Loads of totally true stuff about plants along with tradition, folklore, myth, superstition and made-up stuff, but which is which?
Vegetables and Herbs
Basil - according to the druids
Basil is a herb for purification, love and money. Put a piece of basil in each of the four corners of your house at the beginning of each season to bring wealth. If you grow basil in your garden, you need to shout and scream at it to make it grow into a strong plant.
It also symbolizes love. At one time young girls would place some on their windowsill to indicate they were looking for a suitor. In Tudor times, small pots of this were given by farmers' wives to visitors as parting gifts. It is also reputed that any man will fall in love with a woman from whom he accepts some basil from as a gift. Can be used as snuff to cure headaches.
Scattering the flowers is thought to placate demons in many countries particularly in the Far East, being associated with death and the spirits of the dead. If one bean in a row should come up white instead of green, an English tradition associates this occurrence with death. In south west England it was once believed that 3rd May was the best time to plant kidney beans to ensure a successful crop. (My Grandad always said plant them on the 1st of May under cover and then plant them out in the garden on the 1st of June, that was Nottingham).
Broad beans were thought to possess the soul of the dead, and when in flower it was believed that accidents were more likely to happen. If it was a leap year it was thought that the bean would grow upside-down. The shape of the bean was thought to be associated with death and ghosts. Scattering some around the outside of the house would stave of such attentions for 12 months.
Broad beans have also been associated with forecasting the future. A European belief was that three beans should be prepared in different ways to produce an outcome and then hidden on Midsummer Eve for the enquirer to find. The untouched bean indicated wealth, the half-peeled bean indicated a comfortable life, whilst the third fully peeled bean indicated poverty. The future was revealed by which bean was found first.
The ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (he of the theorem) founded a religion one of the basic tenets of which was the sinfulness of eating beans.
Blackberries and Bramble Bushes
Creating a natural arch out of any forms of brambles and passing someone who is ill underneath was reputed to cure the affected. Blackheads, rheumatism, boils and whooping cough were also thought to be helped by eating the fruit.
This fruit has over time has also become associated with the Devil in France and England. In France it was thought that the colour of the fruit resulted from when the Devil spat on it, whilst in England it was thought that picking fruit after 11 October (old Michaelmas Day) would bring bad luck as the Devil was believed to have fallen into a thicket and had left a curse on the thorns which had hurt him.
Use to combat burglaries. Place among your valued possessions, if the thief manages to get into the house then the caraway will transfix the person until rescue arrives.
For women worried about their husbands wandering off with other women, placing some caraway in the pocket will do the trick - a similar principle with pigeons - a little in their food and they'll never want to find another coop.
Carrots contain chemicals that are the precursors to retinol the chemical found in our retina that is vital to us being able to see. So there is some basis of truth in the belief that eating a lot of carrots will improve the eyesight.
The story of WW2 British RAF pilots being fed on a special diet of carrots is false however but typical of the claims made of this vegetable (it may have also helped throw the enemy off the scent of the recently developed radar, that really did enable the RAF to see in the dark).
Eating large quantities of boiled carrots was thought to help asthmatics (by relieving constriction of the bronchial tubes). Also thought to be an aphrodisiac (as is just about everything else in the world that's vaguely penis-shaped).
Trick - write the word "carrot" on a piece of paper and hide it. Ask some-one to quickly answer your questions, ask "what is 1 + 1?", "what is 2 + 2" etc. until the answer is 128, then ask them to name a vegetable, they will almost always answer with "carrot" - reveal your paper.
Who needs a magic cloak like Harry Potter when there's chicory about, can be used for invisibility apparently though I'm not sure sure how you use it.
Can be used to open locked chests on July 25th (St. James's Day). Hold a golden knife and some chicory leaves against the lock, and it will open - but only in silence, if a word is spoken "death will soon be upon you". (How do stories like that start?).
Early American settlers and prospectors are said to have carried a piece of chicory with them for good luck.
