Love Your Weeds – Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Most gardeners see cleavers as a nuisance weed, climbing and winding its way through plants, involving the laborious pulling out of its clinging, ‘sticky’ shoots. However, it can be used for both food and medicine, making it a valued plant in the past, and still used by herbalists today.

Cleavers has various common names, most of them referring to the plant’s clinging habit – catchweed, everlasting friendship, sticky buds, sticky willy, scratch-weed and grip-grass, to name but a few. The Anglo-Saxons called it hedge rife, meaning a tax gatherer or robber, from its habit of plucking wool from passing sheep. In fact, the specific name of the plant, aparine, also refers to this habit, from the Greek aparo, meaning to seize. The reason it clings is because the angles of its stalks and leaves are covered with tiny, hooked bristles which attach themselves to passing objects, and by which it fastens itself to adjacent plants to climb up them into the daylight.

CULINARY USES

The whole plant is edible, making it a useful pot herb in the middle ages. The little hooks on the stems and leaves soften when cooked, and the whole plant is rich in vitamin C. The leaves and stems can be added to soups and stews, and the tender stems can be boiled and served as a vegetable (best topped with butter in my opinion). For culinary purposes cleavers should be picked while still young and before flowering.  

The leaves and stems make a cleansing and refreshing spring tonic tea. Cleavers belong to the coffee plant family and indeed, the seeds can be ground and roasted and used to make a coffee substitute.  

COSMETIC USES

Cleavers are soothing and cooling, which can have great benefits for irritated skin, used as a compress, poultice or a cool infusion directly washed onto the infected area. An infusion can be used a hair rinse for dandruff prone scalps. It also has deodorant properties and dabbing a cleavers infusion (or simply using the crushed leaves) beneath the armpits can counteract acidic perspiration and sooth the skin of the armpits (especially if combined with lovage). Dabbing a cooled infusion of cleavers onto the affected area can soothe the redness and soreness of sunburn.

MEDICINAL

Cleavers are cleansing, cooling and detoxifying. They have commonly been used in salves, washes, poultices and compresses topically to treat skin conditions such as itching, seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis. The crushed leaves can be used as a first aid treatment for stings and bites. The juice of cleavers has long been used to stop bleeding and to treat wounds and ulcers, scalds, burns, sores and blisters.

It a good detoxifying herb eaten or drunk in the spring.  With this herb, many of its useful properties are destroyed by heating, so it is best infused in cold water (see below). It supports the lymphatic system, which carries toxins from the cells to the organs of elimination. It is also a diuretic, so this elimination via the kidneys will increase urination. Its old reputation as a weight loss herb comes from the fact it promotes urination, but remember this will just be water loss, and not fat!

OTHER USES

The generic name galium is believed to come from the Greek word gala which means ‘milk’, a reference to its use in curdling milk for cheese and yoghurt making. The ‘sticky’ stems were also meshed together to use as a sieve in the dairy.

The plant is commonly called goosegrass, as all kinds of poultry – not just geese – love to eat it, as do cattle, sheep and horses.

The root yields a red dye, when mordanted with alum. (Apparently, birds who eat the root have their bones turn red!)

CAUTION

Cleavers is considered a safe herb, not known to interact with any medications or other herbal supplements. However, as with any substance, an allergic reaction is possible in some individuals; cases of contact dermatitis have been documented. As with all herbs, to be on the safe side, do not use in medicinal amounts during pregnancy or breast feeding or for an extended period.

RECIPES:

Cleavers Cold Infusion

Handful of the aerial parts of cleavers, bruised.

1 pint water

Put in a jug or jar. Leave overnight in the fridge. Use within 48 hours.

Dandelion Wine

23rd April (St George’s Day) is the traditional day to make dandelion wine, and indeed, this is the time when the dandelions are in full flower, sunny golden flowers covering the fields and verges. I will be gathering flowers for wine, which should be kept at least two years before it is drunk. 

Dandelion Wine

6 pints flower heads

3 lb. sugar

2 lemons

1 orange

1 lb. raisins

1 cup of black tea

1 gallon water

Yeast and nutrient

Gather the flowers when you are ready to use them fresh. Boil the water and pour over the flowers, stand for 2 days, stirring daily. Boil with the sugar and citrus fruit rinds for 60 minutes. Put it back in the bin and add the citrus fruit juice. Cool to lukewarm, add the tea, yeast and nutrient. Cover the bin and leave in a warm place for 3 days, stirring daily. Strain into a demijohn and add the raisins. Fit an airlock.

Old Fashioned Herbs – Sweet Cicely

My Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is starting to come up, lovely feathery, fern-like leaves that will have an umbel of frothy white flowers soon. The whole plant is aromatic, myrrhis meaning ‘smelling of myrrh’, and odorata meaning ‘fragrant’. Its folk names include British Myrrh or Wild Myrrh, as it is native to the British Isles.

It was used to scent furniture polish in the 16th and 17th centuries.  You can make your own by gently macerated the seeds in beeswax over a low heat before straining. The flowers and leaves can be dried and added potpourri or added to incense to lift the spirits and impart joy and happiness to ceremonies, particularly Beltane and Midsummer.

Every part of the plant is edible. It has an aniseed-like taste, very pronounced in the unripe green seeds, which can be eaten raw or roasted as a snack.

However, the important thing about sweet cicely is that it is sweet! It can be used as a sugar substitute. The natural sweetness of the leaves has been used to reduce sugar in recipes, especially when stewing fruits such as rhubarb or gooseberries, as they also help reduce the acidity.  They are calorie free and well tolerated by diabetics.

The stalks can be used much like celery, while the roots can be boiled or eaten raw. The raw leaves can be added to salads, even fruit salads. They can also be cooked into soups, stews and omelettes.

