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HEARTH WITCHERY

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.

In bygone ages most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature. Such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore. This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch.

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Hop Harvesting Traditions

In Kent and Herefordshire, Shropshire and parts of Worcestershire, hops were a vital crop and picking was done by seasonal workers, generally people who worked in other industries during the rest of the year and made a kind of family holiday of it. Though the work was extremely hard, many remembered the experience fondly.  As with other harvests, there were peculiar customs related to hop picking, such as ‘cribbing’ when male strangers were seized by the women and thrown into the cribs, the wooden frames which contained the picked hops.  In order to be released he would have to kiss all the women present. Unmarried female pickers were also cribbed at the end of the season. A King and Queen of the pickers were chosen, with the man wearing women’s clothing and the woman male clothing. They were led in procession by the head pole-puller, gaily bedecked with ribbons and sprays of hops, in front of the last load.  In 1956 the Worcester Journal reported:

“On some farms, the last day of picking had its age-old ceremony of hoisting the last and best pole of hops, saved specially for the occasion. The pullers’ caps and hats were decorated with rosettes, dahlias, asters and sprays of hops. Then a procession was formed, making its way to the farmhouse, headed by the busheller beading his metal measure to a drum, and followed by the pole-pullers, sack-holders and the pickers. At the farmhouse a feast was prepared and the farmer and his wife were toasted.”

Unfortunately the growing of hops in the UK has declined as a consequence of cheaper imports and the cost of harvesting, and the traditional customs have passed away into history. However there are still several festivals that celebrate the hop harvest. On the first Saturday of September at Canterbury Cathedral there is a procession around and into the Cathedral led by the Hop Queen in a hop bower, followed by country dancers and morris men with two hooden horses.

Beer Recipe

2 pints of hops

1 lb. sugar

Yeast

1 lb. malt

2 gallons water

Activate the yeast. Put the hops in a large pan and cover with water. Boil for 15 minutes, then strain the liquid into a brewing bin. Add the sugar and malt and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the water, when cooled to 20o C add the yeast, cover and stand for 5 days. Bottle in screw topped bottles and leave for 7 days before drinking.

Fuchsia Jam

Yes, you heard me right – fuchsia jam! Many of us grow fuchsias in our gardens, but did you know that from the flowers to the berries, every part of the fuchsia is edible? You can add the flowers to salads or use them to decorate cakes, but the berries are a revelation and full of vitamin C. However, some varieties have better tasting berries than others with flavours from sweet or peppery, to downright disappointing. One variety is even sometimes marketed as the ‘edible fuchsia’, Fuchsia splendens, through all varieties are non-toxic and can be eaten.

Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about fuchsias, a genus of about 105 species of flowering shrubs and trees with many varieties and hybrids. They are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America to New Zealand and Tahiti and are named after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566).

They were brought to Britain in the eighteenth century where they soon became popular in gardens and greenhouses. Most fuchsias are not frost hardy and here they have to be grown under glass or in pots that can be taken into the greenhouse in the winter, though the Fuchsia magellanica is hardy outdoors and is naturalised in several places. You can even see it in hedgerows in some locations.  

As usual with imported plants, Europeans soon sought to connect it with Christian lore, claiming that the fuchsia sprang from the blood of Christ dripping to the foot of the cross, and its pendant flowers dangle because it hangs its head from sorrow.  In both Britain and Ireland its folk names include Lady’s Eardrops/Earrings and God’s Teardrops.

A favourite pastime of children used to be making a lady or flower fairy from fuchsia flowers by trimming the petals and stamens to make a skirt and legs, sometimes with a twig for the arms. They would also suck the sweet nectar from the flowers. However, in both Britain and Ireland it was considered unlucky to bring the flowers into the house.

The fuchsia is also used in traditional medicine. In Transylvania, the fresh leaves are applied to wounds and skin inflammations,[1] while in South America the flowers are used on bites, scratches and grazes and the berry juice to relieve itching and redness of the skin, inflamed blisters and sunburn. [2] In Māori traditional medicine, the tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata) is used as a vapour bath after childbirth.  Research has shown that fuchsias are high in anthocyanins which are strong antioxidants.