In the Far East it is believed to have the power to bring back lost souls being heavily used in religious ceremonies.
It is also seen to be an effective aphrodisiac.
Garlic juice is an antiseptic and antibacterial agent like many other members of the onion family to which it belongs, used frequently through the ages to clean wounds, particularly in battle.
An old Welsh tradition is to rub themselves with leeks before going into battle to bring extra strength and power while providing protection from injury. So if a Welshman smells of leeks, watch out!
Much beloved by the Welsh, the leek became regarded as being useful for all sorts of disparate things, a cure for common colds, helpful in dealing with the pains of childbirth, warding off lightning strikes and then in another direction altogether it is claimed it could be used to keep evil spirits at bay, and to tell the future in particular if placed under the pillow of a young maidens at night, she would see her future husband.
A bit of a contradicting lore here, the Romans believed that the lettuce plant was a powerful aphrodisiac. It was also served in quantity at feasts and weddings for these reasons and also because it was thought to prevent drunkenness.
In England on the other hand country people traditionally believed that planting lots of lettuce in the garden could prevent conception!
Mushrooms and Toadstools
Scientists suspect that lunar cycles affect their growth. Japanese believed that mushrooms and toadstools were made by thunder. Greeks and Aztecs believed they were made by lightning. It was thought that they sprang up overnight and disappeared the next day. The Aztec's even had a mushroom and toadstool god Tlaloc. He was represented wearing a serpent headdress.
Edible mushrooms were considered the food of the gods in ancient Greece and Mexico where they were called Teonanacatl, Flesh of the Gods. In Central America, the rites of the sacred mushroom were conducted. Guatemalan mushroom rites date back to at least 1000 B.C.
Toadstools have always been associated with fairies. A circle of taller, darker grass within a ring of toadstools, sometimes accompanied by a ring of dark earth is often called a Fairy Ring. They were believed to be caused by the path of dancing fairies, elves, fire-breathing dragons, lightning strike or witches. Stepping into a fairy ring could bring good or bad luck, cause or cure illness. (not a lot of use then)
A fairy ring in a field beside a house was believed to bring good fortune. Harm was believed to come to a cow that stepped within the circle or ate its grass. It was also thought that you would become enchanted if you entered a ring during a full moon.
Early Christians believed that mushrooms sprang up where St. Peter spat bread on the ground, toadstools where the devil spat.
Finding a single pea in a pod when shelling them is a sign of good fortune.
Finding nine means that you can make a wish once you've thrown one of the nine over your shoulder. Sounds like a good way of keeping someone going while shelling peas to me and also bothering with the short skinny ones with not many inside!
PineapplesIn 1493, Columbus came across the pineapple, Ananas comosos, on the island of Guadeloupe. The natives who cultivated these fruits called them ananas and believed that they had been brought from the Amazon many generations earlier by the warlike Caribs. (pineapple-shaped jars have been found in pre-Incan burial sites in Brazil.)
A few explorers had observed that Indians used pineapple poultices to reduce inflammation in wounds and other skin injuries. Native people also drank the juice to aid digestion and to cure stomach ache. In 1891 an enzyme that broke down proteins (bromelain) was isolated from the flesh of the pineapple, accounting for many of the pineapple's healing properties. It has been found that bromelain can also break down blood clots, which consist mainly of protein. Research continues. This enzyme may well play a major part in heart attack treatment in the near future, as well as in the treatment of burned tissue, abscesses, and ulcers.
ParsleyTraditionally associated with death and disaster. Bad luck will come your way especially if you cut some for your cooking and you are in love at the same time, or transplant it, or give it away.
Like Rosemary, it is reputed to grow best if the woman of the household is dominant. It was associated with death by the Ancient Greeks who dedicated it in funeral rites and scattered it on graves. It was also woven into crowns for victors of sporting games (and fed to the chariot horses before the races).
