Article by Thomas Baurley, herbalist for Technogypsie Productions and The Tree Leaves’ Oracle. © 2014 – copyrighted and all rights reserved. Full on-going article and research diary here: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1493. To purchase or obtain birch bark for your own use, purchase from us here: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/shop/?post_type=tcp_product&p=4795.
Common Names: Betula alba, Birch, downy birch, moor birch, white birch, European white birch, hairy birch, Beithe, Bereza, Berke, Beth, Bouleau. The name comes from the Old English birce, bierce, or Proto-Germanic *berk-jōn and the generic name betula is from Latin.
Taxonomy: Kingdom: Plantae; Angiosperms; Eudicots; Rosids; Fagales; Betulaceae; Betula; Betula; Betula pubescens
Locality: Native throughout North America, Northern Europe, Iceland, Northern Asia, and Greenland. They love light, dry and acid soils and can cling to rocks on mountain sides. Growth preference in colder climates and can be found further north than most trees.
Description: Very common in European landscape and lore, it is one of the most common native broad-leaved trees. It is a deciduous tree Growing to a tall height of 10-30 meters in maturity with a slender crown and a trunk upwards of 70 cm thick with smooth dull grey-white bark marked with dark horizontal lenticels. The sapling starts out like a small shrub in its sapling phase with grey-brown finely down shoots – always with elegant, drooping branches providing a light canopy and whip like twigs. Ovate-acute 2-5 cm long and 1.5-4.5 cm broad finely serrated marginated leaves create wind-pollinated catkins that bloom early spring before the leaves sprout. This creates a pendulous cylindrical aggregate fruit that is approximately 1-4 cm long a nd 5-7 mm diameter in size disintegrating during maturity into individual seeds that are upwards of 2 mm long with two small wings along their sides. The tree bark has a white color and sheds layers like tissue paper – which is used by some as paper. The smooth twigs have little dark warts. The Downey birch has a greyish bark that doesn’t peel and twigs that are smooth with no warts, barks of both become rugged with darker diamond shaped crevices throughout growth. The leaves and flowers are small, triangular, pointed with a toothed edge producing female flowers called “catkins” beginning with a bright green maturing into a dark crimson throughout summer. Before the seeds drop to the ground, they hang off the tree like ‘lamb tails’. There are many species of “Birch” and sometimes this species gets confused with Betula pendula – the Silver Birch. In North America, these two trees are sometimes treated as conspecific, although in Europe are distinctly two different species. Best way to tell the difference is the Downey Birch (pubescens) has smooth, downy shoots that are hairless and warty in the silver birch (pendula). Downy’s bark is dull grey white while the silver birch has striking white papery bark with black fissures. Leaf margins differ as in downey being finely serrated and silver having coarse double-toothed margins. The downy birch is a tetraploid (4 sets of chromosomes) and the silver birch is a diploid (2 sets).
Cultivation: These are pioneer species with light wind blow seeds that can grow quickly on bare ground without planting. Preference of light, dry and acid soils. The birch stands up to harsh weather elements including wind, frost, and heat.
Common Uses: Commonly used in lotions, rinses, and creams for its fragrance. It was used by Native Americans to build canoes, wigwams and other structures as it is water-resistant. They are a preferred tree for their ability to provide a light open canopy with spaced small leaves giving light shade on the ground giving ability to grow mosses, grasses, and flowering planets beneath the canopy. A common timber tree in Scandinavia used as a pale, smooth, light hardwood for furniture, spools, bobbins, boxes, handles, and plywood. Smaller trees used for toys, tools, and handles. The bark is waterproof so used for roofing materials and tanning leather. Twigs are bound together as “besoms” and used as brushes or brooms. A tar made from the bark is thermoplastic and waterproof used as a glue for arrows and medicinal applications. Ground birch bark fermented in sea water is used to season wool, hemmp, or linen sails and ropes in Norwegian boats. As a firewood burns well without popping and very flammable.
Culinary: In Sweden the bark is ground up and used to make a bread, in Finland made into “mämmi” a traditional dish for Easter packed and baked in boxes of birch bark. In Iceland, the Bjork tree is used to make a sweet birch liquor. A birch beer root-beer like soda is made in northern regions.
Medicinal: Birch oil is a well known treatment for skin conditions and to repel insects. The tree sap is used as a natural shampoo and can be used as a remedy for dysentery and urinary infections. An infusion of the leaves is used as an antiseptic and diuretic. The bark soaked until moist in water can be formed into a cast for broken limbs.
