Clover

These are fragrant acres where

Evening comes long hours late

And the still unmoving air

Cools the fevered hands of Fate.

Meadows where the afternoon

Hangs suspended in a flower

And the moments of our doom

Drift upon a weightless hour.

And we who thought that surely night

Would bring us triumph or defeat

Only find that stars are white

Clover at our naked feet.

clover, tennessee williams

History of Clover

Clover, both the white and red varieties, is a plant which carries with it many magickal legends and exciting energetic properties. Commonly found in yards and fields across the world, clover is useful as fodder for animals and a source for nectar for bees. It has been associated with luck, protection, prosperity, beauty, healing, and even fairies. In this post we will explore the history of the clover, its magickal properties, and look into how its leaves became known as shamrocks, a symbol for Ireland.

“In the Clover”

Have you ever heard the phrase, “in clover”? I hadn’t, but I’m sure that I’ll hear it all the time now that I know about it! Apparently this phrase is fairly common and it means ‘to live luxuriously’, to be carefree…basically to live the good life. The saying came about because clover is a favorite meal of cattle and makes them fat and delicious (more on that later). The English word clover is thought to come from a long line of words of German origin, possibly stemming from “klaiwaz” which meant ‘sticky pap’. This is because clover contains a sticky nectar that bees love, which in turn made sticky honey.

Clover’s Latin name is Trifolium repens (white clover) or Trifolium pratense (red clover). [there are several other species, but I’m only covering these two). Trifolium means “three” “leaf”. Repens means ‘creeping’, which is apt because clover indeed creeps along the ground rather than growing tall. Pratense means something like ‘pasture dwelling’, which again is apt because clover, especially red clover grows freely in pastures where livestock and other animals graze.

Eating Clover

Clover is an important part of the ecosystem, especially for soil and for animals. Clover has spread to all parts of the world and is an important source of food for cattle and other livestock. If grown with a special mix of grasses and other edible plants, it can help reduce bloating in cattle. It also somehow fixes the nitrogen content in the soil and covers spaces where other plants can’t grow.

Clover also serves an important role for bees. Both honeybees and bumblebees are attracted to clover. It contains a good amount of nectar and you can find several varieties of clover honey in stores as a result. Fun fact is that clover is also known as “bee bread”. (Side note: my lawn is fairly large and has a TON of white clover in the spring and summer. There are bees, lots of bees in my yard. My daughter loves to run barefoot and has been stung twice! But I’ll forgive the bees now that I know how important clover is to them).

As a child I remember picking clovers and sucking the nectar out. (I thought they were called honeysuckles, but those are quite different flowers). Clovers are not just for children to suck out the nectar. Clovers are actually edible, both the flower and the leaves. They can be eaten as fresh greens but are said to be not delicious, but boiling them or mixing them with other ingredients can make them tasty. They have been used in times of famine and hardship as they are quite high in nutritional quality. The flowers are sweet, and often red clover is used to make teas, jellies, and other sweet concoctions.

Medicinal Uses of Red Clover

Although most of these uses hasn’t been proven, red clover has been used in homeopathic medicine for centuries. It was used for improving the lymphatic and immune systems, in salves for burns, for mastitis, joint problems, skin problems, and even cancer. There were also some studies that showed red clover extract having a reductive effect on hot flashes during menopause.

Clover Symbolism & Legend

One of the most well known symbols of luck is the four leaf-clover. This is a rare occurrence. One source says the odds are 1 in 10,000. What’s even more interesting is that there are actually clovers with 5, 6, and 7 leaves which are even more rare, and in 2009 the Guinness World Record recorded a 56 leaf clover.

Clover is also a symbol for Ireland, and over time became known as the shamrock (more on that in the next section). One cool legend about Ireland and the three leaf clover has to do with Saint Patrick. According to some sources the Druids had some mystical associations with clover, especially its three leaves. Remember in pagan Ireland there were many triple goddesses, so the three would have been a sacred number already. It is said that when St. Patrick came along, he used the three leaf clover to symbolize the Holy Trinity. There is a pretty stained glass window representation of this legend here.

There is a folk belief that the three leaves of the clover represent love, faith, and hope, and when there is a fourth leaf, it represents luck.

One leaf is for hope, & one is for faith,

And God put another in for luck,

And one is for love, you know,

If you search, you will find where they grow.”

~ Ella Higginson (1861-1940)

Tied in with Christianity, the leaves represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and if there is a fourth it is God’s grace. There is also a legend that Eve took a clover leaf out of the Garden of Eden when she was kicked out to remember what was lost.

Red clover is the state flower of Vermont and the national flower of Denmark.

The Shamrock & Ireland

Most of us are familiar with the shamrock, but we probably don’t think about it as being part of the clover plant. Although the origin of the shamrock, as in the plant it comes from, is up for debate, many say it is the leaves of the white clover. The word shamrock comes from the Irish word “seamróg”, meaning summer plant, which comes from “seamar” which means clover. In the 1570s an Elizabethan man named Edmund Campion was the first to talk about the shamrock and how the “wild Irish” ate “shamrotes”. Now, there is another plant, the wood sorrel, that the Irish ate, but it is questionable as to whether they regularly ate clover. Either way, this idea caught on and was repeated through the years, tying the Irish to the shamrock. Eventually the shamrock became a symbol of rebellion against the English. In the 1700s it was placed on flags, pins, and some even wore green uniforms or ribbons. The popular ballad The Wearing of the Green talks of these rebellions and includes lyrics about the shamrock. Today the shamrock is unquestionably the symbol for Ireland, not only for its shape and color, but for the luck it represents.

In Magickal Workings

Clover is an unassuming, common herb, with a variety of magickal uses, making it one of my new favorites. It has a gentle spirit that brings happiness, luck, and protection. Here are some types of magick you can focus on when using clover.

  • Luck
  • Love
  • Fairies
  • Prosperity/abundance
  • Protection, especially from hexes
  • Beauty
  • Strength, the kind that is gentle but strong
  • Healing

Use fresh clover blossoms for decoration, especially for a fairy altar. Use red clover in your beauty routine to harness its wild beauty. Do a meditation where you are laying in a field of clover, and bask in it’s abundant and gentle energy. This isn’t my idea, but I liked it so I’m sharing. You can soak clover in some water (or use the essential oil) and spray it for protection or purification. You can also simply buy a box of red clover tea (or the herb itself) and sip it while you do spells or rituals related to any of the above properties. As always, keep clover in your wallet, purse or charm bag to attract its qualities. Spend an afternoon hunting for a four leaf clover and let your inner child come out.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Clover Recipe

While I think it would be cool to try and eat clover greens, the consensus I’ve found is that unless you use them as in addition to much tastier ingredients they aren’t super yummy. So my two recipes stick with the sweeter portions of the plant, the flower. Below is a recipe for Red Clover Lemonade, which you can easily make with red clovers you find near you. The second is sort of a cheat, but because bees and clover go hand in hand, clove honey has notes of the flower itself. The Clove Honey Butter Spread is simple and can be made with honey you find in the store or more locally in the farmer’s market.

Red Clover Lemonade

Clove Honey Butter Spread

Raspberry

Despite his concern about having enough money to feed them and keep them housed, he also spent precious coins on ginger to sooth her nausea and raspberry leaf and red-clover tea to support strong qi.

Paper Wife by Laila Ibrahim

History of Raspberry

Discovered in Neolithic times, raspberries have been enjoyed by humans for millennia. Both the fruit and the leaves are associated with the feminine, love, self-care, beauty, and motherhood, and remind us that patience and nurturing are required to bear fruit in our lives. In this post we will explore the history of the beautiful red raspberry plant, complete with its medicinal, culinary, and mythical connections, as well as the magickal properties and uses we can bring into our own lives by working with it in a sacred manner.

The Latin Name

Raspberry’s official name is Rubus idaeus. This roughly translates to “bramble bush of Ida”. Who the heck is Ida and why is this her bramble bush you may ask? According to Greek mythology, Ida was a nymph, and one of two sisters who were charged with taking care of the infant Zeus. One day, baby Zeus was crying and in an effort to cheer him up, Ida went to pick him some white berries. If you don’t know, raspberry bushes are quite thorny (they are a member of the rose family) and Ida pricked her finger. Her blood colored the berries the familiar ruby hue, and this is how the red raspberry was created. There is a second myth (less exciting in my opinion), that the Gods were looking for berries on Mount Ida and found raspberries, hence the tag bramble bush of Ida.

What about the English word raspberry? According to Etymology.com, the word comes from a 1540s phrase “raspis berry”, which may have come from a popular rose-colored wine called raspise. An old Germanic word “raspoie” meant thicket, and it is purported that the English word we use today relates to this, and the word “rasp” (like a raspy, scratchy voice), and meant “rough berry”- possibly because of the appearance or the rough thicket the berries nestle in.