You’ve been patient long enough – here’s the jam recipe:

Fuchsia Berry Jam

680 gram ripe fuchsia berries

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely (for the pectin)

450 gram sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Over a low heat, melt the sugar in the water and lemon juice. Add the berries and apple, bring to the boil and maintain a rolling boil until you reach the setting point.  Pour into warmed, sterilised glass jars and seal.

© Anna Franklin, September 2020


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7070992/

[2] https://academicjournals.org/journal/AJB/article-full-text-pdf/2AAF79325190

September Abundance

As we slip gently into autumn, we look to finish off the business of summer and prepare for winter, knowing that from the equinox, the darkness and cold will grow. Even at the beginning of September there is a nip in the morning air, and the luscious blooms of summer are starting to go to seed.

This is the time of abundance for me, with a profusion of fresh garden produce and foraged food available.  I’m harvesting main crop potatoes, carrots, swedes, turnips and beetroot, as well as cauliflowers, broccoli, beans, the last of the fresh salads, tomatoes, bell peppers, apples and pears. This is one of my favourite months for foraging too, and the hedgerows are bountiful with hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts, berries such as rosehips, elderberries, blackberries, rowan and hawthorn berries, and mushrooms spring up in the woods and meadows.  There are still fresh herbs around too, and I preserve them by drying them by hanging them in bunches in a well ventilated space, or by freezing them in water in ice cube trays (one can then be dropped into a soup or a stew). This is a very busy month when the harvest must be gathered in before the first frosts, and food must be prepared, stored and preserved for the dead time of winter to come, with freezing, drying, canning, jam and chutney making, brewing wines and beers, apple and pear brandy and making my yearly batch of cider vinegar.

Naturally, I also use September’s bounty for making herb simples like blackberry vinegar and elderberry glycerite.

Blackberry Vinegar

2 lb. blackberries

2 pt. malt vinegar

Place the washed blackberries in a bowl and break them up slightly with a wooden spoon. Pour on the malt vinegar. Cover with a cloth and stand for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally. Boil for 10 minutes, cool, strain and bottle the resulting liquid. This is very good for coughs. Quantities can easily be increased, allowing 1 lb. blackberries to 1 pt. fruit.

The same method can be used to make elderberry vinegar. Many people find this very good food colds – drink a tablespoon of blackberry or elderberry vinegar in hot water with a little honey.

Elderberry Glycerite

Ripe elderberries

Vegetable glycerine (food grade)

Strip the berries from the stem, using a fork. To make a glycerite put the berries into a clean jar and pour on slightly warmed glycerine until they are completely covered. Seal and keep in a warm place for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through muslin and store in a dark bottle in a cool place for up to 2 years. Take a spoonful four times a day for colds and flu.

September, the Month of Completion

September is a gleaming month of ripeness when the ripe red apples are ready for picking, branches bending under the weight of their fruit. We collect blackberries and elderberries in the hedgerows, hands sticky with purple juice.  The grapes are ripening on the vine. Mushrooms sprout and fruit under the harvest moon. It’s a busy month of picking and nutting, preserving and storing, cider making and beer brewing.  For the Anglo-Saxons this was Haefest monath (Harvest month), in Gaelic An Sultuine, the month of plenty [1] in Welsh Medi, the month of reaping. [2]

In the modern calendar, September is usually considered to be the first month of autumn, a word that comes from the Latin autumnus, which signified the passing of the year. In Germanic countries, the season was usually referred to by the term ‘harvest’ (Dutch herfst, German Herbst). In America, it is often called ‘fall’, probably referring to the falling of the leaves at this time of year or a contraction of the Middle English expression ‘fall of the year’.  [3] The message is clear – the agricultural work of the year, and the harvest, is almost completed, the days are getting shorter, and the weather is getting colder. The year is in decline.