Medicinally, the plant is added to digestives and aperitifs to aid digestion and relieve flatulence.  Sweet Cicely is famously used by Carthusian monks to make the liqueur, Chartreuse. Try making your own aperitif by steeping the unripe seeds in vodka or brandy for two months before straining.

© Anna Franklin, April 2021

Mistletoe

In Pagan times, the mistletoe was considered a potent magical plant because it did not grow on the earth, but on the branches of a tree in a ‘place between places’. It grows into a ball, imitating the sun, and the leaves are fresh and green all year long, making it a plant of immortality and life surviving in the dead time. The berries ripen in December as though it is not affected by the seasons and the winter cold.

Mistletoe is an evergreen, woody parasite growing on the branches of trees, mainly apple and pear, but occasionally on ash, hawthorn and oak trees. It is native to Europe, North Africa and central and western Asia. It may form a bush of up to 5 ft.

In Cornish, its name is ughelvarr; in Breton uhelvarr; in Welsh, uchelwydd, all meaning ‘high branch’ signifying its growing habit or perhaps even its high status. In Irish, it is uil-ioc, meaning ‘all heal’. In Anglo-Saxon it was mistiltan, from tan meaning ‘twig’ and mistl meaning ‘different’ from its habit of growing on other trees. The missel thrush is said to be so called from feeding on its berries.

Pliny said that the mistletoe was one of the most important magical plants of the Celts and served as a symbol for the winter solstice. He recorded that the druids called mistletoe by a name which meant ‘all healing’. They made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees and brought forth two white bulls whose horns were bound for the first time. Robed in white the druid ascended the tree and cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle (probably gilded bronze in actuality) and it was caught by others in a white cloak. The bulls were then killed, accompanied with prayers.

In Germanic myth, the mistletoe was sacred to Donar, the thunder and lightning god. In German, the plant was called Donnerbesen or ‘thunder broom’. The Christians demonised it as a plant of the witches, calling it hexennest (‘witch nest’) or teufelbesen (‘devil’s broom’).

In Norse mythology the mistletoe was used to slay the sun god Balder. One day, Odin discovered Hel was preparing for Balder’s arrival in the Underworld and the Vala prophesied that he would have a child with Rinda the earth goddess who would be called Vali and would avenge Balder’s death. The gods persuaded everything on earth to swear not to harm Balder, except the mistletoe growing on the oak at the gate of Valhalla as it was thought that such a puny plant could not harm him. The gods amused themselves by casting harmless darts at Balder. Loki, god of fire, was jealous of Balder and made a shaft from the mistletoe and tricked Hodur, the blind and dark brother of Balder, into throwing it and killing him. Odin sent Hermod to ask Hel for Balder’s return and she agreed, on condition that all things should weep. All did, except Thok, a giantess, who may have been Loki in disguise, so Balder had to stay in the Underworld. In due course, Vali was born and on the same day, slew Hodur.

This is obviously a seasonal myth relating to the winter solstice. The sun (Balder) is killed by the darkness (Hodur). Vali’s revenge is the breaking forth of new life after the winter darkness. The tears symbolise the spring thaw, when everything drips with moisture. Thok (‘Coal’) alone refuses to weep as she is buried deep in the earth and does not need the light of the sun. After Balder had been resurrected, owing to the pleadings of the other gods and goddesses, the mistletoe was given into the keeping of Frigga, the goddess of love, and it was ordained that anyone who passed beneath the mistletoe should receive a kiss to show that it had become a symbol of peace and love.

Though other evergreens were included in the decorations of churches, mistletoe was the one omission, being considered a Pagan plant. The exception was at York, where on the eve of Christmas-day mistletoe was carried to the high altar of the cathedral and a general pardon and season of peace was proclaimed.

Because the evergreen mistletoe bears its fruit in winter, it is an emblem of fertility. In Swabia, people bound mistletoe to fruit trees during winter in the hope that it would ensure a good fruit harvest. In Austria people put mistletoe in the bedroom to ensure the conception of a child. In Switzerland, it was included in the bridal bouquets to ensure a good marriage.

The mistletoe formed the ‘kissing bough’ and often still does. There was a tradition that the maid who was not kissed under it, at Christmas, would not be married in that coming year. With each kiss, a berry had to be plucked off with each kiss for luck. This seems to have been a purely English custom, though in Lower Austria a pine wreath was hung from the ceiling, while a masked figure hid in a dark corner. Known as ‘Sylvester’, he had a flaxen beard and a wreath of mistletoe. If a youth or maiden happened to pass under the pine wreath, Sylvester sprang out and imprinted a rough kiss. When midnight came he was driven out as the representative of the old year.

Many traditions associate the mistletoe with the New Year, rather than Christmas. In West Shropshire tradition, the bough was not to be put up until New Year’s Eve. Worcestershire farmers gave their Christmas mistletoe to the first cow to calve in the new year to bring luck to the dairy. At New Year, the first person to enter a house should carry a sprig of mistletoe in one hand and a sprig of evergreen in the other. Until quite recently in some rural areas farmers would burn a globe made of mistletoe and hawthorn or blackthorn in the New Year. The ashes would then be thrown onto the field that was to be ploughed first.

At midwinter the berries are ripe and should be cut. Mistletoe berries are used at the midwinter solstice in rituals to give strength to the weakened sun. Mistletoe is seen as a herb of fertility, and a symbol of rebirth. Hang over the doorway at Yule, tied with red ribbon for harmony and to represent a welcome to all who visit, all year round. Replace at the next Yule, throwing the old piece in the Yule fire to burn away the old and welcome the new.

Though the berries of the mistletoe are toxic, the leaves and stems of the mistletoe have been used in herbal medicine. European mistletoe contains eleven proteins and substances called lectins which are currently being investigated for anti-cancer effects.