It is also believed that babies could be discovered in parsley beds, and that unmarried girls could put matters to right if they chewed parsley three times a day for three weeks. When scattered in fishponds it can reputedly heal sick fish too. The Romans used to line their graves with Parsley to keep the Devil away, and also to avoid their plants falling into someone else's hands as this was considered to be like throwing luck away. In Britain it was also once believed that to sow parsley was to encourage the conception of children.
According to my granddad, parsley seeds take so long to germinate because they have to go to the devil and back seven times first.
It is believed that this plant grows in abundance where the woman rules the home but it is probably best to say that the strong flavoured evergreen shrub is associated with remembrance, with sprigs often being placed in funeral wreaths or carried at country funerals.
Fields of bluebells are dangerously enchanted by fairies, who are called to their midnight dances and revels by the sound of bluebells ringing. If a human hears this sound they will be visited by a malicious fairy and soon die. The woods are used to lure humans into the nether world of the fairies.
Turning a bluebell flower inside out without tearing it means you will win the heart of the one you love.
Wearing a garland of bluebells compels someone to tell the truth.
Seen as a love omen in English country folklore.
When I was a child smelling a dandelion flower was to be avoided as it meant that you would wet the bed.
Dandelion clocks, the fluffy seed heads, can be used to tell the time, count how many blows (o'clocks) to remove them all.
Counting the number of seeds left after you have blown on the seed head will indicate how many years you will have to wait until your wedding day.
Also known as 'Devil Brushes" in England. It is believed that hanging dried ferns in the house will protect all the inhabitants from thunder and lightning damage. Be careful because it may rain when the ferns are cut or burnt.
The brackenseed of the plant is said to provide magical qualities if you place a few in the pocket - invisibility being the most notable.
Be careful when you go seed collecting because it is believed that treading on a fern will cause the poor unfortunate traveller to become confused and lose his way.
Stomach ache is supposed to be alleviated by taking some crushed brackenseed taken with water from a fern growing on a tree. (I wouldn't try this one, bracken is very poisonous, the alleviation of pain may be permanent!)
Ferns are also favored by pixies, who can sometimes be found near them.
Mandrake (so called because the root is said to shaped like a man - with two legs) was said to scream when pulled from the ground and that the person who pulled it would die. To avoid this, starving dogs were tied to the plant and then tempted to pull it out with food, while you do this you should block your ears with wax so you can't hear the shrieking or you'll die like the dog and possibly be condemned to hell according to which story you believe.
It has a long reputation as being one of the most important and powerful plants in witchcraft and traditional medicine. As a member of the nightshade family, it contains powerful hallucinogenic and narcotic chemicals.
A medieval belief called the doctrine of signatures said that plants that looked like body parts could be used to treat maladies of those parts. As the mandrake is (sort of) shaped like the human body it was thought to be able to affect the whole body.
Good fortune, wealth and power were all within the influence of the mandrake as were the control of love and conception. Find one shaped like a baby and place it under a woman's pillow every night for conception, a man carrying a woman-shaped root will help him win his desired lover.
St. Johns Wort
Now found in many herbal remedies. Noted for its calming effect, valuable for nervous disorders such as insomnia, depression and bedwetting. The oil has remarkable soothing and healing action when rubbed into painful joints and strained muscles.
Celtic tradition held that the druids wore it in battle for invincibility - that'll be why we're still ruled by druids then. Burn to exorcise negative spirits.
The plant was believed to be able to move around to avoid having the flowers picked it. If caught, the flowers help ward off evil spirits by hanging over the door. Originally known as the "sun god's flower" Christians dedicated Midsummer to St. John the Baptist and renamed the plant St. John's Wort.
Considered a sacred fairy plant on the Isle of Man, where it is believed pixies will have revenge on you if you tread on it.