In modern times, at the beginning of September, the last of the grain is usually cut, though of course, this depends on the weather and latitude. The invention of farm machinery means that the harvest is often gathered in before the end of August, but in earlier times it extended into mid-September in England, and even later in Scotland and northern areas. The Harvest Home festival was one of thankfulness and relief if the harvest had been good, and great joy in all that had been accomplished, as well as one looking forward to a period of rest and release. It was a time to celebrate with festivities and feasts, and was marked with rituals and customs to ensure that the stored harvest would be safe and that life would return to the fields in the spring.

The last sheaf to be cut obviously marked the successful completion of the work and so it was treated special attention. The corn spirit was considered ‘beheaded’ when the last sheaf was cut. The sheaf, accompanied by its cutter and all the reapers, was usually taken to the farmer’s house and made into a figure or doll. These corn dollies were then kept until the following year when they were ploughed into the earth on Plough Monday (January), which marked the new start of the agricultural year. In Wales, the seed from it was mixed with the seed at planting time ‘in order to teach it to grow’.

After the harvest came the Harvest Supper. On a small farm, the feast would have been held in the kitchen or on larger farms in the specially decorated barn. It was viewed as a right by the workers and could be a costly business for the host. In Sussex caraway seed cake was traditional and was served to the workers throughout the harvesting because it was believed that the seed provided strength for them and also increased their loyalty to their employer. After the meal, there was usually dancing to the music of the fiddle, with a plentiful supply of beer and tobacco. Songs were sung and the farmer was toasted.

 The Church disapproved of the overtly Pagan and raucous nature of the harvest celebrations. Many churches have harvest thanksgiving celebrations now, but these mostly date from Victorian times. In 1843 the Reverend R. S. Hawker decided to have a special service in his Morwenstow (Cornwall) parish. The idea spread and it became the custom to decorate churches with fruit, vegetables and flowers brought in from gardens (which are later distributed to the poor or used to raise funds) and to sing special hymns written for the occasion, such as ‘We plough the fields and scatter‘.

In the northern hemisphere, the month of September contains the autumn equinox. Afterwards the hours of darkness progressively become greater than the hours of light, with dawn getting later and sunset getting earlier each day – a process that will continue until the winter solstice. The Sun is in decline on its southward course.

© Anna Franklin 2020

Photo © Paul Mason

[1] Charles Kightly, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

[2] Nilsson, Martin P, Primitive Time-Reckoning, Oxford University Press 1920

[3] https://www.etymonline.com/word/harvest, accessed 9.8.19

QUINCE (and quince jelly)

I’ve been given some quinces (Cydonia oblonga). Once very popular, quinces have fallen out of favour and few people grow them, perhaps because the fruits, which look like small, irregular golden apples, are virtually inedible when raw – however, they are deliciously sweet and fragrant when cooked, and well worth the effort.

Native to Southwest Asia, Turkey and Iran, the quince tree spread to Greece and later to Europe and America. It is found in the lore of ancient Greece, Roman cookery, mediaeval English recipes and is still popular in Spain, France, and Portugal.

Quince was also used in medicine, with the fruits made into syrup and taken for diarrhoea, or the mucilaginous seeds taken internally treat diarrhoea and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

In ancient Greece the quince was sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love. The Greeks associated the fruit with fertility, and included it in wedding feasts. It’s possible that when ‘golden apples’ are referred to in Greek mythology, it is actually the quince which is meant.   Remember the ‘golden apple’ inscribed with ‘for the fairest’ that Eris, goddess of discord, rolled into a gathering of the Gods that led to a dispute between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, who all tried to claim it?  The mortal man Paris was chosen to judge the contest and the three goddesses all tried to gain his favour, but Aphrodite promised him Helen of Sparta for his wife, thus winning the apple and leading to the events which sparked the Trojan War.

JAPANESE QUINCE

And then there is the Japanese quince, also called ‘the flowering quince’ (Chaenomeles spp.), which I do grow, and which is commonly found in gardens as an ornamental bush covered in red blossoms that emerge before the leaves and last into May. This is related to the tree quince (Cydonia oblonga) and produces similar looking yellow fruits. Did you know these are also edible? Most people don’t. They make the most delicious jelly, just like the tree quince. Furthermore, they also have herbal uses as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent and digestive.