Magical: Seen as having the powers of beginnings, renewal, protection, stability, and new journeys. Used in charms and talismans to ward off evil, banish fright, and instill courage. Associated with beauty, tolerance, and new beginnings. A broom made of birch is used by Witches to brush out the old year the morning of the Winter Solstice. Cut bark is added to protection spells. Birch beer is drank for protection from psychic attacks. Maypoles are commonly made of birch. Newborn cradles made to protect infants.
Folklore and Legends: Nicknamed by some modern Neo-Pagans as “The Lady of the Woods”. It is associated with the first Celtic Tree calendar month (December 24th – January 20th), and is prescribed as the first consonant of the Ogham alphabet “Beith”. Astrologically associated with the planet Venus and elements of air and water. It symbolizes renewal and protection as the Tree of Inception and New beginnings. Associated with Crystals, Daisies, Eagles, Pheasants, Egrets, and the color white. Associated with the Goddess Freya, Brigid, Venus, and Thor. Believed to ward off evil, fear, terror, and instill courage. The birch is commonly used in yule logs. The twigs used to light Beltane fires. Copulation in Birch forests encouraged pregnancy. In Celtic cultures, the birch symbolizes growth, renewal, stability, initiation and adaptability. The tree is also associated with the Tír na nÓg, the land of the dead and the Sidhe, in Gaelic folklore, and as such frequently appear in Scottish, Irish, and English folksongs and ballads in association with death, or fairies, or returning from the grave.
To purchase or obtain birch bark for your own use, purchase from us here: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/shop/?post_type=tcp_product&p=4795.
- Encyclopedia of Life “Betula pubescens”. Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://eol.org/pages/1149353/overview.
- Forestry Commission “Birch” Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-5NLDXL.
- The Goddess Tree “Birch: The Lady of the Woods” Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Birch.htm.
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia “Betula pubescens”. Website reference 10/26/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betula_pubescens.
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia “Birch”. Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birch.
Article by Thomas Baurley, Herbalist for Technogypsie Productions and Tree Leaves’ Oracle Botanicals. October 26, 2014: Technogypsie Press. © 2014: Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Benzoin Gum can be bought from us here: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/shop/?p=4791
Genus/Species: Kingdom: Plantae; Angiosperms; Eudicots; Asterids; Ericales; Styracaceae : Styrax benzoin.
Common Names: gum benjamin tree, loban, kemenyan, onycha, snowbell, styrax, storax, sumatra benzoin tree, ben, benjamen, gum benzoin, Siam Benzoin, Siamese Benzoin.
Locality: Native to Sumatra in Indonesia. The Genus Styrax is found Warm temperate to tropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere, especially eastern and southeastern Asia.
Description: A common tree in Sumatra growing upwards of 12 meters. The Styrax Genus has over 130 species ranging from shrubs to small trees, one of which the benzoin belongs to. Possesses alternate, deciduous and/or evergreen simple ovate leaves 1-18 cm long and 2-10 cm broad with pendulous 5-10 lobed corolla flowers producing 3-30 on open or dense panicles 5-25 cm long, producing a oblong dry drupe fruit with smooth and/or lacking ribs or narrow wings.
Cultivation: It is harvested primarily for its resin in Indonesia, grown as an ornamental, and a shade tree in West Africa.
Styrax benzoin – Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-133 – Public Domain image, copyright expired.
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Culinary Uses: It is used to preserve fats.
Common Uses: Commonly used as a base in incense sticks, cones, and mixtures. It is an alternative to storax. The resin which comes from a dried exudation seeping from pierced bark. The chemical “benzoin” in small amounts can be found within as hydrocarbon styrene but too minute to work with today. It was first obtained from the Levant Styrax (Liquidambar orientalis) as an isolate and later industrially used to create styrene that is now used to create polystyrene plastics like styrofoam. The Styrax resin of most species is used for incense, medicines, and perfumes. Often used as an additive to cigarettes. The wood is used for woodworking and handcrafts. It is a common wood used in creating the kokyū (胡弓) or Japanese bowed instrument.
Magical Uses: A Masculine tree, astrologically aligned with the sun, element of air, and holds the powers of purification and prosperity. It is burnt to purify and is added to purification incenses. It is considered a fine “clearing” herb. Use as an incense mixed with cinnamon and basil and burn to attract customers to your place of business. Magical substitution for storax to which it is related.