Adapted from Yule, History, Lore and Celebration by Anna Franklin, Lear Books, 2010

Homemade Soap

Calendula Soap

With Yule on the horizon, I’ve been turning my attention to making gifts. Homemade gifts show a bit more thought than something from a shop and at the moment, we all need to spread the love a little more. Today I’ve been making pretty soaps.

For this I have been using melt and pour soap bases. These are readily available from craft shops and over the internet, and provide an easy alternative to making soap from scratch. You can add dried herbs and petals, essential oils and perfumes. I do make soap from scratch occasionally, and I love the infinite variety it offers, but it takes several weeks to cure, and it wouldn’t be ready for Yule.

These are what I made today, if you want to have a try, or you can come up with your own options!

I use silicon cake moulds for this, as they release the soap easily, but you can use muffin tins (grease them with a little oil first), old yoghurt pots, shells etc.

CALENDULA & HONEY SOAP

250 gm white soap base

1 ½ tbsp. honey (for a vegan soap just leave this out)

2 tbsp. dried calendula petals

Few drops neroli essential oil (or other oil of your choice)

Put the soap base in a heat proof jug and melt in the microwave on low for a couple of minutes. Stir in the honey, calendula petals and essential oil. Pour into the moulds. Within a few hours they will have set and can be turned out. The honey will nourish and feed your skin, as well as having antibacterial properties. The calendula is skin soothing, and the dried petals act as a gentle exfoliator. The neroli essential oil stimulates skin cell growth and is regenerative, leaving the skin soft and smooth.

 ROSE SOAP

(For this I am using some of the rose infused oil I posted about earlier this year)

250 gm clear base

1 tbsp. rose infused oil

Few drops rose essential oil (optional)

Pink soap colouring

Put the soap base in a heat proof jug and melt in the microwave on low for a couple of minutes. Stir in the colouring, the rose infused oil and the essential oil. Pour into moulds and leave to set for a few hours before turning out. Rose oil is marvellous for the skin, moisturizing and hydrating, and especially good for dry and mature and skin.

© Anna Franklin, November 2020

Samhain v. Halloween

I’m always amused by Christians condemning (and wanting to ban) Halloween as Pagan, when it is, in fact, a Christian holiday. Today we usually call the last day of October ‘Halloween’, a name that comes from the Roman Catholic Church’s Feast of All Saints’ Day, celebrated on 1 November but beginning at vespers on the evening of 31 October – hence ‘All Hallows Eve’ – and then extending into All Soul’s Day on 2 November, making a three day feast of All Hallows.

The Church of Rome probably instituted the festival to displace the Pagan Roman Feast of the Lemures, during which the dark and formless spirits of the angry dead not given proper burial were propitiated. St. Augustine described them as evil and restless manes that tormented and terrified the living. [1] It was a three day festival in May. The Church supplanted this with a feast of the Christian martyrs, celebrated since the mid-fourth century CE on 13 May. The Christian feast was moved to its current November date by Pope Gregory III (731–741), [2] though the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Tradition continues to commemorate All Saints in the spring, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Irish Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (eighth or ninth century) contains a note stating that All Martyrs was on 17 April and of All Saints of Europe on 20 April. [3]

However, the end of October and the beginning of November was the time from which northern Europeans reckoned that autumn tipped into winter, with all that this implied.  Henceforth comes a time of gloom, bleakness and cold. According to the chronicles of the monk Bede (c. 673 – 735 CE), there were two seasons in Anglo-Saxon England. Summer comprised the six months during which the days are longer than the nights, and winter the others, with winter beginning at the October full moon (the Anglo-Saxons followed a lunar calendar), during the month of Winterfylleth, roughly our October.  Winterfylleth marked the beginning of the Norse Winter, when preparations for winter began and sailing ceased. According to Nigel Pennick “Long distance sailing and other summer activities also stopped on this day, as preparations for the winter took priority.[4]

It was widely believed that when winter comes, the powers of increase and the good spirits retire from the land, taking its goodness with them, which is why crops and wild fruit picked after a certain date were said to be cursed or unfit to eat. The powers of darkness, blight and bane start to emerge from the underworld to wreak havoc. In Ireland, Halloween is often called Phooka Night and after this time the Phooka fairy renders all the crops not collected unfit to eat and spoils the blackberries, while Welsh gryphons blight any crops left in the field after Halloween. [5] Wicked fairies, such as the Scottish Unseelie Court, become very active, along with the Cailleachs, hag fairies and winter witches.  This is a process that escalates throughout November and December, until the rebirth of the Sun/son at Yule/Christmas starts to send them back to the underworld.

Thus the season of danger, chaos and the world turned upside down begins. John Stow, in 1603, wrote: “These Lords beginning their rule on Alhollon Eve [Halloween], continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas day: In all which space there were fine and subtle disguising, Maskes and Mummeries…” [6] In the reign of Charles I. the young gentlemen of the Middle Temple (trainee lawyers) considered All Hallow Tide as the beginning of the Christmas season.[7]  Children celebrated it as Mischief Night, playing pranks such as knocking on doors and running away, hiding objects left outside, or tying door latches. [8] [9] Often they wore masks or were otherwise disguised to avoid being recognised. [10]