Raspberry and the Divine Feminine

There is no question that in terms of energies, raspberries are tied to the divine feminine, or to sound less woo woo, femininity. We see this in the myth of Ida. She is a caring nursemaid who sheds blood in the effort to take care of a child. If this isn’t motherhood I don’t know what is. It isn’t just this myth, though it does set the stage for the raspberry’s connection to motherhood and femininity. The raspberry is particularly associated with maidenhood/early motherhood. The tart, ripe flavors, the sensual and vibrant red color – all of it brings forth the connotation of fertility, blood (menstruation/childbirth), the sexuality and seductiveness of the feminine. As I’ll talk about in the medicinal section, red raspberry leaf tea is used specifically for pregnant and nursing mothers, and in terms of cultivation, the raspberry plant teaches quite a lesson in patience and nurturing.

The plant itself is covered in thorns, which can be compared to a mother fiercely protecting her sweet young children, but even before the plant fruits, there are lessons to be learned. In some cases, raspberries are planted in the winter as “dormant canes” and they are then moved to a sunnier climate to fruit. In other cases, raspberries, like strawberries, are planted but only grow shoots the first year. You must care for the plant even without a ‘payoff’ for over a year. This can teach us that it takes time and patience to grow things. It mimics the Imbolc theme of waiting while things grow and prepare, even though we might not see it right away.

Medicinal Uses

For this section I’ll be talking mostly about raspberry leaf in tea form. The berries themselves are delicious, but as far as medicinal uses go, the leaves are the part of the plant most often used. You’ll of course want to do your own research and consult your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing, but according to my research red raspberry leaf is safe for most women in second and third trimesters of pregnancy. It has been used to aid in preparing the womb for birth by helping the uterus and muscles within to contract more smoothly. Historically it was used to prevent miscarriage and make labor easier. It has been known as a “pregnancy tea” for centuries and is also thought to help in milk production post pregnancy. Whether raspberries were used as a uterine tonic first or whether the myths influenced these uses I don’t know, but it’s clear that the plant is uniquely tied to the womb and the feminine.

Raspberry in the Culinary World

The use of raspberries in the culinary world is widespread. The fruits are used in cakes, scones, muffins, jams, jellies, preserves, and as flavorings in any number of wines and liqueurs. There are also raspberry syrups. Not to mention the loveiness of raspberries on their own, picked fresh or from the super or farmer’s market. They are known to be sweet yet tart, and a delicious addition to many meals, especially treats. Their red/pink color is often used for Spring and Summer recipes and often for events tied to love or motherhood.

In Magickal Workings

It should be no surprise that the magickal properties of raspberries tie into the myths and medicinal uses of the fruit and leaves of the plant. You can use raspberries for the following types of magick:

  • Protection (especially for children, family, self)
  • Fertility/pregnancy
  • Motherhood
  • Nurturing/self-care/gentleness
  • Patience/love/kindness
  • Femininity
  • Sensuality/love/seduction/romance
  • Letting things mature

There are numerous ways you can use raspberries in your spellwork. I would consider using fresh berries for things like love spells, or as substitutes for ‘blood’ (the color and the Ida myth tie in here). Maybe freeze dried raspberries would work well for anointing candles or mixing with other herbs. Using red raspberry leaf (dried) would be nice for the same purposes, but for spells relating to pregnancy, motherhood, or labor/delivery, and even just for things relating to mensuration. You can always buy red raspberry leaf tea or buy the leaves in bulk. Consider using raspberries intentionally in the kitchen, perhaps in a drink or dessert with an spell or intention put into the process. Again, I’m loving the idea of buying or making an image of raspberries and hanging it your home or if you have children in their space as a reminder of the love and protection you give them.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Raspberry Recipe

I mean, there are like a million raspberry recipes online. So what do I pick? My easy suggestion is to just go out and buy some raspberries. Eat them plain or with a little cream and savor the flavor! It is also really easy to buy red raspberry leaf tea, just make sure it doesn’t have a lot of extra fillers. However, I have included below a pretty easy recipe for Easy Fresh Raspberry Mousse if you are so inclined. There aren’t a ton of extra ingredients and it seems like a decadent, yet simple recipe that you can make to get the flavor and feeling of raspberry from. Delicious!

Easy Fresh Raspberry Mousse

Imbolc

The Wheel of the Year Series: Imbolc

The dandelion lights its spark

Lest Brigid find the wayside dark.

And Brother Wind comes rollicking

For joy that she has brought the spring.

Young lambs and little furry folk

Seek shelter underneath her cloak.

St. Brigid, Winifred M. Letts

It’s still cold and windy. There is often snow on the ground, but other times it is simply wet, chilly rain. At the moment, most of nature, including the sky are shades of gray or muddled green, with some brown thrown in for muddy measure. The sparkling highlight of the Winter Solstice is gone, and we have moved into stretch of year where we hunker down and wait for the beauty and color of Spring to appear. It isn’t really a pretty time, nor one that we enjoy, but it is an important one, if we choose to experience it the right way. Enter the mysterious, under appreciated sabbat of Imbolc.

Imbolc, otherwise called St. Brigid’s Day, is a pagan sabbat that is celebrated on or around February 1st/2nd. Like Lughnasadh, Samhain, and Beltane, Imbolc is a Gaelic festival and has been celebrated for hundreds, if not thousands of years in some form. Although it feels ‘too early’ in many parts of the word, Imbolc is actually a celebration of the coming of Spring. It is a time of ‘budding’, of being ‘invitro’, of preparing for the sun to return and bring back the crops and warmth of Spring. Imbolc is closely associated with the Goddess Brigit, who was tied to poetry, fertility, spring, and healing. Imbolc is a special sabbat, often overlooked, but if we can tap into the history and meaning behind it, we can come to appreciate its special, pregnant-with-expectation energy.

Origins of Imbolc

As I mentioned, Imbolc is a Gaelic festival, and there is evidence that suggests it has been an important celebration for centuries. There are landmarks in Ireland that align with the sunrise on Imbolc and Samhain, such as the Mound of the Hostages. Imbolc is thought to have been associated with the Irish Goddess Brigit (Brigid), and then Christianized to be associated with St. Brigid. It is now known as Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day.

The word Imbolc is an interesting one with much debate about its etymology. Each one of the proposed origins adds another layer of meaning to the festival in my opinion. Some say it comes from Old Irish “i mbolc”, which means “in the belly”. This is in reference to the time of year where ewes (female sheep) became pregnant. Another proposal is Old Irish “imb-fholc”, meaning “to wash or clean oneself”, which could point towards a ritual cleansing of sort. Then there is the Proto-Celtic “embibolgon” meaning “budding”, the “oimelc” = “ewe’s milk” and a Proto-Indo-European root word that means “milk” and “cleansing”. Okay. So, unless you’re a linguist this is probably enough etymology for you, however, we can see that whichever is the ‘correct’ origin, this holiday obviously has to do with sheep, pregnancy, the milk that comes from pregnant sheep, and the idea of budding/growing in-utero and possibly of cleaning or washing away of something.

Brigit/Brigid

Let’s look briefly at the Goddess Brigit and Saint Brigid, as these figures are closely tied with Imbolc. As mentioned Brigit was an Irish Goddess. She may have been a triple goddess figure according to some stories, and she was certainly a goddess of healing, poetry, and fertility. She was by all accounts a mother figure goddess, which would make sense considering the association of Imbolc to ewe’s milk, the pregnancy of the animals, and the germination of seeds undergrounds.

At some point, Brigit was Christianized and “syncretized” with St. Brigid of Kildare. The St. Brigid figure was in charge of a sanctuary which housed a sacred, immortal flame. It was said that no men could go near the flame, so the women who protected it were revered. There are many stories about St. Brigid, including her expertise with dairy, her blood healing muteness, and her charity to others.

Customs of Imbolc

The ancients celebrated Imbolc in a number of ways. Of course there were feasts, and the home was one of the main focuses of this festival. To celebrate the coming of longer, warmer days, hearth fires and candles were lit, and divination performed. Cleaning the home (what we’d call Spring Cleaning) was also done. Specifically in Ireland, Holy wells were visited and those who trekked there did so for healing. Sometimes, in those towns close to the sea, milk or porridge would be poured into the water as an offering.

In regards to the Goddess or St. Brigid, there were also many customs. The belief was that Brigid would come to visit on Imbolc and if she was provided with a place at the table and a room to stay she would bring blessings and good fortune in the Spring. Often, people would leave food out for Brigid, and she would be invited into the house to a guest bed. Sometimes a ritual would be acted out where a family member would walk around the home three times, knock on the door, and be let in on the third time. They might say something like “Brigid, Brigid, come in, your bed is ready”, or leave a birch wand by the guest bed, which was believed to be used by Brigid to cause the plants to begin to grow. Sometimes items were left out for her to bless. Brigid’s Crosses were also made, unique in their square center and design, and hung by thresholds in the home for protection.

Groundhog Day?

A fun correlation with Imbolc is the often though of as silly North American holiday of Groundhog Day. (honestly, as an American I never understood this holiday and thought it was dumb, but now…). It seems that the origins may have been a tradition stemming from Imbolc. Apparently at Imbolc one tradition was to watch and see if any serpents or badgers emerged from their dens. There is also a connection with the Cailleach, a divine hag in Gaelic stories. She comes out to gather firewood on Imbolc. If she wants to make the winter last she makes the weather bright and sunny (so she can gather more wood). Therefore, if it is bright and sunny on Imbolc more winter is to be expected; if it is cold and cloudy, the Cailleach is fast asleep and Spring is coming soon. This is similar to Groundhog Day, where Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow and if he sees his shadow it’s six more weeks of winter.

Themes of Imbolc

As with all of the sabbats on the Wheel of the Year, the themes can be found by meditating on the energies of that time of year. As we’ve already seen, Imbolc is associated with the following themes:

  • The coming of Spring, sun is returning fast
  • Hearth and home
  • Pregnancy/budding/preparing
  • Awakening and transforming
  • Hospitality

Symbols of Imbolc

Symbols associated with Imbolc are:

  • candles/flames
  • seeds or seedlings
  • sheep/lambs
  • snowdrops (flower)
  • Milk
  • Burrowing animals
  • clean, clear water
  • Brigid’s cross

Correspondences of Imbolc

Some of the correspondences for are:

Stones: Moonstone, amethyst, garnet, angelite, clear quartz

Colors: White, silver, pastel yellows, pinks, greens, and blues

Herbs: Angelica, bay, birch, dandelion, blackberry, jasmine, mint, basil, rosemary

Foods & Drinks: Dairy, grains, dried fruits, vegetables (like potatoes – things that would keep in a root cellar), dried herbs, canned fruits and vegetables, breads

Magick: Imbolc is a great time to work with the following – introspection, patience, purification, healing, revision, new beginnings, awakening, creativity, renewal, self care, and perseverance

Ways to Celebrate Imbolc

As modern witches and pagans, we have to find new ways to celebrate the Sabbats. Surprisingly, it is really fun and easy to come up with ways to celebrate that honor Imbolc and also fit into our busy lives. As with all magickal practices it is the intention that counts. If you are able to center in on the energies of Imbolc by meditating on its themes, colors, stones, and other correspondences, you don’t need a flashy ritual (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do one!) to celebrate.

Here are some celebration ideas. I’ve made them as simple as possible, so you can add on your own touches as your practice allows.

  • Take time to set goals and intentions for the year. This is the time to “plant the seed” so to speak. Get the ideas germinating. Write them down and think about them.
  • In that same vein, do something creative. Write a poem or a song or paint a picture – do something to honor the creative self within you.
  • Begin seedlings. You can buy seeds for herbs and start them indoors. An idea I didn’t come up with but love, is to bury a piece of paper with your intentions underneath a seed so that at it grows, so will your manifestation of that goal.
  • If you can, get outside. Or at least to a window with a nice view. Try to feel the energies of the natural world.
  • Tap into the ‘fire’ and hearth energies by lighting a candle or fireplace, and think about the themes of the holiday.
  • Work with dairy (if you do that…). Make cheese. Make butter. Make things that rely on dairy. Visit goats or cows if possible, or sheep!
  • Start that Spring Cleaning
  • Create a manifestation box where you put all your intentions and let them ‘bud’ in time
  • Start a new project or hobby
  • Bless your home/spaces/people
  • (if it’s Covid safe) Invite someone to stay in your home, practice hospitality.
  • Act out the Brigid ritual where she knocks on your door and invite her to stay.
  • Make a Brigid’s cross and hang it in your home
  • Drink some tea as you do some introspection and planning, and await the coming of the Spring!

Imbolc Recipe

Ok guys, I’m excited about this one. I was searching for an Imbolc recipe and getting frustrated. No, I didn’t want to give you mashed potatoes. Or bread. Or a milk drink. I kept thinking, man, I really think I want to find a good tres leches recipe for this one, but tres leches is not at all associated with Imbolc. But it literally has three kinds of milk, and I just can’t help but think that it really ties into the milk angle of Imbolc. Plus, it’s delicious. So I found this magnificent video from the Witches’ Cookery where she makes a tres leches Imbolc cake…shaped like candles! If you can’t go all out, a regular tres leches cake will suffice, but I thougth I’d share this awesome one. Good Luck!

Imbolc Candle Tres Leches Cake

Happy Imbolc!

Angelica

The angels, and everything named after them,

Are mine. Angelica archangelica, q.v.:

the compound umbels of its small white flower;

the liquer flavored by its roots and fruits;

the sugary sweetness of its candied stems.

Only parsley, really, yet I sensed its glory:

I enter words. It’s what was given me.

Angelica Archangelica by Judith B. Herman

History of Angelica

Angelica is an herb with origins in the colder regions of Scandinavia and Russia. As its name implies, angelica has always been associated with healing, salvation, and the angels above. Used as a cure-all, and as a way to protect against evil workings, angelica is said to protect and bring blessings to those who work with it. Angelica also has a reputation for being a delicious sweet treat when candied, as well as flavoring in certain liqueurs. Let’s jump into this beautiful herb and its history and magickal properties.

A Visit From Angels

Angelica’s official name is Angelica archangelica. Angelica is a form of “angelicus” which is Latin for angelic, and archangelica refers to Latin “archangelus” or archangel, which is “an angel of the highest order”. So this herb is associated the angelic realms and beings, especially Michael the Archangel. In fact, the legend of angelica tells of a monk who traveled Europe during the plague and was introduced to this plant. It was called kvann in Norwegian and kvanne in Swedish, and was praised by these northern societies for its sweet scent, healing power, and ability to be eaten in many ways. The monk, so the story goes, was visited by an angel in a dream, and told of the healing powers of the herb. Angelica also blooms in May, around the Feast of Michael the Archangel (apparently on the old calendar this was May 8th), which furthered its ‘angelic’ associations. One of angelica’s nicknames is “The Root of the Holy Ghost”, adding to its spiritual energies.

Another popular kind of angelica, Angelica sinensis or dong quai, is used in Chinese medicine. It is not the same, although it is related.

Unique Origins

One interesting tidbit about angelica is that it is one of the only herbs we’ve looked at on Herbal Witchery that originated in northern Europe. The plant is native to the colder Scandinavian regions, and was even found in more northern places like Greenland, Iceland, and Lapland. Even before the Christianized naming of the plant, angelica was considered sacred in these cultures. Let’s take a look at how it was used in the next section.

Uses Throughout History

As Food

In the colder northern climates, angelica had many uses. It was treated as a source of a vegetable-like food and eaten when other food was scarce. Angelica was used, through the middle ages and beyond, in breads and as a flavoring in wines and liqueurs. One of the most fun uses however, was the transformation of angelica into a confection. Candied angelica was being produced and marketed by the 17th century, and spread around Europe as a sweet treat. It has also been used in jams and pies, combined with rhubarb, as it acts similarly in the cooking process.

As Medicine

Angelica’s medicinal uses were also numerous. It was used to cure the plague, gas, respiratory illnesses, pain in the joints, and for women’s reproductive issues. In large enough quantities, it was used to aid in restarting mensuration, so care should be taken by women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant if they are ingesting the herb. It was also rumored to help improve circulation, ease anxiety, aid in sleep, and work as an antifungal and antibacterial when applied topically.

Protection & Sacred Workings

Angelica was used to protect houses and people. It was thought to keep bad or malicious spirits away and to cleanse the home of unwanted energies. The Sami, an indigenous group of people from northern regions of “Norway, Sweden, Finland, Kola Peninsula, and Russia” used angelica to make an instrument called a fadno. Garlands made of angelica were given to creative peoples, such as poets, because the scent of the flower was said to inspire creativity. It was also used medicinally, in a shamanic context by the Sami.

Not-so-Angelic Look-a-likes

I know that my posts and podcast episodes aren’t about wildcrafting, but for this herb I felt I needed to include some information. Angelica is beautiful and edible, however, there are several plants that look (especially to the untrained eye) almost identical. One of them is Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot or Daucus carota). As far as I can tell this plant is edible and grows almost everywhere. I see this plant every August in the fields near my house. Angelica also resembles Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) which is totally toxic and can cause “heat in the mouth and throat” and can cause death. Hemlock is also a look-a-like of angelica, and is also poisonous to humans. The last to mention here is Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). Its sap is phototoxic and if your skin comes into contact with it it can cause phytophotodermatitis which blisters the skin and causes scaring. So yeah, I’d say unless you are an expert, don’t go searching for angelica. Just order it from a trusted source online if possible.

In Magickal Workings

Angelica’s magickal properties are numerous, and they are especially beautiful. This herb has a kind of ethereal, spiritual quality. This blog post calls it the “Mama Bear of the Spirit Realm”, and does a nice job of illustrating the properties of angelica. Here are some magickal ways you can use angelica.

  • Protection
  • Healing
  • Cleansing
  • Banishing negative, evil, malicious energy
  • Attuning to the spirit world
  • Attuning to angelic energies
  • Blessings
  • Motherhood, mothers, nurturing energy
  • Divine energy and deeper understanding
  • Positivity

You can use angelica to ‘guard’ your home, either by growing it, using essential oil, or sprinkle the herb on thresholds of your house. It may not be technically angelica, but I love the idea of painting a picture of the herb and hanging it as a symbol of its energies. You can use it in baths or in teas (be careful if you are nursing/pregnant/want to be pregnant). Carry it with you in a charm bag for any of the above reasons, or do a meditation (read that blog post) to get in touch with its energies. You can use in in incenses to protect a space while you do spellwork, or in a spray or wash to cleanse your home.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Angelica Recipe

The angelica recipe is a simple one, but unless you have a supply of fresh angelica or can get ahold of the stems, it may be hard to do. However, if you have the inkling, I think this recipe would be delightful. It can also remind us of the simple joys of the past and how herbs can be made into lovely treats. It reminds us of the beauty and simplicity of angelica, and in a way, the nurturing energy as well. So without further ado, here is the recipe for Candied Angelica!

Candied Angelica

Sage

At the far end of our plot he’d cleared a little square patch of land and planted herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley, coriander, chives, sage and mint… At night I used to visit our vegetable patch with a torch. I would crouch down with my feet on the bare earth and watch the velvety sage leaves catching the moisture, covering themselves in it, soaking it up.”

Agnès Desarthe, Chez Moi

History of Sage

Sage is an herb with many magickal and medicinal properties. A member of the mint family, sage is a beautiful herb which takes on a blue-greenish hue due to the silver down which covers its leaves. Long associated with wisdom and immortality, sage has an extensive spiritual and culinary history in many cultures all over the world. In this post we will be exploring this herb’s fascinating history, its use in food and tea, and of course, its magickal properties.

Salvia Officinalis

Although there are many kinds of sage, the most common is Salvia officinalis. Salvia is from the Latin “salvere”, which has connotations of salvation in terms of healing, being healthy, and feeling well. This name is an indication of just what kind of effects sage had on those who used it, whether by ingesting it, growing it, burning it, or any other number of uses. The word sage itself comes from this Latin word, whose Proto-Indo-European root means “whole” or “well-kept”. Interestingly enough, the word sage that is used in English to mean wise isn’t related to the sage used for the herb, although the two have become somewhat related in the modern vocabulary.

There are many other types of sage, such as Red Sage which originated in China, Salvia divinorum from Mexico, or Salvia apiana (white sage) from Southwest United States/Northwest Mexico. I may touch on these in this post, but for the most part, I am talking about Salvia officinalis here.

Sage Throughout History

It is believed that sage originated in the Mediterranean. There are records of sage being used more than 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt in the embalming process and as an ingredient in infertility treatments.

The Greeks

Following the Egyptians, the Greeks had many uses and beliefs about sage. They thought that by eating sage, one would be endowed with wisdom. Sage was also thought to aid in retaining one’s memory. They also associated sage with longevity and even immortality, so many people grew it in their gardens. Sage was used to treat snake bites and as a meat preservative.

The Romans

Although very similarly to the Greeks, the Romans thought sage even more sacred. They believed that sage helped people digest fatty foods, treat ulcers, and stop bleeding in wounds. They also used sage in tea to help with sore throats and loss of voice. It was also used as a diuretic and a local anesthetic. They called sage the “Holy Herb” and used it in sacred rituals. During these rituals, participants wore specially cleansed clothes, cleansed their feet, offered sacrifices, and used special knives to cut the sage. Romans also associated sage with “domestic virtue” and hung it near the beds of married couples.

In Europe

Apparently Charlemagne had a great deal to do with sage’s popularity and spread in Europe. In the late 8th century, he started Europe’s first medical school in Salerno. Sage was one of the plants grown there and called the Salvation Plant. Charlemagne eventually ordered sage to be grown at monasteries throughout Europe, and from what we know, monasteries were the first kind of pharmacies in Europe, therefore sage’s medicinal and culinary uses likely spread from this.

In European societies, sage had many associations and purposes. It continued to be connected to longevity, fertility, and health. It was also connected to protection and keeping ill-meaning spirits at bay. The English herbalists wrote about it, prescribing it for

  • calming the nerves
  • reviving memory
  • menstruation issues
  • a diuretic
  • to lower fevers
  • headaches
  • aid in digestion
  • ease sore throats
  • ease muscle cramp or cold joints
  • cleansing hands

Sage in Cuisine

Aside from the many medical and spiritual uses, sage was also used extensively in food (and still is!). It is quite strong, so it is often combined with other herbs in moderation to season meats, vegetables, and soups. Sage is often used in Fall or Winter foods, such as roast turkey or chicken, savory pumpkin dishes, sausages, and especially in stuffing.

Let’s Talk about Sage, Smudging, and Cultural Appropriation (I have to go there…)

Because this post is about sage, I wanted to clear up any confusion you may have about these issues. Some may have no idea there is a controversy, others may be new to the craft, and still others may just wonder if they are encroaching on another’s culture if they burn sage. So here is my two cents:

Cleansing sacred spaces with smoke has been practiced for thousands of years in thousands of different cultures. On Herbal Witchery, we’ve explored many different herbs that have been used to fumigate or cleanse sacred spaces. This act itself is NOT cultural appropriation. Burning regular sage, Salvia officinalis, as a part of a ritual, to cleanse your space, your body, or your home, is perfectly fine.

What has become more talked about however, is the ‘trendy’ aspect of buying the sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana) to ‘smudge’. There are several things to be aware of here. The first is that White Sage is an entirely different plant than common sage. White Sage is native to North America and has been used by Native peoples who lived in the plant’s natural environment. It has a sacred history with these tribes, with many beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals based in the special use of the herb. There is special symbolism and other tools used in the ceremony. The second is that because of the mainstream ‘trend’, White Sage has been in high demand, meaning that it has been over harvested and is in danger. And the third thing you should know, is that the term smudging refers to this specific practice.

Sooooo… in my non-expert but trying to be culturally sensitive opinion, it is insensitive at the least and appropriation at the worst, to buy White Sage and to refer to burning it as smudging. I think burning regular sage (or other herbs) and using your own ritual is perfectly fine. You can buy whole sage leaves easily, or better yet, grow them yourself! But steer clear of White Sage and smudging if you do not have any legitimate ties to the sacred cultural practice itself. There are many articles out there about this topic. Here and here are two I found particularly enlightening).

In Magickal Workings

Now that we’ve talked about sage and what to steer clear of in magickal workings, let’s look at what Salvia officinalis can be used for in spell or ritual work. Here are some of the magickal properties of sage.

  • Protection
  • Prosperity
  • Manifestation
  • Wisdom/learning/memory
  • Immortality
  • Cleansing/purifying
  • Dreams/psychic energy
  • Healing

To incorporate these magickal elements, you can do some cool things with sage. Just like you might do with a bay leaf, you can write an intention on a sage leaf and burn it to release that intention into the universe, or you could keep that leaf and carry it with you as a reminder of your intention. Since sage is good for prosperity, you can use it to anoint a candle or keep it in your purse/wallet to attract money. You can burn sage to cleanse your space (as we discussed above) or to cleanse your body before a ritual or spell. You can use sage essential oil for the same purpose. You can drink sage tea and even eat a dish prepared with sage as well. Sage is really easy to find and the possibilities of use in magick are endless.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Sage Recipe

I’m going with two ‘recipes’ for this one. The first is simply to suggest that you find whole sage leaves and drink them in a tea. I think this is the simplest way to get in touch with the herb’s magickal properties, and its taste and smell. Sage does contain a small amount of thujone (just like mugwort), so don’t drink it super strong and don’t drink it all day every day, but a small cup of tea will be a good way to get acquainted with sage. The second is an actual recipe for those of you who enjoy cooking! It is for tortellini with brown butter and sage – omg sounds delicious right? Sage is such a strong, unique ingredient and I think this dish is simple enough that it stands out. Enjoy!

Tortellini with Brown Butter and Sage

Thyme

In front of them, over beyond the hedge, the dusty road stretched away across the plain; behind them the meadow lands and bright green fields of tender young corn lay broadly in the sun, and overhead spread the shade of the cool, rustling leaves of the beechen tree. Pleasantly to their nostrils came the tender fragrance of the purple violets and wild thyme that grew within the dewy moisture of the edge of the little fountain, and pleasantly came the soft gurgle of the water. All was so pleasant and so full of the gentle joy of the bright Maytime, that for a long time no one of the three cared to speak, but each lay on his back, gazing up through the trembling leaves of the trees to the bright sky overhead.

THe Merry adventures of robin hood by Howard pyle

History of Thyme

Thyme is a whimsical herb with a fantastical history. Associated with protection, especially from poison, courage, bravery, and healing, thyme was used by Roman emperors and Medieval soldiers. Thyme is also associated with the Victorian era tales of fairies, making it a gentle, and magickal herb. With it’s bright smell and taste, thyme is much like basil and rosemary, in that it is a ubiquitous herb in the culinary realm as well. Let’s explore this herb’s important place in history and its magickal uses for practitioners.

Thymus Vulgaris

Thyme’s official name is Thymus vulgaris, which simply means common thyme. The word thyme is thought to refer to the Old French “thym” from the 13th century, coming from Greek “thymon”, which has its roots in a Pre-Indo-European word for ‘smoke’ (according to Etymology.com this last part is doubted by some linguists ). If this is correct, it hints at the plant being used to fumigate or in herb bundles that were burned for their fragrant properties.

There are several kinds of thyme, over 300 to be exact, with the most popular being wild thyme and citrus thyme varieties, the latter of which I’ve grown before will tell you smells heavenly.

Thyme in History

Thyme has been used by humans for thousands of years. The first reference we have is in a 3000 year old Sumerian script, where thyme is recorded as being used as an antiseptic.

In ancient Egypt, thyme was used in the embalming process. This is because of thyme’s chemical make-up (see the medicinal section) and because it smells lovely. Thyme was also included in Egyptian remedies for relieving pain.

The Greeks & Romans

In ancient Greece, thyme was used to baths and burnt in temples (hence the word thymon above). The Greeks associated thyme with courage and therefore burning the thyme was thought to spread courage to those who smelled it. In some legends, thyme was thought to come from the tears of Helen of Troy, giving it a magickal and revered status.

In ancient Rome thyme was associated with protection. They thought that eating thyme would protect one from poison and even went as far as to believe that taking bath infused with thyme could stop the effects of poison. Emperors and political figures were fond of thyme for these reasons. Thyme also has associations with bravery, strength, and courage in Roman times. Soldiers were given sprigs of thyme as emblems of respect and to promote courage as they left for war. On the battlefield, thyme was used in poultices and on bandages. At home people burned bundles of thyme to cleanse and purify their houses and sacred spaces. Much like the Greeks, this was thought to promote courage. The Romans also used thyme culinarily, using it in cheese and liquor as an aromatic.

The Middle Ages

As we’ve talk about with European history, the Romans spread their customs throughout the continent as they colonized. By the Middle Ages, many Roman and Greek practices had been taken on in Europe. Thyme was given to knights as they left for battle to give them courage. Some wore it as a badge of honor. It is rumored that some ladies embroidered scarves with a bee over a sprig of thyme and gave this to their sweetheart. It was also put atop coffins to help souls travel to the next life, probably a remnant of its uses in ancient Egypt.

Thyme was also associated with protection. It was thought to ward off nightmares when placed under a pillow. During the Plague, thyme was used to fumigate sick houses and to ward off disease. Used in poultices, thyme was applied to plague blisters as well.

The Victorians

Oh, the Victorians. As PlantSnap.com puts it “The Victorian period was one of enchantment for the upper classes of Britain. We know it as a period renowned for its innovation, while also instigating incredible violence against colonized landscapes and indigenous peoples across the globe. In a period where the industrial revolution reshaped our society and railroad tracks lead to the demise of buffalo herds in the American west, thyme came to reflect the fanciful and detached aesthetics of high society”. Those fanciful and detached ideals included the idea that fairies resided in creeping thyme outside in the forests and fields, and people, mostly little girls, would camp nearby in an effort to see the fairies.

In a more practical vein, Victorian nurses also used thyme as an antiseptic like those before them.

Medicinal Properties of Thyme

Sometimes we find that the way herbs have been used in the past really didn’t match up to the treatments they were used in, thyme is one that stands up to modern scrutiny. Thyme contains a high amount of thymol, which is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, which means that those ancient cultures and Victorian nurses were actually doing good with their thyme infused bandages.

Thymol, especially the essential oil, is also used to treat psoriasis and eczema, to treat sore throats and other respiratory infections, and in mouthwash and hand sanitizer.

Culinary Uses

Thymes culinary uses are endless. It is an easy herb to grow and is available all over the world. Related to mint, and close in flavoring to marjoram and oregano, thyme is used in sauces and dry rubs quite often. You know the song that goes, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”? Well, those lyrics are because thyme is usually paired with these seasonings in soups, roasts, and breads in Europe. It is commonly found in the herbs de Provence blends and in the Arabic condiment za’atar. It is also the ingredient in Seombaengihyang-cha, Korean Thyme Tea.

 

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of thyme are closely associated with its history. What’s cool about thyme is that it has a really sweet and gentle energy, with really powerful undertones. Here are some magickal properties and types of magick you can do with thyme.

  • Protection
  • Courage
  • Love
  • Saying goodbye/wishing well
  • Fairy magick
  • Energize and uplift
  • Get rid of bad energy

Thyme spells are going to be fun and easy, for the most part. As always, you can use thyme in sachets or in an incense, but thyme, especially in the summer, is so easy to grow, this is one that you can work with straight of the live plant. You can perform a ritual where you say goodbye to old memories/friends/habits and wish them well. You can use thyme, or the essential oil, to cleanse your space and lift up the energies. You can smell thyme in order to give yourself courage before any challenge you face. You can use thyme to call in the fairies, or even try sleeping near your garden outside if you’d really like to connect with that particular spirit. As a Green or Kitchen witch, you can also use thyme for these properties in your food. The possibilities with thyme are really endless.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Thyme Recipe

Although there are tons of recipes out there, I’m choosing the overwhelmingly popular option that first came up when I searched thyme recipes on Google. Very magickal, I know. But here’s the thing, this Lemon Thyme chicken combination came up as the top like 15 options, so there must be something to it. I think the flavor in this dish bring out the whimsical nature of thyme; the brightness and energy that thyme brings to the table are very apparently here. So without further ado, here is the Lemon Thyme Chicken recipe for this week.

Quick Lemon Thyme Chicken

Yule

The Wheel of the Year Series: Yule or The Winter Solstice

The holly and the ivy

When they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown.

Chorus:

Oh, the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir,

The holly bears a blossom

As white as lily flower,

And when the Sun is newly born,

‘Tis at the darkest hour

The holly bears a berry

And blood-red is its hue,

And when the Sun is newly born,

It maketh all things new.

The holly bears a leaf

That is for ever green,

And when the Sun is newly born,

Let love and joy be seen.

The holly and the ivy

The mistletoe entwine,

And when the Sun is newly born,

Be joy to thee and thine.

Chorus:

On, the rising of the Sun

And the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir.

Doreen Valiente, The Pagan Carol

The leaves have fallen off the trees, leaving them to brace naked against the cold, icy winds. The grass has died, and other than the evergreen trees and shrubs, the landscape is a mixture of browns and greys. The sky, although spectacularly pink and orange at sunrise and sunset, can seem too sunny or too overcast, depending on the day. In the colder climates, snow has begun to fall, coating the land in a blanket of brilliant white. Deer run freely in the forests and other animals have retreated to their fully-stocked burrows for the season. The days have been getting shorter and darker, but there is still light, in the form of fireplaces and multi-colored bulbs hung on houses. There is a spirit of kindness and giving in the air, of hospitality, love, and peace. It is midwinter, and it is almost Yule, a special time of year where we gather and feast, share gifts and stories, and celebrate the comings of the light.

In the pagan context, Yule is a sabbat on the Wheel of the Year that occurs around December 21st. Historically, Yule is an Old Norse celebration that took place at the Winter Solstice and lasted till the beginning of January (our modern calendar of course). Yule isn’t the only celebration of this time of year however, and although the word Yule and many of its customs can indeed be traced back to this specific festival, there are plenty of other Winter Solstice celebrations that have carried forward today. At its heart, Yule is a recognition of the Winter Solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year, and the fact that after this night, the light is coming again.

Origins of Yule

Strictly speaking, Yule originates in the celebrations of ancient Germanic tribes in Northern Europe. The word Yule comes from the Old Norse name for the celebration, Jól. (As a side note there is speculation that the proto-Indo-European root for jól means “joke, play”, and some believe the English word jolly also comes from jól). It is believed that the word originally referred to a month or two month period of Mid-November to January. The Norse celebration is tied to Odin (a more fierce-looking Santa Clause if you ask me), and the Wild Hunt, a folklore/legend motif of a “ghostly procession in the winter sky”.