Medicinal Uses: Minimally researched, but traditionally used in Islamic medicine that if mixed with other antibiotic materials and hardening material creates a good dental restorative material. It is also found as a ingredient in the “Theriaca Andromachi Senioris” Venice treacle recipe in the 1686 “d’Amsterdammer Apotheek”. The alcohol tincture was very popular in the 19th century for antibacterial applications, as first aid for small injuries, a disinfectant, local anesthetic, and used to promote healing. The tincture diluted with water acts as a mild stimulant and antiseptic for skin irritations. If taken internally known to act as a carminative as it is rapidly absorbed. It is a mild expectorant diuretic and antiseptic for urinary passage. In the Tincture of Benzoin, it is used as an inhalant with steam to treat bronchitis and laryngitis.
Folklore/Legend: In the Book of Exodus, the “nataf” of the incense sacred to Yahweh is loosely translated by the Greek term staktḗ (στακτή, AMP: Exodus 30:34) or perhaps as another gum resin term. It is believed by scholars to have referred to Styrax officinalis. If burnt is believed to drive away snakes.
Need Benzoin Gum? Purchase it here: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/shop/?p=4791
- Botanical.com “Benzoin”. Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/benzoi31.html.
- Cunningham, Scott 1990 “Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs”. Llwelleyn Press.
- Wikipedia.com “Styrax Benzoin”. Website referenced 10/26/2014 at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styrax_benzoin.
- Wikipedia.com “Styrax”. Website referenced 10/26/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styrax.
Lime: Tilia cordata
Taxonomy: Plantae: Tiliaceae: Tilia cordata
Other names: Lime, Teile (Gaelic), common lime, tree of love
Description: The Common Line is a cross between T. Cordata and the larger-leaved southern cousin known as “T. playphyllos”. It is a small-leaved lime tree. The hybrids are common in gardens in the U.K. and Ireland, but are not native there. They are prone to suckering from the base and many older specimens can be recognized by the bushy tufts of shoots surrounding the base of the trunk. During summer seasons, the lime bears clusters of sweetly scented pale yellow-cream flowers that are rich in nectar. These are attractive to insects, especially bees, who become drowsy when overdosing on nectar and can be found fizzing gently in the sward beneath these trees. The leaves are heart-shaped and bright green thereby inspiring its nickname as the “Tree of love”.
Common uses: Planted in estates and gardens as an ornamental. The wood is very soft and used often for small carvings. A crude string used to be made from stripping out its inner layer of bark called the bast.
Culinary: Fruit is used as a seasoning and a drink additive. It is used as a nectar for certain types of honey.
Magic and Folklore: Known as the Tree of Love and used often in love magic spells. Masculine; Planet: Sun; Element: Fire; Powers: Healing, Love, Protection. With the actual fruit – take a fresh lime and pierce it with old iron nails, spikes, pins and needles – toss into a deep hole in the ground to rid self of all ills, hexes, and curses. Wear a necklace of limes to cure a sore throat. Add the peel or essential oil in love mixtures and incenses. Drive a nail into the trunk of a time tree to cure a toothache (thank the tree and ask permission). Twigs of the tree protect against the evil eye when carried.
Aura Cacia Essential Oil: LIME, .5 fl oz.
Citrus x aurantifolia from Mexico, U.S.A., West Indies
Description: 100% Pure Essential Oil by Aura Cacia. “Lime Essential Oil” – 1/2 fl. oz. from Mexico, USA, or West Indies. Product Dimensions: approx. 3 x 1 x 1 inches ; approx. 1.7 ounces – jar, lid, and oil. Shipping weight: approx. 7 ounces.
Aroma: Tungy, Typical Lime
Cautions: If Pregnant, injured or ill with any medical condition or if taking other medications, consult a doctor or adviser before use. Dilute properly, may irritate skin. This product is not for internal use. Keep out of reach from children.
Ingredients: Citrus x aurantifolia (lime) oil.
Suggested Uses: Awaken the senses: 5 drops lime in a room humidifier or aromatherapy vaporizer. Cheering diffusion: 7 drops lime, 3 drops neroli in a lamp ring diffuser.
To learn more about Lime, visit ourLime page.
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Lime Essential Oil: .5 fl oz – Aura Cacia 100% Pure
Recommended Reading / References:
- Aura Cacia undated Product Labels. Product Labels referenced 2/11/14.
- Cunningham, Scott 1992 Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn: St. Paul, Minnesota. ISBN: 0-87542-122-9
- Worwood, Valerie Ann 1991 “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy”. New World Library: San Rafael, California. ISBN: 0-931432-82-0.
Baurley, Thomas 11/26/2009 “Coconut Palm: Cocos nucifera”. Official web page: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1347. © 2009 – Technogypsie Productions: Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you enjoy this article, please treat the author to a drink or donate to keep this article preserved online.
