Oregano

Week 30 of the PBP.

The next two weeks will be looking at culinary herbs that also have many uses in spellwork, namely oregano and basil. And they’re both tasty flavors for summer, too!

Oregano was the first herb that I ever used in my backyard “potions” as a kid. I loved the smell of the leaves steeping in sun-warmed water. I’d also watch in fascination as bumble bees busily gathered nectar from the flowers, observing the sacs of pollen swell on their little back legs. My mother’s oregano was a huge sprawling monster of a plant, regularly threatening to take over most of the herb beds. Sadly, after wintering over for 20 years, it lost most of its flavor. We hacked it back quite severely to make room for a more flavorful plant, but it still has a place of honor in the garden for services rendered.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare), a member of the mint family, is most famously known as a culinary herb. It complements summer dishes particularly well, and retains it flavor long after it had been dried. A cold salad of tomatoes and cucumber with oil, balsamic vinegar and oregano can be quite refreshing when the thermometer goes over 80F. Many Mediterranean cultures including Italian, Turkish, Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish use oregano to flavor their dishes; oregano’s popularity grew in the US after World War II when “soldiers returning … brought back with them a taste for the ‘pizza herb.'”

When I worked more with the Hellenic pantheon back in college, I would use dried oregano as an incense since I could filch is easily from the dining hall!  Now I use it mainly to instill a sense of peace and safety in my home. Interestingly enough, none of my go-to herb books included oregano, so I’ll just give my own associations of Masculine, Fire, and Jupiter for magical work–burning the negative away to leave room for calm and growth. A little internet browsing for magical uses of oregano list it for everything from protection to courage to letting go of a loved one. Intuition will let you know what your particular oregano plant would like to be used for, so always let that be your guiding principle.

Honeysuckle

Playing catchup for week 17 of PBP.

Honeysuckles are cleansing, consuming and digesting, and therefore no way fit for inflammations. Take a leaf and chew it in your mouth and you will quickly find it likelier to cause a sore mouth and throat than cure it. If it be not good for this, what is it good for? It is good for something, for God and nature made nothing in vain.  —Culpepper quoted in Grieve 1931.

So many of the plants that I’m talking about in this series were significant in my childhood. I’m beginning to feel a bit repetitive when I find myself writing “When I was a kid…” over and over again. But it seems that many of the relationships I have with plants were begun when I was young, and many of my memories and experiences date back to that time. Honeysuckle is another one of those plants. He was one of the first (along with wild blackberries) that I learned to identify as safe to eat (the nectar, NOT the berries!), and I remember going outside nearly daily to bury my nose in his fragrant flowers. The variety that grew in our back yard had a mix of white and creamy yellow flowers, and I found the scent both calming and uplifting.

There are hundreds of species of honeysuckle (Lonicera), most being native to Europe and Asia, several of which become invasive when introduced outside their native ranges. Much like clematis, is likes to have cool feet and a sunny top—that is, roots in the shade and sun on the leaves—and can be found on the edge of the woods. It blooms prolifically in the summer, and seeds itself with just as much gusto.

There is quite a bit of magical lore surrounding Honeysuckle. Grieve says Culpepper associates him with Mercury,  Cancer, and Leo, which makes him a good ally for negating problems caused by Jupiter (at least in regard to physical health problems). Meanwhile, Cunningham associates him with Jupiter and Earth, for magical purposes, making him a good addition to money spells as well as being protective and an aid in perceiving non-physical realities (2003, 140); Hopman concurs about his ability to increase both money and psychic ability (1995, 50), though like Culpepper she prefers the associate of Mercury to Jupiter (124). Personally, I associate Honeysuckle with Mercury and Air, which results in dealing with money problems by negating any negative influences from Jupiter, rather than drawing on Jupiter’s money-making qualities directly. Cunningham doesn’t draw any connections  to specific deities, but Beyerl states that Honeysuckle may be used to pass through the mysteries of Cerridwen’s cauldron (1984, 225) and that the dried bark and wood make an excellent autumn incense when ground (333); Beyerl also says that honeysuckle flowers should grace the ritual circle at the Vernal Equinox (329), but this is a hard thing to achieve as the plant doesn’t usually bloom until June!