QUINCE JELLY

Quinces (either true quince or Japanese quince)

Water

Sugar

Take the stalks from the quinces and chop them up roughly. Put them, pips skins and all, into a large pan. Just cover them with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until they break down into pulp. This may take up to around 45 minutes.  Add more water if necessary.

Next you need to strain this – it is just the juice you want to make your jelly. You can suspend a jelly bag from a hook or beneath a chair and put the pulp in, and allow the liquid to strain into a large jug or bowl.  This will take quite a while (you can leave it overnight) but do not squeeze the bag as this will force through fibres that will cloud the jelly.

When you have your juice, measure it into a large pan. For every pint (20 fl. oz.) of juice, add 1 lb. of sugar.  Bring to the boil and continue boiling until the setting point is reached (see my previous post on plum jam).

Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to stand for a few minutes removing any scum that has formed on the surface. Pour the jelly into warmed, sterilised jars.  Cover the surface of the jelly with a waxed disc and put on a lid or cellophane cover, held in place with an elastic band.

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

CAN PAGANISM SAVE THE WORLD?

I sometimes wonder, in this time of climate crisis, whether the whole world needs to adopt a more Pagan perspective if we are to survive. Paganism is not a man-made religion created by a prophet or guru but one that continually evolves out of a spiritual relationship with the natural world. As well as providing shelter, food, medicine and all that is necessary for life, Mother Earth is the basis of our spiritual existence.  Paganism’s many gods and goddesses represent the diversity of the natural world, indwelling divinity present in all things from a blade of grass to a stream, and from a mountain to a galaxy, and we honour each and every one. When we open our souls to nature, we touch our Gods, but when we turn our backs on it, we feel a sense of alienation, of spiritual and emotional loss, because we are cut off from our divine source, and I think that is where the world finds itself.  As Pagans, when we bring our attention and intent into being aware of our feet meeting the earth as we walk, it becomes a spiritual practice and opens up a deeper reality, the great matrix of Nature connected in a unified, sacred whole. We recognise that the land beneath our feet is not merely dirt, but a fountain of energy that sustains animals, plants and people. When this realisation dawns, all space becomes sacred space, all time becomes sacred time, and all acts become sacred acts. How different that is from the cultural view that sees the world as something to be monetised and exploited.  Humans need a better relationship with their planet, and perhaps the rise of Paganism is the very thing that can bring this about? What do you think?

© Text and image Anna Franklin

Jam Galore!

The jam making season is in full swing. The orchard, garden and hedgerows are providing an abundance of fruits, all ready to be preserved.  To make the best jam you need to pick the fruit when it is only just ripe and in perfect condition. Wash it and remove any stalks and cores. Some fruits have very little pectin, the enzyme responsible for making the jam set.  This is easily remedied by adding a chopped apple or the soaked rind of a lemon to your recipe, both being rich in pectin (I’m making plum jam here, which is very rich in pectin, and sets easily.)

The Basic Method

  1. Place the prepared fruit in a pan, with a tiny amount of water if necessary.
  2. Bring it to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft.
  3. Stir in the sugar until it has dissolved.
  4. The jam should then be heated to a rolling boil – this means it is boiling so hard, it spits.
  5. Continue boiling, stirring only occasionally, until the setting point is reached on a sugar thermometer. To test for set without a sugar thermometer, spoon a little jam onto a cold saucer. Put the saucer in the fridge for a minute, take it out and push the jam with your fingertip. If the jam wrinkles, setting point is reached.
  6. Keep testing till you get to setting point.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to stand for a few minutes.
  8. Remove any scum that has formed on the surface, together with any fruit stones. A knob of butter added at this time will help to eliminate any scum that remains and add a shine to the jam, but this is optional.
  9. Stir once and pour the jam into warmed, sterilised jars (warming is necessary, as cold jars are likely to shatter).
  10. Cover the surface of the jam with a waxed disc and put on the lid firmly. If lids are not available, cellophane covers can be used and held in place with an elastic band.