The three day Christian Feast of All Hallows, in combination with existing local folklore, gave rise to a variety of interesting customs, likely a curious intermingling of Christian and Pagan belief. It was widely supposed that the dead could return at Hallowmas [11] and the three days of All Hallows were certainly regarded as a time of especial supernatural activity when ghosts, spirits and witches were abroad, and particular precautions had to be taken against them. Candles were lit to ward them off and if the candle continued to burn after midnight, its possessor would be immune from the attentions of witches during the coming year. [12]  Prayers were said to shorten the time souls might be spending in Purgatory and the church bells were rung – either to comfort the dead or ward them off, depending on which source you read. Bonfires were built in churchyards to ward off spirits, according to some [13] or to light the souls out of purgatory according to others. [14] Visits to the tombs of dead relatives were made, sometimes laying flowers or pouring holy water or milk on the graves.  [15] In many places feasts were laid out for the dead, while in others, cakes and bread were baked and distributed to the poor in return for their prayers on behalf of a soul in purgatory. [16] ‘Soulers’ went from door to door in England, soliciting money or food in return for a prayer for the dead. The cakes they were given were called ‘soul cakes’ for as one rhyme had it: “A soul cake, a soul cake/have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake.[17]

As an uncanny period it was a time for divination and taking omens, and these were many and varied, some in fun, and some in deadly earnest.  In England, for example, Halloween was occasionally called ‘Nut Crack Night’ from the custom of taken omens from the cracking of nuts in the hearth fire. For instance, you might find out whether your sweetheart would be true by naming two nuts and seeing whether they burned together or jumped apart, or by naming the nuts for two possible partners and seeing how they burned. [18] [19] More gloomily, in Scotland, a blindfolded seeker might divine what the future had in store by reaching towards three dishes – meal for prosperity, earth for death and a net for tangled fortunes – and the first he or she touched would be their lot. [20] To ascertain who would live for another year, each person in the family filled a thimble with salt, and emptied it out in a little mound on a plate. If any heap were found fallen over by morning, the person it represented was destined to die within a year. In Scotland and on the Isle of Man, the ashes of the hearth would be smoothed over, and the next morning inspected for marks and prints, and fates deduced from them. [21]

As part of the festival of All Hallows, people, mainly children, in England went out ‘souling’ going from door to door or travelling around the local farms, singing songs in return for apples, soul cakes or ale. The practice started in the middle ages when the cakes were offered in return for prayers for those souls suffering in purgatory, but after the Protestant Reformation, which did away with the notion of purgatory, the custom became one of just giving out the cakes as gifts. [22] Sometimes, people would keep the cakes for good luck. The recipes for the cakes varied, sometimes they were made of oats, some contained currants and spices, and in some areas it was traditional to consume seed cakes during All Hallows which coincided with the end of winter wheat-seed sowing. [23] Parkin, a ginger cake, was popular in the north of England, while in Lancashire Harcake was offered to visitors on the day.[24]

As opposed to the Christian festival of Halloween on October 31st, for modern Pagans, November begins with the festival of Samhain.Samhain was one of the four quarter-festivals of the early Irish, though it was not mentioned in contemporary Scottish, Welsh or Continental literature at all. [25] The Irish word ‘Samhain’ is usually glossed as ‘summer’s end’, from sam ‘summer’ and fuin ‘end’, though others argue that it may derive from the Proto-Celtic word *samani meaning ‘assembly’, as great tribal assemblies were held on at Samhain. [26] We can speculate that with the agricultural work of the year completed, and the warring and trading season over, it would have been the time when travellers returned home to their hearths with new stories to tell and experiences to share.

 

Sadly, we don’t know how the Pagan Irish celebrated Samhain or even how they regarded it, or whether the Celts in other areas marked the occasion at all. Samhain certainly appears in many Irish stories recorded during the Christian period, and was recorded as a Pagan festival by the Christian chroniclers, but while some describe great assemblies on that date, none of them mention any religious or druidic rites (unlike the many practices attested around Beltane) though doubtless there were some. [27]

In 1890 the folklorist Sir James Frazer suggested that the feast of All Hallows was moved to the beginning of November to replace the festival of Samhain in the public mind in Celtic countries, and therefore Samhain must have been a feast of the dead. [28] However, the Church in Germany was celebrating All Saints Day on 1 November when the church in Ireland was still celebrating it on 20 April, so this is unlikely. [29]  Where known European feasts of the dead took place, whether Christian or Pagan, they were part of a spring purification to prepare for the year ahead. When the Catholic Church introduced the doctrine of purgatory, where souls spent a time of suffering before going to heaven, the medieval church did gradually instituted a three day festival of the dead called All Hallows, as it was believed that the prayers of the living could alleviate the suffering of those in purgatory.  However, this was developed in Germanic countries and only later spread to Celtic lands. [30]

The suggestion that it was the Celtic New Year dates back no earlier than 1886 and was proposed by John Rhys in his Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, [31] who asserted that because the Celts marked their days from the evening before (as did the Saxons, Jews and Muslims amongst many others, though he didn’t mention this) they must start their year in winter, even though no contemporary classical source mentioned it. James Frazer (The Golden Bough) used Rhys’s idea to support his own theory that Samhain had been the Pagan Celtic feast of the dead. After the introduction of the Roman calendar, Samhain was certainly associated with All Hallows in Ireland.

However, the one thing we know for certain is that it was considered the start of winter in Ireland. In the fifteenth or sixteenth century manuscriptTochmarc Emire, the hero Cúchulainn explains the structure of the Irish year: “For two divisions were formerly on the year, namely, summer from Beltane the first of May, and winter from Samhain to Beltane.”  [32] The Brythonic Celtic languages simply name the day the ‘first of winter’, from the Latin calend which denotes the first day of a month, so in Welsh it is  Nos Galen-Gaeaf (‘Night of the Winter Calends’), in Breton as Kala-Goañv and in Cornish Kalann Gwav. [33] It ushered in the dark and cold season, when death was close, when the spirits of blight and bane were released onto the land.

Nevertheless, as Pagans, we take our cues from the natural world, which is the manifestation of the spiritual. It is time to acknowledge the role of death, seasonally and personally, to mourn what has passed and to remember what has been. We think of all the lives that have touched ours, and the ancestors that have brought us to this place.