The celebrations at Yule consisted of eating, drinking, and even making sacrifices, especially of remaining livestock for the winter. They would sacrifice the Yule boar in a sacred ceremony, burn a Yule log, decorate their houses with representations of the Yule goat, hang evergreen plants like mistletoe and holly, and even sing Yule songs.

Other Midwinter Celebrations

There are many other cultures that celebrate the Winter Solstice in ways that resemble the Germanic Yule, as well as ways that have carried forward to modern secular Christmas. Here are a few:

  • Modraniht – Recorded by Bede in the 8th Century, this was an Anglo-Saxon festival known as “Mother’s Night” that was celebrated on modern-day Christmas Eve. This ties to Disablot, an ancient Scandinavian sacrificial celebration presided over by women.
  • Saturnalia – the ancient Roman festival celebrated at the Winter Solstice. There was gift giving and feasting, as well as decorating with evergreen plants indoors. Rumor has it that there were also naked revelers singing in the streets, so sorta like caroling right?
  • Twelfth Night – sort of a mixture between pagan Yule and Christian Christmas, many similar customs, lasted for 12 days, Winter Solstice-January 6th ish. Had the King Cake, a precursor to the modern fruitcake.
  • Modern Yule – Most modern pagans celebrate Yule with aspects of the Druidic lore featuring the Oak King and the Holly King, symbolic of the rebirth of the “Great horned hunter god”. This is done with meals and gift giving.
  • Dongzhistival – A Winter Solstice Festival in China, celebrated by families gathering and eating special food.
  • Lohri – a Punjabi festival celebrating the Winter Solstice. Bonfire, singing children, and throwing sweets, peanuts, and popcorn into a fire.
  • Yalda Night – Iranian. Celebrated on the longest night of the year. Friends and family gather, eat, read poetry. Fruits, like watermelon and pomegranate are eaten bc they symbolize the ‘hues of dawn’.
  • Koliada – Used to be a pre-Christian winter festival, but has been incorporated into Christmas.

Yule to Christmas

I won’t spend too much time here, but since Christmas is probably the most widely celebrated ‘descendant’ of Yule, I thought I’d just quickly touch on it. Because Yule was a Northern European celebration and most of Europe was Christianized over the last thousand years, it is no surprise that this new Christ Mass would take on the trappings of the already existing pagan traditions. We see echoes of Yule in almost every part of Christmas from the Yule boar= Christmas ham, Yule songs = caroling and wassailing, Yule goat = ties to Santa/Old St. Nick, Yule log = Christmas tree, to the very heart of Yule being about the rebirth of the light (or Sun God) = Christ being born. If you really think about it, those Christmas lights are really just little reminders of this theme. The gathering, gift giving, and feasting are all remnants of Yule. The sacrificial animals, slaughtered for food for the winter months also tie into the sacrifice of Jesus, according to Christians. Christmas really is very much like Yule, just with the trappings of different religious beliefs. And of course, the pagan customs and folklore beliefs melted together with this so what many of us grew up with isn’t too far from the ‘original’ Yule.

Themes of Yule

As with all of the sabbats on the wheel of the year, the themes can be found by meditating on the energies of that time of year. As we’ve already seen, Yule is associated with the following themes:

  • The coming of the light/light returns/rebirth
  • Celebration/joy
  • Community
  • Giving/sharing/charity/goodwill
  • Sacrifice
  • Peace

Symbols of Yule

Symbols associated with Yule are:

  • Snow
  • Candles/lights
  • Evergreen trees and plants (spruce, fir, holly, pine, mistletoe, ivy)
  • Yule logs
  • Deer/Reindeer
  • Cakes/cookies/rich foods – feast
  • Bears

Correspondences of Yule

Some of the correspondences for are:

Stones: Clear Quartz, emerald, garnet, ruby, bloodstone, ‘fool’s gold’, orange calcite, red jasper

Colors: Gold, Silver, Green, Red, White, Blue

Herbs: rosemary, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, nutmeg, orange, bay, (non edible) – holly, mistletoe, ivy, evergreens, pine cones

Foods & Drinks: Mulled cider, gingersnaps, dried fruits, rich meats, fruitcake, eggnog, ham, puddings, wassail

Magick: Connecting with Oak or Holly King, depending on the angle you’re going for, spells for love, harmony, peace, healing, spells for seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, rituals of sacrifice (not human of course!), rituals to honor and recognize the longest night of the year.

Ways to Celebrate Yule

As modern witches and pagans, we have to find new ways to celebrate the Sabbats. Surprisingly, it is really fun and easy to come up with ways to celebrate that honor Yule and also fit into our busy lives. As with all magickal practices it is the intention that counts. If you are able to center in on the energies of Yule by meditating on its themes, colors, stones, and other correspondences, you don’t need a flashy ritual (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do one!) to celebrate.

Here are some celebration ideas. I’ve made them as simple as possible, so you can add on your own touches as your practice allows.

  • Go crazy with décor! Just like Samhain, Yule is a time where the decorations in the stores match many of the traditional Yule symbols. You can easily deck your halls with Yule decorations, even in the broom closet. The fun part is that you know the symbolism and meaning behind the holly wreaths and mistletoe boughs.
  • Set up a Yule altar – similar to decorating, but here you can put a statue of the God/Goddess of your choice, maybe frame a Yule poem or prayer, and place more magickal items like crystals and herbs.
  • I got this one from Davy & Tracy. They suggested placing a clear crystal quarts on an east-facing windowsill to catch the first rays of light from the ‘reborn sun’. I love this, as it is easy and symbolizes the rebirth and hope themes of Yule.
  • Although it’s traditionally a “New Year’s Resolution”, Yule is the time to be considering things you want to change or make happen in the following year. You can do a small ritual for these resolutions or intentions to give them a magickal boost.
  • Tis the season! Meet with family and friends, share a meal, share gifts, and sit by the fire. Just know that this has been done for thousands of years at Yule and was NOT invented by the toy companies.
  • Volunteer at a shelter or other charitable institution, give to charity, or in some other way help others and your community.
  • Take some time to do a solitary meditation outside. Maybe just for a few minutes. Really breath in the cold air, notice the sounds, smells, and sights of Yule – connect to how the earth has changed and how it will continue to change as Spring approaches.
  • Light a few candles and really get in touch with the Yule theme of a light in the darkest night.
  • Do any number of Yule crafts – sachets or charms with Yule herbs, ornaments, etc.
  • Make Wassail or a Yule Log (see below) as part of your ritual or celebration.
  • Listen to ‘Christmas’ carols and really take the time to hear the Yule themes and symbols in them – could be a fun unofficial game!
  • Drink some tea with a friend by the fire. I offer this Yule Blend, a tart, fruity, yet warmly comforting mixture.

Yule Recipe

So many recipes…Again, I decided to go traditional here. Because the last two herbs weren’t edible. I’m giving you two recipes for the Yule post. One is for Wassail, the traditional apple-cider spiced drink that was carried by carolers as they were wassailing. Easy to make and delicious! The other recipe is for a Yule Log. The Yule Log has a long history of its own, as does the dessert version, so here I’m included just one set of instructions on how to make it. It is a decadent treat that is beautiful and can be decorated and tweaked as you like! Enjoy.

Christmas Crockpot Wassail
Yule Log Recipe and Video

Merry Yule!

Holly

I smelt the rich scent of the heating spices; and admired the shining kitchen utensils, the polished clock, decked in holly, the silver mugs ranged on a tray ready to be filled with mulled ale for supper; and above all, the speckless purity of my particular care – the scoured and well-swept floor.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

History of Holly

Much like mistletoe, the holly plant has a long and magickal history. The ancient Celts and Romans used it during Winter Solstice celebrations, and over time this shifted into the Christian tradition of ‘decking the halls’ with holly during Christmas, and the Holly King, a precursor to Santa Clause, is tied to holly folklore. An evergreen plant with violent red berries, holly has magickal associations with fertility, protection, familial connection, sacrifice, and life, among other things. Let’s explore this fascinating and mystically wintery history of holly.

What is holly?

Holly is a plant belonging to the Ilex genus. Ilex aquifolium is the holly that most westerners think of around Christmas. Like the mistletoe berries, Holly has ‘berries’ that ripen in the winter, turning a vibrant red color. This contrast, the dark green and red in the midst of the cold, gray white of winter, has led to this plant being revered and used to brighten up households for centuries. Ilex means something like “evergreen oak” and aquifolium means “sharp leaf” – both very fitting because holly’s leaves are evergreen and they have sharp, almost thorn-like pokers (see picture below). The English word holly is interesting because it comes from Old English “holen”, which comes from a long line of words whose root means “to prick”.

Prickly leaves make holly, which have given it its name.

The Ancient Romans and Celts

The history of holly stretches back to ancient Rome at least. Saturnalia was a Roman festival that occurred on the Winter Solstice. The people would honor Saturn by giving gifts to each other and it is recorded that they hung holly up on or above their doors to keep ‘evil’ out.

Holly was also sacred to the ancient Celts, especially the Druids. They also hung holly branches in their homes for protection and used it to heal those that were ill. It is with this culture that we see the myth of the Holly King, who was thought to rule during the winter months (more on that in the next section). Because of it being evergreen and its bright red berries, the Druids associated holly with fertility and immortality. They sometimes wore holly in their hair as a way of carrying its protection with them at all times.

One interestingly specific belief was that holly was said to protect one from being struck by lightening. This stems from holly’s Norse association with Thor, the god of thunder.

Although it was often considered bad luck to cut down holly, it was sometimes used to feed livestock in the winter (the leaves). It also had associations with control and virility, so there were those who used holly wood to make whips or handles for some tools. (Fun side note, Harry Potter’s wand was made with holly).

The Holly King

 The Holly King's Song

 Through smiling eyes to you I say,
'Blessings on this Yuletide day!'
For though my reign is at an end;
Good cheer and joy to you I send.
Celebrate now, the return of the sun/son!
The Oak King's reign has just begun.
Through the turning wheel of time,
Each will have their turn to shine.
So relax. Be still, for this Yuletide spell;
Send love to all and all will be well! 

Patti Wigington from Learnreligions.com has this to say about the Holly King “In many Celtic-based traditions of neopaganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King conquers the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. … In some Wiccan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God…

As you can see from the images, the modern-day Christmas Santa Claus seems to resemble the Holly King an awful lot. Although the background is different, it is certainly a tie-in to what much of the world practices now.

Christians and Christmas

As Christianity spread around Europe, the old holly traditions continued, taking on Christian-themed elements. For a time, pagan and Christian beliefs existed side by side. Holly was thought to ward off evil and wreaths were hung inside during the Yule season. Some believed fairies or elves could hide among the holly while waiting for St. Old Nick. Some people kept a spring of holly for good luck year round. Even the churches would hang holly inside and give a piece to their congregations as a way of spreading luck and cheer.

Apparently, in early Christianity the phrase ‘templa exornatur’ is written on Christmas calendars. This phrase means roughly ‘churches are decked’, and because holly was always used to decorate, we now have the Christmas phrase/song “Deck the halls with boughs of holly”. In German holly is called “christdorn” or Christ Thorn, showing how it has been associated with Christianity throughout the years.

Of course Christmas is just another way of celebrating the Winter Solstice, as is Yule, and as you can see, the traditions of this time of year are quite similar to those practiced thousands of years ago.

Like most plants, there is a myth that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus hid from King Herod in a holly tree and because of its hiding them, it was allowed to stay green all year. There is an association of Jesus’s blood with the berries and his crown of thorns with the spikey leaves.

Holly Toxicity

Holly is toxic. The berries can cause nausea and vomiting, among other things. It takes about 3 berries before an adult will feel these symptoms, but children and pets can be affected by much less so be careful if you are decorating or using real holly.

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of holly are closely associated with its history. Like mistletoe, holly is toxic and should not be ingested. If you have children or pets, and you want to work with real holly, take care not to leave it out where they might ingest it. With that said, here are some magickal properties of holly:

  • Protection
  • Fertility
  • Fairy/Elf magick
  • Immortality
  • Winter Solstice/Yule rituals
  • Sacrifice
  • To connect with the Holly King or similar figures
  • Divination

You can do a lot with holly for magickal purposes. If you have real holly (or fake if you are more comfortable with that) you can hang it not just for decoration, but for protection. You can create your own wreath of holly and invite the fairies to stay (if you work with fairies), you can do a holly meditation to get in touch with the Holly King and Yule, you can use it in spells or rituals having to do with fertility, with making a sacrifice, and even for divination. Wear holly in your hair for extra protection or carry it with you for the same. You can also use holly for spells that you wanting to give an extra long life to – because of its association with immortality.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Holly “Recipe”

So, this is more of a meditation or sacred reading activity. I think it will help you get in touch with the energies of holly from the myths above. Think of it as a sort of meditation on the Winter Solstice/Yule, the Holly King, and the energies of holly.

Sacred Imagination


Although it doesn’t have holly in it, I wanted to add on here that my new YULE BLEND of enchanted herbal tea is out now. Check it out so you can get yours in time for Yule!

Mistletoe

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,

The holly branch shone on the old oak wall;

And the baron’s retainers were blithe and gay,

And keeping their Christmas holiday.

The baron beheld with a father’s pride

His beautiful child, young Lovell’s bride;

While she with her bright eyes seemed to be

The star of the goodly company.

Oh, the mistletoe bough.

Oh, the mistletoe bough.

The Mistletoe Bough, by Thomas Haynes Bayly

History of Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a plant that has an extensive magickal history. Tied to Druidic, Norse, and Greek mythology, mistletoe has long been associated with fertility, protection, peace, and love. In Europe, mistletoe is connected to the Winter Solstice/Yule as well. Magically, mistletoe is very powerful and can be used (non-internally) for fertility, protection, love, and healing. Let’s look more closely at this parasitic, toxic, and mysterious plant.

What is Mistletoe?

Most of us have heard of mistletoe. We may have stood beneath it during a Christmas party (probably a faux version), or even more likely we’ve seen it depicted in movies or cartoons. Few of us probably know what mistletoe actually is in it’s natural state though right?

It may surprise you (I know it surprised me), to know that mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant that grows on other trees, sometimes in a strange, ball-shaped form. Known in officially as Viscum album, mistletoe in English gets its name from the Old English tan (“twig”) and mistel, an Anglo-Saxon (or possibly even Old German) word for “dung”. What’s really fascinating about this etymology is that it shows that these older cultures had an idea of how mistletoe grew. You see, birds eat the seeds and when they, errrr go poo, the seeds drop down and attach themselves to the host trees. Mistletoe then grows from that spot and grows as a half parasite, using the tree for energy and nutrients.

Mistletoe is evergreen, meaning in the winter you will see it as a bright green growth on an otherwise dead tree. This perhaps accounts for why it has been associated with winter; it would stick out against the otherwise colorless landscape and inspire thoughts of strength and magic. Mistletoe is toxic if eaten, although not usually responsible for deaths (you know, just blurred vision, diarrhea, vomiting, and cardiac problems).

Mistletoe Mythology

Hornel, Edward Atkinson|Henry, George; The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-druids-bringing-in-the-mistletoe-84452

Mistletoe is found in myths and legends of many different cultures. Some of the associates are quite sexual in nature. Pre-Christian and Celtic cultures apparently regarded mistletoe’s white berries as representative of semen.

In Rome, mistletoe was associated with the Saturnalia festival, and Romans hung mistletoe over doorways for protection. They also believed mistletoe was associated with love, peace, and understanding. People may have ended up kissing under the mistletoe during early marriage rights, a precursor to the more modern practices.

To the Druids, mistletoe was sacred. It was used in the Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe, a ritual which was recorded by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century. This is his account:

We should not omit to mention the great admiration that the Gauls have for it as well. The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak [robur].. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon…. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons. (Plinty the Elder, Natural History)

The Norse had an extensive mythology around mistletoe, and it is their stories that also helped shape the use of mistletoe in popular Christmas customs. The Norse story is as follows:

The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death, which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. Balder could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it, striking Balder dead. For three days each element of universe tried to bring Balder back to life. Frigga, the goddess and his mother finally restored him. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love. (Source)

In the Middle Ages, mistletoe continued to be tied to fertility and luck, and hung in doorways for protection as well. In more modern European-based cultures, mistletoe is known as a Christmas decoration under which people kiss.

Mistletoe Customs

So as we can see from these many myths and ancient customs, the more modern customers came directly from them. Hanging mistletoe in the home during Yule, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, or whichever holiday you choose harkens back to the ancient practices. Kissing under the mistletoe goes back to ancient Rome, and just the association with love, peace, or even sexuality goes back to the Druidic and Nordic myths.

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of mistletoe are closely associated with its history. However, like belladonna, mistletoe is toxic and should not be ingested. If you have children or pets, and you want to work with real mistletoe, take care not to leave it out where they might ingest it. With that said, here are some magickal properties of mistletoe:

  • Protection
  • Fertility
  • Love/friendship/peace
  • Romance/love
  • Winter Solstice/Yule rituals

To me, mistletoe is similar to belladonna in that you probably won’t go out and get it to work with. However, using a faux version, using literature/poetry/spells with mistletoe imagery, or even creating a representation can all bring in the properties of this ‘herb’. You can then use this representation or these magickal words about mistletoe to perform spells or rituals needing the above energies.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Mistletoe “Recipe”

So, this is more of a meditation or sacred reading activity. I think it will help you get in touch with the energies of mistletoe from the myths above. My personal choice is to do this with the Druid ritual, but you could also do it with the Norse myth.