Taxonomy: Plantae: Gymnospermae: Cycadopsida: Commelinids: Arecales: Arecaceae: Arecoideae: Cocoeae: Cocos nucifera. Common names: Nut, Coco, Coconut
Description: Most of the world is familiar with coconuts, the fruit and seed of which comes from the Coconut Palm. Its one of the ever-more popular icons of tropical beaches and regions, uninhabited islands, Florida, Hawaii, and the Bahamas. The Coconut Palm is part of the Palm Family (Arecaceae) and holds its only species. Its a large palm that can grow upwards of 30 meters tall with pinnate leaves 4-6 meters long and pinnae from 60-90 cm long. When the old leaves break away from the trunk it leaves it clean and smooth. A largely tropical decoration plant, it is also used throughout the world for cooking, health, refreshment, beverages, and manufacture. Every part of the Coconut Palm has a use. The fruit of the plant is light, buoyant, and highly water resistant making it very easy to propagate and spread across the world via the oceans and seas. The flowers of the plant are polygamomonoecious possessing both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence that occur continuously. The fruit of the tree is a coconut, within the inner surface of the shell, a ‘nut’ that is an edible endosperm containing coconut juice/milk that is sweet and/or salty. Botanically its a simply dry nut containing a husk (mesocarp) composed of fibers (coir) hosting an inner stone (endocarp) that is the hardest part of the nut which contains 3 germination pores visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. Through these holes the radicle emerges when the embroyo germinates. The coconut meat is within the shell and consists of a white fleshy edible albuminous endosperm that is highly noted for its medium-chain saturated fat, containing less sugar and more protein than many popular fruits like bananas, apples, oranges, and is high in iron, phospherus, and zinc. In the hollow interior space of the nut is air and a liquid referred to as “coconut water”. When the coconut fruit is still green, the husk is very hard, and only fall if attacked by molds. When the fruit falls naturally, the husks become brown, coir is dry and soft, and less hazardous when it falls. Coconuts can be very damaging when they fall to people, automobiles, and houses. They have been known to cause fatalities.
The exact origin of the “Coconut” is a controversy, ranging from scholars believing it to be native to South Asia while others claim it is from northwestern South American; Fossil evidence shows coconut plants in New Zealand from 15 million years ago; even older fossils in Kerala, Rajasthan, Thennai, and India. First referred to in the 2nd-1st c. B.C.E. in Sri Lanka. Coconuts were believed to be introduced to Hawaii by the Polynesians, to Europe by Portuguese sailors, etc. The name “coconut” came to be from the description of the brown and hairy surface of the nut that reminded the Portuguese explorers of a ghost or witch called “Coco”. Then Marco Polo in 1280 called it nux indica derived from the Arab’s name jauz-al-Hindi. The British retained the coco name and added “nut” to it.
Folklore and Magical beliefs::
Because of how the fruit appears, Portuguese travelers thought the fruit looked like “Coco” the scary witch from within their folklore, that used to be represented as a carved vegetable lantern. Coconut shell is sometimes used to ‘ward away the evil eye’ in South India. In the Philippines, dried half shells are used for a folk dance called the “maglalatik” for an musical instrument that demonstrates or tells the tale about conflicts about coconuts within the Spanish era. The Coconut is used often in rituals – with the Kaveri River worship in India it was seen as an essential element of several Hindu rituals where coconuts were decorated with bright metal foils. Often offered to Hindu God/desses, rivers, and seas in hopes of honor, tribute, or answers to prayers for successful/bountiful catches. In Hindu wedding rituals the coconut is placed over the opening of a pot (representing the womb) or breaking the coconut to ensure blessings as a successful completion of an activity or used in prayers. With Tantra sometimes coconuts are used to represent the human skull.
Aconitum vulparia [ Plantae: Angiospermae; Eudicots; Ranunculales; Aconiteae; Family: Ranunculaceae: Genus: Aconitum: Aconitum vulparia ]
Wolfsbane, Badger’s Bane, aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, Devil’s helmet or blue rocket.
This herbaceous perennial grows naturally in damp woods, in the Northern hemispheres, especially in the Alps where it is an endangered species. It likes moist retentive well drained soil atop mountain meadows with snow melt. It is a plant that produces dark green leaves that lack stipules, are palmate lobed with 5-7 segments each with 3 lobed coarse sharp teeth, spiral or alternate leaf arrangement, with lower leaves having long petioles, growing tall erect stemmed crowned by racemes of large sulphur-yellow flowers from June to August with numerous stamens. The higher the elevation, the more flowers produced, and longer they last. The flowers are well know for having one of 5 petaloid sepals called the galea in the form of a cylindrical helmet that gives itself the English name monkshood. These are 2-10 petals in forms of nectaries, with two upper large petals, located under the hood of the calyx and supported on long stalks, with a hollow spur at the apex containing nectar, and other petals being small or non-forming with 3-5 carpels partially fused at the base. The plant produces a dry unilocular follicle fruit that has many seeds formed from one carpel and dehiscing by the ventral suture to release the seeds when ready to reproduce.
There are over 250 species.
Wolfsbane is easily propagated by divisions of the root or by seeds. The plant can be sown from seeds, although this method is challenging and is recommended to be germinated in a wet paper towel wrapped up in a unsealed plastic baggie for 4 weeks at regular room temperature (but no direct light). After germination, place in freezer for 6 weeks, then sow in sterile planting soil once temperatures get to 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit outdoors. Imitate its natural habitat of high elevations, cold, and icy terrain.
Commonly used as an arrow poison throughout history for hunting and warfare.
The roots are occasionally mistaken for those of horse radish. When touched to the lips will produce the feelings of numbness and tingling.
Most of the species of Aconitum contain large quantities of the deadly poison alkaloid pseudaconitine. Wolfsbane can cause severe itching and dermatitis if in contact with human skin, and the poison can be absorbed into the body quickly even with the slightest cut on the skin. Strongly recommended to always wear gloves when handling it. The tiniest amount can be fatal. It is traditionally used in Asian medicine to increase pitta (fire, bile) dosha and to enhance penetration in small doses. In Chinese medicine it is used to treat Yang deficiency or general debilitation. It is a known anodyne, diuretic, and diaphoretic. Internally, Wolfsbane is used to slow the pulse, as a sedative for pericarditis and/or heart palpitations, or diluted as a mild diaphoretic, and to reduce feverishness in treatments of colds, pneumonia, quinsy, laryngitis, croup, and asthma. Initial poisoning will cause gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea followed by burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. It can cause hypertension, sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. It is a potent neurotoxin that blocks tetrodotoxin-sensitive sodium channels.
A herb associated with Saturn and Mars used in classical witchcraft. Sacred to the Goddess Hecate. The herb is used to reverse shape shifting spells and protects homes from werewolves. Some claim that witches dipped flints into the juice of wolfsbane as poisoned weapons, these flints were called elf-bolts. Used as an incense to honor Hecate and to receive omens/oracles from her. It is an anti-shapeshifting drug, so can help see people’s real forms. Its used for much baneful magic.
Folklore and History:
It is believed that this plant got the name “Wolfsbane” because early Germans used it to poison wolves. In Greek Myth, Medea attempted to poison Theseus with a cup of wine poisoned with wolfsbane.
Rue: Ruta Graveolens
Ruta Graveolens [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Rosids: Sapindales: Rutaceae: Rutoideae: Ruteae: Ruta: Ruta Graveolens ]
Commonly found throughout the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, Macaronesia, and southwest Asia.
Rue is a hardy evergreen shrubby plant that is highly scented disagreeble odor, ranging from 20-60 cm tall, with upwards of 8-40 species. The most popular “Rue” is “Common Rue”. Stems are woody in the lower part, Its leaves are alternate tripinnate or bipinnate with feathery appearance, green to blue green in color hosting yellow flowers with 4-5 petals that are approximately 1 cm in diameter usually from June to September, eventually forming 4-5 lobed capsulated fruit that hosts numerous sees.
Ruta angustifolia – Egyptian Rue; Ruta chalepensis – Fringed Rue; Ruta corsica – Corsican Rue; Ruta graveolens – Common Rue; Ruta montana – Mountain Rue
Grows anywhere, but thrives best in partially sheltered and dry areas. It can be propogated by seeds sown outside and scattered in spring, raking and beds kept free of weeds so that the seedlings when 2 inches high can be transplanted into fresh beds. Best to allow 18 inch spacing. With cuttings done in the spring, insert in soil until well rooted in shady borders or by rooted slips taken in spring until readily grown. Poor, dry, rubbishy soil is very good.
Often used to ward off fleas and other biting insects and a common herbal insect repellent.
Rue is very bitter with a nauseous taste, but utilized in many Middle Eastern cuisines, especially as an additive to grappa in Italy. It was a common element to ancient Roman recipes. Often added to salads.