© Anna Franklin, October 2020

Illustration © Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer 2015


[1] St. Augustine, The City of God, 11.

[2] All Saints Day,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1997

[3] http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/G200001/

[4] Nigel Pennick, The Pagan Book of Days, Destiny Books, Rochester, 1992

[5] Anna Franklin, The illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies, Paper Tiger, London, 2004

[6] John Stow, Survey of London, 1603, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001

[7] Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, 1912, www.sacred-texts.com, accessed 11.9.19

[8] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[9] In some areas, this took place on the night before Halloween, or the night before Bonfire Night.

[10] Brian Day, Chronicle of Celtic Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 2000

[11] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[12] T.F.Thistleton Dyer, British Popular Customs, Past and Present, G. Bell, London, 1876

[13] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[14] http://www.wyrdwords.vispa.com/halloween/history/ accessed 4.10.19

[15] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[16] David Cressey, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997

[17] Georgina Frederica Jackson, Shropshire Folk-loreA Sheaf of Gleanings, Trübner & Company, 1883

[18] Sharpe’s London Magazine of Entertainment and Instruction for General Reading. Volume: v.27, 1865

[19] Mary E. Blain, Games for Hallow-e’en, (1912), Historical Books Limited, 2016

[20] Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe’en, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Boston, 1919

[21] Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe’en, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Boston, 1919

[22] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[23] J. Brand, Popular Antiquities Volume 1, F.C. And J. Rivington and Others, London, 1813

[24] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[25] Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the British Isles, Blackwell, Oxford, 1991

[26] J.A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Createspace Independent Publishing, 2018

[27] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996

[28] James Frazer, The Golden Bough, (1890), Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1976

[29] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996,

[30] Ronald Hutton, Halloween? It’s more than trick or treat, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/28/halloween-more-than-trick-or-treat-origins?fbclid=IwAR13rqBx10qclv4giBmWmYstGVhsyM9GxrOxP8Q8Jo7e0_j3zBs2xsZ0o6U, accessed 5.11.19

[31] Sir John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, HardPress Publishing, 2012

[32] Online at https://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/emer.html, accessed 20.11.18

[33] Samhain: Season of Death and Renewal Samhain, by Alexei Kondratiev, 1997, onlne at http://www.imbas.org/articles/samhain.html, accessed 20.12.19

ARTHRITIS REMEDIES FROM YOUR KITCHEN

There are several herbs with anti-inflammatory properties, some of which have been shown to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and basil is one of these. Use a hot Basil Compress on affected areas.

 

Basil Tea

250 ml (1 cup) boiling water

4-5 fresh basil leaves

Pour the boiling water over the leaves. Let it steep for 4-5 minutes. Strain and drink.

 

Basil Hot Compress

Make double strength basil tea. While it is hot, dip in a clean cotton cloth and apply it as warm as you can bear to the affected part. When it cools, dip it in the infusion again and reapply. You can do this several times.

Black pepper is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent; piperine, one of the active compounds of black pepper, reduces the inflammatory compounds that make inflammatory pain worse, so try adding a little black pepper to your food, or use a Black Pepper Compress on affected parts.

 

Black Pepper Tea

250 ml (1 cup) water

½ tsp freshly milled black pepper.

Put the water and pepper in a ban and bring to the boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes. Drink as required with a little honey, if liked. To improve the flavour, you can add a black teabag as you remove the pan from the heat, but don’t forget to remove it when the desired strength is reached. For colds etc. you can add some fresh or powdered ginger to the pan as you simmer the pepper.

 

Black Pepper Compress

Prepare a double strength black pepper tea as above. While it is hot, dip in a clean cotton cloth and apply it as warm as you can bear to the affected part. When it cools, dip it in the infusion again and reapply. You can do this several times.

The hot and spicy taste of chilli is due to a compound called capsaicin, which is a natural pain killer. Capsaicin depletes a neurotransmitter called substance P, which is responsible for sending pain signals to our brain. When applied topically to affected areas, this is very helpful in relieving pain in cases of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as shingles, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, bursitis, muscle and back pain.

 

Chilli Salve

4 fresh chillies chopped

200 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp. beeswax

Put the chillies and oil in a double boiler and simmer for 40 – 50 minutes. Strain out the chillies and return the oil to the pan. Add the beeswax and stir until it has melted. Pour into warmed, sterilised glass jars. Apply directly to your painful joints. Do not use on broken skin. Wash your hands afterwards and avoid touching the eye area.

 

Applied to the skin, the volatile oils in clove function as a rubefacient, meaning that it slightly irritates the skin and expands the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to the surface. This is helpful for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a Clove Compress or Clove Tea in a hot bath or applying Clove Balm to the affected area. Clove is also a topical anaesthetic, dulling pain, while the eugenol it contains is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

 

Clove Infused Oil

50g freshly ground cloves

300 ml vegetable oil (such as olive)

Put the cloves and oil in a double boiler and simmer very gently for 2 hours.  Strain into a clean bottle, label, and store in a cool, dark place.

 

Clove Tea

3 cloves,

250 ml (1 cup) water.

Put in a pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for another 10 minutes. Strain and drink with a little honey, if desired.

 

Clove and Coconut Balm

200 gm solid coconut oil

30 gm cloves, freshly ground

In a double boiler, simmer together for 2 hours. Strain through muslin into a shallow jar.

 

Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, so is very useful in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation leads to pain. Applied externally, in the form of a compress, salve or oil, it stimulates peripheral circulation, helping toxins to be removed from painful joints.  Furthermore, the topical application of fresh ginger actually has pain-killing properties with the compound gingerol acting on the receptors located on sensory nerve endings. Applying a Ginger Compress to an affected joint will cause a momentary slight ‘burn’, followed by pain relief. If you are having a flare up, take a cup of Ginger Tea three times a day or use a Ginger Compress on affected parts.

Fresh Ginger Tea

2 cm fresh ginger

500 ml (2 cups) water

Peel the ginger and slice thinly. Boil the ginger in water for 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, add honey and lemon if desired.

Ginger Compress
Grate 150 grams of fresh ginger and add to a pan of 2 litres water and simmer gently without boiling for 20 minutes. Strain the ginger water into a heatproof bowl (discard the ginger). Soak a clean cloth in the hot ginger liquid. Wring it out and apply to the affected area. This should be done as hot as is comfortable. When it cools, dip again in the liquid, wring it out and reapply. You can do this several times. The skin may redden. If you experience itching or discomfort, discontinue use.

Rosemary has anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic actions and contains the two powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds called carnosol and carnosic acid which have been shown to reduce the levels of nitric acid in the body that can be a trigger for inflammation. The pain-relieving qualities of rosemary are largely the result of salicylate, a compound similar to aspirin. Apply Rosemary Salve to the affected parts or put some freshly cut rosemary sprigs (along with marjoram and lavender if you like) into a cloth bag and add this to your bath water to soothe aches.  You can also use a hot compress soaked in Rosemary Tea applied to the painful area.

Rosemary Tea

1 tsp. of rosemary

250 ml (1 cup) of water

Bring the water to a boil Add the rosemary herb to the water, remove from the heat and allow it to steep for 5-6 minutes. Strain the mixture into a teacup. Sweeten with honey, if desired.

Rosemary & Coconut Balm

Coconut oil

Fresh rosemary leaves

Simmer together in a double boiler for two hours. Strain into a clean jar. This can be massaged into arthritic joints. It will keep for up to two years in a cool, dark place.

There have been many studies conducted over the last fifty years on the efficacy and safety of turmeric, and especially on curcumin, thought to be its most medicinally active compound. Pharmaceutical companies have introduced a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors, which deliver the benefits of NSAIDs but with fewer side effects – curcumin is a natural COX-2 inhibitor. Promising effects have been observed in patients with various inflammatory diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel disease, tropical pancreatitis, vitiligo, psoriasis, atherosclerosis and diabetes.[1] Turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories, some studies showing it to be as effective as ibuprofen or cortisone in helping ease the stiffness and pain of arthritic joints or bursitis for which it can be externally applied as a Turmeric Paste, Turmeric and Coconut Balm, or taken internally as a Turmeric Tea and Golden Milk.

Turmeric and Coconut Balm

2 tbsp. turmeric powder

250 ml (1 cup) solid coconut oil

Put the oil in a double boiler and add the turmeric powder. Simmer gently 30 minutes and pour into a sterilised shallow jar. Both coconut and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. Massage into the affected area and cover with a warm towel. Leave 30 minutes and rinse. If you wish, you can add 1 tbsp. of ground ginger when making the balm, which is another anti-inflammatory agent.

Golden Milk

250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk

1 tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp cinnamon

Pinch ginger powder

Pinch of black pepper (increases absorption)

1 tsp honey

Heat milk and spices in pan, simmering but not boiling. Remove from the heat. Leave to steep 5-10 minutes. Strain into a mug and stir in the honey.

Turmeric Tea

2 tsp. turmeric powder

250 ml (1 cup) water

Bring the water to the boil in a pan, add the turmeric and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Drink within 4 hours.

Turmeric and Ginger Tea

½ tsp. turmeric powder

1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

250 ml (1 cup) water

Bring the water to the boil in a pan. Add the turmeric and ginger and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and rink sweetened with a little honey, if liked. Like turmeric, ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties.

 

 

HORSE CHESTNUT SHAMPOO & WASHING LIQUID

Horse Chestnut Shampoo

You can just chop and crush half a dozen conkers ((Aesculus hippocastanum), and cover them with a cup of boiling water. Leave to stand overnight and strain through muslin, squeezing well, retaining the liquid. (You can put the conkers on the compost heap.) Keep this in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a week.  To use, massage a palm-full into your hair for a few minutes. Rinse well.

Washing Detergent

If you have fresh conkers, you can use the method above as per shampoo to prepare a liquid you can use to hand wash, or add to your washing machine. If you want to lay in a supply to use throughout the year, you will need to chop up or shred your conkers very small (best done in a blender or grinder) and dry them thoroughly. If you have a dehydrator, you can use this, otherwise spread them out on a baking sheet, and put in the oven on the lowest setting it will go, and leave the oven door open while they dry out., keep checking, as it may take several hours, depending on how small the pieces are.   Store in airtight containers.

For each wash you will need around 50 gm (2 oz.) of horse chestnuts. You can put this in an organza bag straight into your washing machine, but it will work better if you extract the soapy liquid from the nuts first.  Put into a heat proof jug and cover with 450 ml of boiling water.  Leave 30 minutes and strain off your horse chestnut liquid (it should have turned fairly thick), it is this you will use for washing. You can put the horse chestnuts back in the jug and add more boiling water to get another infusion off, but it will be weaker than the first and best used for handwashing woollens etc. NB: Do not use this for washing dishes, as horse chestnuts are slightly toxic when taken internally, though safe to use on the skin.

© Anna Franklin 2020

Halloween v. Samhain

I’m always amused by Christians condemning (and wanting to ban) Halloween as Pagan, when it is, in fact, a Christian holiday. Today we usually call the last day of October ‘Halloween’, a name that comes from the Roman Catholic Church’s Feast of All Saints’ Day, celebrated on 1 November but beginning at vespers on the evening of 31 October – hence ‘All Hallows Eve’ – and then extending into All Soul’s Day on 2 November, making a three day feast of All Hallows.