Sacred Imagination

*This is a ‘religious’ practice, but the process is amazing for connecting to a piece of ANY literature. (I got this idea from Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast). Below is from the source linked above. Simply replace the biblical phrases with elements from the Druid ritual. Listen to my podcast episode for a detailed breakdown for the Druid passage.

  1. Select a passage from one of the Gospels in which Jesus is interacting with others.
  2. Recall what one is doing in engaging with the Word of God and what one desires from this encounter. God is present and because God is present one relies on God.
  3. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar.
  4. Close one’s eyes and reconstruct the scene in one’s imagination. See what is going on and watch the men and women in the scene. What does Jesus look like? How do the others react to him? What are the people saying to one another? What emotions fill their words? Is Jesus touching someone? As one enters into the scene, sometimes there is the desire to be there. So a person can place oneself in the scene, perhaps as an observer, as one lining up for healing, or as one helping others to Jesus.
  5. Some people’s imaginations are very active so they construct a movie-like scenario with a Gospel passage. Others will enter the scene with verbal imagination, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of prayer. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.
  6. As one finishes this time of prayer, one should take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart.

Nutmeg

I had a little nut tree,

Nothing would it bear

But a silver nutmeg,

And a golden pear;

The King of Spain’s daughter

Came to visit me,

And all for the sake

Of my little nut tree.

Her dress was made of crimson,

Jet black was her hair,

She asked me for my nut tree

And my golden pear.

I said, “So fair a princess

Never did I see,

I’ll give you all the fruit

From my little nut tree.

Traditional English Folk Rhyme, 16th Century Origins

History of Nutmeg

Nutmeg, like cinnamon and cloves, was an important commodity during the Spice Trade of the 16th and 17th Centuries, so much so, that one of its bloodiest incidents occurred over this particular spice. But the world carried on, and with its sweet, delicate flavor, nutmeg made its way into cuisines from all over the world. Both sweet and potentially toxic, nutmeg has some surprising associations and properties. Magically it is tied to luck and prosperity. Nutmeg is also considered a Yule spice and is often used in Yule magick and food. Let’s take a look at the rich and disturbing history of nutmeg.

A Fragrant Seed

The outside is the fruit, the orange lacey covering is mace, and the inside seed is what is ground up to create powdered nutmeg.

For starters, let’s look at what nutmeg is. Like cinnamon and cloves and all the other ‘spices’ at the supermarket, many of us don’t actually have a clue what the original form of the spice is. Nutmeg is the seed or nut of a tropical evergreen tree. The tree produces fruit, and inside that fruit is a seed (much the same size as an avocado or peach pit). The outer covering of the seed looks like a little net and is known as mace (no relation to the pepper spray) and is also used in cooking. The seed inside is nutmeg and that is what is ground up, either by hand with a grater or bought already powdered.

Nutmeg’s Latin name is Myristica fragrans. These two words have roughly the same connotation. Myristica comes from the Greek “myristikos”, which means “fragrant” or “for annointing”, and fragrans meaning “aromatic”, “fragrant”, or “odorous”. This of course reflects nutmeg’s sweet, aromatic smell that most bakers of holiday foods are familiar with. In English, the word “nutmeg” seems to come from an Old French description – “nois muguete”, meaning something along the lines of ‘a nut smelling like musk’. It was apparently included in a c. 1300 reference on “cookery” and was referred to as “note-mug”. No super exciting meanings hidden within these names for nutmeg, but from them we know that nutmeg has always been noticed and praised for its aroma.

One thing to keep in mind is that, like cinnamon, nutmeg has many different varieties that were grown after the spice trade collapsed and other places began producing nutmeg. The true nutmeg is the Myristica fragrans referenced above, but there are other varieties that are sometimes used to adulterate the true spice.

Origins of Nutmeg

Nutmeg originated in the Banda Islands, which are located in what the Europeans called the Spice Islands in Indonesia. Those native to the island grew the nutmeg trees with care, eating the fruit and selling the mace and nutmeg seed to China, India, and eventually the Arabs. Arab traders eventually gained the monopoly on selling and trading spices from these islands, nutmeg included. By the 1st Century, nutmeg had been introduced to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote about nutmeg, describing its aroma as a if cinnamon and pepper were mixed together. According to Greek theory, nutmeg was a “hot food” which was used to balance out “cold foods” like fish and veggies, so it was often paired with these items. It is also thought that Roman priests burned nutmeg as an incense. In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the port city of Venice became the import location for the rest of Europe. Europeans believed nutmeg was a cure for viruses, and like the other spices (cinnamon, cloves) it was worth a fortune.

By the 1400s, Portugal had started trading in the Indian Ocean. They didn’t have complete monopoly, but their involvement eventually lead to a takeover by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th Century. We’ll talk about that terrible time period next.

The Bandas Massacre

The Dutch traders were not friendly and used ruthless tactics to gain control of the Spice Trade. In the case of the Bandas Islands and nutmeg, the Dutch were particularly cruel. Whereas the Arabs, Portuguese, and other traders had offered to trade with the Bandanese for nutmeg with comparable things like copper, porcelain, steel, or silver, the Dutch would only trade with useless items like wool clothes, which couldn’t be used in the tropics. This created tension and showed disrespect from the Dutch to the Bandanese.

Things went from bad to worse. The Eternal Treaty (not a promising name…) was a forcefully signed document giving the Dutch complete control of the Bandas spices. The Dutch also put more reinforcements at Fort Nassau, their stronghold on the island. The Bandanese retaliated and killed a Dutch admiral and kill 40 soldiers. The Dutch left no holds barred after this. Historians call what happened next a genocide on the Bandanese population. Before 1621 there were about 15,000 Bandanese on the island. The Dutch massacred most of this number, leaving only about 1,000 remaining, who were then forced to work as slaves in the nutmeg plantations.

Culinary Uses of Nutmeg

Once the Spice Trade fell, nutmeg, like the other spices, was grown in other places and became readily available all over the world. Despite this horribly bloody history, today nutmeg is thought of as a nice addition to holiday baking or as an ingredient in Indian or Chinese cuisine. Nutmeg has other uses, especially its essential oil, but overall, nutmeg is a culinary ‘herb’, so that’s what we will explore next.

Nutmeg is an interesting spice, because it works very well in many different flavor profiles. It can be used in cheese sauces as well as baked goods. It is also found in recipes from all over the world, making nutmeg a very versatile spice.

In India, nutmeg is used in garam masala, in sweet foods, and is also sometimes smoked. In the Middle East, it is usually used in savory foods. In Europe, nutmeg as used to flavor meats, soups, potatoes, and baked sweets. It is identified specifically in the colder winter month recipes for mulled wine and cider, and the holiday drink, eggnog. It is often sprinkled on top of coffee or hot chocolate as well.

One thing we may not be aware of (I know I wasn’t!), is that nutmeg is actually toxic, can be a danger to pregnant women, and can cause hallucinogenic effects. A large dose, which is apparently around 6 teaspoons or more can cause convulsions, nausea, dehydration, and heart palpitations. It can also cause mild euphoria, similar to MDMA…however using it to achieve a high is a bad idea. It doesn’t taste pleasant on its own, and it will cause the previous issues before any potential euphoria is felt. There is actually a term called “nutmeg poisoning”, during which a person is panicked, has an impending sense of doom, and is agitated. Nutmeg poisoning has resulted in death and is also considered an abortifacient in high doses.

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of nutmeg are just as varied as its culinary uses. Some relate to its history, while others play off its strong taste and potentially toxic effects. It can be used in the spellwork for:

  • Luck
  • Prosperity/money
  • Legal matters
  • Love/comfort
  • Divination/clairvoyance

As always, I like to go a little non-specific with my suggestions for magickal applications because I think creativity is part of the beauty of spellwork. However, here a few ideas to get you started. One idea I love is to wear a whole nutmeg as a necklace. Put a specific intention related to one of the magickal properties into the nutmeg seed, then make a whole in the nutmeg and put a string through it. I also like the idea of anointing a green candle with nutmeg (and other prosperity spices) as part of a prosperity/money spell. You could also buy a lottery ticket and sprinkle nutmeg on it. A simple spell is to share a coffee/hot chocolate/eggnog with nutmeg sprinkled on top with a loved one to increase the bond between you. You can also use nutmeg in Yule celebrations and rituals.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Nutmeg Recipe

I’ve been talking a lot about eggnog in this post, so here you go – homemade holiday eggnog! This drink is perfect for cold winter nights and for Yule or Winter Solstice gatherings. The touch of nutmeg in the drink and sprinkled on top is enough to get you in touch with the lucky, lovely, and rich properties of the herb.

Creamy Holiday Eggnog