A useful meditation to connect more deeply with the Honeysuckle spirit can be begun by sitting either at the base of a physical plant, or by anointing yourself with honeysuckle essential oil or hold a branch or flower of the plant to anchor yourself to his energies. As you breath slowly in and out, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers or oil, let the plant wrap around and enfold you in his twining vines. Rather than being consumed or smothered, I usually find that Honeysuckle will begin lifting you upwards, carrying you on his branches until you’re cradled in nothing but vines and sky. What do you notice from this new perspective? Just rest and let your thoughts move in and out with your breath, and the breath of the Honeysuckle. When you’re ready to come down, ask him to lower you gently back into your body. Feel yourself on firm ground, anchored and secure in your physical body. Ask Honeysuckle if there is anything you can do in return and wait for his answer. Thank the plant for helping you connect with the larger spirit, and ground out any excess energy.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard in bloom.

This was supposed to be posted for week 13 of the Pagan Blog Project, but life got a little crazier than usual!

Country people at one time used the plant in sauces, with bread and butter, salted meat and with lettuce in salads, hence it acquired also the name of Sauce Alone. The herb, when eaten as a salad, warms the stomach and strengthens the digestive faculties. —Grieve 1931

Spring is hammering at Winter’s door, and it’s time to start thinking about those yummy edible weeds that will soon be popping up in lawns everywhere. I’ve written about garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) a couple of times, and it’s one of my favorite weeds to revisit. Named for its spicy-garlic-y flavor, garlic mustard is an invasive plant here in the Northeast, having been brought over from Europe as a culinary herb. It has an interesting relationship with the white-tailed deer in the northeast US.  Garlic mustard is easiest to identify in May when it blooms (it’s biennial, so this is the final phase of its growth cycle), and keeps me in cheap and tasty pesto for the rest of the summer.

Magical noo-nah: because of the rapidity of growth and seed dispersion, I tend to identify Garlic Mustard with the expansiveness of Jupiter; his flavor definitely aligns him with the element of Fire. Garlic Mustard is helpful for work in abundance and increase, and though I’ve never used it for such , I imagine he might also be helpful in money magic. He can be counted on to help you make room in your life for projects you weren’t sure you had time. Just make sure you can keep his influence in check, otherwise you may find yourself  spending more time than you intended on said project! Pushy and assertive, I find Garlic Mustard is an excellent ally for setting boundaries and repelling unwanted influences.

Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet)

Meadowsweet, water-mint, and vervain were three herbs held most sacred by the Druids. —Grieve 1931

This is another one of those handy druidical herbs, particularly for those interest in incorporating European herbal traditions back into their practice. Meadowsweet, like Agrimony, is a brightening flower with a strong, sweet scent. A member of the rose family, It can be found growing in damp meadows. The history of its use is fascinating, going back to Bronze Age burials found scattered over England, Scotland, and Wales (Carr-Gomm & Carr-Gomm 2007, 74); in more recent times, meadowsweet was placed in bridal bouquets (ibid., 72). As such, many who follow a Druidic path associate this flower with transitions, be they as large as marriage, death, and puberty, or as mundane as a new car or computer.

Magically speaking, Meadowsweet was one of the three herbs Gwydion and Math used to create Blodeuwedd for Lew; thus she has been sacred to Flower Face, and later to the Virgin Mary as well (Beyerl 1984, 233). Beyerl also states that love magic performed with her aid on Walpurgisnacht will result in a romantic mate (ibid., 331). Being associated with both Gemini and Mercury (ibid., 347) would indicate a cleansing quality, something born out by its use as a strewing herb in the Elizabethan period. Meadowsweet’s scent promotes peace and cheers the heart (Hopman 1995, 98). In this was, I find her to be a decent substitute for Sweetgrass.

Meanwhile, Cunningham sees Meadowsweet as a masculine herb associated with Jupiter and Air (2003, 172). Frankly, I can see an argument being made for both Jupiterian and Airy connections, but masculine? That goes against not only my own experience of the plant, but against most of the folk wisdom surrounding her as well. However, Cunningham does give a nice little spell for determining the identity of a thief: if meadowsweet gathered on the Summer Solstice and place on water sinks, the thief is a man, but if it floats, it is a woman (ibid.).

Meadowsweet should not be underestimated. Her scent is strong, and she was quite possibly used to flavor ale in the Neolithic period (Carr-Gomm & Carr-Gomm 2007, 72), which in my mind links her with the many ecstatic practices that may or may not have surrounded alcohol in ritualized settings. It often seems as if herbs associated with sweetness and light are given short shrift by those who are attracted to the Poison Path. Meadowsweet is no lightweight: she can lift depression, bring clarity, and ease aches and pains.  Remembering the story of Blodeuwedd, this was no tame maiden who sat at Llew’s feet. She chose her own way, even though it led her to be shunned in the darkness. She became a goddess of the wild places, guarding the secretes of the deep woods and deeper night. Meadowsweet has the strength to bring joy from darkness, something for which I, for one, am grateful.