The only thing that can go wrong is missing the setting point – if you overcook the jam it will go dark and the flavour will be spoiled. If you undercook the jam it will be too runny and may even start to ferment with keeping. Keep testing as it is cooking!

This is my plum jam recipe:

6 lb plums

1 ½ pints water

6 lb sugar

Wash the plums, simmer for around 30 minutes with the water. Add the sugar and boil until setting point is reached. This will yield around 10 lb of jam.

 

© Anna Franklin August 2020

Late August

The lush green growth of early summer is looking frowsy and starting to wear. Tree leaves spotted with brown and nibbled by insects. The wildflowers are going over a little, though I can still find mugwort, lady’s bedstraw, pink clover and rosebay willowherb in the field margins. A few heads of meadowsweet linger on, while yarrow, nipplewort, yellow hawkweed and blue skullcap begin to seed. Deadly nightshade and woody nightshade bloom in the hedgerows and the white trumpet flowers of bindweed rampage throughout the hedges. I can hear the crickets in the grass, rubbing their back legs together to make a chirping sound.

Birds such as jays, jackdaws and finches are swooping down to feast on the gleanings in the harvested fields. The young birds are maturing, and there are pheasant chicks in the woods. The cuckoo is silent now and the young birds, reared by strangers, will leave soon leave for warmer climes. This is the month when birds fall silent as they go into moult and gain their new coats ready for winter. The only sounds to be heard are a few notes from the goldfinch, though the robin recovers first and by the end of the month most birds will be back in song.

This is the time of summer ripeness and I have an abundance of fresh produce from the vegetable garden, including tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, baby carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, cauliflowers, fresh salad, courgettes, beans and peppers. It’s a time of harvesting and weeding, barbecues and picnics, or just sitting back with a cup of tea and watching all my hard work paying off.

We start to move into the sign of Virgo, and for the ancients, the themes of the constellation echoed what was happening in the physical world. Virgo is the largest of the zodiac constellations, visualised as a maiden holding an ear of wheat in one hand and a palm branch in the other.  She represents the harvest goddess presiding over the sky at the time of the grain harvest. Most of the fertility and harvest goddesses of the Mediterranean and Middle East are in some way associated with Virgo including Ishtar (Babylonian), Isis (Egyptian), Ceres (Roman), Demeter and Persephone (Greek) and Erigone (Greek), as well as the Christian Virgin Mary.

Virgo’s brightest star Spica (‘ear of grain’) was associated with the Sumerian goddess Shala, entitled ‘Lady of the Field’. The heliacal rising of Virgo’s third brightest star, Vindemiatrix (‘wine gatherer’) similarly announced the time to pick the grapes. Aratus called it the ‘fruit-plucking herald’. [1]

Virgo is only visible from spring to later summer, and many fertility goddesses have myths associating them with a lover or daughter who dies with the harvest and who returns in spring after the goddess has fetched them from the underworld – the seasonal disappearance and re-appearance of Virgo may have been seen as a heavenly representation of this. For example, in the story of Ishtar and her consort the vegetation god Tammuz, Tammuz died in autumn and was taken to the Underworld. The grieving Ishtar travelled there to secure his release, but she was taken prisoner. During the period of her absence (i.e. while Virgo is absent from the sky) the earth was unfruitful and barren.  When the gods saw this, they secured her release.

 

© Text and Illustration Anna Franklin, 2020

[1] Aratus, Phainomena, (3rd century BCE), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library

Easy Non-emulsified Cream

Most home-made creams can be very greasy and take a long time to be absorbed into the skin. Also, usually when you make a cream it is an emulsified i.e. a mixture of oils and liquids that have to be brought together at the same temperature with an emulsifying agent, such as beeswax or emulsifying wax. Some people find this very tricky.

For the following cream, you don’t need to worry about any of that. Aloe vera gel (available from pharmacies or online) is used as the base of the cream and whisked vigorously. This makes a light, fluffy, non-greasy cream that is easily absorbed into the skin. You can still use your home-made herbal oils and tinctures in it, but it comes without all the heating and fuss of an emulsified cream.

