Poke weed

Week 33 of the PBP.

Poke weed holds the dubious honor of being the first plant that I took it upon myself to identify because no one I talked to knew what it was. In a sense, it was the guardian to the world of knowledge through guidebooks. I checked out several from the school library, sitting with the plant for what seemed like hours, trying to get it to give up its name to me. I was more than a little thrilled to find out it was poisonous! Dangerous plants are always more glamorous, even at a young age.

Tall stands of poke weed grew around the elementary school. It was also the first plant I ever tried to turn into a spear. It was lightweight—a good quality for an aspiring fourth grade hunter—but its joints twisted and turned, which made it very hard to get it to fly true. Eventually the berries became currency, and were traded for other valuable commodities like acorns and bunches of garlic grass. I later encountered poke weed in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, where she described it being used to paint the smile on a child’s doll.  We painted rocks and sticks with the mashed up berries quite a bit around the school yard, but never really graduated to dyeing anything other than our fingers.

Kobold gayfeather (liatris/loosestrife)

Week 23 of the PBP.

All right. This my first blatant use of a commercial name in order to make a plant fit into a letter. I really really wanted to talk about loosestrife, and this was the only way I could make it fit—there are surprisingly few plants in New England with either common or scientific names beginning with “k”!

In any case, this is an incredibly invasive plant, originally brought over as a medicinal herb. In August it turns many swampy areas in the Northeast a brilliant purple. There is a certain amount of irony that a plant named “loose strife” has inspired such a crusade against it!

Loosestrife is actually one of the plants I use magically on a regular basis, mainly as a charm to ease anxiety and tension. It’s a wonderful tool for this, and during Lughnasah I like to keep vases of it all over the house to mitigate the rising tempers of August heat. Because of its swampy habitat, I associate it with Water and with Venus, both because of its beauty and voluptuousness.

Ipomoea acuminata (Morning Glory)

Week 19 PBP.

Morning glory lives up to its name. It’s one of the most joyful plants to come across in the dawn light. Nothing brings a smile to my face like the sight of a morning glory opening her trumpets to the sun. It’s how I feel when I perform a sun salutation or the Ovate Pentagram exercise: swirling and inviting to the light shining on me.

I thought this plant might be a bit redundant after Datura, but it was very much a part of my memories of my grandmother. I was helping her walk her (very spoiled) poodle out in rural Pennsylvania when I asked her what that vine with the pretty flowers was. She told me it was a morning glory, and for some reason that name and the way she said it filled me with such inspiration that I wanted to become a morning glory fairy right then and there!

I thought about how wonderful it must be to spread beauty just my growing, and to have the resiliency that these meadow flowers show, coming back year after year no matter how many times they are cut down or plowed under. Even now, when they invade the garden, I can’t really help but smile. How can I not, when it feels like the morning glory is reaching out to embrace the whole world, all at once?


Nepeta (Catmint)

Week 28 of the PBP.

[I]t seems to be a fact that plants transplanted are always destroyed by cats unless protected, but they never meddle with the plants raised from seed, being only attracted to it when it is in a withering state, or when the peculiar scent of the plant is excited by being bruised in gathering or transplanting. —Grieve 1931.

Ah, Catmint, the lure that will draw all the neighborhood felines to your garden! This hardy perennial has become a favorite with gardeners for its long blooming season, particularly where “deer resistant” plants are desirable.  This was another favorite “backyard potion plant” when I was little, and may have been more than a little bit responsible for the endless stream of outdoor cats through our property!

Yet another member of the mint family (I seem to have a lot of them in this series of posts), Nepeta cataria or catnip, catnep, catswort, fieldbalm,or catrup, as it is sometimes called, produces feeling of euphoria in cats who eat or inhale its scent. (One friend described her pet as being a “mean drunk” when he got into the catnip bottle!) Interestingly enough, it has the opposite effects on human physiology, being calming and even soporific. It can be brewed as a tea, but not with boiling water, and it should be kept covered so that the volatile oils don’t evaporate from the infusion.

Obviously, this is a wonderful herb to use if you’re honoring spirits or gods associated with cats. For a second post in a row, I agree with Cunningham’s associations of Water and Venus for Catnip, because of its calming qualities (2003, 75).  He also states that Catnip can create a psychic bond with one’s feline companion—although it may be just as likely that you’re getting chummy from being high together! Catnip can be an aide to influencing friendships and will attract good spirits to one’s home if grown in the garden (2003, 75).

Beyerl gives multiple uses for catmint, ranging from being “used as a tea to calm a person with troubles” (1984, 76) to a fertility charm (206) to a “Religious Herbe” for Bast and Sekhmet (206); in folk charms, catnip is useful as a purgitive for bad habits when burned with dragon’s blood as an incense, and for shapeshifting magic if your desired form is one of a cat (206); finally, Beyerl associates Catnip with both the Strength card of the Major Arcana (Leo’s card) and with all of the Nines in the Lesser Arcana (276–77).

Joe-Pye Weed

I first learned about Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum or Eupatorium purpureum if you’re going by Linnaeus’s classification) on a weed walk in western Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburg. The guide told a fascinating story of how a healer named Joe Pye helped the native tribes learn how to break fevers and treat typhus with the plant, and it became named in his honor. The plant cuts a striking silhouette, and quickly became my touchstone on the site because it was so easily recognizable.

Joe-Pye weed has a multitude of names: Trumpet-weed, Gravelweed, Joe-pye Weed, Jopi Weed, Queen-of-the-Meadow Root (interesting since Meadowsweet is often called Queen of the Meadow), Purple Boneset, and Hempweed. Grieve cites it as being named after a king of Pontus, Mithridates Eupator, who first used the plant as a remedy (1931).

Because of its fever-reducing qualities, and its love of swampy places, I tend to associate Joe-Pye Weed with Water, and by extension the Moon and/or Venus. Cunningham does not give any elemental or planetary designations, but does say that it can be used in matters of love and respect (2003, 148). Since Eutrochium purpureum is native to North America, it’s not surprising that Hopman make no mention of it, through truthfully I raised an eyebrow that Beyerl does not include it in his herbal either.

Even though many plants connected with Venus, the Moon, and Water end up being feminine by default, there’s something about Joe-Pye Weed that just comes across as male. Working with Joe-Pye Weed straightens the spine and opens the heart. A leaf marked with a sigil for Mars or Jupiter will help one command respect, but still be aware of the needs of others. By the same token, mark the leaf with a sigil for Venus for a confidence boost on a date.