Used for much medicine in England, it is a main ingredient for poison antidotes. Piperno the physician in 1625 recommended Rue to combat epilepsy, vertigo, and malady – often to be worn around the neck of the sufferer. Pliny claimed it was good to improve eyesight and focus. Believed by Italian artists to make eyesight sharp and clear aiding in detailed drawings. Juice of Rue is often utilized to fend off ear aches. It was seen early to ward off contagion, attacks of fleas, and other insects. Culpepper recommends it for sciatica and pains in the joints, also for shaking fits of agues, etc. Volatile oil made from rue contains caprinic, plagonic, caprylic, and oenanthylic acids as well as rutin. Often distilled from the fresh herb used as a wine, decoctions and infusions for medicinal usage or tea as an emmenogogue. In large quantities it is an acro-narcotic poison. Used sometimes to address hysterical affections, coughs, croup, colic, and flatulence as it is a mild stomachic. On the skin its an active irritant and sometimes used as a rubefacient, helping ease the severe pains of sciatica. it can risk dermatitis on the skin and cause rashes, especially if under the hot sun when oils are rich on the outside, it can blister skin like a poison ivy rash. Taken as a tea often used to combat nervous nightmares and leaves rubbed to the temples are said to relieve headaches. However, taking the plant intself internally has been known to produce vomiting, convulsions, and stomach pains. The compresses of the leaves applied to chests can combat chronic bronchitis. Leaves chewed are believed to calm nervous headaches, giddiness, hysterical spasms, and palpitations.
The Ancient Greeks see it as a “anti-magical herb” because it served as remedies to nervous indigestion they suffered when eating before strangers which was blamed on witchcraft. Throughout the Middle Ages it was seen as a powerful defense against witches and a main ingredient in many spells. Crushed herb is known to ward off evil spirits and witches. Rue is also believed to summon second sight. Holy water was sprinkled with rue brushes at ceremonies preceding Sunday celebrations of high mass, giving it the name Herb of Repentance or Herb of Grace. Often boiled together with treacle, conserving the rue, and used to cure croup in poultry or to fend off diseases in cattle.
Folklore and History:
The name comes from “Ruta” (Greek ‘reuo’) meaning “to set free” as the herb is known to be very good at affecting various diseases. Used by many ancient cultures, it was written about by Hippocrates who commended it as a chief ingredient for combating poisons in antidotes. Said by Gerard that “If a man be anointed with the juice of rue, the poison of wolf’s bane, mushrooms, or toadstooles, the biting of serpents, stinging of scorpions, spiders, bees, hornets and wasps will not hurt him.”, it was commonly sprinkled in houses to kill all the feas and as an insecticide. It is one of the ingredients in the “Vinegar of the Four Thieves”. It is the floral symbol of repentance, sorrow, and of regret.
Aristolochia clematitis [ Plantae: Aristolochiaceae: Aristolochia clematitis ]
Birthwort, Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeroot, Dutchman’s Pipe, Pipevine, etc.
Found throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus, it is found in many other regions.
A perennial flowering plant that grows upwards of three feet, possesses an unpleasant smell, and blossoms dirty yellow flowers. Its flowers resemble a birth canal or a pipe, hence lending to the name. The root is spindle-shaped, ranging from 5 cm to 3 dm in length, about 2 cm thick, fleshy, brittle, greyish on the outside, brownish-yellow inside, bitter tasting, and hosting a strong disagreeable odor.
There are over 350 species, including but not limited to: Aristolochia clematitis (Birthwort); Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot, Virginia Snakeroot, Snakeweed); Aristolochia reticulata (Snakeroot) ; Aristolochia klugii (Amazonian Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia bracteata (Sudanese Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia rotunda (European Snakeroot/Birthwort); Aristolochia kaempferi and A. fangchi (Chinese Snakeroot/Birthwort) ; Aristolochia indica (Indian Birthwort); Aristolochia mexicana, A. watsonii, A. wrightii (Indian Root, Birthroot, Snakeroot, Dutchman’s Pipe, Spanish: Yerba del Indio, Raiz del India, Inmortal, Comino, Guaco, Yerba del Pasmo, Tlacopatli (Nahuatl) ; Aristolochia grandiflora (Duck Flower, Alcatraz, Spanish: Hierba del Indio, Contribo).
Due to the “Doctrine of signatures” this plant was used a lot in childbirth – a preparation was prepared for women in labor to expel the placenta. However, the aristolochic acid often killed the patient. This plant is so dangerous that not many parts of the plant are ever used anymore. It is highly toxic and lead to the development of tumors if low doses are taken over an extended period of time. Traditionally its fresh juice was used to induce labor. Theophrastus (372-286 BCE) claimed its success with treating disorders of the uterus, reptile bites, and sores to the head. Native Americans used it to treat snake bites, treat stomach aches, toothaches, and fevers. The Aztec used it to treat abscesses, dysentery, and deafness. It is a anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, analgesic, abortifacient, diaphoretic, nervine, tonic, wound healer, and is known to induce menstruation. It stimulates white blood cell activity and is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. Decoctions were used to heal ulcers as well as asthma and bronchitis. In Sudan was used for scorpion stings. In India it is used as a contraceptive. Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot) (as well as A. pfeiferi, A. rugosa and A. trilobata) were used alot for treating snakebites, hence the folk name “Snakeroot” even though the Aristolochic acid doesn’t appear to bind and deactivate the Phospholipase A2 of most snake venom. This species though is said to be instrumental in helping bilious, typhoid, typhus fever, small pox, pneumonia, amenorrhoea, and fevers as well as for the bites of mad dogs. The powdered root (1/2 to 1 drachm) has been said to be an aromatic stimulant in rheumatism and gout after childbirth.
Folklore and History:
Birthwort came from the term “Aristolochia” which means “excellent birth” as its fresh juice once was used to induce labor.
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Castor Oil Plant
Ricinus communis [ Plantae: Magnoliophyta: Magnoliopsida: Malpighiales: Euphorbiaceae: Acalyphoideae: Acalypheae: Ricininae: Ricinus communis ]
Common Names: Castor, Castor Oil, Bofareira, Castor Oil Plant, Castor Bean Plant, Mexico Seed, Oil Plant, Palma Christi, Pei-ma
Originally native to Eastern Africa, southeastern Mediterranean Basin, and India, now cultivated throughout hot climates around the world especially Africa and Southern Asia.
The Castor Oil plant is an evergreen shrub or tree that grows upwards of 30-40 feet tall naturally, and found smaller in the cultivated varieties. The plant produces large broad deeply lobed purple-bronze to gray-green/dark maroon palm-shaped leaves off long stalks that blossom green petalless female flowers born on clusters above the male flowers that give birth in development to prickly bur-like capsules containing three red seeds.
Seeds are gathered annually when ripe and soaked in the sun for maturity.
Throughout Europe and America, it is used as a foliage plant for gardens. It was used by the Egyptians as a lamp oil. Because it has a low freezing point, it is used to lubricate airplane engines, in hydraulic brake fluids, biodegradable laundry detergents, paints, and varnishes. It is now used as a biodiesel. The seeds are used by kids for slingshot balls. The seeds are also used in jewelry for necklaces and bracelets (though highly not recommended due to toxicity).It is used for lubrication, burning, and leather dressing.
Processed, the oil is used to create polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR) as an additive or substitute for cocoa butter in chocolate production.
The ancient Egyptians used the castor oil as an unguent and to purge their systems three times a month by drinking the oil mixed with beer. Because the oil is so poisonous, the Greeks and Romans used the oil only externally. By the 18th century it was used as a laxative. The castor oil bean contains one of the world’s most deadliest toxins – ricin. Seeds contain glycerides of ricinoleic acid, ricin, ricinine, and lectins. A single bean ingested can kill a child. Two beans can kill an adult. If poisoned, symptoms may be delayed upwards of 36 hours, but can start to appear within 2-4 hours causing a burning sensation in mouth and throat, abdominal pain, purging, and bloody diarrhea. Severe dehydration and a drop in blood pressure and decrease in urine appear within several days, and deeath within 3-5 days if not treated. It is pretty easy however to extract the oil from the bean bypassing the ricin by hulling and crushing the seeds below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, yielding a clear yellowish poison-free oil rich in ricinolein that irritates the intestines. This is where it is invaluable as a laxative or purgative. It prompts a bowel movement within 3-5 hours after ingestion. It is used medicinally to clear the digestive tract of poisoning. It is tolerated by the skin and thereby found in medicinal and cosmetic preparations. In India, the oil is massaged into breasts after childbirth to stimulate milk flow, or as a poultice to relieve swollen and tender joints. The Chinese use crushed seeds to treat facial palsy. The ancients used the oil to improve hair growth and texture, and to brighten the whites of eyes.
Castor oil was used in sacrifices to please the Gods.
Folklore and History: Evidence found in 4,000 year old Egyptian tombs contained small glossy mottled 1/2 inch or less long polished castor beans that had religious significance from the beginning of civilization. “Ricinus” is Latin for “tick” because it has markings and a bump at its end of the seed that resembles ticks. “Castor Oil” comes from its use as a replacement for “castoreum” a perfume made from the dried perineal glands of beavers. Also related to the common name of “Palm of Christ” derived by its reputation to heal wounds and cure ailments. Used in India since 2,000 BCE for lamp oil and as a laxative, purgative, and cathartic.
