “immortal” and Greek parthenium “virgin”) and links feverfew to the goddess Athena in her epithet Athena Parthenos.

Feverfew is an erect, branching plant with daisy-like flowers that grow in flat clusters at the top of the plant. The flowers have large yellow centers and short white petals. The yellow-green leaves are lobed with rounded segments; the lower leaves more deeply divided. The plant is strongly aromatic. Some of its folk names are bachelor’s buttons, fetherfoil, featherfew, midsummer daisy, and wild chamomile.

The Anglo-Saxons used it in a charm against attack from a spear-wielding she-elf. Worn as an amulet against the plague in medieval times, the odor was believed to also ward off evil spirits. As its common name suggests, it was used to treat fever and just placing it on a sickbed was regarded as a cure. Gypsies were said to have used it in place of chamomile. To calm an unruly horse, it was gently rubbed on its nose.

Regarded as a powerful healer for thousands of years, feverfew aids in sending healing energy to someone in need. Also helpful in recovering from heartbreak, place a few dried flowers in a small pouch to use as an amulet for your emotions. Include it in protection spells and in defense against jinxes. Of course, feverfew is the perfect herb to use to honor Athena.

 

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Try A Little Fuzzy Witchery

If you have old-fashioned roses such as the dog rose or sweetbriar, you may encounter something curious that looks like a colorful koosh ball attached to a stem.

That fuzzy ball is called a rose gall and it starts in the spring when a little gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae) lays eggs on a leaf bud. The rose bush reacts by producing a gall, an abnormal growth to protect itself, which ultimately becomes an incubator for a new generation of wasps that will emerge the following spring. The wasp’s clever way of using the rose doesn’t harm the overall health of the plant, but the general advice is to remove galls in the autumn.

Of course, people have noticed rose galls for centuries. An old name for them, bedeguar, comes from French, which was derived from the Persian bādāwar meaning “wind brought.” The sudden appearance of these fluffy balls may have made them seem like they were blown in on the breeze.

They were also called briar balls, Robin redbreast’s cushions, and Robin’s pillows. While the first name with Robin refers to the bird, the second makes reference to the British woodland spirit known as Robin Goodfellow. Another name for the briar ball is fairy pincushions.

During the Middle Ages, apothecary shops sold dried rose galls in powdered form for use as an herbal remedy that covered a range of ailments. For magical healing they were worn around the neck as amulets, carried in the pocket, hung in the home, or placed under the bed pillows. In Yorkshire England, schoolboys used them as charms to ward off getting caned by their teachers.

For your own magical use of a briar ball, place it on an outdoor altar or a special place in your garden to aid in connecting with the faery realm. Use a dried, crumbled gall to enhance wind magic or toss it to the wind to help release something you no longer need in your life. Like the rose itself, the briar ball is associated with secrets. Hold one as you think of a confidence you may be keeping, and then bury it in the ground.

 

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