Californian Poppy Eschscholzia californica
When the Spaniards who the first European
explorers of California saw these poppies emblazoning the hills,
they called the land "The Golden West". Not so much because
of the wealth...that came later; but, because of the golden
poppies. The Spaniards named this poppy, "copa de oro" or cup
Some of these California poppies were taken to Russia by Adelbert Chamisso, a botanist on a voyage to collect samples from the North American continent. Chamisso named the poppy after a Prussian doctor on the ship whose name was Dr. Elsholz, which was then Russianised to Eschscholz.
Like bluebells, primroses have a number of beliefs connected with fairies, though they are rather more friendly and protective, perhaps reflecting the fact that primroses are often found in the dappled shade at the edges of woodland rather than deep inside the woods like bluebells.
Primroses in the doorway will protect the home from fairies, though other beliefs say that hanging the flowers outside the house is an invitation to fairies to enter.
Eating primroses enables you to see fairies. The flowers and leaves are both edible, they taste like somewhat bitter lettuce, they can also be used to make tea or primrose wine.
Touching a fairy rock with a primrose posy opens the way to fairyland and fairy gifts.
One belief says that if you plant primrose roots upside down, the plant will make red flowers (it won't).
Anemones are sometimes called wind flower possibly because
they grew in areas of wind anemosis Greek for wind (anemometer
- wind speed measuring device).
Anemones were associated with Adonis who was loved by Aphrodite. In an attempt to keep Adonis safe by hiding him in the Underworld, she was worried Adonis might be hurt whilst hunting, but he ignored her. One day, whilst hunting wild boar, Adonis shot a particularly large and nasty boar, which when hit by the arrows of Adonis, turned on him and gored him to death. Aphrodite got to him just as he died and whilst she wept over his lifeless body, Zeus created a flower that arose from the ground where the blood had soaked in. This is the origin of the Anemone.
Bleeding Hearts - Dicentra spectabilis
Bleeding hearts look like dripping hearts. If you turn the flower upside down though and slightly pull it apart, it looks just like a lady in the bath (well a bit like a lady in the bath). The botanical name is from the Greek di - two, and kentron -spur, spectabilis comes from from Latin and means spectacular, which they most certainly are.
There's a fairy story about the bleeding heart flower, where each piece is a part of the story involving a prince and princess. I'd never heard it myself but asked if anyone else had on this site. The result ...... many emails asking if there was an answer, but no answer, until I received the story below...From Pat Manly on the West Coast of Canada:
When I was a little girl (about 45 years ago), another child told me this story. Since then, I have never met anyone else who knew it. My bleeding hearts are in bloom at the moment, which inspired me to do a Google search to see if I could track down a more poetic version. No luck so far, but I'll share what I have. To tell this story successfully, it is important to choose a blossom that is fully ripe (so that the pieces come apart without much struggle), but not yet beginning to fade (so that the stem and pistil remain attached at the end). It also helps to pinch the petals and other bits away from the stem ever so carefully... I learned it this way:
These are the rabbits that lived in her garden (the pink
petals, separated and stood "ears up")These are the earrings
she wore (an elongated question mark with the stamens attached)These
are the slippers she wore on her feet (little oriental slip-ons
perhaps?) And this (the remaining stem and pistil)
is the dagger that stabbed him.
I was hoping to find a poem, as it seems to me it really ought to rhyme, but no luck so far. I did find a story, which had to to with a young man falling in love with a beautiful princess, who spurned his affections. In order to win her favour, he brings her gifts: two pink rabbits, a pair of beautiful earrings, a pair of delicate oriental slippers, all to no avail. Having failed to win her affection, he takes out his dagger and stabs himself through his heart. She then realizes (too late!) that she truly loves him, so vows that her heart will eternally bleed in spring, hence the beautiful bleeding heart flower.Robert Fortune introduced Dicentra to the western world after the Treaty of Nanking of 1842 gave botanists and plant collectors somewhat better access to China.
Despite stories to the contrary, the camellia was
not named for the notorious 19th century French courtesan Camille.
Although, Camille used to carry a bouquet of camellias, for
twenty-five days, the camellias were white, for five days, they
were red, this was thought to indicate the five days of the
month she was experiencing her menses. (We are not told how
Camellias were kept in bloom year round, presumably they weren't.)