The Church of Rome probably instituted the festival to displace the Pagan Roman Feast of the Lemures, during which the dark and formless spirits of the angry dead not given proper burial were propitiated. St. Augustine described them as evil and restless manes that tormented and terrified the living. [1] It was a three day festival in May. The Church supplanted this with a feast of the Christian martyrs, celebrated since the mid-fourth century CE on 13 May. The Christian feast was moved to its current November date by Pope Gregory III (731–741), [2] though the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Tradition continues to commemorate All Saints in the spring, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Irish Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (eighth or ninth century) contains a note stating that All Martyrs was on 17 April and of All Saints of Europe on 20 April. [3]

However, the end of October and the beginning of November was the time from which northern Europeans reckoned that autumn tipped into winter, with all that this implied.  Henceforth comes a time of gloom, bleakness and cold. According to the chronicles of the monk Bede (c. 673 – 735 CE), there were two seasons in Anglo-Saxon England. Summer comprised the six months during which the days are longer than the nights, and winter the others, with winter beginning at the October full moon (the Anglo-Saxons followed a lunar calendar), during the month of Winterfylleth, roughly our October.  Winterfylleth marked the beginning of the Norse Winter, when preparations for winter began and sailing ceased. According to Nigel Pennick “Long distance sailing and other summer activities also stopped on this day, as preparations for the winter took priority.[4]

It was widely believed that when winter comes, the powers of increase and the good spirits retire from the land, taking its goodness with them, which is why crops and wild fruit picked after a certain date were said to be cursed or unfit to eat. The powers of darkness, blight and bane start to emerge from the underworld to wreak havoc. In Ireland, Halloween is often called Phooka Night and after this time the Phooka fairy renders all the crops not collected unfit to eat and spoils the blackberries, while Welsh gryphons blight any crops left in the field after Halloween. [5] Wicked fairies, such as the Scottish Unseelie Court, become very active, along with the Cailleachs, hag fairies and winter witches.  This is a process that escalates throughout November and December, until the rebirth of the Sun/son at Yule/Christmas starts to send them back to the underworld.

Thus the season of danger, chaos and the world turned upside down begins. John Stow, in 1603, wrote: “These Lords beginning their rule on Alhollon Eve [Halloween], continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas day: In all which space there were fine and subtle disguising, Maskes and Mummeries…” [6] In the reign of Charles I. the young gentlemen of the Middle Temple (trainee lawyers) considered All Hallow Tide as the beginning of the Christmas season.[7]  Children celebrated it as Mischief Night, playing pranks such as knocking on doors and running away, hiding objects left outside, or tying door latches. [8] [9] Often they wore masks or were otherwise disguised to avoid being recognised. [10]

The three day Christian Feast of All Hallows, in combination with existing local folklore, gave rise to a variety of interesting customs, likely a curious intermingling of Christian and Pagan belief. It was widely supposed that the dead could return at Hallowmas [11] and the three days of All Hallows were certainly regarded as a time of especial supernatural activity when ghosts, spirits and witches were abroad, and particular precautions had to be taken against them. Candles were lit to ward them off and if the candle continued to burn after midnight, its possessor would be immune from the attentions of witches during the coming year. [12]  Prayers were said to shorten the time souls might be spending in Purgatory and the church bells were rung – either to comfort the dead or ward them off, depending on which source you read. Bonfires were built in churchyards to ward off spirits, according to some [13] or to light the souls out of purgatory according to others. [14] Visits to the tombs of dead relatives were made, sometimes laying flowers or pouring holy water or milk on the graves.  [15] In many places feasts were laid out for the dead, while in others, cakes and bread were baked and distributed to the poor in return for their prayers on behalf of a soul in purgatory. [16] ‘Soulers’ went from door to door in England, soliciting money or food in return for a prayer for the dead. The cakes they were given were called ‘soul cakes’ for as one rhyme had it: “A soul cake, a soul cake/have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake.[17]

As an uncanny period it was a time for divination and taking omens, and these were many and varied, some in fun, and some in deadly earnest.  In England, for example, Halloween was occasionally called ‘Nut Crack Night’ from the custom of taken omens from the cracking of nuts in the hearth fire. For instance, you might find out whether your sweetheart would be true by naming two nuts and seeing whether they burned together or jumped apart, or by naming the nuts for two possible partners and seeing how they burned. [18] [19] More gloomily, in Scotland, a blindfolded seeker might divine what the future had in store by reaching towards three dishes – meal for prosperity, earth for death and a net for tangled fortunes – and the first he or she touched would be their lot. [20] To ascertain who would live for another year, each person in the family filled a thimble with salt, and emptied it out in a little mound on a plate. If any heap were found fallen over by morning, the person it represented was destined to die within a year. In Scotland and on the Isle of Man, the ashes of the hearth would be smoothed over, and the next morning inspected for marks and prints, and fates deduced from them. [21]

As part of the festival of All Hallows, people, mainly children, in England went out ‘souling’ going from door to door or travelling around the local farms, singing songs in return for apples, soul cakes or ale. The practice started in the middle ages when the cakes were offered in return for prayers for those souls suffering in purgatory, but after the Protestant Reformation, which did away with the notion of purgatory, the custom became one of just giving out the cakes as gifts. [22] Sometimes, people would keep the cakes for good luck. The recipes for the cakes varied, sometimes they were made of oats, some contained currants and spices, and in some areas it was traditional to consume seed cakes during All Hallows which coincided with the end of winter wheat-seed sowing. [23] Parkin, a ginger cake, was popular in the north of England, while in Lancashire Harcake was offered to visitors on the day.[24]

As opposed to the Christian festival of Halloween on October 31st, for modern Pagans, November begins with the festival of Samhain.Samhain was one of the four quarter-festivals of the early Irish, though it was not mentioned in contemporary Scottish, Welsh or Continental literature at all. [25] The Irish word ‘Samhain’ is usually glossed as ‘summer’s end’, from sam ‘summer’ and fuin ‘end’, though others argue that it may derive from the Proto-Celtic word *samani meaning ‘assembly’, as great tribal assemblies were held on at Samhain. [26] We can speculate that with the agricultural work of the year completed, and the warring and trading season over, it would have been the time when travellers returned home to their hearths with new stories to tell and experiences to share.