Atropa belladonna [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Solanales: Solanaceae: Atropa: Atropa belladonna ]
Common Names: Nightshade, Deadly Nightshade, Atropa, Belladonna, divale, dwale, banewort, devil’s cherries, naughty man’s cherries, black cherry, devil’s herb, great morel, and dwayberry.
Native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Naturalized in North America.
Belladonna is common weed that is a branching perennial herbaceous plant that hosts extremely poisonous foliage and berries. It is often found growing as a sub-shrub upwards of 1.5 meters tall and 18 centimeters long ovate leaves producing tyrian purple bell-shaped flowers with green tinges and faintly scented. The fruits are 1 cm diameter sweet tasting berries green ripening to shiny black. It belongs to the Solanaceae family with its family of potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco, wolfberry, and chili peppers. It has a thick, fleshy, white root that grows upwards of 6 inches long and is branching.
Often found in shady, limestone-rich soils. Germination of the seeds is difficult, even though a weed that naturally takes over disturbed soils throughout the world. Germination can take several weeks under alternating temperatures.
An early cosmetic and poison. Rarely used in gardens but if grown in a garden usually for its large upright habit and show berries. As a cosmetic, drops were created to dilate women’s pupils.
A banana flavored liquid called Donnagel PG was once available in the United States until 1992.
The Deadly Nightshade has extremely toxic foliage and berries that contain tropane alkaloids including the toxins of scopolamine and hyoscyamine that can cause bizarre delirium and hallucinations. It also anticholinergic properties. The ingestion of 2-5 berries can kill a child and 10-20 berries can kill an adult. The root is the most lethal and ingestion of a single leaf can be fatal to an adult as well. Nightshade is used to produce anticholinergics and is the derivative for the drug atropine. It was used both as a medicine and a poison. It was also used as an anesthetic for surgery. Lotions are made to treat neuralgia, gout, rheumatism and sciatica. As a drug it affects the brain, bladder, and can allay cardiac palpitation as well as a powerful antispasmodic in intestinal colic and spasmodic asthma. It has been used through history to increase pupil size in ladies but believed with prolonged use to cause blindness. Symptoms from ingestion can include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions. The only antidote is physostigmine or pilocarpine. It is also toxic for domestic animals that ingestion can cause narcosis and paralysis with the exception of cattle and rabbits that don’t seem to be affected. The chemical scopolamine derived from Belladonna is used to create a hydrobromide salt to treat GI, motion sickness, and to potentiate the analgesic and anxiolytic effects of opioid analgesics. The chemical hyoscyamine is used as a sulphate or hydrobromide to treate GI and Parkinson’s Disease. It has also been used for adjunctive therapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (irritable colon, spastic colon, mucous colitis) and acute enterocolitis. The berries in history were used to treat headache, menstrual symptoms, peptic ulcer disease, histamine reaction, inflammation, and motion sickness. It is used as a recreational drug alongside jimsonweed to create vivid hallucinations and delirium but is very dangerous due to risk of unintentional fatal overdose. Atropine can cause memory disruption and lead to severe confusion. Was also used in “Twilight Sleep” remedies to deaden pain and consciousness during childbirth. It is a Narcotic, diuretic, sedative, antispasmodic, and mydriatic.
It is believed that witches mixed belladonna, opium poppy, and other plants to create a hallucinogenic flying ointment to help them fly to gatherings with other witches. Often applied with a broomstick dowel to the genitalia, gave lending to the legend that witches fly around on broomsticks. The plant is believed to belong to the devil who trims and tends it at his leisure only distracted from it during the Walpurgis event when he is preparing for the witche’s sabbat. Priests were believed to drink an infusion of it before worshipping and invoking the aid of Bellona, the Goddess of War.
Folklore and History: The Romans used it as a poison (as in Augustus and wife of Claudius using it to kill their contemporaries) and was commonly used to make poison tipped arrows. It was a poison used by Agrippina the Younger and Livia to kill the Emperor Augustus. Macbeth of Scotland used it to kill one of King Duncan’s lieutenants during a truce to poison the troops of the invading Harold Harefoot of England. It was also the primary ingredient for the poison used for Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet tragedy). The name “Atropa” comes from “Atropos” one of the three fates in Greek mythology, after the Greek Goddess “Atropos”, that would determine the course of a man’s life by the weaving of threads that symbolize their birth, events in their lives, and their death with her cutting these threads to mark the latter. The name “bella donna” comes from the Italian for “beautiful woman” probably originating from its use as a facial cosmetic and to increase pupil size.