You will need:

70 ml aloe vera gel

30 ml herbal infused oil

5 ml herbal tincture

20 drops essential oil

Depending on what oils and tinctures you choose, you can make this as a healing cream or a beauty cream.

Put the aloe gel in a bowl and gradually whisk in the herbal infused oil, a teaspoon at a time. Whisk in the tincture and essential oil until combined. Spoon into sterilised jars, label and date.

It is that easy!

© Anna Franklin August 2020

MUGWORT AND MAGIC

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is starting to flower in the hedgerows, as well growing as opportunistically all over my herb garden, so I’ll be able to gather plenty.

I was introduced to mugwort by my first Craft teacher many years ago, and after that, I noticed it grew everywhere in the hedgerows. Julia called it ‘the witch herb’ and told me it was sacred to the goddess of the moon, so we should use it in rituals dedicated to her, and because she is the protectress of women, for ‘female complaints’. We added it to incense we used when seeking visions or working on exercises of astral projection, Julia told me to put a leaf beneath my pillow when I was seeking clarity of some issue, and I would dream the answer and she further advised that I should put a sprig in my shoe to prevent tiredness on long journeys and hang some up to protect my house from lightening.  This was the old cunning woman knowledge of the herb.

Though generally thought of as a fast spreading tall weed by most people in Britain and America today, the plant has been known and valued from China to the Americas, mentioned in Chinese poems as far back as 3 BCE, by the ancient Greek physician Galen as a remedy for amenorrhea (absent menstruation), and used by Roman soldiers in a salve to keep their feet from getting tired.   It has been used as a food, a medicine, a spice, for flavouring beer (hence the name ‘mug’ wort), as an insect repellent, a yellow dye, as an incense, for moxibustion and of course, in magic.  Once you identify mugwort, you’ll wonder why you never came across it before.

It was certainly an important plant in the British magical tradition, known as the Mother of All Herbs, and called ‘the oldest of plants…mighty against evil’ in the tenth century Anglo Saxon Lacnunga or Nine Herbs Prayer.[1] In the Middle Ages in Europe, it was considered a protective herb particularly utilised on St John’s Eve and St John’s Day, (i.e. Midsummer, the approximation of the summer solstice) when fairies and spirits of bane were thought to be especially active.  Mugwort gathered on St. John’s Eve was said to give protection against diseases and misfortunes of all kinds, and to save them from evil spirits, people wore garlands of mugwort on St John’s Day. The herb was even called cingulum Sancti Johannis (‘the girdle of St John’) or ‘St. John’s plant’, from a myth that St John wore a girdle of it while in the wilderness.

In Japan too, in Japan, there is an ancient custom of hanging mugwort and iris leaves together outside homes in order to keep evil spirits away. It is said that evil spirits dislike their smell.

Burning the herb to release both its fragrance and its virtues is an interesting facet of its properties. The herb is quite complex with over 75 unique chemicals that have been identified. It contains volatile oils, giving it a strong bitter aroma with mint undertones. I learned to use it in incense when I was a teenager, without knowing that in Korean, Japanese and Chinese medicine mugwort (Artemisia argyi) is used for moxibustion, burned to release its heat and scent in combination with acupuncture, either attached to acupuncture needles or rolled into bundles and lit to use in a similar manner to a smudge stick.  Studies have shown this to be effective for joint pain and arthritis.

MUGWORT INCENSE BUNDLE

  • Mugwort stems and leaves, fresh
  • Cotton string (it is important you do not use synthetic materials)

Gather your herbs and loosely bunch them. Begin wrapping fairly loosely (this allow drying and also burns better when you come to use your bundle) with the string.  Tie it off and trim any loose edges. Hang up to dry out for around 8 weeks.

CAUTION: Mugwort may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are allergic to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family.

 

© Anna Franklin, August 2020

[1] Lacnunga British Library MS. Harley 585, online at http://www.wyrtig.com/GardenFolklore/NineHerbsPrayer.htm, accessed 29.11.19