Carl Linnaeus named the flower for Georg Josef Kamel, changing the 'K' to a 'C' since there is no 'K' in Latin. Kamel had no contact with Camellias, probably never even saw one, but, he was a missionary who researched plants and animals of the Philippines. Linnaeus originally named the flower, Thea sinensis or Chinese tea, but on second thought, in his second volume of Species Platarum, he changed it to Camellia japonica.
Oriental green tea and the tea grown today in Australia is from the Camellia plant.
Language of flowers - Carnations, Colour messages.
For the most part, carnations express love, fascination, and distinction. Light red carnations represent admiration, while dark red denote deep love and affection. White carnations indicate pure love and good luck. Striped symbolize a regret that a love cannot be shared, purple carnations indicate capriciousness.
Pink carnations have the most symbolic and historical significance. According to Christian legend, carnations first appeared on Earth as Jesus carried the Cross. The Virgin Mary shed tears at Jesus' plight, and carnations sprang up from where her tears fell. Thus the pink carnation became the symbol of a mother's undying love, and in 1907 was chosen by Ann Jarvis as the emblem of Mother's Day.
Bringing a single daffodil into the house is to be avoided as it brings bad luck, a bunch ensures happiness.
In Wales finding the first daffodil of Spring is expected to bring more gold than silver to your life and home during the following 12 months.
Don't bring daffodils indoors before any eggs have hatched, they are connected due to the colour of the flower and that of newborn chicks, bringing them in too early will prevent eggs from hatching.
It is considered lucky to step on the first daisy of the year, and spring has arrived when it is possible to step on seven daisies with one footstep.
To be avoided by young children as if the plant was uprooted the child would grow-up stunted in height.
The traditional flower to be used for "he loves me, he loves me not" enquiries. If a young girl grabs a whole bunch of daisies with the eyes shut she can then count how many years she would have to wait before she would marry (one per flower).
Passion flowers are climbers and vigorous ones at that. Used in protection and love magic. When passion flower is used, it calms and brings peace to the home.
Sprinkle dried or fresh passion flower over the doorsteps of your house to keep harm away. If you carry some of the herb in an amulet bag, you will make friends easier since it will work to increase your personal charisma making you more attractive and more likable.
Place Passion flower in a dream pillow and it will help you get a good nights sleep. Use in love spells to attract love. Burn as an incense to promote understanding.
The name comes from the Passion of Christ, his suffering and death, given by Catholics in the 1500's when they discovered the plant in Latin America. The ten petals (actually 5 petals and 5 sepals) are the ten faithful apostles and the hair-like rays represent the crown of thorns.
Also known as woodbine for the strong twisting stems that climb around tree branches sometimes shaping them to the spiral form of the honeysuckle stem. The name comes from the tradition of children who would get a drop of nectar inside the flower by biting off the end of the flower. The fruit however is poisonous.
A wedding will soon occur if this plant is brought into a house, it will also help ensure a good marriage.
Placing the flower in a female's bedroom is reputed to encourage erotic dreams.
Rub a flower on your forehead to increase psychic ability.
Grow honeysuckle near to your home to attract wealth, luck and love, if nothing else, they are delightful scented flowers in the late spring and early summer.
Also known as spikenard. Used (separately) in love and purification against disease and pests in sachets and in incense.
Put 2 handfuls of lavender flowers into a square of cheese cloth and tie with a purple ribbon use this aromatic "washcloth" in place of your usual one.
Lavender was thrown into Midsummer fires by witches as a sacrifice to the ancient Gods.
Bunches of dried lavender would be burnt and left to smoulder in sickrooms as a fumigant, they would similarly act as an insect repellent. Sachets of the dried herb can be placed to keep pests away from clothes.
Lavender tea can be used by young girls to help them see their future husband, drink before bed and ask St. Luke to bring a vision to their dreams, lavender tea also aids clairvoyance.