 

Sadly, we don’t know how the Pagan Irish celebrated Samhain or even how they regarded it, or whether the Celts in other areas marked the occasion at all. Samhain certainly appears in many Irish stories recorded during the Christian period, and was recorded as a Pagan festival by the Christian chroniclers, but while some describe great assemblies on that date, none of them mention any religious or druidic rites (unlike the many practices attested around Beltane) though doubtless there were some. [27]

In 1890 the folklorist Sir James Frazer suggested that the feast of All Hallows was moved to the beginning of November to replace the festival of Samhain in the public mind in Celtic countries, and therefore Samhain must have been a feast of the dead. [28] However, the Church in Germany was celebrating All Saints Day on 1 November when the church in Ireland was still celebrating it on 20 April, so this is unlikely. [29]  Where known European feasts of the dead took place, whether Christian or Pagan, they were part of a spring purification to prepare for the year ahead. When the Catholic Church introduced the doctrine of purgatory, where souls spent a time of suffering before going to heaven, the medieval church did gradually instituted a three day festival of the dead called All Hallows, as it was believed that the prayers of the living could alleviate the suffering of those in purgatory.  However, this was developed in Germanic countries and only later spread to Celtic lands. [30]

The suggestion that it was the Celtic New Year dates back no earlier than 1886 and was proposed by John Rhys in his Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, [31] who asserted that because the Celts marked their days from the evening before (as did the Saxons, Jews and Muslims amongst many others, though he didn’t mention this) they must start their year in winter, even though no contemporary classical source mentioned it. James Frazer (The Golden Bough) used Rhys’s idea to support his own theory that Samhain had been the Pagan Celtic feast of the dead. After the introduction of the Roman calendar, Samhain was certainly associated with All Hallows in Ireland.

However, the one thing we know for certain is that it was considered the start of winter in Ireland. In the fifteenth or sixteenth century manuscriptTochmarc Emire, the hero Cúchulainn explains the structure of the Irish year: “For two divisions were formerly on the year, namely, summer from Beltane the first of May, and winter from Samhain to Beltane.”  [32] The Brythonic Celtic languages simply name the day the ‘first of winter’, from the Latin calend which denotes the first day of a month, so in Welsh it is  Nos Galen-Gaeaf (‘Night of the Winter Calends’), in Breton as Kala-Goañv and in Cornish Kalann Gwav. [33] It ushered in the dark and cold season, when death was close, when the spirits of blight and bane were released onto the land.

Nevertheless, as Pagans, we take our cues from the natural world, which is the manifestation of the spiritual. It is time to acknowledge the role of death, seasonally and personally, to mourn what has passed and to remember what has been. We think of all the lives that have touched ours, and the ancestors that have brought us to this place.

© Anna Franklin, October 2020

Illustration © Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer 2015


[1] St. Augustine, The City of God, 11.

[2] All Saints Day,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1997

[3] http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/G200001/

[4] Nigel Pennick, The Pagan Book of Days, Destiny Books, Rochester, 1992

[5] Anna Franklin, The illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies, Paper Tiger, London, 2004

[6] John Stow, Survey of London, 1603, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001

[7] Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, 1912, www.sacred-texts.com, accessed 11.9.19

[8] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[9] In some areas, this took place on the night before Halloween, or the night before Bonfire Night.

[10] Brian Day, Chronicle of Celtic Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 2000

[11] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[12] T.F.Thistleton Dyer, British Popular Customs, Past and Present, G. Bell, London, 1876

[13] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[14] http://www.wyrdwords.vispa.com/halloween/history/ accessed 4.10.19

[15] Nicholas Rogers, Halloween, From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

[16] David Cressey, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997

[17] Georgina Frederica Jackson, Shropshire Folk-lore: A Sheaf of Gleanings, Trübner & Company, 1883

[18] Sharpe’s London Magazine of Entertainment and Instruction for General Reading. Volume: v.27, 1865

[19] Mary E. Blain, Games for Hallow-e’en, (1912), Historical Books Limited, 2016

[20] Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe’en, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Boston, 1919

[21] Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe’en, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., Boston, 1919

[22] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[23] J. Brand, Popular Antiquities Volume 1, F.C. And J. Rivington and Others, London, 1813

[24] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[25] Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the British Isles, Blackwell, Oxford, 1991

[26] J.A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Createspace Independent Publishing, 2018

[27] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996

[28] James Frazer, The Golden Bough, (1890), Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1976

[29] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996,

[30] Ronald Hutton, Halloween? It’s more than trick or treat, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/28/halloween-more-than-trick-or-treat-origins?fbclid=IwAR13rqBx10qclv4giBmWmYstGVhsyM9GxrOxP8Q8Jo7e0_j3zBs2xsZ0o6U, accessed 5.11.19

[31] Sir John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, HardPress Publishing, 2012

[32] Online at https://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/emer.html, accessed 20.11.18

[33] Samhain: Season of Death and Renewal Samhain, by Alexei Kondratiev, 1997, onlne at http://www.imbas.org/articles/samhain.html, accessed 20.12.19

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