By Jen Munson, Northeast District Member Delegate, The Herb Society of America
“Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” — Macbeth.
At one time herbs played a large role in the mystical and offered protective and magical properties. Today their mystical charms are another interesting way to learn about herbs. Who wouldn’t enjoy a beautiful door decoration made up of the following plants with the added boost of protection from visiting ghosts, goblins, and spooky spirits this Halloween season.
Rue — Ruta graveolens L. — Rue is an excellent deterring plant. It’s a natural pest deterrent in the garden and its skunk like scent may alienate humans as well. When planted close to the house, rue wards off witchcraft and trickery while rendering evil harmless.
Mullein — Verbascum Thapsus L. — During the summer mullein sends out a tall uninspiring stalk comprised of small yellow flowers that can grow upwards of six feet. Through history, dried flower stalks were soaked in tallow or oil and used as torches. This practice dates back to Ancient Roman times thru the Middle Ages when witches would use mullein torches to light their midnight incantations.
Mugwort — Artemisia vulgaris L. –In the language of flowers mugwort represents “happiness” and in medieval folklore it was a protective herb. It was hung in doorways and from rafters for protection from witches and the devil. Travelers would carry it on them to prevent fatigue and attack from wild animals.
Witch Hazel — Hamamelis virginiana L. — In New England witch hazel can be found blooming in October, but think twice before accepting a spray of witch hazel around Halloween. In the language of flowers witch hazel means “a spell.” Water diviners would use its branches to locate underground springs of water and as a result it was once believed to be a tree of the devil.
Tansy — Tanacetum vulgare L. — It comes as no surprise that Tansy, with its pungent odor, is a protective herb. Germanic people thought it protected against monsters. It was included in magical spells to protect against authorities. Also, sprigs were placed in shoes to ensure safe travels and hung over doorways to dispel curses.
Elderberry — Sambucus nigra L. — Elderberry is a magical tree. It was thought that a figure lived in the tree and helped spirits transition to the afterworld. While one legend held that cutting elderberry would bring evil to the offender another legend suggests that evil spirits and witches would be deterred by leaves attached around your front door.
Yarrow — Achillea millefolium L. –Yarrow was an ingredient of an herbal mixture that would enable witches to “fly” mentally; although it is not otherwise known for its mind-altering capabilities. Country folk would tie it to a toddler’s cradle to protect from witches who might steal a baby’s soul. Yarrow was a strewing herb and when placed across thresholds would ward off evil.
Garlic – Allium sativum L. – Although garlic has been associated with the devil it has stronger ties as a protective herb. In Sanskrit it represents “slayer of monsters.” But is more noteworthy as a repellent of vampires, scorpions, snakes, and evil. When hung around your door invites luck and prosperity.