Hiding a sprig under the pillow of the beloved helps them think loving thoughts, newly weds would stuff lavender into a mattress.
In the West Country (England) these are known as 'The Drunkards' due their reputation for turning people into alcoholics when the flowers are picked or even looked at for any length of time.
The Welsh traditionally believed the flower could be used as a weather omen. If the flowers were not open early in the morning a storm was on the way.
Used as a love charm, in wedding garlands and posies, it was also believed that rubbing the flower head on a wasp or bee sting would alleviate any pain.
Often used as companion plants with tomatoes to keep pests away.
Pansies and Violas
Associated with love and thoughts of love, a tea can be made from the dried leaves and used as a love potion. The name pansy comes from the French penser, the verb to think as the French believed that the pansy could be used to make your lover think of you.
Pansy leaves can be used to cure a broken heart as the leaves are heart-shaped, another name for this flower is heartease.
Avoid picking these when you're in the middle of a spell of fine weather or the rain will soon return.
Roses are known as THE herb of love. Add rose bud petals to bath water to conjure up a lover. Put red rose petals in a red velvet bag and pin this under your clothes to attract love - or you can wear rosehips as beads to bring love to you. rose oil and rose incense are both used in love spells (if you're that way inclined). If you wash your hands with rose water before mixing love potions, the potions will be stronger.
It's not all good news though, if the petals of a rose are consciously scattered on the ground it is thought to be unlucky, and if the petals fall from the plant when it is being held it is said that that person will die (the when is less clear).
Different colour roses have different meanings so you can use them to give someone a message discretely.
What the different rose colors mean:
Red - I love you
White - I love you not
Yellow - I love another
Moss rose - I admire you from afar
Pink - My love for you is innocent
Orange - I love you vigorously
Amethyst - I will love you forever
Wild - I love you because you are fair and innocent
Sage - Salvia
The plant is attributed with many healing properties the botanical name Salvia comes from the Latin 'salvere' meaning 'to save".
This plant was believed to have extremely powerful magical qualities and most ailments were treated with it at some time. Used to relieve sore throats, gums, typhoid fever, measles, liver disease, epilepsy etc...you name it. The fresh leaves are reputed to cure warts.
An old English belief is that eating sage every day in May confers immortality.
When burnt and left to smoulder in bunches sage is used for "smudging" to cleanse a space and invite positive energy. A new home for instance should be smudged by taking a smouldering bunch from room to room and then waved in each of the corners of each room, it can also be carried out annually with equal success.
Write a wish on a sage leaf and place it under your pillow for three days before burying it to make the wish come true.
As a strongly flavoured herb, sage was used to mask the smell and taste of rancid meat, the antibacterial properties may have helped here too.
Frequently seen as an omen of death despite its springtime prettiness. It symbolizes purity but is said to be unlucky to bring the flower into the house more extreme versions of the belief say that death may occur within a year especially if someone in the household is ill.
It is also reputed to turn milk sour, affect the colour of butter and spoil eggs if brought indoors.
Rubbing a snowdrop on the forehead has been used as a form of pain relief. More recently snowdrops have been used to obtain a chemical called Galantamine from which has been used to treat Alzheimer's diease.
A flower mainly of ill. Wearing it around your neck can prevent drunkenness, but be careful as it is also believed to encourage fleas to move into the home. Violets originally warned of epidemic or death.
They have also been used as an aphrodisiac and made into a tea can help with heartbreak, they are another flower sometimes called heartsease (along with pansies). Worn as an amulet they can increases your success in love.
Carrying violets helps ward off evil spirits.
Drinking wine made from violets stopped the Roman's from getting drunk if not, then a violet wreath worn the next day helps to ease the hangover.
Napoleons favourite flower.
Picture credits: Californian poppy - used courtesy of Mx. Granger under CC0 licence / Bleeding heart - used courtesy of Ronincmc under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence